Against the Grain

Slightly more than just jibba jabba

Archive for the ‘Japan’ Category

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?

LiveJournal Tags: , , ,

Posted in culture, Japan, opinion, research, sociology | 3 Comments »

When do gamers grow up?

Posted by Patrick on 20 Sep 2007

The community of adults, especially adult males, in the US that hold onto habits traditionally attributed to children is an ever-growing one.  Why do you think that is?  Are we socially more immature, or are we men devolving mentally into lengthened adolescent periods whereby we don’t realize our true potential until well after we reach adulthood?  Or, is there some other force at work?

I’m 31, which puts me square in the prime demographic of adults these days who are absolutely hooked on video games — not just adults who enjoy playing freecell on the computer or who like to occasionally drop a quarter into Ms. Pac-Man, I’m talking about adults in this country who are absolutely addicted to video games.  We are the first in line when a new console hits the market, we are the demographic of people who keep companies like AlienWare in business — we think of computing first as a method of gaming, and secondly as a method of being productive with work. What’s more, the “hardcore gamer” community is looking at a growing population of women, to boot.  Whereas we medium-aged gamer adults pioneered most of the gaming consoles and usually have hours of stories about the time we pwned mob X in game Y with friends A B and C.  It’s not a hobby — no, it’s an entire existence.

Does an addition to video games make us less mature as adults?  Sociological studies disagree on this topic, but I must say that I think so.  From the perspective of one study, the constant interaction present in many online multi-player games (MMORPGs) promotes social awareness and tact.  Another study, published more recently, indicates that young men and young women who have a strong affinity towards video games (who play games more than 20 hours a week) grow as adults to be more socially eccentric and are generally less comfortable in human-to-human interactions than the same demographic of non-gamers.

So, what are the criteria for someone to have “grown up”?  If you ask me, it’s when a person begins to accept responsibility for themselves, but more than that, it’s when a person makes conscious decisions to better themselves and follows through with them.  To me, that is the mark of someone who has grown up.  When I think of that, I always have questions:

  • Can a hardcore gamer be “grown up”?  Absolutely. 
  • Are the majority of adult gamers also “grown up”?  No, they aren’t. 
  • Do I mean to imply that kicking the video game habit can help someone grow up?  Yes, I do.
  • Do I have an addiction?  I used to, but have outgrown it.
  • Am I a gamer myself? Yes, I am, but casually.
  • Are time-sink video games hurting American society?  Yes, they are.
  • Do I think I have “grown up”? Yes, but only after my first child was born.

Are video games the only source of the social devolution?  Of course not; just look at network TV these days.  It plays on the most basic of human instincts to try attracting viewers.  There’s literally nothing on network TV in prime time these days which is suitable for children.  Compare that to a socially fluid country like Japan — take a look at what comes on TV in the prime hours in Tokyo; you’d be amazed.  It’s full of variety shows, educational shows about Japan itself (like places to go to do X kinds of things), and lots and lots of comedy and drama.  This is a different post, but drama in Japan is not medically, criminally or sexually driven like every drama in this country.  No, they actually maintain some sort of socially responsible standard.

Posted in educational, Japan, men, opinion, reading, TV, women | 3 Comments »

HP:DH Audiobook for your iPod

Posted by Patrick on 31 Jul 2007

Let’s face it, sooner or later the gestapo of Apple will be offering Jim Dale’s recorded version of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for purchase and download via iTunes (an anagram of nutsie, btw).  But, even if that’s all well and good for convenience sake, why would you buy it from them?  Why would I download a set of DRM-encrusted m4b iPod-specific files when I can get the actual discs from any major retailer either online or in-store for 1)cheaper, probably and 2)more flexible? 

It’s certainly not rocket science to take the MP3 or AAC discs and convert them to nutsie’s format, thanks to freeware and shareware programs out there on web sites like freeipodsoftware.  I personally use the MP3 to iPod Audiobook Converter, and haven’t had any problems with the newest iTunes and current iPod firmware.  The only note worth mention is that the files need to be kept under about 4-5 hours runtime each, or you may have trouble getting your iPod into sleep mode.

Technical capability aside, nutsie doesn’t offer US customers the option to purchase the Stephen Fry reading of the UK book editions.  Jim Dale does a good job, but the UK readings are actually my preference, and they’re widely available – if you can’t find it at Target or a retailer, Britain’s Amazon has it.  I doubt nutsie, who thrives so heavily on targeted marketing, will ever come to grips with that.  Hell, I can’t even buy Japanese music from Japan via nutsie, but I can certainly get it from other outlets.  I went as far as to set up a proxy in Tokyo to get to the actual Japanese nutsie store online and just check it out. off topic, sorry.

So, who out there is planning to or has already dumped HP:DH audiobooks onto their iPod, even before the nutsie store has it for sale?

Posted in apple, harry potter, international, Japan, music, random, reading, technology | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

Try Driving in Japan

Posted by Patrick on 23 Jul 2007

Americans in general are such awful, inattentive, road raging drivers that I’d like to see the average person attempt to drive in Japan.  And for many reasons; I’ll try to explain.

The first obstacle to overcome is that Japanese traffic is on the opposite side of the road, and the driver sits on the right front. It’s like the UK – well pretty much like anywhere except the US and Korea.

Second obstacle for Americans is that the highest speed limit in the entire country is 100km/h — that’s about 63mph, and that’s on the multi-lane expressway.  In town, the speed limits are between 40 and 60km/h, and most of the time around 50, which is a measly 31mph. 

Third obstacle to overcome for Americans: it is expressly illegal to drive your car and use your cell phone at the same time.  I think that does the trick for every woman and lots of men reading this post.  Police can and will stop you and cite you for this very reason; it is not a secondary offense at all.

Fourth obstacle to overcome is the pure volume of traffic.  Tokyo is a city of 35 million strong.  Do the math.  But what’s amazing about Tokyo traffic is that it flows much more nicely than any major American city despite its size.  I cite superior city management and superior traffic engineering as reasons for that.

Fifth obstacle to overcome is noise pollution.  You will be ticketed if you try to ride down the highway with your 15’s bumping, or if you try to cruise the ‘hood with your windows down and system up.  That should rule out all the thugs, wiggers, wannabes and all other hood rats that think bump is cool, because it *was back in 1990, but holy hell it’s played out.

Now, suppose you’re an upstanding citizen and overall responsible driver and you manage to overcome those things.  Let’s talk about traffic law and accident law briefly.

First, understand that it is not America.  You do not have the bill of rights, but some of the same rights do apply.  One important thing to note is what it takes (as a citizen) to get a driver’s license in Japan.  Drivers Education is compulsory, as in it is required, and because of that the 6-month set of classes run about $2000.  Less than half pass on the first attempt.  Licensing is broken down similarly to the US, except that manual and automatic transmissions are licensed separately (and yes, they are separate driver’s ed classes).  Your drivers license has a colored bar on it that shows the expiration date.  The color of the bar is significant – it denotes how long you’ve been licensed without a ticket or accident.  If you get the gold bar – that’d be the highest rank, so to speak – people are pleased with you.

For the first year that you are licensed, you’re required to place a mark on the rear of your car indicating such.  It’s a standardized yellow and green chevron mark that just screams “new driver”.  We need that in the US, for real.

So, on to actual driving.  Police don’t normally set speed traps, though they do use motorbike cops on the highways sometimes.  No, in most places, they use video and camera surveillance to nab speeders.  You do NOT want to be caught by one of these.  They mail you a printout of yourself driving your car complete with date, time, location, speed limit and speed, and the date that you are to appear in court to face charges.  Here’s the kicker.  If you are fined for speeding, expect to pay no less than $500 in fines plus a little more cabbage for the film, postage, court costs, and everything else that had to be bought to prove your guilt.  In more severe speeding cases, the fines are in the several thousand dollar range — yes, thousands.  And, if you lose your license, guess what.  Drivers education classes are required to get it back, and those are still expensive.

Now, let’s have an accident, though this is the one thing you absolutely do not want to do in Japan.  Japan uses a system of relative negligence when handing out guilt in accidents.  This means, if you are involved in an accident, you are always going to share a part of the fault/guilt for it.  I believe the only exception to this is if you are outside your car and it is properly parked at the time of the accident.  If you are sitting inside your car, parked, not started, and someone backs into you, that’s about a 5% fault rating.  On average, an accident is somewhere between 80/20 and 50/50 when both people are driving.  What this means is that you try your damndest to *avoid an accident – whereas in America people are so fraudulent that they’ll allow an accident to happen when it’s not their fault and try to collect some insurance money.  Vulturous punks.

Suppose you run off the road and hit a telephone pole.  Guess what, you’re buying a new one.  Hit a phone booth, same.  Run over a fire hydrant, woe be unto you but you’re paying for that plus the cost of the water and the labor spent to cap it off.  No, the Japanese do not play when it comes to that kind of stuff.

Now, for the worst-case.  If you run over someone or otherwise kill someone in an accident, basically your life is indebted to the family of the deceased.  It’s going to cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars in penance to the family; just forget about ever having a life again.  The rule of thumb there is that you will regularly show up at the family’s residence and pay penance (and yes I mean *pay) until the family believes you have earned their forgiveness.  It is literally tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars later in many cases.

So, buckle up! Ready to tackle Tokyo by car?

Posted in culture, international, Japan, japanese | Tagged: | 9 Comments »