The Japan Gap

The energetic glam music lovin’ Okamisan of Matsuya Ryokan in Niigata

One of the fascinating things I find in Japan life is the delightfully unexpected mismatch of people and things that they do. I was introduced to this Japanese cultural phenomenon shortly after arriving here in 1984. A nice young girl who wanted to be a flight attendant invited me home for tea. I knew she only wanted to practice English but jumped at the chance. It was a nice time. I met her family and they were very kind. Her demure Junior High age younger sister said she wanted the honor of playing something for me. She got out her keyboard, hit the CD player button and started playing along with a screeching Twister Sister track, a virtuoso performance at top volume. After 3 minutes of mayhem she hit the stop button and transformed back into a polite demure junior high student.

Much later my Japanese partner told me lots of young demure looking Japanese high school girls love playing wild wooly heavy metal guitar solos in rock bands. “People like to have something or do something that isn’t part of their nature,” he said. It’s important to remember that the Japanese audience that went gaga for Queen and the Runaways in the 70’s was not guys, it was gals. I got a taste of it recently staying at the wonderful Matsuya onsen ryokan in Niigata. The Okamisan was a delightfully energetic woman who fed us well. After dinner relaxing in the common living room she asked if we’d like to listen to some music. We did and she put on a CD…Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody…at volume, this despite the classic Japanese ryokan atmosphere surrounding us.

At first I didn’t understand the phenomenon but over the years I have found Japanese culture and society to be much more accepting of human nature in many ways than the USA culture I grew up in. I think it’s part of the cultural DNA passed down from Shinto and Buddhism. Not that many westerners would agree with that assessment but is easy to see in countless manga and anime…if you pay close attention.

And so it goes that you find big beefy K-1 athletes who sport tiny cute Chihuahua pets, humongous Sumo wrestlers who like knitting and flower arranging, and little old ladies on the street taking huge dogs on a walk, with the dog walking them. In Japan nobody bats an eye at the Japan gap.