Location: California, United States

There are no random acts. We are all connected. You can no more separate one life from another than you can separate a breeze from the wind. (the five people you meet in heaven)

Saturday, May 06, 2006


When I even hear the word kinchoh (緊張), I start to feel a tightening in my chest. I’m always at a loss for a good translation, but spacealc lists the meaning as knot, stress, tension, tensity, tightness, tonus. In Japan, whenever you do not conform to Japanese societal and cultural rules, it is hazukashii (恥ずかしい: embarrassing), and the result is usually that you end up feeling kinchoh. I am sure that there are a lot of foreigners living in Japan out there who do not internalize these situations, but there are those of us who (at times) do.

Last week, So and I were discussing this situation. In light of the upcoming warmer weather, she was talking about sweating and that in Japan it’s hazukashii to have sweat marks on your clothes, so she makes sure not to buy colors that easily show sweat marks. The Japanese just don’t seem to sweat as much as Westerners, so this is just another in a long list of things that make you stick out and not conform.

I had my own experience on Friday. I met my host parents for lunch, and let my host father pick the restaurant. I don’t know why I never think of this ahead of time, but that always turns out to be a mistake on my part. He loves to go to really fancy places. I cringe. Kinchoh. I never feel that fancy to begin with, but in Japan it is a million times worse. I know that most places I go, people will stare at me. In fancy restaurants, it’s not just the staring; the staff is overly observant. They will let you (foreigners and Japanese alike) know how you are supposed to act. For example, take the server who decided it was time for me to put my napkin on my lap, so she did it for me. I can just never relax in those places. Luckily, it’s not just me, my host mother feels the same way.

It’s funny that I let this affect me because there are times when I just decide that no matter what I do, people are going to stare, so I might as well give them a good reason. Thursday was a good example of that. It was a beautiful day, warm, and one of the first this year in Japan. I went to the gym and pool at the Minato-ku Sports Center and decided to walk back to So’s wearing my bathing suit with spandex leggings. I anticipated more stares than usual and perhaps felt the stares because I was self-conscious than usual. I know that beachside in the US is the only place I could get away with the same outfit without the stare. However, halfway back I didn’t feel the looks upon me, although I did a bit as I ducked into the grocery store to pick up lunch.


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