Sunday, 26 April 2009

Inside the Japanese mind...

Hanami, the traditional party-in-the-park to celebrate the arrival of spring and cherry blossoms epitomises the Japanese love of life and nature. Throngs head for their favourite parks, and settle down on blue tarps and share pot-luck goodies and sake. Friends, families, clubs and - more creative still - a mommy-and-baby group get together.Office colleagues utilise this time to chill out and improve bonds in this hierarchical environment. The junior-most salary men (typical Japanese office workers) have the honour of organising the nitty gritty, most important of all staking out the party space. Others may have to sleep on it . . .After work at 7-8 pm the big guns stroll in and the party is on. Ueno Park allows alcohol to be brought in, however Shinjuku Gyoen Park does not and charges an entrance fee of 200 yen. You have to give it to the Japanese for detailed organisation and being prepared. Garbage bins sorted by category for cans, plastic and biodegradables are put in place for the occasion. At the end of the day you can be sure the park is spotless!
Harajuku is paradise for the kinky, especially on Sunday, where the Goths and Lolitas go on parade. This is where the kawaii/cuteness culture explodes. It emerged in the 70's as a new style of writing, invented by teenage Japanese girls, where pictures of smiley faces, stars, hearts, etc. were randomly inserted between text. This was considered cute. You could say this was the first use of emoticons that we love so much. In the 80's, cute icons like Hello Kitty and later, Pikachu from Pokemon emerged and set the mold for things to come. Sociologists report that 'cute' is now considered a 'magic term' that encompasses everything that's acceptable and desirable in Japan.Japanese kids 'just wanna have fun'. Very much into fashion and boy bands/Johnnies, they roam the streets of Shibuya, where the famed multicrossing exists, until the last train at midnight. The worst swear word is the 4-letter word starting with 's' for excrement. F U or any equivalent does not exist as sex is not considered dirty or worth cursing about!
Somewhere in Kyoto a group of ladies are also dressed to the nines in traditional kimonos, a practice that seems to be gaining popularity. Meanwhile, three maiko or geisha-in-training, in full regalia and white makeup, hurry along the streets of Gion to meet their patrons. Geisha or female Japanese entertainer is a profession still embraced to this day although its population is diminshing. High school or college leavers undergo training of not less than six months to learn traditional instruments, dances and songs befitting an entertainer. They are hired to attend parties, dinners and tea ceremonies. In the Japanese context, the geisha's role ends at playful innuendos. It is the Western presumption that more than this is rendered.

Love hotels exist out of sheer necessity due to the close living quarters and appreciation for privacy. In a country where sex is accepted without much of the guilt associated with it as in the West, a couple can rent a room for a few hours and be assured of anonymity. All transactions are done by video menu and vending machine. Love hotels cater to all tastes and desires from wild west rooms to private swimming pools to other less conventional preferences. There has been a shift in focus where the decor now caters for women's themes. Even single women utilise this facility for some luxury, privacy and space. For a particular comic writer whose illustrations revolve around the love hotel, these establishments are an extension of her office, so to speak. Riding the trains is where you can elbow in with everyday people. The Japanese have perfected the art of napping either sitting down or standing up as well as getting off at their stop. An urban legend tells of a salary man who has taken the train to work for the past 40 years and has only missed his stop 4 times - believe it or not? What used to be a reading society of standard-sized paperbacks and manga, has seen an obvious swing to MP3s, iPods and electronic devices, especially since the launch last year of Playstation Portable (PSP) and Nintendo DS.

It is difficult to not to get up close and personal on the JR lines. Eavesdropping becomes a neccessary evil.
Make of this what you will...

Gal: Stop making noise! (In a rough manly/aggressive tone)
Guy: I'm not. (In a meek voice)
Gal: You are!! (Getting more aggressive)
Guy: No I'm not... (kawaii)
Gal: Yes you are... with your eyes!!

... Is this a Love Hotel moment?


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