Posts Tagged cultural commentary

Fukushima kids give silent officials an earful on crisis | The Japan Times Online

Kaya Hashimoto, 13, said she evacuated with her family from the town of Miharu in June due to concerns over radiation exposure. The family now lives in Tokyo, and she said she misses her friends in Fukushima and worries about them. “Can you understand the feelings of people who left their hometowns in Fukushima?” she asked the officials.

via Fukushima kids give silent officials an earful on crisis | The Japan Times Online.

Tho I’ve lived in Japan since  days of yore (my grandfather invented sake 😉 I don’t fully understand the Japanese obsession (and I don’t think that’s too strong a word) with having the world understand how they feel.

Does Ms. Hashimoto really want her feelings understood? Or would she, in fact, prefer her hometown to be decontaminated and to grow up in a safe and healthy environment?

Or is she simply appealing to the officials’ pity as a way to get them to act? Is that how to appeal to officials in this country? Can someone explain this to me??

What, in fact, is the incentive for the government officials to do anything to help? Will they do nothing unless they are “urged” by tearful teenagers?

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Spooked consumers snapping up cheap Geiger counters | The Japan Times Online

Astonishing. A society which has been trained to obey orders, to undertake nothing on one’s own initiative without consulting superiors and peers/fellow group or community members, is taking matters into its own hands at an accelerating pace. Reality is forcing itself into people’s consciousness. The idea that they might have been living in a dream until now, that they are victims of their own values (collectivism, obedience to authority, letting the elites run the country (and assuming that those who do run the country are elites and thus must know what they are doing),and finally, a largely unsuspected and unconscious scientism, may, or may not, be slowly percolating…

Consumers are snapping up the devices, which range in price from ¥10,000 to ¥1 million, to check radiation in their backyards and parks where they take their children. The cheaper models are proving the most popular.

Although the cheaper devices are generally of lower quality, they can still be effective if users have a good understanding of how they work, experts said.

“Devices that detect only gamma rays are probably good enough for individuals,” said Masahiro Fukushi, a radiation professor at Tokyo Metropolitan University.

In general, cheap devices detect only gamma rays, which are released by various isotopes of iodine and cesium.

The more expensive models can detect alpha and beta rays as well, Fukushi said. Uranium and plutonium emit alpha rays. Strontium releases beta rays.

via Spooked consumers snapping up cheap Geiger counters | The Japan Times Online.

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Email, maps and travel guides most wanted on foreign trips | 世論 What Japan Thinks

let’s have a look at this timely survey from goo Ranking into what uses Japanese would like to make of their mobile phones overseas.

via Email, maps and travel guides most wanted on foreign trips | 世論 What Japan Thinks.

No. 2 was “using maps to look up routes”. Can you guess what #1 was?

And here are some other recent surveys. They give an interesting glimpse into Japanese psychology, if you’re interested in that kind of thing.

Continuing the foreign holiday theme, this time goo Ranking looked at when Japanese feel they are back home after overseas travel.

via When Japanese think they’re back home from overseas | 世論 What Japan Thinks.

No.1 is totally predictable.

The final summer holiday-themed survey for today is a look at what tough summer holiday experiences Japanese had as children

via How Japanese spent their summer holidays as kids | 世論 What Japan Thinks.

This one’s pretty depressing. Top of the list is “Was busy with club activities so didn’t have any free time” and “Was busy studying so didn’t have any free time” comes in at #4.  All work and no play and all that, so it’s not surprising that No. 2 is “was at a loose end every day.”

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Wall Street Journal: How the Japanese Government Failed Residents of Namie, Fukushima | EX-SKF

“We assumed the authorities would tell us….” I can imagine these words on Japan’s tombstone…

“It never occurred to us radiation would come our way,” says Hidehiro Asada, a 43-year-old owner of a lumberyard who was in the crowd. “We assumed the folks from the town or the prefecture would tell us if it was dangerous for us to be there.”

via Wall Street Journal: How the Japanese Government Failed Residents of Namie, Fukushima | EX-SKF.

And here’s another epitaph: “‘nobody wanted to be associated with such fearful decisions.'” Could this near-pathological desire to avoid responsibility in this country be in any way related to a culture that decreed “taking responsibility” meant “committing hara-kiri”? Nah! Ya think?

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Spotting a pain in the bum at the office | 世論 What Japan Thinks

This online survey is interesting. It’s supposed to be about offensive or annoying office behaviour. But look at the range of responses!

There is a well-known behaviour called in Japanese 足を引っ張る – which does not mean a practical joke, but pettily criticizing others and getting in their way, ruining their efforts, holding them down.

Looking at this list, it seems there is no limit to what Japanese office-workers will find fault with. The blog author finds only #18b to be incomprehensible, but to me, with the possible exception of the first 3, they all are!

Over the 6th and 7th of June 2011 1,148 members of the goo Research online monitor group completed a private internet-based questionnaire. 50.6% of the sample were male, 12.1% in their teens, 16.9% in their twenties, 28.0% in their thirties, 25.4% in their forties, 9.7% in their fifties, and 7.9% aged sixty or older. Note that the score in the results refers to the relative number of votes for each option, not a percentage of the total sample. … I’m not sure what is the problem about the second 18 answer, however!

via Spotting a pain in the bum at the office | 世論 What Japan Thinks.

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Radiation in Japan: As it is being spread almost willfully, the country is getting unhinged: EX-SKF

My respect for this Japanese blogger grows by leaps and bounds. (S)He not only writes perfect English, he also is familiar with Ron Paul and non-mainstream economics! He also provided the following gem. I would only change the “government sources” to “anyone in authority” or maybe even “anyone in a uniform”:

People say that the Japanese are law-abiding citizens. The Japanese say that to themselves. The truth, as has been slowly revealed over the past 4 months, is that they are followers of the arbitrary and capricious orders, as long as the orders are given to them from the government sources. Never mind if those orders are very much counter to the law itself or the natural law or the common sense.

via EX-SKF Radiation in Japan: As it is being spread almost willfully, the country is getting unhinged.


Hear, hear!

There was an infamous incident many years ago in which a gang robbed a bank. The way they did it was, they pretended to be from the Ministry of Health and told the bank employees that due to an outbreak of a contagious disease, everyone had to have this injection. The employees dutifully lined up and took their shots. After they’d all passed out, the gang went to work!

(I read about this in a book by Itsuo Tsuda. I translated another book by Tsuda, and you can download a few sample chapters of it <a href=””>here.</a>)

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Protected: “When the politicians are afraid of the voters, they will make meaningful changes. ” Till then, it’s all Kabuki theatre

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In Japan, is a Tepco apology enough? – The Washington Post

The president of Tokyo Electric Power Co. came to an evacuation center here to apologize to whoever would listen. One of them was Yoshio Sato, wearing a pink trucker cap and a graphic T-shirt marked with a skeleton.

via In Japan, is a Tepco apology enough? – The Washington Post.

This post is about the Japanese habit of apologizing. Before you read further, I encourage you to read Mike Rogers’ post about how to deal with customer complaints in Japan. Then I won’t have to repeat a lot of what he says.

The article is about a confrontation between Shimizu, Tepco’s CEO, and Sato, a furious Fukushima resident who had to evacuate his home (leaving pretty much everything there) and come to an evacuation centre, all because of the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

That’s what the article is mainly about, but along the way, it drops some hints and makes some observations about Japanese culture about which I will pour my usual pearls of wisdom. Watch those pearls! Catch them as they fall! Are you ready?!? Here we go. Read the rest of this entry »

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Prosecutor transferred for releasing crime suspects after quake+

Didn't you know initiative is forbidden around here???!!! Photo by Stephen Poff on Flickr (click photo to visit his page)

A lot of ink has been spilled in writing about slow or inadequate responses by Japanese governmental and other officials to the earthquake/tsunami/Fukushima nuclear crisis. However, such slow response is built-in to the system. The fact is, personal initiative is not highly valued in Japan. On the contrary, it often gets you into deep doo-doo, so that folks quickly learn it ain’t worth the risk.

This is the downside to the much-vaunted “consultation” ethic of the Japanese: when in doubt (or even if you’re not!) consult with others before taking action.

This news item shows what can happen when someone takes personal initiative. Note that no-one is complaining that what the former head of the District Prosecutor’s Office actually did was wrong, inappropirate or even illegal. No. His “crime” was that he failed to sufficiently consult with others before acting. Why is this so wrong? I’ll give my answer below. Feel free to add your comments. Here’s the news item.

The head of the Fukushima District Public Prosecutors Office has been transferred to a post at the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office effective Monday, the justice ministry said, in an apparent punitive move for releasing 31 crime suspects shortly after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

“His act was not illegal but he failed to sufficiently consult with the local high prosecutors office, the supreme prosecutors office and police,” a justice ministry official said. “Since the investigation on the matter is almost complete, we have decided on a personnel change.”

At the instruction of its chief Akira Nakamura, the Fukushima prosecutors office decided to let the suspects go on the grounds that it was difficult to investigate them in the midst of the unfolding disaster.

via Prosecutor transferred for releasing crime suspects after quake+.

The reason it’s such a crime in Japan to act without properly consulting others (even if what you did was perfectly ok and absolutely appropriate and correct), is that such actions can result in others losing face, a major no-no in this country.

Let me give some examples.

  1. In Japanese schools, Western teachers very quickly notice that if they ask any student a question, the student will rarely immediately answer (even if they KNOW the answer). Instead, they’ll turn to their right and their left and consult. It drives Western teachers nuts! But the students know the risk of just answering straight out: “Did you see that show-off? Putting herself first! What a big-head!” Yes, the collective in its wisdom, will stamp on such behaviour pretty darn quick.
  2. A teacher in a school has trouble with some particularly talkative and obstreperous students. No matter how many warnings they get, they won’t shut up. Finally, the teacher pulls his last card, and bans them from the class for good. Result? Major panic! Why? The students leave the room and go straight to the office and ask “What’s going on?”  Naturally the good folks in the office don’t know and can’t answer. They look silly. Right or wrong, they blame the teacher. Why didn’t he warn them ahead of time? Or better still, consult with them or with his boss about this: “I’m having trouble with these students, what can I do? Throwing them out of the classroom doesn’t work. Can I ban them altogether? Do I have that authority? Do I have the school’s backing if I do?”
  3. A small group of teachers in a school, with the co-operation of the library, finally manage, after a lot of negotiation and planning, to set up a special section where graded readers are kept. The teachers are proud of this and want to take photos and post them on the school website for PR. One of them asks the library about this. The librarian says they can’t decide: the teachers should ask the PR department. No personal initiative allowed here. We all move forward together as a group, see, or not at all.
  4. A new teacher has arrived. She is attending her first department meeting (what joy!). A number of items are discussed which the chair wants everyone’ s opinion on. The chair (a man and not a Japanese) asks the new teacher (a woman; ladies first,  you know) for her opinion first. The woman is flustered. She feels a trap of gigantic proportions opening up right before her feet. How can she possibly give an opinion without hearing what others think? That is an invitation to professional suicide! She begs to be excused, on the grounds that she still needs to learn the ropes (otherwise she might hang herself with them!).
  5. A teacher of English has some old books he wants to get rid of. While he could just trash them, it occurs to him to temporarily put them on show outside his office, with a sign telling people to just take what they want. He finds an old bookshelf and places it in the corridor. The next day, he gets a message from the boss, not directly but passed on through a colleague, to “get rid of the bookshelf fast”. Why? What’s so wrong about an English teacher offering English books for free to students and colleagues? He balks. The next day, he finds his bookshelf and the books have been taken away. His “crime”? He didn’t consult with anyone before putting the bookshelf in the corridor.

Consultation is not a bad thing, of course, but it slows down the decision-making process, and in emergencies that can be fatal. Another, perhaps unintended consequence of this consultation fetish is a profound self-censorship, where folks end up unable to act on their own initiative because they’ve learned that the price for doing so is too high.

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Two months later, whereabouts of 9,500 still unknown | The Japan Times Online

There are a number of interesting points about this story from the point of view of someone observing Japanese culture. But read the story first.

More than two months after a devastating earthquake and tsunami ravaged the Tohoku region, about 9,500 people remain unaccounted for.

Police and Self-Defense Forces personnel continue to search the wrecked areas, but as time passes fewer bodies are being found. Identifying bodies is also proving difficult, as the extreme force of the tsunami stripped victims of clothes, IDs and jewelry.

At a temporary burial site on a hill in Higashimatsushima, Miyagi Prefecture, the graves of unidentified victims are marked only with numerals written in kanji.

Of some 330 victims buried there, about 30 have yet to be identified. The small bunches of flowers placed on their graves by municipal officials have started to wither, in sad contrast to the vivid flowers and offerings of food and drinks placed next to grave markers of deceased who have been identified.

via Two months later, whereabouts of 9,500 still unknown | The Japan Times Online.

First, the unidentified bodies are buried. Burial is not the norm in Japan, cremation is. So why are these bodies not cremated? Well, I guess one reason is practical. If the bodies are later identified, the family will have the opportunity to move the remains and re-bury or cremate. Cremation is pretty final: all that’s left is a little pot of ash. Another reason might be that lack of resources including oil, or gas or electricity or whatever crematoria use, is making cremation impossible or very difficult at the moment.

Second, I was surprised to see that the graves are marked “with numerals written in kanji”. These days, Japanese are more familiar with Roman numerals. Kanji numerals are of course still used, but they are not as common as the Roman ones (they can be seen together with the Roman numerals on Japanese banknotes, for instance). When they are used, it is for aesthetic reasons, or sometimes to make a patriotic statement. But that does not explain why the graves would be marked by kanji numerals. No reason for either aesthetic or patriotic sentiment here. I can only guess that the graves are marked with a brush, and kanji numerals, with their straight lines, can be written more easily with such an instrument than Roman numerals, with their curves and circles.

Third, the “offerings of food and drink” on graves might strike Westerners as a little odd, but it is a frequent occurrence in Japanese graveyards. Japanese Buddhist altars are decorated with food and drink, often food and drink that the departed was particularly fond of. After the ceremonies, these offerings (o-sonae お供え) are distributed among the guests. Placing such offerings of food and drink directly on the gravestone itself is therefore not so odd.

This photo that shows a good example. The title says “offerings to a happy afterlife”, so perhaps there is that old Egyptian idea in this custom as well.


By Билл on Flickr

new clock for my bedroom

By nor certitude on Flickr (click image to visit source page)

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