In Japanese class a while ago an especially perceptive student gave a very interesting presentation relating his day visit to a US military base in Japan.
First, some background information about the military bases. The military bases in Japan are like little oasises of “American-ness”. The bases are designed so that the cultural differences of Japan, or other aspects of the foreign environment will not hinder the crews or their families ability to perform their duties, or live abroad for extended periods of time. This makes sense, as you could imagine the protest if an American service man had to tell his wife and three kids that they were leaving their two-story town house to go live in a cramped Japanese apartment.
The military is of course funded by the government, so they have ample budget to make things just right. The bases are so molded to perfection that they have large American sized houses, big front lawns, driveways, shops that sell large shoe sizes, and even fast food shops that are not found anywhere else in Japan. Supermarkets with hugs isles and cereal, Cheese Nips, and even Vanilla Wafers are readily at hand. The illusion of a “generic” America is recreated as authentically as humanly possible. I have heard that it would be entirely possible to spend all of your time on the base, without really noticing that the base was in Japan.
The real point of my friends presentation however, was that as many Americans who have traveled around the States know, America is very different from state to state. Even though the base was modeled after “the United States”, it apparently felt artificially plastic phsyically, and gave him a feeling of uneasiness. Rather than the expected familiarity with the “American” surroundings, instead he felt like he had left Japan, only to visit another, strangely familiar yet strangely foreign country.
Not only the base itself, but the people he met there, according to my friend, had a very different feel from most of the other foreigners he knows in Japan… Which would be largely the students at IUC. Personally I feel this goes without saying however. The students at IUC are mostly graduate students, have chosen to live in Japan, and study Japanese. The people on the base are usually younger, likely are just on tour and had no say in which country they would be sent to, and either are not studying Japanese, or only studying it as part of their assignment. Of course, on both sides of the fence there are bound to be exceptions.
I wonder what it is like to live on the bases as a military person. I heard from one military guy I met on a train, that they literally are not told where they are going until they hit land. Then it’s off the boat, and onto the base. Of course they are allowed to leave the base and explore Japan on their own, though I have no idea what restrictions they have, if any.
I also wonder if the US military bases around the wold are all pretty much modeled in the same way. Do the military personel have a strong feeling of the identity of the nation they are in as they hop from Disney-fied base to Disney-fied base?
I dunno. I guess I will have to make an excuse to get down and visit a base sometime before I leave Japan. It’s almost amazing that I have been here for almost 5 years now and never experienced it for myself.
Anyway, any thoughts on this?