Posts Tagged Japanese society

Japanese smile

I teach a cross-cultural communication class in English/Japanese to Japanese college students, and I wanted to give my students an example of  “the inscrutable Oriental”, or an example of how ways to express emotion are not always the same across cultures, and therefore not always easy to “read”. I used this example:

Why is this girl smiling? Are you sure?

I used these quotes from the Internet:

  1. The mysterious Japanese smile should be understood in the context of the social situation. When a Japanese commuter misses a bus, he smiles if there are other people on the site, but he does not if he is alone…
  2. The only problem is that Japanese smile for various reasons, including when they are embarrassed, apologetic and mentioning unfortunate events. Someone who knows Japanese well can distinguish between these “types” of smiles and

Any other suggestions or examples?

(This photo comes from a rather creepy blog-post: “The Japanese have always been very particular about behavior and mannerisms: acting appropriately is very important. They have also been very innovative in their technology. Now, the appropriateness of a smile has been digitized. A Tokyo railway company introduces a smile scan for their personnel, hoping to improve their communication skills with their customers.

“Here’s how it works: A video camera captures an image of the employee’s face. The face appears on a screen, highlighted in a small frame. By measuring the curvature of the mouth, the system’s software determines whether the employee’s smile is sufficiently enthusiastic and grades it accordingly.”)


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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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Yakuza eye cleanup profits | The Japan Times Online

The government and law enforcement authorities appear to be fighting an uphill battle to prevent gangsters and other “antisocial” groups from cashing in on disposing of huge amounts of debris generated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which played havoc with large areas along the Pacific coast of northeastern Japan.

via Yakuza eye cleanup profits | The Japan Times Online.

I was going to make a sarky comment about this, along the lines of “who cares if they’re anti-social, as long as they get the job done?” but then further down in the article I read something more interesting:

Another category of “antisocial” groups is groups of people known as sokai-ya, which are corporate blackmailers unique to Japan. They extort money by threatening to publicly humiliate or embarrass companies and their executives at annual meetings of stockholders (kabunushi sokai).

One such group is said to have dispatched more than 30 workers to the stricken nuclear power station in Fukushima to work on disposal of contaminated debris. Each worker carries a Geiger counter to measure and records the levels of radiation. The group’s aim, of course, is to threaten Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the nuclear station, and win compensatory money by proving that these workers have were over-exposed to radiation.

Anti-social? Seems to me they’re providing much-needed resources: a) workers,  b) Geiger counters (at one stage it was revealed that Tepco didn’t have enough dosimeters to go round) and c) information about radiation levels inside the plant. Considering Tepco’s secrecy and poor treatment of their workers, seems like this could be considered near enough a public service!

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Stand up! Stand up, for the Emperor!

Image via Wikipedia

I used to feel sorry for these people, and I do feel a lingering sympathy, but not much and it’s ebbing away quickly.

Why are these people surprised? What were they expecting?  The state is often institutionalized coercion: if they can make everyone study the same subjects, from the same textbooks, why can’t they also force their own employees to stand to attention when the national anthem is played? And if those employees don’t like it, they can leave. Wouldn’t the same thing happen in a private firm?

This does not mean I’m in favour of coercion, by any means.

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Japanese version of “The Office” and other Japan news

Thanks to Japan Probe, I discovered that the British comedy series The Office had a Japanese inspiration. Like The Office itself, people seem to either love it or not find it funny at all.

And speaking of Japan news, those foreigners living in Japan may be glad to know that the term “gaijin” has been officially banned and replaced with a longer (and hence more respectful), erm, replacement. Thanks to Japan Probe and The Outside World News for this tidbit.

One commenter to the above notes that he discourages his students from using the word “foreigner” because

I mean, it can sound a bit silly when people say “I want to live in London and make friends with foreigners.” I ask them if they want to make friends with Japanese people in London? and they say no, of course not….

My other reason for discouraging “foreign” is that the word does have the implication of “something that does not belong/should not be there”. Think about “foreign object”, “foreign ideas”, etc. There are many other much nicer words that can be used.

Not sure about the “nicer words”; “more specific” perhaps, and why not point out that “should not be there” is not an intrinsic characteristic of things non-Japanese? It may well be the first time Japanese students of English have been made aware of this.

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Japan’s food statistics

A friend’s shared Google Reader feed alerted me to this video created for the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF). It contains some interesting statistics, and begs some interesting questions. E.g.:

Japan only produces about 40% of the food it consumes. This is the lowest among all major developed nations. This is the result of the significant change in the Japanese people’s diet

and goes on to describe, and lament, the gradual change from a diet of fish, rice and vegetables (“a nutritionally balanced diet”) to consuming more meat, fat and oil.

  1. Why has this change happened? The video makes it sound as if those stupid, unenlightened, unpatriotic and selfish Japanese consumers made this change happen by their intransigent demands and their refusal to listen to the wisdom of their elders and betters. However, consumers cannot buy what is either not for sale or what is priced beyond their budget. In addition, I recall a short podcast by Dr Andrew Weil (A Toxic World), in which he says, “how can the [U.S.] government say it is innocent… when, if you go into a supermarket in this country, the most expensive calories you can buy are fruit and vegetables, and the cheapest calories you can buy are all the low-quality carbohydrate foods, and the reason those are cheap is because the Federal Government subsidizes those crops and artificially drives down prices. The corporations take the position that, it has nothing to do with them, they are just giving people what they want.”
  2. Why is the government putting out this propaganda? The aim of the video is, what, exactly? To protect and improve the health of the Japanese people? To protect and improve the prospects of the Japanese farmers? To prepare the public to accept tariffs on and higher prices for meat, oil and fats? To prepare everyone for higher food prices all round? (And that this acceptance will be patriotic, therefore objections may be considered unpatriotic?).

Lots of soy and cereal grains are needed to make oil and feed, so they are being imported in large quantities.

  • This gives us a clue: a diet rich in meat, oil and fat is more capital intensive, less efficient, and therefore provides more profits for more people.

Although Japan imports a lot of food, it also disposes of more edible food than the entire world food aid.

  • Woah!

My overall question is why market forces, combined with an informed populace, cannot be left to work their magic on their own? Why stay on the road towards more control and more manipulation? The Japanese government, and much of the population, seems to take the following attitude unquestioningly; as an artist put it, “Millions and millions and billions of people becoming artists? Are you out of your mind? People are herd animals. They need dogs to move them around into the right places.”

In other words, does the MAFF video represent a step towards greater freedom, or towards less freedom and more of the same, centralised, “Daddy Government knows best” statism?

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The nail that sticks out…

I teach a writing class, for which I have the students create blogs. I have the same group of students as in the first semester. There’s one student who showed up for a few classes, but then stopped. In a brief conversation, this student said it was difficult to “join” the class, as it was now a tightly-knit group. I was sad to hear this (creating a strong group consciousness seems important to Japanese students, even more important than actually learning anything), but I had to agree that it was so.

This same student showed up to the first few classes in the second semester, then again stopped coming. Last week, we created our blogs, but this student has not shown up for the last 2 weeks. Today, I found an email from this student, giving me her blog address. Here it is.

Despite the fact that my writing class is an English writing class, many students create a Japanese name for their blog without a second thought, and express surprise when I express surprise “Ooohhhhh! You mean, we have to use an ENGLISH blog name??” (with the unspoken suggestion of “well, why the heck didn’t you say so to begin with!”). This student has not only used a French title, but the title itself is highly significant. Do you recognize it? (It’s the title of a novel).

If not, the student’s profile will give you a hint. When I first saw the profile, I thought: Wow! Here is a kid who actually READS!! If she has really read any of those authors (even in Japanese), no wonder she feels out of place. I had a similar student a couple of years ago who read Dostoevsky, and who also felt a little out of place. I would be surprised if even one of the other students had even heard of Sade (“Yeah! I know! Sad, right? Like, unhappy!”)

Several such students appear each year. Unfortunately, many of them seem to suffer from depression and are on medication or receiving medical treatment. I wonder if there is a connection between these two facts. It doesn’t seem far-fetched to surmise that students who are unusual or not like the others will be under considerable psychological stress in this collectivist society.

(“The nail that sticks out gets hammered down” is a Japanese proverb. Also here. And a blog post and a movie on the subject. “zainichi (resident-in-Japan) Korean hero exudes the kind of spunk and soul most of his Japanese age-mates have either lost or never had to begin with”. Wow. That rings true! I want to see this movie. Have you seen it?)

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