Sunday, March 30, 2003

11:45am Monday, Tokyo time.

I'm messaging Chris (Tempermental) right now. Isn't that weird? It's Sunday night for him. I feel so close to home.

It's brought to mind a couple of interesting facts about Japan.

They have a lot of useless jobs here.

There are people who direct traffic into and within parking lots, even though there are traffic lights, and everything is completely automated such that those jobs are redundant. They have greeters in every store who's job it is to say "Welcome!" and possibly chase you to wrap your umbrella in plastic on rainy days. They always have way too many people working in every store. There are people in the transit system who just squish people into the trains at rush hour. I have not experienced this myself, as I don't travel at rush hour. However, these white-gloved people remain even after rush hour to stand around and motion people into the train doors when they open. Ya, well, I can SEE that they're open. I don't need someone telling me to enter. They say the Japanese economy is going down the toilet; I guess these inefficiencies are part of the reason why.

For example, at Dave's English school (a small school with only 1 or 2 teachers there at any time), they always have 3 people hanging around who are "administrative" who stand around and then rush every customer when they enter to take their coat, say "WELCOME!" and a string of 20 other pleasantries and get them coffee. Dave and the other English teacher just look up and say "hi".

That's another thing. The pleasantries. When Hiroshi (our free English student guide) took us to the Samurai house in Kyoto with all the hidden staircases and trick doors and sneaky secrets, the Japanese tour guide would talk for 10 minutes and then we would get a 10-second English explanation from Hiroshi. It takes so much longer to say everything in Japanese as they pepper everything with "excuse me" and "please" and "thank you for listening" and "I beg of you to notice"... it's ridiculous. All with fake plastic smiles. Very sweet and polite and formal. "Arigato" (meaning "thank you") is said so much it means nothing.

There are also manners to be observed on the trains. You are not supposed to talk on your cell phone, for example. I've only seen one Geijin (foreigner) talking on the train. Everyone else, however, has their cell phones out to check their email. They ALL have phones with email access/video screens. They have quite advanced cell phone technology. And EVERYONE has the most current model. I see 10-year-olds with their cell phones and wheels on their shoes, talking and wheeling around. I've seen them checking their mail on the trains. Not kidding. Everyone checks their mail on the train.

But not all their technology is advanced. For example, their bank tellers don't even have computers. Most banks don't offer online banking. So strange. Apparently, Dave's set up here is not normal for Japan. He doesn't even have the high-speed access that we have through Rogers at home. It just wasn't available here. So, their advanced technology is very focussed in certain areas. And very poor in all other areas. It's a very cash-based society, I have learned. I absolutely HAVE to carry cash, although I hardly ever do in Cda. Bank cards here don't have a magnetic strip. So you can't pay direct. It's rare that people pay with credit cards; apparently they won't even accept foreign Visa cards sometimes. Only Japanese Visas. And yet children walk around with cell phones in their back pocket.

Dave tells me that their parents pay for the phones. Parents also pay for their education and even their first houses! There are many 30-year-olds, however, that continue to live at home rent-free with their parents. Their mom cooks and cleans for them. The "children" have full time jobs and earn a good salary and yet pay and do nothing. (I hope my dad is reading this. I'm kidding, I wouldn't WANT to live that way.)

Aside from lots of weird "Engrish" (poorly translated English that makes no sense and is probably just decorative) I have found that while they like to think they are very westernized, they have a long way to go. I wish that they would not try so hard to be westernized. It would make Japan much more interesting and culturally rich if they would focus on being themselves.

After visiting many tourist areas, I've noticed that they seem to focus on the surface of things. They don't explain the history much. When asked "why" something was done or "why" it was/is important, they are confounded. They don't seem to understand my question. It seems truly foreign to question this way. They seem content to know facts without going beyond the surface and understanding underlying concepts. They know what the tea ceremony IS and they know where it was performed and when. They are unable to tell me why it was important or how it became such a traditional ceremony or what it means. It's disappointing as I really want to understand. But they seem obsessed with the outward appearance of things; the status symbols, the price of things. That is not my kind of society. I suppose the same could be said of western society. Maybe it's just me that doesn't fit in with that.

And that's Japan according to me.

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