This is it (breathy MJ voice), the very last installment of my 2014 travel year review. I'm still behind two trips for 2015 and will be leaving to travel for 5.5 weeks next week. But I'm pleased to have gotten this far. I will not have this blogging lag... AGAIN! (in my mind that time I just sounded like Eddie Arcadian)
So I roll out of Tokyo and take a bullet train to Kyoto.
Now for some reason I immediately became turned around when I left my hotel. Lost, I wander down the street. What do I stumble upon? In true Machetes y Miel fashion, a protest. I don't know why this happens as often as it does. I think I'm somehow lured to all the emotion and passion of those fighting for a cause. This particular event was an anti-nukes protest in front of the Kansai Electric Power Company.
My goal was to get to Guion and Sanjo for shopping and somehow I made it even though I was wayyyy further than I thought.
Can I just tell you that the vintage chain CHICAGO is pretty much my everything?? I hit up the one in the Teramachi Shopping Arcade. Do yourself a favor and make this happen when in Japan. They've got all types of vintage, from Hawaii 5.0 shirts, to 70s booty shorts, to fly ass Kimonos.
The next day I hopped on the bus and went to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Nijo Castle. It was lovely, in spite of the fact that it started to rain buckets right after I arrived.
The rest of the day reminded me of the potentially interesting turn of events that can transpire when you're wandering the world alone. I got on the bus to head to my next destination and heard two guys speaking English. Somehow we struck up a conversation and before I knew it we were hitting up shrines, cemeteries, temples and bookstores and dining together (Hey Calvin & Tony!). Our first stop was Nanzen-ji Temple.
Then on to Ginkaku-ji Temple.
Next stop, Honen-in Temple.
I was fairly templed-out by this point (no offense). We hit up a bookstore which sounded interesting online, Junkudō.
What would Colonel Sanders say about this? Hmm, probably something racist.
And speaking about race and racism, I was actually quite taken aback by what it felt like being a Black person in Japan. For one of the first times in my life I actually felt raced in an unfamiliar way. Now Japan is one of the most homogeneous societies in the world, so it's not as if I felt I belonged. On the contrary, I felt very much an outsider, but an invisible one (which I wasn't a huge fan of either). But walking around as a person racialized as Black is typically about more than just being different. It is this constant feeling of being perceived as othered AND simultaneously lesser. Obviously the degree of this is very location-contingent and based on your awareness of what's happening around you. My time in Japan was limited. But I came to sense that anti-Black racism might be a bit less pervasive there than in places I've traveled around the world. It might be experienced differently or revealed in ways unbeknownst to me, but it was nice to walk into places and not feel that my Afro-descendancy would automatically be deemed as categorically inferior. People were exceptionally nice. Of course they could've been talking shit behind my back but I appreciated the overt kindness everywhere I went.
Even the packaging of this chocolate, presumably derived from Ghanaian cocoa, caught my attention. Note how it's not simply called "Afrika Dark Chocolate" as the German company Balhsen did. According to them "In the heart of Africa you will find an incomparably aromatic cocoa bean." Where the hell is the heart of Africa? #AfricaIsNotACountry Note how there's no caricatured brown person depicted on the front to connect the person's flesh to the brown color of chocolate (I'm looking at you Nestle). It might seem minor, but these kinds of advertisements and packaging produce, reproduce and reinforce associations we have about attributes and groups of people. And it was refreshing not to be bombarded by such imagery, if even for a spell.
I also marveled at the co-existence of cultural practices or ideologies that I would consider somewhat contradictory. For example, the scary/cute dichotomy pictured below. On the one hand you have a culture that has produced bad ass Samurai Warriors, a culture that has also historically been ruthless when it comes to combat and has practiced genocide. Juxtapose this with the obsession with all things hyper-adorable and I don't know whether to be worried or get my teeth checked for cavities due to all the sweetness.
I never thought I'd say this, but this is some cute ass rice -->>
Also fascinating to me was the fact that it's a non-tip society yet Japan had by far the best customer service I'd ever seen in my life. Maybe they pay fair wages. But even that wouldn't necessarily produce better treatment of customers. I also watched as parents appeared to dote on their children, yet you don't hear about Japanese children behaving overly "spoiled." A number of people discussed with me the way that Japanese culture has a particular affinity for all things new. For example, houses are not expected to be passed on to family members, but instead you are supposed to build new homes. Heirlooms are not favored, which is one of the reasons the markets are amazing because people are getting rid of awesome shit (also may be a function of limited space). So you have a culture where people don't believe in things lasting for a very long time, yet there is also this emphasis on quality and a tangentially-related value, a reverence for the elderly. I'm sure everything has a sociological and historical root that I'm unaware of but I found it all so interesting to dissect.
The night right before I met Tony and Calvin I ate alone and remember thinking how much I wanted something very basic like dinner conversation. So I was particularly pleased to be able to dine on some great Okonoiyaki with these guys.
The next day I headed out early on the bus to Arashiyama, determined to find this bamboo groove I'd read about.
It's sort of tough to find your way when these are the guide posts.
But eventually I somehow made it!
Then it was back on the bus to the Shinto Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine where I climbed all the way to the top, like a G.
I appreciated the hell out of these directions. Let's hear it for squats.
Back on the bus I went.
The next day I returned to Tokyo via the bullet train. Ya know what? It's fast.
In Tokyo I hit up Toji Temple and Kobo-San Market.
The Japanese are NOT about that darker skin. Gloves, umbrellas, long sleeves, skin brighteners/whiteners, whatever it takes to keep it light.
These products are from Muji but they don't seem available on the US Muji website. Don't know if whitening is supposed to be synonymous with brightening but it would appear that it's NOT just about brighter skin.
I kicked it in Ginza, the 5th Ave of Tokyo.
I hit up the humongous Uniqlo in Ginza. My favorite part, this sign. ---->
After the ground toilet situation I know that sometimes you just need a little help with unfamiliar territory.
My last night in Japan I had a bit of a moment...
It's been real, Nippon!!!