Japan is about as far East as you can go before you start feeling Western again. It’s way out on the edge of civilisation and in some ways feels like the end of the world.
Japan still bears the legacy of its historical isolation form the rest of the world. Between 1633 and 1868 strict regulations were put into place that denied travel to the Japanese, restricted foreign books and trade was only conducted with the Chinese and Dutch from the port of Nagasaki. So until 130 years or so ago Japanese children would ask each other if they believed in foreigners..
There are four islands in Japan all interlinked with bridges and they’re all beautiful. Most of the action is all concentrated on the biggest central island though with enormous cities that are busy producing the future; most of the world’s hi-tech industry is centred here whilst the computers, phones and robots are actually made across the water in China and Korea.
Japan was the big economic miracle of the 20th century and became the flagship for gratuitous consumerism. In the 80’s money grew on plastic designer trees and the malls were full of happy Japanese shoppers carrying home the latest accessories from Gucci, Prada and Louis Vitton.
The bubble had to burst sooner or later though and nowadays the Japanese have been cast upon rocky times indeed. Many have indeed been forced to sell their Rolex watches and, much to their shame in public, be seen using last year’s cell phone.
As a result of all this Japan became a pretty expensive place to live. A lot has been said about this but in all honesty places like London, Oslo and San Francisco are just as pricey. Still, transport can wreck your budget as even say a round trip from Tokyo to Kyoto, 2 hours away, will cost you around $100.
When most people think of Japan images of geishas in kimonos, plates of sushi and samurai warriors come to mind. The great talent of the Japanese has always been their excellent sense of taste and subtlety. Anything that they set out to do they perform with the utmost dedication and care at the expense of their own physical well-being. For this reason Japanese artists and musicians continue to rise to the tops of their fields.
Much of the imagery of traditional Japan belongs to the past now as Japan has embraced modernity perhaps more than any other culture going. Thing is they’ve maintained many of the old ways in the process, maintaining a strong social hierarchy that condemns workers to be little more than ants. Employees belong to the company in Japan, a country embodies the spirit of the super-corporation more than any other.
“One of the unique Japanese characteristics lies in a common consciousness. We want to preserve it.” (Naoki Izumi, Asahi Corporation, 1995)
Japan is all about conformity. All the ‘salary-men’ go to work each day and are expected to never return home earlier than their wives or children. Women are expected to giggle demurely at anything the men say and it’s held as a virtue to do whatever everyone else does. There’s even a compliment in Japanese that translates as ‘normal’. As in ‘I love your new jacket – it’s so normal’.
Yet for all the mindless obedience to authority the mafia in Japan, the Yakuza, is alive and well, flourishing in the extensive gambling and prostitution industry . Members of the Yakuza are expected to show the same automatic deference to their chiefs, even to the extent of cutting off segments of their own fingers to atone for their fuck-ups.