Friday, August 19, 2005


A few of my sister's colleagues are very interested in Japan's current outlook, as perceived, concerning some international issues and its own. Here are their questions. I tried my best to answer them but whoever comes across this and wants to correct me or say a few things, feel free.

Apathy, would be the one word that answers all your questions about Japan's current state. Apathetic, would be the one adjective to describe all their feelings towards most anything. But I'm not gonna get away with a couple of words. Now can I? Just kidding. To my own surprise, that's Japan in a nutshell. But don't rule them out just yet. There are lots of things I can appreciate about Japan. Otherwise I'd not have spent over two years here and planned for a few more. Here goes.

What are some popular sentiments about Koizumi's apologies for Japan's atrocities against China, Korea and others during the 20th Century?
First of all, I don't claim to know a lot about Japanese politics, since I don't really care. I know that sounds ignorant. But I care a lot more about US since I know much more. Truth be told it is my home, well one of two. I watch/read/hear US news ten times more so than I do Japan. But I'm probably still a bit more opinionated than your average Japanese citizen. Back to your question. Apologies were skillfully delivered. Koizumi said nothing more than he feels sorry for what happened in the past. He said no more, no less than what he has always said. Through translation though, everybody took the convenience to interpret it the way they see fit. In return, the general public did not react at all, not a raised eyebrow. They also know that something has to be said at that time so the angry crowd could move on. In fact, Koizumi has apologized to China, Korea, and other Asian countries in the same way for some 20 times. I kid you not. You may say it being a half-ass apology is no good. You may also say it's getting repetitive. Let them move on too.

Where do the Japanese people stand with regard to nationalism (are nationalist sentiments rising or waning vis-a-vis the election of a hard-right mayor of Tokyo)?
There is hardly anybody who sides with the hard-right. Although they seem that way simply because they like to be told what to do. They are very submissive as a people. They love their country. There is no doubt about that. But don't we all. The future of this country are more concerned with their popular culture hence leave all governing obligations to its older generations, plenty by the way. Unfortunately, the rule of thumb for a submissive citizenry, the hard-right rules. Look at us, we ain't submissive, but we don't do any better. Kansas School Board, Intelligence Design, frustration; president taking a five week vacation amid Vietnam caliber deepsh!t, damnation.

Has your brother ventured anywhere near either Nagasaki or Hiroshima? If so, do some of the residents of those cities still harbor any anger toward what the US government did to there neighbors/friends/family/ancestors?
I've been to Hiroshima but not Nagasaki. Hiroshima is the notorious gangster town. I'm not sure it has anything to do with the bomb, but people are certainly a bit tougher there than other parts of Japan. I've been to the peace park where they've left a half standing wreckage of a building remain the same since the day the bomb fell from the sky. That reminds everybody how it was. And I applaud that. There is anger, especially around the anniversary each year. There are also protests, but at a small scale and they are insignificant. If anything, Japanese adores the US, be it culture, language, Hollywood, pop images, etc. Japan can't have enough of US influences. However there are the propaganda vans (usually they're for election campaigns, party promotion), with a PA system louder than any bullhorns, you see sometimes. They express how they do not enjoy foreigners, including and mostly referring to Americans, living among them. It's hardly a popular sentiment.

Does Japan have any desire to distance itself from the US (on account of its leadership and foreign policies)?

Japan once and still tries to make English their official language. They embraced Richard Gere when he came over promoting the one movie (Shall We Dance) he stole from Japan. They welcome all things US with open arms. The only time the public show any sign of non-favoritism is when Japanese soldiers were sent to Iraq to die. They were against it. And that's the first ever and only time I see any opposition.

How would one characterize Japan's acquaintance with Islam?
That's one of the many good things about Japan. It has almost zero bias when it comes to religious matter, or alternative life styles. You don't get beat up just because you look a certain way or act differently. Although the way they deal with these things is through apathy or hush-hush, see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.
Edit1: It is difficult to be homosexual in Japan. There are a few gay people on TV but they are just there to be amusing nothing more nothing else. The homosexual scene in Japan is almost completely underground. In regular Japanese societal gays are shun and marginalized. Young people can dress and do whatever they like but they'll never be able to find a real job unless they conform to social norms. The worst thing to be in Japan is handicapped. In Japan if you are a handicap you are supposed to stay home and have someone take care of you. The negative attitude towards handicapped people is changing thanks to western influences but try using the train in Japan if you're stuck in a wheelchair.

(note: I know this sways away from the original question but is somewhat related. My take remains unchanged.)

its business outlook;
Auto industries are doing great. Electronics sectors are dominating the world, with Korea and west Europeans sneaking up of course. That's all though. That's all they have and it's almost plenty enough. Except it isn't. Take "Uniqlo" for example. Uniqlo is a low end clothing chain that would never have made it to a giant in Japan 20 years ago. Their stuff is like Gap back home, except it's even cheaper, to Japanese anyway, and needless to say quality is more than compromised. Japanese like to dress up and put their money where their body is. They have the most expensive bag, watch, shirt, skirt, boots, you name it, they have had it, well the majority. The only reason that Uniqlo is doing so well, it's because of people's shrinking bank accounts, lowered consumers' confidence and steady incomes. They have reached their economic apex. From here on it's downhill. The markets are saturated. But this is coming from a guy who doesn't know that well about these things.
Edit2: Japanese jobs are moving to other Asian countries (mainly China) at an alarming rate. Japan will have to change its economy from manufacturing to services and information technology if it hopes to maintain its world standing. Manufacturing requires raw materials which Japan doesn't have while the other two mentioned sectors require human resources. Japan will also have to change it's educational approach from producing factory workers to producing innovators and a dynamic workforce.

its current work ethic;
Its work ethic second to none. Its productivity on the other hand, plain sucks. Let's compare work ethic of New Yorkers and that of Japanese. A New Yorker works 8 hours per day, gets most of her work done. A Japanese works 12 hours a day, goes home and sleeps for 4 hours, gets up butt crack of dawn the next day to work that hasn't been finished due to exhaustion at work. But choose your poison, would you prefer New York's cut throat step on bodies to your way up, or Japan's gentleman's agreement of survivor's mentalities - outlast, outwit, outplay the next person in silence? I can't stress "outlast" and "silence" enough.

where does Japan stand when it comes to North Korea and its leader, what do the intelligentsia of Japan think should be done in terms of North Korea's and Iran's nuclear issues?
Japan is taking the position it always takes - wait. The general public thinks that there is likely to be a way to avoid wars. They honestly don't like wars. It's true! They would much rather play golf on the weekends, read comic books on the train, and watch variety shows on TV. A recent study shows that Americans outnumber Japanese three to two in thinking of a likely conflict that will eventually lead to war with North Korea. They don't have a stand on Iran as far as I know.

what would surprise the rest of the world most about life in Japan in the year 2005?
That's a tough question to answer. I've been here for quite a while. Nothing surprises me anymore. Maybe a person who's fresh off the boat would have a much more interesting answer.
Edit3: Yes, that is a difficult question... But I would have to say... How crappy a typical Japanese home or apartment is. They wouldn't need so many nuclear reactors if they actually used insulation. The building costs would be a little higher but in the long run people would save tons of money in heating and air-conditioning bills. And with the negative out of the way here's a positive surprise: 24 hour beer vending machines. I'm not a heavy drinker but it was a nice convenience. In all the places I've lived in Japan I've never had to walk more than 200m to buy a beer in the middle of the night.

Are global acts of terrorism affecting Japanese society?
Miniscule if any. They have their own terrorism to deal with, both international and internal, mostly latter. Since the Aum cult's attacks on Tokyo subway, they have been doing a lot of drills and preparations for such emergencies. And if any country is constantly ready for disasters, natural or man-made, it would be Japan.

What are the sentiments of the Japanese people when it comes to leaders in the West like Tony Blair and Geo. W.?
They seem to like these "leaders". Average Japanese don't have much of an opinion on those idiots. They don't agree with some of the ways they deal with the Iraq's situation. But it's not strong enough a feeling to get in the way of their daily routine.

Sorry, I tend to bitch when asked this sort of questions about Japan. There are a number of things that are very fascinating here. It would be a different topic though.

(Edit 1, 2, 3 are Rock's input. A buddy of mine, former English teacher in Japan, Canadian, not the movie star bodyslamming can-you-smell-what-the-Rock-is-cooking Rock)


Anonymous said...

From the person who asked the first set of questions (one of your sisters colleagues), thank you for your thoughtful, honest responses! - Scott

todd said...

No, thank you! It's reflective to put thoughts down in writing. If I sound harsh, it's only because I feel passionate about some of these things.

Mykola said...

Todd -

Good answers. When people ask me this stuff I will send them here, you've summed it up pretty well, the good and the bad. Apathy as the basic principle at work, I agree. I wonder, though, how much of that apathy is just the public face shown to foreigners? I for one have had a very hard time getting anyone to talk to me about anything other than work or the weather. Perhaps a portion of the apathy element is directly related to the smile-and-nod-to-gaijin element?

Just a thought. Well written.

todd said...

Thanks. I think quite a bit of that is the "gaijin invisible wall". But the apathy ingredient is there, along with superficiality. I'm not saying they enjoy that kind of stuff. But their society is deep-rooted with similiar education as virtue.

Backwardsfish said...

I asked Mami's Dad if he liked Koizumi the other day. He shook his head, but wouldn't tell me why. Then the whole family went to the polls the other week and he told everyone to vote for Koizumi.

todd said...

those are the votes against someone else, not for koizumi. and thats been the norm for a few years now. nobody really likes him, but other candidates cant step up to the plate.