Ask Sensei: Summer Break Edition

Summer break is finally here! Sensei spends the summer doing research with Everyone-Else-Is-Wrong Hakase, a far more distinguished professor in my department. Sensei depends on this time to be cut back down to size after the school year. Sensei is also planning to travel with friends and acquaintances over break, including meeting a former student (not Shiraishi-kun) in Osaka soon. Meager as Sensei’s Japanese is, it might come in handy for this former student, though Sensei has yet to see how much he has picked up in two months of studying abroad.

This time, our own Jeskai Angel has some thought-provoking questions: What’s a way you wish American culture were more like the Japanese? Aside from a great prevalence of Christianity, what’s a way you wish Japanese culture were more like America? I think we Americans could learn a lot from the Japanese by way of social cohesion and nationalism. Not necessarily to the extreme that the Japanese have taken it, of course. But “nationalism” has taken on negative connotations lately, to the point that many people think it to be synonymous with “racism” or “bigotry.” Nationalism is neither of these things. I see it as simply the tacit understanding that we all have something big and important in common, something that dwarfs our differences. But what could the Japanese learn from us Americans in the way of culture? Well, I’d start with making public trash cans about five times as common in Japan, and abolishing some of the social taboos such as the one against eating while walking. But then again, if we abolished too many things on either side, perhaps we’d no longer be uniquely American, and the Japanese would no longer be uniquely Japanese.

From Facebook, Kelsey Syers asks: How’s the Japanese economy today compared to the “lost decade” of the 90s? While I am hardly an expert in economics, I would say based on what I’ve heard about the “lost decade” that things are certainly much better in Japan now. “Much better” by no means precludes still being precarious as always, just as in our own country and elsewhere. But I’ve always had the sense on visiting Japan that they are an industrious people who love gainful employment, even if that means working in a convenience store or cleaning up in train stations.

Finally, our friend Joshua Knighten comments: I’m always fascinated when I see people of color in anime. Are there a lot of people of color living in Japan? A lot of them? No. Does one see any? Certainly. Like the Caucasian expatriates (and, for that matter, like the Asian expatriates from other countries), they are probably there to study, to work, and to immerse themselves in a culture and language they find fascinating. But make no mistake about this: Japan is a monoculture. This is something hard for us to fathom as Americans, who no matter our political stripe, expect to encounter people from all kinds of different cultures on a daily basis. We would find it weird if it were otherwise. Japanese life is entirely the opposite. That is not to say that there aren’t multiple people groups amongst the Japanese people: look around you on the train, and you will see a surprisingly wide range of skin colors and facial features. But there is also the constant sense that there are the Japanese people, and then there is everybody else. In that sense, it is difficult or impossible for a foreigner to “become Japanese,” no matter how fluent he may be in the local language and culture. That doesn’t mean that the Japanese look down on foreigners (or in any case very few of them do). It simply means that whether one is white, black, brown, or green with pink stripes, one is a gaikokujin first. This applies equally to the many short- and medium-term visitors to Japan from countries such as Taiwan, mainland China, Korea, and the Philippines.

In the meantime, Sensei hopes all of you are enjoying time and travels with your family and friends too. I will try to eat a taiyaki for all of you while I’m in Glorious Nihon. But hopefully not too many of them. Sensei isn’t getting any younger after all.


4 thoughts on “Ask Sensei: Summer Break Edition

  1. It’s always good to have another Ask Sensei to read.
    I have one or two things I could add on nationalism and economics.
    Consider the anime Gate. It’s an isekai show where bad guys come out of a portal in Japan, and they fight them off. Then Japan sends its own military into the portal to defeat the opposing side which only has medieval levels of technology. Much death ensues, and essentially it’s a bright and colorful harem anime.
    If this show were to have been made in America, a lot of people would dismiss it or flame it calling it neo-conservative trash or alt-right fanyboyish fanservice. In Japan though they have a significant respect for their civil servants and soldiers, and it shows in Gate because of how much attention is put into the details of military service there. You almost never see anime protagonists work on behalf of a private company. At least that’s what it appears to me, someone who has no other knowledge about the subject than anime history books.
    In terms of economics, Japan is blistering along at a pace shared by no other countries with such little landmass.
    They are extremely efficient in the work they do at the rate they do it.
    Their problem comes in with their demography in terms of their population and their population distribution.
    In the anime Love and Lies, the entire purpose for the plot of marriage assignment is to combat the declining birth rates.
    Even worse though is the fact that there’s a lot of older people and fewer and fewer young people to take care of the old people as they go from economic producers to solely economic consumers. Over time as this skews away from younger people we’ll see more overworked youth, more older people who have to work or are uncared for, even fewer children, and decreased GDP
    Japan also has a really bad owner-less home problem in part because of this and their housing laws.

  2. Oh wow, I read that somewhere about the monoculture but didn’t know much about it. Do you get weird looks or had any good/bad experiences being an American visiting Japan and speaking some Japanese?

    It’s interesting how they are strict about one not being Japanese if your not which makes sense. Most countries are somewhat similar. USA is a country rich with culture and different traditions or races, so we get used to it (more so depending on what city/state you are in). For example, being Hispanic, we mostly don’t care which country you are from (talking about Latin countries in South/Central America or Caribbean) but PLEASE don’t assume we are from a country we aren’t from. So I suppose the Japanese feel the same way, it’s like your trying to be like them when your not.

    I feel the same way, if someone were to assume I’m from another country I feel slightly insulted. I have pride in where my family is from so I more or less get what they are feeling.

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