Tuesday, October 28, 2014

可愛いのに (Even Though You are Cute...)

Recently I came across a phrase that gave me pause, and as it has been tumbling about in my brain for a bit without coming to a satisfactory conclusion, it shall end up here for public(ish) debate.

The perturbing phrase was: 
'Even though you are so cute, you still care about/are interested in the homeless'.

Now, just take a minute to let that sink in and roll around your brain for a minute.

Since when does cuteness have anything to do with humanity? 

I have heard people here make comments about (primarily women) who volunteer a lot and are not blessed with media-sanctioned good looks on the lines of : 'yeah, she looks like she would volunteer a lot'. Does this mean that only 'homely' women volunteer? Perhaps the implication is that they are not attractive enough to find a mate to snarf up their time? How incredibly narrow minded, should that be the case.

Are the cute exempt from responsibilities to their fellow (wo)man? Are they too busy traipsing along in high heels on the arm of some dude? Is it 'dangerous' for cute women to be close to the homeless? Is their time considered more valuable? 

Perhaps it is more a societal issue. Homelessness is often seen as being due to some flaw in that person, when in fact people often become homeless due to reasons beyond their control (escape from abusive situations, loss of home due to illness, mental illness, sudden firing after the age of 50 etc). So, are these people not worthy of support? Considering some of the reactions I have personally heard when going to help out at food pantry events, this is a persuasive argument.

Or maybe it is a comment on the lady in question instead. Are cute people supposed to be vapid and innocent to the messier sides of society? 

It is the のに (even though) part of the phrase that bothers me. Why couldn't it just be 'you are super cute and your concern for other people is praiseworthy'? Telling people they are awesome is certainly a nice thing to do, but it doesn't have to come with a side of comparisons.

Thoughts, suggestions or comments welcome.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Nagano in a Nutshell

There is a very famous phrase, written by Kawabata: 'トネルを抜けると、そこは雪国であった' (On the other side of the tunnel, there lay snow country).

That was my image of Nagano in the winter, covered in thick coats of snow, which appear suddenly after the long tunnel after Omiya.

Man, was I in for a surprise when visiting last New Years! After much thought about what to wear and how to layer, the temperatures were pretty much the same as Yokohama....sans snow.
I really like Nagano.

First of all, many of their regional specialties are things I can actually eat (apples, peaches, soba and the fantastic oyaki). Oyaki, for the uninitiated, are chewy dumplings filled with all types of seasoned veggies. They are truly amazing, and on this trip I found a little store purveying an apple pie version!

Secondly, it is rather unpretentious. Like many mountainous, dangerously snowy and cold places, people tend to be a bit more practical. For instance, Nagano is the prefecture with the most uniform-less schools. Students can wear things that actually keep them warm (aka pants in winter for girls).

They are practical in many different ways *cough cough* (yes, that is an adult toy store).
Thirdly, Meiji era buildings galore!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Akihabara: Land of the Weird

Last week I fulfilled the oddest work assignment I have had to date: attending an Alice Project 地下アイドル('underground idol') live show, and writing a review about it. Suffice to say, this was not your average AKB48 show. On the 7th floor of a Pasela building in Akihabara, I stepped into an odd world populated by girls in hockey masks wielding colorful chainsaws, girls in Wizard of Oz costumes and others in fake armor singing over remixed versions of Irish folk tunes. And don't forget the fans...

As an ethnomusicologist I am familiar with the fan culture surrounding idols, but have never seen it up close. I do have to say that they are extremely respectful, taking turns approaching the stage to whoop and call out to their favorite idol... but it was truly odd. Seeing them all sit on the floor when the girls were talking (in typical, high-pitched kawaii fashion) was quite a sight.

After the live show, I was taken around a few of the major maid cafes run by one of our clients. Yet more high-pitched voices and pouting ('Master, Milady, are you leaving already?!'). I did my utmost not to give into my desire to scream about the effects of sexualizing infantilized women, but it was a close thing.

As I walked back to Iwamoticho station, slightly dazed, I came across the highlight of my night: a congregation of weird vending machines.
Just in case you suddenly need a jar of assorted bells, a toy train or yakitori in a can. Some of the items on sale had been taken from their original packaging and placed into plastic jars (like the chocolate soccer balls and candy above).
I don't know if this is someone's personal hobby, or something set up for a clientele that doesn't like to interact with others much (perhaps hikikumori?). But, if you find yourself in Akiba late at night and need an aroma candle, a can of oden or a pack of emergency rations, this odd little corner awaits your patronage.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Dating in Japan: Reactions

Notice: While I am dealing with the whole moving process, I will be bringing back a few of my most popular posts for an airing. Once things have settled down a bit more, I will be back to regular posting.

One of the unexpected parts of dating Japanese guys is the reaction one gets from women. I am well-aware that the Asian Male/Non-Asian Female couple is still considered a bit of a minority in the relationship arena, so knew that people might be a bit surprised. However I did not expect to hear from my Japanese female friends:

'Why would you date them?! Japanese guys aren't nice!'

Really? In all the countries I have lived in and visited, I have never experienced such widespread disparagement about the local males (except perhaps Italy).

I find this very odd because, unless for some reason I am only aquainted the best of the bunch, I have found most of my male aquaintances here to be perfectly nice, likeable people. Infact, comparing with my home country, I would say there is a higher rate of respectful men here.

Perhaps this is because I don't play into the roles so many women think they need to take on to have a relationship. While for the first couple dates I may be a bit more demure (Rule #1: It is impolite to broadcast your personal craziness indiscriminately), that soon fades away, and the full force of my personality is apparent. Take it or leave it, honey.

As I see it, if you act like a burikko, you are going to attract people who are into being the powerful one in a relationship. If you give your power away so freely, you have a much higher chance of ending up with a nasty boyfriend/girlfriend/whatever.

I am opinionated, silly and outspoken. I demand respect, and will immediately take someone to task if they say something I do/say/believe is because I am female/gaijin(hate that word)/whatever. I pay my part of the bill, and do not expect to be treated differently. And, lo and behold, guys don't flee from me... quite the opposite. I stick to the idea that people are people, wherever you go.

Other positive and negative reactions I have experienced so far and their common perpetrators (sheesh, this is starting to sound like some kind of primer!) are:

- Being photographed without you or your partner's consent, usually by elderly Japanese men with overly large cameras
- Being asked about 'size', interestingly from both Asian and non-Asian men (sorry, I have not conducted a full demographic study on the matter, nor do I intend to)
- Joy on the part of cafe owners ( 'Ya'll look so stylish, please sit near the window'!)
- Giggling high schoolers of both genders (minds=blown)
- Reaaally annoying the Nationalist guys in the nasty black trucks, especially when you start giggling at their ridiculous proclamations (Note: this is also a solo sport)
- Being told 'your children will be sooo cute' by women of all ages (eeesh...any 'children' I have will be furry, four-footed, and infinitely more adorable than a human child)

As with all dating, at times amusing, at times exasperating. All I can say is that, personally, so far there have been a lot of fun, respectful times!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Of Planes and Trains (and food)

The writer Jan Morris once wrote that food eaten in movement, while travelling, is somehow more satisfying.

I agree wholeheartedly with this, except when it comes to plane food (*shudder*). If a flight is less than 7 hours I will usually not eat on board, unless they provide fruit or some vaguely healthy cracker/sembei. Unfortunately, for long haul flights, my metabolism does require food... if you can call vegetarian plane meals such...eeesh.

However, trains are entirely another matter. I have fond memories of munching through giant onigiri, local cherry tomatoes and mikan juice as I slowly wound my way around Northern Kyushu. I have stopped in Hiroshima for okonomiyaki, and sampled vegetarian oshizushi as I watched Tsuwano's carp-filled canals and tiny orange torii fade into the distance.

When travelling around Japan by train I find the journey equally important as the destination. Watching the fields and mountains give way to beach, or the flat expanse of Aichi slowly turn to Mt.Fuji and then Tokyo.  All from the comfy seat of an unhurried train.

But planes... planes are unnatural. Squashed  into tiny, knee-bruising seats, without being able to walk about or watch the scenery pass by. The cold, recycled air drying out nostrils and any bit of exposed skin.

Every once in a while it can be cool. On a return flight from Singapore I got to watch a thunderstorm from above, flying over the US I briefly saw the aurora and the view of Mt. Fuji from the air is stunning. But, personally, I find that planes are not well-suited to rambling contemplation, while trains are.