Friday, October 7, 2011

International House of Me

Let's start with a disclaimer: I have never been to a World's Fair in any other country. I was not alive for St. Louis, Chicago, Paris, London, New York, or any of the other events where nations from around the globe spent huge sums on temporary structures to show off some innovation of often dubious interest or value to all but the most dedicated fans of said nation (or drunk people, let's not forget those stalwarts of indiscriminate opinions). So let me say that the following commentary on the only such event I have ever been to is made in somewhat of a bubble.

The other day I was scanning back through old photos from a life back when I carried about 15 pounds less on my frame and considered my personal level of awesome to be a bit higher. I like to use nostalgia as a form of self-flagellation. One event I was scanning through was the Aichi Banpaku (Banpaku = exposition, Aichi = Nagoya = Japan's 3rd largest city that you have possibly never heard of, but is the source of the Canadian accents in the Japanese dub of South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut - use that fun fact at your next cocktail party to guarantee you will be found repulsive to the opposite sex - Japanalog: your personal digital contraceptive).

Where were we...oh, yes. So I was looking at pictures of the Aichi Expo from 2005.

Now in Japan, this expo was a pretty big event. There was a clock in Osaka near the main station counting down the days. There were daily news updates on the construction, and once open, on the attendance. There were features and every TV show worth its salt did some special episode from there. There were also two green balls of lint serving as mascots.

remember someone was paid a assload of money to create these two turds who resemble nothing more than a pair of moldy toilet scrubbers

They were green because they were ecological and friends of the Earth. The whole event was called Aichi-kyu - a clever portmanteau of Aichi (the prefecture) and Chikyu (Earth) where the "Ai" of Aichi means "love" so the name was "Love the Earth" - And nothing says that like creating 490 acres of temporary structures. While (in their defense) the structures were carefully constructed to be made of recycled and recyclable materials, the approximately 7 trillion pieces of merchandised Morizo and Kiccoro crap including (but not limited to) keychains, cellphone straps, plastic hand-fans, towels, plastic figurines, medallions, T-shirts, lanyards, ashtrays, hats, sweat bands, CDs, featuring the expo theme-song 'I'll be Your Love', enema kits, condoms, make-up cases, pencil cases, watches, eye masks, slippers, vibrators, cigarette cases, flasks, home poker kits, pens, pencils, laptop bags, stuffed dolls, pillows, throat lozenges, tampons, pneumatic drills, pruning shears, and asshole detectors (only half of that list was made up) are all most certainly sitting at the bottom of a landfill, or (given that this is Japan) currently floating around the atmosphere as particulate matter after being burned (most trash here is burned).

But I didn't start this post to rip on two fictitious blobs with lots of fur and little in the way of gender, I wrote it because of one particular photo I came across:

Where to begin...
At first count, your "world" restaurant has skipped four of the six inhabited continents, and four of the five restaurants are from the same part of one continent, while the fifth covers about 20 different types of countries and arguably an equal number of styles of cuisine. Furthermore, one of these, "Southeast Asian", covers an additional 15 or so.

The problem here is that while Japan is obsessed with the idea of "International" (the word is common enough that the English loan word (Intanshyanaru インタナショナル) is as understood as the native word "kokusai" 国際), they tend to do a much better job of slapping it on to any sign or business name they can find than of actually creating anything that begins to live up to the idea of internationalism.

No dusty hamlet of slack-jawed troglodytes is too small to be without some International Friendship Center or some such named heap of concrete and tax-payer funded waste. And any organization or group looking to add a little clout to their status can up the ante by slapping either word to their name.

A recent walk brought me to the Kobe International Friendship Whatever, which had a nice little cafe set up. This was a cafe serving "International Fare" which consisted of one set lunch from Honduras, three kinds of spaghetti (including one with a pollack roe sauce in the traditional not-Italian-at-all style), and a bunch of rice bowls and tonkatsu dishes. In other words, of 20 dishes on the menu, 15 were distinctly Japanese (or Japanese versions of western food that are served almost exclusively in Japan). And remember, this was at a cafe that specifically billed itself as 'international'.

There are International events where the Japanese/Non-Japanese ration is somewhere around 100:1, and in Kobe there is the International Center which has nothing more international than a Starbucks.

Now - definite "A" for effort on Japan's part. But in execution we are approaching a "D+" at best. Sure, you beat out North Korea for 'more non-native residents', but they regularly broadcast news reports that the other nations of Earth vanished in a cloud of jealousy once those countries realized how freaking awesome Kim Jong Ill was, all while only allowing most foreigners to visit under the strict guidance of two human smoke-stacks who bring you from one nationalist pile of concrete to the next in the deluded hope that you will spontaneously adopt the principle of Juche or self-relience (side note: Juche is the principal that basically allows the government to deny assistance from any outside source, the same way a drunkard who has passed out into a concrete sidewalk can spit out enough blood and tooth to declare "I'm good!" to concerned passers-bye).

When you are barely beating North Korea at anything, it is time for a good hard look in the mirror.

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