Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Oi! Genki ka!? Article 3: Preconceptions (June 2007)


Everybody has preconceptions. The bigger the group, the stronger your preconceptions get. Naturally, before I came over here, I had a few preconceptions about Japan. I'm pretty sure that the major images most people have of Japan are the huge metropolis of Tokyo and the traditional Japan represented by Kyoto. I know I had those impressions before I first came over. Still, I knew that whatever images I had before I came to Japan, what I expected was going to be absolutely different from the reality of life here, so I did my best to avoid any "Japan will be like THIS" thoughts when I came over. Not having many preconceptions made it easier to adjust to life over here. However, I remembered something my sensei told our Japanese class one day in university. "Commonly in Japan, people will say 'Please come over and visit us sometime.' If you actually go over to visit, though, often they will seem put off. This is the difference between honne ("what people really mean") and tatemae ("what people say to be polite")." That lesson stuck in my mind, and while it isn't wrong information, I never thought that merely believing this would lead me to make a big mistake over here.

One day, a friend of mine invited me out for sushi. At the sushi restaurant, there were only ourselves and a family at the other end of the counter. Before I knew it, we all hit it off and were having a lively conversation. When I mentioned that I was interested in Japanese culture, they told me "We run a butsudan ("Buddhist altar") shop near here, so come on over and visit us sometime. It'll be interesting for you to check out!" At the time I said, "Sure!", but everyone was drinking, and I remembered that lesson from college that I had filed away in the back of my mind, so I never went.

About three months after that, another friend of mine and I went to visit a temple in Matsue. His Japanese friend had offered to take us there, so we went. It was up in a higher area of town, and you could see Matsue Castle clearly from there. While I was talking to my friend's Japanese friend, she said, "I've always loved this temple. When I was a kid, my father used to take me here all the time."

"Really?", I asked. "What does your father do?"

"He runs a butsudan shop down in Tera-machi," she answered.

"No way," I thought to myself, and then I asked her, "About three months ago, did you and your family talk with a foreigner in a sushi shop in that area?"

She looked surprised and said, "Was that you? My dad's been waiting for you to come by ever since then!"

"I, I'm so sorry. I promise I'll head over there soon, so please tell that to your father along with my apologies."

That same week I went to their shop. I was warmly welcomed, and they took time to tell me a lot about things like butsudan and some of the different temples in Matsue. We quickly became good friends, and we still keep in touch to this very day. And to think, my preconception of Japan almost made me miss out on this wonderful friendship.

It's true that having preconceptions can't be helped, but I believe that there are a lot of things you can learn once you take the time to look past them.


  1. この話、以前読んだ記憶があるよ。


  2. Hey Dude, trust me to look up 'Muroran Chronicles' when you no longer live there. Still, the fact that I managed to track you down is testament to my research skills (the fact that you had it signposted doesn't count. I'm still claiming it)
    Hope all is well with you. Even though it's been two years since I left Japan it has a habit of staying with you (sure you must feel the same). I am starting to wish I was still there, or thinking I should head back. I have fond memories of those days out we had (I owe you a lot for those).

    Will send you a proper update soon- thought I'd comment on here just to show that I have taken time to check how you're doing...

    Might even start my own blog up sometime....

    speak soon

    Mark (formerly known as 'the Izumo Don'!