Conversing in English / 30 August 2014
Making the best sense I can of the little bits of Tokyo I am becoming familiar with is a gradual thing. Nothing is static, nothing is set in stone. And the Japanese strangers who converse with me may have their own agenda. More Japanese than ever are making the attempt. Notices and instructions in English are increasing, I put this all down to preparations for the Olympics - it's a prestige thing.
A conversation about culture leads into talking fairy tales. How do children get introduced to the culture that will shape their lives? The Japanese birth rate is falling, the government are doing their best to reverse the trend, but it seems to me that the commercial world is working harder. Babies are being promoted as utterly adorable and their electronic, brightly coloured plastic toys are awash with sugary-sweet jingles.
Japanese children's stories, so I'm told, are cute and uplifting, these days there is nothing like little Red Riding Hood or Hansel and Gretel. Japanese childhood is cute, creative and full of positive reinforcement - right up to the moment when an institution steps in and regimentation takes over.
There is tremendous institutional pressure not be be different. Historically not standing out, not being or doing different, meant being invisible and being invisible was safe - possibly. Belief in the power of normal invisible has cultural and superstitious weight behind it.
Once they are finished with school, a very high percentage of young people are rebelling; refusing to step on the treadmill of tradition, choosing not to marry or have children and refusing to be invisible.
Visible appears to replace equal - it being so much more desirable than equality. The fight is for the right to diversity.
I'm reminded of Vincent Van Gogh: 'Normality is a paved road, easy to walk, but no flowers grow on it.'
Today flowers on the path will not be beheaded by samurai swords, but by diminishing public disapproval.
There appear to be more exotic young people than ever, peopling even the most reserved and conservative areas - exotic in new and exciting, but still very identifiably Japanese ways.
I've been here only a short while,
yet already I hear people
bemoan the harshness of the work
ethic; the undesirable
fifty and sixty hour weeks;
the faceless monotony of
existence. Accepting this as
a personal burden, the choice
to be responsible, but not
expecting the new generation
to make the same sacrifices;
lacking the energy to mould,
or to batter the youth into
submission. Who would want the right
to that kind of equality? Who
would not choose a different path?
The fight, the silent opting out
protest of youth, is for the right
to be different, to be
individual. There is no
great appetite for community
or family when the cost is
identity. Equality just
confuses the issue.