Cure Dolly is the editor and principal contributor of the popular blog Kawaii Japanese. She is also (or so she tells us) a doll. An alien doll. Her reflections are certainly not like those of most travelers.
Her book An Alien Doll in Japan, now available on Amazon Kindle, tells us about her “mild adventures”, as she calls them, over the course of a summer and autumn spent in Japan. It is illustrated with some fascinating photographs.
A Doll Walks into a Maid Café
From the introduction to An Alien Doll in Japan
This is a book about my time in Japan. There are a lot of books by foreigners about their time in Japan. My perspective is a little different because I am a foreigner foreigner than most foreigners.
You may not believe I am an alien. I probably don’t want you to. Think of all the problems that might arise if people really believed it.
What is certainly true is that I bring a different perspective to Japan. I don’t have a base of Western ideas and culture that mean “normal” to me. I haven’t been to a school or worked at a job in this world. I have never seen a soap opera—except a few Japanese ones while I was there. I don’t know the names of Western actors or singers. I live in a non-English speaking country and don’t speak the language, nor do I have English speaking (or Japanese-speaking) friends there. You can think of me as a little alien doll staring wide-eyed at a world she does not really understand.
But I find Japan more understandable than the west of your world. At least I thought I did, so I went to find out. And I decided to speak only Japanese while I was there. I did not even acknowledge that I know English. So, even if there were emergencies (and there were), it was Japanese, sink or swim.
I have actually been to a lot of countries, but never alone. In fact I had never crossed a town alone before, far less a planet. And I did make a mess of it. Not really because of the language. I would have made the same messes anywhere. I am just a doll after all.
Fortunately kind people were there to help me. Again and again.
Here are some of the things that I actually did:
Attended tea ceremony
Spent a day at pre-school
Went to a high school culture festival
Went to different kinds of maid café
Danced at Bon Odori (several times)
Was picked up by the police as a Suspicious-looking Person (really!)
Saw a Noh performance at an Shinto shrine, lit by wood fires
Attended calligraphy classes
Met a charming couple of Enka enthusiasts who hold an informal salon at a railway station rest area.
Went to a Buddhist ceremony for the dead
Ate nattou (most days) and raw egg (once)
Went to the factory where they make inedible food (the food you see in displays outside most restaurants in Japan) and made some myself
All this can make it look as if I was there doing—well, things. The sort of things people do in foreign countries. But mostly I wasn’t. I did a lot of things, but I was there for quite a long time. And mostly I was—wandering. I was absorbing Japan as I have never absorbed a place on this planet before. I was experiencing family life. I was seeing television for the first time.
I was wandering in the countryside, along little back alleys in cities, somehow amazed, somehow heart-struck by everything. Japan is not my home. But it is nearer to being my home than anything else I have seen in this strange world.
My Japanese family thought me very strange, wandering in tsumaranai, boring places just wandering, just absorbing just, as I said to them, nihon wo suikonde iru—breathing in, soaking up Japan.
When I left Japan, for the first time in my life, I experienced culture shock. Japan is not my home. I am not Japanese. I am sure I was almost as strange to the Japanese as I am to anyone else. And they were strange to me. But not as strange. Seeing an airport full of gaikokujin, I was overwhelmed by the strangeness I had seen around me ever since I came to life. It has never become less strange to me. But after Japan it seemed even more strange.
Which is a rather negative way of presenting my experience. But perhaps it clarifies it a tiny bit.
I want to try to show you Japan through my eyes.
Now read on…