by Walter Jackson - 1 year, 10 months ago
There are many places you visit that seem familiar because your customs are similar or you visit famous places like New York for the first time. You might not have been there, but you have seen so much of it in movies and on TV that you almost feel at home. Then there are other places in the world that are so completely different from your own culture that nothing feels comfortable or normal. On my recent trip to Japan I did three of the strangest things I have ever done as a tourist - I stayed in a capsule hotel, I prepared and ate intestines and I had a shower while sitting on a plastic chair in full view of dozens of people - and it was brilliant.
The capsule hotel was the highlight because it is just so quintessentially Japanese. From the moment you enter the lobby and exchange your clothes for generic local garb, you are transformed into a world where the individual disappears and it’s all about function. Your “room” is only just larger than your own body – think kennel for humans! It is functional and filled with enough gadgets to give you a brain tumor, but it is tiny! There are more vending machines than people and no one makes eye contact. Even the whole floor dedicated to the restaurant is laid out so that everyone faces in one direction to avoid awkward glances between the mostly business type single travelers. And of course you only have one communal bath and shower area.
My culture in South Africa is a mix of prudish European religious refugees from the 1800’s (that covered up everything like the Victorian British) and the African culture that kinda ‘just let everything hang out’, so to speak. So from these two extremes, we learned from a very early age that it’s OK for other cultures to drop their gear and go stag, but never for us to follow suit.Therefore my initial shock after walking into the room filled with naked bodies was not because of my perception of their shame, but the realization that I had to follow their lead in the very immediate future. I have never felt so out of place as I was sitting there staring at myself in the mirror.I kept catching glimpses of the steam filled scurry of activity behind me. You wash all the dirt off on the chair (but not your fear) and then rinse with a hose before you can even enter the bath.I couldn’t wait to set my shame down into that beautiful liquid concealment, until I felt the temperature. I was stuck between the embarrassment of my own genitals displayed in public or the option of burning them off in hot water. I eventually succumbed to my social horror and dumped my privates in the steaming saucepan the locals call a relaxing bath. It was excruciating and fantastic.
Apparently boiling your own genitalia causes quite the appetite, because after the bath I rushed out into the cold Shinjuku suburb in search of local food.I do not think of myself as a risky eater and wouldn’t want to stuff anything out of the ordinary down my gullet, but for some reason a specific restaurant piqued my interest. They were selling all the leftover bits of protein from the shops next door. Since it was quiet inside I asked the owner to show me the actual ingredients. He took me around the kitchen and displayed the bits of intestines, livers, ears and hearts that they had in stock. They had the names on the menu in Japanese and English, but the owner was honest to say that very few foreigners ever enter or order in his restaurant. My favourite part of the menu was where the Japanese name did not have a corresponding English word, so they just wrote: “that bit between the cheek and the temple”. Gotta love the culture and they actually let me cook my own food, helping me with the technique.
If you add in the jovial karaoke parties in small lofted bars and you quickly realise that the stiff - keep your distance - attitude of the Japanese culture is not because they are rude or aloof, but because they are merely being polite and protecting the peace of an overcrowded society of beautiful loonies.
So get off your ass and get out there - WJ.
Story originally published here: http://https://wordpress.com/post/southafricantraveller193.wordpress.com/276