Posted by: thewhitesintokyo | December 6, 2008

Japanland Joys

Now that I’m recovering from a horrible stomach flu that took out a couple teachers and dozens of 1st and 2nd graders this week, I planned on blogging today, but didn’t really have much on my mind.

And then BANG, it hit me. Not an idea, but an email.

“Dear Brad
Please refrain from hanging beddings etc., over the Railings.because it spoils the image of the building.
Thanks.
Terry”

Seriously. Since I’ve been so sick, and Rachael has so far avoided catching this, we bleached our apartment and washed all of our sheets and comforter. I hung the comforter outside for oh, about 2 hours, and got this email while I was at the bank this afternoon.

Once, Rachael parked a friend’s bike downstairs overnight, which we had never done before and will certainly not do again. When we left for school the following morning at 7:45am and went to look for the bike, our wonderful neighbor was looking it over with his hands on it, and looked like he was going to move it out of the apartment property.

We really have tried to be good neighbors. No loud parties. No drunken foreigners spilling out of our place in the early morning hours. We take out our trash on time. We keep the place clean.

But for two hours, I put my comforter outside and get an email like this? Here’s the worst part, though; I bet a dozen other people felt the same…or even more strongly and just couldn’t tell us!

Thanks to Rebecca Cahill, I’m reading a fantastic book about the heart of Japan, called Japanland. It’s by National Geographic filmmaker and writer Karin Muller, who lives in Japan for a year, fully immersing herself in this intriguing puzzle of a society. In it, despite her extreme efforts to file into the culture in which she is living, she eventually gets kicked out of her house. In this passage, she and her host mother discuss why she was asked to leave. It reminds me of the horrible sin of hanging bedding on the railings.

“I bow my head and ask what I’ve done wrong and if there’s anything that I can do to make it right. There’s a pause…I am, she tells me, a completely unmannered lout. ‘Could you be more specific?’ I ask without a hint of irony. I don’t greet her properly when I come in the door, and I don’t wash my bath mat often enough. She once found a stain on the underside of my cutting board, and the maid had to wash it off. I walk in at dinnertime and talk to [her husband] when she is ready to lay the table. I can’t help myself. ‘But I asked if it was okay- twice! You didn’t say anything.’ I should have known by her expression. ‘Maybe it’s a cultural misunderstanding.’ ‘Not culture. Manners. You have none.’ The list goes on for forty minutes. When it’s over, I’m curiously relieved. She said nothing that I would be afraid to tell my mother. I can live with her critique. I pack my gear and say goodbye to my beloved garden.”

Now, we definitely still love living here, but it is a very difficult culture to understand. On the surface, there are only slight differences, but Japanese culture, like all others is an iceberg. The easy stuff sticks out of the water. But the many underlying differences below the surface are the ones that cause the shipwrecks.

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