A Knitter in Transition

My adventures - in knitting, marriage, and moving across hemispheres.

Monday, December 12, 2005


We are gai-jin: foreigners. In a country as homogenous as Japan, you really stand out if you look anything but 100% Japanese. As much fun as it is to explore new things, I must admit I'm glad to be on an island with 50,000 other gai-jin to help me "blend." I hear Japanese school-children bully other kids who looks different. Imagine going to school and everyone has straight black hair, olive skin and black eyes; growing up never seeing someone with blonde hair and light eyes, or dark skin and curly hair. (At first it's just sort of surreal. But, then, I had these visions of a hundred little Japanese school-kids running after Goldilocks, and now it's all very funny in a Children of the Corn way. Yes, I'm insane...)

However comma pause for dramatic effect. I also find myself surprised at the diversity here. Not so much race/ethnicity, obviously, but in other subtle and really beautiful ways. There's a lot of different "looks." Subtle differences in hair color, every shade of brown and black you can imagine. Chestnut, mahogany, espresso, and blacks from flat brown-blacks to oily-blue-black like a raven. Skin tones vary from nearly ivory to dark and swarthy, almost east Indian. The Japanese have great, expressive faces, from long and stoic, to round and open. Japanese babies are heart-breakingly gorgeous, all fat cheeks and fuzzy black hair.

The personal style of the average Japanese is anything but average. Many people go through their day-to-day lives in "normal" clothes, slacks, skirts etc. It's common to see elderly people in traditional clothes, i.e. a tunic type top and comfortable pants, flat shoes and short hair. The kids wear "catholic school-girl" uniforms to school, usually with Converse All-Stars. The college-age, 20-somethings: fuggedaboudit. There is everything from mini-mini-skirts with knee-high boots and inch-thick eyeliner, to ultimate boho with woven shirts, skater-baggy jeans and a head-wrap knit from recycled-silk. Most young Japanese women look fabulous, with great accessories and an "interesting" mix of separates. If an American woman would say it almost matches, a Japanese woman will pull it off and look great doing it.

The entire time I was writing this post, I doubted whether I'd even publish it. "What will they think of me?" Am I a typical American, looking for Coca-cola and velveeta everywhere I go? I probably sound pretty scandalous or horribly uncultured. I know I'm not, but will "they?" Well, you're all my friends, and I know you won't. We've all experienced new things, and we all know that half the fun is learning about something else, and the other half is learning about yourself.

I know I surprised myself with this, because I realized I had thought all Japanese looked alike - gasp. I like think it's more like I know stereotypes exist, and am willing to 'fess up that each of us has prejudices and ideas about people and places that are strange to us. Hell, I'm at least as guilty of this as the next guy. It's one thing to go travel somewhere that's very like your home, say from the U.S. to England, and be amused at the subtle differences that seem so big. It's quite another to visit a land that is everything your hometown is not. You end up seeing that no matter how unbiased you might think you are, you aren't, and you might surprise yourself, too.

Me, I refuse to be over here and gloss over the differences in a "dahling, I am so world-weary that I hahdly notice the Japanese are even Japanese" kind of way. I want to learn about them and celebrate them. I hope you find these type of entries an interesting look into another culture.


  • At 8:32 PM PST, Blogger Pam said…

    I vote for more posts like this. It's great to hear a different perspective.

  • At 7:23 AM PST, Blogger Mel said…

    Make that 2 votes. I loved your last post too. I'm so glad to know about Kawaii. Ever since I saw the Hollaback Girl video it was haunting me. I love hearing your perspective on being in a new environment.


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