For a particular sect of the English teachers living in this country, there is apparently nothing more exhilarating than boisterously, obviously, and intentionally elevating oneself outside of society and into its expected role of the Strange and Curious Foreigners. This attitude is rendered into physical crystalline form thanks to the annual Kobe Scavenger Hunt (“cutely” referred to colloquially by those fresh from college as Scunt, a portmanteau of scavenger and hunt, chosen almost assuredly because of its sonic resemblance to a certain slang term for a part of the female anatomy that rhymes with “cunt.” AHAHAHAH ahem). Last Saturday night I tried to see what it would be like to be one of them.
Willful and enthusiastic participation in the Hunt involves for three hours assuming the role of misfit entertainer, to reluctantly become what you always hated about the most popular, well-loved, and douchiest people you have ever known, all in the name of a possible good time. You and your up to seven teammates must decide upon and acquire/construct a series of coordinating costumes, the first step that will set you apart from the private sector. You will give yourselves a team name, and then, as a horde, all teams will descend upon the meeting ground for youth downtown and proceed to most righteously mill about, shouting loudly if already drunk, before receiving their scavenger hunt lists: a series of objects, phrases, places, and ideas that must be located or represented physically, and then photographed. (To ensure maximum potential gaijin smashing, all team members must be included in the photos).
From here you will effectively perform the Internet message board equivalent of trolling, but in real life, by preying as a group on the good nature of mainly embarrassed but occasionally entertained Japanese citizens and workers for the sake of your team’s success. Things you will do:
– Attempt to get a photo of you flirting with an old man (but don’t worry, they will come to you)
– Fit your entire team onto the parked bike of someone who has left it there who you do not know
– Accost a group of five or more high-schoolers to cram into a purikura (print club) photo booth with you
– Perform such poses as the human pyramid
– Ask a karaoke promoter to remove his bright orange jacket so you can photograph yourself wearing it
– Barge into the person-wide aisles of Don Quixote to pull things from the shelves and put them back in places they do not belong
– Swarm a popular movie theater lobby on the top floor of a popular building with nearly every other team simultaneously and proceed to attempt crossing off the “take a photograph of all your teammates jumping in the air together” item at the same time as forty other people while bystanders just try to buy movie tickets
Over the course of the event I try to determine why this all makes me feel bizarre. Would I have the same problems with it in the United States? Is it because I know five other groups of people will be re-performing the same actions in close chronological proximity to me? Would it be different if I wasn’t wearing a costume, or just more embarrassing? Conversely, are we wearing costumes to allow us the extravagances of violating societal norms? Does that make it okay? Do these sorts of events ever occur entirely attended and run by the locals? Do the citizens who are amused more than make up for those who are annoyed? Are those who are annoyed really just embodiments of the fearful, critical mindset that we perceive as endemic to Japan? Are they annoyed because of my behavior, or because my behavior is occuring as part of a group of dozens of outsiders? Do I care that I can’t blend in? Would I feel as special if I really did? Do I actually care what this society thinks of me or foreigners or anyone’s behavior in general? Don’t I?
On occasions when I find myself separated from my group for some reason (waiting outside a convenience store, working on winning a crane game prize) I feel even more isolated in my plastic hat and sequined bow-tie. Without the others looking equally ridiculous around me I am broadcasting my foreignness, quite at odds with how I normally try to fit into daily life as well as I can in ways obviously excluding physical looks (and the occasional language hurdle). I try removing my costume but feel only more isolated from my friends, though tenuously part of society. I think of the uniforms that most workers or students wear here. Am I really only capable of feeling comfortable when I am behaving like I have seen others behave?
I don’t come up with any concrete answers to my questions as we parade around snapping pictures, but for one reason or another never find myself capable of making the full jump into carefree this-town-is-my-playground abandon, a peril of an overactive mind in the realm of the fully real and non-virtual.
As we stride through the train station on our way across town, our fake-mustached top-hat wearing female Japanese team member elucidates her embarrassment to me, and I concur. She says, to lightly paraphrase because I cannot remember the precise phrasing, “no, it’s different for me, I don’t want [other Japanese people] to recognize me because then they’ll think you [foreigners] have brainwashed me.” This, my friends, is cultural exchange at work! As a curious cap to the night we end up almost en masse at a popular “foreigner bar,” rendering my views even more obscured. Wouldn’t it be in the spirit of the night to at least loudly plop down somewhere where we would be less welcome? But perhaps I am too cynical. When I wasn’t actively intruding on others I kind of enjoyed myself! Is it even possible for me not to be an intrusion? A strange and self-defeating question.
At one point in the evening I am briefly consumed with something that feels like anger at every person I see, convinced that they are mentally being critical of me even right now, this very moment, not because I look like a fucking goon, but just because I am of a different race than they are. It feels like preemptive, anticipatory racism, me hating them because of who they are before they can hate me for the same reason. I catch myself and feel dirty and remorseful, and confused, and I wonder for a second if it isn’t just intentionally boosted-up self-confidence or if my name has been changed overnight to Spike Lee.
BUT SERIOUSLY IT’S TIME FOR SOME LIGHTER STUFF OKAY
– On Sunday morning, two men from the TV company honored their no-cost appointment to come to our house at 10 a.m. and change the cable jacks in our wall. While they were doing this, one fellow set up my all-Japanese language television for me to receive the free digital HD broadcasts that I couldn’t figure out how to get, and then commented that my new Family Computer sitting next to the Wii made him feel nostalgic
– I never once imagined it would be a good idea to even try it, but for the last couple of days Jessy and I have eaten seasonally-popular cooked cold soumen noodles with cold dashi broth on them as accompaniments to our evening meals, and they are goddamned delicious
– The other day I started playing a hardcore-styled dungeon-crawling RPG on the DS called Etrian Odyssey, and in it you have to make your own maps with the touch screen, and I get brutally killed all the time cause it is ridiculously difficult, but for some reason I am hooked on it and am spending all my train time playing it
– Next week is the last week of classes for me to teach at work and it’s also the last week of the Japanese language class that I attend, and neither will start back up again until the end of August, which is just great
– Watching strange Japanese variety shows has never been so strange as it is in HD
For as many times as I have heard that “Japan has four seasons,” in my mind there are only two: the times of year when one is compelled to use their air conditioner, and the times of year when one is not. Maybe you can relate, cause now it’s the first one.
I hate summer everywhere in the world that I have been, and Japan is certainly no exception. People often say this, as though it isn’t totally obvious, but it is “not so much the heat that is horrible, it’s the humidity”. Walking around now, in the heat, here in the dead of “rainy” season, is similar to how I imagine it must be like to be combing the edges of the tropical forests in Avatar hunting for neon hyena rats or whatever the fuck they did in that movie.
Being here in the night school office where they have the key to the air conditioner locked up like the nuclear fucking football and only the chief and the principal know the access codes does not make for happy Brandons (the other workers don’t seem overjoyed either). It’s actually cooler outside right now, which shatters my theories about decent weather and the office (the windows are supposed to be closed when it’s nice out and open when it’s freezing). For the last hour I have periodically been taking little strolls over to the sink because there is a window over there, but I am running out of parts of my body to wash and I think it is becoming clear to the workers nearby that I do not actually have anything in the refrigerator that I need to open it up so often to look for. Perhaps if I were dressed like some sort of demon or garish spectacle they would let me get away with it.