a masochist in tokyo

Thursday, June 15, 2006

with so little time left in the program, i've been asked to reflect on that which i feel i need to accomplish in the time i have left. japan is something otherworldly to me even now, but to wake up in the morning and EXPECT this place has been a transformative experience. i've never wanted to move somewhere so much in my entire life. i have to consider that i'm viewing the country through a narrow lense, surely colored by the relative control a university imposes on the concept of "real life," but it stands that my reactions to my temporary home have been positive. so, having seen what i have and having begun to understand its implications on where i see myself heading as both a designer and a citizen of earth, whatever that means...what next? what are my expectations for the rest of the program? difficult to say. on the one hand this is and has always been an academic program, and the workload has certainly been considerable (and reason enough for delays in blog posting, though i'm sure others managed to be more diligent than i by virtue of their project). however i wouldn't say that i am coming from it without some sort of personal reconstruction of values. japan's inherent homogeneity pushes an atmosphere of isolation on the "other," in this case me...however its liberating in a certain sense to have that isolation without a sense of fear. i approached japan with excitement, expecting absurdity from a multitude of directions, but a cultural meme that wasn't dissimilar to my own. i've found it to be the opposite...life if a mirror image of home, that mirror cracked and distorted by the history that westernization attempted to mask. it's not japan that's dissimilar, it's the japanese...born of generations of history only (relatively) recently allowed to mingle with culture i consider my own. in a lot of ways, i find the manner that they have reconstituted western customs to be preferential to that of the actual west, though i will never forget that the personal and social control here is a result of a relative lack of freedom comparative to home.

My project attempts to cast a humorous eye on the concept of assimilating one’s self into another culture, here specifically referencing Japan. As an outsider, travel to a foreign country opens us up to a certain amount of scrutiny, and we become (intentionally or not) a representation of the whole of our home country. In Japan, with so many historically and culturally relevant values and customs, it requires more work to fit one’s self comfortably into this environment. My project surrounds personal experiences that I’ve had retrofitting my sense of self and the way I was raised into this new setting, using Menato-ku ward as template for the whole of Tokyo (and in a broader sense, Japan). Through personal anecdotes repurposed as tips and with a generous dose of sarcasm, I’ve attempted to outline certain experiences a foreigner might have on these shores, with highlights given to both things to avoid and things to attempt. Japan is, in a sense, thoroughly westernized, but there are key remnants of their past values that distort and change that westernization into something wholly unique and Japanese. As such, things that might otherwise have been quantifiable for a “gaijin” such as myself become themselves alien, unfamiliar. My own work has largely surrounded these sorts of experiences, or rather my reactions to the world as it unfolds around me. At home, there are at least “safe zones” that represent a return to normalcy, a reprieve from the absurdities of daily life. Japan, by necessity, has provided no such comfort area, and my reaction has been suitably amplified in response. I often work with humor because it is a great equalizer, and in this project the humor is focused on the actions (both positive and negative) of a fictional character, the “nameless gaijin.” I would imagine he might represent any of us, though he directly correlates to my own experience. My piece utilizes a heavily stylized form of illustration that is, in a sense, an amalgam of American and Japanese influences, which I’m certain speaks to the heart of the workshop’s intentions. The piece forms a booklet, and in that booklet is housed a supplementary cd that features a recording of similar materials to that covered in the main piece. The host of this recording is the aforementioned “nameless gaijin,” using my own voice to represent his, but with the intention of mocking the bouncing cadence of typical instructional cds. It carries with it the same thematic goal of the book itself, but rather than bulleting the information it takes the form of more of a dictation. In this way one gets the feeling of being led through several scenarios that might be encountered in Japan, with the appropriate actions spelled out for the listener in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. The purpose of the project is not to provide serious instruction, but rather to ease the reader into understanding the absurdity of living abroad and to relate through personal experience certain facets of Japanese culture that might prove alien.

Monday, June 05, 2006

my project has forced me to editorialize my experience here...in a sense, reconstituting what i've seen and done and distilling it into a couple pages of hammy "survival tips," for all its inherent disposability, has made me more cognizent of the whole of what i've done. it's not something i would have expected upon mounting the project, but i wouldn't say its entirely unwelcome. casting such a critical eye on something that superficially might be enlightening has made me a little cross at points, but the real surprise is how hungry i've become to delve deeper into the abyss. i don't claim to be any kind of cutural or social anthropologist, and i'm not the most articulate when it comes to reassembling sense experience into something someone might be interested in reading, but i do find myself wanting to test the limits of the fascination i've had and continue to have with the machinations of the japanese machine. after all, this program has been designed with the intention of allowing students of disparate backgrounds to share the effects of globalization and culture shock on one another.