Thursday, May 29, 2008

Notes from Japan 1 - Skinship

As you know I lived in Japan for two years and it has massively affected my gaming style and fashion. Today I want to talk to you about one of the most powerful words I learned during my time in Japan. Skinship: Human to human touch. In Japan there is a great deal of emphasis placed on this. And it is sorely lacking in most western cultures....

My first day in Japan I saw teenage boys lying across each other, massaging each other, and hugging each other. My first thought was that all of Japan is gay. In fact, it's nearly the opposite. The standard assumption is that men are not gay, therefore they can really express themselves with non-sexual touch. The Japanese have realized that as humans we crave skin on skin contact. There is far more physical openness as all Japanese go to onsen, or public bathhouses, and bathe in public in the nude.

Im the western world there has been a steady decline in human to human contact for centuries. First men stopped touching women as form of sexual repression. Then men stopped touching men as a way of suppressing their homosexuality, even when they were straight. If you notice, often when girls see each other they run up and hug. If two men did the same thing, we would immediately think they are gay. Only recently did I start to question the logic in this. I knew two naturals, who hugged each other every time they saw each other and said something emotional and kind. It's really powerful. I started to emulate them as I wanted to improve my game. Just last night, a guy I'm friends with was over with my house mate. I walked in on them chilling in my house mates room at about 1am, super drunk. My friend tried to shake my hand and I said I don't think so and hugged him. He was hesitant for a second, but then he almost broke my back with a long strong hug. As soon as I made it ok for him to express skinship, he expressed a lot more than me.

In Japanese culture there is a great deal of emphasis placed on the greater good, which I will explore in another article. People express skinship in their relationships as a way of being there for each other. It's a way of giving value. This is something very valuable, that I think we would do well to bring into our society. I often quote the powerful line from Tommy Boy "Brothers don't shake hands, brothers hug!"

When I first started this whole thing, I really freaked out about kino, like everybody else. But not-kinoing is more unnatural. There are a million non-sexual ways to give people physical affirmation. I decided that I wanted to be a guy who has a lot of touch in his life, so that kino will just be congruent. So I touch men and women. I hug girls in set constantly, and not just my target. The new centerpiece of my theory is that of giving out as much value as possible. I want everyone to feel better after they meet me, and for some deep reason, hugs make us feel better.

There are hundreds of articles on how important touch is for babies. Babies that don't get a ton of touch from their mothers right from birth often have massive psychological issues. There are a ton of studies you can read on google scholar about effect of gentle human touch (GHT) on infants. As we grow our needs do not change. I try to hug all of my friends and I am trying to increase the amount in my life. Often we can go through an entire day without actually touching another person, this is so common in big cities and a massive part of why people can feel lonely surrounded by other people.

Japanese people have higher levels of skinship because people just aren't as worried about seeming gay. We could learn a lot from this. I am sure I'm not gay, so I should be able to have tons of non-sexual touch with my friends. I will close by relating one final story. One of my favorite students at a school where I struggled most days was a sweet 14 year old girl. One day she saw me during lunch time and ran at me to hug me. I pulled back, because in America it's really inappropriate for a male teacher to hug a female student. Her feelings were really hurt. My refusing to touch her in a way acceptable in her society really hurt her feelings. I denied her skinship and it changed our relationship drastically in class from that point on.

So in conclusion, our mindset shouldn't be to only touch people for the purpose of sexual escalation. Touch should just be part of our lives, how we give affirmation. Touch is a massive part of how we communicate. Then it will naturally flow that when you are communicating sexually, your touch-based communication will go along with it naturally.

Skinship (スキンシップ) is a wasei-eigo, or a Japanese word coined using English root origins, initially to describe the closeness between a mother and her child due to the physical contact of their skin. Skinship develops through breastfeeding, co-sleeping, baby massage or simply by carrying and holding your baby.


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