Hakodate is located on the southern tip of Hokkaido. It’s a beautiful city with a great history. Hakodate was one of the first three cities in Japan to open its port to foreign ships soon after Perry’s visit. Its brick roads and clean streets are charming; its squid specialty and crab preparation are mouthwatering; its morning market and view from Mt. Hakodate are sights to see.
My host in Hakodate was a Japanese girl who lived in Kazakhstan for two years and spoke very good Russian. Masha (her Russian nickname) was kind enough to take me around the city and show me its wonderful character.
She was a very interesting person to discover. She is a young, 23 year old, girl whose dream is to live in either south-east Russia, one of its old southern republics or South Korea. She is majoring in Russian but is also learning Korean on the side. Her obsession with Korea can rival with my obsession with Japan. When I asked her why she would want to leave Japan, she told me she didn’t like Japanese people. I was taken aback. Seeking explanation, we started a conversation which revealed to me a new awareness of Japanese culture.
Masha’s biggest frustration with Japanese people came to realization after she lived in Kazakhstan. Living in one’s own country, we find it difficult to judge our birth place from the inside until we move elseplace and see it from the outside. Learning the openness and straightforwardness of the Kazak culture, Masha realized that she couldn’t stand Japanese “dual personality”. It’s a phenomenon that has hunted me since I arrived in Sapporo. How can the society be so prudish in public yet be fine with porn manga, tiny skirts and “love hotels”? Masha explained that Japanese people have two lives. One life is private. A person can do anything he/she wants in the privacy of his car/home/love hotel/personal space in book store, etc. But when it comes to public, “saving face” is one of the most important factors of the Asian culture. In public, Japanese do not speak loudly, kiss or show affection, show displeasure, reprimand co-workers/friends/relatives, etc. Their true feelings are rarely discovered because they hide behind the façade of their “public personality”. This often hunts them in their homes.
This explanation satisfied me, for the moment. It answered many questioned I was curious about. Her answer, of course, is a generalization and a stereotype, and I realize that many Japanese are quite different. However, the majority of population is probably exactly like Masha feels they are. The young generation is learning a lot from the west and is slowly changing the society. I am not sure if it’s for the best or for the worst. Eventually we’ll find out.
On my end, I am glad a tiny piece of the huge puzzle called “My discovery of Japan” has been placed in its own spot.