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"Oh honey, stop it, he's blushing!" - Being a closeted, foreign student in Japan

I dreamed last night that some throw-away line I wrote on this journal was quoted on a popular blog in a post with a link to the original. Not because it was admired but because the blog author found it hilariously inaccurate. The people reading my dispatches from Japan in this dream were some varient on the Something Awful crowd; more intelligent, but with the same playfully vicious streak. They proceeded to tear into my writing with hundreds of sarcastic, scornful comments. I tried to apologize and that just earned me replies accusing me of being not merely ignorant, but an ignorant coward who wouldn't stand for his beliefs.

As I woke from the dream I was so angry and disappointed with myself I was going to delete the journal entirely, post by post. Then I realized it was six in the morning, nothing of the sort had actually happened, and I was merely making nightmares out of worries.

I think I've spoken in too many generalizations as I've been writing about Japan. Especially when I'm being critical. I've been reading a lot of Dostoyevsky the last few days and it's made me self-reflexive. When you're in a country where you understand so little, from the language to the manners to the way the doors work, there's a powerful impulse to find something that doesn't make you feel like a idiot clod. That can turn into superiority complexes. Picking out some flaw and harping on it salves your ego a bit.

I've probably been doing that these past two months. If you've found my posts strange or overly negative, if you've lived in Japan and things I've said don't jive with your own experience, or if I've ever sounded arrogant in talking about this country, I apologize.

So, onward.

At dinner today it came up that my host sister didn't know the story of Adam and Eve, so I told it to her with some help from my host mother. Explaining the concept of the Tree of Knowledge was a challenge, but I got it through. Then, since my host sister knew nothing about it, my host mother told her the Japanese creation myth, with the gods Izanagi and Izanami fashioning the Japanese islands by stirring the waters of chaos with a spear from the heavens.

The reason my host sister didn't know the creation myth was that such Shinto stories aren't often taught anymore. They've become associated with right-wing nationalism and chest-thumping war apologetics. My host family told me that the majority of children know little to nothing of ancient Japanese myths on this account. Contrary to the impression American media leaves, the Japanese I've met have found such bigoted polemics embarrassing. I might only be meeting the Japanese who are open-minded enough to approach and converse with a foreigner, though. Biased sample.

It is a little uncomfortable seeing all the signs around town put up by city hall that declare in English and Japanese that the North Kuril Islands will be returned to their proper Japanese ownership through national will.

I'm sure the Koreans are real chuffed to hear about Japanese national will.

Then again, it wasn't exactly courteous behavior on the Russians' part to forcibly deport several thousand Japanese residents of the Kurils. But then, Japan took the land from Russia as war booty. And the Ainu were stuck somewhere in the middle. They call this whole international clusterfuck "the fight between thieves."

After creation myths, the conversation somehow led to movies. My parents don't hold much stock by American hollywood movies, and I'm not going to contradict them, but I was a little surprised to learn that they held the movie Se7en in high esteem. It's one of my favorite movies too, so we had a lot to talk about. They didn't expect such a subtle and complex movie from the US. They described it as 'shibui,' a somewhat difficult to translate adjective that suggests restraint and poise. Japanese aesthetics from the Meiji-era onward puts a lot of emphasis on 'shibui' qualities (the Tokugawa-era before the nineteenth century produced shibui works of art and customs as well, but it only takes a brief look at Tokugawa sponsered temples to see that gaudiness and ostentation didn't have that bad a rap either).

I told them that there are actually plenty of American movies that could be described as 'shibui' (Memento and Silence of the Lambs spring to mind), but they're generally indie films. In contrast, Japan may pride itself on its shibui cinema, but it doesn't produce too many comedies, though there's a strong standup comedian tradition springing from the Kansai region. My host parents told me that the comedies that are made by the Japanese are indie films. I found the contrast interesting.

The conversation then meandered along to the subject of me getting married. I grew nervous, since I don't want to lie directly to my host family and I've been able to avoid doing so thus far, but at any moment the questions could turn from gender neutral ones, like what age I'd like to be married by or if I'd like kids, to more specific questions, like what sort of woman I like. I dodged the bullet when they asked me if I'd ever had a girlfriend before, because they used a word in Japanese that refers to a 'significant other' and can conceivably apply to either gender. I know it can because a friend of mine came out to her host family as bisexual and it's come up in their conversation. She's more daring than me in most ways. Don't mistake the nuance of the word, though. They're not being politically correct. I'm just getting lucky.

They misinterpreted my nervousness as discomfort with the subject in general, so my host family's impression is that I'm bashful about dating and women. But, and here's where the mystery starts for them, I also told them that I spent a summer sharing an apartment with a girl and that two of my roommates this coming year will be girls. They were shocked when I let this fact drop. They jumped straight to incredulous when I clarified that I was just friends with these girls. They explained that you simply do. not. share. an apartment. with members of the opposite sex in Japan.

So this mysterious American seems to be very shy about the topic of women and dating, but nonetheless does the unthinkable and lives with them on a regular basis. I can tell by the way they often poke at the subject indirectly that they're deathly curious how to reconcile the two trends.

I know I should just bite the bullet and come out to them, because I'm fairly certain they wouldn't take fault with me, but I'm more determined to keep them from feeling uncomfortable having me around their son and daughter than I'm determined to stay totally honest.

I'm trying to strike a balance between respecting my self and what I believe to be right and respecting others' boundaries. If people haven't done anything to offend me, and especially if they've been generous to me, I'm loath to make them feel uncomfortable.

And the lines around sexuality in this country are conflicting, intricately woven, and really difficult to follow. There are all these unexpected intersections between traditionalism, liberalism, and disinterest. Reading hardcore porn in public is okay but hugging a friend of the opposite sex isn't. Being completely naked in the public bath is okay but taking off your shirt when it's hot isn't. Having sex at a love hotel is okay but living with a friend of the opposite sex isn't. Watching gay romance anime is okay but introducing your same sex significant other isn't. It's confused and complicated.

Oh well, being so distracted with ambiguous answers to question about my sexuality, I don't even have time to worry about grammar or word usage. It's good practice for my Japanese, in any case.