The end of culture shock, robotic squirrels and Yuko the legend

On Wednesday we decided that we were no longer culture shock-ed. We sat there over iced coffees from a global coffee chain and stared out of the window at Japanese people walking past and felt nothing, not even a twinge, of the alien, the duck-out-of-water feel we had in our first days having flown roughly 6000 miles east. Now we look out and wonder about the shock of going home. In some ways we feel we’ve already gained such an amazing insight into Japan that we’ve seen it all, but of course we haven’t. We haven’t even finished sightseeing in Kyoto; we have yet to see the Golden Pavilion, the zen gardens, the Imperial Palace gardens, the craft market. But I suppose to me sightseeing is actually not partocularly helpful in discovering a culture or a a country’s people; you don’t often get an insight into the way they live or their attitudes. Often as you are ushered round a palace or temple with a crowd of other tourists you feel as if you’re staring at something beautiful but inanimate – a bit lifeless, and untouchable, in a glass box. Like a colourful butterfly pinned, encased and labelled. Whether you appreciate my rambling metaphors or not you probably agree? Although I like seeing beautiful or impressive things it reminds me of some articles I read last year at uni about culture as commodity – packaged and manufactured for the visiting masses, or for export onto a world stage: artificial, and forced, Japan as produced for the eyes of the Westerner, the fat American tourist with a bulging wallet to match his bulging gut. I like to think that Katie and I have seen a bit more of the real Japan, but who knows? Typical anthropological postmodern dilemma: can we ever see the “real” Japan? Will we ever truly understand it the way natives do? Probably not; I’ve neglected my Japanese phrasebook, for a start. But although we’ll never be truly Japanese, we can try hard to get to know the culture, and that’s what anth is all about.

So we were so un-shocked we went shopping. Go on, chide us. I’ll start serious work soon I promise. In fact I got a lead today (as if I was Sherlock Holmes..); as I was having dinner I chatted to the restaurant staff and the restaurant owner, who I told about my project. He said that one of his friends does traditional tattoos, tebori, and that I can meet him! He phoned him but the guy didn’t pick up, but they took my email address and my phone number though phones are fiddly here so don’t know if they’ll get through to me that way. But all very exciting!

When we went shopping yesterday I bought various things including a Totoro toy: a grinning creature from one of the famous Studio Ghibli Japanese films. I have yet to see the actual film he’s from but loved his grin too much. I also bought a battery powered squirrel that was around £6; we believed it would surely do something amazing, but as soon as we put the battery in after hours of painful agonising wait, all it did was sort of rotate its head around and around… Like the exorcist or body-popping… I think it’s meant to be chewing but quite frankly it’s rubbish. It’s hilariously rubbish though so I called it Alan the Disco Squirrel.

We went out for dinner with Yuko last night which was great. We went to a place where each table has at its centre a sort of flame grill- bit like a barbecue but more firey. The idea being that you cook your own food in the middle. I got some squid, and we had salad, and veg. We also enjoyed some sake (hot and then some cold, I like it). The restaurant had a great fishtank as well, as it happens. The fish probably felt lucky every day. How morbid. Anyway they were beautiful big fish. And they also had a tiny turtley thing in there. Yuko was great and cooked us everything, and paid for it all, including drinks! She said “don’t worry..I’m rich!” so we felt OK about it! She had SO much to drink including two huge pints of beer which was really funny because like most Japanese women she’s absolutely tiny! Ended the meal with some black sesame icecream- super love points if anyone can track that down for me in England..! The restaurant owner had been to England for Crufts dog show, and to see some stage shows, and kindly but rather bizarrely gave us show programmes that they had bought in London, to take home with us! I felt bad to take away something that was special to someone else but not particularly to me, but refusing the offer would have been impolite! So I have a programme in Japanese for a Japanese version of Twelfth Night.

Yuko was an amazing laugh and a little more chilled than Katie’s previous homestays, maybe because she’s in her late 50s and single so had quite an independent and daring outlook on life and enjoyment. We even had a bit of a dance in the street. She was so sweet when she said goodbye, saying that I had a good character (which is quite obviously utterly true..).. Jokes aside I will genuinely miss her! And her spectacular Japanese dinners!! Maybe we’ll meet again before the end of the trip.

Today we visited the kaleidoscope museum which was great but twee, with an over-long kaleidoscope projections presentation, and the Kyoto Manga museum, which was interesting because reading graphic novels is a massive thing here and was originally influenced by famous artists such as Hokusai’s sketches. I honestly find manga a bit strange though as the content is odd and mostly overtly sexy despite the fact that it often features seemingly innocent or childlike characters and I find it a bit perverse! I think I have yet to understand it though I do appreciate the artwork and skill. We also had lunch alone in a great traditional place that played really funny wailing cat/Enya plinky music. It was irritating as well as funny but once we left we missed it!

Amusing anti-drugs poster; inexplicable alpaca in otherwise serious program..; dinner with Yuko; grinning Totoro; amusing products; ladies urinal?! Which is funny considering the “flushing” sound option on every toilet to mask the sound of your wee..; amazing cappuccino art in “venice”; toys…; Domokun hand warmer/headrest; Uri Gellar’s downfall; freaky robots; strange advert; disturbingly sexual child’s jigsaws – see what I mean?!


One Response to “The end of culture shock, robotic squirrels and Yuko the legend”

  1. Joanna Says:

    That dog looks like Rocko from Rocko’s modern life, I wonder if it’s some estranged Japanese relation of his?

    That coffee art is amazing, why didn’t they teach us that at Mortons!? All we got to do was put cocoa powder on the top in an M shape.

    Totally agree with you about anime. It just doesn’t appeal to me, and there is something weirdly sexual about it all. Those jigsaws reallllly creep me out….


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