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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Japanese Average Japan Again

"Since most (non-Japanese) lead commonplace lives, it is a foregone conclusion that we will be disappointed. But in Japan, people are conditioned to be satisfied with the average, so they can't fail to be happy with their lots."
 - Alex Kerr, Lost Japan.

I read that and went "Kapowie! You just blew my frisking mind."

On the surface, I feel like my own Canadian life is a mess, with a series of missteps, blown opportunities and comedic pratfalls. That's how I feel.

But in reality, although bullied and picked on as a youth, I rose above that and gave as good or better than I got.

Although told to repeat Grade 12 after failing English, math, chemistry and probably something else - accounting? - I did repeat it and then got into university despite being told by school guidance counselors not to waste my time applying.

Despite not getting into university business school (so I could write commercials and advertising), I muddled it out for five years, graduated with some thing or another in Political Science and then went to college for journalism.

From there, I got into the Toronto Star Summer Internship Program and then the JET Programme to teach English in Japan—the same subject I had failed six years later. I mean eight. Stoopid math.
But it was okay, I was a year ahead until Grade 12, anyway.

Although not dating until I was 22 and not sleeping with a woman until I was nearly 26, I did end up with numbers closer to triple digits than my current age. That math I can do.

Despite having been a small kid, I grew nearly 30cm (12-inches) that second year of grade 12 and got contact lenses for my eyes instead of finger-thick glasses.

I began to learn how to teach music (in grade 12x2) - piano, rather than just playing it. Teaching music got me through the days in college where I learned journalism - all those things that made seem acceptable to JET and the Star, though they didn't know I had to fail before I learned how to succeed.

In Japan, my City seemed impressed that I would quit my job as a newspaper reporter to come and teach English to their kids. I seemed special to them - extraordinary, in fact. They told me this. But even I felt that, like them, that I was anything but ordinary.

Not only did I enjoy and play music (all brass, woodwinds and keyboards), I could teach it.

As well… not only did I play soccer and baseball (and coached soccer), I also enjoyed all sports. In Japan, music and sports are chosen by a child as the one thing (one club activity) that they should concentrate on.

I went to Japan already weakly forearmed with knowledge of judo, but along with that club, I also joined school clubs to learn kendo (Japanese sword fencing), and joined a city community club to learn kyudo (Japanese archery).

They loved calling me An-do-ryu-sensi - sportsuman! 

Being multi-talented made me special in the eyes of Japanese - not so average.

And they are right.

I'm not average as far as the Japanese or the gaijin are concerned.

Despite the positives, however, I am still consumed by wanting more. I'd be a lousy communist.

In my current situation, I want more knowledge. More sex. More stuff.  I'm never going to be satisfied. I always want more. 

So… even if I'm not your average foreigner - define average, anyway - just imagine people like me or you placed into the JET Programme in Japan.

Imagine the Japanese - so used to being told not to be an individual, but to be part of the group… to be like everyone else… to be average… even if it is a higher average than most western cultures…. but imagine your school uniform caught on this gaijin nail that not only stands up in their bored Japanese society, but proudly stands up and says: "Repeat after me!"

It's no wonder the past 30, 50 or 70 years (since WWII) or 150 years since the foreign world was thrust upon it, that Japan appears confused.

Perhaps Japan has adapted to the new world a few times over the past 150 years… but it has not done as well over the past 30 years. It's been rough.

That 30 year time-frame… that would literally be when the world became available at their fingertips. Japan liked what the world had to show it digitally in the social media world.

It wants to play…

But… Japan has all of these inflexible rules and regulations that the Japanese must follow to be part of Japanese society.

In my mind, that's why people like Japan Prime Minister Abe want to create or recreate a new persona for the Japanese via the an older persona - the Samurai.

Abe and others want to create their own constitution, have their own Armed Forces. They want their old rules back to protect them from the influx of gaijin ideals.

Down with gaijin. Up with Nihonjin.

Abe doesn't state that, but certainly he feels that recreating Japanese pride again to a downtrodden nation is the key to the revitalization of Nihon.

He wants a Japanese average Japan again. JAJA.

Accidentally, in the rush of the gaijin to help bring Japan into the 21st century, we have helped shove Japan into the opposite direction. We helped create the samurai generation by shoving it into their face about just how boring their average had become.

What would you rather be: the average Japanese who was happy with his lot in life; or the average Japanese no longer happy with being average after meeting all the exciting foreigners and foreign things?

Foreigners would go to Japan and think that the happy Japanese were boring.

It's all about perspective.

Boring? For us. But not for them.

But now that excitement of life via the gaijin has been revealed... people want more than just being average Japanese. 

For myself: maybe because I'm restless and never satisfied, but I after learning about new opportunities, I'd do what I could to get them for myself.

But what if your society didn't allow you to do that? And all those exciting things are visible to you, but out of your reach…

That is Japan.

Yeah, yeah… I know there have always been those that stand up in defiance of Japan's rigid norms…. but for those of us who have been to Japan, you see them and think - 'weird', even if you admire them.     

Pandora's Box is open.

Andrew Joseph

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