The Mask You Show Your Friends

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Continuing with the Mt Hiei trip I went on a solo excursion afterwards to the Hieizan Garden Museum, which is basically a nice garden with a little gift shop and café. I liked the little robot wagon art piece they had near a nice overlook and it conveniently fit in with the sign for a selfie. To get back down on the other side I even got to take cable car down the mountain, which was an experience in itself. I’ll to the caterpillar a bit later, after some more musings on culture.

Last time I spoke a bit about the overt politeness and expectation of it in Japan. That’s still there in general, but that’s just a facet of the complex social structure here. When you’re around your friends in Japan I understand it to be a much more casual setting. I’ve overheard plenty of interesting conversations over my stay here, though I didn’t always get the entire picture. I’ve heard boys in baseball outfits in Tokyo riding bikes down the sidewalk and asking each other about the girls they like and who they want to date. I heard a girl explaining something she didn’t understand that she’s been studying and something about plans for next year. Plenty of other program people have related overhearing people referring to them with interest or humor, signified by the iconic term “gaijin” coming up around them, though oddly I haven’t heard people talk about me in that way. The point being that people with their friends are a lot more fast and loose, which is to be expected. Japanese people are human too, after all.

However, I’m also aware of some expectations, even among friends. Going to someone’s house, you can likely expect to be served snacks and tea, or if someone gives you a gift you’re expected to give something in return as thanks at some point. This is to say, politeness and kindness are still the social lubricant keeping this society running. Obligation and expectation are still always around, but that’s culture in a nutshell wherever you go, I suppose.

In American culture, there might be a little of that, but it’s not a strong social force. We lean much more heavily into casual exchanges, such as a pleasant conversation about how cool bugs and critters are one day lead to exchanging pictures of a bunch of critters found in a garden walk the next. Thus, caterpillars.