Against the Grain

Slightly more than just jibba jabba

What America Can Learn from Japan

Posted by Patrick on 13 Nov 2007

As an American who lived in Japan for 7 years, and very much would like to again some day, returning to life in the US a few years ago was an incredible culture shock.  It was tougher to adjust in moving back to the US than it was to adjust when I arrived in Japan, despite the fact that I’d lived here for 22 years before I first went there.  In the past three years that I’ve been here in Denver, it’s become more and more challenging to accommodate the average American without flipping out and losing my patience.

What I’ve come to grips with, after some lengthy deliberation, is that I expect too much of the average American by having any expectations at all.  Yes, that’s right, it’s too much to ask to carry a single expectation of the average American.  Many people will say that’s a hypocritical statement, or that I’m just bs’ing because if I’m an American it has to apply to me too.  Sure. Fine. Whatever.  Yes I’m a US citizen, and I hold a green card for Japan, and it’s ridiculous how the average person in this country conducts himself.  The average American, in my definition, possesses at least the following qualities:
1.  self-awareness is paramount; surroundings more than 10 feet away are oblivion, unimportant, and probably shouldn’t ever have existed
2.  if person A has more money than person B, person A indirectly (and sometimes directly) makes it known
3.  American women are the most deceitful female of any species in existence; especially in front of other women
4.  between 15 and 40 pounds overweight and not going to do a damn thing about it.
5.  drives an obscenely large vehicle with obscenely bad driving habits and thinks obscenities towards those whose abidance by traffic laws inconveniences them

Why?  What is it about America that could possibly improve, you may ask?  I ask that question in reverse — what about America doesn’t need to be improved to be on par with a tiny (by comparison) country like Japan?

American society is devolving.  That is to say, it is doing the exact opposite of improving.  Japanese society, on the other hand, is continuing to improve – or at least remain unchanged in either direction.  By a global standard, no change is actually a significant improvement.  Granted, the culture of Japan has a several thousand year head start on American culture, but let’s face it; the culture in America really isn’t defined even after 225 years of having a country.  Perhaps Americans own the cultural patent on the fast food drive thru; beyond that there isn’t much.

So why is Japan so “great” when compared to the capitalist American society?  There are a few things about Japan which all people (in Japan) do that the average American would probably think “ok, and?” or “so what?” to, because the average American is incapable of compiling a proper conscious thought to actually understand that sometimes different = better and other times different just = different.  A few of my observation points about Japanese society:
1.  The elderly hold the highest social respect position – they are honored people in society.  Elderly drivers over age 70 (I think) have a special decal for their car which basically informs everyone around them that it’s an elderly driver and essentially to get the hell out of their way if there is a gridlock.
2.  Women run the family finances, but at the same time, women are much more frugal, pragmatic and conscientious about managing the family’s money.  Japan is a cash-based society; that is, most employees are paid in cash to this day.  They don’t know what the hell a check is in Japan, nor do they care.
3.  Children are honored citizens in society; there are several national holidays for children.
4.  Handguns (yes, I went there) are outlawed nationwide.  You do not have the right to bear arms.  If there is ever a violent crime, most often the weapon of choice is a chef’s knife.
5.  Most importantly I think; it doesn’t matter who you are, what kind of car you drive, what kind of job you have, what brand of clothes you wear – what matters is that you are an upstanding, honest person whom those around you can respect and trust.  You must represent yourself as a person that others would care to be around based on your core values and not your outward appearance.
6.  The average Japanese person is between -10 and +5 pounds of their ideal weight; the Japanese diet consists primarily of vegetables and fish.

So, without continuing for a longer spell, I’ll conclude this mini-tirade with some thoughts.  Manifest Destiny grew America to too large of a size too early in its existence – that was out of pure greed and desire to prosper in previously unmapped, native lands.  The Monroe Doctrine basically installed the US as the conflict cops of the Western Hemisphere during the same era.  Nearly 200 years later, are Americans any more conscious, on average?

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3 Responses to “What America Can Learn from Japan”

  1. ruhi said

    Hey Patrick,

    First off- Great post! I have been in the US for only about 3 years, but I agree with all of your observations. I know how I annoy people when I adhere to traffic rules and stick to the speed limit. Generally, I’m in no hurry to get anywhere. I give myself ample time. So, I don’t find any reasons to break the speed limit. However, the traffic is generally not as patient. Bottomline- I end up breaking the traffic rules every day.

    Most of the people whom I come across are either too thin or too fat. There is no balance. The fast food restaurants serve bad food, which is usually too high on fat. I eat it only in case of emergencies.

    I have a number of American friends, but nobody really close. Just “drinking friends”- if you know what I mean. I think that people here compartmentalize everything too much. They have gym friends, CIS 101 friends, golf friends, work friends, friends who are neighbors etc. At the end of the day, most of them end up alone with noone to share their troubles with.

    Still, I feel that every country has its own minus points and US is no exception. I love the country for its tolerance and the freedom to follow one’s dreams. Not having any restrictions would be the ideal example of American culture, IMO.

    About Japan, I really like all the points that you made. Pretty much all of them apply to India- except for the driving part. The roads in India are screwed up and not even a 20 year old can drive without banging into someone else’s car. We also celebrate Children’s Day- in fact, tomorrow’s Children’s Day! 🙂 I have some Japanese friends…they are so calm and patient and hard working. I feel really positive hanging around with them, to tell you the truth.

    I can go on and on, but I think, this should do.

  2. ruhi said

    Oh, I forgot about the “American consciousness” part. An average American actually doesn’t even know much about their neighboring states- at least, it’s been like this with the people whom I’ve come across.

    So, in my case, since they are from Missouri, they don’t want to even know anything about the East or the West Coast. You would be surprised that most of them hardly travel and their idea of vacation is quite restrictive.

  3. ruhi said

    Sorry, typo- “Doesn’t even know much about his neighboring states”.

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