I don’t have dreams. How can I say it? I myself am a dream. – Ayumi Hamasaki
In fact, 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
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. – Michael Gillan Peckitt
In a recent blog post of mine, I remarked about how, for a foreigner living here, Japan has a dream like nature, that there is something about Japan which does not seem quite real. Whether it be convenience stores that are open all day and night, selling dollar beers and really cheap junk food to the Internet cafés that are open 24/7, in which one can rent a room for a few hours for less than 2000 yen, (and in which the soft drinks are in unlimited supply); to the temples and shrines of Kyoto to the soaplands of Kabukicho, much in Japan seems so ethereal or to ‘Disney-fied’ as to be unbelievable. As I stated in that post:
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?
After writing that I thought about it for awhile, and asked myself, what is actually concerning me here? Well it’s not really ‘trouble’ but I think I have located what’s going on, what actually prompted me to write this.
Where I hail from, Britain, we don’t really do spectacle. We have our tall building buildings like Big Ben or amazing stately homes, but we don’t really do extravagance. Go to a pub or a restaurant in Britain and you will get food, but rarely an experience. You are there to eat, and that surely is enough, that at least is the attitude of restaurants in Britain. Go to somewhere like a British Pub in Japan – these are the “restaurants that serves Yorkshire pudding, with Kyu Sakamoto or AKB48 playing in the background” – and you don’t just get fed and given alcohol to drink, rather you are given an experience, a kind of idealized and Japan-ized version of the culture you are consuming. If you actually hail from that culture, this can be quite an uncanny experience; it is odd for people to see phrases like ‘Oishii French food’ outside a French restaurant or ‘British squid and seafood’ outside another.
Japan has taught me to appreciate spectacle, but it has also led me to love the experience of the uncanny.