Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Discovering Japan – Part 2

My impressions of the world are formed almost exclusively from the books I read, the music I listen to and the words I write (even the places I actually live in). What with one thing and another, I haven’t read too many books that go to Japan, so the country has just sat in a box at the back of my mind. But things kept being put into the box – a book on traditional Japanese skincare borrowed from a Bangalore library long ago; the creative sophistication dimly perceived in Japanese comic books; sparks of interest set off by movies like Lost in Translation and The Ring; a feature or article seen in passing; anecdotes from an uncle whose entire career has been in Bridgestone; trivia from my brother and sister-in-law who both work with teams there; the occasional brand launch or research document thrown up by my own work – until suddenly the box is full and has somehow moved itself to the front of my mind (much like a simple cardboard carton might behave in a Japanese horror film).

Singapore has a sizable Japanese population and very many Japanophiles, so there’s plenty of opportunity to indulge the new curiosity. Given the war history, it’s understandable that there’s no well-preserved Japantown anywhere, but there are definitely malls that are more Japanese than others. I keep coming across them in the search for low-priced books. (Books are costlier than gold here and the local library does not supply enough variety, so I spend much time and effort hunting down stores that sell second-hand.)

Last week, I had government work which required me to walk through a strange, mall-like place that at first glance looked like a has-been, but on closer acquaintance turned out to be busy and prosperous. My antennae caught a shop selling winter clothes and ski equipment. It’s a sure sign of a Japanophile establishment, and by now I know there will always be a bookshop in one. Sometimes it’s a used-book store, sometimes a specialist boutique selling only graphic novels, anime or fantasy sagas. Whatever it is, there’ll always be something interesting to read in there (and sure enough, a thorough search on my way back did yield a bookstore – big, cut-price, half Japanese and half English).

There’ll also be CDs with horrific covers and vinyls you’ve never heard of. You’ll find Hello Kitty merchandise for all ages, whimsical accessories for grown-ups that even an eight-year-old might hesitate to put on her dolls. Gourmet stores where you do not recognise any of the food. Lifestyle stores that sell minutely useful things, such as pill boxes shaped like beetles. And, as stated in a previous post, totem pole umbrellas and keychains that acknowledge fridge-magnet cousins. Japan must be a singularly fascinating place to live in. Maybe the streets are paved with books. I should go see.

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