In the Comfort of Japanese Strangers

I often feel overly uncomfortable in everyday situations — such as when using a changing room in a clothes shop, to the point that I avoid spending time on shop floors unless it’s absolutely necessary. But here, the voice in your head yelling “You’re not normal” doesn’t scream so loud, because even when you are behaving in a “normal” way, there’s an expectation for you to be somehow abnormal anyway. So, by appearing odd, you’re confirming the common perception among Japanese that foreigners do things differently. If you’re all hot and flustered around a changing booth, “adult male who can’t buy clothes for himself” becomes “foreigner who feels uncomfortable in Japanese shops” — it becomes normalized, and the self-image problems that come with the whole episode are alleviated.  William Bradbury in The Japan Times

I remember when I was at the Japanese embassy in London, in the summer of 2012, a week before the Olympics no less.  There was on an exhibition about the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, there were posters on the wall informing me about the new zairyu card or resident card, which was to replace the gaijin or foreigner card. And next to that that there were posters, warning would-be travellers to the Land of the Rising Sun, not to go if you were, in what at its kindest could be called,  ‘in a bad way’, and I always assumed that what they were aiming for was people with mental health problems.

Amongst my many ailments I have a history of depression, a history which I do not fully understand.  It is simply to crass to put it down to the fact that I have cerebral palsy and am bummed out about it.  Or that I had a bad childhood – as I really did not, quite the reverse.  I am, I suppose relatively successful, yet I have always felt that I do not belong, at least not in Britain, so I agree with William Bradbury when he writes:

In Britain, I lived forever in fear of persecution by outside forces because of mistakes I was sure I was making through ignorance.

Britain has no time for an outsider, for the crazy ones, the ones that do not fit.  If you think that seems harsh, try growing up in Yorkshire, as a person with cerebral palsy who loves books and has no interest football. It’s an isolated existence. Hell would at least be less lonely, and a lot warmer than Rotherham.

Not so in Japan.  William Bradbury has hit upon a truth when he says that that Japanese people are ‘forgiving’ towards foreigners, that here, eccentricity is encouraged  as a virtue to be nourished when it is found in the foreign population.   It goes without saying that it may be different for the social misfit that happens to native Japan.

 In fact I would go further than Bradbury; there is another way that Japan helps foreigners who don’t quite ‘fit’, and that way is be found in Japan’s love of a rule-based society.  Japan lets a foreigner get away with a lot; here you can drink on the street, drink in a bar until five AM, where by the way, you will often, even as patron, be expected to flirt with young Japanese people.  As an exile from Britain, that’s not too shabby, I’m sure you will agree.

You may ask, how does this relate to Japan being a rule-based society, so far you’ve told me spending time with cute Japanese girls with bars, if that is a hardship then I have no sympathy for you. And you would be right to say that.  But that is not my point, at least not exactly.  Yes, I live in Japan, yes I often have long conversation with some of the cutest women on the planet, but I have no choice but to do that. I’m sure you still have no sympathy, but maybe the next paragraph will explain.

 Japan has no time for a person who does not care for human company, no sympathy for the person who wants to sits in the corner of the room, hoping that no one will talk to them, you will be spoken to, so get used to it.  If Japan has a Golden Rule it is not ‘Thou shall have no other Gods but me’ it is ‘Thou shall be social!’  Fail to be social, it is true, immigration won’t call, but slowly people will realise that you don’t want to be part of Japan, as Japan demands that you be social.  You have to smile and talk to people. A failure to be social might lead people to conclude that you are not just odd, you are anti-social, and we cannot have that.

The paradox about depression is that the depressive seeks human company but often prefers isolation.  There is only one solution to that that, and that is to obey the commandment ‘be social’.

And don’t forget to smile.


Is Japan a Real Place?

Otaku seek value in fictionality of itself, but they are also extremely sensitive to different levels of fictionality. From within our increasingly mediatised environment, it is already difficult to draw a clear distinction between reality and fiction. It is longer a matter of deciding whether we are seeing one or the other, but of judging which level of fiction something represents. – Tamaki Saito ‘Otaku Sexuality’

Looking at Tokyo one sometimes wonders why the Japanese went to all the trouble of franchising a Disneyland in the suburbs when the capital itself is superior a version. – Donald Richie ‘The “Real” Disneyland

I came to a realisation recently. Japan is not a real place. Do not worry, I am relatively sane, I am not denying the existence of a place called Japan, of course such a place exists, just keep going east after China, you can’t miss it. Japan’s ontological security is not being doubted, Japan certainly exists and yet there is something about Japan that is just not, well, how do I put it? Japan is not real.

But before I risk being taken away, perhaps I should at least attempt to explain what I mean, I shall try at least. Japan is not a real place because there is something about Japan which is dream-like. One of things that a dreamer often says when they wake is ‘but it all seemed so real!’ Our dreams are of course not a physically existing reality, except when we dream them. What often seems to convince us that we were in fact dreaming, and not living is that the dream seemed ‘too real’. Japan is too real.

Jacques Lacan reminds us, that the real is what resists symbolization absolutely, that the real is that which resists linguistic expression, that what is ‘real’ is something that we can describe to others. Without the ability to describe something to others, an experience or thing never really happened. The question I am asked most often by those outside Japan is ‘What is Japan like?’ I struggle to find an answer to this question. I can tell you that Britain is a place that has bland food and plain speaking people, but I can find no similar description for Japan. There is nothing ‘like’ Japan, there is only Japan. So maybe Japan is a real place in as much Japan is inexpressible; it can never grasped, but remains beyond the realm of articulation. How else can one deal with a world where there are restaurants that serves Yorkshire pudding, with Kyu Sakamoto or AKB48 playing in the background?

Yet I do not accept this as a conclusion, it seems too pessimistic. I reminded of Ludwig Wittgenstein, and his assertion ‘What can be shown cannot be said’, there must be better writers than me, to describe the ‘truth of Japan’.

On the Importance of FaceTime

Tuesday 13th May 2014

Yamada, Suita

 FaceTime’d my parents – yeah we use that word,  now we do not talk, we FaceTime.  – The Author of this blog.

 I’ve always loved social media; in fact I think I liked it before social media was even a word people used.  Way back in the dark ages – 1993 to be exact,  I once  set up a PC for a colleague of  my  father, long before Google+,  Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr  and all the many other sites that will come after it.

 You may detect from my tone that I do not really love social media.  Well you would be wrong.  And I shall explain why.  In 1998, I was an undergraduate at Hull University, literally about two months in to my course, a BA in Philosophy.  There was a room in my residence hall, where people could use computers.  I logged and found ‘Yahoo’ – the only real search engine available that I knew of, there were others but I did not know of them yet, some were not yet invented

 But my searches led me to a ‘list-serv’ based at Leeds University, The Disability Research Unit.  This was a message list whereby one emailed a main server and the email was distributed to all members.  So I emailed something.  Mairian Corker and Minae Inahara replied.

Well, I responded to both, and Minae, well she used to email me every twenty-four  hours, she was a post-graduate student, Japanese by birth, studying Sociology in Australia.  I always looked forward to her emails.  Minae like me had cerebral palsy.

Time passed, and she eventually ended up studying together at Hull University, Minae and I, on June 2nd 2007 we married.

 We now live in Japan together.

 As I understand Mairian Corker nee Mairian Scott Hill (mainly published as Mairian Corker) Died 22nd January 2004. Aged 51 Years.

 We corresponded often, and she always encouraged me, but I wished we’d talked more.

 So yes, FaceTime, and social media as whole is important, at least to me, and I always treat with respect.