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What it means to be Japanese

JAPAN | Thursday, 1 September 2011 | Views [911]

11 March 2011 was a horrible day in the lives of the Japanese.

The headlines on all news screamed words like: Tsunami, disaster, earthquake, deaths, devastating………

I remember that during this time, I was in a hospital and watching this heartbreaking story of an old, little man that returned to no remains of  his home, town and anybody he ever loved.  The way he cried was soo intense, my heart just broke…. During this time I just started my happy blog regarding my recent travels and shoot in Japan, and this left me feeling empty with no words.    G o b s m a c k e d

But I still want to share this unique destination/culture.  Going into detail will take forever but still highlighting a few things would hopefully give you a bit of insight.

The tsunami was on everybody’s lips.  Everybody I knew felt more empathy for this tsunami destination due to the amazing people and country the Japanese are.   Some felt more touched for these tsunami victims as they felt that these people did not deserve it.  Not that other countries did,  but I think they referred to the subservant submissive and soft respectful nature of this culture that comes across as people that would put your needs before theirs’.

It was not just the devastating 8.9 magnitude 2011 Tōhoku earthquake that triggered the tsunami to wipe away most of the north eastern coast,  but the after affects of the radiation due to damaged nuclear reactors also caused some havoc.

And to top it off… Like from a movie, this all happened in extreme cold winter conditions..

I wondered what happened to the dolphins during this time as Japan is very well known for the unnecessary and cruel practice of the dolphin slaughtering.

*for more on this do yourself a favour and see: The Cove.

It’s a 2009 documentary film that analyzes and questions Japan’s dolphin hunting culture. It was awarded the (2010) Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.  Here you will learn that it’s really unnecessary to kill dolphins as their meat contains mercury and is thus poisonous and uneatable.

So what are these characteristics of this nation.  What makes them so beautifully unique and loved?

A fellow Japanese collegue explained: “It’s due to the believe of creating and keeping harmony.  And thus you will hardly find us in the midst of conflict.  Also the fear of not belonging and being out casted could be one of many motivations to make us not speak up or not go against the grain”

The Japanese believe in herarchy, in their families and in the workplace. And thus you will experience when you meet them: one word:  respect.  To the utmost level,  as a whole country and as a culture.  I cannot image this kind of behaviour in my very own straight forward outspoken family.

  • You can see this in the aftermath of the tsunami, there were no chaos and vandalism like in other countries
  • You can also see this superb discipline in the way they queque in perfect lines and spaces amongst themselves at the public train station etc…*where have you ever experienced discipline at a train station?
  • You can see this in the way the japanees bent towards elderly the more respect the lower the bent.
  • And this I see in every Japanese I meet:   the detailed and well thought thru actions considerations and approaches that makes you feel special afterwards.

Traditional Japanese Etiquette is probably a whole new subject, just like the individual traditional artforms, that needs an article on it’s own as there is so much to cover.

Worth noticing and mentioning is the eating tradition.  With serving of food,  two hands are used.  And in other cultures, like the Korea, one hand. Where as we as westerners don’t even notice that a tradition like this exists.

Especially the Art of Sushi is so interesting.  (A ‘snack’ of *vinegar preserved rice* that started a long time ago as a ‘take-away’ in Tokyo.)  Everything from how its being made, the serving details till the taste is an artform. Since its worldwide known now, we don’t know the tradition that comes with it.  In a traditional Japan any number of sushi pieces on your plate is allowed except for four.  You cannot serve four pieces as the sound of four in Japan is the same sound as the word death and serving just four pieces would be an insult.

There are many words like this Japanese that has the same sound and its only in context that you would know the meaning.

The other art forms that is unique to Japan are:

  1. The Hello Kitty brand  (apparently there is a theme park devoted to this brand called Sanrio Puroland)
  2. My favourite Asahi beer
  3. Sushi making
  4. Chopsticks
  5. Somo wresting: the national sport
  6. Samurai swordmanship
  7. Japanese tranquil gardens
  8. Hot springs
  9. Skiing on some of the finest powdered snow with the view of mount Fuji
  10. Kimono
  11. souvenir sushi-shaped USB sticks
  12. tempura
  13. Tea drinking ceremony

Back to the traditional fusion and my adventures of exploring the old traditions of Kyoto and new fashion of tokYo:

I have always been fascinated with older traditions and cultures, more specific: the finer delicate ways of the Geisha, according to me, a slowly fading, starving tradition, like all good things tho.  What a hard pil to swallow when I learned that they were prostitutes during the American invation, but luckily none of this is happening anymore.  If you love fashion, tradition, materials and graciousness then you will love this place.

The first exposure I had with Japanese was when I was in my early twenties and Keiko, the head of a house in Hammersmith London, chose me out of many applicants to rent a little room.  This time for me amongst many things was an eye opener.

Then, in Dubai, I met Jean that directed me to the area and few side streets in Kyoto where I could wait and see the real Geihsa’s when they come out around sunset (if I’m lucky like him).

I was a woman on a mission and that was just what I planned to do.  The first Gheisa I saw was at a temple *a detour on my way* and actually posing for me for a second.  I was kindof shocked that it was that easy.  I still went to Gion.

I was wondering in the Geisha area behind the theatre and there she was…a maiko (young apprentice geisha).

This rare bird emerged from one of the typical wooden sliding doors (doors that I wish to have in my house one day as this also adds some tranquil effect to a city where in some areas, Japan stood still in time), trying to avoid my lens, wobbling straight pass me on her uncomfortable clogs and down the old cobbled stone streets.

It was so unexpected that most of my images was out of focus.

What a sobering experience.

Later on the flight back it hit me with a shock: I recognized the purser on the flight as being the first Geisha on the steps at the Temple!!! And she confirmed.  I knew the features was not exact and she had helpers to help her walk and that something was not right and the puzzle came together. The purser went for the Geisha experience where you are being made up and experience some rituals as a Geisha for a day.

So the one thing led to another and here I go on my next adventure back to Kyoto:  to be dressed like a Geisha!  A way to be closer to this untouchable community as the anticlimax of it all left me feeling nothing and wanting more….

And like all other places where I really badly wanted to shoot images and document the most, my camera was taken away from me for the duration of the experience and I had to rely on what I see and feel and memory shots.

The address:

Maiko Style Experience Maica.


4-297 Miyagawa St. Higashiyama-ward, Kyoto 605-0801, JAPAN

If I close my eyes now I remember that there were many floors in this little house with narrow thin stairs.

I don’t remember what the make up artist looks like but I do remember that this was one of the most beautiful creatures ive seen before, and their soft careful ways of doing things are so beautiful.   Removing the white layer of make up was worse than putting it on.  My upper lip was thinly applied with red whilst my lower lip coloured in full: this meant beauty and youth as the older geisha’s has a fuller upper lip *I hated this as I already think my upper lip is not thick enough ha ha.

The next phase was the kimono section. I was in material heaven! Patterns and colours to choose from and no camera!!!! Aaarrgggg!!!!  It took 3 woman to help me get dressed and place the heavy wig on my head.

After my transformation, a few images was taken. I did not choose the option of walking around in public. The layering of material involved harness to flatten my boobs as apparently no curves should be seen and also a basket like object was placed on my back with covered material.

The layers and layers of material were so heavy I could barely breath and the shoes so uncomfortable.  This is the perfect example of the saying: “It’s painful to be beautiful!”

Newfound respect here for these women that makes it look so gracious!

I am still today curious and very intrigued by the shape and meaning of the shape on the back of my neck that was on purpose not painted white (as in my images). This unwhitened shape really do accentuate this traditionally erotic area.

Ready for my next adventure in Japan and now I was going to shoot the contradictory punks in Takeshita-dori street.

From Tokyo airport:  I took the Narita express to Shibuya and then at Shibuya changed to the JR Yamanote line for a quick ride to Harajuku Station. (7000 yen return ticket).

Once again the Japanese purser on my flight confirmed my location as she use to be a goth in her younger years.

I love chasing gheisas and monks and nuns and don’t like my subjects to look and pose too much, so this was a bit easier but disappointingly less of a challenge,  as this crowd loved the attention and wanted to show their costumes and pose for me.

Here I found a different kind of fashion: a not so traditional phenonmenon called costume play. A Sunday ritual where younsters dress up like goths, or comic book characters or anything that will bring attention from the park goers.Teenage girls with dyed hair, short skirts and platform boots giggling and always showing the peace sign when I shoot their pics.The feeling between the two cities might be lifetimes apart but I love the individualism of each character and it all gave me the Camden Town London feeling.

Next time ill goth it up  and join the crowd!!!  Or Geisha it up and join the gothic crowd or mix the two up.

Enjoy images!!! Longest article I wrote ever!! xx


Tags: #blogyourbackyard


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