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Bright Lights, Big City

Japan is one big Fisher-Pykel Clothes Dryer. It’s heat sucks all the moisture out of you, it’s energy spins you in every direction, it confuses the hell out of you with it’s flashing lights and does it does so cleanly, efficiently and with no sound louder than the gentle hum of a whispering wind. But despite the weather and the language barrier, Japan entranced me in a way that not many places have done.
Actually, that’s a bit of a lie, I become easily enchanted by anywhere new, but for anyone who has been to Japan, I think you’ll agree that there is nowhere in the world like it. It is a country filled with contradictions. I felt completely safe, wandering around the city of Yokohama in thongs and shorts at 3am on my first warm, summer evening in Japan, and yet, I was pretty sure my life was in danger when later in the week I tried to “borrow” some face-wash from the local mafia at a sento (public bath), not knowing that that basket of body-cleansing products was spoken for by the very large man, covered in tattoos, steaming in the sauna behind me. It’s ok though, I still have all my appendages accounted for.

There are vending machines on every street corner but hardly a bin in sight and somehow it still manages to be one of the cleanest places I’ve ever been to. The convenience stores are stocked with everything from pastries and other light meals all in their neat little packaging, to beer and spirits, to iced coffee in a can, yet you aren’t supposed to eat while walking the streets. If you know where to go you can find particularly amazing cheap ramen noodles that come with a big helping of friendliness and genuine hospitality and if you don’t know where to go, don’t expect any help unless you’re willing to try and charm the locals with your very broken Japanese. There are alleyways and backstreets where you are politely offered “sex?” and other alleyways and backstreets where you are politely offered beer and a warm face cloth.

But the contradictions of the country are nothing to the contradictions of the people. And it was this that I found the hardest to deal with when working on a creative project in Japan. Diplomacy is the word of the day, ladies and gentlemen. We in Australia come from a completely different cultural mindset to those in Japan. Australians have a very flawed history. And we know it. We know we aren’t perfect and often, that can be the source of our pride. Getting behind the underdog. Cheering on the larrikin. The hero very rarely does things perfectly, but nearly always does things right. It seems to me that a lot of the Japanese people have a different focus. Perfection is not merely a noble cause, but a daily goal. Not merely an ideal, but a necessity. To admit that there are moments that are less than perfect, less than beautiful seemed to be not only frowned upon, but a waste of time. But to then explore those moments and put them onstage, that, to them, seemed outrageous and embarrassing. In a project called ‘Superperfect’, the other side of that very interesting coin was lost to them. As a result, a lot of the scenes from the show were changed dramatically for the Japanese audience and, being completely honest, I felt a lot of the heart of the show we had in Sydney had lost it’s way. But then again, what took its place was visually quite stunning and evocative in it’s own right. I have to hand it to them, with the Japanese always striving for perfection, they come pretty damn close a lot of the time. And here is where, in the meeting of two very different opinions and two very different ways of thinking, we have found something new. Something exciting and bold. There is a change on both sides that comes out of such an exchange. A rich learning that is worth all the tears and stress, that pays in friendship and a hint of understanding. More than anything else, this is what made me love this project so much.

– Dave Buckley, ArtsLab 09

One Response

  1. Sarah says:

    Nice observations David-San. Mind if I blog this on the Superperfect website too??