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A Rare Mea Culpa

Anyone who knows me, knows that I don’t apologize.  For almost anything.  Even if I’m wrong, I take it as a learning experience and consider that I was making the best judgement, decision, or what-not that I could have made at the time.  Apologizing only seems to feed the monster these days, so I just don’t do it.  Even if I’m wrong, I don’t do it.

But I’m going to come a bit closer than usual, today.

I have a weakness, or a flaw.  Okay, I have plenty, but this is one of my big ones.  When I am faced with a social situation I don’t understand and am not comfortable with, I pull back.  This pulling back usually manifests as withdrawing myself as much as I can from the situation and starting to analyze the everloving shit out of it.

Let’s say, for example, that somehow I was roped into attending a Babymetal concert.  I would definitely not be comfortable in this kind of a situation, so I would probably just stand there, my arms folded, and watch what everyone else was doing.  My mind would start to deconstruct everything they were doing, go into the societal motivations for why they were doing what they were doing, and probably go really deep down a rabbithole where I’d probably conclude I was watching a nascent religion or something.  This is a very common thing for me to do, and if I am in any situation where people around me are being social or having any kind of irrational fun, you’ll probably catch me slipping into it.  You could tell because I’m standing or sitting there with my arms folded, probably a pretty damn pissed off look on my face, and a very, very calculating look in my eyes.

But, in said concert, the outcome would be that they would be having fun, and I would not, and ultimately, not only would I not be having fun, I’d have pretty much deconstructed all the reasons why they think they’re having fun, concluded that they’re idiots, and walked out because I got disgusted with the whole thing.

My analyses are often correct, honestly.  They’re correct, but they’re not useful.

Okay, so that’s the preface.  Now on to the point.

I think I have made a mistake in my assessment of Japan and Japanese people.

It’s a little complicated why I think this, but I’ll try to go into it.

I have a friend from Africa, and have heard other stories of third world countries, and the one thing that I’ve noticed about all third world countries seems to be this:  the good tends to be very good, and the bad tends to be very bad.  By which I mean, you will meet some of the nicest, friendliest, most wonderful people in third world countries.  They have very little, but will share everything they have.  They have the strongest faith, are the most grounded people you’ll ever meet.  But on the other side of the coin, you’ll meet the worst people too.  Dictators, cartel kingpins, gangsters…  all the different types of unsavory people you can think of, you’ll meet, and there are very little constraints on their actions.  You’re very close to raw human nature in a third world country in ways you are not in first world countries.  In first world countries, behavior is regulated, everyone participates in a single economic system, etc.  Basically the bad in humanity is truncated and regulated…  and so is the good.

I am not making a judgement so much as an observation.  America, for example, is the pinnacle of a first world country, and it is a very difficult country to live in, for exactly this reason.  You are reasonably safe in most places of being able to walk down the street without being mugged (in most places), you’re not likely to get diseases from bad food or water, etc.  But on the other hand, people are also muted in the other direction as well.  They’re not as nice, they’re not as giving, they’re not as amazing as people from a third world country can be.

I have stated repeatedly that I think there is a darkness in Japan, and it pervades their culture.  And I still think that, to a point.  As I learned about their culture, I honed in on their darknesses.  Their karooshi, suicide forest, depression, forced conformity, etc.  I honed in on it and they, rightly, disgusted me.  I always was careful to say that theirs is also a beautiful culture, but the darkness in their culture subsumed my perception of it, to the point where I didn’t even want to visit.  And I think I was picking up on something that I hadn’t quite been able to express.

Japan is only in some ways a first world country.

Now, again, I’m not judging.  I’m just observing.  What I mean by that is,  Japan is undoubtedly a technologically advanced country.  Their manufacturing and intellectual prowess is world renowned, and absolutely rightfully so.  They have amazing public works, and their people enjoy generally a very high quality of life.  But they haven’t entirely lost their feudal history.  In some ways they haven’t gotten past their medieval samurai roots.  This is a kind of “third world” mentality, and I mean this in both the best and worst ways.  They are some of the most polite and most amazing people you’ll meet anywhere.  But on the other hand, they also can be the most cruel.

Now, what’s my point in saying this?  My point is that I did the same thing with Japan that I did with the aforementioned hypothetical Babymetal concert.  I encountered a situation I was not comfortable with – namely, Japan’s (in some ways) less (or differently, perhaps) regulated culture that is similar to a third world country’s in some important ways.  It made me uncomfortable.  So instead of accepting it for what it is, I did what I always do.  I pulled back, and started analyzing it.  And as I did so, I pulled back further, and Japan became more of an intellectual pursuit to me than a culture full of people.  Maybe in some ways I even understand them better than they understand themselves (and maybe not, but it’s possible) but at the end of the day, they are off being Japanese and I’m standing there, with my arms folded, studying them.

When you study someone, you aren’t treating them like people.  You’re treating them like a thing, to be analyzed, dissected, understood, but never known.

And that is where I failed.

I’m not apologizing, because this is how I am.  I’m also not sure I’ll be able to ever fix this about myself, because people in general make me uncomfortable.  But I will acknowledge that this is not at all helping with my studies of Japan, Japanese, and its culture.  In fact, it’s very possible it’s damaged those pursuits incalculably.  And for that, I can only say, mea culpa.  My fault.

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