*to Hanlon's razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Friday, 21 February 2014

"It's the smell" of Tokyo

I need to leave before I do the monologue on a train, lest I do the shooting that follows this scene.*
I hate this place. This zoo. This prison. This [culture], whatever you want to call it, I can't stand it any longer. It's the smell, [of your 'men', if they are] such a thing. I feel saturated by it. I can taste your stink and every time I do, I fear that I've somehow been infected by it.
I'll come back to the culture, I will, but it's the smell which has pushed me past the edge of cultural relativism.  Disgust is the earliest, strongest and most primal human reaction, and near impossible to overcome.  Tokyo smells at best of soya, fish, car-exhaust and tobacco, but as often of drains, halitosis, flatulence, pomade, sebum and urine.  The trains trend to the latter, and because of the density of primates, pungently.

I won't believe most men are bathing most evenings, because even sweating in their bedclothes all night they should not come on to the train with the fug they bring.  There are few other possibilities: some defecate while in their bath, many have a chronic metabolic disorder, bed sheets are changed infrequently?**

The smell is the straw on this camel.  There's much more on that load.

So I'm a misfit who came to Japan.  How unique.  How shocking.  I couldn't 'drink the Kool-Aid' handed out by:
- my class
- my parents' Catholicism
- middle American (and Canadian) team-sports' athleticism
- the same's cult of 'self-improvement' and witless extroversion
- its anti-intellectualism
- mass media
- and whatever else you've got***

This is the country I thought I'd come to for a solution?  In my defense, the notion wasn't to go to somewhere antiauthoritarian, but to somewhere alien.  Oh, so I have just admitted to alienation and Orientalism.  Give me a break, I was twenty years less wise.  I was also a conservative, but without status or assets to protect.  A fucking twat.

I was then, as now, a personality type which almost nobody likes.  From my teens it was clear there was something about me which made people angry, but it took another decade to learn what it was, that the anger was defensive, and that I couldn't be fucked about people this stupid.  It's not that I think more than I feel, but that I discount my emotions (and anyone else's) as a valid way to let myself be led around.  It's cute in a dog.

There's a few different ways to define the personality.  'Curmudgeon' in the linked documentary just about had it nailed.  I watched the ninety minutes slack-jawed that I was less alone on the planet.  The Myers-Briggs test calls me INTJ and it hits the nail on the head hard enough I see all of these as virtues:
- rarely doubt themselves or care much about their perceived social roles, expectations etc.
- ruthless when it comes to analyzing the usefulness of methods or ideas
- could not care less if that idea is popular or supported by an authority figure
- can be very patient and dedicated if something excites or intrigues them
- may also appear lazy in situations that do not require them to flex their mental muscles
- will embrace a competing theory if it makes more sense, regardless of the existing traditions or expectations
- see most other people as irrational or intellectually inferior.
- have little patience for things they consider illogical – e.g. decisions based on feelings, irrational stubbornness, emotional outbursts etc.
- strongly dislike environments that are built on blind obedience, traditions or respect for authority

So, Japan?  That wasn't going to work out as planned.  I don't need my friends to be well-read and intelligent, though it usually works out that way, but I insist on no 'bad faith'.  Narrows the pool, that.  Narrows the pool further in Japan, because 'bad faith' is the only way to be in the Japanese system; why returnees so often cannot reintegrate.  And Japan isn't going to change.  If anything it's become worse since I arrived just after 'the Bubble'.  There was hope then.  Read the link.  Illuminating.

Attempting to tie the threads together, my personality doesn't allow me to live easily among middle-class Canadians, so less so among the Japanese in their thralldom, but you can endure a great deal until something brings you to the point of disgust: the stench on the trains is it.  For you it may be any of a great many other things that trigger limbic disgust and make you need to leave.  It's easy to list the myriad of harms done to the Japanese ecological, social, psychological and urban environments; just as it is (nearly as) easy to do so for English Canada, but it smells better.  Or if it doesn't smell better, I am not so at the end of my tether there that smell is what sends me over the edge.

*Which is the last thought-provoking scene in the trilogy, as I remember it.

**Bedsheets are not changed correctly: all at once, weekly at home, between each customer at accomodations.  Often only the bottom sheet and pillow are changed, and the top sheet doesn't exist, but is a blanket washed maybe twice a season.  This is always so at mountain huts (I rather doubt sheets or pillow cases are changed between customers) but certainly at minshuku, and doubtless not at a few hotels.  Feh!

***Thanks, Kamo.

1 comment:

  1. I absolutely agree. How often do salarymen dry-clean their suits? Clearly, not enough. And what's with stinking of feces on the morning commute? Don't even get me started on coughing without covering your mouths, throat-clearing, drippy nose sniffing, teeth sucking, tutting, spitting, and putting your hands down your pants to cup your balls in the street.
    All in a country where public restrooms rarely have soap, and virtually never have hot water. Not that salarymen wash their hands- restrooms never have paper towels, and only rarely have air dryers (and even then, the smell they give off convinces me I'll catch some bacteria from the tepid air that emminates).
    Japan= 'first world country' + third world problems.

    Jim Di Griz.