Friday, 8 August 2008


Distance traveled: 18.782 km

Talk to any resident gaijin (foreigner), and you will sooner or later here some unbelievable stories about how awful hosts, the Japanese society can be. Media routinely blame everything from crime rates, to the Japanese' poor English skills!?!, on the small foreign community. Hot springs and expensive restaurants hang up signs proclaiming "sorry, no foreigners allowed", without the the slightest sense of shame, hostess bars and brothels of course, are strictly of limits since HIV is an unjapanese disease brought in by foreigners (i suspect middle aged Japanese men visiting Thailand and Russia is to blame, they are pigs more often than not)

The irony is though, that the gaijins here assimilate better than everywhere else I've seen in the world, Walk into a bar with foreigners and everyone who's not native English speakers will be speaking Japanese to each other, since almost everyone has made the effort to learn the language, which is more than can be said of expats and immigrants in most other corners of the planet. more often than not they will have married a local, and dutifully send their children of to be stigmatised in the local schools. Still most will, despite the odds, have a profound love for the country.

I suspect the reason for this is another case of the contrast i have been talking about. When your surroundings include the most racist and xenophobic society in the world, as well as some of the kindest most hospitable individuals anywhere on the planet, it cant help but to fascinate and spark your curiosity - and make the frequent acts of extraordinary kindness you experience, seem that more profound. Not that I'm condoning the stupidity of brainwashing an entire population into thinking they are somehow unique, the outside world somehow lesser beings, and the Japanese long suffering victims of circumstance. Not only is it utterly unsympathetic - its also hurting the Japanese themselves, as foreign investments are turning towards the much more internationally minded Taiwanese and Koreans.

In Sendai, I ran into Earnie, a local expat of the sort that really stands out, a tall black guy, wearing a big infectious smile, and massive dreads. Naturally he was employed in one of the 3 sectors, virtually anyone not stationed here, is working in; English teaching, PR or in the entertainment sector. Earnie was in the latter, running a small gaijin bar in Sendai's nightlife district, Ichibancho, an oasis of local expats, friendly Japanese people, and Russians hostesses letting loose after work. Well of the infamous tourist trail, the Japanese were blissfully inquisitive, open and welcoming, which all made for some fun nights out in Sendai.

One day i made a side trip to Matsushima, apparently one of the 3 great sights of Japan, made famous by the great haiku poet Basho, who unusually was at so at loss of words over the beauty of the bay that he simply proclaimed; Matsushima, ah Matsushima, Matsushima, Matsushima - not exactly inspired words, and these days loud Japanese tour groups, and concrete resort hotels, have done their part at leaving the place largely, well, uninspiring, there were some nice spots hidden around though...


Judge for yourselves.

Safely back at Earnies bar in Sendai, or so I thought, for not long had i sat down, before my chair apparently had enough, and started rocking about on an admirable effort to get me to stand up. Standing up however, did not help much, as soon the floor joined in on the action, and so did the walls, and more worryingly, the shelves with all the booze, people was quite, listening to the deep rumbling, and deciding with themselves whether to panic was an appropriate course of action. The general consensus was against this, and soon the rumbling ended, and a toast was made.

Next stop was Nikko (I know, I'm waaaaay behind in the blogging! :) )

- Stefan

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