Monday, 23 December 2013

Sense & Sensibility ~ Making “Sense” of Japan

Let’s face facts.

I’m a foreigner.

In every way shape and form out here.

And as a foreigner coming from halfway across the globe, there have been times where I’ve scrunched up my face and asked myself why the native inhabitants of this land do the things that they do. And it’s to be expected really. I’m an outsider looking in and the customs, characteristics and what have you are obviously going to be much different to what I’m used to. So I try to make sense of it because I’m sure that in the same way that thousands of foreigners have had to make sense of the UK and it’s primarily “British mannerisms”, I’ve simply got to stick my ore in and make sense of everything around me.

People like to look good here. Whether it’s the smart looking thirteen-year-old in school uniform, the polished salaryman on his way to work, or the aspiring fashionista prowling the streets, looking good and dressing well makes a lasting impression. And don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look good. What I don’t get however is when wanting to look good crosses outside logic. In fact, I’ve had this disagreement with a good friend of mine who’s very much into fashion also, but right now it’s rather cold here in Hiroshima. I’m reminded of London every time I set foot outside my door. So I can’t understand why anyone would walk the streets without a coat or why any woman would walk the streets in a miniskirt (without tights mind you) simply at the expense of making a statement. And don’t get me wrong, people in the UK do this as well but I tend to find that this is more apparent when people have the intention of getting completely sloshed. Maybe alcohol numbs the senses; I’m not sure. In Japan however, it could be eleven o clock in the morning, raining ice cubes and someone somewhere will be “making a statement”.

The same could be said about high heels. Now Japanese women are known for being short and heels are known to elevate, making one’s legs look longer and provide women with a little elegance in their step. So I get it. Really, I do. It’s the same for women in the west. We wanna look taller, thinner, sexier, a little more lady-like…etc. Nevertheless, I also run on the side of logic and wonder why anyone would buy a pair of heels that are clearly impossible for them to walk in. Now irrespective of my height, it’s on occasionally that I wear heels and usually it’s a low heel as I feel comfortable walking in them. In Japan, it seems that the taller (and sometimes thinner) the heel the better. I’ve seen women struggling across a straight terrain or walking up stairs as if pulling themselves through mud. It does not compute to me why anyone would desire to put themselves through such aggravation.

In the UK, when you join a mobile phone company, most companies will have tariffs which allow you to contact other people who might happen to be with different networks. This is of course as long as you don’t exceed the minutes within your allowance (note: this doesn’t usually apply to premium rate numbers; I was caught out before). In Japan, they have a thing about loyalty. Take me for example. My mobile provider, Softbank, will allow me to call any other Softbank user free of charge (between 1am and 9pm only) but will charge me ridiculous amounts if I even think about contacting their competition e.g. Docomo, AU….etc and other premium numbers. What makes this kind of redundant is that most people in Japan use this handy like app called LINE which not only allows you to send free texts but also, allows you to make free calls (video calls as well). So all I can think of really is why one of the “big three” doesn’t offer a loophole for network-to-network communication because I’m pretty sure they’d have customers flocking in their general direction.

Got a runny nose? Feel that line of mucus creeping along your nasal cavity? No hanky available? Well it’s perfectly acceptable to sniff that booger back in. Perfectly acceptable in the UK too. But people don’t just sniff here; they snort. And sometimes very loudly as well. I’ve yet to find a woman that snorts (although I’m sure there’s one somewhere) so I’m dubbing this is a male-only thing. Nevertheless, I’m already aware that blowing your nose out in public is a little bit taboo here and I think it’s because it’s considered bad manners – maybe because of the sound it makes. But what I don’t get is that if it’s the noise that’s genuinely the issue, why is snorting – which makes an equally loud noise – seemingly acceptable here? Or maybe it isn’t and people turn a blind eye to it which is also, common here. But it gets me thinking to myself…what?

It’s pretty universal that when you’re standing at a zebra crossing and the green man appears, as a pedestrian, you have right of way. Japan is no different in that respect (compete with bird noises). What I’ve found however, is that if you’re standing at a junction and you have right of way, a car can turn into the road that you’re walking across even though…you know, you have right of way. Oh certainly, they’ll wait for you to cross (although I have nearly been ran into once already), but being from the UK, I’m not so used to having to deal with this unless I’m purposely crossing the road when I’m not supposed to. Because fundamentally, back home, if a car is allowed to turn into the street, the red man will remain as a warning whereas the green man signifies that cars are barred, at least for a little while.

Now I can’t generalise. I’m sure there are plenty of people that don’t snort, or that full out refuse to wear seven inch heels, but it’s difficult not to make connections and associations when you see things occur time and time again. I guess this is how stereotypes come about but that’s another topic for another day. I simply can’t help but go “huh?” from time to time however, and I suspect they’ll be other instances that make me cock an eyebrow in surprise and/or curiosity. All I can do however, is deal with it. I’m on new terrain now and as they say:

When in Rome….

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