Curiosity, slow down!


(Photo credit: doviende)

by Sheena Sasaki

Curiosity is one of the important phenomenon to how individual acts. I believe that sharing of culture is not taking place only to understand each other for world peace, but also with curiosity towards things which you are unfamiliar with. With curiosity, people are attracted to unknown cultures of the communities outside of theirs.

When I lived in the United States, I saw many non-Japanese having tattoos of kanji (Chinese/Japanese word character) as part of their fashion. One of my friends also had kanji tattoo as well. He told me that he had strong interest in Japanese cultures and traditions and would like to major in Japanese practices in the future. His curiosity was the base of his view of what he wanted to do in the future.

He also proudly said that he chose by himself the kanji he asked to have tattooed on his body. What he wanted as his tattoo was “ogre.” In kanji, it is written as “鬼 (oni)” My friend did not know the kanji for the word, but the tattooist told him that he knew. The reason my friend was interested in this kanji of oni was its definition and meaning behind the single word. The word does not simply mean “ogre” or “monster.” It also refers to ghosts and souls of dead people, something hidden and invisible, something of abnormal physical characteristic, and something which curses people. All of this definition combined created the monster of oni. Although I am not the person who deeply knows and practices my country’s culture, I felt proud to some extent. However, at the same time, I also felt some uneasiness when I took a glance at his tattoo. As I wrote, the kanji for oni is “鬼,” but what was tattooed on his arm was “豚,” which means “pig” or refers to some who is very fat.

This type of small misunderstanding is seen often. I have also seen people walking around in kimono with right side crossed bottom which is how dead bodies wear kimono. I remember my kimono teacher saying, “I am very happy that many people outside of Japan began to hold interest into kimono, but I feel sad at the same time when I see wrong practice of kimono wearing is widely known.”

It seems that some people fulfil their curiosity just by touching or experiencing only the atmosphere of the unknown culture. I believe the wrongly mimicked cultures make people uneasy or to some extent sad since to them, it may mean to them that foreigners do not really have interest and understanding to their culture. Mimicry may be a first step to knowing the new culture; however, stopping at the stage of mimicry strikes people as incongruous. This sense is similar to when your name is wrongly remembered. You know that the person did not purposely misremember the name, but you still feel some uneasiness. Curiosity helps people to hold interest into cultures they have never practiced. Meanwhile, small curiosities may lead to misunderstanding or wrong practices of certain cultures.