is a very interesting place. I’ve been here for about five days, and am currently at Narita eating at the same café where collinear and I rushed to fill out our OM style and prop forms, which we were actually supposed to do a week before. Their menu has changed somewhat though; instead of beef stew and pizza like the last time, I’m currently having curry and naan. Which reminds me of our OM Karan jokes: Together we can make beautiful chapatti! Ask any omer for details.
Anyhow: quite frankly, I’ve always disliked the whole Wapanese, or pseudo-Japanese, culture that seems to have sprung out everywhere with a tv and access to Naruto. Seriously, nothing boils the blood quite like a bevy of 16 year old pimpled white teens/ah lians with yellow hair and ultra high boots doing a “Kawaiii neee!, or having a conversation with someone who adds the suffix “-San” to the end of your name about twenty times in a row in order to sound like a four year old Japanese boy. Thankfully, the real thing is far, far better.
I started the trip at Club Med Sapporo.
First, lets start with a quick check: do YOU know where Club Med Sapporo is?
Well yes, aside from being in Sapporo.
Good, thought so.
Unfortunately though, for some unfathomable reason, even though it takes a 7 hour plane ride, two 2 hour train rides and THEN a 30 minute bus ride to get there, the place was SWARMING with Singaporeans. Not just any Singaporeans too; Acsians. They even outnumbered the Japanese! As a result, almost every conversation in the next three days began with “HEY YOU! Class of 7_ right?! Do you know [string of entirely random names]? My son’s from ACS too, is yours?” and so on. I can almost see US doing it thirty years down the road…the Class of 08, hah. Doesn’t quite sound the same.
The huge AC crowd did have its benefits though. I met a few people from our school, most notably Josh (not Hoe, the Indian one) from sec 3 GEP and OM. We spent many memorable moments falling down spectacularly from the steepest hills we could get our hands (or rather, feet) on, accosting the hill with our skiis and snowboards. Unfortunately, because the ski lifts weren’t open yet, we had to pound our own ski slope by packing the soft snow with our skiis, a task which left muscles we never knew existed burning. Consequently, I am now well prepared for a subsequent life as an ox or miscellaneous farm animal.
Club Med has always been a bucketful of fun because of three things:
1) Really interesting people
2) Very challenging activities you wont normally do
3) Terrific food.
I must say, Club Med Sapporo hits all three counts square on with a large sledgehammer, and if you ever want a holiday experience that doesn’t involve seeing Shinto Shrine after Shinto Shrine, I highly recommend it. For your sake though, don’t go during the Singaporean school holidays.
After Club Med, I went to Tokyo. Here I witnessed the full spectacle of Japanese fashion: everyone fell into three broad categories – Over-Fifty, Goth, and Hobo. I saw a man with more holes in his jeans than there was denim, wearing a cap with four different colours, and a shirt that had some badly mangled English idiom with “Sex!” written in purple all over it. I figured that the only way anyone could possibly outdo the Japanese tendency toward outrageous clothing is if they wore pajamas. Which, naturally, is what I did. I walked around Harajuku, the trendiest teeny-popper area, dressed in my OM green pajamas (with thermals underneath, naturally, because it was 2 degrees Celcius). It was fun, and several passerbys actually thought it was a good idea for an outfit. Hah.
There are several things about Japan that I admire, chief of which is their architecture. Tokyo doesn’t have the gigantomania of Dubai or Hongkong. It doesn’t have terribly tall buildings, and the famous Tokyo Tower is just a mundane radio broadcasting station. Yet, there’s something inexplicably quaint about the way a Japanese building looks, a something which a HDB block, for example, glaringly lacks. When you step into a Japanese room, it may not use the most expensive Italian marble, nor have huge neo-classical columns, but it looks and feels good. Using simple wood, concrete and neutral colors, they somehow manage to create an environment that is both comfortable and elegant at the same time. It’s rare that one sees this kind of understated beauty anywhere else.
Second of all, I love their obsession with perfection. The food tastes good again not because they cook it in any special way, but because they obsess over every last detail of the ingredients, from the fineness of the flour to the temperature at which they store the sashimi. The ski slopes were closed when I went because there was a tiny patch of grass visible at one section of the slope. Their contraptions, such as the toilet with more buttons than a stealth bomber, to quote The Sims, are almost comical in their huge range of functions.
Thirdly, the weather is amazing, although probably not through any effort by the Japanese unless someone really invented one of those Gundam climate control things. I swear, there’s something in the air that makes everyone look young. In Club Med, for example, I met a Japanese guy who could have passed for a seventeen year old back home, only to find out that he was twenty nine and married.
Last of all, I am amazed by their civic-mindedness, for lack of a better word. One of the most striking things I saw was when a Japanese man took a drink from the dispenser in an airline lounge where I was and spilled a few drops. He spent the next ten minutes searching for a napkin, meticulously wiping the table where the spill was, which by then had already evaporated for the most part, and then walking around to search for a recycling bin for the paper even though there was a trashbin right in front of him.
Naturally, there is probably a much darker side to all of this that a casual tourist such as myself will never see. A problem that is rather apparent, however, is the almost derogatory portrayal of women. You know there is something amiss when even the parking ticket dispenser has a cartoon teenage girl dressed in a sailor uniform and a very short skirt bowing to you repeatedly on the touchscreen.
Secondly, the way everyone seems to be excessively polite, women especially, seems to have led to the loss of significance of courtesy, with most people ignoring you when you say excuse me or please. They need an Un-Courteous Lion.
Finally, it seemed to me as if they placed undue importance on appearances; while roaming Harajuku in pajamas, I realized that there were only two kinds of shops: those that sold NOTHING but four floors of cosmetics, and those that sold four floors of Lolita and Gothic clothing. It was ridiculous. A sizeable percentage of the women I walked past along the street wore enough makeup to paint several houses, with outfits so extravagant they leave you wondering how much time was spent assembling them.
Nevertheless, I must say that I have had a good time. In fact, some things reminded me of events in Foundation, that fantastic book by my favourite author that our dear friend Collinear so graciously spoiled for me so many years ago. The double decker subway train with seats on top that required passes, for one. Also, I was reminded of a comment by a settler in some new colony in a distant part of Asimov’s galaxy, envying the culture and history of the Earthlings. Being in Japan made me wonder what it must be like to stem from, and be bound by, traditions and etiquette thousands of years old. It made me wonder what it would be like to grow up in a place which hundreds of generations of my forebears toiled to build, and in which everything has been done before. Maybe it explains why all the artsy Japanese films seem to reveal some kind of profound loneliness and frustration with life in general. Ah well; that’s yet another story, for yet another day.
The plane’s about to take off and the stewardess is saying something incomprehensible in Japanese that probably means she’s going to throw my preciousss BlackBook out of the window if I don’t go. Muchos homework awaits my return, and I currently face the prospect of spending my 17th birthday in a military facility in Sichuan, trying to explain the Theory of Conservation of Energy and geosynchronous orbit in traditional Chinese.