Tuesday, July 03, 2007

As Japanese to Them; As Foreign to Me - Tokyo 6.30.07

3:30 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



at 7/3/07, 9:08 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marriage! A good dream. ---Bernard Shaw


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