Foreign: Thoughts on traveling alone
I think any county with a sizable population becomes a shell containing different countries. What do I mean? Back in the states we have New York, Los Angeles, and Atlanta which draw people from all over the world who, in finding equilibrium, create a culture different from those smaller cities, towns, parishes which house what we can call “Americana”. Said differently, Paris is not France and neither is Tokyo, Japan.
I woke up to a dark overcast on Saturday which got heavier and denser until, by 9:00 a.m., the rains fell in earnest. The festival was to start from 11:00. Here and there were costumed performers with face paint warming up — pepping themselves up — for their dance in the festival.
Remember those options from my last post? Well, when I walk down the street I stick out and the assumption is I can’t understand anything. I do like a pretty face, or funky costume, and I am not shy to talk to strangers. When I want to know something I go up and ask — we take that test drive together, which opens up the potential for the same series of questions I really don’t want to answer again and again and again and again, so generally I keep control of the conversation.
Talking with these people under the covered walkways in Okayama, everyone I met was from Okayama, highly unusual for one living in Kanto and coming from Los Angeles. This was not a small town, but people gathered from the same place have a social bond that’s difficult to enter from the outside which explains the word we all use –“foreign-er” — and it’s Japanese equivalent 外人 (literally ‘outside person’).
Becoming part of a group is hard, this is not unique to Japan.
The idea underlying something foreign is that it doesn’t belong, is not indigenous, is, well, ‘outside’ the norm. I grew up a composite of foreign things, so I’m used to it, but if it’s your first time the cold can be bracing. It is difficult to make acquaintances here. For me, I’ve taken my exclusion as an opportunity to become comfortable being alone. Walking by myself I see things people miss. And I clearly understand what I like, know what I want to do in contrast to what I end up doing with my friends, co-workers, partner.
Traveling alone, especially in Japan, is unusual, but with a camera in hand and tripod over left shoulder I am now a photographer in the eyes of these groups I glide by, and occasionally, delve into.
And they are, at least for this day, something other than the lives they left behind this morning.