Wednesday, September 30, 2009

First Impressions & Neighbourhood


This is an academic blog about Japan aiming to get to something about its people through the images taken by the author.

Assignment 1 - First Impressions

My feelings on coming into Japan were in a way based on what I'd seen before in Hong Kong, having spent two months there previous to arriving, which is a bit like coming out of a big flaming cauldron of people into sort of more of a gently simmering frying pan (in many ways). There are some quite superficial similarities with Hong Kong - they both have 7-11's with the same green and red colour scheme and some of the same products are seen advertised on TV.

There, pretty much, the similarities end with the people and way of life here being more similar to at least some parts of the UK in some ways, to define by comparison. My first experiences of Japanese people at large were inevitably going to be pigeonholed into things concerning the whole exchange student thing – so registering at the university, making the first tentative steps to try and talk to people. Outside that, the first impressions are going to be formed simply by walking out onto the street, observing the way people interact with each other in everyday dealings, going about consuming or enjoying themselves.

I managed to catch this guy “Takao” on top of a Shinto Shrine, repairing the flashing on the roof. I told him I had a slightly strange request and asked to take his picture for the purposes of a study. Without me making myself very clear, he accepted, which gives me some encouragement for the future of this project.

Neighbourhood Hirakata (Yamanoue)

Yamanoue is a sleepy-looking residential district. Like other residential areas I’ve heard about or seen, there is a shrine, which probably serves as some kind of focal point. There are a couple of schools in the neighbourhood, what looks like a home for people with special needs, and a few small business concerns among the houses. On the main road outside, there are convenience stores, a medium-sized supermarket, petrol garage, specialist cake shop… more or less everything you'd need.

The whole space still has an old-villagey feel to it, as if it existed before somewhat like the present, with houses crowded round small roads on the side of a hill, although this could just be the way many new Japanese suburban areas turn out because of the influence of the past.

One thing that is a definite link with the past around here is the farming that still takes place over the other side of the main road. It’s funny to think how, with most people around here employed in Hirakata Shi or probably even further afield, farming is still part of the landscape and economics of the area. I remember from Geography lessons aeons ago that Japanese farming is heavily subsidised by the state, that a lot of Japanese farmers work part time in the fields and have a second income or find other ways of diversifying. The biggest limitation on my anthropological studies to this point is that I don’t possess either the confidence in my language or the language itself to ask probing questions whose answers would have wider implications. However, just looking around at the way the busy roads and the urbanisation leaves space for farming, however much it may have changed over the years, probably indicates the society at large values this kind of practice and this would be an environmental expression of that value.

Above is a lady tending the plants outside an educational establishment's carpark, but the shot was more to show the kind of ambience of the residential district.