Japan at 300km per hour

At the moment, we’re hurtling though the landscape at 300km per hour on a bullet train travelling to Kagoshima on the southern tip of Japan. In this region there are more temples and shrines than churches in Ireland, with each competing to have a more sacred relic of Budda or taller Pagoda. Their main religion is Shintoism, which is indigenous to Japan, no God as such, just a set of beliefs that are based on superstition and help them keep safe from the vagaries of nature. Their located on the conversion of four tectonic plates, so there are tons of Volcano’s, hot springs and of course earth quakes, so they have good reason to be paranoid about nature. Christianity was banned in the 15th century, so the only places that have churches are where there was some trading with Europe.

We visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki where the atomic bombs were dropped, fascinating places and even more interesting to see them operating as lively hubs of activity today, rebuilt as if nothing had ever happened. Interesting to read about the history, their version of events of world war 2 and then to watch some documentaries on the US version of events, but the Japanese did commit atrocities to their Asian neighbors Korea, China etc. prior to the bombing. Hard to know who was right, but the tragedy is that so many innocent civilians were killed in the process.

It can also be a challenge to be walking into the unknown each day, not knowing what to expect, what you’re lodgings will be like. The language can get a bit isolating, but we try our best with signals, miming and point, some times we even speak Irish because they haven’t a clue what we’re saying anyway, but they still smile at us, nod and bow. The other thing is that everyone bows at you, the deeper the bow the more respect they have for you, sometimes it can get too much, but it’s only out of respect. It’s also an extremely hierarchal society where everyone has their rank in relation to each other, your status relates to age, wealth, what school you went to, where you’re from, nobody is equal, everyone is either higher or lower then you, which creates a continual pursuit for status and superiority.

The final thing is that they’re a very old fashioned society in terms of the role of woman (almost like 1950’s US). It’s expected that they will stop working when they get married, most woman take roles as ‘office ladies’ in big companies so that they can meet their husbands there and the better company they get into the greater their prospects of meeting a good rich man to keep them in pretty clothes and fine food and with all this pampering the birth rate is still only 1.3 children per family. It is incredibly expensive to educate you’re children, if you want them to get into a good school, so that they get into a good company, you will need to pay fees of $900,000 dollars from lower school to University and that’s just one child, needless to say they put enormous pressure on their children to succeed and do the family proud. But coupled with these pressures comes one of the highest suicide rates, accepted infidelity as the men are working every hour of the day to pay for their wives and expensive children and when the men have worked their whole life, married couples find they don’t have that much in common after all and there is a high rate of divorce at retirement age!

The more we’re here the more perplexing it gets, sometimes it feels like it asks more questions then answers, but it’s great to be here experiencing it first hand.

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About Gemma Ginty

Service Designer // Architect // Strategist // Interested in cities, interactions and the ephemeral
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