Watashi to Tokyo


Special To The Japan Times Online

This is the first in a series of profiles of bloggers who write about Japan.

Mari Kanazawa works full-time for an IT venture business that focuses on the food industry, but she somehow manages to make a post to her blog almost every day. Straightforwardly titled “Watashi to Tokyo (Me and Tokyo),” her blog is a collection of what crosses her radar, and while definitely informative, you’d be hard-pressed to find these bite-size factoids in your ordinary Japan-watching publication.

Over its three years of existence the blog has struck a note with foreigners and Japanese, with both residents and those living abroad. In fact, one Thai publisher was so impressed with her blog that it has compiled her wittiest blog posts into book form.

Steering clear of political stances or “Beautiful Japan” cliches, the blog offers humorous insights on current-day Japan, and each post is full of background links for further exploration. The subjects of her posts range from consumer trends to blips in pop-culture to personal asides. For example, Mari recently commented on a survey in a women’s magazine which held that more Japanese women prefer b-otoko (busaiku otoko, ugly men) over ikkemen (hot-looking guys). Mari, however, begged to disagree with the magazine’s conclusion, citing the mobs of screaming women that showed up at Narita Airport to welcome Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom to Japan.

Mari writes her blog exclusively in English, her second language. (Because she’s not completely fluent, she has posted a plea for proofreading volunteers.) Although her blog is frequently filled with “light” topics, Mari wants to do more than entertain. Her goal is to document the lesser-known aspects of Japan and reveal the real deal in her home country.

What is unique about Tokyo?

I think Tokyo is a city that is unique because it is a reflection of Japan, a country that is an island, with a history of isolation. Japanese language and culture is comprised of unique words and terms that can easily be understood by those inside, but never intended for those outside. So Tokyo is a collection of these inner circles where those inside have no interest in whether those outside are interested in it, and have no intention of attracting those outside or communicating with them.

For example, many Japanese are perplexed as to why foreigners are interested in anime, or traditional culture things like kimono or tea ceremony, since these uniquely Japanese things were all originally intended for a Japanese audience. But I think this may be why foreigners are interested in our culture, because even while the rest of the world is connecting and blending, Japanese stand apart in their unique way.

So for Japanese, unless a person makes a strong conscious effort, it is possible, even in this day, to go about life without ever speaking to a foreigner. Many Japanese think that in order to be an “international person” we just have to learn English, but other aspects of being an “international person,” like an openness to other cultures and ideas, or finding the best ideas by comparing different systems in different countries are not even taken into consideration.

Since Japanese are not exposed to foreigners, they have no basis for comparison when judging their own culture. Also many phenomena and aspects of daily life in Japan exist because of unspoken agreements. Our tolerances for certain things are set by a kind of unspoken agreement. Because Japanese don’t know any other way except this one, no one ever doubts that the present situation is acceptable. So Japanese can accept being packed like cattle into trains, unpaid overtime and outrageously expensive and tiny houses, because there is nothing to compare it to. We just focus on the inside. So Tokyo is like this series of unique insider experiences, whether it be the overall lifestyle, or some smaller world like anime and manga or video games. So all these unique and exclusive things in Japan might be amusing and attractive for some foreigners.

How did you get into blogging? What has the feedback been like?

Six Apart started a blogging service (Typepad). I found it accidentally and it seemed great for me. I started blogging because I wanted to share various news items that I had collected with people around the world. Thanks to blogging, I have acquaintances from countries that I have never been to, I have done numerous interviews and various other things. Because of all of these opportunities, I could never stop blogging.

When and why did you start your blog?

I started my blog in June 2004. As a Japanese person I wanted to convey the quirky aspects of this culture without a bias. And even though my English is poor, I felt like a Japanese person had to do it. I wanted to show the real Tokyo, real Japan, to foreign people and therefore I had to use the international language. The Internet is also a perfect venue because it allows one to discuss both the new popular subcultures with the traditional values and culture.

You pack your posts with links to other sites. Is there some philosophy behind that?

I link to other sites a lot simply because it’s convenient for me. I don’t need to explain.

What advice would you give to Japan watchers?

Try to appreciate the uniqueness of the different places in Japan, like local food, dialects, culture, history, etc. Tokyo and Osaka are so different.

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