Guilt

Somewhere around 25 years ago, in a college somewhere in the American Midwest, I sat on a hideously yellow or orange sofa in the middle of a Performing Arts building. I was approached by an American Indian/Native American/First Nation/Whatever They Call Themselves Now person asking me to donate to some cause for American Indian rights, or some such. He tried to play the guilt card, about how his people have historically been oppressed.

Let me stop right here and say: they have. That’s really not in doubt, and not going to be the point of this post. I’m going somewhere else with this.

I told him, basically, “So what am I supposed to do about it? I didn’t do anything to you!”

He was pretty clearly offended by that, but I didn’t care. Both statements were true. His people have been historically oppressed, and I didn’t do it.

Now, 25 years later, they would probably call that “white privilege” or something else nonsensical and try to make me feel guilty. I’d certainly have been called to task by a “Bias Response Team” and forced to write a “sincere” apology. Which, of course, I wouldn’t do.

But I don’t. I don’t at all feel guilty. I’m not actively oppressing anyone, I have no desire to actively oppress anyone, and I utterly refuse to allow someone to make me feel guilty for something I haven’t done. I understand that some people will say “but you’re an oppressor just for being <insert race/religion/sexual orientation/planetary citizenship here>” – I reject that, and that’s all there is to say about that.

The Japanese people have done some really horrid things in their recent past. You’ve got the conquering of Korea, the Nanjing Massacre, the War of the Pacific, Pearl Harbor, etc. The Imperial army was feared for their cruelty.

And they no longer exist. They haven’t for years. Nearly all of them are dead. Their children have no memory of those days. Anyone who does is at least seventy years old.

Should they feel guilty?

I can’t answer that. I’m not Japanese. But I don’t think I would. After all, I had nothing to do with it, and I’m not responsible for what my ancestors did. At some point you just have to kind of let it go, accept that where things are is where things are, and move forward without either guilt or recrimination. Forgiveness is one thing when it’s directed at someone who did something to you. But it costs little to nothing if it’s directed at someone who didn’t.

Normalcy

In the cult I grew up in, throughout my childhood, there were some very strict expectations about how one was to behave. One was always to behave in an “upright” manner – to be honest, the ideas of tatemae and honne are not really all that foreign to me, as I lived that as a child. One was to be “in the world, but not of it”. Practically, this meant we had our own set of traditions. For example, we would celebrate a somewhat bastardized version of the Jewish Holy Days (though, in some ways, our celebrations were possibly more accurate than the actual modern Jewish celebrations).

But being in the world and not of it had consequences, and some pretty severe ones. While we did have our own set of traditions, we did not participate in the traditions of “the world”, which is what we called people who were not of our cult. There was no Halloween, no Christmas, no Easter, etc. In fact, our idea of “celebrating” Halloween was to turn off all the lights and hide in the bathroom so trick or treaters wouldn’t knock.

As a point of fact, we kind of viewed those of “the world” as beneath us. They were the lost ones, destined for the lake of fire unless they repented. Of course, repentance meant to join our cut, but that’s not the point. They were dead in our eyes, only meant to be our servants and people we interacted with when we needed something those in the church could not provide.

School was, thus, a lonely affair. I went, of course, as was mandated by law, and I learned voraciously. But when it came to interacting with the other children, well, it kinda didn’t happen. I was well liked by most of the teachers, because I was a “good boy” who never caused any trouble (in fact, I got away with some things I probably shouldn’t have!), but the students, for the most part, hated me.

Were they right to? No, of course not, but it was understandable. Children are very mean to that which they cannot relate to.

As a child. I did not have the tools to express how I felt about the situation, and for the most part I always put on a pretty happy face, but I didn’t like the situation at all. I learned to accept rejection, and I even learned to welcome it in a sense, but I never truly learned to like it.

In my pre-teens and very early teens, I was pulled out of school to be home-schooled. There were reasons for this. Some of them were okay reasons, but one of the reasons was because my parents feared that I was becoming too much “of the world”. Read: seeking a form of normalcy with the other students. So they ripped that out from under me. Along with some other family situations that were threatening to rip the fabric of reality out from under me, all hope for any kind of normalcy was lost. And I fell into a deep depression that, to be frank, I haven’t yet truly pulled out of.

I’m certainly not the only one with this kind of problem. Many different subcultures are based off of trying to find normalcy and acceptance with other people who have never found normalcy and acceptance. This, of course, leads to dysfunctional communities which promise acceptance but never deliver. I found myself bouncing around through a bunch of these communities, trying to find acceptance.

But it turns out the cult mentality does not just apply to religion.

Finally I gave up trying to find normalcy, and became something of a misanthrope. Deeply mistrustful of people, as in nearly all cases, the fact of rejection is not an “if”, but a “when”. I learned to embrace being a misfit, because it is easier and more fun to lob arrows from outside a community than inside one. I learned that becoming too invested in a community only ever leads to pain. I rather prefer to be the outsider, watching with as much disinterest as I can muster until I inevitably find the weak underbelly of that community, poke and prod at it, find it wanting, then leave. There’s always another community to poke and prod at.

I learn much about people, and frankly, little of it is positive. People are, often, terrible.

So let me be brutally honest: Japanese culture, and the rather annoying offshoots such as otaku and weeaboo culture, are an interesting thing to poke and prod at. I found the soft underbelly of otaku culture very quickly, and decided I really, really don’t like it. It’s dysfunctional, it’s obsessive, and it’s kind of annoying. And weeaboos are, somehow, even worse.

But Japanese culture is a little more iffy, if I’m to be frank. It’s admittedly very easy to find the soft underbelly of Japanese culture. I’m not sure if they’re aware of it or not, as they seem to have a huge cultural blind spot, but the deficiencies of that culture are all on display for the world to see. If I were to choose to poke and prod at it, I could find, and have found, some pretty horrible things.

But I keep going back to the fact that the soft underbelly goes both ways. They are also a particularly, and oddly, vulnerable and guileless culture, in some ways. They value and cherish innocence in a way that many other cultures don’t – and I mean real innocence, not the “hasn’t been porked” kind of western innocence. They don’t like to focus on the past, so much so that it’s actually more to their detriment. They seem to believe that being polite and nice is valuable in its own right, even if that means introducing a kind of darkness by denying their own individuality. You poke at their soft underbelly and you find – a soft underbelly.

Are they terribly xenophobic? Sometimes. Do they reject me by default simply because I’m gaikokujin? Almost certainly. Will I ever find community or normalcy in the arms of Japan? Never. But are there enough beautiful things to be found that I can give them a pass on some of their more awful tendencies?

I think so.

And that’s why I keep studying Japanese. Because otherwise, I have poked and prodded at their soft underbelly enough to have found their weaknesses and to find them wanting. If there weren’t something to still admire about their culture, I’d stop today. And, I guess, that’s something.

Mikan

Today, if this post goes how I think it will, we’re going to start with mandarin oranges and little Japanese children, and end up with deep philosophy.

Last night, I couldn’t sleep well, and the song “Mikan” by Morning Musume popped into my head. So I looked it up. Mikan turns out to mean, basically, “satsume”, or a type of mandarin orange. And if Wikipedia is to believed, which is usually isn’t, the song is a reference to Japanese childhood memories, of eating mikan next to a kotatsu.

Not gonna lie, that affected me a little.

See, here’s the thing. I have my own set of childhood memories. I’ve talked about a few of them here. Many of them are pleasant, most of them are vivid and all of them are intrinsic to what makes me, me. For example, I am pretty sure my love of music comes from the fact that the cult/church I grew up in was, even if incompetently, very music centric. Certain aspects of music got tied indelibly with certain very positive emotions, and I’m not sure that particular set of associations will ever be removed.

But I have no memories of eating mikan next to a kotatsu.

But many Japanese children do. They may have memories of going to festivals, and hearing the taiko drums and chants, or being dressed up in kimono and eating many delicious Japanese delicacies. They may have good memories of shougakko, and maybe have a fond memory of a teacher or two. Japanese children are as precious as American children, even if their memories are entirely different.

See, they wouldn’t understand mine, either.

I could play the hymn “Declare his Works to All Nations”, and nevermind Japanese folks, 99% of you wouldn’t know what is so powerful about it to me. Because it’s a childhood memory. As much as I resent and regret my time in the church, it’s special to me in its own way. Just as the different, vibrant colors of tulips and other flowers are, just as going to religious festivals in different resort towns are, just as… just as I look back in it and wonder where the vividness of the world went.

My mind has been turning to the idea of perception lately. Let me run through two different mental exercises with you. Let us say, first, that there is nothing but space. No stars, no matter, not even your body You are just nothingness floating in a sea of nothing. You can see, but what can you see? You can feel, hear, taste, etc., but what can you see, here, feel, taste, etc? There is nothing to perceive, so in a very real way, do you exist?

Let us say, secondly, that there is nothing at all. Not even space. You exist in a void, of which there is not even space. There is still nothing to perceive, so the question now, is: is there anything functionally different in existing in an endless void devoid of matter, or an endless void devoid of space itself? Perceptually, there would be no difference. You may exist, but there is nothing to the existence.

So then, it becomes clear that self-awareness, or in a real way, existence, only makes sense when it is reflected in the perception of an other.

I think this is, in a way, why the notion of little Japanese girls eating mandarin oranges next to a kotatsu affected me so much – well, apart from the fact that I’m switching medicines and am probably a little weepy to begin with. It’s because their experience is so different, and yet it is so much the same. I don’t remember that experience, because I didn’t have it. But I can imagine how… treasured…. it must be to those who actually have it. Such a simple thing. I remember eating cottage cheese salad on a summer day. It was very simple to make – just lettuce leaves, with cottage cheese and fruit on top, and pineapple juice. Nothing worth writing home about, but I liked it.

Such a simple thing, and I think, maybe the simplicity of being a child is where beauty is to be found.

We get so wrapped up in our own experiences, our own troubles, and sometimes even our own joys, that we forget how little meaning the have if they’re not shared.

Japanese Rail

After writing a post absolutely excoriating certain aspects of Japanese culture (and rightly so), maybe this is a good time to post about something I really love about Japan.

One of my favorite things to do of late, especially as I’ve been a little ill lately, is to watch YouTube videos of the Japanese rail system. No talking, no narration, just hours of trains going through the Japanese countryside and cityscape.

America really could never make such a system work. It’s simply too big. Even as we’re planning to build a shinkansen-style high speed rail in Texas, even that’s just from Houston to Dallas. Which, I suppose, is about the same distance (give or take) from Tokyo to Nagoya. That gives you an idea of the scale of America – just two cities within Texas are about a third of the distance throughout the entirety of Japan. Japan is a small, dense country. The United States is a very large, sprawling country

So I don’t think to myself “why does Japan get such a comprehensive rail system and we don’t?” I already know the answer. But that doesn’t mean I don’t absolutely love the Japanese rail system.

As a child, I used to be a roadgeek. Still am, to some degree. I would judge a city by two criteria: the size of its downtown, and the complexity of its freeway system. I few up in a city in Ohio that didn’t have much in the way of interesting roads, so I would love to go to places like Detroit or Cleveland that had cool roads and interchanges. The country has changed a lot lately, and we have taken to favoring aesthetics and social concerns over complexity and sheer impressiveness. I understand the reason for that, but something special has been lost. The cities in America just aren’t what they used to be.

Japan’s road and rail system still has some of the aesthetics of American cities that were list decades ago. Dense, narrow roads criscrossing all over each other. Rail stations, one after another, teeming with people. In densely populated areas like Shibuya and Shinjuku, the rail lines go underground, overground, left, right, crossing over and under, expresses, locals and even shinkansen jockeying for position and yet somehow managing to make it work with almost clockwork precision. It’s damned impressive. Here in America we have… Amtrak… and a few light rail and subway lines in cities that don’t even come close to the comprehensiveness of Japan’s rail system.

The sad thing was, at the turn of the 20th century, we were well on our way. We had streetcars and passenger rail systems that were the envy of the world. But auto manufacturers paid cities and states off to remove the rails, and switch to an automobile-based infrastructure. That’s why we have such good roads and such horrible rail.

Something was lost. But not in Japan. There, it’s still going strong.

I don’t know if I’ll ever go to Japan. It’s not looking good for that eventuality. But I can’t imagine not taking a Shinkansen across the country, hopping the enoden or the “romance line”, taking a rail line around Mt. Fuji, or even the nichinan line around the south of Japan. Seems like a fun thing to do.

Maybe someday.

Vivid

I have few clear memories of being a child, but the ones I do have have are extremely clear. I remember the vivid pastel colors of tulips, yellow, purple, violet, and red. I remember other flowers, and how perfectly vivid and beautiful they were. There are some small yellow flowers I remember on a berm near a religious site at either Wisconsin Dells or the Lake of the Ozarks. I remember a perfect blue sky with perfect puffy clouds. Even as a teenager, I remember a perfect crystal blue sky just as a cold front that had dropped rain all night was leaving. The memories are incredibly vivid, and one of the things I mourn – and I quite literally mean mourn – most in life is the fact that the vividness of childhood is gone. Nothing is ever, and maybe never will be again – as vivid as it is in my childhood memories.

I also mourn the fact that I was unable to appreciate them fully as they happened. Youth truly is wasted on the young, and the memories passed by, to be impressed indelibly on my psyche as something I had once, but didn’t know until it was too late.

This evening, I was watching a video of the Enoshima Electric Railroad. As it passed by the Sagami bay, I was struck by how vivid Japan seems to be. Maybe it’s just an artifact of the way the video is done, but there seems to be a quality to Enoshima that reminds me very much of some of the vivid experiences I had as a child. The sky was a perfect blue, the houses seemed a little run down but well taken care of, there was lush greenery and mountainous terrain everywhere, and it just felt a little like… like the vividness that I mourn for can be found there, at least a little bit.

I know it’s a pipe dream. I know that if I were to go there, the darkness would seep in and it would all be for naught. But I think this quality, above all else, is what attracted me to Japan (and hence Japanese) in the first place. It’s a vivid country. The highs are high, the lows are low, but the kami are strong there, and the care with which they interact with and work with their environment shows with a sensibility that America just doesn’t have – or maybe more accurately, lost. They don’t seek to dominate their land, they seek to coexist with their land. And I think the land respects them for it.

(Of course, major urban centers are the same everywhere… sprawl is, unfortunately, sprawl).

Japan has much to learn from us, but we have much to learn from Japan as well. I wish the vividness would return. I wish I could see the world with those same eyes that I saw as a child. Because, let me be honest, I think I have the same eyes. I think the mind is clouded.

Gimme Chocolate

The year is 1945.  Japan has been ravaged as a nation, and many of its larger cities have been bombed into an unrecognizable mess.  Hiroshima and Nagasaki’s core business districts are flattened wastelands of radioactive rubble, and hundreds of thousand of Japanese citizens have been killed.  Most of those citizens had nothing whatsoever to do with the war.  They were just living their live, and some politician somewhere decided they were going to go to war with the United States, as well as committing atrocities all over the pacific rim.

It was a difficult time.  The most hardship many in the US had to endure was some fear, economic hardship, and rationing.  The hardships those in Japan had to endure were… much worse.  Families were shattered, and children became orphans.  Or worse.

When the American servicemen came onto the shores of Japan, I’m sure they encountered many children who were in very bad shape.  They had lost their parents, may have been living in squallid conditions, and in a very real way, the same people who had been the day prior bombing the ever loving whatever out of their country were now their rescuers.   The servicemen had a difficult task ahead of them – to gain the trust of those who they had previously been enemies with.

I don’t know all the details of this time.  I’m not a WWII historian.  Frankly, I don’t think I could be.  It was a horrific time.  But after Japan was conquered, it became a time for peace, for reconciliation, and for reparation.

And the American servicemen brought chocolate.

The Japanese children didn’t know how to say much English.  In fact, I think it being “taught” in schools is very much a postwar thing.  But they learned how to say two words:  “gimme choco”.

See, the mind of a child, no matter what the nationality, is simple and uncluttered.  They did not understand war.  They did not understand what happened to their cities, or their parents.  But if you came to them offering to make their lives better – and with a little bit of luxury added on in the form of chocolate – the healing could begin.  We offered chocolate, and they learned that we had chocolate.  It didn’t make everything better, but it made things just a little better.

Adults deserve the consequences for what they do, but the children never do, and to their credit, the American servicemen understood this as well.  NO ONE likes to see children affected by a war, and those who do are sick indeed.

Babymetal is a “Kawaii Metal” band whose songs, well, pretty much everything about them, tends to be layered with many different levels of meaning, and their song “Gimme Chocolate” is one of them.  On the surface, it is simply a song about a girl wanting a little chocolate but is worried about her weight.

And then superimposed on that is onomatopaeia for machine guns.

Eighty years since, Japanese children say “gimme chocolate” not because they lost their home and parents, but because it tastes good, but they’re worried about their weight so they’re not sure whether or not they should have any.

The children of Japan in 1945 did not have this worry.  They had many more pressing things to worry about.

Eighty years later, few people live who remember those times.  Adults who are in their mid eighties might have been one of those children who shyly asked for chocolate in the only English they knew.

Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it.

I do hope that in the future, children continue to be able to ask for chocolate because they want it, not because it’s the only comfort they have.

War is hell.  It was hell on everyone involved, and it still is.  And the children, of any nationality or race, do not deserve to be exposed to it.  It is good that Babymetal, in their own inimitable style, has reminded the Japanese of that fact.  The American media is asleep at the switch.  They are openly advocating for war, both internal and external.  Perhaps there should be, as uncomfortable as it is, a reminder of the horrors of what they are attempting to unleash.

And maybe we should start with a small Japanese child, clutching a ragged stuffed animal, which is maybe the only thing she owns, asking a serviceman for chocolate.

For that is what war wreaks.

This was a very hard post to write.  I hope you get something from it.

Idols

My first real introduction to Japan and Japanese was through idol culture.  Morning Musume, to be precise.  So it’s no surprise that I’m unusually knowledgeable about the subject.  I can name quite a few idols from Morning Musume, AKB48, Sakura Gakuin, and a few others besides.  And those that I can’t name, I might be able to recognize.

I know about the scandals of both Sashihara Rino and Minegishi Minami, and how they resolved.  I know why those scandals occurred in the first place, and I understand some of the cultural context behind them.  I have a few posts on this blog, even, about my thoughts about some aspects of Idol culture.  I’m not always complimentary, but as it’s my first introduction to the culture, it’ll always hold a place in my heart when it comes to Japan.

But it’s not something I really understood.  I still don’t.  But after thinking about it, I think I understand a little better.

The thing I think many foreign otaku, and foreign fans that are not otaku (such as me) don’t really understand, is a very simple fact.  Us gaijin can keep up with idol culture, and they might even acknowedge and be appreciative of that, but at the end of the day, we are not the target audience.  Idol culture is Japanese.

Take, for example, the garish and gaudy costumes that they were.  AKB48 wears a colorful pastiche of a Japanese school uniform, and Morning Musume tends to wear outfits that hurt to look at.  But Japanese students wear very conservative and conformative school uniforms.  While those costumes are garish and over the top to our western eyes, to a Japanese eye, perhaps it is that very garishness that they like.  Because it is a slap in the face to conformity.

Celebrities in a culture often represent something to non-celebrities that the non-celebrities would like to emulate.  Sometimes they’ll even live vicariously through them.  Japanese idols are no exception.  They offer something to their fans that is otherwise lacking in their lives.  Something that we in the west only dimly understand.  Idols are very cheerful and energetic, and their youth is infectious.  These are things we in the west understand and appreciate.  But to a Japanese person – I get the impression that they are something more.  Perhaps an ideal Japanese person that they were always told existed, but never found outside the carefully crafted narrative of idol culture.

Of course that’s speculation.  I’m not Japanese.  But there’s a reason why so many otaku glom onto idols that they will never have even the slightest chance of exchanging more than one or two words with if they’re lucky.  And I think it’s a little more than just desperation.

I’m not sure the idols know exactly what they are to Japanese culture.  But I do think most of them understand what their role is. And for those who will “play ball”, it can be very lucrative.  After all, for the services celebrities offer, they are often extremely well paid.

It just needs to be understood that those services have little to do with what they’re actually getting paid for.

Racism and Leftism in Japan

I have been, for the most part, specifically avoiding this topic on this blog, and being very careful about how I engage with it elsewhere.  The environment right now is very toxic, and quite frankly, it’s not really on topic for this blog (or, if we’re to be honest, many of the other places it’s being discussed right now).  There’s a lot of virtue signalling going on right now – like, an almost intolerable amount of it, and I do not have any desire to get on that bandwagon.  Plus emotions are running very high, and it’s impossible to have a productive discussion on any topic when one or both sides are primarily driven by emotion.  Emotion is, by its very nature, irrational.

Unfortunately, a few days ago, it became topical for this blog.

Japan does not have the same kind of racial struggles that the United States does.  In actuality, our racial struggles are somewhat unique, as we have a history that many other countries do not have.  It is an unfortunate fact that, until somewhere around the mid 1850s, we were a country of people that kept slaves.

Even though the slaves were freed and no one currently living has any memory of either keeping saves or being kept as slaves, the consequences of that unfortunate fact continue to be felt.  Recently, because of some events in the news, this has come front and center in the consciousness of my country.  Some discussions that have been happening have been productive.  Some, unfortunately, have not.  And some have been violent, which should be in no way condoned, and it is one of the greatest failures of the leadership in my country – from local to national – that it has been tolerated as much as it has.

It is, however, an unfortunate fact that the discussion has been hijacked by those with an agenda that has nothing to do with furthering the discussion, and, instead, has everything to do with promoting other, very destructive, leftist “ideals”.  And that is being exported to other countries.  Like Japan.

Japan does not care about our racial struggles, nor should they.  As they have some struggles of their own that have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with hakujin or kokujin.  In fact, from what I can gather, they really can’t or won’t tell the difference in a very real way.  So us trying to import our particular brand of activism to their shores is not being taken very well.

I can’t say I blame them for that, to be honest.

But this exposes a different issue.

Japan does have racism, but it does not look like the racism that exists in my country.  As I said, it has nothing to do with “white” or “black”, but instead nihonjin and “everyone else”. This is very ingrained in their culture and has been for centuries.

Japan belongs to the Japanese – of course.  And far be it from me to be overly critical of their country when mine seems to be (almost literally, in some places), in flames.  It is, and should be, very offensive to the Japanese that some elements of my culture our trying to export our brand of activism to their shores.  On the other hand, racism in their country is very real as well, and I would hope that they would reflect on that fact.

I really, really would not like to see some kind of extreme activist movement popping up in their country and wreaking the kind of havoc that has been wreaked in mine.  Because the very justifiable offense of racism seems to have the unfortunate effect of opening a toehold into much more unsavory things that have nothing to do with racism and everything to do with an incursion of leftist ideology.  America is very robust against those kinds of incursions, as even with the full complicitness of the government and the media, it is being greatly resisted.  Because of the particular way that Japanese society is structured, I am not sure how resilient they would be to such a thing.

I hope, for their sake, that they can withstand the disruption that is almost inevitably coming.  It seems that no country, right now, is immune from disruption.  I don’t know if it’s too late for the US yet, but I’m rooting for them.

Gaijin

I heard a story.

This is a story that appeared on one of the Reddit subreddits that are dedicated to stories.  It could have been MaliciousCompliance, or ProRevenge.  I can’t remember.  It’s not important.

Our protagonist was working at a Japanese company somewhere in California.  The managers there were Japanese nationals, and the employees were gaijin.  As far as the Japanese managers knew, no one there could speak Japanese.

So they basically ran roughshod over everyone.  It finally came to a head when a manager who had it in for the protagonist tried to railroad him out of the company.  But what they didn’t know was that he could speak some Japanese.  So when they had their big meeting, he mustered up all of the Japanese he knew and told them that the manager was lying.  He then quit.

Apparently the very fact that someone there could speak Japanese and they didn’t know it put the fear of kamisama into them, and they pretty much reformed how the branch was run.  And they sent the problem manager back to Tokyo to become a “window-watcher” (someone who has to come to work every day but has no duties, and then has to give a report every day on what they’ve done to their manager.  It’s a way to shame people into quitting, apparently.)

I’ve heard this story in several different forms.  Japanese people looking down on a stupid gaijin until they prove they can speak or understand Japanese, often in a way that is very embarrassing to the Japanese person.  I read this story once where an American (or some such) was in a Japanese store, and they insulted him in Japanese – and when he called them out in Japanese they were extremely apologetic.  They got caught.

It’s almost as if it never crosses the mind of a Japanese person that a gaijin might be able to speak Japanese.

On the one hand, this is an atrocious attitude, and in my view it is right and proper to call Japanese people out on it.  Us gaijin are not stupid.  We’re just different.  We mastered a language (well, most of us did, anyway) that is at least comparable to Japanese in difficulty, and we have managed to build a pretty cool society – if we can keep it.

On the other hand, sometimes they’re not wrong.  A gaijin coming to Japan without having learned even the basics of Japanese and their culture is nothing but a disrespectful tourist who has money to spend – and I think it’s perfectly legitimate to say that those who visit – or even worse – live there without learning any Japanese is showing absolutely no respect to the Japanese people, and they’re at least somewhat justified in having no patience with that.  It’s important to the Japanese people, and at the end of the day, it’s their country.

The Japanese culture is very ancient, and was pretty much literally dragged kicking and screaming by America into the modern age (look it up!).  I think I can understand some resentfulness to this situation, as for reasons I don’t understand, not having grown up in their culture, their cultural identity and their homogeneity as Japanese are extremely important to them.

Unfortunately, the world is moving on, and they’re having to move on with it.  That ship (literally, come to think of it) has sailed.  But the least we can do as gaijin is to recognize this, and at least have enough respect for them to come to their country with a basic understanding of their language and culture.  It’s just the right thing to do.

And in return, I don’t think we’re out of line in expecting some basic respect in return.  I’m not going to say we’ve earned it, but I will say that our effort should not be dismissed.  We’re making the effort, and that should count for something.

As for the “window-watchers”, well, that’s a really Japanese thing, I think.  A way to address the problem without actually addressing the problem.  Kind of like “fixing the glitch” in “Office Space”.  I guess the problem just eventually resolves itself.  It’s interesting to me though that wasting salary on a deliberately unproductive worker is more acceptable than actually removing someone from a company.  Certainly not something we in the west would tolerate.  But as I’ve pointed out many times – they have many of the trappings, but at the end of the day, they’re not western.  They’re East Asian.  With all of the cultural perks and baggage that that entails.

Majime

When I was a teenager, I used to attend what could laughably be called a Bible Study. I say “laughable”, because it was for teenagers, and I may have been the only person in that room with a Bible, and ready to study.  I didn’t know what that meant, but that was the purpose of the meeting, and so, I was ready to do what was necessary.

That did not happen, though.  They did everything but.  They played stupid games, they announced social events, they did absolutely everything but study the Bible.  And every time I left that meeting, I left feeling like those who I was stuck with were absolute idiots.  Not only including the ministers, but especially the ministers.

Truth be told, what they were probably doing, was trying to keep the youth from leaving entirely – and too much studying of the Bible would probably have done that.  I even recognized that at the time, but my attitude was, “let them leave, if they’re not interested in doing what they’re supposed to!”.

This is an attitude I’ve carried entirely throughout my adult life, for better or for worse.  I come to a job to do the job, and I’m not too interested in any social events or niceties, except as they directly pertain to the job.  For example, the company I work for has a nonprofit, and every year (except, obviously, this one) they hold different social events to raise money for the nonprofit.  I don’t mind doing this, but that’s because I see doing so as a part of my job duties, when I’m doing it.  But there are other events, some of which pertain to “social justice”, and some to other things, that I do not participate in. It’s not job related, so I don’t care.  It’s not what I came there to do.  My attitude is “do it on your own time”.  Obviously many people disagree with me.  I think that is a cause of my ongoing anxiety.

I believe so strongly in this that there is a certain line that I will not cross, and leave a job before I cross it.  My company has not hit that point yet, but given the current climate, I’m planning for the eventuality, as it may be inevitable.

There was or is (I can’t be arsed to look it up, Sorry Okada-san) named Okada Nana.  She had a very “serious” character – which apparently extended to her off camera persona as well.  She seemed to have that same attitude of “I came here to do a job and I’m going to do it to the best of my ability”.  In fact, that seemed to be so ingrained in her that they pulled a huge prank on her by having someone in a pretend position of authority continue making more and more unreasonable demands on her.  She never broke, she never cracked, in fact, her smile never left her face.  She did exactly what was asked of her to the best of her ability.  She took her job so seriously that she was pushing all of her ego aside and just did her job.  She did seem relieved when the dokkiri was revealed, but that doesn’t change the fact that she was extremely serious about what she was doing.

And, as I said, that extended to off camera as well.  She was a member of AKB48, and she would scold all of the other girls when they would cuss or behave in a yankii manner – except for those girls who were trying to develop a character that needed those “unsavory” qualities.  Not only did she take it seriously, but she demanded the people around her take it seriously as well.

She was teased for this, obviously, because every idol in the public eye eventually gets teased for something (they got Takahashi Minami good with a chair prank) but this was something that they seemed to value about her.  I think this is a Japanese cultural thing.  You do your job, whatever it is, to the best of your ability, because that’s what you came there to do.

They called her “serious”.  I believe the Japanese word they used was “majime”.  This word can also mean “dedicated”.

In my culture, there seems to be no such thing.  People do not seem to come to a job to work – at least not entirely.  They want to have fun, do extracurricular stuff, etc – “work hard, play hard”, they say.  I don’t fit into this way of thinking, and I don’t think I ever will.  I have a job to do, and I intend to do it to the best of my ability – and then I intend on signing off and not having to think about work and coworkers again until I sign in the next day.  I’m just not interested.  I have a job to do.  And I’ve had to lower my expectations, again and again, as the people I have worked with simply don’t seem to have this kind of ethos.  Don’t get me wrong.  They do their jobs, they’re often competent, but they just don’t seem to take it as seriously as I do.

Now, that sense of majime causes problems, too.  I don’t tend to build close (or even casual) relationships with coworkers, and I resent it when they try.  I stay away from all extracurricular activities unless required, and leave at the first opportunity.  I’m sure I come across as hard-working, but aloof.  I don’t mind this, personally, but it’s really not a way to get ahead, at least in American culture.

Maybe it is in Japanese culture.  At least to a little more of a degree.  They do have extracurricular activities, but these are kind of regimented, and you know what to expect.  Just as you would expect from Japanese culture.  I don’t drink, so that could be an issue, but otherwise…. eh.  Who knows.

I have much more in common with Okada-san, in that regard, than I do with probably ninety-nine percent of my own countrymen.  Which makes me seriously wonder if I’m in the right culture.