Saturday, October 3, 2009


My ride out of Sapporo was a 50 year old truck-driver who didn’t speak any English. Like my very first ride, he was only supposed to drive me to the next town however as we drove on, continued to get to know each other and explore our limits of expressing ourselves in unknown languages, we felt our connection grow and he decided to drive me all the way to Hakodate, which took over 5 hours. On the way, he fed me lunch and bought me a souvenir. I’m sending big thanks into the Universe to Hayashi-san.

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.

Foot Onsen

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.


  1. privet))kak dela moya sestryonka??
    spasibo shto napisala obo mne!!ochen' rada))
    no,ya dumayu shto ne pokazyvala tebe v Hakodate...potomu-shto sama ne znayu o nem..
    no esli tebe tak ponravilsha etot gorad,ya ochen' schastliba))

    nadeyus' shto tovoe puteshestovo budet xorosho i mozheno vstrechat' v TOKIO!!

  2. A friend, who grew up all over the world (including a couple of years in Japan), once told me about a Japanese guy she was semi-involved with. He wrote her a letter, expressing what his thoughts and feelings were towards her, and left it on her table before leaving her apartment. She wanted to thank him for it, as would be expected in the western world. But when she brought it up, he completely denied ever writing it. I guess this makes a little more sense, after reading this entry.

    Anyway, I'm off to watch my show. :-)

    Miss you, nee-chan ;-)

  3. Privetik Masha :)
    Spasibo chto chitaesh moi blog. Nadeus tebe ponravitsya. Ti mne ochen' mnogo pomogla. Razve ti zabila kak mi gylyali po gorody? Spasibo tebe za vse! Tozhe nadeus vstretitsya eshe raz :)

  4. Vira, some things are quite unexplainable to me about Japanese character. But I intend to find out :)

  5. great post and excellent chapter in your journey of "discovery". you are absolutely correct that her feedback is a "generalization and a stereotype", but also correct that there are many, if not most, japanese live exactly as she says. my opinion is that it is based on cultural, historical and geography. the biggest explanation, i believe, is that the japanese raise their people to behave like this for the "wa" (harmony) of the country.
    in my 8 short years of living here (going back and forth from seattle the last 15 years, as well as traveling to other countries), i've come to the realization that japan is what it is. i've found no utopian country out there, but after weighing all the pro's and con's of living here, have chosen to settle down and live the rest of my living years (in this life anyway) on this beautiful island of hokkaido. i don't think i could've lived anywhere else in japan because of some of the reasons you posted above. hokkaido is a "new" settlement for japan and for people to pick up their roots in this country and move to a very wild and cold island took a lot of adventure and open mindedness that you don't see in many people, then or now. this sense of open mindedness has flowed down through the generations and/or has attracted many other open minded like people to this island, some from as far away as seattle. ;) (wink)
    at the same time, i find that the saying, "the grass is always greener on the other side" is a common theme here ("tonari no hana ga aka" - "the neighbors flowers are red") and am not surprised by your friends words. with age and many self "discoveries" of my own, i have learned to "let go" of those thoughts and find a place that i can call home. hokkaido, japan, is that place for me. i'm sure your path will help you discover where you best fit in, as well. my bet is on a big city somewhere that has easy access to nature where you can do the occasional "letting go" that you discussed in another post (shari dake?). ;) (wink)

  6. Hey Toby,
    Thank you so much for checking up on me and actually putting in your two cents. I am so fascinated to hear people's opinions on this subject. Sometimes people even deny this exists in Japanese people but I make my own observations. Also, it's interesting to see how people and their perspectives on culture change as I travel south.