Emily, Japanese youth, and Ponyo

So here’s my second attempt at this post. Maybe it’ll be even better this time…? Like mature cheese, wine, or expired film?!

On Saturday I met up with Emily, my friend from Cambridge who has come to Japan for a year as part of her Japanese degree. We had a much needed catch-up before heading to have dinner. We had something called Onamiyaki (I think..), possibly the best thing I’ve eaten since getting here! It’s like a sort of omelette thing, with veg and stuff (we had shrimp). It’s partially cooked by a chef before being brought up and plonked onto the hotplate in the centre of your table, so that you can add herbs and spices and sauces, yummy yummy yum! So we wolfed that down with some plum wine and watched a group of rowdy businessmen having what we supposed was some sort of group date with some giggling young women. The businessmen were impressing them with their smoking skills and fat wallets. I’m never sure if I’m jealous of Japanese women; they look pretty and slim but must spend so much time getting ready each day. Some of them definity go over the top; in an icecream bar downtown we saw three girls dressed up to the nines: formal dresses, glitzy expensive jewellery, hair in elegant up-dos, lots of makeup, shawls, clutch bags. This was at about 3 in the afternoon, I think they had just dressed up like that to go shopping! In fact most girls that you see in town, and many men, look like they’ve spent AGES styling themselves: doing hair, wearing heels (women only..). This to me is VERY strange, but among young people here there’s great pressure to look good, like the right things, say the right things and conform within one’s friendship group or peer group. Emily was telling me that this pressure and competition is so intense; they learn dance moves appropriate to the group’s chosen style, they wear the exact same shades of makeup and to stay the same weight. So much is about image here, and that’s one thing I hate about Japan. I’ve decided I love Japan AND I hate it, and this is something I hate. Young women often act a certain way; putting on a high pitched “cute” squeaky voice, shuffling along in their high heels because it’s meant to be endearing, and wearing 10 inches of makeup, even using skin whitening cream, eek. And I’ve seen some pretty bad mullets and pointy shoes on boys: foul. I think the growing popularity of tattoos is just an extension of this fashionable image creation, which goes back a long way. Tattoos used to be similarly fashionable before they became taboo.

I bought a book called “Shutting out the Sun- How Japan created its own lost generation” by Michael Zielenziger. So far it’s really good and well written; a great insight into the current Japanese zeitgeist, focusing on “disturbing social trends” amongst youth including over one million (mostly male) hikikomori: “young men who shut themselves in their rooms, withdrawing from society” and “parasite singles”; more and more young men and women who can’t get jobs or refuse to leave home and marry or bear children, or who sponge off of their parents far into adulthood. Emily did say that often the parents are keen to keep their children dependant until marriage, and expect to be cared for in return; by living with their children in their old age as was done traditionally. Anyway the book should help me a lot with my dissertation.

Speaking of which, after dinner, Emily and I headed to A bar, a grungy little bar featured in the LP which proved very difficult to find even after asking locals for directions. I had heard that it was next to a tattoo studio, and it was. The crowd inside were appropriately raucous. It felt more relaxed than pretty much anywhere else I’ve been which was refreshing. Over a glass of sake on the rocks (how’s that for glamour?) I finally plucked up the courage to accost a moody looking smoky Italian, who had been leafing through a tattoo studio flyer, who after some conversation revealed that he might be able to talk to a friend who knew a traditional tattoo artist. This sounded good, especially because my previous lead on a traditional tattooist was a bit of a
flop. Japanese traditional tattooists are a very closed group, understandably perhaps, to maintain the exclusivity of their skill and to protect the identities of their customers: mostly Yakuza. Essentially we were not welcome without an invite. I’m still deciding if I want to push it and see if I can get anything.

We also met some very nice people at the bar- Japanese friends of the Italian, friends of theirs, one of whom was going to improve his English in Oxford, and a very strange guy from New Zealand, who, simply put, was a sleazebag, but the giggling girls he targeted didn’t seem to mind. The Italian also told us about a Yakyza gang against gang shooting that occurred in a shopping mall, which incited public outrage purely because the conflict was not settled in private. To say sorry for the killing occuring in public the Yakuza went around to the local residents and gave them chocolates and an apology. That’s how accepted they are here as part of society! The area of my hostel is apparently a Yakuza area. Although EVERYWHERE is really a Yakuza area..

On Sunday we basically chilled. We went shopping. My head hurt from the previous night’s sake and plum wine! We enjoyed a DELICIOUS matcha and white chocolate drink, perused Muji (I bought a battery powered electric toothbrush, yattaaa! And some drool-worthy stationary), and I got some posh tea cups. We found Katie, got back to Emily’s room, and went a bit mental. I for one was hyper, shrieky and excited by being in the presence of more than one English person at the same time (first time in 2 weeks)! We slurped my tubes of peach “sherbet” while standing in Emily’s deep Japanese bath. I even sang a song with a rap about washing my feet. I think these outbursts were simply a reaction to the stress of trying to be socially acceptable in Japan. I’ve recently started to care less: I found out about not showing your (erotic?!) shoulders but frankly would sweat to death if I didn’t so they can stuff that rule. I’m trying hard with everything else; taking my shoes off, eating sushi and eel, etc!

We finished the chilled day by watching Ponyo, the new Studio Ghibli film, in my hostel. Sooooo sweet! Can’t wait to watch Totoro 🙂
Studio Ghibli on Wikipedia:


Photo descriptions;
Strange products; overpackaged apples?!; strange mythological Japanese creature rumored to have large testicles that is EVERYWHERE and even more scary for its squiffy demented eyes; moistage= the worst word ever?; powder either FOR baby pigeons or made out of them; dont invade my personal Spase; the glorious matcha&choc drink; sweets that look like medicine = bad idea; cute baby GAP; Escarator? Have also seen Cathoric churches; drinks kept HOT at the cornershop; I read this as 24 limes; Emily; and the inescapable Foucault.


One Response to “Emily, Japanese youth, and Ponyo”

  1. ANDREW Says:


    Sounds fantastic Meg. Wish I was back there. Too much crazy.

    Have you tried POKARI SWEAT yet? Now THAT’S SOME TASTY SHIT (perhaps literally).

    Keep Omotesando.


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