Thursday, November 25, 2010

Primping in Japan

I'll be honest.  This subject amuses me a little.  The amount of time and effort that people put into their appearances here in Japan is beyond what I've seen almost anywhere else.  Granted, I've only ever lived in Hershey, Pittsburgh, and New York.  So I guess I do have limited experiences.  Still, I was floored.

It is not uncommon to see women literally putting a new face on the train.  They start with their foundation (usually powder it seems for train makeup), move on to eye makeup, liquid eyeliner, false lashes, the whole bit.  Actually, it's quite amazing.  I couldn't put liquid eyeliner on while riding a moving vehicle :D

My host mom, who otherwise lives a fairly modest living, carries around Burberry and Coach purses like it ain't no thing.  So many Japanese women carry around the exact same Louis Vuitton handbag (pictured below)

{{  photo courtesy of }}

The same thing applies to men, which is somewhat different from what is typical in the US

{{  photo courtesy of Marchelle Mullings  }}

Although the above individual, admittedly, does have a very exaggerated primped look, teased up hair on men is by no means uncommon.  Men have their own man-bags and excessively large backpocket wallets.  

The drive towards fashion extends to couples as well.  Couples outfits are common, as are matching couple accessories.  The couple below has opted for a leopard print theme:

{{  photo courtesy of Marchelle Mullings }}

Aside from the desire to look good, I think this is another extension of the excessive consumerism I discussed in a previous blog post.  For whatever reason, the desire to commodify every aspect of one's existence seems very prevalent in Japanese culture.  My theory is that this stems from a yearning in younger generations to regress to an economic climate similar to that of pre-bubble-broke Japan, but an entire thesis could be written on such ideas.  So for now, I'll just conclude that young people in Japan really love brand name items and looking hot.  

Japanese Women and Me

For whatever reason, when I go out at night to clubs, etc (which isn't often) Japanese girls seem to be very attracted to my friends and I.  They want to take pictures with us, and exchange phone information.  Very often they are touchy, and sometimes grab my breasts and exclaim that they are large.  This kind of reaction is interesting, but also slightly unwelcome.  I know they don't mean anything by it, so I don't mind and I am friendly, but it makes it difficult to go out and just have fun without garnering a lot of attention for being foreign.

{{  I met these girls the first time I went out.  They were very touchy and wanted to take a ton of pictures  }}

I'm not sure why this is, but from their attitudes towards me, I think that they feel as though Western women are more open about themselves and overtly sexual.  Being kind of shy, this isn't me at all.

One time I met with a friend and we went to meet several Japanese women that she had met.  Their meeting was strange to being with: they rushed her on a train and introduced themselves, then gave her their contact information.  In any case, after meeting with them they suggested that we have a girls night and watch movies and "share our feelings."  They seemed very excited by the prospect.

I think that perhaps my friend and I's label as "American women" (whatever that entails) gave them the assumption that we would be more open to "sharing our feelings" and talking about our real emotions.  This conclusion is just based upon the connotation I felt their words had and the emphasis I've seen in Japanese society on how one really feels versus how one acts in public.

This thought on what one really thinks versus what one shows was further confirmed through a brief conversation with my host mother.  It was in Japanese, but translated it was as follows:

Mom: "Did you see Daichi's principal?  Ah, she is a nun, and she is very mean." 
Me: "Oh really?  She seemed like a nice person ... but I guess I don't know if she actually is or not." 
Mom: "Ah, well, you know, my real feelings are that I think that she is nice.  But because none of the other mothers like her I must say that I don't as well.  Do you understand?"  
I told her that I did, and that was the end of the conversation.  This kind of reaffirmed to me that the overly familiar way in which Japanese women approach me may be because of their own stereotypes concerning the culture I come from.  But then again, I don't really know for sure.

Korea in Japan

I guess I was slightly surprised to find so much love for Korean exports in Japan as I did.  Probably I was so surprised because I had really only learned about the historical history between Korea and Japan without having really learned about the cultural relationship between the two.

Back in Pittsburgh I have a Korean roommate.  He has expressed in the past somewhat of a dislike for Japan, because of Japan's continual denial of their mistreatment of Koreans throughout history.  He led me to believe that this was a common sentiment among the Korean population.  However, he also has taken to studying Japanese, and even has expressed a desire for a Japanese girlfriend.

The same can be seen in Japan.  Pick up numerous books and you can read about how Koreans living in Japan are continually mistreated and / or underrepresented in Japanese society.  At the same time there is an enormous interest in Kpop that also bring about a great interest in more traditional forms of Korean culture.

This love-hate relationship between Japan baffles me, and I wasn't completely aware of it before I came to Japan.

Most of the love for Korea, admittedly, seems to be for Kpop

{{  this is poster I purchased in Tokyo  }}
The same band featured in the poster above is very successful in Japan and even releases singles in Japan in Japanese.

{{  video content property of YG Entertainment  }}

Pressure for many emerging Korean groups with a Japanese fan base to learn Japanese is great.

Even many of the Japanese people I have met here are big fans of Korean groups.  In fact, those who haven't professed to loving a particular group are at least aware of all of the major Korean groups.

Although I don't really have an explanation for this love-hate relationship exhibited between Japan and Korea, it is something that I would like to explore in the future.

Family Life

Before I start I want to give a slight disclaimer:  My host family is comprised of a Japanese mother, a Mexican-American father, and their 8 year old son.  So, my experience with a Japanese family may differ slightly than what others experience. 

In my Japanese culture class we examined the traditional ie household construct and different gender roles within the home.  There was a lot of emphasis placed upon the dad being the sole breadwinner, and not coming home until very late in the evening (because of the pressure to drink with his colleagues after work hours).  The mother was also portrayed as a very 'housewife', often overindulging the husband and children with her efforts.

When I heard that I was being placed with a family with an American father I figured this wouldn't be true for some reason.  I find that a lot of the stereotypes do hold true though.

{{ my host family minus my host mom }}
The mom really does play a role that I would describe as very traditional housewife.  She works, but she is also nearly the sole caretaker of all household related things.

This is a little different for me, considering my upbringing.  My parents equally split the chores, I would say.  My dad does laundry and tidying.  My mom does the scrubbing aspects and the cooking.  They both work full-time.

My host mother does have a job, but she works only until midafternoonish (maybe 2-3).  She wakes up around 4am each morning to prepare breakfast and to clean the house.  She then wakes Daichi up at 5:30 and does other things around the house (including waking up my host father) until she leaves between 7 and 8am.  When she gets home she often already has purchased things for dinner, and starts on that.  She also does the laundry daily.

As for the work that my host father does, he mostly leaves the house when I am asleep and comes back late in the evening.  He does vacuum the house on weekends, but other than that he doesn't appear as if he has any household chores.  I'm not sure what kinds of hours he works because he works a variety of English teaching jobs, but they do seem extensive.

Sometimes I think a family structure similar to my own would be preferable (mostly when my host mom is so stressed out she makes me feel stressed out), but then I remind myself that they lifestyle they live is the one that they chose.  I'm sure it is what works best for them under their individual circumstances.  I am, however, looking forward to being within my comfort zone again.  Even though I've become quite comfortable here.

As for the house itself, I'm pretty sure it's typical of 'modern' Japanese homes.

There are two tatami rooms and the rest are hardwood.  The bathroom is a typical Japanese bath, and the kitchen just has a two burners and a small stove.  My room is a hardwood floor and the room that the rest of the family sleeps in is a tatami room.
{{   the exterior of the house }}

{{  my room  }}

I would like to include pictures of the rest of the house, but I also want to respect my host family's privacy :3

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Oops / Consumption

I know.  I haven't posted in over a month.  That's four weeks.  I'm supposed to be posting once a week at least.  Ack, ack.

I've just been super busy with school work / activities.  I know that this blog is technically school work, but since I'm also using it to keep in touch with people back home I kind of put it last on my 'to do' list.

I guess this post I'll keep personal, and then after I process my pictures post another entry that is more 'anthropologically' focused.

So lately Japan has been good to me.  For the most part.  My classes aren't going very well though.  I think I may have overestimated my ability to change my sleep habits when I signed up for an 840 class and a two hour commute.  I long for the days that I can wake up a half hour before my class starts and make it in time.  It's kind of a vicious cycle because if I could just manage to get my work done earlier in the day I could go to bed earlier and then not miss the classes for which I was doing work.  Ah, well.

Aside from schoolwork things are going well though.  Somedays I feel like my Japanese is regressing, and others I feel rather fluent.

I don't particularly want to leave, but when I think about it more rationally I think that I really should.  Being here brings my grades down and makes me compelled to spend more money.  I should get a better handle on my self control before I return to Japan @______@

Also, I kind of miss the kinds of food I am accustomed to eating.  At first it was "Wheeeee Japanese food 24/7!!!"  but now I would kill for some super sharp cheddar cheese and greek yogurt with homemade granola.  Omyword.  Of course, if I lived in Japan permanently and had my own residence these things would be within my reach (maybe not convenient, but attainable).  I don't want to give the impression that Japan is totally lacking delicious cheese (although seriously, cheese standards here are lower).  

In my following posts I intend (seriously, intend.  whether or not I will actually is questionable) to post about the following:
- consumption in Japan
- sexuality in Japan
- English in Japan
- Foreigners and Japan

I have a lot to say about all of them, but I'm not sure I'll convey any of them properly.  Hm.  We'll see.


Consumption in Japan 

When I was first planning my trip to Japan my mother said, "Why would you want to go there?  They make video games about raping girls."  To my mother's credit, she just didn't want me to travel so far away from her.  But the point does stand: why do such video games exist in Japan?

{{ For anyone who is unfamiliar with the game I'm talking about, you can find a CNN special here: }}

This may seem like an odd way to start out a blog about consumption in Japan, but I think it's all relevant.  I won't get into the issue of whether or not producing such games is ethical (although I will say that I think banning them is unethical).  What I will say is that it is a perfect example of just how much the Japanese market caters to the consumer.

It's not as though there are more individuals in Japan that want to play such a game than there are anywhere else in the world in any other country.  What is different is that the Japanese market seems unafraid to tap into every consumer niche and cater to even the most subculture of interests.  Or at least this is the conclusion that I have reached.

Here are some examples below of the kinds of obvious consumer driven things I have witnessed in Japan:

This is a hair salon.  The name is "Moesham."  It is important to know the meaning of moe: via Wikipedia, "Moe (萌え?, pronounced [mo.e], literally "budding", as with a plant or adorable), occasionally spelled Moé, is a Japanese slang word originally referring to a strong interest in a particular type or style of character in video gamesanime or manga. "Moe!" is also used within anime fandom as an interjection referring to a character the speaker considers to be a moekko (a blossoming or "budding" girl)."  {{article here}}

This is consistent with what I heard on my tour of Akihabara, where this photo was taken.  According to our guide, at this salon you have your hair cut by a very inexperiences stylist.  So this really cute girl cuts your hair, and it is made even cuter because she messes up continually.    

This is a poor example of what I am talking about, but my second instance of consumerism in Japan is the way pets are treated.  Dogs here are like accessories.  This is also true in the US, but more so on the West coast and in wealthy neighborhoods with affluent residents. Treating animals like status symbols seems to be the norm here. 

I see dogs in strollers, dressed in skirts, in bags, and even being carried like babies around the streets.  It's a rare day when I see a larger breed dog.  They are almost always very small, very purebred dogs.  

Don't get me wrong, they are adorable in their stripped jumpers with petticoats.  It just seems a little over the top. 

Friday, September 24, 2010

Warning: This post is excessively long.

Just having a little freak out about not being home for my favorite time of year.  I was browsing, looking for a new conditioner, and I found one that I want that has 'pumpkin seed' in the title.  Waaaaiiii.  I will miss fall, and Halloween, and Thanksgiving.  I will be back right in time for Christmas, but Christmas is followed by the lamest 2 months of the year.  Ugh ugh.  And I won't even be in Tokyo for New Year's or the sakura in the spring.

It's this terrible conundrum.  I can't imagine having to live in Pittsburgh again, but I want to be home with the things associated with home.  I guess if I just moved everyone and everything here with me the problem would be solved.  We could do Thanksgiving anyways.

OKIES.  So back onto more relevant things.  I've been avoiding posting because I'm so lazy.  I have a lot to say but not a desire to actually type them out.

Last post Lauren expressed an interest in food culture.  I went out and took some photos around town after that.  Keep in mind while looking at these that these were all snapped in 'rural' Japan.  Some were taken in a department store (all of them sell really delicious foods on the top and bottoms floors, it seems) and others in a mall.  So these aren't 5 star restaurants or anything, but the food is tasty (from what I've tried).

Both of these pictures are of plastic displays.  the food looks good, but I've never eaten here.   I actually really like cabbage like in the salads here (thinly shredded), so maybe I'll try it sometime.  I have no doubt that the real, nonplastic versions look just like this.  

I only took one of 'real' food - the others are of desserts >.<

The cookie things you see on top here are very popular, it seems.  They are called macaroons, but I don't relate 'macaroons' to anything like this.  shrug. 

All these desserts are real and edible.  There are counters with plastic displays that you make an order at and then pick up, but this counter both takes orders and has things prepared to box up there.  

When you buy things from counters, like cake slices or a bento, the shop keeper asks you how long your commute home is.  This always throws me off (I'll be ready next time though), because usually I'm digging for my wallet and am like, "Wait, what?"  because I am not anticipating the question.  Using your answer they will determine how to keep your food cold on the way home.  They give you little mini, disposable ice packets packed close to the food.

K so enough about food.  I went to Akihabara and Ikebukuro last weekend.  I have a lot to say about those places and what exactly you can find there, but I think it deserves its own post.

This is melon soda.  It's quite popular, from what I gather.  Although I had been meaning to try it for a while, I actually had been trying to order LEMON soda.  I guess I didn't annunciate properly.  My advice concerning melon soda: don't get it unless the idea of sipping carbonated honey dew extract appeals to you.  Way tooo strong, imo.
This Friday I went out to a club with some girlfriends.  I think my experience there is a good lead in to how foreigners are treated in Japan.  But again, I think that kind of requires a whole post of it's own.

The sun is trying to kill me.  And all my photos as well, it seems.  

This is a different kind of rail system.  It runs in a loop around the bay are suspended off the ground, chilling with the buildings and stuff.  Almost like a monorail, or the system in Chicago.  They are automated trains, so there are no conductors like on other lines.  You can sit in the very front, and there are a lot of windows surrounding all the cars.   
I guess with all these train photos I should talk about public transit in Japan.  To clarify, I am not an expert, don't take anything I say here seriously, this is just what I have noticed.  Personally.

I think public transit can be broken down into three distinct categories here:  bus, train, and subway.  Yeah sure there are other venues like cabs (which are actually really nice.  the seats all have seat covers that look like doilies and the drivers wear suits) and I assume ships since Japan is comprised of so many islands.  However I think that most people will be primarily using trains / subways or buses (cabs are pricey and I can't imagine people frequently travel between islands on a day to day basis).

    ... Are confusing.  If you ask me.  Just when I think I have the system down something throws me off.  Like the train system, different bus routes are owned by different (private) companies.  Although, again like the train system, Japan has done a good job of making it easy to take different buses by different companies while still maintaining some consistency.  You can either pay with a card (a preloaded card, similar to a metro card, if you know what I mean) or get a ticket when you get on the bus.  The ticket has a number on it and it corresponds with a different fare zone that is displayed on an LED screen at the front of the bus that auto adjusts as the route progresses.  It really is very simple and intuitive, I don't know how I manage to always mess it up.

     Buses take longer than trains because of (in my opinion) unnecessarily frequent stop lights and rude drivers.  But, they are convenient if you live "out in the middle of nowhere" like I do.  One thing I will advise though - they are not friendly to people who don't speak Japanese.  If you don't know the kanji of the place you are visiting it will be very difficult to locate it on a map / timetable.  If you can't understand what the announcer is saying on the bus, or can't read the signs, you will not know when to get off.  There is no English on the bus.  This may be different on routes that are more in central Tokyo - I have no idea.

   Mishaps I've Had on Buses (to save you from similar grief)

  • On time I didn't have enough one my Suica to cover the cost of the bus fare so I grabbed a ticket instead.  As I was leaving I put (what I thought) were two 100yen coins into the change thinger.  But secretly one was a 500yen coin.  They driver was like, "WTF man, you can't do that,"  and I could quite tangibly feel the irritation creeping up the isle from the passengers wanting to move on with their lives.  So the guy fumbled for a bit, even though I was like, "It's really okay, I dont' need the change, whatever."  After fumbling he produced some form that he made me sign and messed around with the change thinger.  Finally he put his own 1000yen bill into the machine and got change and gave me change from that.  He said, "If you need change back, put it in this slot instead."  So I left thinking NOW I KNOW.
  • Flash forward to the next time I don't have enough on my card to cover the costs.  I get the ticket, put my money in the slot that the previous guy told me will give change, grabbed my change and smugly walked off the bus thinking, "lols.  gaijin not making a scene here."  But then the bus driver started calling out to me like, "お客様。。。お客様!!!!”  Apparently that slot I put my change into just breaks your change down into smaller change so that you have enough to pay exactly, and then you put it into the real slot.  So I had essentially put a 500yen coin in, took all that money and left without paying a cent -___- .  I apologized and payed, but I feel like he thought I was doing it on purpose.  It was probably that smug-with-myself look on my face.  
  • I don't even want to talk about this.  But there was urine on the bus.  Urine that I didn't notice until it was too late.  The end of story D; 

     I prefer the trains.  As long as I get a seat I can just sleep on the way to and from school.  Trains come by very frequently (even the ones that come all the way out to Higashiyamatoshi).  All of stations are posted in kanji, hiragana, English, and also major stops are frequently in Korean as well.  So as opposed to the buses, foreigners are easily able to navigate the train systems.  Announcements on the train are also in English (provided that someone hasn't ditched the prerecordings in order to voice his own renditions).  

    There is great variety in the kinds of trains you see.  There are trains that travel in large loops around certain areas.  Trains that go longer distances from the suburbs to Tokyo, and there are bullet trains that go cross country to other parts of Japan.  For example, I take a train in the morning from Higashiyamatoshi to Takadanobaba in Shinjuku.  Once in Shinjuku I take a line that does a loop around Tokyo.  It stops in downtown Tokyo, Shinjuku, Roppongi, Shibuya, Akihabara, Ueno, and on and on and on.  It's a very large loop.  I take that to a station called Yoyogi (the same Yoyogi of Yoyogi Park, but the park is actually located near the Harajuku stop on the line) where I transfer to the subway, which I take to the neighborhood in which my school is located.  

You are right.  This is not, in fact, a transit related photo, but Shibuya.  Oh god.  I initially typed that as, "Sibuya" GAH.
     As you can see, there are so many options for traveling with trains.  There is rarely just one way to get where you are going within Tokyo.  Some things to consider are price of the route (it would be cheaper for me to take the loop I already take for longer and get off at a stop close to school, but it takes longer and the stop is a further walk.  not a good combo when I'm always late), length of time required, and walking times to get to and from your start and stop stations.  What's nice about working out fare price is that if you don't have a card or a commuters pass, but you don't know what price level of ticket you need to buy, you can just buy the cheapest and go to a price adjustment kiosk at your final destination.  

   Some drawbacks concerning trains
  • During none peak hours, if you are traveling into Tokyo from the 'burbs, you will likely have to take a local train at least part of the way the there.  They take so much longer and are hotter because the doors open much more often.  
  • On the other hand, if you travel during the wrong peak hours you will be squished next to those you are standing next to.  It's nice though because I personally don't mind being squished most of the time, but in America I would feel like a creeper if I stood up all close to someone.  Here I know no one cares, so it alleviates any feelings I might otherwise have.  
  • If you are white like me, no one will want to sit next to you.  I'm not exaggerating here.  Only desperate people will venture to sit next to you.  Most would rather stand than take the seat next to mine.  
  • Sometimes you are unlucky enough to have a train suicide on your line, in which case have a backup plan.  I have twice had to alter my plans because the trains weren't running due to jumpers (and I've only been here a month).  
By the bay.  Boats count as a form of tranportation

     ... Are not gross like they are in New York.  The seats are a nice cushion (none of this hard plastic shit), and I never see urine all over the stairs leading down to the subway.  After spending the whole night out I did see a lot of puke, but it was clearly being taken care of rather quickly.  And also it was a little endearing (is that gross?).  It was the day before a holiday and it was clear that half of Japan was out having a good time.  Okay, anyways, the subways are nice.  And are very similar to the trains.  They are just underground.  Obvi.  IF YOU CAN'T TELL I AM GETTING BORED OF TYPING.  AND AM RUNNING OUT OF PICTURES.  

This is me careening out of control.

Final thoughts:  I hope this didn't bore you.  I was kind of thinking I'd do more informative stuff like this more often because something Lauren said reminded me of something.  When I was researching before coming here I had a difficult time finding the kind of perspective I wanted in a blog.  I even wrote an essay for a scholarship that would have required keep a blog in which I said that I thought I could write an effective blog about my travels in Japan since I had so much trouble finding one I wanted to follow before coming.  Lols, now look at this mess.  Either way, since she seemed interested, that's that.  Sorry if it's boring :D  

On an unrelated note - I think my English is getting rusty D;  I'm always writing my essays in Japanese, and speaking in Japanese.  I made so many stupid errors, and I know I missed some here so please forgive me.  I think primarily in English so the mistakes I made are weird phonetic errors that demonstrate how out of practice I am with writing.  For example, I did a read through and had to correct myself because I wrote I'll instead of all.  That's so weird.  Can your written language skills really decrease from only hearing a language?  

Thursday, September 16, 2010

rainy harajuku

Today after classes me and Marchelle went into Harajuku (not really for funsies, more for things we needed).  I always hear people talking about how Harajuku is the 'center of adolescent culture in Japan.'  So I figured I would explore that a little.  First a little photo introduction to Harajuku.  

The above picture of Takeshita-dori.  On this street are all kinds of boutiques that sell off brand clothing for pretty inexpensive.  The clothing in the shops is adorable as well.

原宿駅 :  It looks pretty anticlimactic here, but I like taking pictures of the railways.
{{The Swimmer store in Harajuku.  I took this because I figured no one would believe me when I said that Swimmer stores are the most crowded, cutsey things ever.  When I first came to Japan I was excited about going in a Swimmer store, but now I kind of hate it because I get sick of trying to maneuver through all the stuff and people.  That doesn't seem to prevent me from buying at least one thing every time though.}}

Lining all of Takeshita-dori are crepe shops and stands.   
{{All the different flavors.  Well, some of them.  I'm not sure how familiar everyone is with Japan, but it is typical to see plastic display samples of various menu items.  This is especially true when restaurants have specials running on certain dishes.  They are all very realistic looking, in my opinion.  }}
{{I ate one.  Banana.}}  

I think in the US the perception of 'Harajuku culture' is shaped a lot by pop media.  Most notably is Gwen Stafani's depiction of 'Harajuku Girls' and her subsequent fashion line, 'Harajuku Lovers'.  I'm not sure if that kind of style is was I personally was anticipating when I came to Japan, but I know that a lot of people back home group Japan with that kind of style.  For those of you who aren't familiar with her Harajuku Lovers line, here is a purse to the left that is very characteristic of the line's style. 

Mostly the line is characterized by bright popping colors and infantile like caricatures. It's definitely something you would call 'cute'.  

I didn't see much of this in Harajuku, however.  The clothing that I found was mostly of the lacy, feminine with subtle hints of masculinity, variety.  It was definitely a more mature look than one finds in Gwen's line of clothing and accessories.  

In other ventures throughout Japan I have seen definite signs of the kind of 'cute' Gwen channels in her Harajuku Lovers line (i.e. pink refrigerators and fluffy marshmallow characters advertising lending firms).  But I don't really think it is 'Harajuku' fashion.  More just a cultural affinity towards cute things.  

As to the assertion that Harajuku is the center for 'adolescent culture', I can definitely see that as possible.  Typically when I am in Harajuku I see more kids in uniforms than I see fashionistas.