Thursday, May 27, 2010

I should be doing some creative writing. Instead, I am sitting beside an open glass door, listening to the Shins and eating half a honeydew melon. It is finally spring, happy-cheery-looking spring, and it makes me so excited. It's so beautiful and safe here that some days I want to skip to work.

For a brief moment, I thought that we were going to Paris in August. Our main reason for going was that our friend Morgan is doing grad school there, so we would have a free place to crash, which would make the plane tickets worth it. It turns out that Morgan is visiting America at the same time that we wanted to go. So we're looking into other options for how and where to spend our summer vacation.

Europe is like Narnia for many Americans--it's hard to get there once, let alone multiple times. Once you're there, it's like time passes at a different pace. History is everywhere, and modern people exist alongside it. I've wanted to go back since my first trip in 2006, when I spent 5 weeks in London and 1 interesting weekend in Amsterdam. It's magic there. It's romance and Audrey Hepburn and runways. The only castles in America are at theme parks. What do people in other countries think of when they imagine America? I'm sure it's something like the Rocky mountains or Indian reservations or blond chicks with big boobs or massive hamburgers. I'm sure it's never a strip mall or a parking lot full of SUVs or abandoned Wal-Mart buildings. Every place looks great from far away.

And then you get there and see it up close. I'm starting to understand Japan's society more, and it's not all beautiful Alps and wonderful hosts in kimonos. It's a system built on people giving their time away for no apparent reason. Not for overtime pay. Not for happiness. Not for the betterment of society. Simply because that's the way it's done here; that's what you do. People spend more time at the office than they do in the houses they pay for (unless they live with their parents, which many adults do). More and more people are going without spouses or significant others because they just don't have time to meet anyone new, let alone form a real, human bond with that person. It's really sad. All of the other gaijin I talk to about this phenomenon have similar experiences at work: teachers pouring themselves a cup of coffee at 5:00 p.m., trying to catch a second wind until they can go home at 10:00. Always working. I know that many Americans are workaholics, but in Japan, it's not considered a problem or fault. It's considered a person's duty. I just hope that more people will start to rebel, will start to re-claim their right to spend their time as they please. Everything works like clockwork here, right down to the bells tolling at 6 p.m. to tell kids to go inside.
I guess the logic is that the less time people have to themselves, the less mischief they can cause.

Here's another side of Japan that I wasn't expecting:

With its extensive recycling program and the way the Japanese value natural beauty, I'm still shocked when I look at these pictures.

Just goes to show that no place is perfect. Even Narnia was tainted. But I want to keep looking, just to see for myself.

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