Today I have a very emotional Pepi in Wonderland because we’re going to remember the 3/11. As you know, five years ago, a huge Earthquake and Tsunami hit the northern part of Japan. This was a megathrust, a one in every 1000 years quake that would turn upside-down the lives of thousands in Japan. For those who were there, I included, it meant a point in our lives in which we would re-think what we were doing and assess our time on this beautiful Earth of ours. Lives were lost, time stopped, and all the evils into our hearts went out in the blink of an eye. Families were torn apart, marriages were broken, jobs were lost, and the fear in our hearts was, in just minutes, there to remember us how flickering our lives really are.
There is but one thing that marked me for the rest of my days. One action of my loved one: a promise.
Another chapter of Pepi in Wonderland is here, and this time it comes with a twist. Have you read Gulliver’s Travels? If you have, you already know that Gulliver gets trapped by people from Lilliput. Well, in my travels, I wasn’t trapped by Lilliput citizens, but by the room! When I first landed in Tokyo, I wasn’t aware of how tiny houses could be. And when I say tiny, I mean Lilliput tiny. If you liked to play Tetris compulsively as a kid, this was the time to play it in real life! How do we fit into a 17 square meter room? What about a 20 square meter apartment? Could you make it? After eight years living in Japan, I can proudly say that I am the Empress of real-life Tetris. [All those hours playing the digital version did pay off. I never thought a video game could come as handy as Tetris was for fitting your luggage and books in such a tiny space!]
Yay! Another chapter of Pepi in Wonderland! Today, I lost my show. Well, not exactly like that. In fact: I lost my shoes. How? Imagine a world in which every single time you step in and out your home, your friend’s home, your boyfriend’s home, a restaurant, a coffee shop or the Neko Café you love, you need to take off your shoes, then put them on again, then take them off again, and then repeat the whole thing zillions of times. And before you know it, you don’t want to go shopping any more shoes ever again! Where can this shoe-on shoe-off be so important that requires that your feet smell like roses and not like cheese? You got it! Japan!
Yup, another chapter of Pepi in Wonderland. Today is all about aliens. When I came back from Europe, I just felt that everyone is so alien. I first landed in Vienna, Austria. It’s not that you find all strange people in Austria, it was only that I wasn’t used to seeing so many foreigners like me anymore. Okay, you might say, but you did come back home during vacations, didn’t you? Yes, I did. But it was always for a very short time. What do you think it happens when you go over the short period of time? Your brains enter into the panic zone.
So here we are again with a new chapter of Pepi in Wonderland. Today we are going to talk about Japanese etiquette: Japanese bowing. Japanese bow as a salute, to say thank you or to apologize. Rules are quite complicated, but if you follow the basics, you can never go wrong. After three months living there, I already got used to bowing instead of shaking hands. However, once you get used to it, it’s really hard to explain how it works to friends who would like to pay you a visit. One of such friends had a funny episode with bowing that made me laugh for a long time.
So here we are again with a new chapter of Pepi in Wonderland. This time, we are going to talk about the gomi adventures, also known as how to manage the trash. This might seem totally weird, but I never thought as much about trash as when I started living in Japan and moving from house to house in Tokyo. Tokyo is divided in “ku,” wards. Each ward has different rules on how to deal with trash. Some are easier than others, but as a general rule, it’s way more complicated than just their EU counterparts.
Before going to Japan, the only thing I had to worry about was separating the trash into different types, and go out from home and put the trash into their bins. And that happened whenever I wanted. Furniture would be taken care of by the city council. So, you only needed to put it next to the bins. End of the story.
Do you know the book Alice in Wonderland? I bet you do! I borrowed the title and changed it a bit to start this new section: Pepi in Wonderland. But why? After thinking for a long time, I’ve decided to get a little bit more personal on this blog. In this section, I intend to explain about my eight years living in Japan and the experience of returning to Europe. Here you’ll find cultural shocks running amok. When I went to Japan, I had to adapt to a foreign culture. But when I came back to Europe I had to re-do all the efforts. [SPOILERS: I haven’t adapted back, and I doubt very much that I will ever do it… nor I want to.]
Think about this section as an opportunity to take a look at Japanese culture from the perspective of someone who has lived immersed in it, loved it and cried like a baby when she decided to go back to the Old Europe. It might also feel like a joke at times because some situations might make you laugh (though they did not make me laugh at all at the time.) I might also use some pictures that I took centuries ago, so you’ll be able to admire the crappy pics I used to take… If I can find any because most of the pictures I took are the landscapes but to find me into the pictures is hard… Selfies!? Where were you back in 2004!?
Geek Cultural Anthropology can be fun. We can explore cultural differences taking a look at Avengers Age of Ultron posters in Japan. Unlike the US, Japanese movie promotions tend to focus more on the emotional side of the movies than the action that might be inside. Stressing emotion and drama more than action gives hints on what’s expected from the characters within society. A trailer or a poster in which we see too much action can stress the Japanese audience. But, why is it so?
Time and space are understood in different ways in different cultures. A Superhero movie can be too quick for certain audiences, while a samurai movie could be regarded as too slow for others. How space is treated by the camera can be seen as full or empty depending on the eyes that are looking at that scene. In fact, even in posters like this, we can find a hidden dimension where space and time are key to understand why there are some changes when marketing a movie in a country or another.
2011.3.11 it’s a date with a lot of meaning for me. I was living in Tokyo when the earthquake shook all the northern part of Japan. I was translating at the time, sipping from a mug of coffee when everything started to shake. The first thing that I thought was that the Kanto Earthquake had arrived. Ever since I arrived in Japan in 2004 I had been told about the great Kanto Earthquake that would destroy Tokyo. So, I thought it was that one. However, I was wrong: this was the Tohoku megathrust! And he had company: a devastating Tsunami that washed away lots of towns in the North.
I won’t forget that day. In just 5 minutes my life had changed without me noticing it. In fact, there was no one in Tokyo that would not be touched by the event. Everyone had a friend who had family on the North. And painfully enough, some were washed away.
When I saw this project I couldn’t stop myself to back it up. It is about Japanese War Brides, who, after the WWII married american soldiers and went to the US without knowing about the culture of their husbands. They landed on a country where most of people regarded them as enemies. Their cultural ways were at odds with the american ones. Now, three daughters, of three Japanese War Brides, are creating a film about them.
This is a unique opportunity to preserve the memory of these women, their experiences and a piece of history. This is also very valuable from an anthropological point of view. Why dis these women go to a place they did not really know? Why did they go a place with no Japanese-American communities? How were their lives? Unlike other immigrant groups, these women had no existing support networks, and they had to do everything, in a way, “alone”.
If you are interested in Japanese culture, WWII history and anthropology, this might be a very interesting project to fund and follow. Check it out here.