I finally have some time on my hands now that I’m back in Austin for the summer, so I thought I’d deliver a slightly tongue-in-cheek response to the article 10 Reasons the World Would be a Better Place if Japan Ruled the Earth. Again, this is for the sake of being a contrarian; I actually happen to think the original article was pretty spot-on, but there are definitely things with which I would take issue if Japanese culture was omnipresent.
Order at the Expense of Disorder
It’s true, Japanese trains are punctual to a fault, streets are clean, and violent crime is so rare it makes national news. While this may be all well and good to the Japanese, as an American, I was crying out for a little chaos from time to time! In a way, living in Japan was like living inside the mind of someone with OCD: everything had its place, every person a set of phrases to use for every occasion, and if anything should go wrong, it’s immediately quarantined and shunned by society (Brave New World, anyone?). Don’t get me wrong, these qualities make Japan a very comfortable and desirable place to live. But I remember what it was like leaving and stepping foot on Thai soil for the first time – roads without clear lane markers and dirt spilling over; people dressed sloppily and eating on the streets – and thinking “YES! Finally! Something different!”
One of the first experiences I blogged about in Japan was seeing how a cake was wrapped for take out at a bakery
…she unleashed her fury on the small black confectionary by trying to suffocate it: first came the plastic covering; then two disposable ice packs; a small plastic fork; a thin cardboard box; a paper bag, designed to fit perfectly over the carboard box; and finally, the coup de gras, a plastic bag with handles. All this for a slice of chocolate cake, half the size of one I’d expect back home for the same price. On top of that, I planned to eat it immediately. Waste upon waste upon waste.
As an American, I see frivolous uses of packaging and resources almost continuously: taking too many napkins, eating too much food or throwing it out (not composting). Japan has its own ways of showing it cares nothing about the environment, from the example above, to its standards on fresh food – bento boxes are tossed out on a daily basis – to using concrete surpluses to pave over rivers.
I know this is somewhat of a controversial topic, but there are too many examples to just ignore it. Although many Japanese by and large maintain a healthier attitude towards sex than those residing in dominantly Christian nations, the types of sexual deviants make me shutter:
If these were simply minute interest groups, as small as those interested in something sick like snuff films, I probably wouldn’t be concerned. But a lot of Japanese men seem to have explored the above in one way or another. There are more cheap tickets to places in Soapland than to cultural icons… well, maybe the district could be considered a part of Japanese culture.
Lack of Variety
I suppose this is a gripe unique to Americans, but there’s such a lack of variety in Japan. Over 90% of the people are ethnically Japanese. It’s difficult to find different cuisines with the exception of Japanese and fast food. Even people’s behavior is “set”: take a whole day to just sit in front of a train station and watch businessman interact; it’s the same bow, same exchange of business cards, same phrases.
With the exception of Hokkaido, Japanese homes are often designed for summer, not the winter months. Mold can form on blankets and mattresses in the summertime, which are sometimes hung outside on a daily basis. Using heaters and humidifiers can be so expensive and ineffective that many people use just one room to stay warm (and not always the bedroom); personally, I think Koreans have it better off with floor heat.
Even in Tokyo, there’s not exactly much in the way of urban design in Japan. Public “parks” outside of Yoyogi and the area surrounding Osaka Castle are just hard sand with no grass. Power lines remain unburied and clutter rooftops in all areas from Okayama to Okinawa. Very few buildings last longer than twenty years, and the grey box design is still very much in demand.
As many readers are aware, a few months after the earthquake and tsunami struck the Tohoku region of Japan, I volunteered to assist with cleanup efforts in Ofunato with All Hands, one of the few foreign-run organizations to make it past the Japanese bureaucracy. It was a remarkable experience, seeing the kind of people who dedicate a huge part of their lives to helping others in need, one I hope to repeat with the news that All Hands’ project Cagayan de Oro in the Philippines has been extended:
This time, it’s not simply a matter of convenience: All Hands will NOT accept volunteers for this particular project extension who can’t raise enough funds to cover costs ($25/day). If any of my readers want to donate to help send me to Project CDO, even if it’s just a few dollars or Euros, please, please, please link the click below or send it directly to All Hands on my behalf
Finally, a new vlog. I have other entries in the works as well.