The individual research project practices autoethnography by allowing us to document personal experiences of a particular culture, different to my own and brings further research to allow social, cultural and political understandings of the experience (Ellis, 2011). By personally travelling to Japan and visiting Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo, I was able to document my experience, incorporating myself in the culture that generated comparisons to my own culture which brought perceptions of Japan that assisted in enabling a better understanding of the society. From previous perceptions of Japan through media exposure, expectations were made in terms of its culture and heritage as well as social aspects. However, when travelling through Japan these perceptions were significantly different to what was expected, therefore demonstrating my own personal culture interfering with the present experience.
My own previous perceptions of Japan were generated due to media exposure, especially through anime, such as Pokémon and Sailor Moon. Others would be through movies such as Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift which was completely set in Tokyo. Scenes were mostly of lively cities with tall, illuminated buildings and lights that filled the streets. With this image of Tokyo set, a bright, busy city was expected and impacted on my overall perception of Japan. When actually visiting Tokyo, I was faced with quiet, clean roads with little foot traffic and minimal transportation machinery. Japan is also known for being highly technological and predominately focuses on consumer electronics and auto motives. This assumption brought high expectations for Japan to be modernised and advanced. Although this was met at times, it was also surprising to see older buildings, architecture and cars. Most technological advancements that were faced through day to day occurrences were the use of vending machines and touch screens when personally ordering your food, which is rare in Australia.
Through research, I later realised that many tourism images of Japan’s lively nightlife were taken of popular tourist destinations that are known to be busier such as Dontonburi and the Shibuya Crossing that were filled with restaurants, bars, street food and shopping.
Japanese food in Australia is mainly presented as Sushi with little other varieties. Sushi is even westernised with early influences from America such as the avocado and California roll (Sakamoto & Allen, 2011). Rice on the outside of sushi was also a western creation to cater to those that didn’t like the outer seaweed texture- which is what we mainly see in sushi establishments in Australia (Warren, 2013). With this westernised sushi that I had grown to enjoy, traditional sushi in Japan was far better than expected. Rather than rolls, most sushi was presented as nigiri and were raw fish with various types and cuts that aren’t presented in western culture. This is due to the norms of westernised culture in which we are comfortable in consuming. Many find raw fish hard to consume due to the texture as well as the state of the fish, however having raw fish is very common in Japan. The price also influences the fresh state of raw fish in Australia where most restaurants may be freezing their raw fish before defrosting and serving; whereas due to its cheap and easy availability in Japan, it’s fresh and of high quality (Korpesio, 2012). In western restaurants, wasabi is optional with soy sauce; whereas in Japan readily served in the sushi depending on the chefs eating recommendations- thus making the experience authentic and makes one question the heavily westernised Japanese in Australia.
SALMON; when I saw this at the supermarket my mind was blown. These salmon fillets were approximately $3-5! For fresh salmon fillets, BARGAIN. It made me love Japan even more. Wish we had seafood that cheap here. This helped me understand the difference between food and it's price variations in Japan compared to Australia. Japan has an amazing, cheap but fresh supply of seafood but fruit is expensive and highly valued. We could say the opposite for Australian seafood and fruit #salmon #sashimi #japan #kyoto
FATTY TUNA & SEA URCHIN; This is my first time having fatty tuna and was more flavoursome and thicker than the tuna in Australia. We were told to not dip the sushi in soy sauce and to eat it as it is to better understand the flavours. This was also the first time eating sea urchin and although it looks scary, it was soft and had strong flavours. Trying authentic sushi in Japan made the California and Chicken Teriyaki rolls at home seem heavily westernized. Restaurants had only 8 seats and was a set menu with lots of interaction with the chef. He was older and laughed at our minimal Japanese. Arigatou gozaimasu! #sushi #tsukijifishmarket #tokyo
When consuming Japanese dishes, Okonomiyaki and Takoyaki, I was able to taste distinct flavours that aren’t apparent in Japanese foods available in Australia. However, being from a Vietnamese background, comparison to Banh Xeo (Vietnamese savoury pancake) and Fish Balls was made. Pancakes in western cultures are generally sweet and have toppings poured on top, thus savoury pancakes are very strange. Okonomiyaki is a pancake/ omelette with batter as well as meats, vegetables and sauces and is cooked in front of you to be eaten hot and fresh. Thus, due to my own Vietnamese background, I was able to find familiarity between the savoury Vietnamese pancake that was enjoyed from childhood to the infamous Japanese Okonomiyaki.
OSAKA OKONOMIYAKI; My favourite meal out of the whole trip. It's a savoury pancake filled with meats, vegetables, batter, sauce and a fried egg on top. It usually varies between each city but we heard we had to try it in Osaka and definitely had no regrets. It's known as 'Osaka soul food' and just melts in your mouth! Being from a Vietnamese background I found it similar to the Vietnamese 'Banh Xeo' but on another level. #osaka #japan #okonomiyak
Walking through temples and shrines, many tourists as well as locals were wearing the traditional garment, the Kimono. The traditional gown was worn daily, but due to the Meiji Restoration in 1868, westernisation of their daily lifestyles spread throughout Japan. The Kimono is now worn during important festivals and formal occasions as a sign of politeness and formalities. Women are mostly seen wearing kimono’s compared to men when going to temples and shrines to give thanks for good health and life (Funabiki, 2014). The term, Kimono is familiar to those in western cultures due to it being used to describe any form of silk dressing gown or oriental style frock that is adapted from the traditional garment. Its westernisation means it’s worn in more relaxed settings or casually or as a bath robe and is very different to the original. The westernisation of the Kimono that we are exposed to allows awareness and identification of the gown as a traditional Japanese dress and highlights the key points by infusing the oriental patterns and silk common to Kimonos as well as other Asian traditional gowns.
By incorporating ourselves into a culture and society other than your own and further gain social, cultural and political understanding, thus expanding on our previous knowledge of the social norms and values presented in Japanese culture. With further research and reflective analysis of my travels through Japan, I was able to make sense of the culture by comparing it to my own, thus having my own culture and perceptions of Japan evidently influence my experience. Exploring Japan and its social and cultural norms has allowed a better understanding and challenged assumptions of the world.
Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. 2011 ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12:1
Funabiki. T, 2014, ‘The mysteries of the Kimono’ in TimeOut Tokyo. https://www.agfg.com.au/blog/post/Japanese-Culture-in-Australia.aspx visited 26/10
‘Kimono Gown’, Cotton on Body https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/a4/a2/94/a4a294a70c6228f533f66b4cd9a9893b.jpg
Korpesio. K, 2012 ‘Japanese Culture in Australia’ in AGFG. https://www.agfg.com.au/blog/post/Japanese-Culture-in-Australia.aspx visited 26/10
Sakamoto. R, Allen. M, 2011, ‘There’s something fishy about that sushi: how Japan interprets the global sushi boom’ Japan Forum, 23:1, pp.100- 102
Smith, R. 2014, ‘World Pancake Recipe: Okonomiyaki from Japan’ https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/mar/03/world-pancake-recipe-okonomiyaki-japan visited 26/10
Warren, 2013, ‘The Difference between authentic Japanese sushi and sushi around the world’ in http://www.sushifaq.com/sushiotaku/2013/11/15/difference-authentic-japanese-sushi-sushi-around-world/ visited 26/10