Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Land of the Rising Sum

Shinkansen Train - Between Tokyo and Osaka
Chinese Train - Between Beijing and Xi'an

Because I have been to Japan for a lifelong total of 3 weeks, seen several cities, and spoken to at least 10 Japanese people, I am now qualified to make generalizations about the entire country and culture.
  • There are a lot of superfluous employees in Japan, especially in government jobs. For example, when we traveled from Nagoya to the World Expo in the forests of Aichi, there were two people every 50 feet whose job was to indicate the right direction, even when there was only one choice. Shops, hotels, post offices, trains, and restaurants also seem to have more staff than the equivalent English or American business. I am not sure why this is. Two theories are: 1) a cultural preference for lots of individual attention; and 2) strong (government?) incentives to hire. Jason guesses that high employee counts are likely not found in the manufacturing sector, as that would make Japanese comparatively more expensive.
  • Many things in Japan are nicer, faster, cleaner, or more whiz-bang than they really need to be. First instinct is to chalk this up to cultural preference, but the path between a taste for order and Shinkansen trains seems a long one. I am thinking that there must be some larger purpose in the market for excessive gadgetry. As usual, I have a theory about the matter. Having a highly advanced infrastructure and a society that "just works" could be a point of patriotic pride for the nation. Some sources say that the Japanese have long considered themselves the most civilized people of east Asia. The strong emphasis on being "one step ahead" could reflect his. I would like to live in a country where you can be openly proud of your transport network. It follows that contented workers living in a land that is the envy of its neighbors will be more productive.
  • Consumerism in Japan is unlike anywhere else I have been. In the US, people buy things to demonstrate wealth. In Europe, people buy things to differentiate their style. In Japan, people seem to buy things just to buy things. Everywhere there is an opportunity to purchase, and everywhere are people taking advantage of those opportunities. And things are not cheap. I can only attribute this behavior to recent Japanese history. In 100 years, they went from a feudal backwater to a military empire, to a smoking ruin, to a gigantic economic powerhouse. Those transitions (especially the last) must have fueled this enormous enthusiasm for consumption. Spending in the present is easy when the future is so bright.
A quick survey of the Japanese economy looks pretty gloomy. The Economist regularly has a field day over their banking system (0% interest!) and everyone else loves to point out the massive bust following the huge boom in the 80's. Remember when the Japanese were going to buy up the world? The only thing of any value that came out of Nipponese speculation of that era was Gung Ho (sp?) - a fine outing indeed for a younger Michael Keaton. Walking around in Tokyo, I could not help but wonder how they keep the entire house of cards together. From where I am standing, there are two many people selling too many things to too many people that do not need them. It just does not add up, and I have this sneaky suspicion that it will not last.

I demand comments! Especially from those of you who have visited or are resident in Japan. You know who you are.


Blogger Andrea said...

Regarding your comment about buying things just to buy things, that is pretty accurate.
Besides the the historic reasons you mentioned, I think it also has to do with the fact that shopping is just the national hobby. When you and your entire family live in a cramped apartment, you don't just sit around the house when you have a holiday or a weekend. You go do something, and that something is usually shopping. Also, because of the tiny apartment situation, you don't spend time and money on your home (renovating, re-decorating, doing up the garden etc.). This leads to time and money for more shopping.
I could be wrong though.
Anyway, I'm Andrea, and I lived in the Osaka area for a year. I'm enjoying following the OC very much!
Andrea (www.greentea.tk)

8/02/2005 2:40 PM gmt

Blogger jason said...

> Anyway, I'm Andrea, and I lived in the
> Osaka area for a year. I'm enjoying
> following the OC very much!
> Andrea (www.greentea.tk)

Thanks for the props, Andrea.
If I may ask, how did you find out about the website? I think you may be the first OC stranger (That's a good thing).

8/06/2005 11:58 AM gmt

Blogger Andrea said...

Sorry for my late response...
I found the OC when I did a Google search of the words 'blog' and 'tonsillectomy', because I was getting ready to have the op and wanted to hear what other bloggers had gone through. I found Jason's story, and then the rest of the adventure. That probably wasn't what you expected, right?

8/20/2005 10:20 PM gmt


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