Thursday, August 25, 2011

Music Travelogue

Hi everyone,

Just posting a quick link to a Tumblr account with a journal of new music I find.I figure this should be an interesting side project! I have been unable to post to this particular blog as of late due to a lot of personal duties, but I shall return with more mind-boggling questions and observations I find!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Intrinsic / Extrinsic Motivation

Hi everyone,

After a long period of deep thought and analysis, I'd like to finally present a topic that has been of great interest to me. Whether it be in Japan or the US (or anywhere else around the world for that matter), everyone's motivations vary from being intrinsic or extrinsic. Allow me to explain.

In Japan, one might assume that a majority of Japanese people are more or less 'extrinsically motivated.' This is defined as one being motivated by rewards (such as money or grades) or following what they are told to do, rather than finding the inclination to take an action on their own. While the task itself may not provide a great deal of satisfaction, the rewards alone provide the drive. Indeed, a great deal of Japanese will work hard to satisfy a societal expectation created by family and peers, rather than seek the benefit for themselves. This is due in part to the Japanese being extremely pragmatic about long-term stability and sustained happiness... But what about those individuals that are intrinsically (or internally) motivated? What about their individual dreams or wants in life? Despite their desire to experience their own individuality in life, many are forced in by societal rules to work hard for the sake of others instead of themselves, thus creating what outsiders might see as a "robotic society."

One might also assume that people in the US are more 'intrinsically motivated.' This is defined as someone who finds motivation from deep inside themselves, rather than from external factors. The end goal is to find a task that provides enough enjoyment from start to finish, with the end result and satisfaction being the key motivator. Many Americans, do in fact, try hard to find enjoyment in whatever they do and try to fulfill each and every one of their own expectations. While people are often encouraged to freely seek out their dreams and find happiness, there is quite the opposite effect. Unfortunately, for many adults, the definition of success or happiness also becomes more associated with a person's pride in their money, status or power. The line between wants and needs become blurred, sometimes resulting in short-term satisfactions, idealistic thinking, and instability. While the freedom of choice exists, it gives rise to greed and selfishness, resulting in those individuals to apply their perceived standards of happiness over any circumstance. This begs the question: Are these intrinsic motivations truly so, or do they evolve into extrinsic motivations based on our survival?

At first glance, these issues might appear different as a result of the environment, but they originate from the same point. The difference in cultures result in people growing into adults with a different attitude.

From the time that one is born, everyone can be considered an extrinsically motivated person. We are told what to do, we follow the rules, and we achieve these set goals to appease others. Although every individual goes through a different set of life experiences, what we decide to do, where we decide to go, and how we choose our life path determines what 'doors' open up or close inside us. Does a person study hard to get into a top-level school for the status, or do they do it out of love of their subject? When they look at their career options, are they deciding this job for the money, or do they choose it for their own personal satisfaction? Do they seek a love that fulfills society's ideals of a desirable mate, or do they desire a love that sustains their long-term happiness? Do they choose to live their life for the sake of their family, or do they choose to live it for their own well-being? The answers to these questions change throughout our lifetime, based on what is necessary to stabilize our lives.

While an individual's extrinsic and intrinsic motivations will vary depending on the subject matter, the ability to recognize where our motivations lie may be an indicator of our growth and understanding as a human being. Being able to understand what we want in life and why may not only be a sign of maturity, but it defines our individuality as well. At what point do we bridge each gap in our lives between childhood and adulthood? What experience will finally flip the switch to realization, understanding, appreciation and growth?

I'd like to end this entry with a quote by Mark Twain:

"When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Self-esteem and Discipline

Hi everyone,

After sitting together with a friend this past weekend, we got into an interesting discussion about the visible differences in self-esteem between people in the US and Japan. Just by examining an average person from each country, it is apparent as to what type of societal standards and expectations are placed on them that eventually shape their perception of themselves and their surroundings.

In Japan, perception plays a significant role within society. People pay a great deal of attention to others' image, but care equally as much about how they are perceived by others. The societal rules dictate the idea of "right" and "wrong" and are firmly cemented, thus pressuring people to follow what is deemed "correct" by these standards. Disciplinary measures are strictly implemented, forcing those who "stand out of line to get hammered back in" (a commonly known expression in Japan). Japanese are told not to question the reasons as to why something is the case, but instead, are to just follow orders as told. While this approach is effective at disciplining people to discern right from wrong or good from bad, it prevents people from further developing an understanding of self. People work hard to fulfill the standards set by society, but it counters people from gaining individual strength or attaining some sort of self-worth.

Sometime during the 1970's in the US, researchers garnered a great deal of attention by pushing what was called the "self-esteem movement." In a nutshell, this movement tried to improve the quality of children's self-worth by positive reinforcement and rewarding everyone with a 'pat on the back, despite winning or losing.' It also enforced the idea that everyone is entitled to their own opinion or ways, no matter if it is the wrong approach or not. Approaches to spankings, dunce hats, and time-outs, became quite controversial at this time, as they were still considered 'normal disciplinary measures.' This movement spawned a new set of ideals as to how to educate future generations of children, thereby creating the now 'modern' USA as we see it today.

Having lived in the US for quite some time, I grew up with these ideologies. I was taught a firm set of standards of 'right' and 'wrong' to follow within society, but was also trained to create my own personal standards to maintain individuality. Despite your differences in values with other people, you also had to accept that people 'chose' their own ideologies in life. While there is a great strength found in individuality, I also was guilty of abusing this privilege. I easily excused other people's opinions of me by reserving it as 'their own' and used any reason to shield my image and actions as being acceptable. This virtually left me with little room for any self-improvement and only made me more vulnerable to real hardship. This mentality enabled me to disregard others' 'actual perceptions,' thereby boosting my own image and self-esteem greater than what it was perceived to be. In order to encourage any sort of inner-growth, I had to apply this pressure to myself on my own.

Several critics in the US of this movement from this article here, are excerpted from this story stating:

"When you correct writing, they'll say, 'It's just your opinion,' which is infuriating. Bad grammar and spelling and sentences being wrong... it's just bad writing."

"There is an incredible sense of entitlement for people who don't deserve it. They'll come in right out of college and don't understand why they're not getting promoted in three months. Self-esteem for them meant you're the focus of society's attention."

Now that I am living in Japan, these set of expectations and standards are completely reversed. I can no longer use this mentality to validate my actions and I am expected to follow the trends to at least maintain an 'average' status. Although it might be perceived by Americans as a 'bad thing,' I don't particularly see it that way. Personally, I feel as though I have grown much more from the societal expectations of living here, something I did not feel back in the US.

While both cultures have their advantages and disadvantages, it is apparent that each culture is an opposite extreme. Elevated self-esteem leaves little room for growth and self-development, whereas lower self-esteem decreases motivation and inner-strength. If given a choice, what method would be more effective in the long-run? What standards better fulfill a well-rounded society?

I leave you with this humorous video of George Carlin and his personal opinions of self-esteem and modern society in the US. Enjoy!

Friday, April 15, 2011

One Month after the Kanto Earthquake.

Hi everyone,

First off, I'd like to thank everyone for all the kind messages and e-mails I've received. Although this blog only reaches a limited audience within my circle of friends and family, I'd still like to express my gratitude and appreciation for everyone's concerns.

I want to reassure everyone that I am safe and am the picture of health. Although there is so much to say about the event that took place, I cannot find all the words to describe the calamity that it was (even here in Tokyo) on & after March 11, 2011.

Many restaurants and stores were closed or empty for the first several weeks. Many of the train lines were completely stopped. Previously bustling towns were empty ghost-towns. Friends and family fled from their homes to other areas of Japan or even as far as other countries. Japan was in a state of repressed fear and panic for the first several weeks, especially with the news of radioactive leaks in the air/water and continuing aftershocks. The Japanese news reports tried not to overexaggerate the chaos, but the imagery and the video footage taken by residents and bystanders were enough to shake the entire nation. News overseas, on the otherhand, overexaggerated this news far more than what our own public broadcasts were reporting. Despite being well-prepared for strong earthquakes, Japan was not ready to face the power of the underestimated Tsunami. The earthquake did relatively little damage by comparison.

Its been about one month since the great Kanto quake. Many train lines have restarted again, shops have now re-opened, and many big businesses have resumed their head operations in Tokyo. Most Japanese people are trying to re-adjust themselves to the normal rhythm of their everyday lives again, but were taken by surprise from a Magnitude 7.1 aftershock at 8 AM this past Monday. The strong aftershocks still continue and the epicenters of these quakes are slowly traveling down south. People now fear that the next big quake will eventually hit the Tokyo area. It is a constant and eerie reminder of the damage and the many lives lost in the Tohoku area.

There has been a lot of talk about what the future of Japan will be. Many American analysts are speculating that it is "over for them." I beg to differ.

When World War 2 came to a close with the dropping of the atomic bomb, Japan was in the very same position (also with regard to radioactivity). Although many misdeeds and catastrophes took place, people just tried to put these events in the past, rebuild and resume their lives. The mindset was that "the current situation is a result of our own doing. we just need to move forward and try not to look back." The collective strength of the Japanese brought the nation back up on its feet, becoming (for a time) one of the most thriving nations in the world. Having been in a state of 「平和ボケ」or dumb-founded peace for so many years after the war, the Japanese youth have been spoiled by the numerous luxuries that society offers. What were once considered priviledges in the past, are now expected benefits. Many do not understand the meaning of working-hard, nor realize why they are working so hard. Motivation for living day-to-day has become a chore. However, with such catastrophe burned into so many Japanese minds, it can potentially revitalize the people's cause and strengthen their desire to work hard together once more. It is this collective strength that really shines within the Japanese society.

Various global journalists have examined the working ethic of the Japanese and have found great praise and respect for their discipline and patience since the aftermath of the quake. Many have also commented that if such chaos took place within their own home nations, it is likely that widespread panic will overtake the people and collective efforts are unlikely to be seen. Such collectivism in other global nations is not as unified as Japan, granted that many of these societies encourage more independence and individuality. This observation of the Japanese society is exactly what I believe will heal the country. So long as the people work together to revitalize their nation once more, Japan can continue its prosperity.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

One of the lucky few.

It is slowly approaching my one year and a half mark here in Japan. Having taken a trip to the US and coming back, it has allowed me to refresh my mind on my values that have evolved since I had left. It has not been that long, but It has allowed me to realized just how very lucky I am to be where I am today.

Reflecting back on previous posts, I had a lot of critical views on the changing values and morals of society, Westernization, and the ever-popular views of feminism. Today, I can only say that those thoughts have become even stronger than it was at the time I wrote those entries. Why so?

Perhaps it was Western chivalry that balanced and defined the sexes in the past (not to be be mixed up with Eastern values), but I feel that this type of system helped reinforce the purely biological roles of the male and the female - the male as the protector and the female as the nurturer. Men were expected to honor, serve, and do nothing to displease their maidens. Women made sure the men were nurtured and taken care of.

With Western society continuing to 'progress' these days, these defined roles have slowly deteriorated over time, along with the respect that each gender had for one another. The biological roles we once identified each other by were not replaced with anything else to define ourselves with. Both genders have now entered a state of limbo, trying to act out each other's role with little to no responsibility. Power distribution has become scattered and each gender now ridicules one another. At one point in time, female job and income equality was an issue, but this has already been achieved (these were all once rights that women and men both fought for). Sadly, it seems that the balance of power has tipped too far to the other side. The imbalance is then applauded and glorified as being 'just.' Although many may argue that Western society has progressed, I believe that our society has actually digressed as a result of this trend.

The statements I made above are ones that have been recited by many people, besides myself... but now you may ask, "Why this subject?" or "Where the hell are you going with this?" The reason for me bringing this up is to reaffirm just how fortunate my move has been for me. Without a doubt, Japan has thrown out a good deal of its Eastern traditions and has also become "Westernized," both for better and for worse; however, there's something still here that has more or less disappeared from American society: Respect.

I feel like my gender role and position in society is still respected. I feel like the institution of marriage is far more respected. I feel that my partner doesn't try to act on my role and allows me to execute it. The idea that hard work and overcoming mountains, persevering through the worst, and not looking for an escape is an engrained value. The idea that perfection is an imperfection - that imperfection is perfection in disguise.

With all due respect to Western tradition, it has taught me how to exercise the above listed ideas and traditions successfully here in Japan. It has helped me cover up for what the Eastern traditions lack and execute them without issue. Thanks to these Western ideals, I can now fully appreciate the feeling of being honored, respected, and appreciated for who I am and what I offer. It has allowed me to honor my partner for who she is, respect her for her role, and appreciate what she offers to me; something I never experienced living back in the States. I have but modern America to thank for all of this.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Virtual Vs. Real Society

Hi everyone,

While there are many difficulties dealing with both the Japanese and American societies, there is one common virtual-society that people of all races can run away to when there seems to be no escape: the Internet.

The Internet has been a blessing of sorts, bringing people hundreds of miles away from each other together in real-time. Businesses now run together, despite time zone differences. Services such as Twitter, Facebook, Blogger, and Mixi (Japan's facebook) transmit information within the very second you submit it, broadcasting your thoughts instantaneously to millions of viewers. Real-time news invalidates the need for newspapers, magazines and pamphlets. Chat programs such as Skype connect with other people real-time with live-streaming video. Global societies, once separated by time zones and oceans, now move together simultaneously with the Internet. Unfortunately, like any useful tool, it has also been used for malicious activity such as hacking, spying, stalking, and hostile action.

Although it can be used for shopping, chatting with friends, finding information, or meeting new people, it can be argued that the Internet has actually perpetuated more greed and selfish desire. Services such as Facebook survive off of the adage: "Fifteen minutes of fame" which, literally, happens to some people as often as every minute. Bloggers like myself (and I realize I am guilty of this as well) drive attention to one's content, as a way to make a bold public announcement of one's daily thoughts. Not content with your current partner? Finding a someone better over the Internet by use of services such as Facebook, Mixi, and Match makes this a simple task. Shopping is now as simple as point, click and charge! While it serves many beneficial purposes for the end-user, it has also created a lot of addictive habits, encourages people to strictly live in the moment, eliminates the need for face-to-face contact, and elicits immoral behavior.

Has this invaluable tool actually created more problems for us? It seems as if the Internet allows us to do whatever we need it to, but it does not regulate our behaviors and actions, nor stimulates our human senses as well. In that sense, the Internet poses a problem to us as humans, bringing us too many easy solutions and short-term satisfactions in a matter of moments. We now have access to a flood of information right at our finger tips! Has it has caused humans to become insatiable?

Trying not to veer too far off topic, I recently came across an interesting article written on how a nation's GNP (Gross National Product) is skewed with GNH (Gross National Happiness). (This link can be viewed here.) It basically states that the more affluent/rich a society is, the more likely that its population is unhappy. As a society becomes more affluent, the more likely an individual becomes greedy, and the standards to live become more complicated. The more money that is used to drive an economy, the more it leads to this greed and selfishness.

Now you may be thinking, how is this intertwined with the Internet? With the instant transmission of information, the real-world society is moving at a much faster pace and the desire for this information is now demanded within seconds. Now that it is used widely in global (Westernized) businesses, the real-world and virtual-world now work parallel to one another. Two virtually different societies, year by year, are becoming one and the same. People demand the same output in the real-world, in literally the same time their fingers click the "submit" buttons with their mouse.

In this way, the Internet has perpetuated humans to become even greedier than ever. Over time, more regulations will be placed on how this tool will be used, but it will not stop individuals from desiring satisfaction with quicker and faster results. With the Internet train moving full speed ahead, what lies in store for our society in the future? Will this prevent people from learning the true virtues of patience and perseverance?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Two Worlds

Hi everyone,

This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to meet a new American friend residing here in Japan. She is a half-Japanese/half-Caucasian woman and is currently on her 2nd month of living here as a member of society. In an earlier post I made this year, I briefly discussed the differences in treatment between Japanese and non-Japanese people. After hearing her experiences from the last several months, I decided to write a follow-up on this subject.

At the time I had written my blog, I highlighted several things that factored into my hardships living here in Japan. I was convinced that people who did not have a "full-blooded Japanese" look would be treated quite differently.

When I asked her about how she is perceived here, she stated:

"People in Japan sometimes look at me and think 'something isn't quite right' (they are unable to discern her from being Japanese or American),' but other times, I feel that being racially ambiguous helps me."

She continued by explaining her inner-conflicts in the US and Japan:

" When I'm in the States, people can clearly see that I'm not just "white," but a mix of something else. I would check the 'Asian/Pacific Islander' box on ballots and applications, because that's my heritage... but when I think about my culture and how I live my life, I'm through-and-through an American girl (that just happens to own a rice cooker and loves me some raw fish now and again). It segregated me from others in the US and being here in Japan is no different. Even if I look more Japanese, I'm not walking-the-walk or talking-the-talk. I try to respect the culture and learn the language, but because of the fact that I'm a foreigner in this country, I will never quite be up to par."

She added her upbringing and background and how it conflicts with her everyday living:

"I was young when I started speaking Japanese, so my accent is pretty good. I try to practice Japanese in everyday conversation as much as possible but I get to a point where I'm just not picking up what locals are throwing down. I can't understand what they are saying, nor do I know how to communicate what I need to say... but that's when they realize that I'm not one of them. Even though I'm used to saying: "I'm sorry, I don't understand" or "Do you understand English?" its always a little bruising when they give you that puzzled-look because they can't speak English... or they are confused because you are clearly Asian and don't speak the language."

It is clear that this type of judgement is not just reserved for Japanese-looking people, as it now extends to anyone who looks Asian. Although I felt the expectations held of me were high, she is also going through a very similar hardship. Perhaps this is a sign that times have changed? Perhaps Japan is now opening its eyes to the rest of the world?

International marriages and foreign spouses have become more common in Japan, which likely makes it harder to discern whether one is of Japanese-descent or not; however, it makes assimilating into the culture and society that much more difficult for those who aspire to come here with an Asian background.