Thursday, March 26, 2015

Life in Japan (According to YouTube)


No doubt as a fan of Japanese culture, you are planning that life-long trip to visit the motherland of all otaku everywhere: Japan. To be more precise, it's probably going to be some place like, Akihabara or Shibuya. I'll admit that like most of you, it's also my dream to bask in the glow of my fellow otaku while browsing the manga shops, and sampling the goods at anime stores and coffee shops.

No doubt, you've even scoured the videos of Japan and Japanese culture; doing anything and everything to learn as much about the eastern wonderland as possible from the jvloggers on YouTube. And this is where I've come to something of an impasse, especially when it comes to separating the bullshit from the facts. I'm mean c'mon, the last thing we want to do is pack up, head out for an expensive trip only to get there and fall flat on our face when the moment of truth happens.

What I mean is, on some videos they offer help to us poor dumbass foreigners born without so much as a single clue. They give us helpful advice on how to behave properly, how not to stick out in public, how to order food, to eat food, and do everything short of actually "being" Japanese. And this is what I see from the helpful Gaijin that are living in Japan.  Some of which have been residents of Japan for decades, or just a few years.


On the one hand I hear about Japanese racism toward white people, or rather, Gaijin in particular; and then I hear how it's a myth, that they as a society are warm polite and accepting. Or how you might get that strange "unicorn stare" from the folks there for just being an outsider. Some of the information seems helpful, some of it seems as though it's just common sense, and some of it seems rather bloated.

All in all, I'm reeling from the overabundance of helpful information, getting processor overload. Naturally we want to do it right, but at what point do we go from actually being tourists to Japanese wannabees? I would think that some place like Tokyo which is nothing short of an international city--would expect a few foreigners here or there. I live in a south Texas city with less than fifty thousand people and I don't wig out or get dumbstruck at seeing someone from a foreign country. I don't stop what I'm doing and stare at them until they die from the sheer embarrassment of being "not" Texan.

Some information is, like I said, useful and informative; we want to make sure that we don't offend anyone. But are we on such unsure footing that doing anything short of the way a resident Japanese born person would, be cause for offense? Are the Japanese people really that overly sensitive? Or are we just being strung along here?

Would I really expect a Japanese person to come to Texas and dress in boots, a ten gallon hat, a huge beltbuckle, and eat and speak exactly like a Texan? Of course not. That would be asking too much. In fact that sounds just a tad presumptuous and egotistical. Honestly, if someone wants to eat their steak with chopsticks, does it really matter? Would I feel insulted? Nope. Not in the least. I certainly wouldn't get offended, slap the chopstick from their hand, and force them to use a steak knife and fork.

On the same turn, I understand that it's considered odd for someone to pour soy sauce on their white rice. But then, I highly doubt that I'd be taken out behind the restaurant and beaten with a stick for doing it. Surely the country as a whole can't realistically expect non-Japanese people to come for a visit and instantly be an expert on everything Japanese. And this is the major crux of my beef with most of the information that we get from the Gaijin living in the land of the rising sun.

If I'm expected to lay down my individuality at the arrival gate just because I need to fit in, or not stick out, then where in the hell is the fun of even going to another country to experience a different culture? If I can't be a little bit me there then, why bother in the first place?

So which is it? Is the helpful information just a bunch of Gaijin elitists doing like every other elitist and saying that, you have to be just as much of a nerd as the rest of us or don't bother applying? or is it something else?

Granted, none of us are going to get it right our first time out; but then isn't that sort of thing expected? Aren't we required to be tourists, and foreigners? Shouldn't we make funny faces at natto, and Pepsi chips, and cookies shaped like penises? Isn't the fun of exploring another culture the ability to make those comparisons with our own? To learn and exchange and grow our knowledge of the world. Not to be what everyone else is.

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