Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Reasons the World Would be a Worse Place if Japan Ruled the Earth

I finally have some time on my hands now that I'm back in Austin for the summer, so I thought I'd deliver a slightly tongue-in-cheek response to the article 10 Reasons the World Would be a Better Place if Japan Ruled the Earth. Again, this is for the sake of being a contrarian; I actually happen to think the original article was pretty spot-on, but there are definitely things with which I would take issue if Japanese culture was omnipresent.

Order at the Expense of Disorder

It's true, Japanese trains are punctual to a fault, streets are clean, and violent crime is so rare it makes national news. While this may be all well and good to the Japanese, as an American, I was crying out for a little chaos from time to time! In a way, living in Japan was like living inside the mind of someone with OCD: everything had its place, every person a set of phrases to use for every occasion, and if anything should go wrong, it's immediately quarantined and shunned by society (Brave New World, anyone?). Don't get me wrong, these qualities make Japan a very comfortable and desirable place to live. But I remember what it was like leaving and stepping foot on Thai soil for the first time - roads without clear lane markers and dirt spilling over; people dressed sloppily and eating on the streets - and thinking "YES! Finally! Something different!"


One of the first experiences I blogged about in Japan was seeing how a cake was wrapped for take out at a bakery.
...she unleashed her fury on the small black confectionary by trying to suffocate it: first came the plastic covering; then two disposable ice packs; a small plastic fork; a thin cardboard box; a paper bag, designed to fit perfectly over the carboard box; and finally, the coup de gras, a plastic bag with handles. All this for a slice of chocolate cake, half the size of one I'd expect back home for the same price. On top of that, I planned to eat it immediately. Waste upon waste upon waste.
As an American, I see frivolous uses of packaging and resources almost continuously: taking too many napkins, eating too much food or throwing it out (not composting). Japan has its own ways of showing it cares nothing about the environment, from the example above, to its standards on fresh food - bento boxes are tossed out on a daily basis - to using concrete surpluses to pave over rivers.

Sexual Immaturity

I know this is somewhat of a controversial topic, but there are too many examples to just ignore it. Although many Japanese by and large maintain a healthier attitude towards sex than those residing in dominantly Christian nations, the types of sexual deviants make me shutter:

- Tentacle rape
- Schoolgirl fetishes (fake picture)
- Love pillows
- Used panties in vending machines
- Mainstream porn that includes rape and abuse

If these were simply minute interest groups, as small as those interested in something sick like snuff films, I probably wouldn't be concerned. But a lot of Japanese men seem to have explored the above in one way or another. There are more cheap tickets to places in Soapland than to cultural icons... well, maybe the district could be considered a part of Japanese culture.

Lack of Variety

I suppose this is a gripe unique to Americans, but there's such a lack of variety in Japan. Over 90% of the people are ethnically Japanese. It's difficult to find different cuisines with the exception of Japanese and fast food. Even people's behavior is "set": take a whole day to just sit in front of a train station and watch businessman interact; it's the same bow, same exchange of business cards, same phrases.


With the exception of Hokkaido, Japanese homes are often designed for summer, not the winter months. Mold can form on blankets and mattresses in the summertime, which are sometimes hung outside on a daily basis. Using heaters and humidifiers can be so expensive and ineffective that many people use just one room to stay warm (and not always the bedroom); personally, I think Koreans have it better off with floor heat.


Even in Tokyo, there's not exactly much in the way of urban design in Japan. Public "parks" outside of Yoyogi and the area surrounding Osaka Castle are just hard sand with no grass. Power lines remain unburied and clutter rooftops in all areas from Okayama to Okinawa. Very few buildings last longer than twenty years, and the grey box design is still very much in demand.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Volunteering in the Philippines

As many readers are aware, a few months after the earthquake and tsunami struck the Tohoku region of Japan, I volunteered to assist with cleanup efforts in Ofunato with All Hands, one of the few foreign-run organizations to make it past the Japanese bureaucracy. It was a remarkable experience, seeing the kind of people who dedicate a huge part of their lives to helping others in need, one I hope to repeat with the news that All Hands' project Cagayan de Oro in the Philippines has been extended:

This time, it's not simply a matter of convenience: All Hands will NOT accept volunteers for this particular project extension who can't raise enough funds to cover costs ($25/day). If any of my readers want to donate to help send me to Project CDO, even if it's just a few dollars or Euros, please, please, please link the click below or send it directly to All Hands on my behalf.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Bullying in Japan and the US

Finally, a new vlog. I have other entries in the works as well.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Volunteering in Ofunato, Japan

I finally have my performance from Hostelling International's Travel Tavern: Stories from the Road, hosted in San Francisco. This is more or less the same story I posted on volunteering in Ofunato a while back, but with a few added details. My thanks to All Hands for the opportunity.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Volunteering in the Tohoku

Exactly one year since the earthquake struck, causing the tsunami that killed so many thousands of Japanese in the Tohoku region. I've finally finished the story on volunteering in Ofunato over at Once A Traveler. If you want to share your story, use the tag #311memory on Twitter.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

I Do Miss Japan


Four years ago I was doing pretty much the same thing I am now: staring at my computer screen and contemplating life abroad. The difference is, I was fresh from wrist surgery at Imakiire Hospital in Kagoshima, having shattered my distal radius in December 2007. How could I possibly feel nostalgic for such a time, when I was facing my own mortality for the first time ever...?

That cycling accident had been my first serious injury and the first time under the knife, and yet, I saw it as an opportunity (not just in retrospect, but at the time). I took the chance to slow down, read some running books, and blog on Japan more often. In doing so, I finished the majority of texts that had been sitting on my bookcase for many months, discovered barefoot running, and took the time to reflect on my days in Japan.

The truth is, I do miss Japan now... and I don't. I don't miss the bureaucracy of teaching at AEON, and being pointed at and ogled. But I miss the hot springs. I miss the safety of the country. I miss finding new adventures. Sadly, even if I were to fly back into Narita, it wouldn't be the same. There's only one first-time Japanese experience for everyone, and I've had mine. It was delightful, but the awareness it produced stuck with me, and I'm now more world weary than I was in 2006.

One thing I do miss about Japan is teaching. Not the steady paycheck or the simplicity of the job, but the students. Just like Loco in Yokohama, my soul is healed by children. It's impossible not to feel better about yourself standing in front of a group of ten wide-eyed ignorant minds whose loftiest goals are to laugh and eat dinner. When I left AEON in 2007 I wanted something more professional, more stable. I found SNBL in Kagoshima, and it worked out... for a time. I missed the classroom, and the interaction. So I left for Thailand to try educating some different nationalities.

I'm tutoring children in San Francisco too, but it's just not the same. My kids here are so distracted, so angry, so unconcerned about what I have to offer them. For me, it all comes back to Japan, when I was faced with that first group of Japanese college students and got a taste of what it was like for them, facing an unknown foreigner. I reveled in it.

Is this all one massive ego trip I'm describing? Perhaps, but don't I have the right to choose a profession that would allow me to feel better about myself? Teaching in Asia does that more often than not.

More of my time has been spent checking out new Japan expat blogs and remembering what it was like, to be fresh off the boat and new to the world of the rising sun. Truthfully, Japan may be my favorite place in the world to live, even as an eternal outsider. The safety, the job, the food, the people, the adventure, and the language... all are factors pulling me back across the Pacific. I just hope I can find circumstances that will allow me to go back.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Loco in Yokohama

I've stumbled upon another Japanese blogs my readers might enjoy. This guy started blogging a few months after I had left Kagoshima, so I'm sorry to say I missed out on his first entries. Nevertheless, he now has a book out on his experiences in Japan and NYC. I'm about halfway through it but so far it speaks to me.

Loco in Yokohama

Friday, January 20, 2012

Japanese Immigration: Gulag for Gaijin

Ok, I lied. I just had to spread the word of this story about a Canadian resident of Japan who was detained, cheated, and deported once I read it. I wonder if I could have faced this situation when I volunteered in the Tohoku. Check it out.

“Do you see this gun?” he said in Japanese, turning around to show me a weapon in its holster. “I have the legal authority to use this if you refuse to get on that flight. Now are you going to buy that ticket?”

I was angry now. They are forcing me at gunpoint to buy an overpriced ticket.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Never Say Never

I know, I haven't updated in quite a while. I hesitate to say this blog may be dying. I can only promise I'll post ideas as I get them. Currently in San Francisco eating sushi and looking for jobs.