You need an open mind. If you are going to Japan and carnival in Japan, you need an open mind. Things will be different. And your fantasy of experiencing Japan and carnival in Japan might not quite match the reality. It’s an amazing fantastic reality but you have to be ready for some of the things you perhaps did not pay much attention to before coming here.
Before I go into the details of things, how about I tell you about the international crew? We came together because we contacted Kegon (originally from the States) from the company Soca in Japan. He is our informal tour guide and our cultural bridge whilst here. There are three of us from the UK; my friends Nicole (self proclaimed Bacchanalist), Judith (who had a thing for the cat cafes) and I (the wanderer). Then there was very poised Debbie from New York who had never participated in ANY carnival before and enjoyed the foot massager in our living room after a long day of sightseeing and practice. Bryan, also from New York had never participated in any carnival. A self proclaimed nerd and gamer, crazy about JoJo anime and Game of Thrones and can bruk out with the best of them. There’s Kegon’s sister Aisha who loves selfies and can sleep with her eyes wide open (which kinda freaked me out when I saw her sleeping on the train the first time). During our time, we meet Hayley from Grenada who is conducting her doctorate in Tokyo based on international communications. Adding to this Kegon, we represent the international contingency of the Japanese carnival band led by Selector Hemo. This is our impromptu family for this trip.
Our time in Japan is split in two locations. First in Tokyo, then in the smaller more rural town of Kochi where the carnival took place. This is about in total approximately 6 hours away by train. To get to Japan, we had to take an 11 hour flight from the UK to Shanghai then a 4 hour flight from there to Tokyo. Kegon met us at the airport we took the public transport to Shindaita where we be sharing a house. One good recommendation? Buy portable wifi at the airport. This is a blessing! Great signal, coverage all over and good for being on the move. The public transport system (especially the train and underground system) is complicated. There is no one contractor like London Public Transport but several various contractors meaning different lines have different fares. And one line may take you to different places. It’s complicated. I can tell you about the JR line, and the trains stations we went through most frequently which was Shibuya and our home station Shindaita. That’s about it. But we walked a lot. Everything seemed to be far away from us. If you’re coming to Japan, bring comfy shoes. I have never walked so much since climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. We finally made it to our nice traditional style home and settled in for about an hour before we head off to get something to eat and head to the Friday fete. It is definitely a ‘straight off the jumbo jet’ situation.
Japan is a different culture. Maybe one of the most different to the western and caribbean culture I’ve encountered. Everything is smaller in Japan, the rooms, the food. The pillows are harder. The toilets have loads of buttons (which was fun exploring) or maybe the traditional squatting style. Most of the traditional style restaurants are low seated, no chairs. The food is different. If you are expecting a full English breakfast or cereal or roti especially in areas outside of the main cities and not willing to try something different, don’t come to Japan. If you are not willing to leave your creature comforts and are too rigid in your thinking and don’t want to try anything new, Japan is not for you. You will need to get out of your comfort zone to truly experience and enjoy this amazing culture. If you are able to do so, you’ll experience something truly unique. The people were very polite, friendly but reserved. Until they drink alcohol. Then they are less restrained. Actually, they free up a lot. I don’t think the Japanese in general can hold their liquor very well to be honest.
There are many unspoken rules. Some obvious like taking off your shoes when you go into a house and some not so obvious. And they are very much aware of the other individual. They do not speak very much on public transport and do not speak verbally on their phones so as not to offend the others around them. I saw a swimming pool notice which said if you have tattoos, please cover them up before you come to the pool so as not to cause offence. You might see people wearing masks. It’s not because they do not want you to infect them but rather they do not want to infect you with their illness. With my western thinking, all this time, I thought it was the other way round.
The culture seems to be built on an element of trust. There are some things that happen here that I know wouldn’t happen in London and from the responses of Debbie and Bryan, definitely would NOT happen in New York. The people may be curious but I didn’t get the frequent in your face, let me take a picture and touch your hair curious as it happened with me in China.
With all these rules, you would think that the Japanese are totally boring. But if you look and observe a little closer you will notice the hidden streak of rebelling against the norm and conformity- the hidden tattoos, some brightly coloured hair and clothing, the eagerness to know about other cultures, when they are drunk! Their art and creativity is a bit quirky to me but appealing.
It is hot in Japan. really really humid at this time of year. Temperatures of 31 degrees Celsius and over is not uncommon whilst we are here meaning we have to constantly stay hydrated. In Tokyo, we do a lot of walking to get to various places. Taxis are killer expensive and the places we need to get to for rehearsal and sight seeing are some times far away from the train stations. We are always on the go and sleep is limited.
We get to see some really cool sights in Tokyo; the Tokyo Tower, the tech and Traditional areas. We went to the robot restaurant and some of us got to dress up in Kimonos.
We went on a day trip to Kyoto where we visited some of the most beautiful and amazing temples such as the Kinkaku-ji ‘Golden Pavillion’ temple. Simply breathtaking! We attended a fireworks festival in Edogawa and an African Festival! We did a lot. But always at the back of our minds is carnival and practice and our time is dictated by practice time. Ah Japan carnival. Let’s talk about Soca and carnival in Japan shall we? Next article…