June 3, 2011 8 Comments
Alright well the votes are in…at least as of Thursday 11:30pm KST so I’ll tell you guys about Japanese Popular Culture. I suppose it’s a little hard to talk on this as it’s really connected to Japanese recreation but there were some things that stuck out to me. Things that gave me a feeling of a living culture apart from the buildings or historical sites. I’m not sure exactly how to categorize it, so I hope calling it Pop Culture will suffice.
One of the biggest destinations in Japan known for it’s pop culture status is Harajuku street. Aside from being heavily trafficked, this place is well known as a hang out spot for the young hip crowds, a fashion show for unusual styles and a cornucopia of random cross culture nick-nacks. On these streets the old melds into the new. You can see young teenage girls still in their uniforms fresh from school alongside older women wearing full kimonos for no real apparent reason. You’ll also see a LOT of African guys peddling clothes. Racist I know…but it really caught me off guard.
Not to long ago I my ex used a perfume called Harajuku girls. The fragrance was titled after the streets famous variety of cos-players. Cos-players if you don’t know, are people who dress up in elaborate costumes for no other reason than to look cool. Many of them, despite their eye catching apperance refused to let me take photos (no why would they not allow a fully grown black man to take pictures of them in cute dresses any pedophile would giggle over, I can’t for the life of me imagine…) Here are just a few of the photos I was able to catch.
(Sorry by the way for the quality of those last two…I still haven’t gotten a decent camera yet. It’s coming I promise…I’m just saving up for a bike first)
Japan is very…I don’t know if I should use this term but for lack of a better one I should say Americanized as opposed to Korea. When you walk down the street people are more likely to be cautious when moving you aside and actually sometimes say things like “excuse me” in perfectly fluent English. It just seems in general that Tokyo was a bit more open and accepting that Seoul, as was the case when I saw these people below not very far from Harajuku station holding up “Free Hug” Signs. I would be hard pressed to find something like this in Korea. Thats not saying that Koreans aren’t friendly (in fact I’ve had several of my beers paid for by Koreans and I’ve been hand fed enough food by smiling drunken random strangers than I can count), but its just that Koreans aren’t as open about it, at least to strangers…when sober.
Not far from the famous Harajuku street is the nearly famous Yoyogi park. This is one of the largest parks in Tokyo and much of the culture from Harajuku spills over into it. Creating an area with just as much culture in a much more relaxed atmosphere. These beatniks formed the largest drum circle I have ever seen and even though the resulting sound was little more than a chaotic mess it was still pleasant and relaxing to hear. My friends and I spent so much time in the park we nearly lost track of the day.
Something I miss very much about america is the graffiti. It’s something very small but it’s a god sign of a city with a thriving free thinking artistic community. I will personally take a wall ‘defaced’ with a murals as opposed to a blank one or one defaced with advertisements any day of the week. It’s nice to see something with no ulterior motive other than to promote aesthetic beauty. After Leaving Home it’s something I really missed a lot because it’s practically nonexistent in Seoul. I didn’t find much in Tokyo, but what I saw I really enjoyed. It was refreshing.
Going back quickly to cos-players…Elvis still lives on in Yoyogi park. You can see dozens of impersonators rocking out in the park’s largest central square. It’s really cool to see guys a-shaking-and-a-movin’ with those huge greasy tufts of hair jutting out from their foreheads.
As many of you know Japan is the center of the Anime world. And it’s no surprise that the weird anime culture is really embraced in some areas of the city and Akihabara is probably the most well known for it. I walked into a fair share of figurine shops that seemed to sell small statues of animated characters for hundreds of dollars. The shops were huge and lined with dozens of glass cases.
While most of these figures were from well established animes and shows…every now and then you would find something so strange…so bizarre you had to just take a photo of it and interpret it later.
It wasn’t just in the figures, you could tell anime was something bigger here. You could tell it was something as big as football or cheesy tween novels back at home. Why else would someone create an entire business dedicated around fandom to a show about giant fighting robots?
In Tokyo there was also something very weird…I don’t know how exactly to explain it, other than to describe it as clean sexuality. Suffice to say people in the East (I am also speaking on behalf of Korea as well [look up Penis Park in Korea and the Penis festival in Japan]) do not view the penis (and maybe this sentiment is exclusive to the penis but none the less) as such a dirty organ. So I suppose that justifies why I saw chains of “Condomania” stores all over the place. Now, while obviously stores like this do exist in the states, they’re never so bold and brash as to tout themselves as “Fun” while toting in huge colorful letters the slogan “Give Safe Sex a Chance!” But I had to admit these were some interesting little shops filled with different flavored condoms, phallic shaped lollipops and other novelty items I will not speak of while my niece, nephew, and little cousins continue to read this blog.
To that same vein of self censorship I will post a picture of a vending machine I found and restrain myself from describing it’s contents, suffice to say they were unwashed second hand articles of clothing.
I would be lying if I said the final part of this blog was written entirely with those sensitive readers in mind. In fact a god portion of this particular blog and the experiences I had were made mostly for one of my cousins and a close friend of mine. We talked many times of Japan and the things we would see and do. I was never a self proclaimed Japan-o-phile but I thought I would be doing my old friends a disservice if I didn’t report back to them with news of something they used to dream about in great length.
One of those things was Japanese women. While Japanese women are very open to foreigners (and while it is true they do like the ‘brothas’…I was hit on by my fare share of Japanese women in the night clubs and there wasn’t a day that passes where I didn’t see a native with a MUCH darker skinned Moore) there was a particular kind of woman that my friend was most interested in. The “cute” ones. That is not to say…the ones that looked good…but literally the ones that act for lack of a better term “cute.” they wear big foofy dresses any self respecting little girl would have hidden from their friends after turning ten years old, make constant references to cats and actually “mew” and smile enough to make you question their sanity. Yes that kind of “cute” known only in Japan as Kawaii.
I sought out this sickeningly adorable species of women to report back to my friends and tell them what exactly it was like, so I found what is reffed to as a maid cafe.
A link to the At Home Maid Cafe where I went. you can see exactly what I’m talking about.
To picture a mid cafe I want you to think of your local neighborhood Hooters…now take all those umm….well proportioned young women and make them maybe below average size. (For Japan this is about the size of a skinny American High School Freshman.) Now place them into some of the largest frilliest dresses you’ve ever seen…take some of the pictures earlier on in the post for example. Or better yet…I can get some of the pictures online! Ha! Take that!
I SHOULD ALSO POINT OUT: You’ll notice most if not all of the Japanese women in these photos are smiling with their mouths closed. This is also a cultural thing…no it has nothing to do with modesty as much as…strait teeth are not valued in Japan as much as they are in other parts of the world. I don’t want to be mean…but some of these women had teeth like shards of broken glass jutting out from chewing gum. YES, CULTURE DRINK IT IN!
[This photo is from CNN believe it or not! Turns out I actually found the third best maid cafe in the city to go to.]
[taken from the Japan National tourism Organization. AtHome seems pretty big]
[This is a sample Photo that you pay for. Yes I have one. No, I’m not wearing bunny ears…I’m wearing cat ears. Like a boss! Photos source]
I should explain. These “Maids” at the cafe are so highly sought after that even after paying 7,000 yen (roughly $7) just for entrance into a maid cafe you are not allowed to take photos. However I suspect this is due to the supposedly high rate of perversion in the country. Also due to the fact that they make extra money off of charging you to take photos with the maids.
Anyway! remove the sports bar atmosphere, and make it literally a cafe. People are actually encouraged to stay (although when you enter it is very strictly enforced that you can not stay for more than an hour) and a large part of the experience is talking to the maids. The maids could barely speak English but they tried and succeeded in the very least at creeping me out a little bit. More than once I was asked in broken English to curl my fist up into paws, wave them over my head and chant “nyan nyan nyan” with them or place my hands over my head in the shape of a heart. The place was also lined with anime figurines as easy conversation starters. If you paid extra (and this makes me laugh but most everyone there was doing it) you can actually have the girls play games with you like tic tack toe or connect four.
[these photos aren’t mine, but I would like to thank the person that took them by linking you to their blog. they have more photos and it’s the exact same place where I went….which makes me wonder how they got photos and i didn’t…]
Now remove the wings, and beer and replace it with nothing but deserts that LITERALLY SMILE AT YOU and coffee.
You know this doesn’t really sounds much like a hooters wen I look back at what I’ve written, but when you get down to the core of it I can only describe as a “fetish” for lack of a better term. It was the most unique experiences I’ve had in quite a while that truly illuminated what So I suppose it’s a part of their culture? I dunoo…
So, long story short there is a lot of culture in Japan and it’s hard to cover it in a single blog post (it’s especially hard to cover it without including the less than savory aspects for younger audiences.) But it’s easy to say that I was exposed to a drastically different culture than my own. I hope I’ve opened your eyes to a whole different world as opposed to believing this blog post was some random collection of cool things I saw that I couldn’t categorize in any other blog post. So…what should i write about for next weeks blog? 🙂