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Nihon de: The adventures of Maggie » Giant Buddha

Religion, Politics, and Scary Movies

Posted by maggie on May 26, 2012 in In Japan

I just learned something new today. Watching a scary movie before bed is just as scary in America as it is in Japan. Too bad I can’t resist the urge sometimes, so now I just have to suck it up and deal.

So whilst I do my best to avoid turning off all the lights and trying to sleep, let’s recap what’s been going on.

On Thursday we went to Kamakura to see a shrine, a few temples, eat some Osaka-style okonomiyaki (aka meat and seafood pancakes of awesomeness), and a giant Buddha. There was also some shopping involved. But going away from that topic, looking into the religious aspect we saw how heavily Japanese culture and society weighs Shinto and Buddhism. Which makes a lot more sense having seen some of this stuff.

Not to be ethnocentric, but a lot of American society and culture has roots in Christianity and its rules and traditions. Whatever your opinions on Christianity may be, you can’t ignore the impact that it has had on more than just our holidays. How we treat others, how we conduct ourselves and our businesses. All this stuff ties in.

Some of this is changing with the growing diversity of the population, but a lot of our behaviors and standards come from religious bases, and while this might change some day soon, Christianity in its multiple forms still dominates. This notion of religion is true of Japan as well with the two afore mentioned practices, but it is much slower to adapt to new things and people, perhaps partially due to the country as a whole still being a little xenophobic.

It’s not strange if you think about it. Japan was isolated for a long time, and seemed content to be so. Who knows what today would look like if they had never engaged in wars, trade, or expanding territory. But even with the changes brought on be these, tourism included in there as well, I still walk down many streets and notice that I am the only caucasian present.

It was a bit weird at first, coming from a country where I am in the majority, but it didn’t take as long to get used to as I might have thought. I don’t receive a lot of stares from people, or at least I don’t notice them; though that could be because it would be rude to be caught staring at someone or even making eye contact for too long. In a strange way, going about my business just like everyone else makes me feel more like I’m participating in the culture.

It’s hard to explain. If I go out in public back home, even riding on a bus full of people I feel oddly alone. Maybe it is because we’re all off doing our own things, trying to ignore each other. But in Japan, just being a part of the crowd of business people en route to work everyday makes me feel like I not alone. Even if my headphones are in, I still feel more engaged and conscious of the people around me, and for once not in a “someone’s-giving-me-a-weird-look-is-my-makeup-wrong-or-something?” way.

Weirdly, although I get jostled frequently in crowds, no one has yet stepped on my foot. Not even when I decided to be crazy and wear sandals. Am I just pushing my luck, or is there something to that? Maybe it’s okay to shove past someone a little, but stomping on their feet with your dirty shoes is bad? Just curious.

Oh, what was I talking about? Religion? Woops.

But I guess it fits in a little bit. There seems to be a sense of order and harmony to many things, and if you don’t see it right away, you’re able to go beneath the surface and find it. As I understand it, Shinto offers the belief that ordinary things like objects, man-made or not, are special and contain spiritual significance. My immediate thoughts drift to Disney’s Pocahontus, where every rock and tree and creature has a life, spirit, and name. Yadda yadda. But there is an underlying sense of order and purpose; nothing is wasted. The city of Tokyo is very clean and organized all things considered; traditional practices are valued and carried out with diligence and patience. Maybe everyone does their part in one way or another, even the people going about their business; cleaning up or helping out the poor tourists like me that get lost every now and again. It all betters the community somehow.

Then again, I’ve only been here two weeks now. I’m just trying to make sense of the world around me.

I can definitely see the value placed on the past, particularly in ancestor worship (if there is a better term for this, I lack it). The Japanese language has a definite sense of past tense, which can also be used to describe the way things have been. Meaning, you could say, “I brushed my hair” in Japanese and the sentence could also imply that brushing your hair is something you do frequently. Establishing a habit, if you will.

The present tense pulls double duty to be the future tense as well; it depends on the context. But Japanese culture seems very focused on a connection with the past. The old are respected and the ancestors revered. In America, we seem to focus a lot of attention on the future, and younger generations treat old people as either unimportant or a nuisance. Not like a storehouse of wisdom and experience like they are; more like handicapped people who only serve to cause vehicular accidents and drain our resources. Or the nice grandparents who cough up good money for birthdays and holidays every year. This is a gross generalization, but I’ve seen it. We focus on what is new and now, and the old is out of luck. Which is a shame.

To loosely tie this back in with events, today I went to see the Square Enix museum and the pokemon center, not greatly impressed by either, but  enjoying the experience and the company all the same. I kind of wish pokemon would bow out gracefully at some point; not that the series had a lot of dignity in the first place (thank you 4kids and the American dubbed cartoon). Also, because the Japanese seem to lack subtlety and sense by most Americans’ standards. But now I feel like it’s beating a dead horse, and can’t really connect with the new pokemon as well because I feel so far removed. In the past I loved the video games and the tv show for all its corniness, and now if it’s on I swiftly change the channel. Why can’t we agree that pokemon is/was a good series and let it die in piece? Must we keep putting out new stuff that’s only half as good? (cough cough star wars prequels cough cough)

Yeah, I’m weird. But the past, for me, represents nostalgia; a simpler time when I didn’t need to question as many things, was easily impressed, and the world made more sense. It’s like Eve and the apple; now that I’m older and more aware, I can never go back, and it saddens me a little bit. It doesn’t mean I’m not looking forward to the future or changes to things, although admittedly I’m not crazy about change when it comes to the things I love just as they are. But with new times come new innovations come new problems, and it’s harder to adjust to those new problems because no body’s had to deal with them before.

My main beef with the future mostly has to do with the media; things getting either cheaper, dumbed down, or unoriginal. But that’s another story for another day….er….night.

Tomorrow, Akihabara. I can slip back into the fun of being a fan in Japan, provided I keep a tight hand on my wallet. But so far, that hasn’t been a problem. I feel a familiar voice in the back of my head asking, “Do you really want this or not?” when I go to buy something. It’s very helpful from a saving perspective. It’s only a few weeks in after all. Plus, some of the stuff I see here I could probably get cheaper in the US. I try to avoid impulse buys, at least expensive ones. But I was happy that my postcard made it through to the US; hopefully the others will get through alright.

By the way, Okonomiyaki is delicious. :)

I’m having so much fun on this trip. There have been plenty of bumps along the way, but some of this stuff I might never have seen until years later. I think it’s good to see it now, when I have the energy and excitement for it, but also the ability to let it mold me a little as I go. I admit that I can be a stubborn person, and my tendencies really clash with the culture sometimes, but honestly, I am so happy to be here. I would gladly take the frustration and confusion for the experience I am getting here. I can already feel some changing going on, hopefully for the better. :) I hope tomorrow is a lot of fun.

Oh God, why did I watch Pet Sematary again?…I’m never going to shut my eyes tonight, I can tell. Even with the light on, I’m creeped out, and I’m not even thinking about the scenes. Just hearing the music from the soundtrack in my head while I type is creeping me out. (O.o) scared face now.

Must. stop. thinking. about. it. Right. Maybe I can offset it by watching a Japanese horror movie?

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

No. Just…just no…

I’m going to try to sleep now….somehow. Can’t wait for Akihabara tomorrow. Hope everyone is doing fine at home. I’m on skype sometimes, so if you’re on, feel free to call me. :)


P.S. Enjoy the whimsical Miyazaki store. I love that they have these all over the place, wherever I go :) Gotta love the Japanese version of Disney (figuratively)

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