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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Japanese Advice For Japanese Traveling To The U.S. - And My Opposite Advice

My buddy Vince sent along a piece where someone had translated some advice to Japanese travelers to the U.S....

It's so ridiculously bogus, man, that I spent several hours debunking most of it.

So... here are some things a Japanese person wrote for Japanese travelers going to the U.S.... which I have decided also includes Canada, because really, we're different, but not that freakin' different.

In Italics, I'll add my own comments at the end of each piece of "advice" - and yes, I am using finger quotes there.

1. There is a thing called “Dinner Plates.” And what goes on them is a mighty disappointment.

In Japan, each person eating gets as many individual dishes as needed for the meal. Sometimes more than 10 dishes per person are used. In America, there is a method where a large bowl or dish is placed in the middle of the table, and you take as much as you like from there, and put it on a big dish said to be a "dinner plate."
In Japan, meals at home are for eating, because your stomach is vacant. At an American’s dinner, there is food, decorations on the table and tableware, and music to produce a fun atmosphere. It is a time for maintaining rich human relationships. Therefore, the meal is as long as 40 minutes. In addition, often the decorative tableware has been handed down mother to daughter, two generations, three generations. In addition, there are even more valuable dishes used for Christmas and Thanksgiving.
American food is flat to the taste, indifferent in the subtle difference of taste. There is no such thing there as a little “secret ingredient.” Sugar, salt, pepper, oils, and routine spices are used for family meals. There is no such thing as purely U.S. cuisine, except the hamburger, which isn’t made at home so much. There is almost nothing special to eat based on the different seasons of the year. Basically, they like sweet, high fat, high calories things.
Be afraid... be very afraid... Americans enjoy eating Japanese...
Holy crap... I've been to Japanese homes... they have dinner plates, and even used them as such.
This is an example of some Japanese believing their country is superior over everyone not named Japan. While it may or may not be true that there is very little in the U.S, or Canada that could be considered unique to themselves (excluding Mac N Cheese - Hamburgers are German, same with hot dogs a la Frankfurters), but there are foods that First Nations and Native Americans eat, not to mention tasty bastardizations of European cuisines that have become uniquely North American. Chinese foods, tacos, etc.. even Japanese foods. But to assume that all meals created in the U.S. or Canada are simple creations with a bit of salt and pepper and Frank's hot sauce added is all we do is just wrong and completely misleading. If you are visiting the U.S. or Canada, for example, be prepared for global cuisine. We can eat Indian, French Canadian, Acadian, Italian, Chinese(ish), Ethiopian, American (burgers or pizzas) in a week's worth of lunches, and don't even get me started on what we could have for dinner. The sky's the limit, and we aren't just limited to a singular cuisine style such as "Japanese" like the Japanese seem to do for nationalistic pride. Don't get me wrong, Japanese food is tasty (but very expensive here in Canada, for example), but it is hardly the be all and the end all. Yes, we can eat a lot of chicken, beef, pork... but we'll also eat goose, goat, moose, snake, whatever... it's just not as common a protein for us... maybe goat or lamb is... whatever... the point is, is that North American food is far more diverse than Japanese cuisine. As for the crack about decorative tableware handed down from generation to generation. True. But it's only brought out for special occasions. More often than not, it is real silverware... so consider yourself honored if it is placed in front of you, and don't take insult if it isn't. It's a pain in the butt to maintain and to clean. Dinner is a fun atmosphere? I suppose. We're told not to slurp our food and not to belch/burp in public. You'll want to keep that in mind. We do talk, but aside from parties or family gatherings, I doubt that meal time in North America is a "fun" atmosphere more than anywhere else. Like Japan, the women do tend to be the dominant sex in meal creation in the West, but that is nowhere near 100% true or accurate. Men can and will cook. I blew the minds of my Japanese bosses when I cooked for them, because in Japan, they are still sexist about such things. As for liking sweet, high-fat, high calorie things - yes we do. But not all the time. Not for our meals.. though again, maybe we do every once in a while. Snacks, sure. But then the Japanese are guilty of this, too. Kit Kat's. That's all I'm going to say on the matter, except that in Canada, we have maybe three flavors of Kit Kat. Maybe. Anyhow... you know that some westerners know how to use a fork, a knife, two types of spoon and chopsticks, too! I even know how to use a spork. Frickin' unbelievable.
As for the long 40-minute meal... I've had long meals at Japanese houses... but even if that was for my benefit, let's just say that when I eat my food, I like to taste what I am eating... except when I won that speed-eating contest involving natto. I really did. Let's see what else they have to say about "us".

2. Beware Rough Areas Where the Clothes Demand Attention

In Japan, hip hop clothes are considered stylish. But in the United States, it is wise to avoid them, as you might be mistaken for a member of a street gang.
The entire United States does not have good security, unfortunately. However, the difference between a place with good regional security and a “rough area” is clear. People walk less, there is a lot of graffiti, windows and doors are strictly fitted with bars. And young people are dressed in hip hop clothes that say "I want you to pay attention to me!"
If this is Japanese hip-hop clothing, we have nothing to fear.
Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha! I recall 26 years ago in Roppongi, Tokyo seeing Japanese dudes wearing all Adidas tracksuits with large 8K gold chains draped over their necks. They looked so out of fashion then it made me laugh. Same for all the 50s cool crew dancing in the parks. And the Lolitas. And the women who like to over tan so that they look ridiculous.
Maybe I'm old, but I don't even know what hip-hop clothing is. By all means, wear it if you are going out at night to a hip hop club. This is Canada and North America... unless you are wearing clothes adorned with Nazi paraphernalia, or wearing blackface make-up, we are all pretty damn tolerant. Some people aren't... but that's a few people who exist in every culture and country. We might judge you on your appearance, but the odds are pretty good against anyone confronting you about your choice of clothing. The most important factor is to know just where the hell you are going. There are certain parts of Toronto I might not care to frequent at certain parts of the night, so I just don't go. Ask a native - we won't bite, honest - about a planned destination and whether they think it's a safe locale at night. During the day - 99.9% of places are fine. I've never been mugged and don't know anyone who has been... I have visited an MC (Motorcycle Club), but that was because I was with a friend of the MC, so I was safe. I wouldn't try and invade their space on my own.
Yes, there are rough areas in most major U.S. and Canadian cities. Why the fug are you going there? The sights and fun places are elsewhere. Good security? Japan doesn't have good security. It's people are just better behaved. How many times have I seen a gun in Canada? Once. They exist, but are far, far, far less common than in the U.S... but again, those that have guns for the most part have them for personal security or for hunting or for fun (target practice). The problem is illegal gun ownership, and it is a plague pretty much around the world. What? You don't think the yakuza might have some?
Graffiti? You know there is graffiti in Japan, right? I read a book on that topic.

3. But You’ll be Pleasantly Surprised by American Traffic Patterns.

Manners with cars in America are really damn good. Japanese people should be embarrassed when they look at how good car manners are in America. You must wait whenever you cross an intersection for the traffic light. People don’t get pushy to go first. Except for some people, everyone keeps exactly to the speed limit. America is a car society, but their damn good manners are not limited to cars.
Welcome to Toronto... we have Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring and Construction season.
Good manners re: cars? That's bullcrap! There are idiots on the road in every country. I was hit while riding my bicycle in Japan twice in one week by cars. My friend's 14-year-old kid was hit by a car at a crosswalk three Fridays ago - broken shoulder and ankle... there are bad drivers everywhere in every country. Don't delude yourself. As for the U.S., I have, by and large found their driving skills to be less than the average Canadian... but maybe I just have experienced all the poor drivers in Illinois or Vermont, for example. I used to speed. A lot. Have you ever driven 240 kph? I have. I still have the laser/radar detector I used to give me a heads up on police - though I don't use it because I no longer drive like an ass. In Toronto, the speed limit on highways says 100kph. If you can do that on say Highway 401, it must be 3AM. When we are able to drive and there isn't a lot of traffic or construction going on, yes... most of do signal for turns or lane changes, and do so in a safe manner. Many don't. Most do.
For foot traffic or bicycles... people get hit by cars all the time. Considering the per capita instance, it's not too bad, but any accident is one too many. Like any culture or country, I see nervous drivers, poor drivers and unsafe drivers every single day of the week. Just be aware of your surroundings... and remember at all times, in North America, we drive on the opposite side of the road as they do in Japan (and the U.K.)... so when crossing the road... look to your left first to make sure your path is clear. I nearly died mu first night in Japan as I looked left when I should have looked right. Kristine South saved my life by pulling me back at the last second. Remember, not every driver is a safe driver, and even safe drivers can make a mistake. Be aware of your surroundings. By the way... have you ever heard of "Road Rage"? Look it up.

4. Nobody is impressed by how much you can drink. In fact, shame on you.

In the U.S., they do not have a sense of superiority if they are able to drink a large amount. Rather, if you drink a lot, there is a sense that you cannot manage yourself. There is something close to contempt toward someone who must drink a lot to be drunk. To drink alcohol habitually is to have alcoholism. Alcoholics are weak people mentally, to be one means you have spanned the label of social outcasts that can’t self-manage.
Non-smokers are more important than smokers in the US. Smokers capture the concept that they are not able to control themselves, and are the owners of weak character.
At least he looks clean...
I don't know if anyone thinks that smokers in the U.S. or Canada are weak in character because they smoke. People just don't want to have smoked blowing around in their face when they are out in public - have consideration of that. As for alcohol... it's true, you don't have to try and out-drink everyone. I did while i was in Japan... but only at parties/enkai... to be one of the guys. That said, I out-drank other foreigners/gaijin... and because I did it did not make them any less one of the guys. I could handle (usually) better than most people, and can think of three occasions where less alcohol would have been better for me in Japan... but I just embarrassed myself and not my country or Japan. Oh... you don't have to drink, either in Japan or North America. In North America, we don't think any less of you... maybe a bit, but then we understand and it's all cool. Have a few drinks, but really, like anywhere in the world, drink responsibly. You do know that most Japanese people get drunk easier than us gaijin, right? Yeah... you can keep drinking if you want... but why? As for alcoholics being weak mentally... wow... it sounds wrong when verbalized, doesn't it? Why do people drink? Different reasons, I suppose... but to call them mentally weak just seems like a lazy generalization and wrong. It may be right, but it sounds wrong in my head.

5. They Have Free Time All Week Long!

In America, whether you are a student, working person, or housewife, you carefully make room for leisure time, weekdays and weekends. Most people are ensured free time, always. During the week they use it for walking, jogging, bicycling, tennis, racquetball, bowling, watching movies, reading, and volunteering. On the weekend, they enjoy even more freedom, and take liberal arts courses and have sporting leisure's.
In Japan we believe that there is no free time during the weekday. Only the weekend. We spend the weekend watching TV, hanging around home, working, studying, and shopping, or listening to music.
Maybe... some people have to work on the weekends.... those in retail, or in some service-related field, or doctors, nurses, fire department personnel and police.. transportation... just like in frickin' Japan. Racquetball? When was this advice written - the 1980s? Sure, people play sports, get some walking exercise in, do some gardening, cut the lawn... that's what we call grass in front of, beside and in the back of our houses... something that doesn't exist in Japan, because we like to have a bit of greenery around us that isn't limited to a few trees or a bus or a bondage-related bonsai tree. My backyard is show in the image below, plus another one of some branches I took down from an annoying weed tree that keeps growing 20 feet every year.
My backyard. Relaxing. Who needs to pay for a vacation? Can you believe I was single for that long? LOL! The backyard is 60-feet x 105-feet. I once saw a deer there (years ago), but know a rabbit lives in the far right corner now.
About 15% of the branches I took out.
Right now as I write this on a Saturday, I have colored in my adult coloring book, watched the new Thunderbirds Are Go! television series, did about 2 hours of yard work and am contemplating doing some vacuuming - though I may leave that until tomorrow. I've been working on this for well over an hour at this time. My son and wife have gone swimming at the local pool, she's now reading a book, my son has gone biking and is playing a few video games on his Tablet and PS4. During the week after work, I relax by writing some more, watching my kid play baseball - 4x this past week, and watch some television. I put in my eight hours at work, spend about 90 minutes traveling to and from work, and then go home to do stuff for my kid. Free time? A few weekends ago, we traveled to another city for a three-day baseball tournament... sitting under the hot sun. The wife got sunstroke. I got darker and tracked the pitches for our team and those we played against. We cooked food for the kids, set up practice gear for the kids, drove 90 minutes to the tournament, stayed at a hotel for two nights... free time... sure, but not really. We have stuff to do, and don't let the wife or mother-in-law do everything while we perform extra work for no extra pay but perhaps some kiss-ass recognition. The property I have in my backyard may not be typical for most North American homes, but it's hardly atypical either. Excluding farmers and the rich, how many Japanese have as much free space as I do? While I now use the space mostly to play catch or to practice baseball with my son, a large patch of land in the far left corner was used to grow vegetables: rhubarb, butternut squash, mint, beefsteak, Roma and cherry tomatoes, green peppers, eggplant, chili peppers, corn - not enough to be self-sufficient, but enough to enjoy the fruits of our labor. There's still a pear tree to the left, but it hasn't given us edible pears in about 10 years... but when it did, we're taking bushels that we would eat and give away to friends and co-workers. We also used to have two plum trees - delish, a peach tree - yum, and a crab apple tree, which just made a mess of things when I ran them over with my lawnmower. The point is, we North Americans know how to relax, but we also know how to fill our time with other activities. In my 30s, I used to come home after work and spend two hours a night, six days a week for five years at the gym trying to sculpt my body... and I did. In Japan, my chest was a puny 36-inches with a 32-inch waist... and when I was done, it was 48-inches with a 32-inch waist. My weight was the same, too, but I was now packed with muscle. It sure beats having to stay after work every night for three or four extra hours and then having to go out drinking with my co-workers, some of whom I might not even like. Nowadays, despite liking my co-workers, I don't hang out with them after work. I go home and look after my family. I'm pretty sure I know which culture has got things right. The write-up does not suggest that the men do anything to help out around the house... or do stuff with the kids. Study? Work? Screw that! Relax!

6. Knowing how to use sarcasm is a must to communicate with an American.
If you put your bent middle and index fingers of both hands in the air, you are making finger quotation marks. It means you do not believe what you are saying. You can also say, "or so called."
The finger quote or air quote is hardly the limit of North American sarcasm. D'uh. The best sarcasm is the subtle sarcasm when your target doesn't get it but everyone else does. Still, that's mean. We try not to do that as much as we age. But yeah, sarcasm... joking around... it's called being young and having fun. Alcohol not required. Still, who's kidding whom... some people are far better at humor than others. For me, I'm pretty good. Having someone attempting to use such humor against me, is what I call a Battle of Wits Against an Unarmed Opponent, because I feel I am sharper than most, though not as sharp as some. Don't use the air quote if you don't know how to use it. I can't even recall the last time I even used an air quote. I simply change the timber of my voice and my facial expression so you can tell when what I am saying is the equivalence of an air quote. I can express myself without having to do an "air quote". LOL. Anyhow, no one is expecting you to know how to or when to utilize sarcasm when you arrive in North America. Learn the language and you'll get when and how to apply such techniques. It takes a while, and even many of the locals don't know how to do it. 

7. They tend to horse laugh, even the women. It’s how they show they’re honest.

In Japan, when a woman laughs, she places her hand so it does not show her mouth. It is disgraceful to laugh by loudly opening the mouth. Adult males do not laugh much. There is the saying, "Man, do not laugh so much that you show your teeth."
In America, when men or women laugh, they do not turn away. They face front, open the mouth, and laugh in a loud voice. This is because in America if you muffle your laugh or turn away while laughing, you give the impression that you are talking about a secret or name-calling. It is nasty.
This joke'll kill you! Honest.
Horse laugh? Oh... they mean truly having a big laugh.. maybe even showing off our teeth and possibly even slapping our knee or squirting some sort of beverage out of our mouth or Buddha help us, out of our nose? Guilty. North Americans are more likely to do this. But also note that North American cities are built on immigrants from all over the world, so not every person in North America is apt to get your joke, think it is funny, or even feel like guffawing. 
Some cultures never smile because they used to believe that cameras could steal their soul... or that showing teeth was a sign of aggression (like a dog). That's all crap, of course. Some people show teeth when they smile and others don't  - perhaps their dental work is a reason. Perhaps not. But, in western culture, people, when they are comfortable with those around them have no problem in allowing themselves to have a good time... and if that means laughing one's ass off, then so be it. I saw that in Japan... I made sure of that. I made people laugh... but yeah, they tried (sort of successfully) to cover their mouth. Not so with the men. They just laughed and showed their teeth and fell off their bar stools, which were really just pillows on the floor. I am unsure what is "nasty" about the advice given. Go ahead and cover your mouth is you want. On my son's baseball team, there are a couple of Japanese women (they came over maybe five or six years ago) and one Japanese man. The women still cover their mouth when they laugh, because I like to make them laugh, and the man - he just laughs. No one cares that you are covering up your mouth. Maybe I'm more open about such things because I know the Japanese, but no other parent has even said a thing. We're pretty cosmopolitan here in Toronto, and I bet the same holds true in most large North American cities, and even the smaller ones. I can't speak for what the smaller towns or villages or hamlets might think, but it's no big deal. Really. Someone might even ask you why you are covering your mouth - be prepared to have a believable answer - such as, it's a Japanese custom. Be prepared for them to say that you aren't in Japan anymore, so you don't have to cover your mouth when you laugh. But most people don't care, as long as you aren't snorting snot or spitting spit when you laugh.
Me Tarzan. You Harley Quinn... but yes, you can call me Mr. J, if you'll let me call you. She has the prettiest smile I've ever come across.
8. You won’t be getting your groceries anytime soon, so checkout lines are a great place to make friends.
Cashiers are slow. Abysmally slow compared to Japan. I get frustrated when I’m in a hurry. Americans wait leisurely even if you’re in the special checkout for buying just a little something. I thought Americans were going to be quite impatient, but in reality they are extremely laid back. I thought about what I should do with my time while waiting in the grocery matrix, and began to speak at length with other guests.
She's pretty hot and I would talk to her, but she should learn to put her heavy groceries down on the ground and kick it along like the man with the European carry-all behind her.
I lived in a small city in Japan, and my checkout experiences were all pleasant and quick. In Toronto, they are longer, but equally as pleasant. Make friends in the checkout line? This is just stupid advice. Yeah, you can make a joke and start-up a conversation... I do it all the time, but I am the uncommon one. Most people prefer to get in and get out. In my experience, I believe I am relieving my own self-imposed exile into boredom...  I do talk with the cashiers... they have their names on their outfits, and I always try to greet them with their name in the greeting. I don't introduce myself, but I am sure that having to service dull people all day long, they could use a comedic break - so I give them one to break up their day and to let them know that not everyone is boring. People remember that and smile when they see me the next time. Some even got brave enough to ask my name. I applaud the fact that the advice here is to maybe talk to other "guests" in line, but because us westerners are from different backgrounds and intellectual levels, you have to keep the humor or conversation geared to something they like. I've chatted with guys about their sports team (they are wearing a hat or team uniform) or about food choices or about their cute baby... see, it's not about me... it's about them. People love to talk about themselves, as you can tell from my blog. But making friends? No. No one will end up as your friend in the checkout line. Al lone can hope for is to relieve a bit of the tension or boredom of the checkout line... which really may only take five minutes or so. We do have more than one checkout clerk. Usually.

9. Their vending machines are ridiculously limited and dishonest.

Vending machines in the United States just give carbonated beverages. Coke particularly. If you try to buy the juice from a vending machine when you’re thirsty, it’s just all carbonate. I pressed the button and thought it would be a nice orange juice, but carbonate came out. I love carbonated, but there are times when it will make you sick indeed.
Vancouver vending machines will sell you marijuana. Suck on that Japan.
I get this one, even though the example given is juvenile. Japan has vending machines for everything from used panties, booze, uncooked rice, ice cream, soda pop, coffee, comic books, wine, batteries, disposable cameras back in the old days, cigarettes... but in North America we have a limited menu. You can buy potato chips, chocolates, cigarettes (maybe), and soda pop, and even condoms if you go to the right (or wrong) adult men's club. Juice? No... your juice will be carbonated. Maybe Japan has real non-carbonated juice in vending machines nowadays, but it didn't when I was there... people didn't want it. They wanted energy drinks, beer, carbonation... it's a snack/junk food receptacle for us. There are convenience stores all over the place where you can buy some juice. There are plenty of grocery stores, too. And fast food restaurants. Vending machines? How gauche. Having said that, I had a table top vending machine that I kept filled at work with chips and chocolate bars. I would make about $80 (Y8,000) a week. We have a couple of nice vending machines at my current workplace - but again, it's for snacks... you can leave work to get real food or drink if you so choose.
So yes, our vending machines are limited as far as choice goes, but whatever... you can find what you are looking for pretty much anywhere within a 10-minute walk in Toronto. Stupid, stupid advice. Dishonest? No... just this advice.

10. But darn it all, they’re so weirdly optimistic you just can’t stay irritated at them.

In Japan, there is great fear of failure and mistakes in front of other people. It is better to do nothing and avoid being criticized than to taste the humiliation of failure. As a result, there are things we wanted to do, but did not, and often regret.
In America, you can make mistakes, fail, and it doesn’t matter. It is a fundamental feeling that to sometimes be incorrect is natural. In addition, rather than thinking about mistakes and failures, American’s have curiosity and say, "Let’s try anyway!"
Robert Crumb knows what it means to "let's try anyway!"
This is true... but it's not universally true. First, no one ever says "Let's try anyway!" Certainly not out loud. Secondly, not everyone feels comfortable in their own skin to go out and fail or to make an ass of themselves. Making an ass of one's self is not a non-Japanese thing by the way. To me seeing Japanese businessmen piss themselves or fall asleep on the street looks like someone making an ass of themselves to my western way of thinking. Wearing pantyhose in the hottest time of the year just looks ridiculous. One of the Japanese moms wears a plethora of clothing to cover up all of her skin in the summer because she will burn from the heat... which looks ridiculous, but I understand... who wants skin cancer? I should probably wear sunscreen, but I don't get burned or feel the heat as badly as others.
Yes... we in North America do make mistakes, and fail... but it does matter. It's just not something that we need to feel complete and utter shame for... 
We are optimistic. Some of us, anyway. Not not all. Writing such a blanket statement as above is just plain foolish... North Americans are not Japanese... we are made up of many cultures, religions and ideologies, and most of us (not all) try to fit in to be an American or a Canadian. Some do. Some never try to.

As you can see, I had a lot to say about this plethora of stupid advice written out by the Japanese for Japanese thinking of traveling to the U.S. (or Canada, aka America Junior). I have tried to be fair with my critique, but even I know I may not be 100% correct.

Why can't I find an image of a monkey in a toga on the Internet? Stoopid Internet.
There's an old saying: When in Rome, do as the Romans do.  Yeah... that's how old the saying is. But still... when us JETs et al traveled and lived in Japan, we tried to fit in. The same should hold for any Japanese person trying to travel and live in North America. Texas is different from New Orleans, which is different from New York which is different from California which is different from Newfoundland, which is different from Calgary which is different from Quebec which is different from Toronto. We gaijin are very different from each other just as the British are from the Scottish, Welsh, Irish and Northern Irish from the Australians, and New Zealanders, and the Germans, French, Italians, Polish, Indians, Pakistani, Saudis, Jordanians, Thai, Chinese, Laotions, Brazilians, Venezuelans, South Africans, Sengalese... etc... etc... etc... learn about where you are traveling to and try and learn some of the language and social customs beforehand, and then fit in... oh, and try not to be so bloody Japanese.

Now... to be fair... the original advice looks like it was written by a Japanese person who wasn't all that into learning about the culture or society he was living in. It was not written as gospel according to any trade organization in Japan. It sounds like one person and one person alone who needs to learn how to fit in to western society. That crap about the laughing or vending machines, while not offensive is just wrong.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

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