Japan is An Ordinary World…

[T]here remains a general tendency amongst expats, not to mention tourists, to accentuate their adventures and downplay their daily routine, those few moments and, over the course of of one’s time spent overseas, increasingly unremarkable encounters. That’s something of a regrettable thing.  I believe its often the case that the seemingly normal things, if savoured, can become uncanny things. These strange mundanities then weave themselves into the fabric of moment-to-moment life and incorporate slightly off-base or out of whack aspects into that which would otherwise (and unfairly) considered an ordinary day. Richard Russell, Dancing over Kyoto, 2013

Japan is not quite right, and there is no other way to express this feeling about Japan other than to say, not right. In other countries, people don’t apologise because they stepped onto the train too quickly, in other countries, one not is encouraged to sit so close to other passengers on said train to allow other people to sit.  In other countries one cannot simply have conversations in bars with cute girls, or drink alcohol on the street simply because one is thirsty. Certainly, Japan is not quite right.

Japan is not right, but it also never seems to get old, at least not for that foreigner traversing through it. No matter how long they remains in the same town and in the same apartment, the foreigner never loses the sense of things not fitting, of not being quite right, of something, a thing that remains elusive being out of place, if only I could find a slot for that thing, Japan would make sense, maybe.

It is the oddest experience. Why is it, every time you hit the futon, you forget that five hours later the following will happen, just as it did every other day, you know it this will happen. Every approached as it were new. Your neighbour will take the futon out at nine, like she did yesterday.  Your garbage, on a Tuesday and a Friday, will be collected at eleven, just like it was last week.

There is certainly something about Japan which goes beyond the shock of the new or unfamiliar.  It is, as Richard Russell notes, a sense of the mundane, of the uncanny or the strangely familiar.  I have experienced such a feeling before, but in Japan it is something more.  In Japan, it is experienced as an extreme feeling of déjà vu. I can only give you an example, each morning I wake up, walk outside and take a stroll around my environs. I come across oba-chans, who think I lack a sweater or jumper, when the temperature is 20C or the young boys who seem transfixed by my gaijin-ness, and the young girls who shout Sugoi [Wow] You are English? 

People who live in Japan, they laugh, those people also cry, or go to the toilet, just like they do anywhere else in the world, just, they do the latter, just they do it on a washlet, a heated seat that will clean your behind for you.

It is an experience which is both strangely familiar and not right, all at the same time, for me, it is also the strangest feeling of home.


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