Thursday, June 13, 2013

Japan's "dark side", and other stuff not worth writing about

Every once in a while, someone tries to call me out in a comment or email as being somehow naive or simple-minded in my posts about Japan. Usually these people are obviously recent young JET program participants or NOVA language school refugees. They think their year or two living with a host family in rural Japan has given them particular insight into the country, and they're convinced that what I lack is knowledge of THE DARK SIDE.

The Japanese seem pretty comfortable with it.
That is, the supposed hidden underbelly of the country's psyche. Articles like this one or this one reinforce their position - it's become fashionable among younger westerners to focus on Japan's dark side. I actually believe it's a form of delayed culture shock mixed with a lack of self-awareness. Certainly I am keenly interested in Japan's little annoyances. But let me be clear about this: it's not that I'm unaware of or denying Japan's dark side. But I don't write about it because it is boring. It's boring to the Japanese too.

It's boring in the same adolescent way that Marilyn Manson is boring. It's like the first time you discover angst. It's a massive revelation when you're 17, but it's just sort of "there" for everyone else.

Every country in the world has a "dark side". Crime, malaise, bullying, the drudgery of routine, garbage, dirt, debt, social pressures, corruption, prostitution, inequality, racism, sexism... none of these things are unique to Japan or anywhere else; it's just a question of degree. Japan has them less than most countries. I just assume that they're always there; it would be worth writing about only if they were not.

(For example, I have written about Japan's unusually low crime rate, which is statistically true. But that doesn't mean no crime ever happens anywhere there. You just need a little perspective.)

These are also just topics with no real insight possible by any individual blogger, and certainly not an American one (pot/kettle/black). Am I going to solve Japan's suicide problem? On the other hand, I have the #2 Google result for Japanese crepes! Now that's a topic worth writing about.

When I'm in Japan, I like to look for things that are unique to it. My wife, who lived in Japan for the first 28 years of her life, says she's done more new things there in the time we've been together than she ever did when she lived there by herself. And when I write about Japan, I intentionally do it for people who might not be as familiar with the country as I am. This is a particular problem I've found with many Japanophiles (especially if they cross over a bit into weeaboo territory) - they treat Japan as if it's their own little club that nobody else is allowed into without already knowing the secret handshake.

I purposely don't write that way, using a lot of random Japanese words and acting like a lunch at Coco's Family Restaurant is some special Japanese activity with nuances that westerners couldn't hope to grasp. I want more people to go and experience Japan as I have over the past 13 years. And I want people to see the country as I still do, without being poisoned by some prematurely jaded kid who thinks they've stumbled upon a big secret about Japan that only someone like Tomithy Rempers might understand. (Rempers is a parody of Tim Rogers, a particularly Japan-obsessed video game writer who has now hopped on the dark side bandwagon, but you don't really need to know that to find the humor in that link.)

I was lucky enough to visit Japan for the first time in the year 2000. It was for my job, covering Nintendo Spaceworld for a web site I worked at, and I went alone. I didn't have this blog back then and so never wrote about that trip (maybe just snippets here and there), but it was a life-changing experience. How's this for a cool and apropos photo?


I went back almost immediately to cover the Tokyo Game Show that same year. Since then, I've spent a lot of time in Japan both personally and for work and done many, many things that I have never posted here, for one reason or another. Mostly it's family stuff - that's another thing people seem to assume I have no experience with. (I'm often told that I need to experience rural Japan to get the "real" experience, as if Ibaraki prefecture isn't rural enough. Anyway, 78.7% of Japanese people live in cities, and I'm pretty sure the urban experience is just as "real" for them. This is the same as the Sarah Palin "real America" argument here, and it's just as bullshit.)

Rural Japan. This was just after a typhoon, which is why I took this seemingly random photo of the rice paddy across the road from my in-laws' house.
I also do not, as a rule, post photos of family or friends here, because they do still value privacy. So you don't see all the times spent out just drinking in bars with friends we have there, or hanging around the house like an average family does, or going to Coco's Family Restaurant, or really any social situations at all. That may make my blog feel a little less personal than I'd actually like, and it may make my experiences seem more limited than they actually are, but it's the way the people we know there want it. And honestly, these are just normal everyday things, so they don't feel blogworthy at the time. Hanging around with family and friends in Japan is just not a lot different than doing the same in America.

This extends to my business too. Some of my actual friends reading this may know that I run a Japan-based store, and have for four years now. I deal with Japanese suppliers on a daily basis, as well as fashion models and other public figures there, some of which we've become pretty tight with. But I rarely post anything about my personal dealings with them anywhere - not here, and not even on my store blog (this or this is about the closest I get).

The point being, if you think you're going to educate anybody here about what Japan is "really like", you're in the wrong place. You're free to start your own blog where you can try to impress everyone with your knowledge of how Japan is actually the exact opposite of the way everyone thinks it is, but you're not teaching me anything, nor any of my readers. Japan is whatever you want it to be.

In conclusion:

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About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.

About Me

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I'm married. I like to travel. I have no kids. I have a house... that I'm bad at maintaining. I used to collect classic video games. I own a lot of musical equipment that far outstrips my ability to use it. When I was younger, I was in a band. I like gadgets, and I'm an Android guy. Someday, I would like to live on a different planet.

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