Isabella is the author of the blog Himeko Travel Tales: keen on travels and on the East, in particular on Japan. She has been living and studying there for a period and today tells us her experience as a woman in Japanese land.
Isabella, would you tell us how did your passion for Japan get started?
In a banal way, I owe my passion for Japanese world to mangas and animes
I went to Torino Comics and that was the first time I came into contact with this culture: I was struck, I had the impression that it was a special culture, unique in its genre and different from any other. Thus a great passion got started that led me a couple of years later to enrol with the University of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa with specialization in Japanese language.
And you have been living in Japan for a while too. Would you tell us your experience in that country as a woman?
I have been living in Tokyo for three months attending a school to deepen my knowledge of the language and to experience Japanese culture at close range.
It never happened to me to find myself in unpleasant situations. Japan is a very safe country.
In Tokyo, I often went around alone even late at night, without fears. Micro-criminality does not exist and it is considered as one of the safest cities in the world. The Japanese are famous for their honour and their values: they are very respectful, honest and unbelievably good-mannered.
An example? One day I had gone out for dinner with two Italian friends, while walking along Ueno we were “approached” by three Japanese men who chatted up us. After some minutes of talking, they asked us if we wanted to join them for dinner and we kindly refused. We expected that they would insist, as it is common in our country, instead with our great surprise and astonishment they gave generously a formal bow with even “sumimasen” (we beg your pardon!) and, after having politely greeted us, they went away.
Has it ever been complicated to live in a culture so far from the one of your origin?
It is clearly a very different culture from the one in which I grew up, but I didn’t find complicated living with it. It must be said however, in general, that in Japan you will be always a “Gaijin” (a very used term meaning “foreigner”) and so always “different“. In Japan, 90 per cent of the inhabitants are Japanese and the remaining 9-10 per cent are other Asian people, mostly Chinese or Korean. Only a small minority, less than 1%, is made up of foreign people coming from the rest of the world. You notice that already in Tokyo, which is the capital, let alone out of big cities: in a world of “almond eyes and spaghetti hair”, you, Westerner, are a curious, charming rarity.
As far as woman figure is concerned, Japanese culture is known to be a patriarchal culture and Japanese mentality is still strongly male-chauvinistic. The woman still experiences discriminations, even though not of great significance. For example, a woman is precluded from becoming a professional sushi chef: the reasons would lie in the fact that the woman, besides having too hot hands that risk to alter sushi taste, during her menstrual period suffers from a taste instability that jeopardizes her ability “to savour” sushi as profession requires.
Still, women are prohibited from getting on sumo ring to take part in rituals or events, from visiting some ancient holy areas such as the Mount Omine, from sleeping in a capsule-hotel. Unfortunately, the woman can also easily become victim of mistreatments. In Japan it is well known the phenomenon of “chikan” (molester), such a real social problem that the government had to take countermeasures: in rush hours there are some carriages of trains and underground exclusively destined to women (so called “pink” carriages). There are also special adhesives with which the victim can “mark” the groper so that the latter could be identified and criminally punished.
Making finally a general comparison between a Japanese woman and a Western woman, I would say that Western women are by nature more open, more sociable and extroverted, and more independent.
What did this period of life in Japanese land leave to you?
An unconditional love for this Country with its splendours and its defects. You either hate or love Japan and for me it was love at first sight. Share the Tweet
Of course, it left me an incalculable baggage of experience that accompanies me in everyday life, above all when I have to relate with cultures other than the one of my origin.