Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Functional Traveller: The best of both worlds

January 6, 2016 by Sera Down, contributing writer

Individuality is definitely a factor in Japanese culture. It’s expressed in the confines of a group an individual associates with, contributing to a subculture community.

However, there are certain boundaries limiting what is socially acceptable “self-definition.”

First, one must be Japanese. As a largely homogeneous culture, you must first fit inside the box before you move to its edges; simply put, being obviously foreign puts you far outside that.

A prime example is the rising popularity of tattoos. In Japan, having tattoos prevents you from engaging in a variety of activities. Although it is true that more young people have tattoos in Japan these days, it’s hardly on the scale and level as it is in North America.

The Functional Traveller is an ongoing column in Nexus (photo by Sera Down/Nexus).

The Functional Traveller is an ongoing column in Nexus (photo by Sera Down/Nexus).

While your average North American 15-year-old can walk into a tattoo parlour without a second glance, in Japan these are mostly individuals considered on the extreme edge of alternative culture, as it severely limits their choice of work, leisure, and even accommodation.

Employers, hot springs, gyms, and apartment managers can, and regularly do, turn individuals who have tattoos away, as they are seen as dirty and a sign of gang affiliation.

Even foreigners (who aren’t necessarily affiliated with such things) with tattoos are refused service at establishments. At best, they’ll receive stares and bewildered comments; at worst, they’ll be asked to leave the establishment in question.

Foreigners must subscribe totally to Japanese culture and assimilate as much as possible before being allowed leeway in appearance. Once a person has subscribed to social norms, many more opportunities are open to them.

This is much different from Victoria, where hipster subculture thrives and the more diverse and unusual your skill set, interests, and appearance are, the more sought after you are.

By no means do I resent Japan for these social rules. In fact, there is merit: many people seek other avenues for creative expression, such as music, drawing, and dance, making for a society with high regard for the arts.

I only hope with greater exchange with Western cultures, Japan can introduce physical diversity into its culture, and, in return, provide us with a greater appreciation for self expression beyond appearances.

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