Instead of reciting own my travels for once I thought that I’d talk and share my thoughts about a journey someone else I know – I’ll call him Geoff-san – is in the process of finishing!
Putting his life in France on hold and his musical projects to one side, the space of a year – he’s a musician – Geoff-san went off and traveled some 9447 kilometres to explore and experience the intricacies of life in Japan, to study Japan… in Japan, at the University of Yokohama to be exact.
If you know nothing of being a Gaijin or Gaikokujin – an outsider – in Japan it can be an eye-opening experience. Most westerners have very little idea of the complexity of Japanese society, its culture and the etiquette imposed on Japanese. For westerners who go there to live, even for a short while, ignore social obligations and adopt an “I don’t care” approach it can be a very taxing experience.
Most Japanese do not expect Westerners visiting Japan for a holiday, as I did, to understand let alone apply the Japanese social etiquette, they are happy if a westerner shows a minimum of politeness and regard. On the other hand if you intend staying there any length of time you had better start familiarizing yourself with it or suffer ostracization in a thousand little ways you had never imagined.
Yes life in Japan is very complex. It’s a lot more than the Kimonos and smiling faces most tourists see, much more. Foreigners arrive in a society that is 10 thousand years old and has used this time to elaborate a social structure so developed that not even all its natural inhabitants master it totally, let alone visitors and it was into this environment that Geoff-san immersed himself…a journey within a journey.
It’s an intensive experience and being able to speak a bit of Japanese can be of help like it can complicate things. It helps because you can communicate and make yourself understood, a “god send” when you have to ask for sheets and towels, in Japanese, on your 01st night and after a 14+ hour trip!
It gets difficult when you’re faced with the administration. OK, so you can speak the language and you understand the problem but what if you cannot argue your case when, say, your monthly scholarship is late, again and an outraged intendant is barking away at you because her books don’t tally!
What makes it different from any administration, anywhere in the world? To my mind it’s the attitude, the social etiquette I was talking about – you are an outsider!
Administrations in Europe can be frustrating, for indigenous and foreigners alike, but the cultural difference between Europeans is less evident and if you go to another European country there’s a fair chance you are there because they want you there (that’s called selective immigration).
In Japan you are immediately identifiable as an outsider and the differentiation is ever-present. I mean have you ever had some one come up to you in a London, Paris or Munich street, look you square in the face and really scrutinize you? Happened to me in a place in Tokyo, uncanny experience! Tact, discretion and patience are valued qualities in Japan, especially when you stand head and shoulders over the others. You have to adapt and literally fit in. Honshu, Japan’s main island is the 02nd most intensely populated island in the world, after Java and before the UK, the difference with the UK being that Japan has twice the population the UK has!!!
But like I said, it’s his journey and no doubt he’ll tell the story himself, rectifying and forgiving me in the process for any “artistical” interpretations in this present story. I’ve been a distant but proud and partial correspondent sharing the ups and downs of his journey and his albeit it temporary integration and, although I have a great respect for the Japanese people and its culture, favouring 01st hand experience and learning to better understand, I do have my opinions on the subject.
So where does the talent I mention in the title come in? Well as I said, Geoff-san is a musician and as soon as he was established he bought himself a bass guitar, one thing led to another and he formed a group with some friends (called Miro) had fun, got a teaching job, crossed cultural barriers and saw another aspect of life in Japan.
He knew it would be hard at times, even demoralizing, and it was but that’s what he went for he’s almost done and on top of that he’s validated his year and got his diploma…you see? You just can’t keep talent down… Did I say I was biased? You bet I am… I’m his dad!