Theoretically I would have this be a fashion/makeup/style blog of some sort, focusing on *alternative* styles, fringe fashion, punk, grunge etc., for amalgamations of said styles are usually what comprise my tastes. In fact, lately I’ve found myself leaning towards more abrasive punk trends – piercings, raccoon eyes, tattered clothes, blah blah blah – now more than ever. Why? Precisely because I can’t (or shouldn’t) embody anything punk/dark/rebellious in my current position in life.
That position, to be specific, is Kashima-machi, Kumamoto-ken, Japan – a rural (read: bumblefuck) town of around 8,000 people, 16-something km2. Like, Wikipedia doesn’t even know what this place is. I came here to teach English (of course) and try to improve my Japanese. And that’s all well and good and fine and happening and whatever; I don’t hate the job or the location or the people I work with or the students. I don’t explicitly dislike the position I find myself in. But I do recognize that what the position asks of me – at least as far as comportment and appearance are concerned – is a hard mold to fit, especially for someone like me.
Japanese culture values conformity, blending in; working as one part of a greater whole toward a common end (seemingly just the perpetuation of this group functionality). In this system appearance matters as much as anything else. I’m not knocking that at all. I would never presume to think that *my* way (what’s up, America) is any more *right* than someone else’s – hence why I’ve spent so many years studying other languages and cultures, and hence why I moved to Japan in the first place. It’s not a matter of right or wrong in an elemental sense – but it is a matter of what’s right for me. And for someone who’s always been so la-dee-fucking-dah, look-at-me, I’m-so-unique, I’m-such-an-individual, I’ve definitely had a hard time coping with the cultural disconnect.
My fashion sense has always hedged toward the dark, punky, gothy end of the spectrum, and while I knew that shit wouldn’t fly at work, I figured I’d save the *fun* attire for my free time. That worked out fine when I studied abroad two years ago; I’d dress up when I had to but would rock the face piercings and blue lipstick whenever circumstance allowed. But that was outside Tokyo, and I was just a student. Now I’m in the middle of nowhere and technically work for the government – oh, and did I mention I’m the only non-Japanese person in town? Because that’s a significant factor.
Living in the countryside of a mostly homogenous island nation, it follows that you fall at the receiving end of a lot of stares. Constantly. Like, literally all the time. At no point do I leave my apartment and not instantly feel the eyes of every passer-by boring into me – and they’re not too subtle about it either. This fun little facet of the *gaijin phenomenon* happened when I studied abroad as well, but all I had to do to cope was put on bolder makeup and clothes and be like, “Yes, I’m different. I’m not going to fit in here, but I can show you who I am.” I figured if I was going to get leered at, I might as well embrace it and asininely *earn* the attention with something other than my skin color.
In Kashima I can’t pull that shit, even off the clock. I can’t own up to people’s curiosity and give them some freak show spectacle – even though that’s often what the staring makes me feel like: an outsider and a freak. I’m not some nameless exchange student flitting through Tokyo. I’m a teacher, a civil servant, and above all, everyone knows that. Actually everyone. Residents of my town get a newsletter every month with pictures telling them what I’m up to, so there’s no anonymity to anything I do. They know who the only white chick in their town is, and they know who to complain to if I appear too *outrageous* in any way.
So this is where I find myself. I can’t do anything to counter the gaze I’ve become the subject of, and I feel like I’m losing myself. I feel like I can’t express who I am for fear of being judged – not in the shallow, petty sense but in a way that could actually effect my job, my reputation, and that of the country I’ve come here to represent. People are going to keep staring, and while I recognize that their attention stems from curiosity above all else, it’s still a lot to deal with every day.
Just to clarify: fashion is by no means my life, and I realize that appearance as a general rule is quite a superficial concern. I’m willing to make adjustments to my attire for the sake of my job and the wonderful opportunity I’ve been granted in teaching here. BUT, on the other hand, I’ve also come to realize just how much I value the freedom of expression that fashion allows. Having left behind absolutely everything that I’m used to – including but not limited to my friends, my hometown, my native language, and the culture that has shaped who I am – it sucks that I have to suppress every outward expression of my identity, even in how I dress. Excepting the few hours per week that I leave the town, I’m stuck feeling confined, with no way to express myself and my tastes – until now.
WHAT’S UP, INTERNET? Consider this blog my makeshift outlet for self expression – my coping mechanism in the face of my necessary hiatus from the world of alternative fashion.
Ideally I would fill this site with fashion ideas, tutorials, pieces on style icons, etc., BUT seeing as I’m in bumblefuck, Japan cut off from most of my makeup and wardrobe, I’m just gonna set this shit up and see how it goes. If nothing else maybe I’ll just keep bitching about how my *individuality* suffers in the face of a conservative society. (Hopefully not – I’ve got a whole other blog specifically for that!) We’ll see.
In honor of my other coping mechanism against a lack of outward expression – *music* – here’s some Bikini Kill. ‘Cause as they say: you can strip the girl of the septum ring and the Taylor Momsen eyes, but you can’t take the punk out of the girl.
…People say that.