10 Things I Love About Japan

MC Hello Kitty Lady
MC Hello Kitty Lady

When I think about living in Japan, my mind gravitates towards the reasons why I hate it here. This list was supposed to challenge me, but it was a lot easier than I first thought. Aside from the fam, it’s a reminder and a snap shot of what has kept me out of the mad house. Here’s ten things I love about this island in no particular order.

The City That The Super Villain Built
The buildings look like “more-than-meets-the-eye” sentinel robots, frozen in mid transformation. They’re dramatic metal brush strokes with built-in elevators, and bathrooms. Some hypnotize your gaze, stopping you on the sidewalk, forcing you to acknowledge their off kilter radiance. If MF Doom were an architect, Tokyo’s skyline would be his design.

And out of the darkness comes…ohmmmm
Some of these temples are hundreds of years old. Buddhism is a dumb old religion imported from Korea (everything comes from China one way or another), but over the centuries, Japan made it, its own. You don’t need shrooms to trip off these wooden symbols of natural divinity. The pebbles that populate the walkways, the giant rocks that could be the tongues of a God speaking every known language at the same time, and the shape of the green rusted copper roofs that mimic blowing wind, is serenity smacking you in the face. Achieve mind stillness, or be quite trying.

League of Extraordinary Manners
If you get lost and ask someone for directions, there’s a high probability that, that person will walk you to your destination. If you are piss drunk (I saw this happen) waiting for the train late at night, and you drop your wallet and phone, someone will run after you and give it to you. As a customer, the store clerk, sales assistant, or waiter will treat you like a king.

For my birthday, Haruki took me to buy some Tims. I went to grab the bag after she paid for them, but the store clerk motioned me to wait. The fuck? He gave my wife the receipt, picked up the bag, walked us to the door, handed me the bag with both hands (a sign of respect), bowed to his waist (the lower the bow, the higher the respect), thanked us (“arigatou gozaimas,” pronounced “Ah-ree-gah-toeoo Go-zah-ee-mahs), held the door open for us, and bowed and thanked us again as we left.

People thank each other, say “excuse me” and apologize quite a lot. The first Japanese words you’ll probably learn is arigatou gozaimas (thank you), sumimasen (excuse me), and gomennasai (sorry).

Granted, there’s a lot of subtext going on here, but this is a 10 Things I Love list. 

Parks & Recreation
We used to live in Suginami and towards the end of the summer they have a lot of festivals, parades and fireworks. Not just there, but all over the city. Everybody comes out and kicks it. Some people get dressed up in Yukata (summer robes). Old people bring out lawn chairs, and it’s cool, with drums, traditional Japanese dancing, drinking, and people watching me watch them. This year will be the first year that Kantra will be able to enjoy it. Maybe her and Haruki will wear Yukata.

Cherry Blossoms
Around March, the Cherry blossoms start poppin’. “Damn yo, I survived all that shit.” The winter is over. The sun is out and every park in the city is full of picnics, bar-b-ques, kids running around, shorties be half naked (Chill baby I’m ain’t looking), and the cherry blossoms are beautiful. Everybody is tripping over each other taking cherry blossom flicks. People love picnicking under the trees. They spread huge blankets, pitch tents, and sit outside well into the afternoon.

I mean, this is pretty self-explanatory, but…. The ukiyo-e style woodblock prints heavily influenced the Dadaist, the surrealist and a lot of 19th century artists. They changed the game. Kuniyoshi is probably my favorite master woodblock printer. Ota Memorial Museum of Art in Omotesando is worth checking out. You’ll definitely notice the roots of Japanimation.

The great storyteller and animator Miyazaki didn’t invent the genre, but dude damn near…. As far as modern artists, Takashi Murakami is practically an art-making factory. He just had a huge show at Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum. Tetsuya Ishida transitioned way too soon, but his influence is still evident. Makoto Aida and Ikeda Manabu are two of my personal favorites (not because I wrote about them here, here and here). They’re both serious craftsmen and seeing their work in person is inspiring.

Considered the Banksy of Japan, street artist 281 Anti_Nuke is still getting up and remains an advocate of Japan’s “no nukes” movement. It’s refreshing to see his stickers around. He needs a bigger platform, but he’s not interested in money or fame, just a future for his daughter.

Not to overlook The Gutai movement. They had some ill work too. I saw some of it in Osaka at the The National Museum of Art. They don’t get the credit they deserve. After America dropped a-bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and considering that this is one of the most conservative countries in the world, these dudes came out doing all kinds of weird shit. The Gutai was to a post-war Japan, what N.W.A. was to a Ronald-Reagan-censored America, “Express yourself!”

Long as we ain’t talking about Takata’s airbags
Japan is more or less safe. It’s not abnormal for a drunk businessman to use his jacket as a pillow and sleep on the sidewalk, or more accurately, pass out.

Guns are outlawed. I don’t think this means that it’s more safe, but ain’t nobody getting shot. You know those armored trucks that pick up money from banks, those guys carry sticks.

When I’m out with Kantra, she’s got mad energy. She’ll approach or talk to anybody. The way I let her run, way ahead of me wouldn’t go down like that in the states.

So fresh and so clean clean
The subways, sidewalks, and parks are immaculate. Japanese people take cleanliness crazy seriously. It’s not a game. Haruki mops, vacums, dusts, washes clothes, does laundry and cleans the kitchen everyday. Before you judge me, I do offer to clean, help, or assist, but apparently I “don’t do it right.” She says it’s her “hobby.”

Paper Trail
Dealing with immigration here is pretty easy. If they tell you that you’ll probably get your visa in the mail between such and such date, you’ll get it. There’s no graveyard of unfiled documents that no longer exist cause some government agency lost them. You don’t get nervous about filing your taxes and getting bamboozled by tax fraud.

Repeal Obama Care
The Japanese government pays 70% of your health costs. It’s not like one hospital decides to charge you some ridiculous amount of money while another doesn’t. You go in knowing what you’re out-of-pocket expenses will be. No surprises.

A hospital won’t kick your wife and your new born out, immediately after your wife gives birth. They can stay resting for up to five days. Way before Obama Care, kids already got free health care up until ninth grade. Here, believe it or not, you get one year paid maternity leave. I know, sounds like I’m making this up. American man, get wit the program.

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