Saturday, March 08, 2008
Part of Peter's Unified Theory of Japan is that America is a country of idealists while Japanese are generally pragmatists. In many areas of society, Americans seem to reach for the stars, trying to attain great goals like total equality between the sexes and different races, holding down taxes down while guiding democracy all over the world, including Iraq. Japanese, on the other hand, seem to have a national joshiki, a "common sense" that all Japanese tend to share, which tends towards more realistic goals. While there are laws against sexual discrimination or harassment in the workplace, the roles of men and women are more clearly defined in Japan. For a family to be happy, the husband should be the daikoku-bashira (lit. "big black pillar") that supports the house financially, and so, the number of women who desire high-paying careers is much lower here than in the West. Kids should go to school to receive an education that makes them feel that they're a part of the larger society, and so there is no homeschooling in Japan. The ultimate pragmatic slogan in Japan is one you can hear quite often: sho ga nai, or "it can't be helped, so I guess I'll just do nothing." To be honest, it's kind of refreshing living in a society that admits that there are things beyond its ability to change. What do you think?
Oh, and if you find you don't have enough common sense, there's a DS game to help you out. Just ten minutes a day!
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
I've often been impressed with the open nature of discussion I've seen on Japanese television, with several shows that really present opinions to viewers in innovative ways. One is a show called If I Were Prime Minister, which features the popular comedian Hikari Ota of the comedy duo Bakusho Mondai as he throws out topics to a panel of guests that include actors, writers and real sitting politicians. They never pull punches as they lambaste a panel of Finance Ministry employees over the lost pension payment scandal (while letting the employees tell their side of the issue), or call in doctors to discuss issues like the rise in hospital deaths due to doctor error. Considering what a peaceful country Japan is, you'd think that it'd be difficult to have a real public debate over the issue of whether Japan should Japan arm itself with nuclear weapons in response to threats from North Korea, yet that episode was lively, with all participants expressing their views despite the special nature of the topic in a country that's experienced two atomic bombings. Another show that's quite interesting is Live Debate Until Morning, a late-night show in which top-ranking politicians and members of the current cabinet will gather to discuss issues on live television until 4 am while millions watch. Since the show is so popular, every major politician makes sure to be included, and smaller parties are all invited to participate in the discussions, which keeps things from begin pulled unfairly in any one direction.
Monday, March 03, 2008
In the U.S., "back to school" season is in August, when parents prepare for the start of the new school year in September, buying new shoes and notebooks and clothes for their kids. In Japan, the school year has always started in April, seemingly timed to coincide with the cherry blossom season, and right now parents are bustling as they try to get everything ready in time. Education is taken very seriously in Japan, and in the case of new first graders, families will go all-out to make sure the child gets off on the right foot. First, every student must have a a desk to do his or her homework at, and there's a huge industry of companies selling stylish and functional study desks for kids, which include features such as a plastic sheet with images from the latest popular anime series printed on it, which can be removed later when the child is older. Another important choice is what kind of school backpack to buy. School backpacks are called randoseru, from the Dutch word ranzel, and they're extremely well made hard leather backpacks designed to hold everything the student needs over six years of elementary school. Right now stores are filled with an array of smart-looking school backpacks for parents to buy for their children, and every year manufacturers seem to offer them in a wider array of interesting colors. This move to offer more color choices is somewhat odd, since for 99% of children you see walking to school, the color of a randoseru is black for boys, red for girls, with almost no exceptions. A lot of this is cultural -- in a country where not standing out is extremely important, the idea of being the only kid with an orange or sky blue or yellow backpack would be quite unthinkable.