Let's get one thing straight from the outset, Japan isn't quite as weird as everyone thinks. There are of course, a series of slightly obscure, lightly twisted elements to culture here, there are fetishes, news stories, interesting and unique services, but for the most part, the people seem fairly straight forward, the history whilst deep and rich is easy enough to understand.
Everywhere I've managed to run, walk and crawl across the globe so far, I've always been presented with weirdness, whether it manifest itself in one armed men who smoke electricity in a great North American city or romping wildly in front of gathered crowds containing all manner of sexual deviants engaging in all manner of acts and having never before been quite so exhilarated. There's always weirdness and the consequential anecdotes, Japan is no different.
The endearing nature of the people here is one to be praised, it's perhaps this 'with open arms' nature of the Japanese, which seems to have origins in its Charter Oath, that has helped me during the first few weeks of this extended trip. I hit a problem when I arrived here, I touched on it in a previous blog post, I hit a wall, the happiness and excitement for this trip, the powerful hope of something new and rich and fun was devastated by a sudden relocation from a town which I was extremely excited about living in, to a town which, unfortunately on paper, was small and characterless. In short, about as far removed as could get from the place I was expecting to be living, and seemingly utterly devoid of any ability to provide me with the sort of experience I really wanted of Japan. One with some culture, some madness, and some isolation. With Nakatsu, it seemed I was going to be provided with plenty of isolation, nothing much else.
Well, a few weeks in, and initial predictions weren't far off the mark, though, one thing that I seemed to neglect in my initial reaction was, despite being a small town, there are still humans that live here, and with that comes everything that makes this Grand Game so much fun. The big magnet in the sky toying with us all. As with any place, anywhere in the world, it is of course those humans that make anywhere so interesting. Now, of course, there's the language barrier, a difficult one to overcome, seeing as I speak no Japanese, other than of course how to say 'GIVE ME A [INSERT ALCOHOLIC DRINK HERE]'. But where there's want, there's will, and of course, where there's will, there's a way. I'll learn Japanese, or some at least, at some point, maybe, for the time being, it's fun conversing in broken gibberish and seeing what stories abound and the reactions from people, and fuck it, anyway, of course, there's the universal grease of booze. Share a few 1.5 litre yards of strong Japanese beer with a few of the locals and between shit magic ticks, big tattoos, perhaps a growl here and there and a bellowing laugh, they've figured out I'm a good guy, and now, a bunch of local Japanese friends I have, and more will come I'm sure.
So, of course, there's people, I'm a fan of Herman Melville's take on them in Moby Dick:
"Seat thyself sultanically among the moons of Saturn, and take high abstracted man alone; and he seems a wonder, a grandeur, and a woe. But from the same point, take mankind in mass, and for the most part, they seem a mob of unnecessary duplicates, both contemporary and hereditary."
True of Japan I feel, for all its particularities, there is the strong and often overwhelming sense of collectivisim here, this, I believe has its roots in many different aspects of Japanese culture, from Shintoism and Buddhism through to Wakon Yosai, or the embodiment of 'Japanese Spirit' - and personally, I feel all this leads to questions around individuality and that idea of duplication, especially when you start to look at the culture of Japanese Sararīman. A recent article in the Guardian gave a quick review of the report published on the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the report stated that cultural points individual to Japan were to bear some of the responsibility of the cause for the disaster:
The commission's chairman, Kiyoshi Kurokawa, a professor emeritus at Tokyo University, said in a scathing introduction that cultural traits had caused the disaster.He said: "What must be admitted – very painfully – is that this was a disaster 'Made in Japan.' Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to 'sticking with the programme'; our groupism; and our insularity.
So, if we have a culture which, historically shuns the individual, and is collectivist by nature, and has long been at a cross roads of embracing the idea of 'western modernity' whilst retaining 'Japanese Spirit' where does the individual come in and where and how do they start to create? Where does creativity come from, where is the room made for this? Well, for me this is one big and very interesting question. The creativity exists, clearly, from martial arts to computer games, story telling and literature, fetishes and everything in between, the Japanese overflow with creativity. I think this is a mission, amongst others whilst here, to understand and find where the paths cross, where the two blocks of societal behaviour hit and mix and intertwine. So, perhaps an idea is to find what is individual to Japan, and then to talk to those who have a hand in creating it, and understand how their seeming individuality has prevailed in the face of collectivism, how they have managed to retain their Wakon Yosai whilst embracing the culture of the West? Hark ye! A mission! Those I like, shipmate.
I'm going to do a bit of research and come back with an introductory post before hopefully starting some intereviews. In the mean time; teaching is grand and a good spice for the soul, Japan is wet and typhoons are troublesome, booze flows and arm wrestles are had, food is eaten and bread is broken, all the normal things go on and on, and in the future I won't bore you or myself with a travel blog about where I've visited or what I've consumed unless particularly spectacular. What I will do is try to provide some insight and commentary on a culture that everyone back home seems to think is utterly batshit insane, let's see where this all goes.