Wednesday, May 13, 2009

changing impressions

Bright lights. Crowded subways. Respect and honor. Gadgets. Hardworkers. Fish. Hello Kitty. Mountains. And though I did see all of those things, those are merely representations of what Japanese culture is really all about. I didn't have many specific judgments about what Japan would be like before I came. I just knew it would be different. More than my impressions of Japan changing, I would like to think that they are no longer impressions but understanding. Through my four months in Japan I have developed an understanding of what goes on beneath the superficial stereotypes of Japanese society. I understand that filling the tall buildings such as those in the first photo of the Tokyo skyline, are people with a hardworking spirit that has run through them since the time of the samurai. I understand the whole-heartedness with which they approach every aspect of their lives which is present in everything from the quality of their electronics to the beauty of the tea ceremony. I understand the timelessness of their culture present in so many tradesmen such as the fisherman in Shirahama pictured in the second photo. I see the serenity and connection to nature in their shrines and temples found in Kyoto and throughout the country which keeps the thread of their history alive today in a world of changing technology. I see the respect the Japanese people have cultivated since the beginnings of its society and the clean, safe, beautiful country that comes out of that. From a Western perspective, Japan can seem mysterious, almost intimidating, but being here has shown me that though many of the different stereotypes are true, they all come from somewhere and all hold their own beauty. Japanese people live in the paradox of traditional collective cooperation and the cutting edge of the modern world. You can see it in the eyes of the man in the third photo sitting on the subway: the uncertanty with which we all face the world mixed with the eagerness to grow. It is the desire to see past our impressions and into knowledge, and being in Japan has taken me one step closer to this understanding.