The book “What is Japan doing” was written by A. Kleiva: “Both Lithuania and Japan are slow-living consuming countries”
“We no longer see the beauty of a person in instant beautiful words, but we notice it with increased confidence and respect. I feel that Lithuania and Japan are long-lived consuming countries, that’s why they look for and notice the same years in both art and relationships”, says ANDRIUS KLEIVA, who has lived in Japan for five years, presenting the second book “What is Japan doing”.
The book “What Japan is doing” was born out of observing the everyday life of societies living on the other side of the planet. This is definitely not an all-explaining story about the country, but a collection of small things about the best everyday, even readers who have no feelings for Japan will first see themselves and their relationships with other people here. Of course, this is also a look at a place where you will hardly get there, and when you get there, you will not understand much. To a Japanese funeral. To a Japanese medical facility. Here are stories about how the Japanese look at food and what they eat. What do they believe and why? How do you choose housing and what are the characteristics of a Japanese neighborhood. How Japanese people work and what they do when they have free time.
“I would take the courage to respond to Japan from Lithuania not tomorrow, but today, right now.” Japan has an insane amount of talent, but often lacks the willingness to take risks, so the results are assured, but late. And I would bring to Lithuania more concerns and understanding for others. The Japanese perceive themselves as members of a large society, so they unite very quickly for help or compassion,” says A. Kleiva.
The author will fly to the Vilnius book fair to present the book “What’s happening in Japan”, and while waiting for live meetings, A. Kleiva told a little about the book and Japanese everyday life.
Your first book, How Japan Works, got a lot of attention from readers asking where to buy this out-of-print book, and here you are back with a new book, How Japan Works. The title kind of suggests that it’s more of a look from the inside out and in?
When I wrote the first book, both to understand how Japan affects everyone and to describe it there. It encouraged hurrying, constantly looking for new adventures, topics, unknown people, places and constructing the panorama of the country. When you see the country from above, you can only see the smallest details. Some realities are not noticed, some people are not met, until the country becomes your own everyday life, when you no longer have time and fuss, looking for dramas, you just wake up in the morning, have lunch and end the day with the inhabitants of that country.
My second book is the result of almost five years of everyday life. It features themes, places, and people that come together through natural coincidences. The texts are not so much observing Japan as telling along with it.
In the introduction to the book, it is mentioned that basically this book is a look at the same everyday life, only on the other side of the world. So this is for those who even have feelings for Japan. Are those everyday joys and worries similar on both sides of the world?
People often do not dare to be interested in Japan, because they feel all the distance, Japan seems strange and inaccessible. Such an impression is formed through limited images that highlight the most dramatic moments of everyday life: streams of people in crosswalks, neon-lit streets, forests of skyscrapers, animation and fans madly in love with it. I want to look more human. Instead of looking at the differences, I wanted to see what we had in common. Instead of talking about the strange sides of Japan, I wanted to consider why they are not strange to the Japanese themselves.
When you calmly look at the same things that Lithuanians live with every day – from a reliable real estate agency, pain hospital queues to real estate searches – it’s easier to identify and understand each other. To write that book with exactly the same topics for Japan about Lithuania can be surprising. I have no doubt that readers will think about this: many things to us who spend our days here seem boring and ordinary, but when viewed through the eyes of a Japanese person, they are interesting and unexpected.
In Japan, it is appropriate to wear a pearl necklace at a funeral, and it is simply disrespectful to be without makeup in public – “What Japan” includes everyday details. You also talk about how Japanese society is changing, but as I understand it, it is a society where a lot of rules and norms are respected. How faithful are the Japanese today to those everyday traditions, and how many dare to break them?
It really depends on which way you look at it: not all habits in Japan are seen as uncomfortable rules that you really want to break. it is often perceived as respect for the environment. Pearls and black tie at funerals, frequent thanks, apologies, different bows, going to the temple during the new year have become a natural part of life and no one doubts it. However, the rules that limit human individuality and freedom of expression are increasingly being questioned by young Japanese.
I have a high school friend who takes swimming. The chlorine lightened his black hair a bit, and a school representative told him to go back to his dark hair color. A few decades ago, such requirements would have been enforced as a matter of course, now with consideration as to why. International companies such as Starbucks also contributed to this. This is rewarded with almost complete freedom in matters of hair, clothing and accessories for free, which has caused a lot of debate in Japanese society. In Japan, such changes take time, but it is good that they do not happen.
In the book, I ask my clients – women living in Lithuania, so I also want to ask – if there was no need to bring one thing from Japan to Lithuania, what would it be? And a little.
I would take the courage to respond to Japan from Lithuania not tomorrow, but today, right now. Japan has an insane amount of talent, but often lacks the willingness to take risks, so decisions are sometimes made only after a few years. The result is assured, but sometimes delayed.
I would bring more concerns and understanding to others from Japan to Lithuania. The Japanese perceive themselves as members of a large society, so they are very quick to unite for help or sympathy.
What still surprises you about Japan? What is so far more difficult to understand, what to get used to?
I’m not surprised and I’m used to it, but still, a person often tries to avoid directness and constant attempts to understand what the other person is thinking. Business meetings often end without a clear result, dates without understanding what the person sitting in front of you is thinking. Hasty decisions and statements raise suspicions, so a lot of patience is needed: everything must flow slowly but surely.
What do you miss most about Japan?
This is the easiest question. Cheap fruit! The Japanese look at me with tragic faces when I tell them how in the summers I used to pick strawberries in my grandmother’s garden, write down apples and eat them until I hated them. For the Japanese, fruits are jeweled desserts created by nature, because there is no place for them in the country, and those that are grown are held to the highest standards of taste and appearance. Therefore, a small packet of strawberries during the season can cost 8 euros, one apple – 1 euro, and the fruits used to decorate cakes are cut as thin as cured ham.
In the book, I found the idea of a businesswoman who sells Lithuanian products in Japan very interesting, that the character of Lithuanians is balanced to the Japanese – she thinks that Lithuanians are helpful, but keep aloof, too unobtrusive. Then I remembered how the Japanese who came to Lithuania are interested in Čiurlionis, and I thought, what is it that works here, that people who live on different sides of the world find something in common, feel something important in the works of a person who created in another part of the world? You must have wondered about this while living in Japan?
It is difficult to explain it with specific numbers or facts, but it seems to me that both Lithuania and Japan feel the same way. When we come to the forest, we feel its peace, we don’t just see rows of ordinary trees. We don’t see the beauty of a person mainly in instant beautiful words, but we notice it with a grown-up trust and respect. I feel that both Lithuania and Japan are slow consuming countries, so they look for and notice the same things in art and in relationships.
In the book, there are interesting people – a family that has been nurturing tea while talking for several generations, a businesswoman who sells Lithuanian goods in Japan, a girl who worked in a night bar. I read these conversations with pleasure and ease, but surely they cost you a lot, both financially and emotionally, because in order to gain a person’s trust and talk in Japan, I understand that there are many more barriers? You even got stuck on one island for a few days.
In Japan, as in Lithuania, the greatest distance between people should not be measured in kilometers, but in psychological barriers that need to be overcome. Looking for bureaucratic answers will get you through those psychological barriers the same day without a problem. But if you want people to agree to talk to you, it is very difficult to get involved, and sometimes with painful questions, and sometimes to the house and garden, to allow you to take photos and all this in a book with a few convenient copies for Lithuania, one message or call will not be enough.
In order to reduce the distance, you have to put yourself – your belief, money, time – in the background. It wasn’t always easy to understand how to get there, it wasn’t always easy to get the forks for waiting, to forget your opinion, and you want to return from that island as soon as possible. But very interesting thoughts found their way into the next book, and I still communicate with almost all the heroes of the book as very close friends.
Has Japan become your home yet?
During my five years in Japan, I completely lost the feeling that I had moved and lived somewhere else. Life here is a continuous sequence of several coincidences. Who knows what randomness awaits next. I think about Lithuania constantly and am looking for ways to keep in touch. I am sure that even without living in the country I will find a way to bring the experience back.