Wednesday, March 5, 2008

What You Don’t Know Can Make You Look Dumb:

Something I have been meaning to write down for a while now, is a scathing indictment of the ignorance of American Otaku when it comes to transferring what they have learned from anime into what is and is not permissible in Japanese society. But rather than simply start a war of egotistical posturing, I shall instead look to the formula pioneered by David Letterman and condense my thoughts into:
A top 5 list of things that shatter American Otaku’s views once they visit Japan.

1) Anime isn’t anime: In Japanese “anime” still refers to all things animated whether it be Full Metal Alchemist, Wallace and Grommet, or Fantastic Planet. Otaku-no-Video is not a documentary, and even if it were that time in history has long since passed. You will not find a 24 hour anime convention, nor will you find “anime” labeled with the specific connotations that have come to so strongly define it in America. Thusly in Japan it is viewed as simply another consumer product in the entertainment world, and not a lifestyle. This thusly effects the domestic attitudes towards anime productions, and the retail of licensed goods.

2) You’re a gaijin: No, that’s not awesome, nor is it something that you want to draw attention to. It is not to say that one should be ashamed, but aware of. No matter how well spoken you are, absolutely nothing will trump that physicality which will effect everything else you can and can not do. Conversely, if you are of Japanese, Chinese, or Korean decent, then you are going to be the one they go to first to try and talk to, even if you don’t speak a word. This is not a culture where differences are celebrated, and for Americans putting that grade-school E Pluribus Unum indoctrination out of the way when one reacts to every day situations that confront those notions, is quite a task indeed.

3) Anime Documentary: Yes there is much that you can learn about Japanese culture, both traditional and contemporary by watching their entertainment. However, acting like an anime character in public is not something that would ever help your situation out, no matter where you are, no matter what you’re doing, no matter what anime character you think is OK to imitate (even KareKano isn't real, and no one else can see that imaginary sweat bead). Individuality as a concept is something that always takes a back seat to a notion of “the greater good” in the land of the rising sun. This may be because there has never been much of an “internal struggle” between competing groups within Japan itself for its entire history. After the recent post war period where unity was maintained as the key to winning a very real struggle to get enough to eat, this notion is very entrenched, and even the most rebellious Japanese youth does so with the confines of “the greater god” (look at the fact that School uniforms are still in widespread use). What this means to the visiting Otaku is that when you think your “inalienable rights” are being impeded when you get those dirty looks or polite requests to move along, it’s not an affront to your individuality or “free speech,” it’s that you obviously don’t know how to properly comport yourself in public in Japan. There is a difference between putting away fear of embarrassment and ignorantly crossing social boundaries.

4) Beer in the Vending Machines: If they had beer vending machines here in New York (we basically do, they’re called “bodegas”) but regardless, I don’t think I would drink less, but I would drink more responsibly. Life in Japan in general places much more responsibility for one’s self in one’s own hands, and so the notions of extreme behavior being acceptable so long as it violates no law, is practically nonexistent outside the Karaoke club. That’s not to say Japan does not have its nanny-state-isms, because they do. But they are some of the most advanced nanny-state formulas on the planet, relying on very long term policies and subsidies held in place with the ever present Japanese social glue, shame. Simply stated, a lot of the activities and methods of communication a young person engage in, in America are simply not done by their Japanese counterparts simply by the mere notion of “well you could, but why would you want to?”

On a side note, Japanese beer is a good way to represent the country itself. You take it from every region north to south, and it’s the same. No matter which beer it is, it’s always the same style and same taste. That’s one image the world sees of Japan, one big pile of sameness. But dig a little deeper and you’ll discover saké. Saké is found throughout Japan as well, but that is about all beer and saké have in common. Move even one prefecture over and the saké becomes something totally different, and that’s Japan to the Japanese. Still constant, but very different from one end to the other... But they’ll never admit that to you.

5) Tokyo Sucks: Hey, I am a big city fan and I love Tokyo. But if you are young, and looking for Japan, Tokyo is the last place you want to bother with. It’s for business people, let them do business there, but for you my otaku friend there are other places with are nicer to look at, and cheaper to stay in. You can get your anime fix just about anywhere, so consider anything from Sapporo to Fukuoka as worth checking out.

Now if you’re going to Japan for a week, this list really only applies on a very basic level and there’s nothing here for you that a good guidebook can’t do better for you on. But if you’re going to be buying your own groceries, commuting to work/classes, and wandering into places where the Japanese haven’t seen a foreigner since the Dutch, then these things will become apparent as you experience them, and the only thing this list will help you do, is recognize them the first time they happen.

My final tip only applies specifically to Americans, and that is when you plan your trip, don’t fly on any American air carrier. You know they suck, the suck hard. So get on JAL or Malaysia Airlines, or Air Canada, Cathay Pacific, or even British airways or whatever, just don’t bother with an American carrier, because you’ll really be sorry if you do.


Erin said...

I told the guy from WARP specifically NOT to fly Northwest Airlines to Japan, since I had a much better experience on United to Korea. He didn't take my advice; Northwest had the cheapest tickets. If/when I go again I hope to spring for a non-American airline, but Jesus Christ, we're talking an extra $400 to make just 12 hours less miserable. Or something like that...

The Angry Otaku said...

I'll take a boat before I fly an American Carrier again... 'cept maybe United because I can get a free upgrade there.