So it’s 2015…Time to finish off this beastly topic I brought up, and move on to more entertaining and mindless posts.
I took a whirlwind trip to Osaka and Kyoto this week, as I still hadn’t spent any time in these cities. Kyoto was Japan’s capital city from 794 until 1868. That’s a really freaking long time. In fact, maybe you never noticed, but both cities use the same syllables and share one kanji – the character for “kyo” means capital. Kyoto’s two kanji, 京都, both mean capital (proper pronunciation is a long vowel sound on the first syllable only: “kyouto”). Tokyo’s two kanji, 東京, mean east capital (proper pronunciation is a long vowel sound on both syllables: “toukyou”). So you tell me which one is the traditional capital of Japan…
Then there’s Osaka, which is the second biggest metropolitan area in Japan (next to Tokyo’s crazy megalopolis of course), and has it’s own set of values which are completely different to Tokyo and apparently most of Japan (not that I’d know, as I’m living in the country…with it’s rough dialect sounding similar to Kansai-ben but different, of course!) In the rest of Japan, people stand on the left on escalators, walk on the left, etc. Just like when you’re driving 😉
But hey, watch out when you get to Osaka. This is Osaka and people have got a way of making that clear – for example, you better stand on the right-hand side of the elevator! Why? I don’t know. Because it’s Osaka and they’re different here dagnabit!!! Also, they really roll their Rs when they speak. “orrrre wa?” and so on was pretty common to hear. I’d like to say it’s really strange to hear, but I actually hear people in my area do that sometimes…
But I digress, of course. Back to the topic-finding out what “the real Japan” is. It’s about time I stated my main argument, which is this: Seeing the real Japan is seeing how people live when they have to live that way, not because they choose to.
It’s easy to make friends with fellow travellers. Everyone is on holiday, doing fun things, blowing their excess money in a myriad of creative ways, experiencing new things and overall in a stupefyingly jolly mood that is pretty hard to break. Everyone is doing what they want to, and generally they are able to because they are fairly healthy and/or rich or able to get by with a little extra. Travellers are living the way they choose to when you cross their paths.
Let’s compare that to someone is working day in, day out and just managing to make ends meet. Forget the whys, that maybe they smoke six packs a day (cigarettes are cheap here so I have to up it a little, okay?) and spend all their extra on pachinko and alcohol (again, must be a lot because it’s cheap here, except for beer…strange situation). They aren’t going to be living in some trendy, clean, new, perfectly maintained area in the city. If they’re in the city, they’re probably living somewhere like this area of Osaka, where my (ridiculously cheap) hotel was located:
Even in this shot, which I took merely as proof that graffiti does show up here now and then, you can’t see the garbage blowing around the street or smell the urine stench that didn’t ever go away (I’m guessing the subway entrances double as urinals as the scent ran down into the metro itself… Pretty sure nobody’s living around here because they want to…a couple of locals were pretty horrified to hear the area where I was staying. “It’s full of homeless people,” etc etc. Well, where are they going to stay? Namba Parks? Osaka Station? I doubt it!! Staying here was another glimpse into what I am going to continue calling “the real Japan.”
One more thing. The real Japan is located in its transit systems. All of them. If I was going to write a guidebook and claim to recommend a certain activity or location as “The Real Japan” this is what I would say:
Ride a shinkansen (bullet train) until you have a conversation with a Japanese person riding it. Now ride an express train, reserved seat, until you’ve talked with a Japanese person. Repeat this process with unreserved seats, and then use the local trains and the subways until you’ve been forced to ask for help at least twice. By the time that happens, you should have observed a great deal of The Real Japan – from the apparent perfection of the shinkansens to the old, beaten, slow local trains that run lines few foreign tourists ever end up on intentionally. If you can manage it, try to end up in a car with a Japanese person for a few miles at least, so you can experience the highway system as well. Japanese transportation is The Real Japan in capsule form for tourists, in my clearly not-so-humble opinion.
The bubble of materialism, apathy, pleasure and narcissism is so huge and shiny that at first glance things appear literally perfect. The vehicles are spotless, from the taxis to the garbage trucks to the semis. The customer service is almost always impeccable and instant. Voices aren’t raised. Trash isn’t dropped or left (if people are looking). Trains are very rarely late. Appearances are everything. Except sometimes, something appears that doesn’t fit into the bubble. Like the occasional person on the subway train, lying on the floor in front of the doors, fingers and hands covered in bruises, rocking and talking to themselves, or standing at the door rubbing their hands over the Braille even though they can see, and talking to the window at their reflection. All pretend that they do not see and do not hear these people. The bubble disturbers leave the cars, the perfect hedonistic balance is restored, and lusty eyes exchange compliments once again without the distraction of disgust or pity. It seems rather like the meeting of those living as they have to and those living as they want to. Whoever you spend more time with will give you your own personal definition of “The Real Japan.”