Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Japanese Life: Extreme Differences....

It's getting cold... the lowest I've seen so far is about 4 degrees C (about 39 degrees F)- which, of course, is NOT too bad.... but remember my no-insulation problem in my apartment? In the summer, it was about the same temperature as it was outside- well, it's the same thing in the winter. Seeing my breath INSIDE my apartment is not one of the things I want to wake up to, but it's an accepted fact here.

Again and again, I've asked people here why they don't put "insulation" in their homes- I see new homes being built all the time, but they all just shrug- it's the way it's been for thousands of years- we don't mess with tradition. The EXTREME positions the Japanese takes are appalling....

Here are some of the extreme differences I've noticed since I've lived here:

1. Japanese electronics and technology are constantly evolving and getting faster, smaller, and more advanced and efficient. However, the concept of insulating homes to conserve energy costs (cooling AND heating) has not been accepted.

2. Same thing with toilets- on the one hand, you have these beautiful toilets that sing and make noise, have heated seats, and sensors and different washing levels (soft, strong, spray, squirt, etc.) and then you have the basic, drop toilets on the other hand.

3. The garbage system: I sort EVERY single piece of garbage into like 10 different bins, from combustible to paper to recyclable plastic to non-recyclable plastic to plastic bottles to metals to styrofoam, etc... but everything you buy here is individually wrapped in plastic, then wrapped in pretty paper and stickers, then put into a plastic bag, then placed inside a nice shopping bag.

4. Conserving: water, energy, etc... There is a huge emphasis on saving energy (except for the cooling/heating part)- the lights in the hallway are never turned on at school until you can barely see.... but this I found interesting. The overpoliteness of the Japanese has manifested itself at the toilet level.... If there is more than one person in a public bathroom or something- one of them will FLUSH the toilet WHILE going, to mask any sounds- of course, using more water than necessary, but god forbid someone can hear you go pee!!!!

5. The discipline issue- parents do very little disciplining of their children in order to be a "nice dad" or a "nice mom"- so they spoil their kids rotten, let them do whatever, get whatever they want, and save the disciplining for the teachers, since they see their children more often than they do. This puts a lot of unexpected and unnecessary pressure on the teachers, who can't give their attention to all of their students.

6. The repressed society: Conformity, conformity, conformity. Masses of salarymen in black and gray suits shuffle back and forth from work to home to work, pretty well-dressed OL's (Office Ladies, or "secretaries") clicking away at keyboards, hordes of smiling uniform-wearing students on trains and buses.... Right now, the look of almost every "conforming" Japanese woman / lady is to wear a nice fitted sweater, knee length skirt, and tall boots. Every city seems to look the same. And then you have the outrageously colorful mohawk sporting hoop skirt wearing teenagers of Harajuku and other big cities. You've got these slutty teenage girls wearing short shorts (Daisy Dukes) with over-the-knee boots with blonde hair and buckets of makeup, the guys with crazy hairsprayed hair and ALSO wearing makeup (apparently the girls like the "pretty boy" look). Oh, and women are thought upon as pretty things that reproduce, sex symbols, but not really human beings. So men can just treat them like shit and it's ok. And women take it because, well, that's what they've been told. Men can take mistresses and all that and women just stay at home and cook, clean, and deal with it. You don't talk about sex and porn or anything because that's not "proper" but the underground scene is bursting. There's porn vending machines and booths on main roads, sex shops, love hotels, and fetish-inspired restaurants, bars, etc.

7. The teeth. I don't know what to say about this. I've heard that messed up teeth is "cute". You'll see thousands of beautiful, put together Japanese men and women on the street- great outfits, accessories, hair, the whole thing... then they open their mouth, and you're just like WTF!!!???? Either they have scaffolding keeping their teeth together, or they're just sticking out every which way.

8. The "SMILE": The Japanese are probably the most polite people I've ever met. They go out of their way to help you out, make sure you're happy, greet you with a smile, and follow you around stores to make sure you can find everything you want. However, underneath it all, they could be SEETHING, SCREAMING INSIDE, but outside they've got this cute smile and cheerful voice. The "smile" is Japan's way of masking any sort of feeling they have- whether it's anger, confusion, sadness, or whatever- because expressing their opinions is not allowed.

OK, that's all I can think about for now... For more interesting things about Japan, check out this amusing and informational
website. (Thanks Sono for forwarding to me).

I'm not necessarily complaining about these aspects of Japanese culture- I guess it's a bit of culture shock (or as JET likes us to call it: "culture fatigue"?) and when you compare certain things with the customs of your home country, you're certain to feel frustrated and confused. So, I guess all I can do now is... smile!!!

1 comment:

giuli said...

i think those are interesting observations. it seems there is such a dichotomy. i think that maybe part of it has to do with the war. i don't have a clear theory but i think conformity and politeness and discipline helped to get to the prosperous, stable nation that japan is today (in just 50-60 years since the war), but maybe if there were the chance to develop naturally the country would be a bit more even and not so extreme. or maybe all countries have weird extremes and when you are in it you don't notice it as much.