Sunday, June 7, 2009

Japan: a land of bizarre quirks and contradictions….

Over the past few weeks I have been continuously amazed with some of the bizarre nuances, quirks and contradictions that I’ve faced so far in my time here.
From seeing kimono clad women sipping coffee in Starbucks surfing the web on their keitai’s (mobile phones) to the surprise of finding a huge modern elevator in the middle of Nagoya Castle, Japan continues for me, to be a melting pot of east/west, modern and traditional and I’m so enjoying the cultural ride!
Below I’ve tried to summarise my experiences so far, I’ll add to the list as and when!

The older generation in Japan are mostly conservatively dressed. I haven’t yet seen anyone over the age of 40 in anything but pastel. Maybe there’s a cultural explanation somewhere? I’m not sure what happens down the family tree from seniors to juniors but the difference in dress is shocking.
Japanese teen fashion.
Girls as young as 13 in knee high tights, super minis, knee high socks and plastic stilettos which they can never walk in properly! I thought Japan was supposed to be famous for conformity? I’m confused!

Either state of the art, heated seat- music playing- bum wash & dry toilet or the self-degrading squat variety. Take your pick! (more on the Japanese toilet experience read this post)

The Japanese have a great reputation for politeness. You will notice it immediately in Japan, the gracious looking bows from people and then later with the language (since there are no pronouns like I, you, he/she etc you will be addressed as name + san)
So a quick word of warning, although in the majority of cases the Japanese are indeed polite don’t always equate the politeness with regard/respect for others. Just get on a train during rush hour and politeness goes out of the window. Maybe it’s a 7am thing but grown adult male commuters will think nothing of pushing me out of the way to get a seat! Old ladies are the worst offenders…be warned!

Hygiene: Masks

As I mentioned in another post, the Japanese wear masks, to protect people from their illnesses and also to protect themselves from other people’s viruses. The ironic thing is as soon as you go into a bar/restaurant/karaoke confined space type place masks are tossed to the side & everyone will be chuffing away on their fags or sharing the karaoke mic for a blissful duet.

Hygiene: Nose Blowing
Nose blowing. Yes sounds so minor but read on… In Japan, if you have a cold it is considered ruder to blow your nose in public than not which makes my commute to work on a crowded train sometimes UNBEARABLE. Some bloke with an awful snotty nose stands pressed up against me sniffing interminably. I’ve had to change carriages to avoid it!

There is huge popularity among Japanese couples of getting married in small Christian churches and chapels even though they are not Christian themselves and have no intention of converting. A guy I met here actually conducts the weddings, he’s no trained priest or anything but apparently it’s a good little money earner. Funny!

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