Friday, 12 October 2007

It all begins in the middle...

So, here I am, a blogger. I hate blogging and I pity peple who spend hours at computers- or at least, I did when I last checked.

But that`s the point. I can`t remember what I think sometimes, my opinions, once unflinchingly defined, have blurred far too much for my liking with the niceties and routines of the country I've been living in for the last six months.

Good old Japan, the place where everything asserts itself with a determined, masculine presence, only to be completely contradicted a few moments later. Everything sits, literally, on shifting ground here. Except for tradition and a not-always-logical sense of what is right and wrong, which is, frustratingly, invisible to the 'outsider'.

I am starting this blog firm in the belief that as well as having amazing, life-changing experiences here that tempt me into wanting to stay forever, Japan can be unflinchingly cold to people who don't 'belong' here.

This is not directly the fault of Japanese people, but rather an instinctive reaction to something novel in a place which was closed to the outside world for the best part of two hundred years.

Buuuut...theoretically, at least, things should have changed here by now. I just want to make it very clear that I've come across some amazing politeness and kindness here, so I'm not damning a whole country full of people, but simply, reflecting on what I see on a daily basis.

This is also, please bear in mind, the perspective of a person living and working here for an extended amount of time. Tourists, holidaymakers and brief visitors won't experience, or have to think much about, the barriers foreigners may face when trying to seriously think through the viability of making Japan their new home.

How can it still be acceptable for people of a country with an oft-celebrated reputation as the hub of technology, innovation and development to commonly and without controversy band around the word "foreginer" (gaijin - a word I am a little over-sensitive about, I admit) on the street in the faces of people who are not the same race as them? Can you imagine the same thing on the streets of London, New York or Paris? Would it be OK for me to go up to a Chinese man in Manchester and say 'foreigner'? Japan, as part of the developing world, should adopt higher standards and considering that this kind of treatment can very easily be helped, so it should be.

Japan, after my six-month stint here, is to me a constantly surprising place with vast possibilities and sights which would be impossible to appreciate fully in one lifetime. But, traditions and values can still be upheld without so stringently shunning those deemed not to "fit in" by decades of barely-considered norms.

Greater open-mindedness and willingness to help people up out of the gutter and find their feet in a very insular country would, in my opinion, do no small amount favours for Japan. It would lead to greater understanding and experience of more cultures, (rather than an unhealthy obsession with mimicking America), and would perhaps, bring about some more consideration for those who just dont 'fit in' in society.

These people include, among others, the homeless, the tattooed, children who dont want to be like their parents, anyone with a waist measurement over 29 inches and of course, the "FORGEIGNER!" As Shoko Tendo recently said when discussing her recently translated book about the Yakuza,

"Japanese society looks very calm on the surface, but underneath it is in turmoil...discrimination is rife."

After six months here, I have decided, primarily for personal reasons, (but partially because I miss sausages, roast dinners and good old English rudeness), not to renew my work contract for another year.

So, now I know now I am leaving Japan, I have frequent pangs of regret. Like when you dump someone and see them a week later with another girl.

My biggest worries are that I haven't documented my stay here well enough and my terrible memory will mean that once the plane wheels hit the Heathrow tarmac, all of this will feel like a year-long day dream. So, here goes my attempt to save some of my experiences here from the quagmire of things I have forgotten in my life as I count down my last six months in Japan.

Big deal-I'm already halfway through. I've lost all of the fresh-faced wonder of a newcomer. What insight can I possibly have to offer? Will I learn anything new?

If not, this Blog will be pretty pointless, not to mention completely self-obsessed and boring... but, would I do that to you? Do the Japanese eat sushi all day and go home to pet robots? Welcome.

1 comment:

Larry the Dwarf said...

Well it sounds to me like you are a bit culture shocked. I had a similar thing in Italy. (This is the Ghorra by the way) erm...the biggest shock is when you return to England and see that through the eyes of an outsider...of course then people won't be whispering ' foreigner' they'll be shouting "scouser!"... ;o) Anyhow I love you blog posts! In fact i'm inspired enough to start my own!