Expectations can make or break success. Tokyo relies on some of the most amazing stereotyped PR of high expectations called “Kodawari” to stay as one of the most beloved cities to visit, and one of the most amazing places to find fashion in the world. But what happens when the bar is set so high and expectations for even the smallest thing are not exactly met? Commence…”volcanic irritation”!
世界に通じにくい “こだわり” にこだわるには？
You know “sushi” but do you know “kodawari”? 世界的に”すし”は通じるのに、”こだわり”はまったく通じない picture by Andrew Archer
In relation to living in Tokyo is this silly story. I was on my way to Europe last week and I needed to rent a personal wi-fi device at Narita airport. I went up to the counter and asked the staff if they had a wi-fi device for me to rent. “No, miss, we do not have any available devices for Europe at this time.”
I was pissed. >_>
Not because they didn’t have the wi-fi device, but because she didn’t say “Sorry” profusely enough to me. And with no smile! There was no “genki”(energy) in her interaction with me either. And I found it rude enough to lodge itself into my brain. “Is it because we are at the airport? What’s going on? Have we left Japan already and I didn’t notice?”
But that’s only because I was in Tokyo, and I was speaking in Japanese, and I had certain expectations with how our interaction would go. If she was speaking to me in English it probably wouldn’t have even registered in my mind (and I wouldn’t be writing a thousand words on it)…but I expected her to “Kodawaru” in her apology. “Kodawari” is a national pastime as well as a source of pride for Japanese. And for good reason, too, as it’s a concept that doesn’t translate well because our culture (*cough* mine at least) sucks at it, for the most part.
It’s wonderful because it’s thoughtful and passionate and pure. But it has its caveats. There’s a certain switch in my brain that goes from “expectations for Japanese” and “everything else”. When the train is late in New York or London, it’s “Annoying. Whatever”. When it’s one minute late on the Yamanote line, I’m into full-on irritation mode, “I timed my arrival to this train, what is going on, why haven’t they announced that the train is late, what is this place coming to, am I going to have to break out the apologies to the person I’m meeting for being a few minutes late? But I was on TIME, UNACCEPTABLE! ”
And that’s not just me being sensitive. It’s a cultural norm of Japan that has somehow ingrained and imprinted itself onto me as well, and something that is not so easily switched off. After all, Japan highly prides itself on perfectionism (though kodawari which has no negative anal-ish connotations that perfectionism has…technically). And when those expectations aren’t met, it’s weird.
Fashion brand Anrealage’s “kodawari” is not something many can challenge and win アンリアレイジらしいこだわりは期待させられるーー
It goes both ways though, in that this perfectionism/kodawari is the best PR a country could ever have. When we speak about Japanese fashion, it may be too minimalist, too avantgarde, too colorful, too commercial, or too beautiful….but it ALWAYS has “kodawari”. That is the expectation, and that’s what you get. It is high-quality and it’s on time. But the kodawari often gets in the way of getting things done because once it’s broken, the whole chain falls apart.
For example, there’s a lot of red-tape to go through before a decision can be made. Meetings last forever (and there are SO many!). They expect perfection so they would rather not have a brand website at all than a makeshift one. Or they will have to acquiesce to the process of politeness of a collaborator so much that the final product fails to wow- in this, the process becomes more important than the result which I find to be a the largest hindrance of raising Japanese designers’ profiles. The PR system in Tokyo often follows this principle, which is why every brand must hire local PR or attache de presse since the system works so differently here. Kodawari is in the process in as much as the result, for better or worse.
In fashion in Japan, kodawari is seen in the level of details in the clothing, the textiles, and the concept of a collection. I noticed that not only does every single collection for every season from a Japanese designer has a “theme”, that is sometimes a bit too much..too cerebral…sometimes unnecessary In fact, sometimes the theme is more important to the designer than the actual collection. Or is it just me?! Also, many Japanese will even have a “theme” for their outfit for their day. When street photographers ask you for your “outfit theme” you better have one ready. Like, “prairie space girl” or “zookeeper” (real themes I’ve seen printed.) I have a feeling that this type of KODAWARI and obsession with themes is why Rei Kawakubo *never* gives a theme for her collections. As anti establishment she is and growing up in Japan, it makes perfect sense!
Kodawari should certainly be the next word to enter the English language. It’s subconscious perfectionism, and it is as much a reflex as a bow. It’s impressive in it’s passion. It’s a blue star on the Japanese culture report card. It’s a somewhat hard conept to translate, but it works on both sides of the coin. Just know that when something in Japan seems to be taken a bit extreme even if it’s infinitesimal overall, it is the work of kodawari at play, and you (and I) would benefit to play nice with it back and take the best parts in.
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One reply on “よくもわるくも日本独特の “こだわり”について外国人はどう思う Kodawari should be the next word to enter English”
While I believe that this articles does point out many valid ideas, I was surprised that the phrase “being particular” has not been mentioned as a possible English translation of “kodawari.” I feel that this phrase does not have as much of a negative connotation compared to the other examples you mentioned and is perhaps the most suitable English translation that we have for now.