Thursday, October 07, 2004


Another freelance US writer has visited Japan for a few days and gone away grasping the soul of this traditional oriental--inscrutable-- whatever-- country over here on the other side of the Pacific (the Japanese are so [insert platitude here]) and has set it all down so as to share his experience with his less enlightened countrymen.

Ignoring the excitedly non-journalistic enthusiasms that can often come with jet lag and too much coffee "All this... is set against a backdrop of a pure and ancient culture, where kimono-clad women still head off, giggling, to the temple..." Here's a few of the more egregious statements:

"The police there ride around on bicycles, and they don't carry guns." Maybe he’s seen too many Tora-san movies, but out where I live the police travel by car; all over the country, they ALL carry guns.

"The few criminals the Japanese do have often turn themselves in within a week; they simply feel too guilty, and honor dictates that they face the music of justice rather than hide." This may have been rarely true back in the days of Lafcadio Hearn. Nowadays, most of the (increasing) criminals have to be caught, just like everywhere else, and like everywhere else, many never are.

"There is a strong samurai-like fidelity of the Japanese to both their family and their work. It's normal for an employee to be loyal to his first company from the time of his college graduation to his retirement." Residually true 30 years ago, and even then it wasn't loyalty, but lack of alternatives. And it's changing rapidly as alternatives broaden. The new generations will not be so easily constrained as their elders, who are currently being downsized in large numbers and are facing shrinking pensions, for all their loyalty. The young generation (with a lot of 'freeters') is looking forward to maybe no pensions at all.

"It's not uncommon for three generations to live under the same roof."
Still somewhat true in the countryside, but this too is fading as the young leave for the city where they live in those small mansions. Nursing homes are sprouting like mushrooms even here in the countryside.

"There are virtually no homeless people on the streets."
That's primarily because there isn't much for them there; begging is frowned upon, therefore pointless. Anyway, the city governments want the homeless to be invisible; in Kyoto and Osaka there are villages of them along the river, or the railroad tracks, out of sight of tourists. If they become too visible, they are harassed away, as they were from Umeda station.

"Environmentally, too, the Japanese are far ahead of us."
Guess in his short visit he didn't see all the unscrubbed incinerators; Japan has the most incinerators in the world, which explains why it has the highest level of dioxin in the world-- they're going to build a basically unproven gasification industrial waste incinerator in a mountain forest not far from where I live on the shores of Lake Biwa, water source for 20 million or so people who don't seem to mind dioxinated drinking water. To say nothing of all the nuclear reactors on earthquake faults.

"The high-speed trains are the primary mode of transportation." The bullet train is too expensive (about the same as flying), is only used for travel and occasional long commutes. The much slower (but very efficient) local trains and automobiles carry most passengers, though more may walk.

"Bicycles get you to the train stations scattered throughout Tokyo -- where few of the thousands parked there are locked." In Kyoto and Osaka, it doesn't matter if they're locked-- though nowadays you'd better lock them-- city workers still come around with big trucks and confiscate bicycles, cutting the locks if they have to; the owners have to go far out of the way to get them back, and pay a large fine. The cities (especially Kyoto) have been warring on the bicycle for some years. They confiscated mine for the tenth time just before I moved to the country.

"They still have respect and honor for us. This is one of the reasons Japan is now an ally of ours in Iraq." There are far more practical political and economic reasons for their absolutely minimalist participation in Iraq, as for their joining China in buying up so much American debt.

"Another reason is that they can easily relate to President Bush, whom they perceive as a simple, honest and straight-talking, straight-shooting country cowboy. It's time we learned a little from them." The fact is that, like most of the rest of the world in a recent poll (excepting the Phillippines, Nigeria and Poland), the Japanese don't like Bush, who isn't country, isn't a cowboy, and never talked or shot straight in his life (they preferred Kerry over Bush 43% to 23%); most of them fear what he may do next. One hopes most Americans can learn that before the election. The Japanese are quite used to political scams, and though resigned to it continuing (it's a "tradition"), they know a loose cannon when they see one, and a bit of spin to the right won't change their accurate perception of Bush.

The part at the beginning of the article, about the funeral, seemed accurate. As for the rest, I'm surprised SFGATE didn't know better.

With thanks to kbibb

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