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Sat, Jul. 11th, 2009 11:20 am
Being Japanese in Blankenfeld

On Wednesday Yoshito, Naoko, Hisae and I took the train to Blankenfeld, a satellite suburb about 25 kilometers from central Berlin. Japanese friends had invited us to Workshop Japan, an afternoon presentation of the part-time work they'd been doing over the last three months, teaching German children about Japanese crafts, lifestyle, language and philosophy.



Coming from dense, Turkish Neukolln to Blankenfeld was like entering another world. After riding two trains and a bus we found ourselves skirting a poppy-dotted wheatfield in a thunderstorm. Boat-shaped suburban houses were surrounded by gnome-haunted gardens, many boasting ornamental fountains, statues of goats, and clumps of bamboo. Even in the heavy rain, we paused to marvel at flowers and plants we never see in the inner city.



At the school -- a clean, modern brick box -- ten-year-olds scurried about in Japanese headbands, guided by the friends who had invited us. Look, there's Ido-San, the performance artist! But today she's Ido-San, the judo instructor! Look, there's Saiko, the art student who works in the kitchen at Smart Deli! But today she's the kimono lady!

Like Superman, these friends of ours have secret powers. We thought they were artists, but after a quick change of clothes in a phone booth they become... ambassadors for Japan! Speculating idly as the slick Workshop Japan DVD played to the teeming assembly hall, I wondered if I too could earn money from the German government teaching "the Scottish Way" to kids? Is there even a Scottish Way worth learning? How do we arrange our gardens? How do we fight? How do we dress? Is it sufficiently different from the German way to warrant a three month course? Is it charismatic enough? Could this be what my Book of Scotlands leads to?



I suppose I was perceived as a parent at the Workshop Japan afternoon -- a parent nobody had ever seen before, not attached to any particular child. Like all the other "parents" I raised my Japanese digital camera and snapped dutifully during the kimono fashion show, as young German girls paraded past in unlikely kimonos featuring what looked like the double-headed eagle of the Hapsburg Empire.

In fact, if I was the "father" of anyone, it was the Japanese instructors themselves. It was with some kind of paternal pride that I told Saiko-San that the arrangement of hair at the back of her neck had achieved the pinnacle of iki beauty.



What I noticed, out at Blankenfeld, was that we all became different people there. In central Berlin the culture allows us to be somewhat ageless and cultureless. Out at Blankenfeld, we suddenly had ages and cultures. I was "old", the girls (in their mid to late 20s) were "responsible adults", and the kids were "kids". Your perceived age slotted you into this syntagmatic hierarchy, did away with equality, made you act a certain way. We also had more noticeable ethnicities. All the kids were white, and German. All the instructors were Japanese, and did stereotypically Japanese things, like paper-folding and flower-arranging. I passed, I guess, for a German.

Despite the emphasis on culture, there was less cultural mixing going on out at Blankenfeld than happens in central Berlin. Last week Ido-San did one of her multimedia performances in Neukolln -- an act that mixed Japanese and Western idioms. But out at Blankenfeld she was being 100% Japanese.



It was a relief to get back to dense, dirty Neukolln, where people are as various as flowers are in Blankenfeld. It seems to me that central Berlin is the exception and Blankenfeld the norm, in the sense that rather few places allow you to escape your age, your class, your race and your culture -- should you wish to! -- in the way that urban Berlin does. Here nobody ever says "Act your age!" or "Scots don't do that!" or "Be a man!"



But if it's a sort of freedom to escape your age, your gender, and your culture, it's also a sort of freedom to embody them gorgeously, generously, even stereotypically. Perhaps, out in blank Blankenfeld, my Japanese friends were suddenly free to express a repressed part of "themselves" -- the part, paradoxically, that we're not at liberty to change.

36CommentReply


(Anonymous)
Sat, Jul. 11th, 2009 11:16 am (UTC)

whaurz ra burdz ?


ReplyThread

(Anonymous)
Sat, Jul. 11th, 2009 01:52 pm (UTC)

Momus, do you ever regret not being a parent? Is it a point of contention at all with Hisae, who is still of an age where she could be a mother?


ReplyThread
imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Jul. 11th, 2009 02:14 pm (UTC)

I personally don't regret it at all. Hisae says "Not regrets... yet!"

But if she wants a kid, she would like it to be 100% Japanese, not "western mixture". And I agree. So we talk about "scouting" -- getting some Japanese donor sperm. In fact, we already have a candidate, this guy:



We plan to obtain his sperm by all means necessary. Unfortunately he has a very possessive management agency.


ReplyThread Parent
endoftheseason
endoftheseason
Sat, Jul. 11th, 2009 05:45 pm (UTC)

'But if she wants a kid, she would like it to be 100% Japanese, not "western mixture". And I agree.'

Sounds vaguely racist . . . or something.


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Sat, Jul. 11th, 2009 06:42 pm (UTC)

I can't tell whether or not you're being flippant. I don't want to overstep my boundaries as an anonymous commenter on an internet forum, but I'd genuinely be interested in hearing why both yourself and Hisae would prefer a '100%' Japanese child to a 'western mixture' (?). I'm really not trying to be contentious and awkward (and again, I have my suspicions that the comment was made slightly in jest, in which case I apologise for taking it too seriously), but this strikes so many nerves within me that I can't help but ask:

Why on earth would a '100%' Japanese child be more desirable to you both than a child of mixed racial origin? There's something about this I feel can surely only be tied to history, colonialism and politics, and it breaks my heart: at the risk of sounding dreadfully twee, why feel the need to deny your heritage/self when having a baby with the woman you love? Why does the Japanese side win out? Why is it a 'western mixture' and not a 'Japanese mixture'? Why can't a baby just be a baby?

Adam


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Jul. 11th, 2009 07:38 pm (UTC)

Adopted African babies are so Spring-Summer 2008!


ReplyThread Parent
milky_eyes
milky_eyes
milky_eyes
Sat, Jul. 11th, 2009 05:28 pm (UTC)
whats missing?

why didnt you appear in any of the photos today? Come on now, you must keep up appearances.

So what exactly were you trying to say in this post?
It sounded a bit mixed... but what I got was, you think young japanese female artists are hot, but you feel weird hanging out with them in a strict german enviroment because you begin to feel too old and sort of bad about being scottish...?


ReplyThread
imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Jul. 11th, 2009 07:48 pm (UTC)
Re: whats missing?

I think the main point I was trying to make is that just 26 kilometers away the conditions of cultural ferment that I take for granted in central Berlin no longer apply. Central Berlin -- and places like it, ie big cities -- are places where age, race and gender are bonds which can be slipped somewhat. But that this definition of freedom -- getting out of bonds, identities, obligations -- is not all it's cracked up to be. It's the "freedom of the no" (saying "no" to categories), but there's also a "freedom of the yes" ("yes, I'm from such-and-such a culture, country, class, and not trying to pretend otherwise!"), and it's not to be scoffed at. That's freedom too!


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Jul. 11th, 2009 07:52 pm (UTC)
Re: whats missing?

(This becomes complicated when you consider that, for Scottish protestants like me, the "freedom of the yes" is "the freedom of the no". Our culture is historically all about refusing things.)


ReplyThread Parent
milky_eyes
milky_eyes
milky_eyes
Sun, Jul. 12th, 2009 02:42 am (UTC)
Re: whats missing?

ok... so thats why you didn't include any pictures of yourself? ;)

Thanks for expanding, I'm just joking around a bit (as usual) but I honestly didn't get all that you just expanded on.
I was just talking with a friend of mine today (in bushwick Brooklyn at the first real french cafe in the hood) about bands in NY vs. bands in other smaller cities ( I grew up in Milwaukee and Chicago)... smaller slower places.
smaller cities usually have less diversity, kind of what you're talking about I think... so band-wise they tend to produce actual specific culture sounds, styles... Things that they very seriously call their own. culture to smaller places is something not taken for granted. Also, the fact that it's most likely not about becoming 'famous' or making money... mostly about you are your friends making something...

in bigger cities with lots of diversity, there are so many different influences that it no longer is if there is culture but what you do with the cultures... so it very quickly becomes abstract... and less personal, musically simpler, quickly developing an idea... that references other cultures, but isnt anything in it's self...

something like that.

What you just expanded on...
yes, it is so important to say yes I am THIS... before you slip into a crowd...
but, hmmm, there is such a rigidity that comes with places not accustomed to 'the other' ... so unfortunately, often times, this "I am this" is seen as the only 'right' way...




ReplyThread Parent
endoftheseason
endoftheseason
Sat, Jul. 11th, 2009 05:44 pm (UTC)

"Is there even a Scottish Way worth learning? . . . Is it sufficiently different from the German way to warrant a three month course? Is it charismatic enough?"

Yes.


ReplyThread

(Anonymous)
Sat, Jul. 11th, 2009 06:40 pm (UTC)
smack

teach the kids how
to shoot up smack
smoke the blaw
have waynes at 14
go to the bookies
drink the the buckfast tonic wine
kick fuck out each other till there deed fir being a catholic
heathly positive shite like that
sunbeds too
whit else
be depressed
take jellies


ReplyThread Parent Expand

(Anonymous)
Sat, Jul. 11th, 2009 07:08 pm (UTC)

Thing is you'll find that malarky everywhere from Portsmouth to Sunderland, Dublin to Cardiff (maybe not sectarianism - but racism in its place). It's about poverty, being landless and a disguarded cog in redundant work machines. Self-effacement. And not having a vision of yourself.

But it's also a sign of people who feel comfortable in a generally friendly country. I remember coming back from Dijon (where the police use water cannons to clear young people out of bars) to a bus shelter full of puke in the UK and feeling that I preferred the latter.


ReplyThread Parent

Re: smack - (Anonymous) Expand

(Anonymous)
Tue, Jul. 14th, 2009 06:16 am (UTC)

like what?


ReplyThread Parent