Rishi Sankar: Ah Trini Travelogue

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Traveling in Japan… some preconceptions I had about Japanese people and how will it compare to my Italian stereotypes!

Posted by Rishiray on May 21, 2008


I’m packing for my trip to Italia at 4am here and I was thinking about the preconceptions I had about Japanese culture. The reason my thoughts wandered to this topic at this god forsaken hour in the morning is because Italy is another country which has given the world a lot of things and the media has portrayed the country in a certain way. Things I thought about Japan with my associated preconception and new realizations upon getting there:

  • Fricking Sailor Moon and the associated weird ass Anime and Hentai culture and characters. At a point in my life, I thought all Japanese men were used underwear sniffing, Salarymen, Sake drunken perverts. Now I think that they are just hard working, over stressed, living in a shoe box for a home, can’t afford anything in Tokyo, horrible tourist perverts! In the same vein, at one point in my life, I thought all Japanese women, were Sailor Moon looking, V-sign picture posing, short skirt wearing, squeaky speaking, sexually repressed caricatures of the modern women. Now I think that they are fantastically stylish symbols of American capitalism (Japanese women are the Italian women of Asia – they will not step outside without looking their best, with the most expensive accoutrements). They are indeed annoyingly squeaky in the way they speak and hide their mouths when they speak and laugh, but this is a cultural thing. That being said… it is still fricking annoying!
  • Kendo, Judo and Samurai : I thought all Japanese would be proficient in one of these. Not at all..nuff said. It’s like thinking all Chinese people can cook Chinese food or all Trinis can make curry chicken!!
  • I would be like Godzilla walking amongst the tiny Lilliputian Japanese: I am not a tall person by any stretch of the imagination, at 5′ 9″ or 5′ 9.5″, I am taller than average but just barely in Canada and the US. I thought I would be a tall monster in Tokyo. While the national height average is a little lower in Japan, tall people do exist here and are not uncommon. And I wasn’t able to see end-to-end with your friends. My feet didn’t hang off the bed by 6″ when you check into a hotel. Three out of three of my mattresses so far have been fine for me but they have been pretty thin though. Being a very wide boy, the beds did suck in the hotels.
  • Electronics are crazy amazing and super cheap:  This is completely not the case!! What you find, is an amazing variety of electronics that you will not find in North America. Phone technology is vastly superior to that of North America, but that is pretty well established – I mean for hell, we are 10 years behind Japan in Phone Tech, even with the iPhone. A lot of is similar to what you get in the US, not really in Canada though, so the price is about par. I was looking at cameras for about 400$ CDN,  and I found you can find the same thing on Ebay for about 425$ CDN. Factor in the Japanese keyboard and having to carry it all of the way back to the Toronto, and it isn’t really worth it. What is worth it though, is finding stuff you cannot find in Toronto, but with the Pacific Mall and ChinaTowns  of the North America, you can pretty much get most of what you need.
  • People won’t stop to ask for your pictures: People didn’t stop to ask for pictures, but most Japanese thought I was big fricking Filipino (I’m not spelling it Philipino!!), which is good and bad. It is good, in that they couldn’t make sense of a big Filipino, but the bad was that the police stopped me in train station to ask for ID. Like it is racist behaviour beyond belief. When they saw my Canadian passport, it was like

    “OMG, Mr Watanabe, this Filipino is Canadian? They let Filipinos in Canada??? Oh Hiro-San, let us take him to headquarters to find out which Japanese person he is really working for”

    But then I learnt about the culture in Japan and how most Filipinos are there illegally and that they have to check! I’m ok with that, but what I am not OK with, is when I speak English, they assume it is filipino English or something. It confused them,  that I spoke English! I also realized that Japanese people will talk about you and point at you in front your face! It is actually kinda like some Trini people 🙂 Again, I’m ok with that!!

  • You have to bow everywhere: Bowing is nice and polite, but not necessary. Japanese understand that you’re visiting and don’t necessarily subscribe to their culture so don’t expect you to bow at every transaction and conversation. This especially holds true for small things like asking for directions or buying street food.
  • You need to speak Japanese: You can get around with English. Subway and rail stations all have English directions so you can navigate without a guide or translator. Most people will attempt to converse with you and Japanese people really want to learn English, but they might be silent because they are ashamed of their poor English. The concept of Shame in Japanese culture is something that West Indian people truly will never comprehend, like seriously! Trinidadian people really have no concept of what shame means to these people!

It is an experience far from what I had predicted, I am pleased to say. Back in Toronto we had broad, naive expectations formed by our guidebook scouring, stories from friends and films we had seen at the theater. They’re beliefs held by many people. I can’t even really say I can talk about this with a Trini person, since I don’t know many Trinis who have gone through Asia, I feel, and I thought that sharing my experiences would help clear some of these ideas up.

I wandered around Japan for a week or so and it was an eye opening experience. The culture is rich, the cities are endless and terrifying and gray and intense. Every day I’m astonished by the differences between our societies and the way that the Japanese operate, horrified by the varieties of food that we eat and warmed by the hospitality around me.

As I gear up to wander again through Italy, with the specific purpose of going through and photographing Italy and meeting people, stereotypes I think I have to watch out for and stop my bad ass Trini self for!

  • All Italians are Mafia or have Mafioso around them
  • All Italians are named Tony, Sophia and Amanda *lol*
  • All Italians eat pasta, pizza and know the theme song from Super Mario and have an uncle named Luigi
  • All Italians are football crazed lunatics (Personally, I don’t think this is a stereotype – just a fact)
  • All Italian women are either super hot or super fat once they have children (Since I think this applies to Latinas *snort*)
  • All Italian men have greasy olive oil in their hair (Like Indian people and coconut oil *eck!!*)
  • All Italians love Cher and like politicians who are prostitutes!
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