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.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Eastern Vs Western Ideology

Hi everyone,

I often hear the saying that "people are cultivated by their environments." Having lived in the US for many years, it was hard for me to understand this notion at all; however, after surviving over a year out here in Tokyo, I have started to see exactly what this statement means. Allow me to explain:

I first noticed a difference when Japanese friends of mine often made comments during euphoric moments "that they would die happy at this very moment with no regrets." I brushed it off initially, but I heard this comment more and more frequently over time. Just from my first impressions, it appeared as if "dying happy" was more gratifying than "living happily." I started to imagine myself saying the same... but as hard as I tried, I just could not put myself in the same frame of mind. Dying in such a way certainly didn't equate to a "happy ending."

I started to think back to all the stories I read or television dramas I watched while being here in Japan. Very few of these traditional folk stories, animated movies, or television dramas had happy endings, with many ending quite tragically! Conversely, a majority of the stories or movies I watched with happier endings ended up being Western-styled movies, especially those produced by Disney or Pixar. This isn't to say that all Japanese media had a sad plot or ending, but a number of them did!

I explained my thoughts to a friend of mine, who happens to be Japanese and married to an American man. She then brought up the whole meaning of "death" in Japan and "Bukkyou," or Buddhist teachings and traditions. She mentioned that people in Japan may look at death as a chance to start over, or be reborn as something new. As excerpted from the web:

"According to Buddhist tradition, reincarnation is a process in which the spirit is continually reborn after death until ultimate enlightenment is reached. When one passes from one stage of life to another, one must be mindful of thoughts and emotions. This also means surrounding oneself with loved ones and encouragement."

This made sense, as it explains why people would make such comments like the ones I mentioned above. However, it made me realize that my own ways were cultivated as a result of a Westernized country, educational system and government based on Christian beliefs: that we are given one life, one chance, and that we need to treasure our existence, rather than throw it away so easily.

I thought about the frequent suicides that take place here in Japan. As I stated in earlier entries, over 30,000 people commit suicide each year by jumping off of buildings or running themselves into a train (mainly due to overwhelming pressure in society or complete failure). To the Western mind, ending one's life is a cowardly and selfish move, since it appears as if one is just running from their problems; however, this is a judgement made by someone such as myself, cultivated in a Western society. I read on further:

"What determines the next life is termed Karma. Karma can be thought of as the tally sheet of good and bad deeds and it follows us throughout our existence. If one lives his or her life without right thought and right action, the consequences may lead to a lesser existence. Unlike Western religion, one is able to shed their bad Karma and move out of the lesser states of existence. To the Buddhist, hell is not a place of eternal suffering, but a temporary place that one can transcend. An important distinction is that life, death, and rebirth are more of a continuum in the Buddhist faith, rather than a soul that has one life and one existence. Ultimately, Buddhist beliefs in death reflect how one leads life in the now. The goal is to seek the good, reject evil, and above all shed ignorance. If one follows this path and continuously keeps truth in mind then one can be reborn into a higher existence. "

Ideally, no one should intervene with the way other people choose to live their lives or alter their belief systems. We all are cultivated by these factors to a great extent, but is there a right or wrong? A good or bad? This post was not meant to say that everyone in Japan follows Bukkyou, nor does it state that everyone in the US has a Christian foundation either. It does, however, illustrate how people are cultivated based on the foundations our societies are built from.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Lost in Translation (Addendum)

Hi everyone,

The other day, I had a talk with a friend of mine about certain feelings that cannot be expressed outside of the Japanese language. It was a subject that didn't cross my mind, simply because those feelings came natural to me, having both a background in both Japanese and American culture. Today, I'd like to highlight just what those feelings are.

Most traditional Japanese believe that maintaining harmony with everyone is essential to keeping peace, so many will go out of their way to make sure that no commotions are started. People will intentionally create space between two people by use of honorifics (respectful language), withdraw from stating their opinions on a subject, or not divulge too much personal information about themselves. To avoid creating any disruptions to human relations, it is natural for most Japanese to use this tactic with others to create "walls" around themselves. If someone were to be in this type of a situation, they would hope the other person can "read the air" (or "read their feelings"). Since Japanese people would likely refrain from expressing their feelings openly, they'd hope the other person can feel the "tension" or sense the lack of response.The term to describe one who is unable to sense feelings is called "KY" - 「空気を読めない」/ Kuuki wo yomenai - or "unable to read the air." This type of expression, although very recent in Japan, is lost in translation amongst people outside of Japan.

Another expression that is undefined in the English language, is the word "Koi" / 恋, or "passionate love." The Japanese word for "true meaningful love" is the word "Ai / 愛." The English language does not have words to accurately describe the differences between such feelings, but rather lumps both into the word "love." The Japanese typically refrain from using the word "Ai," instead using the words "Koi" or simply just saying they like someone very much. Afterall, if that love isn't true, its best not to state it - right? After a quick search on the web, I found a rough definition of the two:

"Koi" is a love for the opposite sex, or a longing feeling for a specific person. It can be described as "romantic love" or "passionate love." While "ai" has the same meaning as "koi," it also has a definition of a general feeling of love. "Koi" can be selfish, but "ai" is a real love. Koi is always wanting. Ai is always giving."

Perhaps the closest the definition to "Koi" and "Ai" could be "Lust" and "Love," but the word "Lust" only implies a sexually driven attraction.

Added 12/23/2010:

Although not directly related to feelings, I discovered recently that the word "selfish" or わがまま is also different across cultures. In Japan, the word selfish can translate as someone who:

  • Does not work well in a team with others.
  • Has an independent personality.
  • Has strong opinions.
  • Does not appease others.

In contrast, the definition for selfish in the US (or how 'selfishness' has evolved) comes closer to someone who:

  • Has excessive/exclusive concerns with one's self.
  • Has great disregard for others.
  • Lacks generosity.
  • Greedy / strong desire for possessions and control.
  • Shows elements of narcissism, objectivism, solipsism and egotism.

Although the word "selfish" is similarly defined as thinking of one's self excessively, it implies a different meaning in each society. American society already places a high value on independence and having strong opinions, whereas the Japanese society does not. In contrast, the Japanese society believes strongly in the Golden Rule (treat others as how you would like to be treated), but ends up becoming very self-serving (people expect to be treated well in return). Elements that are deemed as "selfish" in both cultures exist as societal norms.

These are just a couple of examples of expressions that cannot be described very accurately in the English language. Both languages embed certain feelings or cultural references inside each word, making sense only to those who understand those societal norms. Although this is just a few of many, I hope that this explanation can open more doors to your understanding of the Japanese culture.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Hi everyone,

It's been a long 4 or 5 months since I've last written in this blog. Needless to say, a lot has happened over the course of this time period, both great and not so great. The end of October is now officially my 1-year of living in Japan!

The great news is that I am now officially engaged to my girlfriend of a year and a half, and am very eager to see what lies in store for me in my future. The not so great news is the on-going tumble of the economy in Japan and the rest of the globe. It is very painful to endure when much of it is out of your control, but the only thing that I've been able to rely on is pure 'hope' and 'faith.' Whether things turn out for the better or for the worst, I intend to come out as a winner despite what happens.

I reviewed many past entries to reflect on my knowledge and further understanding of Japan, the country that I knew so little about only one year ago. As each day goes by, I am able to confirm these entries more and more. Although I still have a great deal of things to say, I can't seem to put them into words yet. As I start to figure it out, I will try to enter in my latest revelations as soon as I can.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Striking a balance.

Hi everyone,

I wanted to discuss a balance issue I have witnessed between couples in both Japan and the US. Every pair goes through all kinds of problems, but when two people are upset about who is "doing more of the work," how do we begin resolving this issue? It could be a difference in cultural values, but I wanted to share this idea with you today.

(Note: These are general descriptions of the stereotypes I have encountered. They are not applicable to everyone.)

In my opinion, the "Me Me Me" mindset is the general stereotype of women in the US nowadays. Having experienced this myself first-hand, the woman I was involved with put her needs in first place and made me secondary. Her feelings were the most important, meaning that if she was "happy," that everything else (including my own feelings) was satisfactory. Recognition or understanding of my feelings were frequently lacking, and her pride and ego were a burden on communication. Conflict resolution was the toughest battle, resulting in a lot of unresolved issues. I was explicitly told to put in 70% effort, while she only put in 30% at all times. While being "strong," "dominant," and being treated like a "woman" could be characterized as having sex appeal in the US, I feel the expectations are far too unrealistic and only create frustration.

The Japanese stereotype, on the other hand, is more of a "You you you" mindset. Basically, it is to think of others before yourself, with careful consideration of your own actions as well. Saying your opinion or taking action without anyone's consent is thought to be selfish and inconsiderate. Instead of the woman making the decisions, the men are usually expected to make the final choice. Men are generally above women here, and expect their women to take care of their basic needs (or treat them like a "man"). The imbalance of power lies within women who are 'too considerate' of others feelings, while disregarding or ignoring their own dissatisfaction. This overly altruistic mindset can only add up to a lot of pent up animosity.

So where do we draw the line between balancing both out? I don't necessarily believe that either are the correct approach. Idealistically speaking, a 50/50 effort would strike a great balance.... but I have also realized that this is just as incorrect.

At any given moment, depending on the varying circumstances, the balance could easily tip to 75/25 - 25/75 on either side. No matter how 'equal' the men or the women want it to be, it is a constant push and pull... a balancing act, so to speak. Being able to put your needs away for the other is an absolute necessity. Taking one for granted is a big 'no-no,' but becoming too selfish about how much 'effort' you are making completely disregards the 'effort' they would similarly make for you.

As humans, I think we tend to take a lot of things for granted. Yet, we also start to feel more selfish when the odds are against us. Could it be the lack of understanding that causes the said imbalance issues to arise? Could problems be solved easier if people accepted the 'tug-of-war' for one's attention and needs?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Shinkansen through Hyogo.

I shot this with my Iphone 3GS going from Kyoto to Shin-Osaka on the Nozomi. I was playing the song in the BGM on my Ipod while looking outside and decided to take a video clip. I did some minor color correcting/sharpening in After Effects, but nothing major.

Click the link to check the video out in HD.

Friday, June 11, 2010


Hello everyone,

The other day, I was asked by my co-worker as we casually walked outside to grab a bite for lunch if I recalled the story to the movie, "Avatar." To those that have not seen it, please do not read below, as you may spoil the story for yourselves!

I did remember the story pretty vividly, but the first thing that came up were my thoughts on how it related to me. I responded, 'Yeah, I think I do. It reminds me a lot of a the video games these days. I used to play one just like it.' She responds, 'Just try telling me the story as you remember it.'

I gave it my best shot and gave her a summary of how humans needed a new natural resource that an alien race has and controls. Humans sent a group of individuals to assimilate into their society, gain knowledge of how this energy is created, and locate the source to steal it for themselves. Over time, the group sent to study this society realized the faults of their own, thus wanting to escape and become one of them. (There are more prominent themes to the story, but I decided not to explain each character's motive)

My co-worker responded in surprise, explaining that when she thinks back to a movie's story or background, she can hardly remember what happened. She explained that when she watches a movie, she can only remember the emotional feel of the movie and whether it had a good or bad ending. She recalled the movie "Chicago," stating that while it had a good presentation, she cannot recall what the story was about or whether it sought to prove a point or teach a lesson.

She then asked me if it was typical of me to analyze a movie in such great depth. I told her that I thought it was typical of me, but I figured that this was what most people did anyway. To both her and my surprise, I guess this wasn't the case.

Question: Watching a movie and analyzing it can both be good and bad, as it can have a tendency to influence ones thoughts. If a majority of viewers watch mass media in a particular way, how do you think it would affect society as whole?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Hi everyone,

Just standing near the entrance of the train station and looking around, I notice every woman carries a glitzy handbag or wears trendy clothes. Men walking by also dress as equally stylish. A group of women in their 20's walk past me and are headed to Marui, ready to grab the next latest product trend. Another group of women sitting at the nearby Starbucks gab about their boyfriends, whether it be about how much they make, what kind of job they have, how they look, or whether they see an imminent future with them. A few men standing around talk about their latest experiences with women, whether at a Konpa (a meet up based on dating), or by meeting through some other means. A couple passes me heading towards the nearest new hotspot for delicious food, while a man next to me is playing with the latest Playstation Portable waiting for his next train to arrive.

Japan as a society moves quickly. Whether it be the next latest fashion trend or the newest piece of technology, people must have it. The Japanese are judgmental of your looks, your power, and your status. The pressure to to maintain these things, as well as follow the rules society dictates is even greater. When you live in a place where people keep quiet about their personal lives and show a second face, all the superficiality is just a mask for concealing their true selves. Society here is very materialistic, basing their happiness on obtaining or consuming the latest goods. People will do whatever they can to keep up with the next wave. While many others try to rally against this and pursue their own happiness outside of the norm, it is highly looked down upon.

This superficiality extends to even the communication. While it seems everyone is showing a kind face, you really do not know their true feelings. The Japanese like to call this type of face "humility," but is it really so? Boasting about yourself is not highly looked upon, in addition to making others jealous or making them feel green with envy. If I happened to sound boastful of something I was happy about, I was sometimes greeted with a genuinely happy compliment.. but other times greeted with a nonchalant counter-argument or realistic remark to bring me back down.

With a country so rich in technology, latest fashion trends, convenience and wonderful delicacies, I always thought, "Why are people so depressed out here? What would push as many as 30,000 people to commit suicide like this?" While I believe many countries suffer from this problem, I think Japan is especially difficult due to the pressure to conform.

Could this entire problem stem from the superficiality of the society? If the pressure from society to conform did not exist, could people live more freely and happier? Could it be that people are convincing themselves that they are happy, even though they are not?

Sunday, June 6, 2010


Hi everyone,

It has been about 8 months since I first arrived here in Japan. Just casually walking streets, you'll find a variety of people that will pass by. Whether it be through their dress or style, or even their mannerisms to you when they greet you, you will generally find that people are all similar. This is only when looking at things on the surface. There's no telling what kind of people they are like, because you never know if they are showing you their true face or not. How can you tell what kind of people they are? How can you more easily be able to judge a person's character?

While there are many types of ways to "categorize," a majority of Japanese people like to believe in blood type (ketsueki-gata). What does this mean? People will categorize each other by the blood types (Thanks Wikipedia):

  • A (Best traits: Earnest, creative, sensible / Worst traits: Fastidious, overearnest)
  • AB (Best traits: Cool, controlled, rational / Worst traits: critical, indecisive)
  • B (Best traits: Wild, active, doer / Worst traits: Selfish, irresponsible)
  • O ( Best traits: Agreeable, sociable, optimistic / Worst traits: vain, rude)

Now you may ask, what does all this mean? Basically, it is easier to understand a person's personality by categorizing them into one of these four. If you talk to any Japanese person, chances are they will know their blood type and try to find a correlation with it and people around them. Watch any television show and they will judge your romantic compatibility horoscope with another person with this information. It is interesting to look at these traits, because they are all generally written. Anyone can apply to each of these descriptions, but many people here believe that their dominant traits are described just within these categories.

Much like blood types, another wildly popular subject in Japan is the Western view of birthdays/astrology. Similarly to how it is believed in the West, the Japanese also will categorize or judge a person's character based on this information. Turn on the TV, and you will usually see a horoscope forecast for that day and given sign. Go to the bookstore and you'll see a variety of literature dedicated to people born on a particular day/time/location, their romantic compatibility with other signs, or even descriptions of what is believed to be their future.

While many Japanese believe this to be true, could this just be an easier way to make more sense of the people around us? Could this just be making things easier to see and understand, without having to go through the hassle of getting to know a person? Does this alleviate stress by attaching 'truths' to a person without really knowing who they are? Does this give confidence to people in order to deal with others better?

Our financial security, our jobs, our family lives, our love lives, our future.. these are all common problems that we face each day with other people. There are so many uncertainties in this world, but these are ways to make things easier to understand everyone around us, including ourselves. They alleviate the stress of knowing the unknown. People spend hundreds of dollars on analysts who specialize in these areas, hoping to get a better understanding of their surroundings.

When it becomes so simple to categorize people in this manner, do we disregard the way they were raised? Do we disregard their current mental state? Do we disregard their core values? While it may be easier to deal with others using these categories, we should not forget that people are still people, and we are a product of our environment and the experiences we go through.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

An outsider opinion regarding modern views of society.

Hello everyone,

Before leaving the US for my move here, I was somewhat unaware of how mentalities differed between the two countries. Granted that Asian countries have become more Westernized, I came to Japan with no expectations of it being that way. Unfortunately, some of these Western influences (both good and bad) have somehow made its way over here. Today I wanted to discuss several impacts I have witnessed of Western pop culture on Japanese and American society.

Pop culture references from the US, such as "Sex and the City," "The OC," and "The Desperate House Wives" have all found some kind of popularity here in Japan. An abundance of females watch these television shows, possibly thinking that these are representative of the modern American woman. Strong, liberated, opinionated, and independent are probably some of the words that come to mind from viewers in America. There is a bit of glamor and envy in many women who aspire to be as "strong" as the characters of Sex and the City. To my surprise, however, some of the Japanese viewers have described the women as "selfish," "superficial," "inconsiderate," and "not willing to cooperate." Keep in mind, that not all Japanese saw it this way, as many actually fancied the idea of being just like the portrayed "modern woman."

My very brief experience of watching Sex and the City before coming to Japan did not phase me, but it has been quite eye-opening as of late. I used to think that the empowerment of women was just part of the evolution of American society. Now looking back, I have realized that a lot of this may be working to destroy what were originally good core values for marriage and relationships. The ones that work most against these traditional/core values are the characters "Carrie" and "Samantha" (save for the character "Charlotte," the only one who maintains these values). They appear strong and independent, but seem to control things on their own terms, at times with complete disregard for their male counterparts. At some points during the show, the main character is so self-absorbed and concerned with her own issues, that she doesn't even bother listening to her close friends. They seek some kind of love or affection, but like to remain emotionally-detached enough to prevent themselves from becoming too hurt or vulnerable. Throughout the story, they are getting involved in on and off relationships and are consumed by the plethora of material goods and brand-name fashion items around them. I heard these characters eventually realize that they need "grow up" and let go of their independence, selfishness and greed in order to find marriage, but literally years after the series began. Could this idea of being "strong" just be a cover up for them actually being "weak?"

In my opinion, a fully-engaged relationship is lowering your barriers, opening yourself up, and always thinking of your partner's happiness before your own. Unfortunately, with the onset of this post-feminism movement, new phrases such as "co-dependency" diagnose this type of behavior as very bad. It defines attachment, your partner's happiness being tied to your own, and dependence on one another as a major factor for disappointment. It reinforces that you maintain your own ground and keep your feelings independent of one another. If you are in an abusive relationship, I see this as being true, but can this behavior be applied to all relationships? Is this cold and distant view of relationships a healthy outlook?

The major difference between both cultures likely has to do with the definition of "strength." While the Japanese association of strength is more "patience" and "understanding," the Western association of strength has more to do with being vocal and "taking control of the situation." While Japanese women have become more vocal than men as of late, it is largely still a male dominated society. Sure, there is a need for equality, but when one starts to feel entitled to being selfish or greedy, where should the line be drawn? With "post-feminism" movements abound, the desire for women to be able to handle things on their own has gained huge momentum. Could this face an extreme and be potentially destructive of Western traditional marriage and its core values?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Hikosaemon's - "How to argue with Japanese people."

Here's a rather interesting video I found about difference in communication styles out here. Enjoy!

Japan's current job system and the future.

Hi everyone,

It has been a while since I posted, but today I would like to discuss a few things I have thought about Japan's job system recently. After a few encounters with many working professionals in Japan (including my own relatives), I have pondered a lot about the good and bad of this system and its future.

Japan's traditional system focuses on company loyalty over technical skills. Most focus on hiring based on that person's educational background, and not their skill-set or abilities. If that person happened to graduate from a university such as Todai or Keio (The Harvard & Stanford of Japan), it is likely you can get hired at a very good company and work your way up to the top of the ranks. They will of course train you along the way, but part of the training includes working long hours, strict discipline, and intentional work harassment (as many would see it in the US). The norm is for an individual to work extremely hard under these conditions for the first 10 years of their career, only to finally settle in during their 30's. The work load will lessen over the years and their salaries will increase dramatically as they maintain higher positions as managers.

Salaries will often times include an employee's bonus in the figure, but can change based on that employee's performance. The bonus is paid twice a year, usually on the 6th and the 12th month. Retirement fees are paid through what is called "Nen-kin" (It is the 401k equivalent in Japan) and can only be received after 20 years of consistent working. You must also pay what is called "Jyuuminzei" while living here after your first year, but it is determined by how much you make during a year's time. It is probably the equivalent of paying state/federal tax.

A friend of mine was previously a headhunter at a well-known job hunting agency out here in Japan. When I asked her about this system, she brought up a few good points:

  • If you come from a good school, it is pretty much guaranteed that you will find a good job at a company.
  • Your pay will be determined by the amount of time you are with that company, instead of how well you know your trade.
  • Japanese systems are known to get easier with time and will pay better as you climb the system.
  • It is assumed that sticking to your job as a "Sei-Shaiin," or full-time employee, will grant you a lot more stability.
  • The Japanese government protects your employment - laws make firing an employee much more difficult.

And a few bad points:

  • Japanese salaries tend to be 1/3 of American salaries (or the international standard) starting from the bottom of a company.
  • Japanese companies recognize loyalty and brand recognition, unlike American companies that will pay according to your skill or merits.
  • Your private life is not valued; Your working life takes precedence.
  • You must work your way up, earning your boss's trust ("Settai" Appeasing the client/bosses, "Nomi-kai" Drinking with the boss, and "Zangyou" working of long hours).
  • Age discrimination usually takes place - If your boss/co-worker is older than you, it is an absolute must to pay them your respects (saying "No" is not allowed), despite them being right or wrong.
  • If the individual happens to lose his job in his/her 40's or 50's, many with this type of job background usually do not have a skill (They tend to know a lot of general information, but lack a specific trade); therefore, finding a job can be extremely hard because of old age discrimination/lack of skill.

After learning about these specifics, I started to ponder about American systems as well. Certainly there has to be some major positives or negatives about the American system.. Here is what I came up with for positives:

  • Your pay will be of international standard (or 2-3 times more than Japanese standard).
  • Your private life will be respected.
  • You will be respected by your ability and skills, not by your age and educational background.
  • Your opinions are respected; You are able to more freely voice them (without going overboard).
  • As long as you maintain your trade/skill, laws in the US prohibit work hiring discrimination.
  • Power harassment and sexual harassment are also more strictly enforced.

And negatives:

  • Your skills and abilities are valued, but having skills that become outdated cannot guarantee you a job.
  • Even though discrimination is illegal, it still exists in the US.
  • Despite how hard you worked to get your education, studying hard is not enough. You have to be able to prove your value to a company and why they need you.
  • It is easier to fire an employee in the US. Japan has stricter laws that protect their employees from being let go.
  • Salaries will be higher, but responsibility will also be as well. Typically when a company lets go of their employees, the highest paid are the first to go.
  • Being a full-time employee does not guarantee long-term stability.

With the globalization of Japan and the significant increase of in International/American companies and foriegners living here, can the Japanese system survive? While the American system has its merits, is there anything that can be improved to grant the stability of the Japanese system?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Smoking Man

Hello everyone!

This morning, I happened to run into a middle-class working man who runs a furniture store below my floor. I don't know his name, nor know much about his personal life, but I know he is very amicable and easy to talk to. I like to call him the "cheerful smoking man."

Every so often, we will greet each other and discuss topics on the differences between the US and Japan in great detail. The fact that he knows I am not Japanese-born allows him to lower his guard (and not try to appease me) and state his honest opinion to me without restraint. Today was of no exception, as he started to discuss his opinions on the societal issues in Japan.

He believes that Japan has had heavy influence from the US in terms of personal freedom and thinks that it has caused a number of problems. Because Japan is a 'group-oriented' country where the people must always appease others, he feels that the desire for 'independence and freedom' has caused a number of problems. People who have become doctors, lawyers, or teachers/professors, are doing so for the wrong motivations. Rather than do it out of passion to help others, they do it out of greed for power and respect from the people around them. Due to this problem, he feels that this has caused major problems not only in the government and big corporate businesses, but in the Japanese educational system as well.

In times past, he states that the Japanese social elite genuinely shared more concern for the welfare of others. Japan's success after the second World War was due to the Japanese group-mentality of working together for the prosperity of the country; however, the more "modern Japanese" seek greater personal freedom and individualism. He states that a number of Japanese only adopted the idea of independent thought from the US, disregarding the bigger picture.

He believes that this generation of politicians and social elite are causing the Japanese society to become corrupt. Unless this generation of Japanese running the country die out, Japan cannot reform itself into a new country that can fully adopt Western ideals.

What are your opinions on this?

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"Japan The Strange Country" (Japanese / 日本語)

I decided to add this video recently, because the content is fairly accurate in terms of what I have been seeing. Although this video provides important and useful insights to those who wish to dig deeper into what the country and society are like, it does not highlight a lot of the positives that Japan has to offer and focuses more on the negatives. Among the things I do disagree on/have opinions about are these points:

  • The height of Japanese people has increased tremendously. Men/women are now as tall as the world average.
  • Japanese are all characterized in this video as having smaller eyes, which is also not true.
  • While the video highlights the amount of trash being dumped in Japan, the country also has one of the most efficient recycling programs I have ever seen.
  • I also found that the explanation of suicide only listed the number, but didn't go into detail as to why that was the case. It would have been nice if he elaborated more on the Japanese (or Asian) mentality.
  • I found the "love" section to not be very informative. I would prefer if he had elaborated more on what "love" is considered to be in Japan.
  • The person who wrote this script is definitely of Japanese descent, but I think he fails to see things from the perspective of a foreigner that is non-asian. If you are asian looking, you may see things a lot more like the script-writer does.

If you are able to acclimate to the differences, Japan is a fairly nice place to live in! Hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Japan and the current economy.

Hi everyone,

Today I'd like to discuss Japan and the current economic conditions as of February 23rd, 2010. There is a wide-range of subjects I could discuss here, but I would like to express my thoughts on the society here and how everyone has been reacting to all of this.

As in the words of my uncle, "No news is good news right now." Japan's suicide-rate has risen considerably over the past year due to the bad economy. Seeing the characters "人身事故" on the television screen inside the train (or "Human Casuality") has become quite frequent, occurring up to 5 times a day. In the year 2008, a national statistic showed that over 20,000 people died from jumping into trains. Suicide is very infrequent in America, so it is a bit peculiar as to why it is so common here.

Japanese society is very strict, not just with mannerism's and respect, but also with a person's worth. This type of value could range from one's level of education, career, clothes, age, looks, or what company they work for. Being a homogenous society that promotes "group-thought" rather than "individual thought," it can be rather difficult to survive when people around you judge you based on these attributes and more. If you do happen to have all the right factors in place, your life here will be a lot more fortunate, following a rather stable and linear-path. On the other hand, not having these factors could work against you. In such circumstances, it could inevitably push people over to such extremes.

As an American, I find the suicide rate here horrifying. As a child, we have all been taught that we can do anything if we put our minds to it. Of course, everyone needs the money to be able to do so; however, Americans have more opportunity to change the course of their lives. We have the option of going to school whenever we can, we can start up our own businesses if we wanted, and we can try new things without as much fear of rejection from others. Americans can also be equally (if not more) judgmental about your looks, clothes, age and career, but "group thought" is not enforced like it is in Japan. As an individual, you can pursue a goal and achieve it with fewer barriers. It is for these reasons that I believe suicide occurs far less frequently in the US.

Despite how Japanese and American mentalities may be different, everyone is suffering in the same way around the world. I feel, however, that how we perceive this hardship is viewed far differently. Knowing that this situation is completely out of anyone's control is the hardest thing to come to grips with. Since time does not stop when one is depressed, everyone has to keep doing their best, believe in themselves and keep moving forward.

Your mind and heart can be your savior, or your worst enemy.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Addendum to Communication in Japan.

Hi everyone,

Today I wanted to make an addition to my very first entry I discussed before about 'communication in Japan.'

As discussed before, Japan is a place where your personal opinion is shunned. This does not mean your opinion cannot be expressed to others at all, but mainly just in the face of the general public. The words "Honne"(True Intentions) and "Tatemae" (Public Stance) are what describe this type of practice in Japan.

American education typically stresses how to individually discuss, argue or debate our stances on issues. Whether it is writing an essay or discussing opinions, Americans are more adapted to accepting these differences in thought. When making an argument, reasons and opinions are typically attached as to why you may feel a certain way.

The Japanese educational system, on the other hand, does not support this type of expression. Japan stresses more "group-thought." They believe that by removing these differences in opinions, there is more peaceful communication. Differences are thought to be an opposition to moving forward; therefore, reading one's thoughts (or "Kuuki wo yomu") are essential to the Japanese. If there is any slight opposition to one's feelings or thoughts, they use this as a way to express their concerns or disagreement (i.e. Pausing a few seconds before saying "Yes" or slightly changing your tone of voice). Since they are also not well adapted to expressing their opinions, a majority of Japanese also encounter problems articulating their feelings into words. Attaching reasons as to why they feel a certain way may be more difficult.

I feel that independent American thought has its advantanges and disadvantages. Although it helps people enforce their opinions and articulate their feelings, it also has potential to breed unnecessary pride, selfishness, lack of modesty and inconsideration of others. While difference in thought is accepted, it can be seen as being 'difficult.'

While the Japanese way of thought enforces group harmony, modesty, and selflessness, it certainly makes understanding people's thoughts much more difficult, and can create a lot of internal stress (which inevitably will create disharmony). This also causes people to use up their energy (or "Ki wo tsukau") for others, just to maintain stability and peacefulness. The idea that 'silence is golden' does not help open communication and understanding of others' true feelings.

It is subjective to say which country has the better outlook and which does not, because both come with their good and bad sides. Ideally, a person who is able to read another person's thoughts and feelings, while expressing their own thoughts and feelings, can strike a perfect balance.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The English Eigo complex.

If there is one thing I could name that has amazed me the most here, it is the "Eigo complex" (or English complex) that Japanese people have. Now initially, I did not really think much of it when I entered the country. English is just a language, so what more is there to think of it?

People here will cower from you if you speak to them in English. It is not because they dislike you, but it is because they are intimidated. People here study English from a young age and are taught that it is a very valuable skill, therefore it is highly valued. If you take a look around, there are advertisements for English language schools literally everywhere. As a career, I am unsure of how it is perceived, but I know that having that ability is very sought after here.

The image associated with English-speakers here are that they are White.. not Asian, not any other race. If you happen to be a White-American speaking both English and Japanese fluently, you have quite an advantage here. Just from witnessing the experiences of others, I have seen your typical White male suddenly become popular overnight. Case in point? If you fit the bill, perhaps you might have a chance out here to do something (hopefully not just teaching English).

As for myself, I am an American born Japanese. My Japanese is nowhere near native-level, but it is more than enough to get by. Everyday is a study session for me, whether it is me learning new words, learning harsh lessons, or understanding the different ways of thinking. The only downside to this is that I am frequently mistaken for being Japanese. Is being looked at as "Japanese" a good thing? Yes and no.

  1. Japanese people will hold "Japanese" expectations of you if they consider you as one of their own. Most people cannot fathom the idea of a Japanese person growing up outside of the country, let alone not being able to speak their language fluently.

  2. If you one day you make some kind of mistake that completely offends someone Japanese, you won't be able apologize and get away with it like a "foreigner" can.

  3. You won't be quite as sought after. It could be just treated as 'special.' It may be a good or bad thing, but your image won't save you here. The best you may get are stares from other people walking by wondering, "Why is this Japanese guy speaking fluent English?"

Now this might be a nice argument to defend myself with, but one has to consider the view of how 'non-Japanese' might see their experience here:

  1. Japanese people will not hold "Japanese" expectations of you, therefore, they will just excuse you from pretty much anything. This also means they won't take the time to explain to you what anything means.

  2. If you one day make some kind of mistake that completely offends someone Japanese, you may get away with it easily.. but somehow you don't feel right. In a way, you want to be treated more as 'one of them.'

  3. Be prepared to get the stares and the funny looks. You fit the bill of being the 'foreigner,' but now you have a lot of 'show and tell' to do. Be prepared for the best or the worst.

I guess there is no real 'middle-ground' here, so to speak. If you are mistaken for being Japanese, you'll get the full harsh lesson on what it is to be. If you are not, people may never take the time to show you what it is, nor accept you as one of them. What would you choose?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Age and Respect in Japan.

Hi everyone,

Today I will be discussing an issue that has interested me a great deal ever since I was educated on this subject.

Now, I am sure that all of you reading this blog have been told at some point 1.) You are still young, so that's why you don't know, 2.) You don't understand, because of your age, 3.) You have to grow another few years to know. Whether it be Japan or America, we've all been taught to "respect our elders." While it might be more loosely viewed in the US, it is especially strict out here in Japan. Today I'll discuss how prevalent this mentality is out here. To start off, I'll explain just how much it impacts society.

Just within everyday society, the Japanese are taught to respect those who are older than them, even if it is just by a few months! The idea that you have lived a few months longer, equates to a greater experience and maturity level. This also means that you, the younger one, must change your language to be more respectful of their status (despite it being earned only by the time you were born).

As a working citizen in Japan, if you are in your 20's, it is common to make an income between 25,000 USD to 45,000 USD. Your salary is assumed to increase about 10k per each year passed. However, when you reach your mid 30's (or work 10 years at the same company), it is assumed that your income will suddenly more than double or triple. This system is enforced to promote company loyalty and pretty much keep your life set in one path. Your age alone has just promoted your job status and income level!

In the US, you can make about 100,000 USD a year just depending on your job experience, abilities, and 'salary haggling' skills. This makes attaining a high-paying job achievable even in your early to mid-20's. This does not, unfortunately, guarantee your job stability at one company for greater than 10 years like Japanese companies do. Your life path is what you make of it, therefore, you are able to freely switch jobs more flexibly.

Just from this example alone, it is pretty easy to see how impactful "age" and "respect" are in Japan.

As traditional as it may be, there are good and bad sides to this mindset. First, it teaches children and adults how to respect people. The Japanese do this very well and with class. Living here, I have learned how to express that respect better to people I am communicating with. I do not feel that this type of 'respect' is as prevalent in America, because individuals treat each other more or less equally.

Perhaps in the US, people feel more inclined to 'respect' people for what they have done or what they have truly learned or experienced in life, as opposed to respecting them for reasons such as age? Or maybe they accept people more for how they choose to live their life, rather than judging them based on their age alone?

One must stop and question .. 'Does the actual "time" that one has lived equate to one's maturity level or experience?' After a certain age, shouldn't it be assumed that everyone has a different path in life? Or that experience and maturity depends on how that person chooses to grow (or not grow)?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Romantic closeness level - US Vs. Japan.

Hi everyone,

A friend of mine one day brought up the subject of her Japanese friend in the US, who is casually dating an American man. Today, I'd like to discuss what determines your romantic 'closeness' level to someone in Japan.

To make this understandable, let's call her friend "Ami," and the American man "James."

Ami is convinced that she has shown her interest level to James by spending time with him together (just the two of them), giving him a gift, opening up her personal life to him, and making a lot of time for him. James takes Ami out to dinner, pays for the meal, opens up to her, and spends that time with her as well. One day, however, Ami realizes that James has not been as receptive to her advances, nor has he shown any signs of greater interest in her. Why is this? Could it be that James never realized she was interested in him at all?

Here in Japan, there is a certain level of 'closeness' (or proximity) that can be understood by your language and how you respond to them. The Japanese language itself has several levels that make it clear for you to know whether you are just an acquaintance, a friend, or someone much closer to you.

If someone made the advances such as Ami did in Japan, it would have indicated that 1.) they are interested in you, 2.) they want to spend time with you, or 3.) they want something more. Had Ami not shown any interest, she would have not spent time with him alone, not opened up her personal life to him (especially to another man), and lastly, not made any time for him. In America, however, this could be still read as just being a "good friend." Why is this?

In the U.S., communication is more open and free, but the 'friend' and the 'romantic interest' are much harder to decipher. Everyone treats each other as an equal. Unfortunately, speaking as an American, this is a very common misunderstanding amongst people in the US. Figuring out how close someone is to you, or whether that interest is there or not is very difficult to understand. Even if Ami knew these facts, it would not save her from the "American" stress associated with this circumstance.

Had their relationship become more serious, meeting others may also be an issue. Ami will not be meeting other men (even just male friends), but James may want to meet his other female friends. While doing this in the US is is not considered terrible, it is still problematic. Doing the same is equal to being unfaithful to your partner in Japan.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Expressing one's care and love in Japan.

Hi everyone,

Today, I'd like to talk about expressing love and care between Japanese people. I think it also depends on the style of the two people, but the Japanese have a unique way of doing so.

Ever since I was a child, I could not understand why my mother always spoke badly about me to her friends. She was always talking down to me, she never told me she loved me, she never complimented me, and I always felt she worried too much about me. Being of Japanese descent, I was always envious of my "White" friends whose parents constantly complimented them, babied them, or let them do what they wanted. I always thought, "It's not fair! Why does my family always treat me like this? Why can't she just let go of me?" This is something I could not understand for many many years, until I finally came here.

I did not realize a lot of this, until I actually met my girlfriend (who coincidentally, reminds me of my mother). A lot of the times that we are together, she is always worried (or "sinpai" siteru) about my health, my looks, everyday life, and well-being. This resulted in the following:

  1. She tries to improve my physical appearance.

  2. She tries to take care of all my immediate needs (food, clothes, etc.).

  3. She tries to take over my responsibilities.

  4. She refrains from showering me with compliments and talks down about me in front of others when we are together.

  5. If she does compliment, if I get too excited about it, she will deny it completely.

To your typical American, this might be considered "annoying," "controlling," or "bossy." What is misunderstood here is that Japanese women won't be as expressive about their love to you in words.. instead, it will be through their actions. Even if they are angry or even complaining about how difficult it is to take care of you, it is their way of showing you how much they love you. Being able to look past the expression on their face and reading their true mind and heart is important to understanding the gestures of anyone Japanese. This is just common-knowledge here in this country.

In terms of a romantic relationship, a woman knows they can change your "looks" and appearance to fit their needs fairly easily.. but if they can feel that you focus only on them, that is everything they need. The woman is always thinking about how to shape their lives around yours and make you the center of their life. The responsibility of a man is to make sure they always feel taken care of, safe, loved, and that they are mostly happy. While this is not applicable to everyone, especially with the clash of modern vs tradition views, this may apply to a number of women here.

While I am not your typical "American" or "Japanese," I feel that going the extra mile to let people know how much you appreciate them, both in words and actions, will bring you more than enough love and affection back. Make sure you are as honest as possible, because they are sensitive enough to read past your words and know when you are not. Understanding this type of affection and unspoken communication is crucial to being with someone totally Japanese.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Communication in Japan.

Hi everyone,

This is my first blog entry.

Here I will probably discuss a lot of the cultural differences I am experiencing here in Japan compared to the US. I just moved here 3 months ago, but I wanted to keep a record of the things I am noticing here during my stay. This is both for sharing my experiences with others and my own personal growth.

On the surface, it does appear to be very different, but there is an even deeper difference (or perhaps, "Ura" in Japanese) that you won't see. To start off my first entry, I'll just discuss some major differences I've seen with the way people communicate here.

I'd like to highlight the fact that Japanese people here are extremely intelligent in regards to reading people's emotions and feelings, even if its not outwardly expressed. They have an uncanny ability (or sixth sense) to read people just by scanning them on a train or just by passing-by on a street. It is something I feel that a lot of Americans just don't do very well, or at all for that matter.

There is, however, a negative aspect to this. Japanese people are shunned from expressing an opinion or having one, thereby causing a lot of stress to be held in. Many of these people have difficulty articulating why they feel a certain way, what causes them to feel that way, or describe in detail why it is so. When it comes to conflict resolution, many Japanese people want their minds to be read (or "Kuuki wo yomu koto") because of this. This does not exactly foster good communication between two people, let alone promote conflict resolution. Much of this issue completely stems from the societal upbringings and mentalities here.

My girlfriend and I initially had issues with this too, but it is starting to really improve drastically. Either I'm becoming more Japanese, or perhaps she is becoming more Americanized? We shall see.

What are your thoughts on this?