Tuesday, 2 February 2010

to be honest with you

it's not about what we did in Japan - I'm not here to write some kind of travelogue, like 'on Monday we went to...' etc., that's only interesting to myself. I've got the photos and the memories that come with them, but I don't need to share all of it, unedited, with you here. That's like forcing you to look through my boring holiday snaps, right? Snore! What I should be doing is writing about what I learned, how it made me feel, what I thought of the whole crazy, baffling experience.

It wasn't instant love with Japan. I'm not sure it's love at all. I came away from the place wishing I had more time there, wanting to come back because it felt as if we had barely scratched the surface of its complex and fascinating culture. We'd done the sights, shopped the shops (and boy, were they weird sometimes!) and eaten as much food as we could, but it still felt like a mystery. Perhaps it will always be the case - language, unfamiliarity with custom and not having anyone there to guide us will always be limiting factors. We wanted to see more of what people really are like, what they do at home, how they live. One night in Himeji we ended up drinking whisky and shōchū a private club with some of my husband's acquaintances. It was certainly an interesting experience, especially being the only female there apart from the two ladies behind the bar. Being regaled by a drunk, grey-haired Japanese engineer about his obsession with the fundamental science of transistors was amusing to say the least. That was as close to seeing a sliver of 'proper' Japan as we were likely to.

It seems to me that there is an element of 'hiding' behind all the ritual, all that politeness. Everybody is so cheerful and courteous but there is sometimes a look behind their eyes that betrays them; we saw the food-trolley girl on the bullet train take a deep breath and force a smile before she entered our carriage to sell her wares, you see them putting on the brave front just because they should. Whilst what we witnessed was often wonderful and delightful, most of the time I felt like an outsider looking in.

All that said, it was inspiring and fascinating. The narrative origins and spiritual core of wonderful films like 'Spirited Away' and 'My Neighbour Totoro' are obvious to see - all those gods, all that superstition. In many ways it reminds me a lot of Chinese culture - we are a bunch of superstitious sorts too and such ideas hold great appeal to my imagination.

Enough of this cod-psychoanalysis and bulls***!

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