|LIFE IN JAPAN
Cultural Event Producer and Editor of OAG
Time in Japan:
8.5 years, on and off
Where are you from?
What brought you to Japan?
A woman. Actually, I was born here but raised in Switzerland. My family had a lot of
connections with Japan so I was always curious about it. I started studying Japanese in
Zurich but you can' really learn the language outside, so I came to Tokyo for two years.
Tokyo was quite different then, being the end of the bubble era and all. After going back
and living in London, my girlfriend, who was Japanese, came back so I came with her.
What is OAG?
OAG is, I think, the second oldest shadanhojin (incorporated association) in
Japan. It was started in 1873 by German diplomats and merchants who were living in Edo and
Yokohama. They started by saying "We have a knowledge base here, let's put our
knowledge together and form a loose social group," which also engaged in scientific
or semi-scientific research on Japan; it was the only written source in German about
Japan. What we do today is pretty much the same: We have cultural events for German
speakers. We call ourselves the German East Asiatic Society but it's more true to say
we're the German-speaking East Asiatic Society because many Swiss-Austrians and Japanese
are members. We organize events, lectures, exhibitions, concerts, symposiums, seminars,
parties, and publish books on anything from sumo to courtesans.
What do you do?
I edit the monthly members' magazine called OAG Notizen. When I started it had
only 10-15 pages and now it has 80. It has articles by people who write about Japan, and
information on upcoming events. I also maintain our website, deal with member queries,
ranging from someone asking for a German pediatrician to someone asking where they can
study ikebana. We also maintain a library that boasts 4500 books in German and English
about Japan and East Asia, some of them old and rare. Although it's a membership system,
the events are open to anyone who's interested.
Are there any branch offices?
We have one in Kobe which organizes similar programs.
What do you like about Japan?
The people, which is usually the standard answer, but the people here never cease to amaze
me. Many say that Tokyo is less friendly but just the other day, I went to Akihabara
because I had forgotten how to set my timer on my stereo and could not find the manual. As
soon as I explained the problem to the shop assistant, he ran off and disappeared. He came
back ten minutes later and had not only copied the relevant parts of the manual but had
also stapled them together and reinforced some of the paper. I was overwhelmed because I
know that this would never happen anywhere else in the world.
What was your weirdest experience in Tokyo?
I was on an early Sunday morning train from Saitama back into Tokyo and I saw a guy pee.
There was an office lady, he and I in the car. This elderly gentleman, who for some reason
was wearing rubber boots, stood up and started peeing all over the place! The weirdest
thing was that the lady in front me saw what was happening but she just glanced at him and
went right back to reading her newspaper as if this sort of thing happens all the time!
First he peed facing the door, then he saw the ventilation slits under the chair and aimed
for them. Then he sank back into his seat, where he peed as if nothing had ever happened.
What's your recipe for a happy life in Japan?
Make an attempt to learn the language. If you live in Tokyo and have a busy schedule, try
to get out of Tokyo as much as possible. Use the opportunity to learn from the things you
see and experience. Don't judge or use your own value system.
Konrad Muschg spoke to Maki Nibayashi.
Do you know an
interesting person in Tokyo? If so, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org