Japan is odd in many ways. Whether it's the products you find in stores (tentacles on a stick, no joke), or the cultural expectation of wearing slippers for particular types of floors (one set for indoors, and another for the bathroom). The oddest thing about Japan, in my opinion, is living here. You are transported to a reality that simultaneously places you in the past and future. Now, I am drawing a comparison between Japan and Canada (or more generally, between North America, and to some extent, Australia and the U.K. - perhaps other countries as well, but I'm drawing from personal experience). Why is Japan like simultaneously living in the past and future? Let me explain.
The Past: So if you think of bygone days, what comes to mind? What are some things that were common and are no longer but a memory? Well, let me give you some examples that are alive and well in Japan. Bicycles. Yes, I'm sure you're aware that bicycles are common in places like China, but were you aware of how common they are in Japan? They are everywhere. Absolutely everywhere. Not just bicycles, but the type of bicycles remind me of travelling back in time to the 1950s. They're the kind of bicycles with baskets in the front and a bell on the handle. I'm not kidding. If you watch a movie from that era, you'll see people happily biking along on exactly the bike I'm talking about. How about trains? Trains used to be a common method of transportation. Guess what? They're everywhere here. Trains, trains, trains! So many different lines! Some of them are older and feel like they're from the 50s, I swear. In more rural areas, the train pulls away from the station with a tug, like pulling on a slack line. You can see the movement jostle everyone in the car.
Okay, okay. So bicycles and trains are a blast from the past. What else? Laundry. Yes, everyone owns a washer, but owning a dryer isn't actually common. Most people buy laundry clips and hang their laundry to dry on a line. It's true. In fact, I just finished hanging my clothes to dry. It's an odd thing having to take your clothes from the washer, and clip them to a string hanging outside your apartment. What year is this?
Remember fax machines? Well they're plentiful here. I use one every single day at work. I can hardly believe it myself. I find it so incredibly old fashioned. What about e-mails? What about computers? What about doing things that save paper? I'm not sure I understand myself. I guess Japan just prefers having hard copies of absolutely everything. So I spend my time filling out forms and dialing numbers. You think they're old, clunky machines? Nope. They're new. Yes, new, small, efficient, fax machines. Oh Japan.
Then we come to the topic of gas stations and convenience stores. You're probably thinking, "Wait, aren't those the same things?" Nope. They most certainly aren't, not in Japan anyway. I know travelling in North America is filled with gas stations and convenience stores being one and the same. Not in Japan. Take a trip back in time when those things were clearly separated. Your local "general" store carried everything you could possibly need in a pinch, and the service was always friendly. If you wanted gas for your automobile, you had to go to a different place, where it was always full service and they offered mechanical work if you needed. Welcome to Japan. In that sense, things are very much like looking back in time. Station attendants happily take care of your every vehicle need, and definitely offer any automotive service required. In fact, because it's Japan, customer service is always taken to another level. At some gas stations, expect the attendant to stop traffic and clear the way for you to leave safely, and in style. Now that's service.
If it isn't classic bicycles, gas stations, fax machines and hanging your laundry to dry, what else is a blast from the past? Simply put, gender roles. Japan is the place where women are exquisitely feminine and all the men wear suits. In fact, they're called "salary men". They work ridiculous hours and are never home with their families. Women graduate college, work as a receptionist for a few years then marry. It's true. They marry young and they have children. Then the men continue to work themselves to the grave, while the women take care of the offspring they've birthed. What's that? Is that the phone? Who's calling? Oh yeah, it's the '50s and they want their stereotypes back.
The Future: Honestly, I'm just going to talk about technology advances. For instance, the machines located in a train station. They can take bills, coins and most of them offer services in English. Then there's the gates. It's this elongated machine which you can either scan your pass through (you can buy a card that will scan electronically through your wallet, no kidding), or you can insert your train ticket into a slot and it will shoot through the other side of the gate. It's pretty amazing. It gets me every time. The city I'm from goes by the honour system. Kind of a huge mistake. In contrast, there's New York City, where you will actually get deported if you don't swipe your metro pass.
How about ATMs? Feel free to dump your change into these machines. That's right, ATMs process change. When you want to withdraw cash, a slot opens and the cash is presented to you in an expeditious and polite manner. (Not to mention the fact that everyone deals in cash. That's right, cash. Another blast from the past.) Or what about the presence of a copy machine/printer in every convenience store? They take USB keys, SD cards...whatever you can slap you files onto and print off. It doesn't matter, these machines will do it.
Japan is also very concerned about the environment. That idea is reflected in some city bus drivers that will actually turn off the bus instead of idling (even while at a red light). Although, I must say that I don't feel like it's helping much (if at all), but the thought is there. One hotel I visited, gave me a key card, which seemed perfectly normal until I got to my room. I attempted to turn on the lights but nothing happened. Then I saw a slot on the wall that asked me to insert my card. As soon as I did, all the lights came on. It blew my mind. They actually thought of a way to conserve energy even if you've left things on, because without the card, nothing would work. So if you go out shopping, and forget to turn the radio off, the tv, the bathroom light - whatever, removing the card would immediately shut it all off. Pretty cool.
I nearly forgot to mention trains again! Yes, there are old fashioned kind of trains, but there is also the shinkansen, also known as the bullet train! Oh my god. Prepare yourself for the most luxurious and comfortable train ride of your life. You have a lot more room than a plane, and yet it feels like you're flying. The train exceeds speeds of 300 km/h and feels like a soft glide just above the ground. If you're standing on the platform and watch the train go by, it rushes by with such speed and sound, that it's sure to surprise you! I grab my heart every time and feel the whirlwind wrap itself around me, like a plane passing you on the street. It's intense!
All in all, Japan really is like living simultaneously in the past and future. All of the technology (save fax machines) are a reminder that they are always ten steps ahead of everyone else. They have the ability to invent and implement everything right here, in their own country. Simple things like talking vending machines that can produce hot and cold beverages (depending on the weather), ice cream, beer and even cigarettes. Some ramen shops have a machine where you purchase your meal ticket before handing it over to the chef. Yes, technology wise they are "streets ahead". However, some things culturally remain rooted in old beliefs and traditions. Whether you're visiting a temple or shrine and witness apprentices wearing traditional clothing, catch a whiff of cigarette smoke from the numerous smokers (some places in Japan allow you to smoke EVERYWHERE), or observe the gender dynamics of a couple - the female wearing ultra feminine, frilly clothing and following behind her well dressed, male partner. Things in Japan are quite different from the rest of the world. Nowhere have I ever seen such a strange dichotomy of the past and future. I suspect that I will never experience this type of surreal reality anywhere else.
First of all, what's a "gaijin"? Well, if you have no idea, I'll let you in on the translation. It means "foreigner". To the Japanese, everyone who isn't Japanese is a foreigner. Actually, it's more like, anyone who doesn't LOOK Japanese is a foreigner. Having a few Asian friends, I can honestly say that they're mistaken for Japanese people all the time. Which can be a good, and a bad thing. It means that sometimes Japanese people will attempt to speak to them in fluent Japanese, and other times they're completely ignored as being one of the many. One of the most challenging aspects (and interesting) about living in Japan, is the fact that as a "gaijin" you constantly stand out. People will stare. It happens, a lot. They seem to have no problem just staring straight at you like you're a zoo animal. It can be unsettling, and at times annoying, and I suppose on the rare occasion it makes you feel special (in that weird sort of uncomfortable way). As a white female with curly hair, I find that most of the time I do my best to ignore the stares. If I was in my own city in Canada, I would guess that they just think I'm attractive. That's the confusing part in Japan, you lose all sense of whether you're attractive or not. People just stare. The irony is that Japanese people are commonly plagued with the fear of being stared at, yet they have no problem looking right at you with their jaw dropped. Yes, I am clearly white. Thank you for noticing.
So what happens when you so clearly stand out from the crowd? Many different things can happen (besides the staring). Sometimes people will be rude because of their ridiculous xenophobia (fear of foreigners basically). Rudeness is almost entirely unheard of in Japan. Japanese people are typically the most polite, most considerate (and most fashionably dressed) people there are. Honestly. I didn't realize that so many people could be so nice without anything to gain in return. It's just a part of their culture. That's why it's always shocking when someone is actually rude. It's like a cruel reminder that they're still human. Maybe they're not that much different than us after all. Canada is known for being a "nice" country. Canadians are definitely nice, but not at all in the same way. See, a Canadian will pretty much tolerate anything that's drastically different from what they know, because hey, that's their right to be different and we have so many foreigners that we're used to many, many cultures. The important thing to keep in mind is that not all Canadians are nice. In Japan, people are so unbelievably courteous that they would bend over backwards to help you, even if they're not used to anything different.
It is Japanese culture to conform to the group as much as possible. There are some youth that enjoy participating in some sort of counter culture where they dye their hair funky colours, but they still belong to a group. Belonging to a group is of the utmost importance, and exclusion is a death sentence. So when they see someone who's VERY different, it can be unsettling for them. Sometimes they're curious, but most of the time they try to ignore that anything is different at all. As though it's not even happening. Let's just say that Japanese people are the masters of passive aggressive behaviour. Now, I'm not putting them down in any sense. I appreciate how welcoming they are (generally speaking), and I know I've enjoyed the help and admiration of quite a few people. They just deal with people who are different in a very unique way.
Gaijin or not, expect to receive the best customer service you've ever received in your life. I'm not kidding. I don't think any country in the world can trump Japanese customer service. Example, if you walk into ANY store the first thing the clerk(s) will do is welcome you warmly and enthusiastically into the store with an "irasshaimase". Then when you're ready to pay and get to the counter, they'll often say "douzo" which is a type of "please" that denotes an offering, in this situation they're letting you know that you can come up to the counter with your items. Then they'll quickly and carefully scan all your items, and arrange them very precisely for you in a bag or basket. When you hand over your money, they'll say, "oazukari shimasu" which basically means "I will treat this as if it were my own". They make sure to count your money in front of you, and then count your return change so you can see exactly how much money was processed both ways. After all is said and done, they thank you with an "arigatou goziamasu" and smile. Holy crap, they really care. You almost never run into someone who isn't trying their damnedest to make sure you feel like the most important customer on the planet. On top of that, NO ONE expects a tip AND they'll force your money back if you try to leave a tip. They are expected to provide exceptional customer service to everyone for their regular wages. It's crazy.
A perfect example of exceptional customer service is when I visited an electronics store for a phone charger. I was carrying a heavy box and as soon as I entered the store, one of the staff rushed to my side and took the heavy box from me. He then proceeded to help me pick out the exact charger I wanted. I happened to pick the cheapest one, but it didn't matter. When we walked up to the counter, and no one was at that particular till, someone literally ran from stocking the shelves to turn on the cash register for me. He then processed my 450￥ item (about $5) and thanked me profusely for my patronage. Holy crap. Never in my entire life have I ever received such an exemplary level of customer service, particularly for an item worth $5. They make you feel like royalty every time. I don't think I can come back to Canada (or any other country) without thinking everyone is very rude and expects too much money for nothing.
Anyway, as I was saying. Being a gaijin gets you a lot of attention. Sometimes people will attempt to speak English with you, even if it's a few words. Other times it will garnish you some odd behaviour. For example, I've had some women comment on my skin. One day when I was visiting a very traditional and authentic ramen shop for the first time with some friends, the woman who managed, cooked and ran the entire shop just had to say something to me. She came up to me outside after our meal and said (in Japanese), "I couldn't stop staring at your face. Your skin is so beautiful". She then proceeded to stroke my cheek with her hand. I stared at her wide eyed, completely surprised! I blushed and thanked her for her compliment. I just couldn't believe what happened. Another notable instance was when I moved to my apartment and was having my utilities hooked up. The Japanese woman handling the hooking up asked me how old I was, I told her "25". She was shocked. She then continued to compliment me on my beautiful skin. Apparently, my skin is appealing. Generally, they can't guess white people's ages and always guess too high. I was certainly complimented.
If it's not my skin, it's my hair. Sometimes when I'm teaching the students, they will lose it over my hair. They will repeatedly say, "kuro kuro" when means "going round and round". I have curly hair and they find it so interesting. They often try to touch it, and they laugh when I shake it around. I'm sure it's not just children who find it fascinating, but it's children who have no boundaries. Speaking of no boundaries...I'm quite well endowed for a woman, and the children don't fail to notice. They might comment in Japanese, thinking I don't understand, or if they're young enough, they'll try to touch them. I've had a couple of little girls try and grab them, or pat them. I just remove their hands gently and move away, distracting them with the lesson or a game. Yes, thank you children. I do have breasts.
When it comes to adults, my curves can intimidate and bring a lot of attention. Sometimes I dress up and that's when I notice a whole new kind of stare. Sometimes it doesn't even matter if their girlfriend is right there. Sort of surprising really, I guess they just chalk up to, "I was just looking at the weird gaijin..."...and the fact women don't have a lot of say in Japan. Let's just say, I'm a feminist and I walk confidently. I hold my head high and speak knowing what I know, and not pretending otherwise. Women in Japan are like shrinking violets - they behave so passively most of the time, that it depresses me a little. I'm hoping my confidence will rub off a little.
Anyway, let me sum up the gaijin experience. There are stares. There are odd, and sometimes inappropriate comments crossing social boundaries, and there are people who are super curious about you. Then there are the people who have no problem yelling at you because you're a foreigner. All-in-all, Japan will make you feel like royalty, and an oddity. Which is saying something, because Japan is fucking odd.
Sunday, November 24, 2013
I read an article recently about how movies were horribly inaccurate in regards to in-laws. I attempted to find the article again but unfortunately no luck. I will update if I find it.
Regardless, I just shook my head. Obviously the author of said article has not dated OR they have had the incredibly rare luck of finding mates with decent, genuine in-laws. I am almost entirely convinced that such a thing does not exist.
In the article, the writer mentioned the film "Monster-in-Law" as being ridiculously dramatic but frankly, they are wrong. Okay, fair enough, some of the events are quite over-the-top however not unlikely.
I've had some experience with "in-laws" and let me tell you, I would recommend avoiding the in-laws, forever. There is no real reason to meet in-laws unless you're getting married. I know that might sound rude or something but let's face it, once you're over 21 your parents are not the decision makers. If they are, you have a problem. I'm specifically speaking about mama's boys - stay the hell away from any man who "loves his mommy". That is a waste of time. You will always be second, if not last.
The very first boyfriend I had was a mama's boy. I wish I had known something about that beforehand. I had no idea that one person could have such an influence over someone's life. I know that when I make decisions that the only opinion that matters is my own. I will consider input from my family or very close friends but ultimately I will have to live with the decision.
I am considering Korea as a possible destination for teaching ESL. The main reason I've thought about travelling there are the many invitations I've received from Korean women to visit their country. The girls I've known were so eager to share their culture with me. It was their warmth and compassion that instantly made me add Korea to my list of places to go.
My entire life I've yearned to explore and travel the world. I wanted to do more than travel the world in fact, I wanted to leave it entirely! I desperately dreamed of being an astronaut.
For the past several months (more accurately, for the past several years) I've been seriously considering my options for world travel. Presently I don't have the money to pay for some sort of lavish vacation so I thought to myself there must be some other way. Then it hit me. Maybe I could do what others have done and teach English overseas.
Such a wild thought! I mean, to think of travelling abroad to an unknown country in order to teach English to people who speak a foreign language. It would be nerve wracking to say the least! However it would also be an adventure.
An adventure. I have always imagined going on an adventure. To travel to some sort of distant land and meet strange, new people. To eat unusual food and see fantastic things. It's everything I've dreamed of. Not to mention all the experiences I could gather and use in my writing.
Before my break-up, I never thought it was a legitimate option. Now it doesn't matter. I can be free to do what I like! I really was trapped. Given the option of freedom, I want to fly away to another country and live there instead!
So I registered for a TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) Certification course and it starts in June. I'm very excited. It takes about a month or so to finish and then I can start looking for work! I still haven't decided where I'd like to go yet. Here's a list of some of the countries I'm considering:
- Czech Republic
- South Korea
If I really had to narrow it down, I'd have to say that I'm probably leaning more towards Belgium, France, Italy and Spain. I think the sort of cultures present in those countries might be something I can enjoy. Especially France. Okay, maybe I partially have my mind made up. I just need to do more research.
I would have said Japan was my number one choice however I am all too aware of Japanese culture. It is quite patriarchal, racist and sexist. Not really something I like. I prefer people to be equal. Although I do speak some amount of Japanese. My Japanese is probably just as good as my French. Very basic.
Anyway, I will keep you updated. Especially in June! I can't wait to start!
I mentioned on a previous post (Life and Death) that I would discuss the meaning of life as I saw it. Many people have attempted theories before me including Monty Python. I thought I'd throw my hat in the ring and let you in on my theory.
If this topic makes you uncomfortable then I suggest stopping right here. Although seriously, I imagine other things probably make you uncomfortable too if that's the case. Regardless of your sensibilities, I am continuing. If I were you I'd read anyway just to satisfy my curiosity. After all, you don't have to believe anything I say. It's just my own theory.
The simplest I can describe my beliefs regarding life is fate. I believe in destiny. I suppose that sounds rather corny, doesn't it? I've thought long and hard about this and I've come to a conclusion I feel satisfied with.
I'm sure at some point in your life you've been in a situation that appears completely random. Perhaps unpredictable. You're so certain that something so bizarre could not happen that in fact it did.
Anyone could sit back and look at life as a series of random events. Perhaps indeed they are. It is my opinion however that there are no accidents. That's right, no accidents and no coincidences. To me, everything happens for a reason.
What does this have to do with the meaning of life? If there are no accidents then life is indeed fateful. It means we're all destined to a particular set of experiences. If that's the case then perhaps the meaning of life is intrinsically tied to fate.
I believe that as interconnected beings of energy we are on a collective journey. What sort of journey? A journey of spiritual growth. Our experiences help shape and define who we are as individuals but more importantly these experiences assist our "soul" growth as well. In much broader, more accurate terms, these experiences not only affect the individual but the collective (the ball of energy I described before). While assuming these physical bodies,
each sensation, each emotion, every hardship or thought is funneled into the collective consciousness. The collective consciousness has been described in multiple ways by many people. I believe that due to the interconnectedness of nature that everything we know, think and feel is gathered together. We are constantly tapped into this consciousness whether we realize it or not. It breathes inspiration and ideas into our minds. This consciousness is crucial in helping us grow by sharing our experiences and serves to remind us that we're not alone.
Destiny provides us with the necessary catalysts to grow in new ways. In the grand scheme of things, the physical body only provides the required vehicle for experiencing fateful events. It is through the limits of these bodies that we come to understand the nature of the universe and ourselves.
To sum up, we are interconnected beings of energy placed in limited physical bodies in order to experience destined events that help us progress together as a "ball of energy".
Sounds silly, doesn't it? Maybe it is. Maybe it's absurd. It doesn't really matter, after all these are just the musings of one person (more correctly, the collective consciousness). So thanks to everyone who helped me form this theory.
For most people female and feminine are synonymous, just like male and masculine. However there is a distinct difference. Sex and gender are not the same thing.
Sex refers to the genitalia of a person making them male, female or inter-sex (discussed later). Gender is completely different yet it is continually used as though it meant the same thing. Many words are used incorrectly. People often say cement when they mean concrete. Cement is an ingredient in concrete while concrete is the finished product. Similarly, weight is inappropriately used on health forms when they actually mean mass.
Gender is not sex. Gender is a social construction. This means that gender is something simply made-up to describe an archaic belief known as biological predetermination.
Biological predetermination is the belief that women are inherently feminine and men are inherently masculine. This goes hand in hand with the idea that men like women and vice versa. It is widely accepted despite its fallacies. Most people think that women are naturally nurturing, compassionate and giving, making them excellent mothers. Just like they also believe men are naturally brave, aggressive and lascivious, making them excellent in business. Oddly enough, this set of beliefs is common and unquestioned. However it is false. I'm sure that in your own life you have met women who are "masculine" and men who are "feminine". If such qualities were natural then why doesn't everyone fit in? The simple answer, they're not natural. Believing in biological predetermination would also mean subscribing to the belief that homosexuality is a disease. It's not. Some guys like guys, some girls like girls and some people like both. This is naturally occurring and doesn't fit in with this little "theory".
Life is too diverse to fit into neat little categories. That is the truth of the matter. Not every man will identify with being masculine just like not every woman thinks she's feminine. Yet we live in a society that likes labels. So we've found terms to describe things in relation to what we assume to be fact. Transgender is a term people use to describe themselves when they identify with the gender that's not typically associated with their sex. For example, a man might behave and dress like a woman and choose to call himself "transgendered" but that doesn't mean he's homosexual. Sexual identity and gender identity are not always synonymous. Transsexual describes an individual that identifies with the other sex and may or may not have an operation to make the transition. Sexual and gender identities are flexible.
As noted earlier, I mentioned something referred to as "inter-sex". The world is not a clean dualism. Things are not simply black and white, male or female, masucline or feminine. Nature is more complex than that. Inter-sex is the third sex. Someone may be born male, female or inter-sex.
Inter-sex is when you cannot distinguish the genitalia or chromosomes to be either male or female. This is not the same as hermaphrodite. It seems unlikely but it does happen in one baby in every 2000. In nations like Canada when a baby is born inter-sex, public healthcare will pay for the procedure to "correct" the baby's genitalia. This means that the doctor and sometimes the parents will make the decision to either have a boy or a girl. This sort of decision will impact that child's life forever and I fear it is made too cavalierly. Often the child will grow up identifying with a sex not their own and have corrective surgery. Why can't the baby grow up as they are? It is too much to ask for people to accept a third sex?
I hope that someday the world will be open to the unique differences and similarities that make us human.
*For Canadian residents, if you're interested in a documentary about inter-sex I recommend watching InterSEXion by CBC.
In Canada and the United States our observances are based on Christian beliefs due to the beliefs of the colonists who settled here. Valentine's Day is no exception.
The origin of Valentine's Day is at best, spotty. It's allegedly based on a man named Valentinus who lived under the Roman empire. He was imprisoned for apparently performing weddings for Christians. At this particular time in history, the Roman empire was heavily against Christianity. Valentinus was executed but before he died he sent a note to a special girl that ended with, "from your Valentine".
To be honest, it all seems a little too convenient to be true. Especially since the story isn't agreed upon. There were quite a few men named Valentine around that particular time period and different churches across Europe claim ownership to Valentine relics. That's the thing about Christianity, in my opinion it appears to be less about fact and more about ideals of morality.
Regardless of the alleged origin, Valentine's Day has evolved from religious worship by some to a commercialized "Hallmark" holiday observed by many. In the U.S. alone it is estimated that every year 190 million valentines are sent. In the U.K. they spend around 1.3 billion pounds (over 2 billion dollars) on Valentine related gifts annually. It is without a doubt a very profitable holiday for greeting card companies.
This reason might be why many are disenchanted with observing Valentine's Day. Coupled with being single can also be disheartening. I would argue and I'm sure some people would agree, that Valentine's Day is not just about celebrating romantic love. When I was younger every year my parents bought me Valentine gifts to show their unconditional love. Apparently I'm not the only child who receives such gifts since half the valentines in the U.S. are delivered to family members, typically children.
Despite the commercialization of Valentine's Day, I appreciate celebrating a day of love. You don't have to purchase an expensive greeting card or the typical chocolates and what-not. You can do what you like! That's the beauty of it. There are no rules. You're not required to do exactly the same thing as everyone else. You can make the day special by celebrating however you like. If you're single you could do any number of things. You could celebrate your friendships or family. If you're particularly touchy about Valentine's Day and prefer to be alone, then why not make it a day appreciating yourself? Make your favourite meal, watch your favourite movie. I'll be honest, when I was single I paid no attention to it. It was just another day. Mind you, I haven't been single in awhile and I think I would spend it a little differently now.
It doesn't matter how you choose to celebrate the day or if you ignore it altogether. It's your choice. I just like the idea of celebrating love. Love is truly beautiful in all its forms. So take the opportunity to tell someone you love them.
I love you, my readers! Here's a painting I did just for you! Have a great Valentine's Day!
P.S. If you feel like giving some loving back, please fill out my brief 5 question survey by clicking on this link. (No worries, it's still on my site.)
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