Monday 10 October 2011

Fear of the unknown

I've been thinking a lot about the fear of the unknown here in Japan recently, the very talented Loco has some great posts on the topic and it's something that I think hits pretty close to home for most foreigners living in Japan.

As far as I can see, fear of the unknown or unfamiliar is everywhere in Japan and ingrained in to the culture, the people and the attitudes here. Of course, this is a generalisation and I realise that this doesn't go for everyone, paired with the fact that I speak out of my arse quite frequently, feel free to ignore my ramblings if you wish.

I see it everywhere though. When I make exotic (and when I say 'exotic' I mean like say, Indonesian rice or Indian curry, not sheep's testicles marinated in cow's blood and seasoned with a splash of squirrel semen.)food and my in-laws instantly turn their nose up at it because it doesn't fit what they're used to. When I say something out of the ordinary 'customer-staff' spiel to a supermarket lady and a look of sheer panic crosses her face before she realises she is actually a human with a brain that can function independently. When a child is so programmed to being used to seeing and doing the same shit every day that they give me an anxious glance and feel the need to hide behind their mother's skirt and say "Oooooo outsider!"
And even though these things seem weird to a lot of people, they don't really bother me that much, mildly irritating st worst I'd say. More good food for me, more opportunities to freak out supermarket ladies with my spontaneous conversations and more chances for me to make monster faces at the kid when their mum isn't looking.

I don't really care until it becomes a problem for me, like when dog-fucker insisted I restrain myself from having an opinion on Kimutaku's sexual orientation and mental health. Then it gets annoying. Then I have to start telling people to go back in to their pit and fist fuck their dog.

But I'm noticing it in little different ways the longer I live here, the most recent. My candy stash.

Now, as you can see, there is a shitload of good choccie in here, I bought these especially from Costco because you can't find Twix in your local conbini, I run an English school, and Twix and Milky ways are, as far as I'm concerned a damn nice cultural lesson! And do you see that pathetic white shit-looking lolly on the top-left? That is a Japanese candy that someone gave me, (despite knowing I'm on one never-ending diet) any candy I am given either goes straight in to my son's gob, or straight in to the pumpkin to fatten up some other poor bastard. So there is a lot of the Costco lollies, and a few Japanese lollies scattered in there too.

And I kid you not, every single fucking kid who I offer a candy to goes for the Japanese ones first. And I couldn't see why at first, the foreign ones are better packaged, more expensive and in my opinion, much better tasting. But of course they don't usually see them in normal Japanese stores so how would they know? So I tell them, I say "I recommend a Twix, they're really good and you can't get them in Japanese stores usually!" And I found this little sales pitch for Twix were making the little buggers more determined not to try them! The would dig their pudgy little hands in deeper and deeper, probing for what was comfortable, familiar, safe. And for the first time in a long time, the need to be safe annoyed the shit out of me! I go to the trouble to get something new and different and they want to stay with what they know? Why do I bother then? The same thing happened last Halloween when I got 3 massive pumpkin pies, it wasn't normal or safe, so I ended up eating pumpkin pie until Christmas. Not that I was complaining, I love pumpkin pie, but I'm not buying the"Japanese tongues aren't suited to strong flavours" bullshit.

I think this is sometimes why I stay with Ryota, he's not typically Japanese in the safe way. He has tattoos, he hates working, he's an obnoxious arsehole. But I honestly think I'd rather all that than a safe guy. Fuck safe, we spend our lives being safe and what are we going to die with? A pension and a grave that my kids have to wash off every year?

Fuck. That.

Right in the arse.

I'm keeping the Japanese candy in for the moment for research purposes, but I may smash a pumpkin over a small child's head if I don't take it out soon.


  1. At the beginning I ran into this same EXACT problem except I carried my candy from Hawaii and was furious at the ignorance.

    I have been hand picking (rejecting 3 out of 4) students for the past 3 years and I apparently have a good eye cuz the kids are chomping at the bit to get their hands on my 650piece American candy (7 bags).

    Reading your post reminded me of the way it was which was insulting, depressing and dissapointing all in the same moment.

    The parents teach this fear of the unknown because my rejection of students is sometimes based on my bad 1st impression of a parent which means I gotta accept them too essentially.

    I weeded them out like weeds in a fucking garden. Now Halloweeen is the epic cultural exchange that I always wanted it to be. :)

  2. I can understand it in older people. My mum absolutely freaked the first time we went to a Japanese place and they gave her miso soup! It was freaken hilarious. But it's wierd in kids. I grew up in country Tassie and rarely got to try overseas foods so if someone had foreign candy (or even shit from the mainland), we'd fight to the death to try it.

  3. I must admit that to some extent I sympathize with the little vermin... I've never come to terms with Japanese pastries even after all my years in Japan... It's not really that the taste is horrible, but it just breaks with my image of how sweets should taste. But hey, how anyone could hate on Twix I cannot understand (when I grew up in Sweden it was called "raider" btw if anyone is taking notes)

  4. ok, i know this is a philosophical post and all, but THEY HAVE TWIX AT MY LOCAL 7-11. REAPEAT, TWIX AT 7-11. the big proper candy-bar size ones, too. i may buy them all!!! (only hoping these stick around like the snickers did. *fingers crossed*)

  5. No sympathy - absolutely zero - for people who are at least not willing to try something once. Part of the rush of diving into the unknown comes from the fear. Safe is utterly depressing and really not that safe anyway. Besides, unknown usually tastes a lot better...

  6. There are some good choccies in there, the kids' taste is in their bum.

    I used to know people who didn't like any vegetables other than potatoes and lived of a diet almost completely of meat; people who hated fruit; and have grandparents who refuse to eat garlic due to it being too 'strong'. My dad also refuses to eat tofu, but doesn't notice when you sneak it into something.

    If miso isn't a salty, strong tasting thing, then God knows what is. I mean I like it; but not exactly a subtle taste, nor some of the fish flavoured things I have eaten either.

    Ryota sounds like a bit of a bad egg, if only you could up the sensitivity stakes a bit.

  7. Maybe it's an attempt at being polite?

  8. Candy is weird in Mexico. A student gave me some sort of sticky substance on a plastic spoon covered in chili powder. Another gave me some jello-like crap in a sealed bag. Both went to the garbage at home. However, the kids in Mexico love American candy and have no hesitation taking it.

  9. srysly, the kids have to try twix. dont give them an option for a while, just twix or nothing! twix is amazing

  10. If they received one bag of candies and never openned the foreign ones EVER I'd get everyone's fuss but if you offer me to take one candy, I will for sure look for the one I like , not the one that might taste like the shitty looking japanese lollipop lol

  11. s'up.
    My friend introduced me to your blog.
    Said I'd get a free bag of candy if I came and commented.
    Ganbarre ne!

  12. Tokorode, today I was given some omiyage from Fukushima. It's still in my desk. I'm saving it for the next fork biter I meet on the planet.
    I have never not eaten a cake/cookie that I was given. NEVER. But this one, not gonna touch it with a ten foot Korean stainless steel chopstick.

  13. p.s You will soon find out that it's not worth the bother. Believe me. I have been here nearly two decades. Nothing really matters. Nothing really makes a lasting impression or inspires. You're just spitting into the kaze. I just enjoy the food here, the long vacations, the pretty temples and shrines and the Barreal.

  14. He he he. I just went shopping and discovered a load of abandoned foreign potato chips at half price. It inspired me to blog.

  15. I know, I know, I'm commenting way too much, (it's the Barreal) but, I just had a flashback to the culture festival a few weeks ago and how my English Club (not me, I was too busy hunting down the latest best happoshu) thought it would be really cool to offer FOREIGN CANDY (like what's in your picture) to winners of our quiz. I was like, 'Yeah, you go and buy it. It's not worth it though. They won't dig it'. So another teacher did the deed, and lo and behold, 'winners' of the quiz questions (about 7 students out of 2000 visitors to the festival braved our stall) just looked at the candy we offered them, just stood and looked, I had to say, 'Take something dammit!'
    Okay, I will not comment again.

  16. Of course Twix rules, but I think most kids, when presented with an array of choices, will choose what they're familiar with. Even if it seems inferior or dull compared to our tastes.

    Japanese sweets tend to run a little less sugary than their Western counterparts. I've seen Japanese adults recoil at candies I've brought back from the States, while kids will get over the initial shock and slide into a state of happy, glassy-eyed munching.

  17. haha, i'm like you... mostly it doesn't bother me, but every once it a while something happens that makes me wanna tear my hair out...

    so actually, you and Ryota are secretly a good match? ;p

  18. First of all thanks for the shout!!!
    Second, Fear Pervades everything doesn't it? Argggh! Wish I was like you and only mildly irritated by it.
    Third, LMAO!
    Fourth, "And I found this little sales pitch for Twix were making the little buggers more determined not to try them! They would dig their pudgy little hands in deeper and deeper, probing for what was comfortable, familiar, safe." Summed up the mindset I encounter in children and adults alike in 2 sentences. Talk about brevity! I could take some lessons from you (-;
    Great Post!

  19. how about unpacking them or even cutting them up in bitsize pieces (the twix of course! (: )
    I don´t know any child who can resist the delicious looking chocolate!!
    But I know that feeling well too.. some things in Japan really annoy the shit out of me.

    @Mr.Salarymen: Yay, finally someone else who knows them under "Rider" :)

  20. Haha, I love reading your blog it's refreshing!

    I personally have my own 'dislikes' of some Japanese 'sweets' so I can understand where they may be coming from. The only difference is, atleast I tried it before deciding it's shit!

    I love twix and snickers!

  21. You are so right on with this one. Japanese people are fucking afraid of trying anything new. I think there is just the constant fear that they will not like the taste, and will have to lie to your face so as not to offend. But they end up offending anyway by being so small-minded...
    I have a jpese guy who thank god is open to trying different kinds of food. I hope at least Ryota can appreciate the different things you cook.. if not then I have no idea what the fuck he is doing with a white woman!!