Welcome to another Pepi in Wonderland chapter. I thought that it would be interesting to talk about Ma, the Japanese concept of space. Though appartments and homes can be minuscule in Japan, and sometimes even too crowded with stuff, reality is that Japanese praise the Ma. But before defining what Ma might be, let’s take a look at this room and answer a simple question: is this room full or empty?
Pepi in Wonderland gets addicted to karaoke. Do you remember the film Lost in Translation? Just before landing in Tokyo, I watched the movie, and I was hooked by the karaoke scene: a room, with friends, and singing. I’ve never been in a karaoke in EU yet, but I’ve been countless times in Japan. Why? I went once, and I got addicted! A closed room is perfect to torture your new friends with your voice singing ABBA’s Mamma mia or Bon Jovi’s Have a nice Day. It can even get challenging when you start with Elvis Presley and Japanese rock bands like B’z. But you keep going, beer after beer, snack after snack, hot tea after hot tea to recover your voice, if you had any before beginning the adventure. In 2004, I was at least once a week in a karaoke, and I went nuts with friends going for all-night karaokes! We were on fire! We were in Tokyo!
I came across Solanin by chance, browsing some comics in the local comic book store. Thick, and with a serene cover, this graphic novel caught my eye. After navigating some of its pages I decided to give it a go. The reasons are many: it brought back so many memories from Tokyo, and it seemed to talk about lost millennials. A love story, romanticism, a drama, lost young people who try to navigate the world. It is quite far away from what I’m used to read, and yet I took it. Tokyo won my heart, so I needed to read this manga.
Its white and black pages are strong enough as to make me remember the streets I used to walk. Tokyo is a tantalizing city that bewitches you. However, Meiko’s story rang a bell. She is an office lady who hates her job. What is she doing there? Is she going to spend there the rest of her life?
Pepi in Wonderland this time is a little bit mischievous. We’re going to talk about love hotels in Japan, where the crazy things happen. Before going to Japan I had no fix idea about love hotels, but after arriving I was shocked by the craziness in designs. By that time I arrived in Japan, I had had poor exposure to the internet, and the info that I had was quite innocent. The first one to talk to me about the wonders of such hotels was an Italian girl. She was in the Hello Kitty room of a love hotel, and she was describing to me the craziest night ever while I was staring back at her in disbelief and giving her some assassin looks back because she was destroying my childhood. [Pink rooms decorated with Hello Kitty plushes are naughty, I should have known that! Who the hell has so much pink in a room unless you’re going to have wild parties in it?] However, this was not the strangest room ever, nor the cutest, nor the naughtiest, nor the craziest. Japan has a great array of love hotels where you can do everything and more so that you never end up doing sexy stuff. [Who wants to get into reindeer games when you have a console and endless games?]
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!
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.