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  • Xmas List: Ten things Japan does best

    Posted by arudou debito on December 25th, 2008

    Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan
    Hi Blog. Merry Christmas.

    As another distraction (hey, even The Economist Newsmagazine has a special Christmas Issue every year with all manner of off-topic articles), here’s my Xmas present to readers:  Ten things that I think Japan does best.  

    (Please feel free to comment if you think I’ve left anything out.  My personal Ground Rules: Skip over things like cars and semiconductors and consumer electronics and steel, because they are obvious even to those who have never set foot in Japan, moreover are not very interesting to write about.  Stick to things that require extensive experience and knowledge of Japan — that way we get a more interesting set of opinions.  Hey, it’s the blogosphere.)

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    TOP TEN THINGS JAPAN DOES BEST, OR WORLD-CLASS (in ascending order):

    TEN) SEAFOOD.  As you know, food in Japan is high quality just about everywhere (even school cafeterias offer more than just edible fare).  But good food is not unique to Japan — there are many world cuisines (Chinese, Italian, Thai, Indian, French…).  Where Japan particularly excels is in seafood — both in preparation and in training on how to eat it.  

    One of the things about being surrounded by coast in teeming waters and not much meat (animal husbandry here has only been around for a century or so) is that you HAVE to eat what’s on offer in the ocean.  You make do.  Fortunately, Japan doesn’t just “make do” — it has discovered how to eat just about anything from the sea — even algae — deliciously!  Once you get used to it (which doesn’t take long), you start lobbing things in your gob without holding your nose.   Sure, I still order fish and chips whenever I go into an Irish pub in Japan.  But that’s a heavy-salt and malt-vinegar soul-food break from the seafood I’m eating on a near-daily basis anyway.  Because it’s so good in Japan.  

    And Japanese, justifiably, eat more seafood than anyone else.

    ================================

    NINE) PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION.  Japan has its own problems with moving people around (to wit:  overcrowding on subways, chikan molestation, and, er… that’s about all the downsides I can come up with).  But even in Hokkaido, I can find a way, be it bus, train, and finally taxi if necessary, to get somewhere, including the boonies, if I have enough time.  In other countries, I keep running into, “How are you going to get there if you don’t have a car?” situations.  There’s often no other option there.  Besides, even with the problems mentioned above, how many other cities the size of Tokyo can move this many people around on a daily basis (okay, London, and perhaps Mexico City)?  Yet do it on such a clean (oops, that’s New York City out), reasonably comprehensible (oops, that’s Paris out) and cheap (oops, that’s Taipei out) basis?  And extend it essentially across the country (okay, that’s Greater London and beyond out) so safely (oops, that’s India out)?  Not many.  I drive, but I’m increasingly realizing that I probably don’t need to (and I definitely wouldn’t if I lived in Tokyo).  It’s a matter of time and convenience, and Japan has made a very good effort to make transit times approach and excel car ownership, probably as much as anywhere else in the world.

    ================================

    EIGHT) ONOMATOPOEIA.  Where to start on this one.  No matter how many words I learn (and it helps if I have the kanji to get the root meaning), I am absolutely blind to the feeling of gitaigo and giseigo/giongo, Japanese onomatopoeic expressions.  We all know guttari and gussuri and bon’yari and gakkari.  But how the hell will I ever hear pori pori when I scratch the inside of my nose or rero rero when licking something, or gabiin when agape, or bosun when something, well, ejaculates?  As inflexible as I find Japanese words, given how highly-contexualized the language seems to be (just hunting for that magic word to open the veto gate in any bureaucratic negotiation is a memory-taxing nightmare), there is incredible expressiveness in just a couple of repeated kana that I doubt I will ever master.  My loss.  Japanese is a language rich in expressiveness, and onomatopoeia is a huge part of it.

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    SEVEN) PACKAGING.  We hear about the Japanese department stores (Mitsukoshi first comes to mind) that essentially cocoon your purchase in more paper and plastic than is necessary (I too have to refuse half the plastics when just getting fast food and convenience store goods).  That’s the downside.  The upside is that when you really DO need cushioning for transportation, Japan really comes through.  

    Walk into any regular post office:  You can buy a box and find tape and other packaging goods going for cheap or free.  Go to a 100 yen shop and you’ll find spare newspapers lying about for you to package your just-purchased glass goods for the journey home.  And then there’s Mitsukoshi…

    Allow me to illustrate with another example:  In September I came home from the US (having tried to send through the USPS some bulk items home in advance:  talk about a rip-off; everything cost quite a bit and took its time getting here) and was glad to arrive in Narita (for a change!).  Because the trucking delivery companies (Yamato, Pelican, etc) were just poised for me to fill one of their boxes (they had a selection) with goods I didn’t want to shlep around Japan during my September two-week book tour.  In less than 30 minutes, Yamato had helped me pack, bubble wrap, and send off for a very reasonable price a bunch of sundries back north.  If you don’t know how to pack, leave it to the experts.  Over here, it’s part of the service.  Because if it’s not boxed properly, it’s not presentable.

    ================================

    SIX) CALLIGRAPHY GOODS.  Here’s something I bet many haven’t considered:  Germany and Japan are two otaku countries that are just plain nuts about how to write things with style.  I’m used to crappy American Bic ballpoint pens that seize up in the same groove (and inexplicably ONLY in that groove, no matter how many times you go back and rewrite) or just decide to quit mid-cartridge.  Plus I’m not used to fountain pens (I clench the pen too far down the neck and get ink on my hands), and I cannot see the use of spending a few dozen dollars or so (or even much more — there seems to be a Rolex league for pens out there) for something I might leave in a pocket or on a table somewhere or lend to somebody, whatever.

    The attitude is diametric in Japan, where I have friends who specifically prowl stationery stores just to find a particular model (with special buttons to advance the pencil lead, or twirl cartridges that give you up to six different colors or pen/pencil combinations, or ink that comes out in multicolors like Aquafresh toothpaste) that they’ve seen advertised in some stationery magazine (yes, magazines devoted to bunbougu!).  Poohie to those who think pens should be disposable.  I too find myself prowling my students during writing assignments to see what they’re twirling (rather gracefully) while thinking.  You’re just not going to get this much attention to fine-point durable pens in many other countries, when you consider how precisely people have to write (what with the finesse of kanji), plus this rich a society with near-unbelievable attention to detail.  Germany, perhaps.  But definitely Japan.

    ================================

    FIVE) GROUP PROJECTS AND ATO KATAZUKE.  Sure, we hear the downside of how working in groups makes situations inflexible and slow.  But the good news is that when things work here, they really work, especially when the division of labor becomes automatic when faced with a project.  Two examples come to mind:

    One is whenever I was involved in setting up speeches and getting politically active in my former hometown of Nanporo (three essays on this herehere, and here).  We’d rent a room at the local kumin center for a speech or town meeting, and a couple of friends on their own volition would always up early to help set up chairs and tables.  Then when the proceedings were done, just about everyone would lend a hand in putting everything back exactly as they had found it before going home.  I’ve done presentations overseas and found this phenomenon less frequent, if not nonexistent.  ”Hey, we paid an entry fee — you take care of the chairs.  That’s what we paid you for,” is more the attitude.  Sucks.

    But my favorite example is when I was cycling between Sapporo and Abashiri via Wakkanai (yes, look at the map, it’s quite a ways) a few years ago.  Here I was, soaking away in Japan’s northernmost onsen (Doumu), having accomplished the marathon cycle to Wakkanai (the last 68 kms between Teshio and Wakkanai is dry, so pack your own water — and pray for a tailwind).  Suddenly, all the other cyclists (all half my age) and I had struck up a conversation about all the trials we went through getting up here too.  An hour later, they were asking me where I was staying, and I pointed to the grassy knoll over yonder that looked like public space where I had set up my tent.  They asked if they could join me (who was I to refuse?) and within minutes we had a tent city, and a bunch of kids who were perfect strangers not an hour ago deciding who was to make the fire, who would make the hot water, who would go on a beer run, who would collect the money for bento.  etc etc.  I couldn’t stay awake for the full project (I have a strict regimen:  in bed by 8PM, up by 5AM when cycling; I’m old.), but this is the magic of people who automatically slot into roles when groups form, especially when those people are determined to have fun. 

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    FOUR) PUBLIC TOILETS.  One of the first things I miss about Japan whenever I go abroad are the public lavatories.  Sure, they exist overseas; but they are frequently hard to find (I think shoppers overseas must have enormous bladders), and the free ones usually look like they’ve been been through Lebanon or Somalia.  Japan, however, is uncanny at its ability to keep its toilets clean and unstinky.  And free (take that, you French!).  Sure, I hate it when I’m turtle-heading and can only find Japan’s squatter-types.  But I also hate being trapped behind a door where chance entrants can see my trousers dangling around my ankles and peep through the cracks in the toilet-stall partition; I pucker.  Besides, whenever I’m on the road for several weeks in Japan and need a time-out, I just head for the nearest handicapped toilet, steer in my Monolith suitcase, and camp for fifteen minutes.  Ah, a room to myself; it’s like a love hotel for my tuckus.  With the added bonus of: 

    ================================

    THREE) TOILET CULTURE IN GENERAL.  The Western flush toilet has survived remarkably unchanged since the days of Thomas Crapper.  Like musket innovations in the 1600s, it took the Japanese to innovate toilets to include washlets (a quantum leap for those who tend to swaddle toilet paper until the bog chokes), with those lovely heated seats (overseas the flash-frozen toilet seats, not a shower or a cup of coffee, shocked me awake every morning) and hand-wash spouts on top of the tank.  

    Hey, when you’re not ashamed of your poop (it’s fair-game dinner-table conversation in Japan’s Working Class), you get creative.  Japan, remember, is the place that shamelessly produced female urinals (which I cannot imagine anyone using; this is a nation where women waste immense amounts of water flushing while peeing to cover up the noise of their discharge; so add another innovation:  flush-sounding noisemakers in their stead.  But I digress…)  

    Anyway, shut the door, enjoy complete privacy (except for the grunting person next door; Japanese quack scientists claim that Japanese have the most fibrous turds in the world, therefore the lavatory lobby argues we cannot import toilets from overseas; no comment).  And if somebody knocks to see if it’s occupied, just knock back twice; no voice needed (which helps when I do dumps at my university near students I’ll be teaching in a few minutes).  Just be thankful if you skipped those traumatic years in Japanese grade school, when crapping is associated with smelliness, and kids wind up constipated just because they don’t want to make a stink.

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    TWO) SEXUALITY.  Here’s where I’m going to get into trouble, but I’ll say it:  Japan in terms of sexuality is surprisingly liberal.  I’m not just talking about the love hotels (not sleazy or embarrassing, and privacy is at a high standard, notwithstanding the hidden cameras behind some mirrors).  Nor am I just talking about the porn or near-porn (artists here love the female form and know how to depict it perfectly in line, see below) one sees on a daily basis.  I’m talking about attitude.  People keep sexual liaisons here quite quiet, as long as it’s not a matter of celebrity (which means it’s fair game, like just about anywhere in the world anyway).

    Case in point:  People don’t “take it upon themselves” to tell others “for their own good” that their boyfriend/girlfriend is sleeping with others (in fact, multiple partners here seem to be a national sport, especially when people are not married.  Actually, I take that back…)  Sex is a private thing, and the sore lack of sex education here notwithstanding (the learning curve here is pretty steep, and seems to inch younger every year), it’s between consenting people and only between them.  Kubi o tsukomanai koto.

    Sex is also something that people engage in, without requirement of marriage or love (whatever that means), or fear of birth control or abortion, etc. — all those things that force people into making irrational and life-changing decisions that they’ll regret later.  In modern Japan, where average marriage ages just keep getting older, sex is just sex.  As long as people are informed about possible outcomes (AIDS, STDs, etc) and precautions, I think that’s the attitude that one should have.  And Japan has it, and provides safe, clean, and often informed outlets for it.  

    And if you think this is only a recent thing, compare the US with Japan in The United States vs. One Package of Japanese Pessaries [as in contraceptive diaphragms] (1936), where Japan could develop this form of contraception but the US couldn’t, due in part to the Comstock Act.  Other countries have liberal attitudes too, of course (Scandinavia and Holland come to mind).  But I’m here, and I see it.  Like it or not (more for the NJ male of either sexual orientation, less the NJ female, admittedly), Japan a very sexy country.

    ================================

    ONE)  ANIME. I’ve long admired Japanimation and comic art. Even though I never went all that deep; I still subscribe to 2000 AD and JUDGE DREDD THE MEGAZINE (British comics, think equal-opportunity former DANDY and BEANO reader too), as I have since both comics started, the former back in 1977, where I picked up the inaugural copy of 2000 AD from a London newsagent at age 12. But there’s just no resisting Japan’s clean lines, its sense of space and forcefulness, and its storyboard style of storytelling.

    I knew for a long time that Japan’s Manga were underrated and deserved more attention overseas. Nowadays, Manga and Anime seem to be one of Japan’s largest cultural exports (the words have even entered the English language), with knockoffs surfacing all over Cartoon Network (I’ll admit it: I’m a big fan of POWERPUFF GIRLSSAMURAI JACK, and just about anything by Genndy Tartakovsky).  Resistance is futile.

    But one of the knock-on effects of a society so consumed by comic art is that the general standards for line and face in the Japanese public are very high.  I come from a society where the standard deviation for drawing talent is very high:  you either get Pat Oliphants or stick figures, excellence or hopelessness.  In Japan, however, consider this example:

    I once gave a final exam where I had drawn a room on the answer sheet, and to test their spacial vocabulary skills, I said, “Under the table, draw Doraemon.”  There were about 100 students.  But EVERY student, save two, drew a clearly-recognizable Doraemon, many complete with spinner and collar bell and philtrum and whiskers.  Some drew him airborne bumping his head on the table.  Others had him can-canning, or waving his wand.  I was overjoyed.  The creativity (okay, cookie-cutter standardization for you cynical readers) within a set style was common to 98% of the students.  Try getting people overseas to draw a recognizable Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Mickey Mouse, even just Felix the Cat, and you’ll see how comparatively low and underpracticed drawing skills tend to be.

    ================================

    …AND JUST ONE MORE:

    ZERO) SILLY CUTE.  Nobody quite combines silly and cute quite like Japan does.  Yes, Alex Kerr lamented how the culture of cute was paving over genuine time-tested Japanese culture in his book LOST JAPAN (this is how bluenose Kyoto rubs off on people).  But if you allow yourself not to get too curmudgeonly about it, there are lots of giggles and laughs to be had.  

    Where else are you going to get Marimokkori (they’re algae balls, for crissakes, with capes and endowments of a nonfinancial nature!)?  Try resisting the Hello Kitty goods when she’s adopting regional clothes (love Pirika Kitty and the super-tacky Susukino Kitty) or dining habits.  Lots more characters and amusing crap in Japan, just look around.  And they’re even finding markets overseas.  

    The reverse isn’t as true.  Disney notwithstanding (and even that has gotten ironic in recent decades to broaden its audience), the West just can’t do cute or silly without sarcasm seeping in.  Even those who shoot for it:  France’s Barbapappa just comes off as “easy to draw”, not cute.  Finland’s oddly-shaped Moomin even has that evil-looking Myy character (Finland is just plain weird anyway).  Even the BBC’s Teletubbies (which will give you a hernia if you argue their cuteness; they’re apparently good to watch while stoned) had a short shelf life.  They would have lasted longer if they’d gotten a J-makeover and a firm J-market.

    The way I see it:  Camp is imbued with a sense of irony.   Tacky and Kitsch both come off as cheap.  And all eventually become tiresome.  But Japan just keeps up the cute and silly and manages to (thanks to a lack of sarcasm here) remain unironic, with a straight face throughout.  Hey, it’s cute, what’s not to like?  As long as you keep the permutations coming, you never quite get sick of it.  Because it’s tacky, kitschy, and campy all at the same time, but only we non-natives seem to realize it.

    ==========================

    That’s the ten best.  Merry Christmas, Debito.org readers.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

    28 Responses to “Xmas List: Ten things Japan does best”

    1. Lori Says:

      Zakka and craft goods. Women overseas have caught on to the Japanese craft aesthetic and are importing books (even when they can’t read the language!), supplies, and Japanese crafting tips like wild. To get a taste of it, go over to Crafting Japanese (http://www.craftlog.org/craftingjapanese/).

    2. Akaki Kuumeri Says:

      Love it.

    3. Kakui Kujira Says:

      I’d add drinking in public in large groups to the list. I love the fact that I can sit in a park during a festival, ohanami, or hanabi with my family and have a few drinks and there is no fisticuffs in sight or even any sign of fisticuffs. In my nearly 15 years in Japan, I’ve only seen two drunken fights and both of them were between drunk gaijin in an gaijin bar.
      I remember the moment I fell deeply and irrevocably in love with Japan. Back when I was teaching, I had one class full of brilliant people, with the exception of one old gent whom I called Old Nutbag. (He mentioned that he had been married for many years, but was now happy to be divorced. I thought to myself that if he’s happy, the ex-Mrs Nutbag must be fooking ecstatic!) After one lesson, I got to the train station and saw a beer vending machine and the train pulling into the station. The next train was in five minutes and Old Nutbag had frustrated the hell out of me that day, so I decided to grab a beer and catch the next train. I pondered which beer to buy, because I had five minutes to wait.
      But when I walked to the ticket wicket, the conductor was holding up the train for me. He had seen me buy the beer and thought I wanted to catch the train and held it for me! Assuming I would even be allowed to drink beer on the train, the opposite would happen in Australia (and most likely wherever you are from). The conductor would do his best to get the train rolling before I hit the ticket wicket! Sadly, he would probably have good reason to in many cases.
      When I got on the train, there was a middle-aged salary man who obviously had an Old Nutbag in his office, as he was having a sigh and a beer too. Of course he had the little snack to have with his beer and seeing I didn’t, he offered me some of his.
      So cheers, Japan! You made a mess of law enforcement, not one of you can ride a bicycle within the parameters of the law or even remotely safely, but you can drink with decorum and common sense in public! Well done on that count!

    4. john k Says:

      I take issue with #4
      I have yet to find any decent public loo’s here in Japan. All dirty, messy, stinky, no loo paper, and never anything to dry ones hands with too.
      The ones in the Dept. stores are great….but “normal” public ones…forget it..terrible. Second only, in my opinion, to Greek public loo’s. Scrub that, just got back from Iran, their loos are just the pits…pun intended!

      #2 Yes it does have a very liberal attitude. Even Samurai were either mono or bi-sexual. But it seems to have driven the fun/passion out of spontaneity. Since sex has become a function, like going to the Loo, and not for just pure pleasure.

      Otherwise, yes pretty much concur

    5. leitmotiv Says:

      A notable omission from the list (IMHO) is Japan’s general lack of any overt religious agendas in the public space. So to put it in context of this list of what Japan does best – Japan separates church not just the state but just about everything. What your personal philosphy is here is your own damn business, thank you very much. I say this as a fellow transplant from the US (aka Jesusland). Here, there is no walking on eggshells around certain colleagues who might take offense if you hint that you are oriented towards athiesm or agnostic. No condescending do-gooders plotting to slowly “save” you via Jesus (or islam or mormon or whatever) with awkward and tedious Q&A during coffee breaks, subway rides, etc. No neighbors commenting behind your back because you dont worship as much, or in the same way, they do. No flicking on the TV to stare in horror at obvious huckster televangelists fleecing people of their money via raw manipulation and hypocritical dishonesty. Generally no righteous shrieking about abortions, homosexual abominations, creationism, faith healing, religious home schooling etc etc etc. I think you get the point. In Japan its truely “live and let live” on this topic. When I periodically reassess the costs/benefits of remaining in Japan (dont we all do this?), this single issue is always placed high on my benefits list.

      Just my one yen (…which is roughly equivalent to “two cents” at present exchange rates).

      Oh…..And Merry Christmas!

    6. Peter Payne Says:

      Something positive about Japan? It must be Christmas!

    7. Tony D Says:

      Regarding #0, I find that ties in with something I like about Japan, compared to Australia (I’m sure it’s in other western countries too)- there’s a lot less “machoism”. I mean, in Japan you can see a guy with a pink or purple shirt on, or a mobile phone with a phone hanger, or fussing over fashion, or checking their hair with a portable mirror. If you did that here you’d be labelled all sorts of derogatory words because you don’t fit into the “drinks beer, watches (local brand of) football, drives big car” macho mentality.

      My absolutely favourite point is #9, though. Going from Tokyo to Melbourne and its “if it’s running late we’ll just cancel it so it doesn’t affect the ‘running on time’ statistics” train system was like stepping into the very depths of hell itself.

    8. Shrikant Atre Says:

      Debito,

      Very good article. I think you can right like Amy Chavez does. Perhaps a bit closer to what Donald Maloney did decades ago. I like this way of witting and B+ves !

      Merry X-Mas and Happy New Year to you witting (ane we enjoying) more of the same !

    9. AWK Says:

      Great post,but…Yes, there will be always BUT. Everything looks nice unless you get sick or need to visit dentist or fly out of Japan and then return through fingerprint gate, even though you are PR. For me this positive things mentioned above are nothing compared to GoJ attitude and their policies towards us. This is what takes priority, not clean toilets etc.
      Merry Xmas and Wish all of us in 2009 more positive minds. I try my best too

      – You really will have to try if all you can see is the negative, as you seem to be doing in your balance sheet above. For sanity’s sake, also see the positive, and don’t let the negatives wipe out the positives.

    10. Ariel Says:

      To Leitmotiv: Not trying to pick a fight, but you may want to talk to some native Japanese who practice a religion other than Shinto or Buddhism. Foreigners are generally left alone because we’re considered to be weird anyways and not usually seen as “being part of the group.” Japanese, on the other hand, are usually expected to conform. I know several Japanese Christians who have some pretty shocking stories about being forced to participate in Shinto ceremonies in their companies, schools, and neighborhoods in the name of preserving the Wa. The emperor might not be divine anymore, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a strong religious undercurrent to Japanese life, it just doesn’t resemble anything you find in the West. The lack of public discussion of religion could be interpreted as “we don’t need to talk about it because we are all the same”, not “what you do is your business.” The idea that Japanese=Shinto/Buddhist is pretty deeply ingrained.

    11. Sean Says:

      Men being able order any drink they want in a bar or restaurant and not have their masculinity brought into question by fellow men (even if it is a ‘girly’ drink).

      Losing something on a train or somewhere and having the train company send it back to you, and they pay the cost. Also fare Adjustment Machines at train stations. You get treated like a criminal in some countries if you buy the wrong ticket.

      Fireworks festivals in summer with ice-cold beer.

      Awa Odori in Tokushima; easily the best festival I have ever been to anywhere in the world (so far).

    12. paul Says:

      I’ll add a couple.

      A) Beautiful women on TV. All the time. Even if the programming is daft, there are usually a couple of pretty girls in the program worth paying attention to. Not to mention, a high percentage of the commercials feature ridiculously pretty girls.

      B) Alleyways. There are quiet alleyways in small towns where you find a hidden shrine, a beautiful traditional home or a small restaurant which makes you wonder how anyone can know about the place. Alleyways in the big cities are great too, neon blinking, hidden bars or some shop selling to a random niche collector that you can’t believe actually exists. If you don’t get off the main routes and follow the tiny winding pathways in Japan, you miss all the fun! I realized this exists in other countries too, but they are seldom as safe.

    13. Bigtofu Says:

      Could I add being able to step out and buy a steaming hot baked sweet potato from a bloke driving round the ‘burbs in a truck singing out “ishiyaki imo, yaki imo”, in the middle of a snow storm? That’s a pleasure those of us in Hokkaido can enjoy anyway. What more could one ask for?

      – I can think of a few things :) Anyway, I do love the truck’s song, especially when it ends with the spoken deadpan, “Imo da yo.”

    14. debito Says:

      FROM AN ELDERLY FRIEND:

      The thing which jumped into my head as I pondered the top ten, which you didn’t mention, would be the entire health care and health insurance system. Having grown up with the American system, Japan’s network of hospitals and clinics seems so much better. Japan delivers affordable care, despite occasional doctor shortages in some specialties and some areas. It may not be the best in the world, but it is surely among the top countries,

      Of course, since both my wife and I have had recent bouts with very serious illnesses, this seems especially important to me. Having been ill, we could never afford to go back to America.

    15. debito Says:

      Debito here again. One more thing that I neglected to include in my Top Ten was the bathing culture (onsens and all that). But they’ve been observed so much (in my books and writings) that they’ve become part of the wallpaper of my existence here. Anyway, that too. Debito

    16. DR Says:

      Debito, Happy New Year!
      As you know, I no longer live in Japan, but I formulated an “Alphabet of Appreciation” for myself before leaving, most of which still holds true. (I still think Guantanamo might be too good for some of its leaders, though.) Here goes:

      A: Aomori Apples.
      B: Beer. Any variety of Yebisu. Aki-Aji, Gotemba-Kogen, or my favorite, Baird’s Beer in Numazu. http://www.bairdbeer.com/home.html (Raw publicity, no apologies.)
      C: Cherry Blossoms, Convenience Stores.
      D: Dialects (of Japanese)
      E: Electronic Goods.
      F: Fireworks.
      G: Gyoza.
      H: Haiku & Hokkaido. Not necessarily in that order.
      I: Internet Café/ Ikebana.
      J: Jiminto. (There are a few good people there. Not ready to give up on them just yet.)
      K: Keitai.
      L: L.E.D.s
      M: Martial Arts / Matsuri
      N: Nabe.
      O: Onsens.
      P: Peaches / Pears / Pagodas.
      Q: Quality Control.
      R: Ramen
      S: Strawberries/ Sumo/ Sushi-sashimi.
      T: Transportation network.
      U: Ume-boshi
      V: Vending Machines.
      W: Washlets
      X: “Xmas” a la japonaise.
      Y: Yukata.
      Z: Zen Buddhism.

      Despite the fact the country is run by shysters, it still has good people with good hearts.

      Feliz Ano Nuevo Desde Espana!

      – Nicely put!

    17. Sean Says:

      All aspects of youth culture – street dancing, reggae, snowboarding, toy camera photography, Harajuku… . You name it. Once the youth get going at something they are a delight to watch.

      I went to a photography exhibition in Nagoya last week showcasing the work of the Tokai area’s university photography departments. It was wonderful.

    18. AWK Says:

      > – You really will have to try if all you can see is the negative, as you seem to be doing in your balance sheet above. For sanity’s sake, also see the positive, and don’t let the negatives wipe out the positives.<

      You`re very right :) Even though negs took over pos about 90% I will try my best to get this “evil” out. Good news, there is still 10% left :)

    19. catoneinutica Says:

      Drink machines everywhere (I spend some serious coin on them, but I gots to have my green tea, Coke Zero, and crappy canned coffee).

      #10 makes a very good point: some of the most thoughtful and interesting J-folks I’ve met have been Catholics. It’s hard for a Westerner to get their head around, but Christianity is actually a bit of a subversive statement among the nihonjin. I’d probably find the same thing among Zen Buddhists.

    20. Mark in Yayoi Says:

      One more: amateur baseball! In Japan, regardless of your lack of talent, you can always find a team to play for on the weekends. Much better than in baseball’s home country, where at the non-professional adult level you’re usually stuck playing beer-league softball. Long live kusa-yakyu!

    21. justin Says:

      Bathrooms couldn’t make my list… never been around Tokyo in winter? Quick pit-stop in the JR restroom and of course there is not only no soap to wash my hands but the water coming out has only one temperature no matter how you adjust the faucet: freezing cold to give you freezer burn. When you shake hands with people and share your germs, don’t you wonder how many were willing to endure that AND happened to have portable soap?

    22. Bob Says:

      Let’s not forget the fact people can drink happily in public without getting violent or wanting to pick fights with complete strangers.

    23. Orchid64 Says:

      The sexuality issue is probably more appealing to men than to women since the situation benefits them most. The way in which women are objectified in open displays of pornography and manga is directly related to problems like groping on trains and young girls selling their bodies to older men in return for gifts. Most men take these things in stride, but imagine if it were you daughter in such a situation and it takes on a new perspective. Being a woman, foreign or otherwise, is a very, very different experience than being a man, and generally not in a good way.

      Of course, women are objectified in all cultures, it’s simply more overt and transparent in Japan. The reason people don’t get too worked up about sex is that they lack the religious judgment problems of some other cultures. That’s certainly one of the biggest benefits and good points of Japanese culture.

      I’d also say that the level of tolerance of personal weakness and difficulties is generally higher in Japan. The acceptance of mental health leave from work for stress stuns me at times. The fact that this isn’t viewed as a major failing or weakness on the part of people who take time off to deal with such problems is also a good point. This may seem to fly in the face of the whole conformity issue, but things like being habitually a little late for work are a bigger problem than taking time off because you’re stressed out.

    24. boot Says:

      Mountains and so many well maintained hiking trails. Hard to get lost with so much information. Mountain huts that often provide meals and a futon, thus saving the hiker of 5-10kg weigh in the backpack, and more often than not at the end of the hike, an onsen to soak those weary muscles in.

    25. AET Says:

      Perhaps other teachers and former teachers will hate me, but I’d say the eikaiwa industry is something great about Japan. I see English schools all over the world and few are as easy to find a job at as the ones in Japan. And how many of us English speakers came here thanks to a one of the thousands of schools in Japan? Regardless of everything I don’t like about them, the industry, etc., I have to be thankful that they exist. Otherwise so many of us NJ from the eigoken wouldn’t be here.

    26. M. Hunter Says:

      1) Japanese people. In my experience, excellent to work for and with. On an individual basis, the most honest anywhere. Once befriended, a friend for life. Japanese people have elephant memories for good turns done to them as well. Gotta love Japanese smiles and the sense of humour.

      2) The food, the food, the food. Easily the best country to eat in. Beats all others. Where else can you eat an exceptionally well-balanced meal for under 10 bucks almost anywhere. The sheer variety is probably only beaten by China, but that’s because China is an empire, not nearly as monolithic a group as Japan.

      3) I second the comment about alleyways. Get off the beaten path a bit and Japan rewards with sights and discoveries that cannot be equalled. Shops, temples, shrines, parks and just plain interesting buildings. And the
      feeling of safety while exploring is wonderful.

      4) I also second the comment about freedom from religious dogma. This is truly refreshing after the confines of
      judgemental, fundamentalist Christianity.

      5) Oh, and did I mention the food. Let me tell you about the food…….

      Mark Hunter
      Takarazuka

    27. Jenny Says:

      I beg to differ on the religion aspect. I’ve had numerous people come and witness to me about Jehovah. They are targeting all the English speaking people. >_< I finally told a few not to come back because this is exactly the reason why I left the states. I prefer freedom from religion!!!!

      Here’s a positive side though: all the bad English around here makes me WANT to learn Japanese more. I’d prefer to read the normal Japanese, and then do my own translations. I swear there are a few signs in Yokohama and Kawasaki that looked like they threw a dictionary in a mixer and whatever came out is what they used.

    28. 7 Whopper Patties « Vortex Says:

      [...] how Japan typically gets the “great stuff”. Blazing Fast Internet, Bullet Trains, the list goes on and on. Well now they got a Windows 7 Patty! Not just any [...]

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