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 Japanese Youth: To Conform or Rebel?

By Ryan Harper

        All I can hear is the tapping of his foot and the soft thumping bass coming from his ipod ear piece headphones. As this Japanese young adult man stares out the window of the train speeding by the landscape of one of Japan's metropolitan cities, I find myself watching his actions and observing his dress because of its rather strange and unusual characteristics. I was surprised to see what we refer to in the United States as a "punk-rocker" dressed in all black denim with a rock and roll t-shirt and sneakers that had the classic rolling stones lips insignia coated all over them.    
        Stranger to me than his rebellious appearance was his obvious respect for the cultural norms that heavily present themselves within Japanese ideology. He mostly went about his own business and kept to himself, as many Japanese people do on the trains and subways, and did the proper thing by not taking nearby open seats when they became available but rather left them open for an elderly woman and then an older man with long grey hair. He also didn't possess any piercings or visible tatoos which usually exist among most punk kids in the US.
        I also observed another young man with an appearance that was polar opposite of the punk rocker. This conforming individual was dressed in a three piece suit and tie and had the appearance of a man seeking prosperity and fortune in the Japanese business world. He possessed the same qualities as the other worker-bees on the trains and it made me query as to how a person could obtain individualism while being entrenched in such formalities. His constrained appearance reminded me of the article by Dorinne Kondo entitled "Crafting Selves" in which she refers to the "Japanese concepts of self as being strategic assertions which inevitably suppress differences, tensions, and contradictions within." This individual I observed seemed to fit well within the seemingly homogeneous Japanese society, although I could only wonder about what tensions or contradictions his conforming appearance and demeanor might suppress.
        Amidst all the respect for Japanese culture and ideology displayed by the numerous Japanese individuals I observed was of course one display of eccentric and inordinantly loud behavior brought forth by none other than an American SAS student. He displayed his lack of cultural sensitivity for the Japanese people and their norms by holding conversations with two or three other American students at a volume that soared above that of the rest of the train. How he was able to remain oblivious to the quick stares and embarasment that the Japanese people seemed to feel for the overtly obnoxious student is something that I'm not sure I'll ever quite understand. Having a strong sense of awareness of the new culture you are immersed in is a large part of traveling. When the American boy was using profanity and sharing personal information with basically everyone on the train, I found it very surprising that after four days in the country he didn't notice the degree to which he was acting utterly disrespectfully in this cultural context.
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