Having grown past the age in which I’d Google how hot the people are in cities before visiting, I was very pleasantly surprised at how good-looking 80% of the Japanese I’ve seen are. A hushed silence fell over the plane and passengers as I flew in from Hong Kong. Even in the dim lights of the night, Japanese faces seem to shine ever so bright. The tips of their mascara beckoning class and finesse.
I cannot put a finger to the source of my excitement coming into Japan for the first time (which has very quickly died into nonchalance on this 7th day already) – was it Doraemon? Dragonball? Kindaichi? Final Fantasy? Kingdom Hearts? Hunter x Hunter? One Piece? Actually, most of it is probably attributable to Pink Box: Inside Japan’s Sex Clubs which inspired a speech I gave back in college… Anyway, it was just absolutely bizarre and other-worldly to read about the local way of dealing with feelings and intimacy. I may be very wrong about this but all the stuff I’ve heard about Japanese culture from various sources leaves me summarising their general approach towards life as: “不在沉默中爆发就在沉默中死亡” (to either explode or to die in silence).
The interesting thing about emotions to me is how universally human and irredeemably intrinsic they are and how differently “boxed” they can be in different cultures. It’s interesting also because I think of cultures as adult fiction, as in, humanly-crafted software installed into BabyOS through socialisation. Which always leaves one wondering so what is the interaction, or direction of influence, or coefficient between nature and nurture. Which is interesting because having answered the former, we can then arrive at a much more surgical and precise definition of what is essentially me, I suppose.
Anyhow – Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan (never been there yet) – there is always a strange familiarity to situating myself in the midst of these other Oriental neighbours. I see street signs decorated with Chinese characters that I recognise, harkening to influences form an earlier era; yet most people speak in a language that I cannot access. Yet I can imagine that expressions such as 生き甲斐、애교 must act as critical mirrors into local cultural souls so this inaccessibility is a source of regret.
If Tokyo is a movie set, then I very much feel like someone who just came down the mountains into the city. Schoolchildren look like they walk straight out of idol dramas. Train carriages are awash in blue, black, gray. I look down and everyone’s shoes are spotless. In the next building I see a woman wiping the balcony – its rails, walls, at least ten times over each. There is such coordinated consistency that it almost feels suffocating metaphorically. What if I’m feeling red today? But this is also the land of cosplayers, major exporter of adult AV and all the animes and videogames that I grew up with… So just months ago I was thinking about if China can become an innovation superpower given its sociopolitical structure, more and more now I don’t think of China and innovation as logically inconsistent. The Chinese people I’ve met are among some of the most creative that I know of at power play. And if a society as ordered and as hierarchical as Japan can be creative, if China can produce the four inventions when there were emperors, I don’t see why it cannot be creative now and in the future. To see only Xi and not the other 1.38 billion Chinese is to miss the entire forest for a tree.
When one considers how all these standardised tests that we now have worldwide has had its earliest run in ancient China in the form of official examinations, with a pivotal reform to include people from humbler origins by its only female emperor in a move to retain power, it really does put things into perspective in terms of how slow, how resistant education and assessment are to change. Google knows almost everything, and we are still testing people by their power of memory. It makes one wonder what sorts and how many significant anomalies need to accumulate before a paradigm shift happens? While it was efficient to select for consistency in an industrial age, it may be argued we should be selecting for diversity and complementarity in an information age instead.