In 1854 Commodore Matthew Perry sailed his black ships to Japan and opened the coastal city of Shimoda to international trade. A century and a half later, just a kilometer away from that famous port, eight cultural mongrels sat down together for the first time to enjoy East Asian fusion cuisine.
I call us cultural mongrels because the one trait that linked all of us was our convoluted national and cultural identities. For example, I was born in the United States, but spent most of my childhood in Tokyo. Mitsu was born in Japan but spent the first eleven years of his life in Paris. Benoit works in Asia largely for the French government, and is a specialist in Vietnamese political history. We were three French, three Japanese, and two Americans. It was a night filled with the kind of conversation that leaps between topics, tones, and languages (most of us were conversational in English, Japanese, and French, so it was interesting to see which languages we used and when).
I wanted to quickly jot down the most interesting discussion topics of the weekend before I fall asleep:
- Japanese who live abroad for extended periods of time have difficulty fitting into their culture. Live abroad long enough, and Japanese people will mistake you for a foreigner. We have all had the experience of living abroad and returning to your home country to see things in a different light, but why is the experience amplified for the repatriated Japanese?
- The ‘etymology’ of European, Asian, American body language.
- The tendency to confuse scientific theory with reality.
- Western views of the East and Eastern views of the West.
- Drugs in Japan.
- The materialistic status quo in America (as an example) and its variations.
- The World Cup
- Drinking games.
- How Japanese business has evolved and in what ways it will need to adapt to the acceleratting pace of global change.
Maybe it all sounds dry and academic, but there was enough flirtation, humor, sexual charge and chemical substances to keep things running smoothly, and it is always a pleasure to hear people talk about their area of expertise in informal ways.
Plus, the beaches were beautiful (for Japan), the hotel was extravagent (for Japan) and the World Cup matches threw everyone for a loop.
I got to light off fireworks. Our only casualty was Arthur dislocating his injured shoulder in the surf. Some people made a love connection, we played frisbee, I fought an angry crab – just another case of lucky living with new friends.