a masochist in tokyo

Thursday, June 15, 2006

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.

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