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.