Cultural Dysphoria

Blossomkitty dressed as a ronin (lordless samurai) at Edo Wonderland in Nikko, Japan. She is standing on a traditional, vermillion bridge, holding the hilt of a katana (sword).

My very first time in Japan my kids quickly pointed out to me that the reason I liked the country so much and felt at home was because the Japanese people were all like me. Small, polite and very tidy and organised. It has taken me some time to understand that the real reason I love being in Japan, and perhaps my kids were not too far from wrong, is that it fits me, culturally. I also feel like I fit it. A culture which, by all logic, should feel alien and unfamiliar, gives me such a sense of familiarity. I feel safe wrapped within the pre-determined rules and etiquette that pervades every aspect of Japanese life. The rules are easy to follow and they protect you from social ineptitude, if you know what they are, or have an inclination of how to react in most situations. Usually, that is with respect, putting the needs of others before your own and trying to make decisions and behaving in a way that is beneficial for everyone involved.

I am acutely aware that many Japanese find this aspect of their culture a little stifling. The burden of expectation and the narrow parameters of social acceptability are heavy. The family lineage, often times able to trace back family businesses and traditions for many, many generations must be onerous, in some way. I am not sure my view would be so romanticised if I was living it every day or if I was the 32nd generation owner of a successful family business. It is impossible for me to imagine.

In Australia I grew up feeling a little bit like I was in a culturally barren wasteland, despite being surrounded by dance, art and music. My desire for ritual and meaning was always left longing… I am not sure whether it was a lack of ceremony, as we are not religious or from an exotic and mysterious heritage, or just a feeling that something was missing in my understanding of the world. Well, the world as I saw it, at the time. I would daydream about all manner of celebrations and could not read enough information about ancient rituals, long and opulent ceremonies and bygone formalities. I really loved the rituals that I was able to participate in, such as enrolling in Girl Guides and that kind of thing. I loved the costumes and I loved the sense of history. I also really enjoyed the feeling that I was involved in something bigger than myself.

I have quite a number of friends who are Japanophiles, like myself, and a couple of them have spoken about having this same feeling. This sense of comfort upon arriving in and being in Japan. It is a really strange sensation, initially. I have described it as feeling like that piece that always feels like it is missing in my life is miraculously restored when I am there. This weekend marks the anniversary of my first trip to Japan, six years ago. I have been five times with my sixth trip cancelled last April. This is also my 200th blog about Japan in that time and I am really, really hopeful we will be able to start moving around the world again soon. I miss it like a good friend. I am occasionally overwhelmed by my feelings of nostalgia for a place I have never lived? I yearn for the sense of completeness I feel when I am there.

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