Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Simmer Down Now

One of my co-workers once observed that foreigners in Japan can be arranged on a spectrum. At one extreme end you have those who absolutely love 100% of Japan 100% of the time, who will defend every aspect of it until they choke to death on mochi in their living room in Utsunomiya at age 99. At the other extreme end you have the jaded, jilted, angry foreigners who act like they decided to live in Japan specifically for the purpose of complaining about it and comparing it to their (far superior) home country all the time.
Both extremes, my co-worker said, are goddamn annoying to foreigners who fall someplace in between.
That observation occurred to me today when I read this enthusiastic essay by enthusiastic Tokyo enthusiast Erica Belling in the June 1, 2007 issue of Tokyo Notice Board. For that razor-thin minority of people who don't know but, for what ever reason, would like to know: Tokyo Notice Board is a free 60-page assemblage of classifieds, personals, advertisements for strip clubs and, lest we forget, often uninteresting works of opinion, fiction, poetry and satire created by foreign residents of the Kanto Plain. For example, the work of our new friend Erica. Walk with me through this garden of joy-induced despair, won't you?
First, she starts us off with this:

Where else in the world would you see Rockabillies, bagpipe-players, girls dressed as ‘Little Bo Beep’ and J-Pop bands all in an afternoon?
Speaking content-wise, I have nothing against this opening paragraph, except I didn't know some people said "Little Bo Beep" instead of "Little Bo Peep." Even stranger, in the Tokyo Notice Board appearance of this article, it says "Little Bo Bee." What ever. She could have said "Little Beau Bridges" and the essay wouldn't have lost nor gained any impact. Let's push onward, for now the garden becomes a jungle:

This is my take on Tokyo – eclectic at the least, crazy at best. And I’ve only been in Tokyo for 8 days! So far I have explored the streets of Harajuku, the bright lights of Shinjuku, the shopping of Shibuya and the 6 floors of Don Quijote (you really can find ANYTHING you need there!)

Again, a discrepancy: in the web version, she says she's been in Tokyo for eight days. In the TNB version, six days. WHICH IS IT, ERICA? YOU CAN'T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS! Speaking of capital letters, yeah, I guess you can find "ANYTHING you need" at Don Quixote...as long as your needs are limited to an array of goofy neckties, novelty gifts, sex toys and fake Rolexes. Both the printed and the online version of the article are missing a period at the end of this paragraph, so I don't know what Erica's doing in Tokyo, but she had better not be teaching English. Next:

I’ve had hot coffee from a can, tea from a can, soup from a can, traveled the subway in rush hour, bought a bicycle (a must in Tokyo), strolled Omotesando and been cleansed at the Meiji Jingu shrine. I’ve tackled the underground maze of endless stairs and escalators at Roppongi subway station, I’ve basked in the beauty of Yoyogi Park and stared in amazement at the architecture of Roppongi Hills – and the price of mangoes - $300 Australian dollars a box!

Jesus, all this canned food! What are you, homeless? Oh yeah, I guess you are, since you decided to take a bath at Meiji Shrine, of all places. Better find some income so you can afford those mangoes.
In the next paragraph, Erica starts to say some things against which I must contend:

From the perfectly presented Tokyo women to the punks to the straight-faced business men, I have found they all have something in common – a respect for one-another. This is how Tokyo works.
Wait a ding-dang minute here, Little Bo Beep. I thought you just said you've only been in Tokyo for six to eight days. I think that pretty much disqualifies you from telling me how Tokyo "works." And your observation that everyone in Tokyo respects one another is an easy mistake, for what you've wrongly perceived as respect is actually indifference. Like New York City, Tokyo is full of people who, in the words of Dan Aykroyd in Ghostbusters II, "would just as soon step on your face as look at you." If you'd moved here from any other city in Japan, you'd perceive the order and efficiency of Tokyo as coldness and impersonality. But no, you obviously moved here from a place where mangoes are cheap and canned food is a luxury and bicycles are frowned upon.
Erica blathers for another paragraph and a half more about how absolutely super everyone is, and then finishes with a final burst of positivity, to the tune of "When You Wish Upon a Star":

I see Tokyo as a city of endless opportunity and daily challenges. My mind is already overloaded with plans for my life here. Challenge number one: learn Japanese!
Yeah, Erica. Get right on that. You're a blank slate. An unspoiled innocent in a brave new world where nothing can go wrong. And you'll be that way until you get hassled by the police for your gaijin card and registration every time they see you riding your bicycle, you get touched up by a helpful businessman on the subway, or an earthquake sucks you into the underground maze of Roppongi Station while simultaneously bringing a million tons of amazing architecture down on you and your mangoes.
Technorati: mango / architecture / Ghostbusters II


carey said...

"garden of joy-induced despair" is brilliant. Thanks for the afternoon lift, Jesse. You nearly made me shoot water through my nose :-)

Limo said...

".as long as your needs are limited to an array of goofy neckties, novelty gifts, sex toys and fake Rolexes."

Awesome :)

The TNB continues to amaze me with it's fabulous literary extracts.

Have you read some of the personals?
I lifted this straight from the page:

Bonjour. Hello. Konnichiwa. Marriage partner.I have no mobile and computer. This address is my friend's. I buy computer soon.But please email here now. tomoko-japon@excite.com I am looking for my partner with any country but only honest and kind and as soon as possible marriage. I am japanese woman 40age, like kimono, green tea, flower, koto, piano, violin, sing, letter, travel, cook, all foods, nature, art, classical music. I can live any country. I am waiting for email from around the world. Merci.Thank you.Arigatou.

I sense a hint of desperation.

Sluggo said...

Yes. Y E S !

Thank you.

butt? said...

good stuff, I enjoyed your take on that innocent wide-eyed babe who seems to have taken her experiences of Tokyo directly from a Tokyo Metropolitan Government pamphlet. I've lived in Japan (and do now) several times and I haven't even been to a some of the places that she mentioned. Besides that, I agree that Japan is wild and magical place that will fulfill all your wildest dreams... or wait, that's Don Quixote. But the one thing that I would like to amend is that Tokyo people are cold, and impersonal. I had this impression myself for quite some time, but during one trip to Matsumoto to visit some friends, I was surprised when they mentioned that people in Matsumoto were cold and impersonal. I thought there was no way that it could be like people here, and I was right, they were much, much worse. People were rude almost everywhere that myself and my friends went (and I was the only foreigner). I have many friends who grew up in Nagano prefecture and their hometowns are not anything like Matsumoto was. I don't have any idea why it was that way, but it was, and returning to Tokyo I kinda saw it in a different way. I started to think at least that maybe it's not that people are cold and impersonal here, but that they do have a kind of respect for each other, not as people, but as occupants of space. Being that personal space is at such a premium here, I think that people here tend to construct blinders often just to give each other some room. Of course it's all just my opinion of the situation, but I've found that people here often open up if you approach them, you just have to wade through the crowd to get to them. Later Jessie, keep up the good stuff

butt? said...

sorry man, spelled your name wrong man, sorry Jesse!