Guest Post by Chris Ward!
I’d like to welcome Chris Ward to Karen’s Different Corners. I met Chris on Goodreads when he was holding an event and I responded yes and invited him to be a guest blogger here on my blog. So Chris it’s all yours!
“Living in Japan and Freedom of Creative Expression”
August the 15th this year marked eight years since I moved to Japan to teach English. Originally planning to stay only for one year, I have such the restless mind that even after eight years of “living the dream” in Nagano, site of the 1998 Winter Olympics, I find it hard to be completely in love with the place, although I have never visited anywhere yet that I have liked more. I’m just one of those people that are never satisfied. The pizzas in the Italian restaurants are too small. There aren’t enough historical buildings. The power lines, forced above ground by a propensity for earthquakes, look unsightly. And so it goes.
However, while my life is Japan is certainly not perfect (in my own fickle mind, at least), there are a lot of things I don’t miss about living in England, my home for the first twenty-four years of my life.
Japan has a reputation for being a uniform society, where universities churn out worker-clones known as “salarymen” to fill up all the office buildings for sixteen hours a day. There is an oft-used phrase, “the nail that stands up is hammered down”, and while to a certain extent it is true, in other aspects the situation is the complete opposite. I work in two high schools. One is a business school and the students all wear a uniform that is rigorously checked, but the other is a regular high school with no uniform requirement.
In the corridor at school the other day, I passed a boy wearing a pink tank top. A boy, wearing a pink tank top. Think about it. Even as a teacher, my immediate reaction was a secretive grin and the thought that he would benefit from a good head flush. Then I started to wonder, why did I think like that? Was it me, or a product of my upbringing, that would immediately wish ill on someone who dared to stand out? I was the bullied kid at school because I liked to read and write instead of playing basketball or football (soccer). Yet even I would have smirked at the sight of a kid all Goth-ed up.
Yes, Japan has bullying. Everywhere does. But it also has a level of tolerance for creative expression that I’ve never really acknowledged before. Looking around me, I found signs of this accepted creativity everywhere, from the hip-hop kids breakdancing in front of the mirrored walls by the train station, to the maid cafes in every town, to the hordes of “Visual Kei” kids, some of whom walk around wearing chain-mail, to the kids in my classes that have the kind of mullets that ‘80s hair rock bands would have killed for.
The other week I saw a girl at high school wearing a huge cross around her neck. ‘Do you like Jesus?’ I asked. ‘Who?’ she replied. ‘Him,’ I said, and pointed at the man hanging forlornly from the cross. ‘Oh,’ she said. Then she gigged and added, ‘Fashion!’
That’s just awesome, I thought.
So how does this affect me? I’m a writer. I’ve been writing since I was eight or nine years old, but despite a little success with short stories I had never sold any novels. This year, after fifteen years of failure, I gave up my dream of being traditionally published and tried my hand at self-publishing instead. I had always wrote for myself, never to a set formula or with a fanbase in mind. Yet, the very few times my form letter rejections were soiled with a personalized comment, it went along the lines of, ‘You can’t do this.’
For a long time I considered trying to tailor what I wrote to fit a certain mold, but I wasn’t happy, and my creativity died. Then, after thinking more deeply about the world around me, I realised that I didn’t have to do it anyone else’s way. My way was perfectly fine.
Everyone has a right to freedom of creative expression. Provided what you do does not cause ill will or harm to anyone or anything, it’s perfectly fine. That’s what I’ve learned from Japan, and it’s one of the most important lessons of all.
That was very interesting Chris. I am always curious about other country’s culture and the different ways they express themselves creatively. What I found the most interesting though was the fact that even though we have differences we also have similarities!
If you’d like to find out more about Chris stop by and check out his blog and follow him on twitter. Thanks once again Chris. Hope the week ahead is awesome!