Weird Japan

But of course Japan isn’t weird – we like to think so, sometimes, but that’s just a slightly sensationalist way of saying it is different. Yes, there are vending machines selling cans of Pocari Sweat (hee hee) and you can buy little snack packs of baby octopus tentacles in stores (yuck) but, really, that’s not so different to those bags of mints called Uncle Joe’s Balls you can get in the UK (ha ha) and pork scratchings (vom). That said,  the differences between our culture and what you find here are remarkable. Sometimes it feels like you’ve been shot into outer space… Mab Jones Tokyo Tokyo Balls 1

Everything you can imagine is different, and everything you wouldn’t think of is usually quite different, too – not just the obvious things like fashion and street signs in Japanese kanji (the third and most difficult of the alphabets), but also things you simply wouldn’t think about: the way verges and bushes are shaped and kept; the height of the electricity and telephone lines, the way they are gathered; the strange signage on the pavement, which itself is made differently to ours; the patterns of clouds; the sounds of insects, as well as humans. My first ever trip to Japan, over ten years ago, one of the first things I saw was a team of boiler-suited men up on ladders, sucking the autumn leaves from trees with giant vacuum cleaners before they were allowed to fall…

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‘Culture shock’ is so called for a reason – one can literally find a culture so very different to one’s own that it can be extremely disconcerting, even distressing (though less distressing if you prepare for its occurrence). What you might cling to in such circumstances are the similarities between cultures and, humans being basically the same creatures anywhere in the world, this isn’t difficult. People can be kind, or cruel, everywhere. In Japan, visitors are generally treated with warmth and kindness. Comfort food is still comfort food, but it’ll be a big bowl of sticky, succulent beef and rice instead of bangers and mash, really.

Today I drank green tea latte, miso soup, the above beef and rice (yum) and one of my favourite bean paste pastries. Staff in a restaurant kindly helped me order food. Hunger is the same wherever you go! Then, I wandered around taking photos, of superficial oddities/differences, my belly and body warmed by the food and friendliness encountered. Speaking a tiny bit of Japanese helps – at least, trying to speak in Japanese helps…

In any case, everything here is weird. And everything here is the same. I love it! More Tokyo blogs to follow, once I am less jetlagged and that…

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I am currently in Japan studying rakugo storytelling thanks to the generous gift of a Creative Wales Award from Arts Council Wales.

4 responses to Weird Japan

  1. Alison D says:

    I totally hear you on all of those things! I had that same surrealist feeling when I was in Japan–I loved it though. My friends and I got a kick out of their vending machines too–some of them even sell underwear (what?!). And one of the best products I came across was a bottled, English-style tea called “THE PUNGENCY,” with a drawing of a stylish lady in a wide-brimmed hat just under the name.

    It was quite yummy actually. ^_^

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    • mabjones says:

      I like this comment! Arigato. I now feel an urgency to find ‘The Pungency’. I will drink it whilst wearing a wide-brimmed hat, naturally… 😉

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  2. judith Toms says:

    So glad you are enjoying your trip to Japan. You mention Kanji as the most difficult of three options in the Chinese language. There is a Kanji Wood at Aman Woodland Trust near to Neath dedicated to C. W. Nicol who was born in Neath and left in 1972 to study Karate in Japan (at that time there was a glass ceiling in Britain of getting the important Dan status) He grew to love the country so much he took Japanese citizenship, married into the country and continued with his writing and conservation work there in the mountains of Nagano Prefecture and now writes Old Nic`s column in the Japan Times. One of his most important works (greatly pirated apparently) is Zen The Art Of Gentleness which explores the wider implications of martial arts. He underscores your observation that the Japanese are a naturally courteous people, but you seem to be enjoying city life whereas he avoids it like the plague, loving the mountains and wildlife.. Shall watch out for more news from you. x

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    • mabjones says:

      Amazing! I never knew that. I wish you’d put me in touch with this friend of yours… He sounds very interesting. Could you let me know his email? I have a Japan Rail Pass so if I feel inclined I could go to Nagano Prefecture… I’m enjoying Tokyo but my plan was to travel to Kyoto, where I used to live. I’m here to study so my time isn’t as free as usual… Let me know. I’d like to read that ‘art of gentleness’ book. It sounds zentastic! xxx

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