Ever since I was a goofy little kid in middle school, I have wanted to visit Japan. For whatever reason, the place fascinated me. I never knew why exactly, but it just seemed so cool whenever I saw movies taking place there or photos. I had a few friends, who took trips there over the years as I grew up, and I was always jealous of the experiences they had and tales they told upon returning to the US. In some ways it’s a tragedy that it took me almost 15 years to make my dream of visiting Japan a reality, but in other ways, it’s perfect that I waited this long, and for this scenario, to make my first journey to the Asian continent.
It’s hard to summarize my entire experience in a few brief paragraphs, but I’ll do my best. Although the cars in Japan are amazing and unique, that was not my favorite aspect of the trip. Being in a place where you can hardly communicate with anyone is a difficult thing to do, but it’s not impossible. I speak about three words of Japanese, and that’s about as much English as 90% of people there can understand. Thankfully, we had our friend and translator Tetsu, and the lovely and ever-patient Coco to help. We would have been lost without them in more ways than one. The Japanese are very polite as a general rule. Even if they don’t know what you’re asking, they will try their best to help you out. That was one of the biggest things I loved about Japan, everyone was so damn nice and accommodating. It’s really interesting after you come back, especially to a place like Los Angeles where lots of people are quite frankly, rude.
One event in particular exemplified this general feeling of community respect in Japan more than anything else. While we were in Osaka, we had a long day of shooting at Osaka JDM and at one point, we all took a break to go inside and have lunch. Well, during this time, we had somewhere between 15 and 20 thousand dollars worth of camera and film gear sitting outside, on a public street, ripe for the taking. No one even remembered that it was out there unattended. I suddenly had one of those moments where you snap to life, and think “oh no, holy F#%@.” I dropped my lunch, ran outside and much to my relief found all of our gear safe and sound exactly where and how we left it, aside from one small difference. It had began to rain slightly, and someone, either a passerby or perhaps an Osaka JDM employee, had taken a jacket and laid it down on top of my open camera bag to keep the water out. I was dumbfounded. Blown away. Someone could have snatched up all of our stuff in 15 seconds and we would have never known. Yet, no one did. This simply would not have happened in any other large city I can think of. We would have been seriously f*&@ed if this same thing had happened stateside.
The culture in Japan runs deep. Tradition plays a big role in the lives of most everyone there, because as far as I could tell, most Japanese citizens are born and raised and not many people move there and live as expatriates. Sure there are some, and the US military does have quite a few soldiers stationed there, but at the end of the day, Japan is not very diverse. I felt like a fish out of water, not just because I am white. I found myself taking pictures of everything and anything that looked cool to me. I had an interesting conversation with Tetsu about how I could now relate to tourists in America who take pictures of everything they see, including things that seem normal and ordinary to me. It’s because everything is so different in Japan, even boring things like signs and advertisements look weird and cool if you don’t know what the words say. Tetsu thought I was a huge idiot, no doubt, because I would take pictures of random items inside a 7-11 for example, but that’s because things that I was familiar with but had never seen in this context fascinated me.
The food in Japan is much different than what most Americans eat on a daily basis. LA is a very diverse city; you can find almost any kind of food here if you know where to look. I have had the chance to enjoy fairly authentic Japanese food here at home, and also in other cities in the US, but it simply doesn’t compare. The best ramen and sushi is in Japan, you won’t find it anywhere else that quite tastes the same. There are places like Starbucks, McDonald’s and KFC in Japan, but I tried my best to stay away. I did eat a Big Mac once or twice though, just because a man can only handle so much before needing a familiar taste. Food is an amazing way to travel to a far off place without moving an inch; fries and ketchup in Shinagawa were exactly the same as they are in Venice Beach, the place I call home. And as much as I loved Japan, I was ready to be home by the time our trip drew to a close.
Japan is an amazing and beautiful country. I’m glad that after 15 years of delay, I did finally manage to make it over there, and I will return at some point in my life. There is no doubt about that. It won’t be the same next time, but that’s okay. I’m a strong believer in embracing change, going with the flow and enjoying what life throws your way. So until next time Japan, please don’t change too much.