Brian Oh: {food, travel, photo}

Japan (i): Cultural Observations

I got back from Japan at around 6pm this evening. I'm exhausted, my shoulders are killing me, and I picked up a sore throat on the plane somehow, but it was a fun 9 days. I'm not going to be able to get through my notes or near-1,900 photos today, so I thought I'd begin my Japan reflections (like I did after my trip to Spain) with a collection of random observations I made about Japan and my experience there:

Almost no one speaks English. I imagine how stupid I sounded just repeating "Thank You!", "Sorry!" There are hardly any trashcans. I'd find myself carrying around garbage for hours. There are bathrooms everywhere. Maps are drawn to a much larger scale than I first anticipated. The time it took to walk from place to place was much shorter than I would have thought. People always talk and write about the "pursuit of perfection" in craft in Japan and it really is true. From ramen to coffee to cocktails, there is such attention to detail. I take back everything I've ever said about Korean sounding annoying. The unending chorus of shop girls down an avenue of shops eventually made me want to shove chopsticks in my ears and swirl my brains around. There are crows everywhere. As a counterpoint to a culture so meticulous about presentation and craft, they totally miss the point when it comes to things like fashion. I walked by an Abercrombie & Fitch in Ginza and the two models out front were dressed identically in the same distressed jeans, maroon plaid shirts, and flip flops. Their hair identically bleached and swept haphazardly to the side. The idea of a unified sense of aesthetic for a brand notwithstanding, that struck me as representative of how restrained and structured even counter-culture is in Japan. Ramen in Japan is like pizza in New York. It's everywhere and even the bad places are better than those in other countries. Dancing is illegal in Fukuoka. I need to look up why.


So here's a shot that my table mates at the outdoor food stands (yatai) in Fukuoka along the canal offered to take for me after they watched me take pictures of my food. It's out of focus, I'm sweaty and gross. A pretty accurate depiction of the trip as a whole. I'll be getting to all my photos and thoughts in the coming weeks here. Now I need to go crash because I am running on fumes.