Tuesday, July 31, 2007
南方・青春１８ - Tokyo 7.30.07你們一定還記得的吧。南下的自強號裡，陶吉吉的歌陪著我們度過那緩慢又炎熱的五個小時。到了高雄已經是傍晚，A帶着我們，到她那坐落於叫着甚麼甚麼「鳥」和甚麼甚麼「鄉」的家裡，過上第一夜。
梅ちゃん at 2:28:00 AM
Sunday, July 29, 2007
不平凡的可能性 - Tokyo 7.29.07「我們每一個人都在看似平凡的每一天裡，尋找不平凡的可能性。」
在報社做攝影薪水族的小林、在電影公司做助理監督的黑田、在英語補習班上課的酒井、在映像制作公司上班的直、不知自己兩位中年的孩子身在何方的谷口老人 ... 與其說他們融入不進工作至上的日本現代社會，不如說是他們主動抗拒，並對充斥在這個社會當中「理所當然」的秩序和規律，採取放棄。
「早上7:50分起床，8:20分由公寓步出，8:34分在站台上等車。一如往常地，在喝完了剛才在途中的自動販賣機購買的罐裝咖啡之際，電車開進車站。在一貫的時間和地點，電車的門緩緩打開 ... 由電車的窗口看去，形狀相當、一望無際的公寓風景不停地流過。我，毫無感情地，看著這些毫無情感的風景。」
「我可以算是受"東西"支配著生活著的人。工作由公司裡的上司全權分配，而打著員工號碼的薪水單和金額，一毛也不差地在隔天進帳。每天早上公寓門口的信箱裡，躺著印了前一天自己攝影的照片的報紙 ... 我，被納豆、牛奶和優酪乳支配著，連保存期限的數字，都不再讓我的味覺作出食物是否還是新鮮的判斷 ... 」
「這些已經被"理所當然"的態度，系統化地打上了標記和數字的東西 ... 和曾經計劃著就如此"理所當然"地，度過每一天生活的我。」
梅ちゃん at 10:32:00 PM
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Uganda Rising - Tokyo 7.24.07Before the screening began, a professor from Waseda University came and had a short, 5-min conversation with the audience.
"If possible, I'd like to ask 2 things from you."
"One, of course, is your generous donations to the UNHCR." The audience gave a little chuckle.
"The other, is that I know that many of you - including myself - spend a lot of time keeping some kind of blog or webpage or online network running. I'd sincerely ask you to go home to blog and write not only about this film festival but, most importantly, about the people portrayed in these films as their situations require our immediate attention and help. Keep talking and telling people about it. At times, that is the least we can do."
"Uganda Rising." Among all that I've seen so far in the refugee film festival, this one shies the least away from presenting the physically brutal, gruesome, and mentally disturbing and shocking images of war. At the beginning of the film, pictures of decomposed bodies of young babies shuffled into a mass grave, the head of a man chopped open and brain tissues/membranes spreading all over the ground, and deformed men/women faces beaten bloodily to death are shown as the narrator tells the historical background that led to the on-going civil conflict in Northern Uganda. In the middle of the film, a facially deformed lady shares about the degree of torture that she had gone through when captured by the LRA (Lord's Resistance Army) personnel.
"Please don't hurt me or my family members. Can't you see that you too are a brother to me, and we belong to the same family?" She said to the LRA leader that day, pleading for mercy.
But it was those exact words that triggered their anger. They cut off both of her ears and sliced off her lips. She bled and bled until all consciousness was lost.
Minutes after, a young teenage woman shares about how she was abducted by the LRA and forced to become one of the many wives of the LRA leader, Joseph Kony. As she speaks, her baby - one of the 500 kids of Kony - sits a little restlessly at her lap. Perhaps it was the blazing sun that day that made her eyes half shut, or perhaps it was the pain of retelling the cruelty gone through that made it hard for her to look straight into the camera. That intense, deep frown, however, never left her face.
This is, certainly, not just a film of mere accusation. History is clearly explained, and the rise and fall of different conflicts at different points in time are also carefully documented. Pictures of reality are presented, statistics drawn, and solutions considered by the government and other peace-making forces given. However, the main dilemma remains: while amnesty has been granted to those who are willing to leave the LRA forces and return to their community as a way of ending the on-going conflict and achieving immediate peace, how could justice be achieved and restored in the minds of those who have suffered stays opaque.
"It is just heart-breaking for the victims to continue to suffer from the experience of atrocities while seeing the ex-LRA members sitting there living off government stipends," says Betty Bigome, the chief peace negotiator b/t the Uganda government and the LRA>
In the urgent need for peace, where does justice lie?
As for now, the Ugandan government still refuses to grant Joseph Kony amnesty; the international court of justice has also formally indicted him for crimes against humanity. But the children, in fear of abduction from the LRA, who would spend one or two hours each night walking to the neighboring town for a safer sleeping ground, continue to walk.
"And we will continue to walk until the war is over," a teenage child, who dreams to become a lawyer one day in order to re-set justice over the past two decades of conflict and atrocities, speaks.
For more information: www.ugandarising.com
梅ちゃん at 11:49:00 PM
Saturday, July 21, 2007
Rain in the Dry Land - Tokyo 20.07"Rain in the Dry Land," a film done in 2006 by Anne Makepeace depicts 2 Somali families who immigrated to the states after more than a decade of living as refugees in Kenya after the outbreak of civil war. From Springfield, MA to Atlanta, GA, the journey of these two families speak forth the stories of thousands of Somali families that have resettled in the U.S. and many more that are still eagerly waiting for their departure dates each day.
The film points out many issues that gripped my heart. Issues with language barriers, communication barriers, understanding barriers; cultural differences, socio-economic differences, worldview differences; adjustment difficulties, resettlement difficulties, daily difficulties. There are moments of humor, laughter, and uplifting glimpses of hope in the film (and certainly a lot of them as revealed by the audience's response tonight); there too are affirmative steps taken and progress made to daily better the living situation of these immigrant families.
Still, this is almost like a collage of various urgent issues embedded within the act of border-crossing. Parents deal with the issues of affordable housing, reliable government stipend, available employment opportunities, and potentials to acquire new skills. Kids struggle with issues of language acquisition, cultural adjustment, peers relations, pursuit of dreams. The mother who runs a single parenthood family with 4 kids manages to get a job 9 months after the arrival, working as a genitor for $223 a month. The father of the other family was less lucky and took more than a year to finally find a job as a gardener/landscaper supporting his 4 children and one newborn baby.
How do you drop someone, who has always been a farmer and only knows how to be a farmer, to an urban city and expect him to survive and thrive suddenly as a fully functional human being mentally, physically, and emotionally? How do you convince a mom that it may be better to leave her children to daycare so that she could go out and earn a second income for the family rather than resorting to pregnancy as a medical condition that waives the work requirement set by the government?
How do you also expect a kid who has never written a single alphabet his entire life to suddenly understand algebra or do simple multiplications and divisions in his head? How do you too convince a teenage girl to follow the rules in class or at school when she has never been exposed to a corporate, social learning setting if not learning at all?
How do you even explain to the family, who take turns trying to twist open the safety cap of a bottle of cough syrup but repeatedly fail to realize that they need to first push hard the cap down before making a twist of it, the whole rationale behind such design of "safety"?
If I were a social worker assigned to assist one of those families, which of the above tasks would I pick to begin my assistance? Which one weighs better importance and which one deems greater sense of urgency?
If we are all presented with a sophisticatedly researched file on the top 10 most grave and urgent issues in the world that demand our immediate attention and resolution to do something about them, which imperative would each and everyone of us pick to work on within the best of our abilities and without jeopardizing our own interests, whether being personal, career, or financial?
How to strike a balance?
But before we ask ourselves this question, a more important question may be - would we even pick at all?
梅ちゃん at 3:04:00 AM
Thursday, July 19, 2007
War Photographer - Tokyo 7.19.07Tonight I went for the screening of "War Photographer," a documentary on the story of one of the most significant war photographers of our time, James Nachtwey.
I wasn't familiar with Nachtwey's works before, and it was sheer personal interest in photo journalism that drew me to the screening. During the first 20 minutes of the film, I was greatly disturbed. Seeing Nachtwey relentlessly shooting pictures of the distressed and grief-stricken victims of the Kosovo War who had lost their homes and beloved ones, I questioned the soul of Nachtwey and wondered how he could possibly justify his work in face of the gravest human tragedies of all.
This is a legitimate question raised repeatedly in respect to war photography or photo journalism. The film, fortunately, does not fall short in addressing this question. 40 minutes into the film, Nachtwey himself begins to speak, along with his colleageus and friends who share their views on what he attempts to achieve via his photos.
"Is he making a living out of the deaths or the suffering fleshes of the others? Is his daily bread or water gained through the deprivation of others'?" One of Nachtwey's close friends, a director of a significant European magazine publisher, raises the question.
The answer becomes clearer and clearer at the end of the film.
"If war is the denial of human rights and humanity, photographs - when used correctly - begin to offer possible antidotes to such violations of humanity ... Perhaps it is for such reasons that those who perpetually wage wars against the innocent lives are always against or afraid of the presence of photographers."
"The only way for me to ensure that I am not shooting for the interests of my own is to deeply feel for the pain and suffering of those whom I shoot and, to the best of my ability, to respect their emotions with all sincerity," says Nachtwey.
During one of his photo shootings in Jakarta, a man was chased by an enraged mob that attempted to kill him by rocks, clubs, swords, and sheer fists. Nachtwey put down his camera and, on his knees, began to beg to the mad crowd and asked them to stop beating the poor man. The crowd didn't stop; the man was beaten to death.
"The genocide in Rwanda was the greatest atrocities of all that went beyond all of my understanding," says Nachtwey. After the genocide ended when most of the Hutu's fled to the neighboring countries in fear of retaliation, there, a large number of them became refugees and later wiped out by the outbreak of epidemic.
"When I realized that the refugees and the epidemic-stricken whom I had been shooting were the ones who previously committed the genocide, it was like taking an express escalator down to hell," says Nachtwey.
"If everyone could just go to the battlefield for once and see for themselves, they would realize that nothing can ever be taken for granted or given excuses for putting the innocents lives through such suffering."
"But because not everyone could go and see for themselves, I hope to bring out photographs that could begin to communicate that conviction to them."
For more info on James Nachtwey: www.jamesnachtwey.com
梅ちゃん at 11:41:00 PM
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Refugee Film Festival - Tokyo 7.18.07Sponsored by the UNHCR, the 2nd Refugee Film Festival in Tokyo (www.refugeefilm.org/en/index.html) started today and will run until 7/26. 20+ films exploring various current refugee situations across the globe or documenting previous refugees experiences will be given free public screening in 4 different foreign embassies/cultural institutes throughout the week. Some are Japan premiere and some include English subtitles.
I went to the screening of "The Tsunami Generation" tonight at the Swedish Embassy. The documentary depicts the post-tsunami revival in Aceh, Indonesia, and is interwoven with three different stories of survival. The first story centers around three brothers of the same family who were later taken in by a local shopkeeper who provided free food, shelter, and job opportunities for them. Another talks about the two remaining brother and sister of the family who struggled to make a living while anxiously waiting for the government aid to arrive. The last one is less about survival but touches upon the political situation of the area, for it tells the story of the leader of a local guerilla group that, for the past 30 years, had been fighting for independence against the Indonesian gov't until the peace agreement was signed in 2006.
According to the documentary, most of the survivors have their Muslim faith further strengthened by the catastrophe. For a while, Muslim fundamentalist groups came into the area, volunteering to clean out and bury the diseased bodies while proclaiming their fundamentalist beliefs. A year after the catastrophe, however, most of the fundamentalist forces left the area, and the only outside forces that continued to take root were the international relief organizations.
At various points during the screening, tears began to well up in my eyes. The woman of 3 kids and another unborn baby who lost her husband, the younger brother of the family who wasn't fully convinced that his father was dead until a year later, and the car repair shopkeeper who opened his house for the homeless survivors ... There was common humanity within that I could relate to, but the degree of suffering and sorrow that they have gone through is the one that I cannot possibly imagine myself enduring at all.
The Tsunami Generation: http://thetsunamigeneration.net
梅ちゃん at 9:51:00 PM
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Asian Japanese - Tokyo 7.17.07「アジアン・ジャパニーズ」・"Asian Japanese"・小林紀晴
Interesting yet a bit strange of a title I know. Upon a close look, the title begins to make more sense. Asian Japanese in the sense of "the Japanese who live in other Asian countries." I see.
Packing 150 rolls of colored and another 150 rolls of black-and-white films (along with 3 professional cameras and 5 lens) all into one 50-kg backpack, he embarked a journey to 6 Asian countries without a single lonely-planet guides in hand. The first night he slept on the benches of Bangkok Int'l airport; the next day, he almost got all his photo equipment robbed by a professional boxer player and his girlfriend.
That was the beginning of his journey, into a whole new life.
Something rubs deep inside as I read the very first sentence of this book. So deep that I looked up and the clock in the cafe just ticked 5:30 pm. 2 hours had passed, only the rain hadn't stopped.
小林紀晴's official website: http://www.kobayashikisei.com
梅ちゃん at 10:10:00 PM
Insect Talk - Tokyo 7.17.07First the largest typhoon in the history of July passed us by, then huge earthquakes hit the northeastern part of Tokyo. In the midst of these events, the tsuyu rain hasn't stopped ...
Don't worry guys, I'm safe and sound in Tokyo. The first wave of earthquake was large, and last night there was another huge aftershock. They say aftershocks are going to continue for another week or so ... Through grown up in Taiwan where earthquakes have never been rarity, I can't say I've ever gotten used to them at all.
Nor being used to cockroaches.
Sometimes I feel like I've relocated into an insect museum here in Tokyo. Every day groteque-looking insects come by my door for uninvited visits. First it was the largest centipede ever, then there came wasps, roaches (big ones with wings or small ones just born), ant-like flying creatures, and tiny flies that perpetually feed on water left after a quick shower. Just now I found a half-dying beetle sitting outside my door struggling to flip itself over. For 3 secs I just wanted to turn around and run towards the opposite direction as fast as I could.
Even though, yes, I've bought insect-repellent room deodorant and put roach killer baits all around the room. But given a serious thought, I'm beginning to fear that the baits in fact would draw more roaches to come in for a feast (before going back to the home base and kill off the rest). Is it better, then, to have the baits or leave them out? Any roach-killer experts out there? Help!
And no, I don't believe in the "just leave it alone and it'll magically disappear" approach. They never disappear. They just grow bigger and bigger and one day start flying across the room in the middle of the most unexpected moment.
Just for the sake of not needing to deal with roaches alone, I'd truly give moving back to the U.S. a second thought (if not marrying someone who's fearless of roaches).
Sigh. Fed up with all such insect nonsense.
梅ちゃん at 7:45:00 PM
Sunday, July 15, 2007
Fair Trade = Fair Price? - Tokyo 7.15.07I was strolling around Jiyugaoka (自由が丘) the other day and came across this medium-sized boutique shop called "People Tree." A friend from Taiwan has told me about this shop before and said that a chain has opened in Taipei just a few blocks from my house, close to the Yong-kang Park.
Excited, I took out my camera and took a few snap shots of the store before diving right into it.
What's so special about "People Tree"?
Well, it's one of the few places that carries exclusively fair-trade merchandise from all over the world. From a scarf hand-woven in Myanmar to a wooden flute done in the ivory coast to a hand bag dyed and painted in Indonesia, "People Tree" promotes fair trade products and consciousness by detailedly explains the country of origin from which each merchandise comes and sometimes the amount of labor or technical expertise poured into each item. In the far corner of the store, a wooden table and a few chairs invite those who are interested in learning more about fair trade to sit down and browse through the books/magazines on this issue. A bulletin board is also put up to post the latest public/private lectures/workshops on related topics.
After 10 or 15 minutes of browsing in the store, however, I left "People Tree" somewhat disappointedly.
For a poor graduate student like myself, as much as the idea of fair trade makes every logical sense to me, I simply cannot afford it. The day when I visited the shop, it was in fact undergoing a huge summer sale. With most of the items given by at least a 30% discount, I still found them way above my budget line. A simple cotton shirt costs over 3000 yen, not to mention a tie-dyed skirt that costs over 5000 yen. Giving up on clothes, I thought about picking up perhaps a smaller item as a way to show my support, but even a small, Japanese-paperback-sized book cover costs over 1000 yen, let alone accessories that are twice as much as usual.
I didn't even dare flipping over the sales tag to check the price for a silk spring scarf or a hand-woven bag, as much as they looked extremely appealing to me.
At last I returned to the reading corner and attempted to pick up a seasonal catalogue for memory or future reference value. Surprisingly, the back of the catalogue reads, with tiny print in the corner: 360 yen. I put the catalogue down and only took one of the photocopied sheets that briefly explains the basic concept of fair trade.
Walking out the store, I gave the whole thing a little bit more thought. I don't understand the underlying organization of fair trade that much, and I certainly am not aware of how price is set in the first place and what percentage of the profit is returned back to the labor workers and what percentage is reserved for the dealer and the shop owner. However, the high-end price range still puzzles me. To put it simply - how is a customer like myself, who fully identifies with the idea of fair trade yet does not have sufficient financial capability, supposed to support this great cause? Am I supposed to advertise this to other more affluent friends so that they could take upon the great cause for me?
Like the issue of "organic food" that used to (and still, I think) bother me for the issue of being more expensive and seemingly serving only the garment lovers (despite being obviously more healthy), a fair trade boutique shop like "People Tree" now raises a similar doubt. If the ultimate end goal of fair trade is to help those who reside in the developing countries and alleviate them from possible corporate abuse, could this end goal similarly be applied to the consumer's end as well? Could this be a fair trade both fair to the suppliers and the customers alike?
For those who are more familiar with the topic, I welcome your input/comments. And if interested, there's a related article on the Taipei's "People Tree": "People Tree"@永康街. Sadly, there isn't any mentioning of the price issue from the customer's viewpoint in this article.
Or, alternatively - you could go visit "People Tree" in Taipei and let me know what you think!
People Tree's explanation on dry mango made the Philippines via fair trade mechanism.
梅ちゃん at 9:36:00 PM
Art for Justice - Tokyo 7.14.07The artist’s first taste of successful shock realism came with another series of sculptures four years ago in which he depicted the lives of peasants from his native Henan Province. The 12 figures in that series included an elderly woman sitting alone, threadbare migrant workers and rural schoolteachers.
The work drew critical praise when it was introduced at a gallery in Beijing. But when the show began touring other venues in the capital later that year, displayed on the grounds of two middle-class housing developments and at China Agricultural University, it drew strong protests, with residents and students attacking it as vulgar, striking the artist and knocking over some of the figures. The university exhibition had to be canceled after only two hours. “These were beggars,” said one commentator in a school newspaper. “It’s sick.” Another complained, “Rural areas have progress, too. Why not show that?”
Mr. Zhang’s answer is that China these days is consumed with what he calls a “bubble reality.” Euphemism and sentimentality have deep roots in Chinese art, but on top of this has come a kind of idealizing self-censorship reinforced by the state propaganda system and further fueled by years of strong growth.
~ The latest article, "Carving Plight of Coal Miners, He Churns China," from the New York Times.
So much great work still needs to be done.
梅ちゃん at 3:42:00 AM
Friday, July 13, 2007
牛丼飯精神 - Tokyo 7.13.07早起的感覺真好。
中午在吉野家吃飯時，活生生的日劇情節在眼前上演。吃飯吃到一半，一位中年薪水族走進來，點了簡單了牛丼飯，外加味噌湯。餐來之前就看到他翻來倒去地在皮箱裡尋找個甚麼東西。結果餐才上桌，就看到他帶著通紅的臉，很小聲地和服務生說：「真抱歉，適才發現，我的錢包掉了 ... 好像是掉在電車上了 ...」
「嗯 ... 真的嗎？你確定嗎？啊，還是不好的 ... 這樣吧，這是我的名片，我一定將餐費寄回」，薪水先生滿頭大汗的說。
梅ちゃん at 9:00:00 AM
Thursday, July 12, 2007
滿月感 - Tokyo 7.12.07來到東京剛滿一個月。一個月前的傍晚，我由京成線轉山手再轉井之頭線，背著包包踏入了寂靜的校園。值夜班的宿舍歐吉桑花了一個小時囉囉嗦嗦地和我細述宿捨各種設施的用法及規則，發給我只能借用一夜的枕頭、床單和被套，又發下窗簾、垃圾袋，和分類使用的兩個垃圾桶。等歐吉桑講述完畢，夜幕已垂，車站附近商店已關，而我才開始發愁當晚沖澡盥洗需要用的洗潤髮精、肥皂、牙刷牙膏和毛巾身在何方。
乍看之下，「Dacafe」的家庭生活好似「無印良品」商店特別設計的季刊廣告，或是從哪個溫馨親情喜劇裡跳出來的劇照。然而，如此幸福又簡單的生活，確實存在著。「 Dacafe 」家住在九州島上某一不知名城市， 父親的每日快拍留下了小女兒 「海」的成長足跡，及依著四季變換而重新被發掘的纖細感動。
梅ちゃん at 1:24:00 AM
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
ダカフェ - Tokyo 7.11.07A must must see.
Dacafe Slide Show: http://www.dacafe.org/dacafe_slideshow/
And the first book by this artist has finally come out.
Dacafe as Book: http://dacafe.petit.cc/grape3/
梅ちゃん at 11:42:00 PM
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
演唱「故鄉」 - Tokyo 7.10.07昨晚寫完了上一篇關於「故鄉」的部落格之後去睡，結果做了個相關但奇怪的夢。夢裡多年沒有見面的中學同學K出現。當年K並不是自己本班的同學，而是國二時大概是因為全年級的班長還是甚麼長在川堂集合開會（其實就是被訓導或是生活輔導主任訓話的美稱啦）的缘故認識的別班同學。在國中時代和K不算熟，簡單的點頭之交，但是畢業後和K的聯繫卻突然熱落起來。主因就是K在高二那年和母親移民美國，之後常通電話，互聊他在「異國」的維吉尼亞州，我在「異校」台北美國學校的生活適應與語言文化認同問題。上了大學也偶有聯絡；他常沒腦地打來，大罵當今當政人物，或是大發台灣前途可危等等之牢騷，最後還成了我認識的國中同學當中第一位踏上紅毯的已婚人士（儘管國中時代他常被多位老師灌上「花心蘿蔔」之臭稱）。
梅ちゃん at 12:12:00 PM
「故郷」について - Tokyo 7.09.07「…十四年間、私は上海で育った。私が思う川は河で、どっぷり流れる黄浦江だった。せせらぎの繊細さはなかった。例えば、黄浦江の水上生活者たちは、舟ベリをあわせた一方の舟尻で排便をし、並んだ一方の舟尻で、米を洗う。汚ない、といえば、米を洗う水と、便を運ぶ水が混り合うのは 、ずーっと先だ、だからちっとも汚くない、と彼らはいう。私は、この風土と生活感覚をみて育った。上海は、私故郷だった。子供時代を見知っている人は、上海の路地のなかにしかいなかった。」〜林京子・『上海』・第一章「出発まで」
在美中西部出生、台北生長15年、回到美東海岸求學生涯斷斷續續6年，其中又在上海、北京、京都各待過１年或八個月不等，現正邁向東京生活的第四個夏天外加（至少）一個學年 ... 我對「故鄉」的定義，沒有林京子女士來的清楚。
但確定的是，當我想到「河川」，第一個想到的不是淡水或基隆河，卻是京都木屋町旁緩緩流過的高瀨川。當我想到「土地」，眼前浮現的不是印地安那州南灣小鎮旁的玉米田，而是北京四環道邊永遠被層層黃沙覆蓋的白樺樹林。當我想到「公園」，Boston Commons永遠停留為明信片上的照片，而耳邊彷彿可以聽到傍晚的永康公園裡，在秋千或溜滑梯上孩童的嬉鬧聲，及在旁爺爺奶奶（或菲傭）們的聊天或吆喝制止声。當我想到「風味小吃」，最快在腦海裡油然而生的景象不是士林夜市的炒羊肉或人聲吵雜， 而是復旦大學對面小巷裡到半夜一點仍有無數學生光顧的麻辣燙小鋪，或是隔著一條街可以讓所有意大利面師傅汗顏的新疆拉麵店。「市場」的回憶也自然地必須歸給同巷裡有著可以免費幫我把花椰菜撥好、將盧筍尾部纖維堅硬難咬的部分切掉，再把巨大的冬瓜剖好去籽的老板娘的傳統市場。
梅ちゃん at 4:19:00 AM
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
趣圖 - Tokyo 7.1.07
梅ちゃん at 1:24:00 AM
As Japanese to Them; As Foreign to Me - Tokyo 6.30.073:30 pm, Saturday afternoon. My friend and I were sitting outdoor at Anniversarie Cafe @ Omotesando. A few meters from us, a large crowd of wedding guests gathered in front of the steps of the church building owned by the Cafe. The lazy atmosphere of a carefree Saturday afternoon started to change; instead, a sense of humming excitement began to fill the air. Minutes later, the French horn suddenly blew, a song of classical melody.
The street crowd gathered on the other side of the sidewalk, looking excitedly at the bride and groom descending slowly from the marble steps. The chattering noise from the cafe ceased and instead turned into a long round of applause for the bride and the groom.
"Ah, a typical modern-style wedding filled with fantasy towards the West," I commented. Still, the happy atmosphere around me affected me for sure, for I too started to clap for the lovely couple, and my face beamed with joy.
"You think so?" My friend asked. "Can't this kind of wedding be seen anywhere in most of the non-Western countries these days? After all, what do we mean by the 'West' anyway?"
"That's exactly the point!" I nodded my head hard. "Because people in what we so-called the 'West' nowadays don't necessarily fancy a wedding like this anymore! At least I'm not sure how many of my girlfriends back in the states would bother to buy a 200-dollar dress plus spending another 100 dollars to put their hair up in a saloon on Newbury St. just as a regular wedding guest ... And the church bells, the flowers, the 5-layer cakes and what not ..."
"I even know of an atheist gay guy from the U.S. who has spent the past 20 years in Kyoto, teaching English and studying Japanese classical dance, enjoying a good life here as a gaijin. Guess what his part-time 'arubaido' is? Earning loads of extra bucks by being a wedding priest on weekends here in Japan! The Lord knows how he got certified to be a wedding priest in the first place! He himself admitted how ridiculous the whole thing seemed to him at first ..." I added.
For a minute, my friend couldn't stop laughing. "It's like as long as there is a white face presiding the wedding, they would take anyone huh?"
"Ultimately, how have the Japanese got the image of such kind of 'Western' wedding puzzles yet in the meantime fascinates me tremendously," I said at last. "Sometimes I wonder how many Japanese would go to NYC for the first time and then come back disappointed at the urine-smelling subway system and littered sidewalk ... I worry for them!"
"Or in the case of Paris ..." my friend added.
"Could it be that the idea of the 'West' too has been internalized to become something of a 'Japanese' consciousness? It's like the signs written in katakana everywhere today. It's not necessary for them to first learn the original word in the foreign language; as long as the word is presented in katakana, they take it as Japanese and learn it like that."
"Very true," I agreed.
"Still, it puzzles me even more why the so-called 'Westerners' continued to occupy one of the highest-earning and elitist classes here in Japan. Just look around Roppongi Hills or Omotesando and you see the highest concentration of affluent, Caucasian foreigners walking around ... oftentimes with Japanese girlfriends or wives ..." I continued. "Given the extent of modern development in Japan, why does such a fancy towards the 'West' or the Caucasian foreigners still exist?"
"Well, mind you that one has to first be somewhat affluent in order to have the opportunity to relocate and travel ..." My friend reminded me. "So in a way it is always the upper-middle class who ends up traveling and becoming the so-called mobile 'expat'."
"Except for poor graduate students like us?" I laughed. "Or, of course, the labor workforce from Brazil or South East Asia."
The bride and the groom have long passed us by, and some of the wedding guests from the previous party started to flow into the cafe. I had this sudden urge to grab one of beautifully decked-out ladies and just said to her - hey, this may not be the most authentic 'Western' or 'American' wedding, despite how much everything resembles a fairy tale ending ...
(then, oddly, somehow the image of Shrek came up to mind as well ...)
Not that I really ended up doing that, nor do I really have any right to tell anyone what is "Western" and what is not, for the word in and of itself bothers me and is highly problematic in the first place.
Or perhaps it is I who needs to start "reform" my mind and to accept that such kind of wedding style - for as fairy-tale-like romantic and extravagant as it may seem - too is very Japanese in this day and age. Just as Japanese read and write and speak the katakana-filled 'gairaigo' as proficiently as if those words exist in the beginning of days, this kind of wedding style too has become as Japanese to them as it is "foreign" to me.
Any take-home lesson?
It's time to get a new katakana-dictionary and start memorizing the words inside out not as English or French or German but as Japanese!!!
梅ちゃん at 12:21:00 AM