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.