Friday, March 18, 2005


When I first came to Japan, and for a long time thereafter, I never saw anybody eat in public; even the yatai had little curtains on them. Eating, like all public behavior, was a matter of discretion. But the longer you are in a culture, the more tacitly and secretly it grows on you. So after I’d been here a while not eating in public, one morning I saw a neoforeign woman walking down the street like an R. Crumb drawing, just nakedly stuffing the wide-open mouth of her unconcealed face with a humungous pastry right out there in the open as though it belonged to her, as if it all were her delight.

As a newly reticent resident of Japan I was righteously shocked and repelled, and surprised at being so. Because what, I had to ask myself in my native language, is so shocking and repelling about seeing somebody eat on the street? I’ve done it all my life, but then I realized no I hadn’t! I’d stopped eating on the street for the past certain length of time without even being aware of it, because I knew without knowing that in Japan you do not eat on the street: to do so is considered rude!

Thus can a new culture creep up on you, like freckles. One day you look in the mirror and it’s Our Gang city. Freckles on oneself as well are frowned on (with?) in Japan and must be gotten rid of posthaste, particularly when they're on a woman's face, I suppose as possible evidence of time spent laboring in sunlight as though a member of the lower classes, making freckles a manifestation abhorred by females of all recently decolonized Asian cultures, even though Japan has never been colonized, which evidences not only that colonization is not prerequisite to freckle aversion, but also the comprehensive power of freckles in Asia.

I myself am a former freckle bearer (of uncertain pride in the matter), but I no longer have freckles, they disappeared on their own long before I got here. In anticipation, I guess. I am, though, starting to eat in public again, though somewhat discreetly. One must preserve at least a remnant of one's roots.

Westernizing young Japanese, in contrast, are starting to throw cultural restraint to the winds and eat whatever whenever they're hungry, even if it's on the street, the train, wherever. I guess one must also discard some roots, to make room for the future.

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