i felt comfortable in Tokyo and it is probably because i grew up around so many Japanese Americans in my hometown. my best friends are half Japanese, half my high school was Japanese and growing up, i was practically raised by one of my best friends’ family who are Japanese-Hawaiian. so i was loving Japan. all the ramen, tempura, katsu, udon, mochi and cute little Japanese products… it all felt familiar. i really loved Tokyo.
while in Tokyo i noticed the influence of their culture on S. Korea: some similar foods, same business chains… and upon talking with a few of SB’s local friends, it seems that the work culture is similar as well (i.e. hierarchy, tendency to promote within the ethnic group, business fashion). i was only there visiting for 5 days so i really can’t speak to any of that. but another similarity that i found interesting and confusing is the portrayal of “sexy.” in the US, people (er, women i should say) are portrayed as sexy when they are a “sex demon on a pole or battered women” – direct quote from an American female psychologist/friend of mine – and obviously an exaggerated generalization. but the truth is that Western women are typically portrayed as a vixen-bombshell who exudes confidence and expresses herself sensually. however, in Asia, “vulnerable” seems to be seen as sexy. the women in the magazines aren’t lusty eyed with the tip of their tongue licking their full lips as they stand posed with their silicone breasts squeezed together to create a cleavage that puts the grand canyon to shame. often the images convey confidence (although recent media has taken sexy into the world of violence, displaying sexy as a dynamic of domination – please click here for an example). moving on, the models in Asia are wide-eyed, somewhat frowning or have a semi-confused, girlish expression as if they are asking for permission… for what, i have no idea. but one this is for sure, confidence is not conveyed; instead, it is almost as if suggestibility is preferred. i don’t consider myself the media’s target audience but i can’t deny its impact on me. i just feel confused. i found myself thinking and judging that if men find this attractive, there’s a tinge of reverse Electra complex. ok, back up. perhaps i don’t need to judge it with such pathology, but there is definitely something that triggers a strange, uncomfortable reaction within me. (and if anyone is brave enough, i’d love to hear your reactions if you have been exposed to this). perhaps i will find a better way to articulate this later but i’ll end with this: in Asia, generally speaking, men are men. they spit on the floor, they win the bread, they take care of business, they are the patriarch who score points with others by maintaining their high tolerance to alcohol (in Japan and Korea); women are girls.
(incidentally, as i researched images to link to i did come across a number of ads where they women did not fit the vulnerable-is-sexy category – so let’s just ignore the previous paragraph… ).
okay officially off the soapbox – so tokyo. i absolutely loved the style. there is diversity in tokyo that doesn’t exist in Seoul and stands apart from Taipei (I can only speak to these two places because i haven’t been anywhere else in Asia). the Japanese, regardless of age, body type, or gender, dress as they please. women more advanced in age were dressed in trendy fashions, men wore pants tighter than SF emo females, and styled their hair with gallons of hairspray, and some wore black silk vests with black slacks in the 90 degree + 80% humidity heat and their hair never lost its shape. young girls dressed up in tutu like skirts and added a Carrie Bradshaw Parisian style hat with 6 inch platforms – they looked like cartoon characters. it was amazing. it reminds me of the kind of diversity you find in SF but more “cracked out” if you will (yes, another example of my professional language). i remember feeling the first time i visited SF as an adolescent that anyone could be anyone here. i think the same of Tokyo.
we had a good trip. lots of talking, walking, trains, sightseeing, shrines, great tasting food, and mosquito bites, well, just for me. i counted 15 by the end of the trip. i was definitely sad to leave Tokyo given that there is still so much more to see and do there. next time i’m in Nihon, i think i’d like to visit outside of tokyo though, just to get a bit more of the historical culture.