Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Random Memories #1

I have two sets of memories of my life in Japan. Most of the posts that you see here reflect the view of it as someone who lived there for a long time and went through a lot of the stages that people love to say foreigners go through when living there. Basically, you start out infatuated and blind, turn bitter and disappointed, and eventually come to terms with the fact that Japan, like every other place in the world, has its good points and bad points.

The set of memories which have not reflected in this blog to date are the ones which fall into the category of those of a tourist. Yes, even I was once a tourist who saw everything through eyes caught by the shiny beauty of novelty (as did my husband). Since I'm back in the U.S., I'm finding the remnants of those early experiences and I want to start sharing them here. The difference between those memories and the ones I talk about here is that they are 23 years old, and many of the details of how I came to possess certain little scraps of paper or items are hidden too deeply and darkly in the memory closet to find them. This only points out how important it is for me to have written this blog. One day, when these memories are crammed too deeply into the recesses of my mind, it will be a refresher of my thoughts and feelings of life in Japan. 

I've been going through old pictures that we have had in storage since leaving for Japan on our "three hour tour" in 1989. I'm digitizing them for posterity and there are other bits of memorabilia in the box. One of the things I came across was a box with a tea cup from my husband's stay there from 1988-1989 when he lived there alone. I showed him the cup (pictured here in two photos as the photo artwork wraps around it). He said that he had no memory of how he came to acquire it, but assumed it had been a gift from a student (likely one who visited an onsen) as its not the sort of thing he'd buy.

I looked the cup over and told him that I thought that it was what the Japanese might call a "sukebe" ("dirty" in a sex-related way) cup. He said he really didn't think so and I put it away for awhile. This morning, as I was getting near the bottom of pile of pictures for scanning, I decided to test my theory about the cup. My feeling was that the fence over the bathing maiden would vanish if you filled the cup with hot water. I'd seen these sorts of things before as a part of cheesy souvenirs in America a very long time ago.

Sure enough, the fence vanished when the cup got hot enough. To me, the interesting thing about this is not that there is some hint of sparely drawn female nudity. Frankly, the woman who is not hidden in the other part of the image has just as much cartoon breast showing. The point which seems very Japanese is that it's more about peeking behind the fence at something you're not supposed to see rather than simply seeing the nudity itself. In the U.S., these sorts of reveals usually show something far more overtly sexual and titillating (often a photo of a real naked woman). In the case of this cup, it seems more about a "naughty" invasion of privacy than a glimpse of forbidden flesh.

Note: This is a feature I'm going to indulge in, and I'm going to start allowing comments on this feature and see how it goes. Since I'm coming close to the end of my 1000 things, I figure I have the time and latitude to expand the range of this blog a bit. I hope my readers will enjoy these old memories interspersed among the regular posts. Thank you for reading and for your patience. 


  1. Hmmm...I'm not sure if I'd say it's more common than in the US (I'm sure there are guys with fantasies of sneaking into the women's locker room over here too), but I have noticed that voyeuristic element in Japan. What immediately comes to mind is a particular SNES game that never came out in the States and has a high school setting, and at several points you have thee option to try and sneak a peak into the girls' shower. What I find more disturbing than the voyeurism is the sexualism of high school students. Sure, kids are going through puberty at that time, but that's what they are - kids...

    Something as mainstream as Dragon Ball has that kind of stuff going on. I've only read a couple of the comics, but there is an old martial arts master who also happens to be a dirty old man who helps out the main characters in exchange for a teenage girl showing him her naughty bits.

    Anyway, look forward to more of your thoughts/memories. Yay for being able to comment. =)

  2. I just want o say that I love your blog, your writing, and your views on various aspects of Japan. I've read your blog for many years now and been surprised by all the things I have learned from reading your posts than from other one-dimensional "tourist-y" blogs.

    I hope that once you're done with your 1000 things, that you'll keep writing (even if it's not about japan). I would love to read any other blogs you may create in the future. :)
    Keep up the good writing!

  3. Thanks so much to both of you for taking the time to comment, and for the very kind words!

    Blue Shoe: I think that the "naughty" stuff seems more pervasive in Japan because the overt sexual material is not available. What you see in America is much more clearly titillation as opposed to peeping. There is a peeping culture in America, but the whole idea of stealing panties and mirrors on the tops of your shoes is much more a part of Japanese culture in my experience. Here, it's Maxim, Playboy, and Hooters. There, it's high school girls, panchera, and groping on trains.

    jaqrabbt: I've been considering where I'll be going after I finish, and I don't know for sure. I do know that I will keep writing. There are many stories to tell, some about Japan, and some about my life. I'm glad to hear that you'll continue to be interested in hearing them!

  4. I would love to read a similar "1000 Things" list about the U.S. (what you like and don't like) as seen through the eyes of someone who has truly experienced another culture.

  5. That is so cool! I reminds me of a kids cup I had that would go from clear to purple when you put cold liquids in it. It also reminds me of the pens and lighters that you either flick or turn upside down to have the clothed woman suddenly have no clothes. Such cheesy gifts! But the cup actually looks nice and is a a bit more tasteful than the strumpet pens and lighters that I am used to seeing.
    On another note, I began blogging for the sake of an outlet, but it has become more of a tool to help me remember stories and my past for when I get to the ripe old age of Alzheimer's. Thanks for this blog it has been a joy reading it.

  6. I'd love to read more about your tourist life back 20years ago :)

  7. Hi there, I have followed your blog(s) since about a year and since then are always looking forward to your insight from a "balanced gaijin" perspective, something that in my opinion is a rare thing on the internet. Thank you!
    Now, sorry for hijacking this post, but I think it might fit in here: You are describing the stages of a foreigner's life in Japan. I live in Japan (central Tokyo) for about one year now, and after the initial phase of being wowed and seeing no real drawbacks about life here, I have entered the "bitter and disappointed" phase. The problem is, I don't see how I could ever get to the next phase, as I the more I learn about Japan and the more contact to Japanese people I have, the more I am creeped out by this country and the seemingly robotically, people. The values and morals of the people here are so contrary to what I believe in (i.e. individualism, open-mindedness, flexibility in thinking, freedom, everybody minding their own business, not being a xenophile, not being a racist, among others), that life here has started to feel like a prison in a totalitarian country.
    Now, please don't worry too much about me as my stay here is ending in about 14 months and I'll make it to the end, but I really would like to change my attitude towards this country, and more importantly, the people so I can enjoy my stay instead of just counting the days until I can return home (Germany).
    You write that Japan, like every country, has it's good points and bad points, which is true, but my problem is that the bad points of Japan are all in stark contrast to my most basic beliefs and values. I can't really appreciate having six convenience stores in walking distance when, for example, during NHK's coverage of the London Olympics, you hear some Japanese pundits discuss England's huge amount of gold medals as "not legal", because most of them were won by immigrants.
    It's especially the older Japanese men creeping me out. Being from Germany, I was trained in school to be sensitive to small, early signs of fascism, and I can't help but think that what I witness here every day has worrying parallels to the Weimar republic. That may sound harsh, but I wanted to explain why I can't seem to get over this phase I am currently in.
    Sorry for making this long. Please delete it if you want, but it would be great to find some kind of resource that will inspire me to overcome my current alienation with the Japanese.


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