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’.

3 thoughts on “Is Japan a Real Place?

  1. What is Japan like?

    ‘The whole of Japan is a pure invention. There is no such country, there are no such people… The Japanese people are… simply a mode of style, an exquisite fancy of art.’
    ~Oscar Wilde (The Decay of Lying)


  2. A Note on Dream and Reality in Japan – The Limping Philosopher

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