Iishukan means “a week” in Japanese. I’ve been home a week. And believe it or not, there has been culture shock. I’m not sure there should be this much that surprises me after three months away, but maybe “surprise” isn’t the right word. Things that I marveled about in Japan are the things I find backward here. The things I missed in Japan are things that I am happy to have back. And one or two things about me have changed forever.
Europeans used to tell me about how they loved customer service in the US, even if the Americans providing that service didn’t know where their country was. After three months in Japan, I think American customer service is horrible. Lines in stores are long and nobody rushes to help. People who work in stores look unkempt and speak in a way which would make Henry Higgins scream. Goods are cheaper. You get the service you pay for.
The Japanese are more aware of others. Nobody goes out unclean, insists on taking dogs everywhere, leaves a mess at the coffee bar, or yaps mindlessly on a cellphone for all the world to hear. They also drive better. Children tend to be disciplined and polite.
I’ve taken a whole bunch of pictures over the past few days, and there are some others on other people’s cameras. I’ll edit them over the weekend and post some.
Today CNN ran an article on its website and had a brief video report on the TV news, or I should say, CNN International did. The American CNN was probably too busy reporting the latest high school basketball scores and what Sarah Palin had for breakfast. The difference between what CNN shows outside the US and what it shows inside the US is huge and could be the subject of another entry or several. Continue reading
Aoyama Crossing Police Box (Koban)
The subject came up the other day in an oddball context that I won’t get into here, but the way Japan is policed and the police culture came up.
In many ways this country is the most strictly policed of any free country. They are everywhere, and regularly admonish people for smoking where they shouldn’t, scold schoolkids for running in the streets and crossing against the light. And don’t even dream of taking your car out with a broken turn signal or with faulty exhaust or emissions system. You will be ticketed and cars can be impounded for such offenses. At the same time, a country with such strongly instilled social and cultural norms may not need all this policing, but that’s another story. Continue reading
The Japanese write the date starting with the year, then month, then the date. This is my current carton of milk;
Below is my Fukuoka Subway day pass from December 5, 2010. Note the number “22″ in the year space. We are in the 22nd year of the reign of the Heisei Emperor. This dating system is used on official documents and I’ve also seen it used in museum captions referring to dates in Japanese history.
The world outside Japan tends to refer to the Japanese monarchs by their personal names. This is not done here. Each Emperor takes a name for his reign upon ascession to the throne and the Japanese both use that reign name as a calendar and to refer to the Emperor himself. I was born in 1966, the 4oth year of the Showa Emperor’s reign. That Emperor was known to the world as Hirohito.
Just came back from a quick trip to Yokohama (30 minutes by train from Toky0) to see the Degas Exhibit at the Yokohama Museum of Art. This is my second Western art exhibit in Japan in 4 days. Friday I went to see a visiting Van Gogh exhibit at the National Arts Center here in Tokyo. I like Yokohama, it’s smaller than Tokyo and yet has most of its amenities, and a very nice waterfront.
The museum’s website link is here: http://www.yaf.or.jp/yma/english/ It’s a very nice museum, as are most Japanese museums.
This exhibit was strictly comprised of the works of Degas. Organized by the Musee d’Orsay. About half the works came from that museum, with another bunch from the Metropolitan in New York and the rest from other museums all over the globe, including the Honolulu Academy and some Japanese Museums. It covered his entire career. Degas started out as a fairly conventional classic 19th Century painter, who made money painting portraits at first, then was swept up in the Impressionist movement but continued to focus on painting the human form rather than landscapes. He is famous for portraying ballet dancers and women bathing and observing art in museums. The exhibit had 126 works. It included some sculptures (Degas cast many horses). Toward the end of his working life he took up photography. I didn’t know about the latter.
I knew that Christmas was observed to some extent here in Japan, and always assumed it was a strictly commercial holiday, as commerce here is not only highly developed, but there is no religious shame or guilt associated with commercial activity. But Christmas in Japan is far more than a Hallmark Holiday.
There is virtually no religion involved. Less than one percent of the population here considers itself Christian, although the number of women I see wearing crosses on the trains would belie that. The end of the year in Japan is the time for end-of-the-year parties at work and gift-giving. Co-workers will exchange gifts and it is common for higher-ranked employees to take their staff to fancy dinners, nights out or just give gifts such as wine, chocolates, or other traditional food items. The Japanese have adopted Christmas, in a way, to conform with and suit this tradition. The gift a person gives or receives can be significant. December 23rd is a national holiday, as it is the birthday of the present Emperor. December 25th is not. Continue reading
I will start including pictures again on my next entry. I promise to get this trouble sorted out today as I don’t have any classes. And it’s raining.
I flew to and from Fukuoka, which is about halfway across the main islands of Japan. It took just under two hours, each way.
Flying domestically in Japan is pretty civilized. But it is expensive. This trip cost $600. And that’s considered a cheap fare. Here are some thoughts about why it’s expensive and why it’s actually still reasonably pleasant.
-It’s still largely a duopoly. ANA and JAL dominate most large domestic routes.
-Airports and planes are staffed. Lots of people to process passengers, handle security, and work at the gate. I even saw two ANA employees hustle a passenger through security quickly and onto a plane. They would rather put a straggler on a plane than have to figure out what to do with a traveler who was late.
-Japanese people don’t insist on bringing their entire household or office on the plane. Baggage check is still free, and it is delivered quickly at the other end.
-The crew, mostly petite and female, are actually helpful. They help older people with their bags, parents with babies and of course kids traveling alone. On my flight, a crew member actually held an infant while the mother went to use the bathroom. Continue reading
Tokyo revolves around its mass transit. The city is honeycombed by railway bridges, tresses, overpasses, underpasses and even grade crossings. In many places, trains pass over grade crossings every few minutes. Cars and pedestrians patiently wait. This crossing is near Shinjuku Station, Tokyo’s busiest. I read recently about another accident in LA along the Blue Line to Long Beach. The Blue Line, for those of you who don’t live in LA, is a 20 year old line which runs along streets in downtown LA and Long Beach. Somehow people in LA manage, even after 20 years, to forget it’s there, ignore the signals, or simply not look over their shoulder and do something stupid like run a light.
Here, that’s unthinkable. Note in the pictures below, there is even a handy little arrow to let drivers know which direction the train is coming from. So if the Japanese can do it, why can’t we?
One of our teachers suggested we go to see a Tori-no-Ichi celebration. On Tori-no-Ichi, which actually falls on two separate days, usually during November, people go to certain Shinto Shrines (Shrine=Shinto, Temple=Buddhist) to offer prayers for success in business, good harvest (for the few Japanese who still farm) and general good fortune. The festivities are held largely after dark. Meals are taken in the shrine and what I will loosely call icons, are created, bought and sold.
The pictures don’t do this much justice. I was using my small camera. The size and density of the crowd precluded me bringing the big camera, and my last name isn’t Cartier-Bresson. Anyway, the Shrine we went to, Hanazono Jinja in Shinjuku, was actually hardly visible. It was surrounded by stalls selling food and the special icons (kumade) which businesses and shopkeepers will buy and keep in their place of business to bring good fortune. The icons, are essentially rake-like objects (think of raking in good fortune) covered with symbols which might be significant to the celebrant. Additionally, there were racks of lanterns, with the names of individuals or businesses who purchased them for the festival, on racks surrounding the temple grounds.
This is the first time it’s rained in a while. This is a pretty rainy place, but I think we had two dry weeks until now. So I’m in for the evening. Time for some mindless Japanese TV, since today’s class was easy and we didn’t have homework. “Homework”. Never thought I would be using that word at 44.
Japanese TV, which I can by no means understand, is pretty varied. The programming is mostly domestic, movies aside. Korean soaps are popular, and of course there are some long-running Japanese soaps. There are many programs for kids, a few sports channels, and two 24 hour news channels. BBC and CNN are available. I think there are about 5 Anime/Manga channels. Some movies are dubbed, some aren’t. It depends on the channel. Foreign programs aimed at kids are naturally dubbed, while programs for adults aren’t necessarily. Far less is dubbed today than was even a few years ago. Continue reading