Exchange Feature: Postcard from Fukuoka
By Ng Sook Zhen
I am doing a social experiment in Fukuoka.
I place an umbrella on my bike, and see if anyone steals it. And I smile when I get back to my bike and still see it hanging. It has been 3 weeks. It’s still there, and it was raining today.
Perhaps that sums up my emotions of Japan. I’m mystified.
(Like all law students, I relish in headings.)
I’m puzzled by the fact that a bunch of girls from a different university would drag me home to their apartment to teach me how to put on makeup after meeting them for the first time, surprised that every curator I see has been a volunteer (usually female, some older than others), mystified that people sort their rubbish so impeccably (garbage is sorted into burnable, non-burnable, “pet” bottles etc. Which means you have to tear out the plastic cover on your “pet” bottle to throw them away separately).
And then there is the makeup.
Everyone wearing makeup around me no longer bothers me. It did for the first week or two. Walking down the corridor would strangely feel scary, as if I am walking towards a podium and all eyes are on me. Sometimes I would shiver and become really conscious, for a reason I myself can’t quite grasp. Very quickly, one becomes immune to that feeling just as a freshman law student becomes immune to the heavy workload.
Thankfully, I have been really lucky with the people I’ve met. ‘Tis hard to sum up the friends I’ve met in the past few months because stereotypes don’t exist here. Yes, often I do get mixed up with names because everyone looks so alike, but in essence, everyone is just so different here, or perhaps I’m beginning to become sensitive to the subtleties of mankind? (or so I hope to think).
How can fermented beans taste so good? I have no idea, but I’ve been addicted to them (called nato) for the past 3 weeks. Then there is 5000 yen sushi, 800 yen ramen, 400 yen sashimi, 300 yen shochu and my usual stash of icecream. YES> I have 4 different flavours of matcha icecream in my fridge. Have yet to find an icecream palour I love, but must say, I’m pretty happy with the icecream I have here.
ps. The coffee is Japan is HORRIBLE. I guess tea is just more IN.
When the bar exam’s passing rate is 20 per cent, you expect lawyers to be among the elite in society. But not in Japan. In a conflict-avoiding culture, lawyers don’t earn very much more than their peers. Cases are cited not by their parties’ names, but by the subject matter in the case itself followed by the date. (For instance, an official cite in a law review for a theft in Yokahama would be “Yokahama Theft Case” (2001.2.12).) The negotiation competition I went for in Tokyo was horrifying for me to say the very least. There was no abrasion at all, parties compromised so easily, that there was almost no negotiation. This is all for a long-term relationship I guess, not between the participants ourselves, but between our schools. And this is Japanese law.
Exchange is AWESOME. You take trains to nowhere, you learn from people that you would never imagine learning from, and you don’t have time to miss home. Best of all, it sparks the audacity of youth and the stupidity to leave expensive umbrellas lying around.Ng Sook Zhen is an Overseas Senior Editor of the Singapore Law Review, and is currently on exchange at Kyushu University, Japan (Semester 1 & 2).