Stories from Life in Rural Southern Japan
When asked to write a short piece for Kyūshi’s online Diary about what I had learned from my time living in Japan, I was thrilled. To have a platform on which to recount the (literally life-changing) lessons that my time in Japan taught me was such a pleasure. Since I moved back to the UK there has not been a single day that I haven’t acknowledged how the lessons I learnt from that time have impacted the way I now choose to move through life.
I wondered how I could possibly begin to talk about a time in my life that taught me so much and has shaped me so profoundly, through one short diary entry?
The biggest lesson I learnt in Japan was appreciation. Living in the moment forms a part of almost every interaction of daily life in Japan. I have chosen to share with you three moments where this most struck me while setting up my life these, meeting people, and developing friendships.
It is important to stress that no country or culture could or should ever be judged by the experiences or opinions of one person. These are tales from my own experience
and can be built on or discarded as you see fit.
Just over two years ago, after much hard work, focus and dedication I found myself
on an aircraft headed for Japan. I was leaving my home, friends, family and job, to live and work in a small town in rural southern Japan. All I knew about Kajiki, was that it was located in the prefecture of Kagoshima. It was famous for Kajiki manju (a rice dough filled with sweet red beans paste) and an annual spider fighting
A few weeks before I was due to leave, I met a charming Japanese couple in London, who were utterly baffled as to why I was leaving London, an incredibly vibrant and fast-paced city, for an area of Japan that they referred to disdainfully as ‘farming country’. I described how for the last ten years I had been utterly fascinated by Japan and that as a designer, numerous collections of my work had been conceived with an appreciation of Japanese culture at their core. However, my understanding of Japan was based purely on what I had learnt through obsessive reading and research. I described how through books, museums, exhibitions and encounters I had created an extensive view and understanding of the culture, and yet had never actually set
foot in the country. I explained that now was the time to see, experience and immerse myself in the part of the world that had held my fascination for so long.
Story 1 – Patience
I had anticipated that the setting up of my life in Japan would be quick and that things would function seamlessly. What I had not anticipated was the ceremony with which people carried out their daily tasks and interactions. This was so different to the ever- streamlined and increasingly impersonal world I’d left behind. An example of this was when I set about that most mundane of tasks – opening a bank account.
In the 1950s style banking hall of Kajiki; (which felt like a set for a Japanese version of ‘Mad Men,’) it came as a shock that my application was not computerized orprocessed through automated systems. It was to be completed by hand and on paper. So, numbered ticket duly collected and sitting on a blush pink plastic cushioned chair, I waited for my number to be called.
Once called and stationed at the (blush pink) counter with my friend and the immaculately dressed Japanese bank clerk, I started to fill in the form. In Japanese. By hand… Luckily, my Japanese friend had come with me and we created a system whereby I would write out my information in English, she would re-write it in Japanese, and then I would copy the Japanese down onto the form. And so we began. I wrote my name and part of my address before I made my first mistake. No problem; I was told I could cross out the mistake using two strikethrough lines – no more, no less – and continue. This was going swimmingly, if slowly. Two lines later, I made my second mistake and proceeded to strikethrough and carry on. Here theheavy hand of authority descended; I could only make one mistake per-form.Ridiculous I thought but duly started a new form, and then another and another. At one stage, I asked if my friend could fill out the form but that was vetoed. It was my form, my account, my information, and it had to be my hand that filled it in. All this, combined with the clerk checking the information with her supervisor at various and seemingly random stages, started to make me feel increasingly peeved. Why was this all taking so long? Why was the bank not using computers? Why was everyone so calm and okay with this? We had been in this pre-digital, blush pink time-warp for three hours. This was crazy. I became intensely frustrated and my mind had just slipped into ‘This would never happen in England’, when realised; I had nowhere else to be and was this not the most exciting experience? I was sitting in a bank in Japan, setting up an account, starting the new life of which I had been dreaming of becoming my reality for years.
My thoughts flooded through me and my senses responded; I heard the murmur of serious and respectful voices floating across the hall unhurried and dedicated to the task in hand – the committed focus; I smelt the fresh paper and felt the pen in my hand upon the form representing me, here. In this moment; I saw the considered layout of the bank, the harmonious colours and textures of the room – the respect for time and place and thought. Nothing overlooked, nothing unconsidered. I turned to the almost ceremonial procedure of my own small moment; the focus; the engagement; the respect and the kindness and patience of those helping me.
This was my first day in my new town, my new neighbourhood, my new home and from this encounter, I learnt a lesson that would help me navigate the rest of my time in Japan; to have patience, with myself and with others. I often travel back to that bank in my mind. It reminds me to concentrate fully on a task. It reminds me to try to give the moments and people in my life the full attention they deserve.
Georgia Dorey lived and worked in Japan for two years. Georgia is now based between London and New York and is a maker and lecturer with a specialist interest in Japanese cultural studies. www.inpraiseofthefold.com