The Witless Clunkery of a Third-Rate Mind

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Long Time No Bloggee

Sorry I haven't written for a while. I got chastised the other day, so I'm here for another installment. The problem with this blog thing, I guess, is that when something happens to me, I have to ask myself, "Does this affect anybody else?" Usually, the answer is no, but I'll assume that you're curious and really do want to know about the minutiae of my daily life.

Living in Japan, I have a bad tendency to swing from one extreme of "I love this country!" to "God, I hate this place." Last week was a good example of this. My student mentioned that she was going to join a dance exhibition with her dance club. I mentioned that I'd like to see it, so she sold me a ticket. I met her at the hall, and it turned out to be a hip-hop dance show featuring various groups from around the region. The crowd was very uniform, with everybody wearing "appropriate" hip-hop and urban style clothes. I felt really out of place, also considering that I was the only foreigner in the place. My friend said goodbye and went to prepare for her show. She came out later, and did her routine, which obviously had required a lot of practice and coordination with her group members. It was quite impressive, but at the same time, I was kind of left shaking my head at the wholesale cultural appropriate going on... here are a bunch of kids who, for whatever reason, have decided to emulate the clothes, style, dance moves, and music of an America sub-culture. Where they could, they also seemed to be imitating some of the more superficial attitudes, like gestures, and body language and so on. It was kind of weird to say the least.

But then again, I thought about the North American martial arts culture, and how we wear Japanese clothes, bow, obey orders in Japanese, eat rice balls at lunch and drink green tea ... and there is no shortage of people who readily admit that they wish they were Japanese. I was surfing the web the other day and there are plenty of deluded teenage kids who believe that they are modern-day samurai. It's kind of scary. In any case, I guess I'm guilty of the same kind of "cultural appropriation" I mentioned earlier.

After this dance competition, I hung out by myself (my friend was nowhere to be found) and started feeling really lonely and alienated. I kept thinking to myself about how common these feelings are in Japan, and the same old questions kept cropping up: What am I doing here? Why do I like this country so much, when it seems that it doesn't really want me around? I'll never fit in here, even if I learn to speak Japanese fluently, and I'll always be a "gaijin", an alien, even if I live here for the next 40 years. With these thoughts circling around in my mind, I left and went home to my empty apartment, watched Japanese TV for a while, understood less than 5% of it, and went to bed feeling pretty sorry for myself.

The next day was a speech contest at Tokyo University of Science. I had been invited to participate as a judge by one of my students. I was met at the train station, taken by car to the speech building, lavished with snacks and coffee by students who waited on me hand and foot... it was absolutely ridiculous! Everyone was bowing and scraping, because I was a judge for the contest, and the only reason I was a judge was because I am a foreigner! So here's the flipside of the same coin - there are people who afford us a great deal of respect (much more than we really deserve) just because we're foreign. The whole day continued in the same pattern. The audience applauded when we entered, and when we left the room. We were asked to give speeches about the contest. We were presented with gifts and money. We were guests of honour at a reception following the contest. As you can imagine, after having my butt kissed for about 6 straight hours, I was floating on an "I love this country!" high.

But what's the real situation? I'm not sure, but I often find clarity in my iaido classes. When I first showed up, people were a bit skeptical because I'm a foreigner. But as soon as I was practicing, people saw that I know what I'm doing, and they immediately had to grant me a level of respect. I outrank a lot of them, and even if they don't respect me personally, they HAVE to respect my rank, or else they appear rude in front of their own teacher. So, my juniors bow and scrape to me, and I bow and scrape to my seniors, and none of it has anything to do with who's Japanese and who's not. And I gotta tell ya, I really like that.


At 12:56 AM, Blogger ted said...

Hey Jeff, I was trolling over at EJMAS and what a delight to find you. Sounds like life is good, though we miss you at the Budo Seminar.
Had to write regarding this post since I have these thoughts all the time. Everytime I see baggy jeans and bling that outweighs me, I sneer then smack my own forehead at my wearing a black, pleated skirt three times a week...


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