I created this post and the page remained empty for at least five minutes. I didn’t know what to write which would be a typical Algerian’s view on Japan. The Land of the Rising Sun is indeed so different from anywhere and any foreigner may come up with impressions similar to mine.
But I am not in the mood to write about Algeria so I kind of have no choice.
Like many Algerians, my first introduction into the Japanese world and culture was through anime. I also remember Takeshi’s Castle which gave us another view on the Japanese people who appeared funnier than one might have expected. It is by the way paradoxical to find foreign items such as Japanese anime and Indian Janitou among the national memories my generation shares. Electronic devices and brands such as Sony, Sharp and Panasonic were what represented the Japanese identity to me.
Later on, I discovered Japanese literature. Among others, Eiji Yoshikawa‘s Musashi, Yasushi Inoue‘s work and, more recently, Death of a salaryman, a novel by British Fiona Campbell, gave me a valuable perspective on Japan and its people.
My last visit to Japan was some months ago. I have to start with the earthquake. I have witnessed many earthquakes in Algeria with magnitudes around 5, but I can tell you that an earthquake of 7.3 magnitude when you are in the 16th floor is something else. The building swayed for several minutes; the Japanese next to me were all on their laptops looking for information, and I was busy saying my shahada. Two hours later, elevators and metro lines were on again. One cannot predict or control such natural events but the way these people adapted is fascinating.
As often when I am away, my major concern is food. I went once to an Egyptian restaurant. It’s funny, I had to go to Japan to eat Egyptian food. When he saw me and knew I was Algerian, the owner admitted not all the food was halal so I ate fish like anywhere else. I had to speak in Standard Arabic as he was unable to understand the Algerian accent and I am not capable of speaking in Egyptian. We talked about the Egypt/Algeria football crisis; I didn’t tell him it was behind the creation of my blog.
Another day, the Malaysian owner of a restaurant kept repeating the food was halal but neither his face nor his restaurant convinced me.
I know this post might start to look like season 5 of the famous Ramadhan program Khawater but I have to mention the Japanese organisation. Around 36 million Japanese live in Tokyo and its suburbs. One can feel the big number but things are so organized that they seem to be really smooth. Every morning, in Shinagawa Station, I stood aside and watched all these men and women, probably in thousands, leaving the metro and heading to work. All you hear is the sound of their regular footsteps. The way they respect the waiting lines, the few metro lines with wagons reserved to women (I never heard anyone say this is a backward mentality of oppressed women) are but some noticeable points.
We are 37 million Algerians and I can imagine what would happen to Tokyo should we all go there and replace its inhabitants.
But the Japanese society is not doing well. Its population is decreasing, the economic crisis is still felt heavily, elders have to work and many do lose their jobs. Pachinko machines (see picture) are busy as shown in Campbell’s novel.
Anyway, I am not sure where I am heading with this post so I better end it soon. Unlike China, Japan seems to have a found a way between modernity and technology and tradition. Perhaps because this modernity and technology is their own product and is not imported like in our case. It’s a sort of continuous evolution. And speaking of importations, since it seems we are condemned to import anything, it might be good to import some Japanese, people and leaders. The recent apology of the Japanese finance minister to his people reminded me that none among our rulers has ever apologized or even admitted their mistakes for ruining our country. Also, it might be a good idea to import Japanese toilets.