Sunday, July 5, 2015

From ‘Driving me Crazy about it. Reflections of an American in Japan’ by Anne Crescini

The onsen, or hot spring, is one of the most popular ways for Japanese people to relax, and an integral part of Japanese culture….They are usually separated into male and female areas, but in some cases you can reserve a private family onsen. One thing that makes Japanese hot springs stick out from the hot springs in other countries is that you must bathe naked with strangers, family, and friends ….Swimsuits are not allowed…..My friends tried to assure me that Japanese people don’t pay much attention to others in the onsen, that they are shy themselves ….

About being meiwaku, sometimes I think the Japanese spend their entire lives trying to avoid being a bother to others. Because this is such a group-oriented society, all individual actions are expected to be undertaken while considering the impact your actions will have on others. ….the number one rule of Japanese culture is this: don’t bother or cause trouble to other people.

Most Japanese bathe at night, not in the mornings, like Americans. It is not for them solely a way to clean the body, but to refresh the soul ….While many Americans feel cruddy waking up and going out without showering, most Japanese think it is disgusting to go to bed dirty…. Bathing in Japan is a national obsession. It begins shortly after birth, with the newborn baby scrubbed clean of the afterbirth just hours after arriving, continuing with a daily scouring until mother and child are discharged.

The Japanese love lotteries…

Nose washing is one of the weirdest, but strangely most refreshing medical treatments in Japan. This treatment is common for a variety of ENT ailments from sinus infections to colds, to allergies. The nurse squirts water up one nostril while holding the other one shut, and you snort it out like blowing your nose….after you are finished, it feels great!

People in this country love talking about bowel movements maybe because it is a sign of good health…. Bowel movements tend to be more of a private matter in the U.S.

The doctors, nurses, midwives – everyone was wonderful and contributed to my amazing childbirth experiences in Japan. I received unbelievable compassion and care from these people.

….gaijin (foreigner)…. Japansese spirit of hospitality, the willingness to go out of their way to help others ….for every nice lady to help the gaijin, there is another Japanese who will run screaming in the other direction, “I don’t speak English!!” (even if you ask in Japanese)…. That being said, most Japanese people will go out of their way time and time again to help others. I have experienced their kindness more times than I can count.

…the Japanese custom of buying souvenirs, or omiyage. Every time someone goes anywhere, there is a cultural obligation to buy omiyage of that place (most commonly a snack or some kind of sweets) for everybody from your boss to your friends to your fourth cousin twice removed…. When this gift-giving obsession meets the Japanese concept of duty the result is the okaeshi. This is a complicated beast, but as I understand it, when someone gives you a gift, you are obligated to return the favor…. The most common okaeshi for baby gifts is some kind of food or drink with the child’s name written elaborately in Japanese calligraphy on a paper attached to the gift. The return gift must be between one-third and one-half of the value of the original gift……

There is a concept in Japan called uchi (inside) and soto (outside). The uchi is the group of friends and family around a person. The soto is everybody else. Japanese people will do anything for the people in their uchi, but tend to often be a little more distant to people in the soto. Of course, Japanese are always courteous, and try to avoid bad manners and rudeness at all costs….. But more often than not, they will try to avoid interaction with the soto. This can be seen on trains. Very rarely will people start up conversations with strangers, and eye contact is rare. Most people listen to music, or read comics or newspapers….most Japanese just don’t make it a habit to talk to strangers. ….I was separate, set apart, not allowed into the uchi. I don’t think the Japanese are being spiteful or trying to discriminate. I just think they do not have a lot of experience with foreigners and are not quite sure yet just what to do with us. There is not even a uniform system in the country for writing our names. There are four alphabets used in Japan – Chinese kanji characters are used for Japanese names; katakana is used for foreign names; hiragana, a phonetic alphabet, is sometimes used for Japanese names, especially by children who cannot yet read kanji; and the Roman alphabet. Most of my credit cards, IDs, bankbooks, bills and official documents in Japan have my name written in different ways.

… Japan, where conformity to the norm is one of the most important concepts in the culture.
There is a Japanese proverb that says, “Deru kugi wa utareru” (The nail that sticks out will be hammered down.)

The one aspect that bothers me most is the unforgiving spirit I see in the hearts of many Japanese people… Japan, I find that one often vows to never forgive a wrong, even if done unintentionally by someone considered a good friend.

…..Japanese adults, especially men, almost never wear shorts. No matter how hot it is, they don’t wear shorts because shorts are considered childish…

….Japanese preschool system ….quality of care, education and nutrition are top notch, and the love the teacchers have for the children is unquestioned…. The Japanese preschool system is the best…..

The Japanese think letting your tummy get cold causes every sickness known to man…….

….seeing new parents drive their precious little bundle of joy home with no car seat, either holding the baby or even worse, placing him or her in a little, cushioned Moses basket on the floor…. I am amazed that a country so careful about protecting pregnant women, and so zealous about the health and education of their children, can be so reckless when it comes to automobile safety and children.

Japanese children are very rarely properly restrained…..

In any country, a law that is not enforced will not be followed. Japan is not any different. Japanese people routinely park in handicapped parking spaces; Americans don’t.

…Japanese houses, with the exception of those on the northern island of Hokkaido, are not equipped with central heating….Why would you spend money and natural resources heating rooms that you are not using?  …..Houses are cold. Schools are cold. Supermarkets, trains, post offices, gyms. Cold. Cold. Cold.

Japanese people don’t adopt. They don’t think about adoption. They don’t talk about adoption….. Much more than in America, blood connection is crucial in Japan. The Japanese feel a strong connection and loyalty to family, and while they may be the most courteous, polite people in the world, love and loyalty is restricted to family. What is family? Although changing recently, family has always been defined in Japan by bloodlines.

….tanshin funin would be “for the primary breadwinner in a family, almost always the father, to live away from his family for an extended period of time for work.”…transfer is inevitable for the Japanese public servant ….Many times, the length of the transfer is unknown, which may be one reason the father goes off by himself…

….children are the center of the family, and education is at the center of a child’s life. When a father is transferred for work, for a child to be uprooted from his school and friends, perhaps disrupting test studies and causing emotional distress, is not an option. In most cases, the mother will stay behind in the family’s home with the children. The father will rent an apartment or stay in company housing during his time of transfer; which is sometimes indefinite.

The societal expectations about work dictate his behavior. Many Japanese businessmen work late into the night, and on the weekends. In addition to regular work duties, they also have regular drinking parties that keep them away from dinnertime with family.

Many Japanese students are good test takers, but have not learned adequately how to express creativity, original thinking, or their opinions on a variety of subjects. Of course, I do not blame the students, but the system that created them…. The inability to express an opinion is one of my biggest problems with education in Japan …. Most Japanese classes are lecture-based, so students just take in information, and have little opportunity to express their opinions or question what they learn ….Many times, because teachers are so respected in Japan, they will just take what the teacher says as truth and not really question it…

Bullying is a big problem in Japanese schools…..

Japanese teachers do not just teach. They morally guide the students…. There is not really a summer vacation, as teachers are expected at school everyday to prepare for the new term, attend meetings…..Many Japanese public school teachers work hours comparable to Japanese businessmen, coming home late every night.
Nervous breakdowns are not uncommon.

Work in Japan can be so stressful that they even have a word for working themselves to death, karoshi

Japanese teachers pour their hearts into their students, but sometimes I wonder if this commitment comes at the cost of their own families.

One of my biggest criticisms of Japan is the lack of moderation I see in everything. They study too much. They work too hard. Sometimes, they even play too hard.

The math education system is also years ahead of the U.S.

The school meals are healthy, cheap and required: students are not allowed to bring their own lunches….students are also responsible for serving them, and cleaning up afterwards. In addition, they must clean their classroom at the end of everyday…

Japanese people in general are crazy about paperwork….

From ‘Jungle Child’ by Sabine Kuegler

[Sabine lived in a remote jungle area of West Papua, Indonesia amongst a tribe untouched by modern civilization]

Life in the Western world seems like a tornado to me. An irresistible force that sucks me into its whirling vortex and spins me around at a hectic pace, till I get the feeling that time is moving more quickly than I can keep up with….One fights with family over money, loyalty, and love’s disappointments, and with neighbours over irrelevancies. And there is never enough time. Above all else, never enough time.

……life in the jungle is more challenging physically, but psychologically much easier. Life in the Western world, on the other hand, is physically easier, but much more complicated for the soul.e

One of the acknowledged signs that a people or culture is on the verge of extinction is that knowledge no longer gets transmitted from generation to generation…… no Fayu [tribe] remembered the white visitors they received in the 1940s. The memory of the Dutchmen had apparently been lost within a generation.

Their user of songs to express themselves may be one of the reasons that the Fayu do not seem to suffer from depression or other psychological disorders. Feelings are immediately externalized. There are even times set aside for the release of emotions: for example, the mourning song. When the song of mourning runs its course, the grieving truly is finished and life resumes as normal.
When a person experiences a traumatic event, he might lie for weeks in his hut not saying a word but singing for hours at a time. During this period, other clan members provide him with food. Then one day he simply gets up with the trauma behind him. Cleansed of pain, he smilingly resumes his everyday tasks.

Irian Jaya contains one quarter of the world’s known language (800) as well as numerous dialects. ….It has the only permanent glacier of any tropical island. Its ‘wintry’ heritage also includes snow-capped mountain peaks that tower 5,000 metres over glacial lakes. Irian Jaya boasts the largest single tract of rain forest in the world (excluding the Amazon). Its jungles are some of the most impenetrable anywhere.

From ‘mad dogs and an Englishwoman’ by Crystal Rogers

A number of youngsters…would approach me for guidance on how to conduct themselves abroad …..I …put together an informal presentation on general etiquette… Out of this last chapter I will quote:
Perhaps one of the most important things at any social function in the West is to show yourself to be a good and attentive listener.
I hope I may be forgiven for saying that up to this point I have not found this quality in most of the Indians whom I have had dealings with……

The cruelties of the West are different from the cruelties of the East.
For far too many years, I have seen the barbarous methods by which animals are slaughtered in the reeking abattoirs and alleys of Indian cities. The cruelty involved in the transport of domestic animals, the terrible distress and terror of monkeys exported for medical research. The hunger, misery and bewilderment of animals turned adrift because they no longer serve any useful purpose. The agony of sick and lame draft animals who are still made to work, beaten and over-loaded…. But do not imagine that the West is any less cruel. It is equally so. While putting up a show of being humane, behind closed doors, where none may see, the blackest and most unforgivable crimes are committed.
The West must bear the burden of guilt for the inexpressible horror of, amongst other things, killing animals for the sake of vanity. A whole fashion industry grew and flourished around the slaughter of small, defenceless animals like minks, rabbits and the red fox…..
….The testing of many cosmetic products is performed on unsuspecting animals …..The exploitation of animals for amusement is yet another nightmare …circus …What the spectator does not see….is how that training has been done.
How the whip has been cracked with lethal force on a lion’s back.
How a heavy stick has been smashed on a baby elephant’s rump.
How the seal plucked out of the vast, cold waters of the Pacific has been shoved into a pool the size of a child’s playpen.
How the chimpanzee has been smacked mercilessly when it has shown reluctance to conform to the rules of the house.
How the spirit of each animal has been crushed and squeezed out till all that is left are the hollowed bodies of furry puppets.

….. vivisection laboratory ……what I did see was a gathering of abject, miserable animals who had lost their freedom for ever and knew deep within their frightened little hearts that they were on death row….

…..Ella Wheeler Wilcox….
So many faiths, so many creeds,
So many paths that twist and wind,
When just the art of being kind
Is all this sad world really needs.

The climate of Bangalore was pleasant and I found the people friendly. But the plight of animals remained uniformly pathetic across the length and breadth of India.

Some friends had advised that I return to England. I couldn’t even think of it. India is a strange phenomenon. It settles over one as soundlessly as mountain mists, as invisible as evening dust. The joy of India is in a bite of a firm, green guava sprinkled with rock salt. The unintelligible cries of the sabziwala as he trundles his cart over potholed streets. The chaos of babblers and sparrows as they wake up entire colonies on sweaty mornings. The sight of shiny, brown-skinned boys jumping into a canal for an afternoon swim. The pungent smell of fires burning on street corners on cold evenings, where men gather round and gossip about the day’s happenings.

I could not and would not leave India. I have loved it with all my heart. I have been welcomed by the country and its people without hesitation. Yes, of course, there is much to criticize and condemn, but there is much more to appreciate and treasure.