Mortality Complex

Okay, so this one isn’t DIRECTLY related to Japan, per se; but it was INSPIRED by things that I’ve seen and experienced here thus far.  ^_^  Also back home, but it becomes more prominent here as you’ll see.

Okay, so this one isn’t DIRECTLY related to Japan, per se; but it was INSPIRED by things that I’ve seen and experienced here thus far. ^_^ Also back home, but it becomes more prominent here as you’ll see.

So, I’ve had this thing about me for a while now, my brothers and I have talked about it before, and I thought for a while that it was a kind of… universal human trait that we all shared.  And while I’m not sure how universal it may be anymore, I have come somewhat to understand to a greater extent what it is, if not why.

So here’s an example:  You’re driving down the road.  It’s pretty late at night, and there really aren’t any cars around.  In fact, you’re pretty sure that you’re alone as far as you can see.  You start looking around you and notice a gigantic lamp post, and you feel the force of the vehicle around you, and you start wondering, What if the two forces met up, what would happen?  Sure you know you would crash, and probably die… but I mean…  What would actually happen?  Then your mind starts playing through these strange scenarios of what you might do to cause this, and what you might imagine would happen were it to happen, until you eventually start double-checking yourself to make sure that you aren’t ACTUALLY turning the wheel to steer you into the light post.

This is what I call the “Mortality Complex,” where you somehow feel a drive to explore the fringes of living…  (Okay, this sounds really creepy, and entirely too serious for how I take it, myself.)  It’s not necessarily a strong urge, either.  In fact, in most cases, it’s the easiest thing in the world to just brush off and ignore! ^_^  So don’t worry about me!  *is looking at you, you know who you are*  So yeah.  This thing happens to people.

But what’s very interesting is how I can see things in Japan and, perhaps because their idea of “safe” is so different that it starts my mind wandering thinking about what “safe” actually means, I find myself more frequently thinking along these lines.  See, they have things like, lots of trains that you ride everywhere, and stories of people killing themselves by jumping in front of trains – these spark questions like, “If I were down there, could I actually survive being hit by a train?  How fast is fast enough to kill me?  Could I perhaps run across the tracks to the neighboring platform?  How close to me could a train be when I started running before I couldn’t make it anymore…?  I bet you could duck down in the area under the platform and be pretty safe from the train…” and the like.

Also, they have these… roof things.  You can just go out and, without much trouble at all, dangle your legs 9 stories above the ground.  The windows in the schools don’t have SCREENS, and they open a fair amount, such that anyone wanting to could potentially just open one up and jump!

My friends and I look at things like this and ask ourselves, “Are they ASKING people to kill themselves?!?”  Descending the stairs in a game store, they have relatively little blocking you from, say, jumping the 6 stories down unto an active construction side next door, for instance, and we just stopped for a moment and said, “Man…  They REALLY make it easy in this country…”  And we paused.  We were both just kind of feeling the tension of how easy it would be to jump.

Naturally, neither of us DID, I mean, that would be just… STUPID! ^_^  There’s just that… Mortality Complex that makes you think about it for just a little while before you decide to move on.

And I guess the sum of it is this:  Japan tries to get people to kill themselves.  Who knew? ^_^

Also, now that summer has finally started to hit (80-something temperatures in Fahrenheit), I bemoan even further the lack of double-paned glass in this confounded country!  Double-paned glass would allow me to run my air conditioner for a couple hours in the evening, turn it off, go to sleep, and not wake up 4 hours later feeling hot and sticky again! >.<  Why, Japan?  Why?!?  Don’t you know that it saves energy – just like you’re always going on about – and ALSO lets you stay more comfortable?  For less money, even!!  Come ON, Japan!  I love you, but you gotta start being SMART about these things…  V__V


Dating Difficulties

This is not a personal entry, I promise!  It’s totally about Japan!  ;P (Translation: We ask men to refrain from entering the hot tob. Please understand.)

This is not a personal entry, I promise! It’s totally about Japan! ;P (Translation: We ask men to refrain from entering the hot tob. Please understand.)

So, I’ve talked about this on my personal blog site a lot lately (lately being in the last few weeks), but I have recently gotten myself into a relationship here in Japan.  (Yes, it’s awesome, okay, fine, moving on to more pertinent things in this blog.  Thanks.  ^_^)  I want to talk just for a moment about why I am now completely amazed that anything ever gets done in Japan with regard to relationships and dating IN GENERAL, as I have now seen some rather unusual things from the inside (of having a relationship).

First off, how do people ever get to know each other well at all?  There is nowhere in this city (Tokyo) that you can go to be alone together with someone, even just to talk or whatever.  Unless the last train has already left (more on that later), there’s going to be SOMEBODY walking nearby to SOMEWHERE, no matter where you try to run.  Societally, I suppose, this could function a bit like having a 24/7 chaperone, but when you hear statistics about the average 12-14 year old having had a sexual experience, you start to wonder where they go to DO it?  This isn’t me being frustrated, since I’m not looking for that sort of thing as you might imagine, but purely from a standpoint where I would like our personal discussions to ACTUALLY be personal and not having dozens of people walking by all the time, it’s a bit strange to think that ANYONE could be at ALL sexually active before they can afford a large apartment on their own (meaning after university)…

…and suddenly, it makes sense why nobody ever gets married or dates seriously here until well into college life or even an established career.  That makes me kind of sad.

Second, what’s the deal with purikura?  It’s a contraction of the English words “print club,” into Japanese, and it talks about the crazy photo booths they have here.  The picture atop this post is from a sign that I saw when my girlfriend and I went to take pictures at a purikura place in an upper floor of an arcade (they call them game centers here, though).  If you can’t figure it out, men are not allowed to be on the purikura floor by themselves.  If a man is present, he must be accompanying a woman.  I will freely admit that I felt freaking WEIRD going into that floor, hand-in-hand with my new girlfriend, ready to affix our newfound attraction into the annals of history with crazy backgrounds, bright shiny stars, and crazy glittery things dotted throughout the photos.  Was I adventuring into a forbidden realm?  Was there some hidden secret that only girls and boys-with-girlfriends were allowed to know?  (Pro-tip:  there wasn’t.)  What happened if she wandered around the corner to look at another booth without me noticing and some girl came up and saw me just standing by myself?!?  Were ninjas (girl ninjas) going to appear from the ceiling tiles and slice me in half for being a perverted monster, when really I just hadn’t stayed close enough to my girlfriend to be kept safe from the purikura ninjas?  o.o  I feared for my life.

[ed. note: Males are totally, technically allowed. I just never saw any nearby where the purikura stuff.]

I feared for my life muchly.

Lastly, what the hell, Japan, is with your trains?  Last trains leaving at 12:15?  But if you want to make the transfer that takes you all the way to your home station you gotta leave by 11:45?  And this is even on the weekend!  So we’re both in home-stays, and that kind of makes it impossible to meet up and just watch TV or a movie or play games at one of our houses, which means we have to meet up somewhere (usually the station nearest the school) to talk, as young lovers often will, into the not-so-wee hours of the night.  That’s right.  No staying up forever talking because you gotta catch your last train!  No cuddling together because, let’s face it, sitting down is generally frowned upon by THE ENTIRETY OF THE JAPANESE POPULATION…

…I once saw a few benches somewhere… >.>  I think.  Truth be told, there are benches, but they’re usually in places like, right out front of a train station.  You want to sit down on a curb?  Prepare to be stared at, and that’s before they realize you’re a gaijin and holding hands (in public) with a girl. *big sigh*

Anyway.  So things are… interesting.  We’re managing to have a lot of fun despite Japan’s seeming paranoia about letting two people have any amount of quality time together.  Meh, perhaps it’s for the best.  It will teach us to treasure the time that we CAN be together, perhaps?  (Pro-tip: On weekdays, you can get a karaoke room, up to 3 hours, for less than $4 per person.  And you can… sing songs… in the karaoke room.)

Well, peace from this side of the pond.

[ed. note: Now that I’m much older and “wiser,” I would be very much interested in returning and trying to observe more of local custom surrounding couples. Now to figure out how to sustain myself if I went, and how to not look totally creepy following couples around Tokyo… A safari hat probably wouldn’t help in this regard…]

What Have You Done to Me, Japan?!?

There are some times when you just go crazy, and others when you see that you have gone crazy.  Judging by the fact that I have no idea what relation this image has to what I’m writing, I deem that it must be the former of those two options.

There are some times when you just go crazy, and others when you see that you have gone crazy. Judging by the fact that I have no idea what relation this image has to what I’m writing, I deem that it must be the former of those two options.

I have a friend who helps me sometimes put my life into perspective.  That is, he’s a crazy, crazy guy, and that helps me to remember that I maybe am not as crazy as I sometimes fear.  Sometimes, I’m more crazy, but not usually. ^_^  This guy, by the way, is going to get murdered when he goes back to America, because he says a lot of things based around the fact that, if you speak fast, slur your speech, or use incredibly formal/informal English, nobody around you actually understands what you’re saying.  And he gets rather vocally frustrated at various things from time to time.  And sometime after returning to America, we just KNOW he’s going to let lose with one of these vocal tirades, and, well, see, in America, most everyone DOES understand English, which is going to get him into trouble.  A lot of trouble.

I present this anecdote not to berate him, because the things he says are often funny beyond belief, but rather as an example of one of the things that Japan does to you. ^_^;;

You see, when in a country where nobody REALLY understands your native language unless you use simple, common words and speak extra-clearly, you sometimes get into bad habits.  You have the liberty of saying things whenever you want, which is refreshing in a culture which limits the things you are allowed to DO, but sometimes a little disturbing when you realize that you’ve been swearing like a sailor in front of a mom and her 5-year-old at a crosswalk, and then a little refreshing again when you realize, Oh, right, they didn’t understand me.

Among some of the stranger things, I have always known dance instructors to be rather touchy-feely about instruction, and necessarily so in order that you can feel where your hips SHOULD be.  But in Japan, well, it’s worse than I could have imagined.  The other day at practice, they decided that everyone needed to stand up straighter, and in order to accomplish this, they deemed it necessary to stab each of the lower-classmen in the ass with their pointer fingers.  Now, I’m well aware of ‘kancho,’ but I’m also aware that this sort of thing is supposed to be limited to elementary and younger middle school students!  Not college seniors! >.<

And then, just to top off the whole, This is f*cking weird theme, at the NEXT practice, they took down one of the senpai, removed his shoes and pants and unbuttoned his shirt (forcefully, I might add) and then tossed him up into an overhead lamp a few times before dropping him back down to the ground.

One of the girls tried to be kind and stick her hand up, as if to touch the lamp, indicating that that was the lamp he was destined to hit.  I dunno, MAYBE she was trying to keep him from hitting it or something, but since girls can’t touch boys in this country (unless you’re dancing with them or teaching them to dance, in which case shoving your fingers up their patootie is totally fine), it’s a little hard to tell which was her true goal.

Seriously, Japan, what the crap?

Something that bugs me a lot here is the idea of “kimeta”, literally, “it’s been decided.”  This is one of the prime reasons for being a jerk-off in Japan.  Well, let me rephrase that.  If anyone is forced to do something stupid or is not allowed to do something intelligent and you ask those in charge “Why?” the answer will more often than not come back, “Kimeta kara.”  “Because it’s been decided.”  There need be no reason other than that.  I gotta say, I pretty much hated (with the firey passion of a thousand suns and all that) the reason “because I said so,” and this whole “kimeta” bullcrap is nothing more than the grown-up version of the same, perhaps with a little “my grand-pappy did it this way, and my father did it this way, and I did it this way, so you’re gonna’ do it this way, too” thrown in.  Y’know, for flavor. ~_^

I used to try to be a “good little gaijin,” when I first came here.  You know, I used to try to learn all of the customs, and to execute them all to the best of my ability, but now that I have been here for somewhat longer, I’ve learned that the Japanese people don’t really notice or care if you try hard to execute things the same way that they do.  In fact, I think it kind of throws them off their A-game to see a foreigner doing things as well as they do.  There’s this ‘sense’ here that Japanese people are “different” or “special” compared to the other nationals of the world, that they’re more naturally… “in tune” to some sense of Japanese… sensibilities.  While I believe this (and have OBSERVED this) not to be the case, you can’t really convince the average-Kenji on the street of this.  And so I have, partially out of increasing laze, partly out of rebellion, and partly because it makes me feel more like I’m filling in my rightful place in this society, I have begun to not care so much about some of the little details.  Things like eating food while walking someplace?  Whatever, I want to do it, I’m in an hurry, and besides, I’m a GAIJIN, so they expect me to do it wrong.  Talking on the train to friends?  Whatever, GAIJIN are always loud and obnoxious.  I think they are less thrown off when I ACT like a foreigner than when I don’t.  I think they prefer to have to struggle themselves and try to speak my VERY hard English for me than to have to endure the shame of my speaking their Japanese to them as fluently as the next guy.

…And sometimes I think I even start to believe that.  Just a little bit.

Oh, Japan, what have you done to me? ^_^;;;


More unrelated photos.  Yay. [Ed.: Does this count as a "selfie"?]

More unrelated photos. Yay. [Ed.: Does this count as a “selfie”?]

As I write this, I am sick.  It’s just a cold, and I think I’m mostly through it (it’s been on for a few days now and I have been sick enough to generally know what the dying throes* of a cold are like), but I’ve experienced some interesting things that come out through being sick over here.

*Thanks to my anal family members I get to look less like an idiot now!  The word is “throes,” not “throws,” and I should have known that.  I guess when you’re in the dying throes of being sick it’s hard to remember such things.  Thanks!

First of all, there’s the words.  You have a word for “cold” (as in the thing you catch, not as in the temperature), and you have a word for “sick.”  “Sick” is a very strong word.  I heard from one of the other kids over here that they once told their host parents they were “sick” rather than they had caught a “cold,” and they host parents were like, “Well, then we have to get you to the doctor!”  And created a big scene.  In America, you tell someone you’re sick, and they’re like, “Oh that sucks,” because being sick just means you don’t feel well, and it’s due to something beyond normal fatigue or whatever.  In Japan, it seems, “sick” is what justifies missing school/work, etc…

Second, they go to the doctor (actually, everything is just a hospital here, they just have lots of them and they each specialize in different things) for pretty much anything.  They would probably go to the doctor for a cold, and the doctors, I hear, will give you drugs for it.  I’d rather not drop $20 on a bum doctor’s visit and drugs that I don’t actually need, so I’ve just been trying to play the whole thing pretty low-key.

Third, apparently whenever someone gets sick here, they get a fever.  I’m not sure why, but it seems to be assumed.  I used the word for “cold” with my host parents here, and a little while later, when I was up to get some food (being sick doesn’t mean you don’t want to eat, I mean… jeez!) my host father was like, “Has your fever gone down at all?”  And I’m like, “Um… fever?”  I never said anything about a fever.  And besides, how would I know?  Did YOU guys give me a thermometer?  No?  What?

I think that the term may have some kind of usage whereby you talk about things like “feeling” hot… or cold…  But I’m really not sure, and I don’t much care to know if it does.  I’m sick, and I rather like the words that we have in America, where “fever” means your body’s temperature is elevated to generally around or above 100ªF, thanks.  I’d rather not have to play a game of “What do YOU think this means?” right now, because that takes energy, and well…  screw that.

I also had a girl in class ask me if I had a fever, too, the other day ‘cause I was really tired (it was also a morning class, but the cold was starting to get underway) and I’d told her I think I was getting a cold.  Here’s something about my physiology:  I don’t get fevers.  If I did, then I probably SHOULD go see a doctor, because it means I’m about to die.  My body temperature never elevates over about 99.6.  I know.  I remember being a child and trying to convince my mom to let me stay home from school, and I could never QUITE make the cutoff of 100˚F.  It made me very sad, and also pretty miserable just in class during the day.

They also have this weird idea here that if you’re ill, but you feel like getting up, then you’re a) getting better, or b) need to go lie back down.  Sick people shouldn’t do ANYTHING.  Now, what I generally remember from my health class back in high school was something along the lines of, “Even if you’re sick, but you feel like going out for a jog, or playing basketball, or whatever, then you should go ahead and do it.”  Something about getting the blood flowing and making your body work more, which can help it to flush out the affected areas, I think.  Okay, you don’t want to push yourself like WAY too hard (which is kind of what I did yesterday… >.>) but it’s not bad to be active even if you’re sick.  So, Mom, which idea is best, medically speaking?  I’m going to trust the western nurse’s perspective on this, because while Japan has thousands of years of traditions dealing with disease, the west has done the most EMPIRICAL study of disease and its effect on the human body, etc, to help weed out the more unnecessary wives’ tales about dealing with a cold.

Oh, and that’s another thing.  In America, when you have a cold, even your best friends will be like, “That sucks, hope you get better soon,” and then they’ll stay the hell away from you, because they don’t want to catch it.  Here, I’ve found (especially among girls – maybe it means something I’m missing?) that those who are your better friends won’t stay away from you, but will instead keep closer tabs on you, and ask if you’re okay, and work to try and help you feel better.  Not that there’s really a lot you can do, but people don’t seem to be as affected by the fact that you’re sick and they MIGHT CATCH IT from you.  It’s not a universal thing, but one I plan to adopt in the future amongst my friends and family.  If I’m gonna get sick, I’m gonna get sick.  Period.  Why ruin time with someone who’s currently suffering but the time could be enjoyed just because you’re afraid you might get it, too?


The answer is “yes.”  ^_^

Except for one guy I know.  He claims not to be a ‘people.’

Akihabara Tour

Here’s the group that went on the tour.  There were a bunch of us in total.  ^_^  You can kind of see our tour guide in the back there.

Here’s the group that went on the tour. There were a bunch of us in total. ^_^ You can kind of see our tour guide in the back there.

Akihabara – the technology capital of Tokyo.  This place has been revered, feared, worshipped, and avoided by countless dozens of people worldwide who’ve visited Japan.  That being said, Akihabara isn’t… REALLY a place.  When someone talks bout it, they mostly refer to a north-south street that lies just west of Akihabara station, plus a few parallel streets.  Along these streets you can find all sorts of games, anime, food, comic, model, and computer shops, along with various arcades and even several “duty-free” places dealing in some of the more mundane things – backpacks, watches, jewelry, shoes, etc…

It is also hailed as the center of what is called “otaku” culture.  Otaku is an interesting word, indeed, generally referring (especially outside of Japan) to people who are hardcore anime (Japanese cartoons, or “animation”) fans who will sometimes even go so far as to dress up and play the role of their favorite characters both at conventions and even sometimes on the streets or when shopping at the mall.  In Japan, the definition is a little more general, and a little different.  The Japanese term, “otaku,” refers to a subculture of people whose interests revolve so heavily around a certain area (games, anime, movies, trains, models, history, etc…) that they have left behind developing other parts of their lives, generally things like learning how to socialize with people on the street (who aren’t ALSO otaku) and learning how to interact with the opposite sex.

There’s even an otaku “look” which involves wearing relatively nice pants (since they never really go outside except to further their hobby), a button-up shirt (since they usually come from work), glasses worn awkwardly, an extra-large backpack worn on both shoulders, a plain, old-fashioned Beatles-style haircut, and usually a lot of sweat.

I think that if most Americans knew what it took in Japan to call someone “otaku,” that they would probably stop trying to use the term in reference to themselves.  ^_^

Anyway, since this “Akihabara” place (remember?  That’s the focus of this blog post!) is so famous, the program I’m with to study over here offers a tour of the place once a semester, so that students can see the place, and learn a bit about its history and cultural significance, and also learn something about what otaku life/culture is, and to see kind of into their world, in case the student was interested.  Since I happen to like video games an anime myself, and I’ve been to a few arcades in Akihabara already, I figured it could at least be interesting to go on the tour and see what was up.

Goku Tour GuideThe tour started off at the train station meeting this guy.  I don’t know what his real name is, since he called himself “Goku,” which is the name of the character he is cosplaying in the photo.*  At first I thought that it was really weird, and actually kind of dumb that our tour guide was in costume, but later on I realized that it’s in fact a brilliant idea!  His hair sticks up really high, and what with the bright colors and everyone always looking at him, it’s REALLY easy to spot him from quite a distance, and that’s just about perfect for a tour guide through a densely crowded city.  Needless to say, nobody really got lost. ^_^  He is also a graduate student from the university where I’m studying, focusing his research (or whatever) on Akihabara itself, so he knew quite a lot about the city, its history, and even many current events and changes going on in it.

*Cosplay refers to someone who puts on a COStume and PLAYs the role of the character represented by said costume.  It originally was called a “Costume Play,” but that was too long.

Essentially, Akihabara (as it’s known now) was a simple area west of Tokyo-proper and east of the Imperial Palace, that was set up as a fire-wall during the fire bombing in World War II.  As such, they created a shrine there to a fire spirit, called “Akiba Shrine” in the hopes that it would protect the area from fire.  It must have worked, because the shrine still stands, and a lot of original buildings also still remain (and the ones that don’t were torn down intentionally to build new ones).  After the war, the area around Akiba Shrine was used largely for black-market electronics selling – radio parts, circuit boards, transistors, other technical-sounding things – and much of the structure of the stalls and the building used for this are still around and in what looks to be rather heavy use even today.

When the train systems were built, and the train lines built up over the top of Akiba Shrine, they called it Akihabara.  (Akiba – 秋葉 – being the original name which means something like “autumn leaf,” and Akihabara – 秋葉原 – meaning something like “field of autumn leaves,” but in this case we were told it was used to mean something more like, “home of the Akiba Shrine,” which also works with the above kanji, it’s just a more… creative usage of the kanji than literal.  Things like that were rampant back in the day, it seems!)  Thus the area known as Akihabara isn’t really so much a city as an area.

There are many famous areas, for instance a place called the “rocket tower,” which was originally home to stores selling home-rocket parts for hobbyists and enthusiasts.  Now they sell duty-free goods, I think, but they keep the building name, as it’s rather famous.

However, up until about the early 90s, the place was relatively unknown around the world, and certainly not the center of otaku-culture that it is today.  It was just a place to find parts to build radios and maybe models and such.  In the early 90s there was a string of murders by one man.  Apparently this was pretty famous, even internationally, and the media kept referring to this man not as a “serial murderer, “ or a “psychopathic killer,” (either of which would have been fairly correct) they referred to him as “otaku,” intending the reference to a social deviant, or one who is societally inept.  This put the fear of death-by-otaku into the minds of all Japanese people, and there was a huge public outcry to keep otaku (who were really just nerds with serious hobbies) away from them so they could walk the streets without being afraid of being murdered every time they passed a guy with weird posture, a backpack, and glasses.  Thus all of the otaku were chased out of the major parts of the city, Shibuya, Shinjuku, etc… and they started convening instead in Akihabara, where a bunch of them went frequently anyway.  They started meeting up with friends there, gathering to look at newly-released merchandise, and as companies will generally place stores more where there are people likely to purchase from them, more and more otaku-specific store sprang up, until eventually you have what is now, today, to geek capital of the world.

Club Sega Crosswalk in AkihabaraThere are a lot of interesting current events and cultural shifts going on in Akiba as well.  (Lots of people just call it “Akiba,” because that’s shorter.)  For instance, there are major pushed within the government to set up more big-building business, and have larger department stores instead of smaller, privately-owned shops around.  As such, land prices are being driven higher in the area as bigger companies are purchasing property for their high-rise stores, and that’s making it increasingly harder and harder for the smaller guys to make a profit and stay in business.  Even I can see myself falling victim to this, as I much prefer the larger stores, with their air conditioning and wider aisles, to the smaller ones with run-down looking floors and narrow racks stacked high with bad photocopies of the games they have behind the counter, etc…  So it’s a big problem.  (Admittedly, it’s not like I DON’T shop at the smaller stores.  One of my favorite used game stores looks like a smaller-name private shop, though it is multi-story.  =/ )

Also, now that it’s been over a decade since the whole serial-killer thing went down, there’s been an increasing allowance of otaku in the world.  That is, a growing opinion that it’s okay to be otaku.  Especially with last autumn’s Prime Minister elections, one of the candidates gave a now rather famous speech, “I’m an Otaku” wherein he was standing on a major bridge just outside of Akihabara station and declared such to the media and those shopping the streets that day, setting a precedent that these are, in fact, people you have to deal with, and appeal to, and that they are major players in Japanese society anymore.

There’s even a large building (attached to this bridge) which is home to several restaurants and an Anime Museum, where all the restaurants have Akiba/otaku themed dishes.  This building also serves to infuse more of a night-life into Akihabara, as previously the whole area was basically shut down by 8, and the restaurants in that building intentionally stayed open until 10 or later, and now more shops are starting to stay open longer, and the whole of business is lasting later into the evening.

On the converse side, a lot of people who live in or near the Akiba area have been increasingly complaining about otaku behavior and presence to the police.  There are complaints of indecency, of otaku wandering around eating food outdoors (making the air smell bad), crowding on the streets and sidewalks, making it hard to get anywhere, etc.  Unfortunately, in Japan, the police aren’t able to (as the are frequently in the US) say, “Sorry, there’s nothing we can do about it.”  So they have recently begun to patrol the main street of Akihabara, watching for people dancing, singing, getting their pictures taken in costume, drawing a crowd, or just standing around (sitting and leaning are okay, I guess), and telling them to stop, or to keep moving, or to leave, etc…

There’s an event which happens every Sunday from morning until mid-late afternoon where they close off a section of the main street and allow people to wander freely around it.  This used to be used for an Imperial march… festival… thing, as the main street was used when the Emperor would travel between places, but has more recently just been a day when all the otaku get out their costumes and go out on the street and have a good time.  The new enforcement of rules has really rather gotten people worked up, and these otaku are starting to become afraid.

One cosplayer, rather famous I guess, was actually arrested on television for doing something where she would shove her butt out while wearing a terribly short skirt, thus revealing her underwear to passersby and fanboys.  Apparently this sort of thing is illegal, and everyone saw it on the news.  This sent a pretty strong message (only a few weeks ago, actually!) that otaku aren’t welcome in Akiba anymore, which I think is stupid, and the tour guide agreed with me.  Akihabara is the center of otaku culture, and it’s where they convened and have made it their own since they were kicked out of the rest of the city.  Now people who chose to live there are complaining about the otaku being there?  What did they expect?  Anyway, it’s not THAT bad, since the police are only enforcing this to keep images up, and as such they are only enforcing these rules on the main street.  Go back a street or two behind the main parts, and you can still find many of the cosplayers and otaku doing their thing, unmolested by the fuzz.  And that’s what the police in Japan do.  They track down criminals, and they help people who are offended by something feel like something is being done about it, even if it’s really not so much.  I still like it better than American police who don’t exist to serve the people at ALL, so much as to make money for the government and fill speeding ticket quotas.

The true irony in this new situation, however, is that in the same week as this cosplayer was arrested on television, sending out the message, “otaku are not wanted,” just a few blocks away there was a major “Otaku Convention” going on in the building with the anime museum.  This sounds to me a bit like a case of one hand slapping while the other hand scratches their back.  I told you it was irony.  “No otaku anymore!  By the way, if you are otaku, there’s a convention around the corner that you might be interested in.”  >.<

All-in-all, it was a fun, informative tour, and I’m glad I went.  Note, I didn’t even mention the maid cafe we went to!  Yes, we went, but it’s one I’d been to before, and it wasn’t all that interesting.

Peace.  v(‘_’ )

Figures of Speech

It’s just a fun picture.  There’s no connection.

It’s just a fun picture. There’s no connection.

So, I was thinking this evening (instead of going to sleep, as I should be even now) about some of the differences I’ve experienced in the Japanese culture, especially in social and group cultures, of which I have significantly more experience even these four or five weeks than the whole of last semester.  In joining the Ballroom Dance Club here on campus, I have had the chance to experience a lot of different group dynamics, and it occurred to me this evening a way to compare some of what I have experienced to American life, and how I would explain that to someone here.

There’s a saying in Japan that goes, “The nail that sticks up will be hammered down.”  (Some of us like to rephrase it, “the nail that sticks up will ultimately gash someone’s foot open and make them swear and bleed,” but that’s not really related, unless you talk about foreigners here being nails sticking up. ^_^)  This phrase is generally taken to mean that everyone must do what they are told, and live in their place without trying to move, and to a great extent that holds true even today.  But you can also look at it a bit differently, in that it’s saying that there is an order to everything, a place for everything, and it’s not good to screw with that.  I call it Japanese bureaucracy, and generally I dislike it, but it works here.  I don’t see a lot of Japanese people complaining that things aren’t moving fast enough, or they want to do more.  If they want to do more, they add things they do, not complain about things moving too slowly.

See, for me, having dance experience, I have already picked up the beginning step-pattern that they teach all of the newbies here.  The first-year students will be working on these patterns for the next several months, and will eventually become pretty good at them.  I’m already as good as a second or third-year at these patterns, or so I’ve been told.  Somehow I tend to think that’s not one of those “exaggerate to make the foreigner feel successful” moments, either, because dance isn’t really about what language you speak with your mouth.  This increased pace has also frustrated me, however, as I know I can learn MORE, faster, and still improve, but getting someone to teach me, well, is like asking the mountains to move.*  And I think that this is a prime example of the nail being hammered back down.  They see me and perceive that I’m a new student to the club, and so call me a first-year, despite the fact that I’m soon to graduate, and am at least three years older than even their seniors.  They see me as a nail, and even though I’m a nail of exceptional quality, I have a place to be, and that place has not yet gotten to the point where it’s time to learn more.

Along with this, however, is the fact that if other nails are weaker, they get don’t get left behind.  It matters more that you are a nail, or a plank, or a screw, or whatever, than how well you were crafted, or how well you fulfill your role.

*Incidentally, I have gotten word that if, outside of sanctioned practices, I ask someone to show me more, I can probably get that, seeing as how I won’t be here for the normal time of a first year student.

On the flip side of this, I think the appropriate figure of speech for American group dynamic is “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”  Usually this means that if you have someone really weak in a group, the whole group is weak, and it’s the basis for having tryouts for team sports, etc…  However if you look at it from another perspective, then it provides incentive for everybody to a) try their best so as not the BE the weakest link, and b) the people who are better to always be helping those below them to become better.  This doesn’t mean that they just help their technique, however, this means that every link should strive to be as strong as the strongest, if not more so.  And that the stronger links should all fall in to help the weaker ones to be at least as strong as they.  So then, even if you’re a newbie, if you’re as good as a third year, you generally get grouped with them, and people below you will look to you for help.  Perhaps you even MORE so because you’re ALSO new, which makes you part of their group, thus a bit more approachable, but still higher on the link-strength scale.  Were I to join a similar dance team in America, I feel fairly strongly that I would rapidly become one of the primary dancers, because people would show me what they could, and I would pick it up and get better at it almost as fast as they could teach it to me.  Even if it was my first semester there, they wouldn’t hold me back just because I was new, assuming I had the skills.

Furthermore, if one link breaks, then all of the others (or at least the strongest, most important) gather around it to help it back up, and help it to become strong again, because you cannot have weaknesses in your chain.  However if a nail is sticking up, it’s up the the carpenter to come and hammer it back down.  The other nails would only upset things by trying to fix the situation themselves.

Does this make any sense?  Do you guys see it being this way?  Do you have better phrases to use?  Leave a comment or send me an email and let me know! ^_^

I Now Know… (Part 4)

This... is a Japanese toilet.  Complete with Totoro seat cozy and a panel of various, sometimes frightening things you can do to yourself with it.  *scared*

This… is a Japanese toilet. Complete with Totoro seat cozy and a panel of various, sometimes frightening things you can do to yourself with it. *scared*

Yay!  Time for more nifty tidbits of learning! ^_^

I now know…

…what happend to that super-computer in Superman 3, y’know, the one that turns people into the Borg?  The Japanese have taken it and are even now using it to model their toilets after. >.<

 [ed: I am so ashamed that I ever wrote/thought this next point. I now know that, in all cultures, most people dress to be well-dressed, and are not actually trying to attract their preferred sex. I apologize for this one. Please skip it.]

…that Japanese people don’t think like Americans.  Okay, so I already new this, but there’s a difference between knowing because you heard and knowing because you see it happen every day.  Take, for instance, short dresses and boat loads of makeup.  If you see a girl wearing LOTS of makeup and a very short dress in, say America, you figure they’re probably looking to impress boys, if not outright get in someone’s pants ASAP.  In Japan, it seems, that girls will wear that sort of thing, uh, for the sake of fashion; and that “fashion” exists not to make girls attractive, but to make them feel like part of the fashion-going trend in Japan.

It apparently has nothing to do with boys at all.  As such, it’s difficult to tell what a girl may be looking for in a boy; though that’s difficult for me anyway, as the ones looking with their cloths back home are not the kind that I generally wanted anyway.  So, I guess it’s kind of the same, only pretty different.  And somehow being in Japan makes that sentence make sense. >.>

…that Japanese teachers will say anything.  We were told a story in class (to illustrate the causative form of verbs — let’s see another language pull that one out!) where she really hated her little brother, they went camping, and he wanted to swim, so she let him; and in the first version, she snuck up on him and “made” him drown.  In the second version he was drowning and she sat on the bank, saw it, and “let” him drown.  The sick thing was that this actually made the whole thing make more sense! O.O

Now, guess what the difference was between “made” and “let”.  (Hint: only one character…)

…what it’s like to wash your clothes in a sink.  It’s what I get for for forgetting an extra pair of socks, and then again for having to stay at ANOTHER hotel a second night when I only brought one change of underwear.  It’s really not that bad, just very time consuming.  And drying your clothes is a bit of a pain as well.

…that those things we call “rules of the road” in America exist here, but the way in which they are executed would be more correctly referred to as “suggestions of the road”, and I mean that in a way that only someone who’s driven (or ridden in) a car outside the US is likely to truly understand.

…that I really do act drunk sometimes, though I remain completely sober.  I saw a girl at a Japanese drinking party, obviously rather intoxicated, as she picked up her glass and stared, marveling, at the ice; and I thought to myself, “Gee, that looks like something I would do, if not something I have already done… a lot!”  Scary?  you may think so.  I think it’s funny! ^_^

…how early one must awake in order to have the newspaper read to you in the mornings on TV.  Yes, they have programs where they give you the news by reading you portions from the day’s newspaper.  And the time is entirely too early in the morning.  I think it would be easier to just learn all the kanjis than to wake up that early every morning for your news.  Fortunately, I choose option ‘c.’  That is, I don’t pay attention to the news. ^_^

…that girls don’t flirt in Japan to let you know they’re interested.  They do, however, go to lots of drinking parties, get totally shit-faced, and then pretty blatantly hit on you.  So it kind of evens itself out. >.<