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Showing posts with label Japanese cultural differences. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Japanese cultural differences. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Book Review: Amy’s Guide To Best Behavior in Japan

Oh my goodness, how could I be so impolite?

The folks over at Stone Bridge Press had sent me a book to review—Amy’s Guide To Best Behavior in Japan—and I completely forgot to do a write-up.

I didn’t expect to be enthralled by the book, nor learn anything from it, based on the book’s cutesy cover featuring anthropomorphic cats—but dammit, I did enjoy it.

The softcover book has 140 pages, and cost US $12.95 and features nine chapters of easy-to-read and easy-to-understand sections that will help you navigate your way through Japanese customs and cultural differences to avoid looking like a complete idiot.

Firstly, however, as a foreigner and thus guest in Japan, 99.9% of the time you will be treated as such by the Japanese populace. Culturally, Japan is a very polite society.

Now, since no one in Japan is really going to get angry with you for any faux pas or cultural transgressions you may make, why, you may wonder would I need to read: Amy’s Guide To Best Behavior in Japan ?

Simple. Who the heck wants to stomp around a country with complete disregard for its peoples or customs?

Barbarian hordes stampeding the women and raping the cows, that’s who. That’s not us, of course.

No… we want to do our best to fit in, with a “when in Rome, do as the Roman’s do” philosophy.

Rather than Rome (in the case of the adage, we are talking about Rome the country), we’re talking about Japan…

Trust me, you don’t want to commit half the mistakes I did. The Japanese are quite forgiving because they know we don’t know any better - but Amy’s Guide To Best Behavior in Japan is here to educate you better.

Even though it is only confined to two pages, the book provides two 10-pieces of advice: Things you should never do in Japan; and things you should always do in Japan.

Excellent advice... and that alone would make the book worth its weight in cold chocolate coins.

Still, the book offers pointers on (based on the chapter headings): going out (to the mall) or on a date); standard etiquette; etiquette for traveling whether in daily life or on va-cay; hotel do's and don'ts; toilet and bath etiquette, which is actually quite important, as people are less forgiving at a hot spring facility; eating foods and drinks; homestays/visits; general language conversation (see below for my story on my mistake (?); and business etiquette.


My favorite language mistake? I was at an office enkai (party) and was asked how we Canadians say kanpai (cheers) when doing a drinking toast. I told them that Canada “cheers” is very common, but we do also possess a bit f an international flair and also use such cheers as "prost!" (German), Nazdrovia (Russian, Czech, etc), "yamas" (Greek), and good old "Cin Cin" (Italian).

Cin cin in English is pronounced as "chin-chin".

All cool, right?

Except in Japanese, "chin-chin" translates to a slang of "penis".

So when I told the Japanese we said "chin chin", all of the women cheered, while the men en masse grabbed their head (forehead, actually), and gave it a slight sideways shake in disgust.

The women were soon drinking heavily and toasted good fortune with bellows of chin chin, grinning as the cheers of "penis" abounded within the restaurant.

When someone from the restaurant came in to see what the hubbub was about, the women giggled and told them. Pretty soon the main part of the restaurant up front was laughing and drinking away to toasts of "penis" (or rather the Italian version), and I realized that internationalization in Japan could be a lot of fun if one wanted to stir up mischief.

Amy's Guide To Best Behavior in Japan may not cover all of the faux pas that a foreigner could get up to in Japan, but it can help you avoid many an embarrassing situation.

Is it worth picking up? Yes.

While it may not have avoided the infamous "penis" incident of 1990, it will help you fit in better in your new country.

Now, I'm still of the opinion that life is worth screwing up a bit in order to create better stories...

Can you imagine just how bland my life and this blog would have been if I didn't constantly screw up while in Japan? Boooorrrrring.

However, I had/have the capacity to deal with such fallout. Many of you would not.

Few men and women, for example, cared to let their true selves out in Japan... whether they are foreigners of Japanese. That old adage in Japan about the nail that stands up gets hammered down, isn't just an adage - it's a way of life.

Personally, I don't mind standing out.

But I do respect that fact that if possible, most people would prefer that their actions did not cause WWIII.

I can't guarantee that Amy’s Guide To Best Behavior in Japan still won't cause WWIII, but I can guarantee you that you will have fewer embarrassing interactions while in Japan. 

Don't get me wrong. I seemed to thrive in embarrassing situations... and those faux pas I made in Japan sure seem stupidly funny now... but I can guarantee you I was embarrassed by them at the time. Why do you think it took me so long to bring this stuff up?

Pick up a copy of Amy’s Guide To Best Behavior in Japan. Author Amy Chavez did a fine job of explaining how to "do it right, and be polite". Chavez has been a columnist for the Japan Times for 20+ years, writing about cultural differences between Japan and the West - kindda what I do mostly.

Currently she owns the Moooo! Bar & Calfe on the beach of Shiraishi Island. See HERE and HERE for info on her blog and bar! She's been writing since February of 20019 - a few months longer than I have (though I will lay claim to having a few more blog entries than Ms. Chavez - but quality over quantity?)

Amy’s Guide To Best Behavior in Japan is a quick read, though NOT skimpy on words. Has lots of fun drawings by Hazuki Jun (surname first) involving cats. Why not cows? I guess Chavez didn't wish to hawk her bar/calfe.

Contact Stone Bridge Press at www.stonebridge.com and order a book and make cowgirl Chavez smile. You'll learn something from Amy’s Guide To Best Behavior in Japan, and maybe even get a chuckle or two from it as well. 

Chin chin,
Andrew Joseph
PS: For Michael at StoneBridge Press - sorry for not posting this earlier. I actually did read it days after receiving it... and I did write most of this then... but for whatever reason, I stopped at the point of the penis cheer, and forgot to complete it. D'oh.  
 

Friday, September 8, 2017

What Japanese Kids Like To Do In Their Time Off

When I was first chosen in 1990 to go to Japan as part of the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme, I was told that while teaching the locals English was a key part of the job, internationalization was also a prime focus.

Internationalization, it was explained to me, was the art of getting the Japanese to realize that Japan wasn't so different from the rest of the world. To stop believing they were superior to everyone, even.

The Japanese certainly were a proud folk.

All the time it was "This is Japanese rice." Or "This is a Japanese kimono." Or "This is a Japanese chopstick." Or "This is a Japanese bridge."

Yeah, each was certainly different than what other cultures/societies had/have - there are differences in rice, kimono, chopsticks and bridges... I could see that... but why were they so proud to point out that such-and-such was 'Japanese'?

I spent my three-plus years in Japan trying to show the folks in Japan that I was just like them, and hopefully that they were just like me.

I had a lot of success. I had a lot of failure.

That's okay. That was my wonderful rife in Japan.

Two evenings ago, I spent a couple of hours with my friend John, with whom I will co-coach a Peewee Select baseball team next year.

He told me of a buddy of his, a Canadian-Japanese guy, who went to Japan in 1994 and essentially never came back.

During one of the jaunts John made to Japan, he found out some interesting things.

For example, his friend was a CIR on the JET up in a small town in Hokkaido for a while before starting up his own juku (cram school) and even a daycare.

His friend once asked his students what it was that they liked to do in their time off.

A curious question.

I had long assumed it was go to school on a Sunday and pester their club activity teacher to train them in their school sport, such as judo or baseball...

But no.

To a man, each one of the kids - whether in junior high school or senior high school - answered...

... sleep.

Proof once again that Japanese teenagers are exactly the same as western teenagers... and that Japan, despite enjoying this silly notion that they, as a people, are sooooo much different from the gaijin (foreigners)... are just like us.

They didn't need JET to become internationalized. They just needed JET and other foreigners to prove to them that they already were internationalized.

Somewhere wishing I could sleep more,
Andrew Joseph
PS: I have to talk to John's friend and pick his brain about Japan. A new plan has been born.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Tales From Kevin Blackburn (and Myself) #2

While I await two to three weeks to pass until I can get my Acer touchscreen computer back from the manufacturer—it types everything backwards on the keyboard, and I can’t call up the touchscreen—I am limited to writing these blogs at lunch time at work.

It is the only way I have left to keep up my stupid streak of writing a blog every day since February of 2011.

I need to keep things short and sweet.

Without much further ado about nothing, allow me to represent a short piece written by Kevin Blackburn, a CIR (Coordinator of International Relations) who lived in Batō (馬頭町, Batō-machi), Tochigi-ken, back in 1990-2.

As a CIR—well… I have no idea what they really do… and I don’t mean it as an insult - rather I’m sure duties vary from CIR person to CIR person.

Batō… this was a tiny little hamlet then (13,195 people as of 2003), that has since been merged with the hamlet of Ogawa (6,939 people as of 2003) to form the town of Nakagawa (which has a population of 16,956 as of 2015)…. which is down by 3,178 people in 12 years…

The Nakagawa area is getting older… and will, I feel, one day disappear… so all we’ll really have left will be Kevin’s thoughts.

But, in case I have not made things perfectly clear in the 7+ years I have been writing this blog: Every situation is different for anyone coming to and living in Japan… but, also… you can read all you want on Japan, and you are still going to get blown away by the complexity of Japanese society and culture.

Like all CIR’s, Kevin was damn-near fluent in Japanese writing, speaking and reading - and as such, one would assume he knew quite a lot about Japan.

From the September 1991 issue of Tochigi-ken AJET’s The Tatami Times monthly newsletter (as edited by me), we have Kevin Blackburn’s:

International Corner
The one serious question I am asked the most is, “What has been the most difficult thing about living in Japan?”
Without question, it is the rigidity of Japanese society.
There is a “way” to do everything, and that makes Japanese culture appealing.
The tea ceremony, the making of sushi, the wearing of a kimono—there is always a “way” to do it.
From a distance, it’s fascinating.
From the inside, it’s stifling.
There is also a way to cross the street, a way to raise your hand in class, and a way to use towels to wash dishes.
I am constantly causing problems by unintentional (and, occasionally intentional) breaking of these rules.
I held a party at my apartment for some high school students, and was thoroughly chastised by one student for using a drying-type cloth to wash my dishes,
Last month, I did not wear a hat when I helped plant rice.
I had more friction with the Japanese over that decision than at any other time in Japan.
You can’t plant rice without wearing a hat (I did, and the rice & I are fine).
It’s worse for the Japanese, who are expected to know and follow every rule.
I sometimes think my greatest value is in showing my coworkers that by looking at life from a broader perspective, not only will it be more enjoyable, but will be a more open approach to problem solving that Japan needs now.

-30-

Amen, Kevin. It’s the real reason I believe that us early JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme people were sent to Japan.

Teach English - sure… I guess… but really, it was to internationalize the Japanese.

When there were people who would take the time to stop, gawk, point and shout out: “Hora! Gaijin-da! (Look! A foreigner/outsider” as I rode my bicycle about Ohtawara, then surely the fact that it had diminished by the time I left was encouraging.

My Ohtawara Board of Education (OBOE) boss, Hanazaki-san (Mr. Hanazaki) would correct other Japanese people who dared to call me “gaijin”… telling them I was “An-do-ryu sensei (Andrew the teacher).

It was all about attempting to bring Japan out of this insular world it had lived in for (then) 120 years, and still kind of lives in.

Imagine… using the wrong cloth for washing and/or cleaning one’s dishes? Hell… I didn’t know this one, either!

I bet none of the male high school students at Kevin’s get-together knew about it either. I’m just guessing that anything to do with the kitchen would be the domain of the Japanese female. Yes, that’s a sexist comment, but Japan is still largely a sexist institution.

I was with Kevin - fug your rules. I never wore my indoor shoes in my apartment! I vacuumed the carpet! I kept it neat and tidy! If I didn’t want to wear my indoor shoes, I don’t have to.

If I want to wear my outdoor shoes inside, that’s my right, too!

Maybe these things were important to Japanese society 150 years ago when the world was muddier than it is now (no sidewalks, roads… cars, bicycles, trains)…

… but Japan could maybe do away with some of the rigidity that makes its people seem like they have a pickle up their butt (sometimes).

Wear a hat when planting rice. Why? I am going to assume that in this case it was to prevent Kevin from getting too much sun on his dainty complexion.

Talking to many women who were NOT farmers in my home town of Ohtawara (Big Rice Field Field)… the city so rural they had to have the word “field” in it twice”, to have a tan would imply that you have been out working in the sun… something only a peasant would do.

Of course, in Kevin’s case they may have simply wanted him to wear the proper clothing to avoid getting sunstroke.

To Kevin’s point of Japanese rigidity, I agree with him… but I wouldn’t really want to see it go the way of the __________ (insert extinct animal here), as I find these points of Japanese society and culture to be interesting.

Kevin made the fatal point, in my mind, of finding fault with the Japanese without also checking to see if similar faults exist within his own culture.

I’m not talking about the culture of Kevin, but rather a North American culture.

It’s true that I could pick up a bow and arrow and hit a target… but to do it the Japanese way is not only time-consuming in its form, but distracting in its zen. In Japan, it's all about form and substance - but mostly about form.

But why is there a “way” of doing things in Japan?

I am sure there are books and books on the subject: though the best I have ever read was Japaneseness (click HERE) available via www.stonebridge.com.

I would essentially assume that without order, there is chaos.

Look… us ‘westerners” know that you are supposed to hold the fork in one’s left, the knife in the right hand… that with the cutlery at a table setting, we use the implements from the outside in…. that you don’t tuck a napkin into one’s shirt collar, that you don’t swirl a glass of Merlot wine and chug it back, that you don’t slurp your soup or noodles… there are just a few of OUR rules. Maybe they differ from the Japanese… maybe they are the same.

At the home of some of my Toronto friends, I am expected to remove my shoes (though no indoor footwear is provided), but at other homes I can keep the shoes on. How do you know when to do what? Obviously always offer to take off the shoes… but wouldn’t it be better if there was just one rule?

You’d always be correct.

But being told to keep your shoes ON is fare less stressful to be told by some hysterical friend that they had just cleaned that floor! and then you see them rush to drag a mop and sponge to wipe away the vestigial traces of your invisible footprints as you struggle to take off your shoes and sheepishly place back at the entrance way.

Then again… in the grand scheme of things… who really gives a shid.

I’ve never done that faux pas, but whatever. It's happened before. Heck, it's probably happening somewhere in the world right now.

I have enough class to know that if I really had to, I could avoid a scene and simply clean the house again later. I mean… I’ll have to eventually, right?

Also, to put the boot to Japanese rigidity, I kind of like the fact that as a person who has a home, I have the option of wearing or not wearing footwear in my place, and offer the same courtesy to any guest unlucky enough to come over.

Kevin, buddy… my point is that we are/were just guests in Japan. It’s not really our place to complain about how bad Japan is at something (which you didn’t really do), but rather it’s up to us to adapt.

Hey… at least we all know there’s such a thing as a washing towel and a drying towel, and never the twain shall meet.

I would bet that many a homemaker around the world would ALSO have two separate towels for two separate jobs. If you think about it guys, to use one for the other IS kind of gross.
Try not to use a washcloth on your dishes that isn't normally used for washing even a hot dish like this. 
Yes… the Japanese have a lot of rules—as do us westerners (Do you hand her the money or place it atop the back of the toilet?), but I do agree, Kevin, that Japan seems to have a lot of rules of stiff etiquette.

Too much? Too many? No longer make sense? Probably. Let the revolution begin.

Kanpai, Kevin!
Andrew Joseph
PS: Apparently this length of blog is what passes as short and sweet for me. Sighhhhh.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Gripes About Japan

Along the many other blogs written by current and former foreign residents of Japan, quite a few people have written about their gripes about the country, it's people, society and culture.

I'm sure I have ripped Japan a new one in this blog, as well.

Granted I was in Japan between 1990-1993... and one would hope that things would have progressed a bit... still, many foreigners continue to experience the gripes listed below, while others have few gripes at all.

Despite being called 'gripes', I don't feel that for myself they ever were 'gripes'. It was Japan... and there were simply some people in my tiny city that had simply never had personal dealings with a stranger before.

I think THAT is important to consider when looking at gripes about Japan (or another country). Is it in the big city? Small city? A rural village? What is that person's level of Japanese language communication? Are they perceived as being a friendly or scary foreigner - and why?

In any country, regardless of one's sex, skin-tone, age or social standing, how one puts themselves across will determine who you are perceived by the locals.

Matthew had excellent language skills, was/is funny, intelligent and caring. He was easily a part of the community.

Myself - smiling always, trying (physically, mentally and emotionally), funnier (than Matthew - just a bit!), intelligent and caring. For myself, I will also state that I asked a lot of questions, was extremely open about myself, and answered every question thrown my way. I was a part of the community.

Ashley - shy, reserved, accepted (she was with me), funny after a few drinks, intelligent and caring. Accepted.

Matthew and Ashley could speak and understand Japanese far better than I could/can. I never studied past the first few months. It was difficult, I had no aptitude for learning Japanese. I quit. My problem. But I still survived thanks to surrounding myself with foreign Japanese-speakers, Japanese native speakers, but really with the Japanese ability to try and understand what the hell I was talking about.

Others... we never saw them get out and try and become 'Japanese' - preferring their own private adventure in Japan. I could not say if they had gripes (as below) or not... but I'm sating that people are different... both you, the Japanese you encounter... and when they are being encountered.

I might snap at someone here in Toronto because of what happened to myself earlier. I will, however recognize that, and go and apologize. If that was your one and only meeting with me, people would think I was a jerk. They might never have seen me apologize. 

I have copied over the main list of complaints, and have added my own comments below them.

Gripes About Japan - sorry... used the wrong image above! LOL!

1. Been stared at in public
Sure - it happened all the time at first, and less and less the longer I stayed... though I would say that my Japanese girlfriends got stared at harder by the older generation, and also by the young men - because in all cases they were quite pretty.
Did it bother me to be stared at - because I was foreign? No. I knew what I was getting into from the get-go.

2. Been refused entry to a hotel, bar or restaurant due to race
Nope. I know it happens.
I will say that a bunch of us gaijin were denied entry into a dance club - it might have been because of race, but it also might have been because the place was full and there were 50 of us. It was Day 3 for me in Japan... so I couldn't say for sure.
Not once was I ever asked to show my passport or Alien Registration Card - except when official documents were being signed and officially required.

3. Been complimented on chopstick use
Yes... I did find it frustrating considering I could used them better (quicker) than most Japanese. But... I did have a slight variant on the classic Japanese grip that I preferred. I would often shoot back a "You use a fork very well." comment when the opportunity. I think in many cases, they are not amazed by my chopsticks skill, but use it as a conversation piece like others do with the weather. Whatever... this is a pretty damn weenie gripe.

4. Been complimented on great Japanese after uttering a single word
Not a single word, but yes - after a sentence or two. I just take it as the Japanese are being polite - not amazed that you can speak Japanese. How is a compliment turned into a gripe? Ya can't make everyone happy.

5. Been refused entry to hot spring
Been there - enjoyed the hot springs. Sorry about leaving all that hair matted together in the water. No... not a problem for me... but I suppose it could happen - depending on where one travels to.

6. Had someone in a hot spring get out of a bath because you entered
Do women count? Kidding. Nope... I've had good Japanese-English conversations with Japanese people in there.

7. Had people leave an empty seat next to you on a crowded train
I have that happen in Toronto... then again... I'm wide... but really, I rarely traveled alone... so I always had another foreigner with me. As well... since I only ever traveled on a subway maybe 10x - and it was always busy, I never got a seat, but once.... and that was because it wasn't busy. On the regular inter-city lines and shinkansen - no... not a problem at all. Then again... I look happy, wear deodorant, and try not to take up much room, actually shrinking myself so as to not look imposing. Unless there was some woman I was trying to look impressive to. Never worked on a train.

8. Been stopped by the police and asked to show your alien card for no reason
Nope. I was a minor celebrity in my small city. The police knew who I was, and would greet me when seen. Outside the city - no... I have stopped and asked for directions in broken Japanese-English and have been cheerfully helped those few times.

9. Been talked about by strangers in public within earshot
Probably. But in truth, it was actually: "Blah-blah-blah An-do-ryu- sensei!" That's cool. They knew my name.
The one time I was talked about and called "gaijin-no-sensei", my boss at the Ohtawara Board of Education cut the man off immediately and tole him I was "An-do-ryu-sensei" and not a gaijin. That was maybe three days in to my stay in Ohtawara. That man looked chastised, bowed first to me - even though I was about 10 feet away and not directly a part of the conversation, and bowed profusely to my boss Hanazaki-san. I was one damn lucky guy in Japan, to have people like Hanazaki-san (and Kanemaru-san) stand up for me. It wasn't like the guy was being mean when talking about me - but the guys still wouldn't have any of that 'gaijin' crap. The Ohtawara Board of Education people were great!  
But strangers - to be honest... I paid the chats of others no mind. If it was women talking, I would already have smiled at them before hand, so perhaps I drew it upon myself for them to talk about me. At my local bar, I was a fixture, of sorts, so it wasn't like they didn't know foreigners would be in their bar. All the foreigners in my bar... were welcome.
At the shopping markets - no one ever talked about me while I was near them. I lived in a very polite city that was actually quite used to foreigners.
Again... upon my arrival - my picture was in the local community newspaper detailing where I was from and what I was doing in Ohtawara.

10. Had people comment directly to you about your appearance
Sure... but does this mean about clothes or my physical looks? Clothes - yes; Hair - yes... in almost 99.9% of the times, it was a compliment. One girl in a junior high school class did not like my hairy arms, for example, and told me so. The rest of the students smacked her on the head. And this was at my one tough/bad school.
I was told I looked cool. I grew my hair out down past my shoulders, growing that samurai tail. I wore suits, off the rack from Toronto and made for me in Thailand and Singapore - silks; I wore ties. When I was out in public with a torn tee-shirt, I received two replacement shirts in my mail box the next day. Anonymously. They were small for me - but the thought was awesome. Poor foreigner - having to wear such crappy clothes. In retrospect, that should have been embarrassing for me... to wear such crappy clothing in public. It was a wake-up call.
If not clothes - no... just that one comment from the one female student. Others, did comment about how soft my arm hair was - which was creepy because it was 13-year-old girls attempting to stroke my arm.
Others would comment about how my hair band holding my pony-tail matched my shirt or tie... and that was a conscious effort on my part, to purchase hair bands of differing colors.
Did anyone comment on my big nose or dark complexion or anything else? Not to my ears.
The junior high school boys used to joke around about my big penis (stereotype to be sure), while point to their own and saying 'small-small' (probably a stereotype).
My girlfriend Ashley was asked about what her three sizes were - Bust-Waist-Hips - but she told them that was none of their business.
I'm a guy... we always add length when asked about such private matters. As women know, apparently EVERY man is part pony. LOL!

11. Had people shout random English words at you in public
No... only in Saipan, where a prostitute shouted "Hello Joe!" to me from across an empty street. Must have thought I was a sailor on leave, or something.
Where the heck are people living that the Japanese would do stuff like that?

12. Had people ask you if you have / do (fill-in-the-blank) 'abroad'
Sure - what's wrong with that? It's curiosity. It shows ignorance on a global scale - not stupidity. What the fug are people doing in Japan? Teaching English and ticked off that someone asks a question that you think they should know the answer to? Grow up, gaijin.

13. Had people tell you that Japanese snow, seasons, sea or whatnot are ‘different’
No. But, they are. Every country has different types of winter - like in Canada. Heck - even in Toronto, if you drive north past an east-west street, the weather becomes as bad as it is in Buffalo to the south. Toronto, versus Halifax, versus Winnipeg versus Calgary versus Vancouver weather - all different. Don't the Inuit have something like 40 different ways to say/describe snow?
Now... when Japanese used to tell met that Japanese rice is very special, well... we do get Japanese rice in Canada... but yes, there are different tastes to Japanese rice from different parts of the country. I do not possess tastes buds that are that discerning, but then again, some people can.

14. Been asked by a stranger if they can practice their English
Nope, but occasionally someone will insist on speaking bad English when we could do much better in Japanese. (This was someone else's answer, and I'm keeping it stock, however...)... I was aware that in Japan people might want to practice their English on me. What's wrong with that? I'm glad someone is taking an interest in speaking English. Holy crap - are the griping gaijin the same one's who wish they could find someone to speak English to when they need help because their Japanese sucks?

15. Had people just look blankly at you when you speak passable Japanese
Yes. It does bother me. But I believe that's because they aren't expecting to speak their language and have already steeled themselves for a difficult time.
I used to ask for an oki-saizu (Large size) cora (coca-cola) at Mosburger or McDonalds... and I'd get a blank stare until they ask me if I want an Erru-saizu... that's L-size... a large. Isn't that what I asked for? Yes... but that's NOT how it is done in Japan. Despite my wonderful Japanese language abilities (I can't say that with a straight face), I did not ask for the drink the correct Japanese way.
Holy cow - have you ever asked for your coffee in a foreign way at Starbucks? You order it their way or confusion reigns.
And... for the record, in the U.S... Chicago and Las Vegas, as two examples, I asked for a large Coke at McDonalds. My speaking voice is loud and clear, but they had no idea what I wanted. Now, to be fair, the person serving me was a Spanish speaker - perhaps South American or Central American - I don't know... but they had no clue... so I tried to order: El grande Maco; el grande fries and el grande Coke and still got a blank stare - so I just walked away.
Not everyone understands me... and that's fine. I have no idea what the hell I was saying anyhow. I assumed grande is big/grand... and Maco sounds like I imagine Mac would sound in Mexican. Kidding... in Spanish. I tried. My English wasn't working, so I tried pigeon Spanish. Failed. Leave. I have no idea why a non-English speaker was at the cash, but maybe the McDonalds I was at in Chicago and Las Vegas catered to more of a Latino community. No idea. It was cool. The Vegas one was in a hotel on the new strip, however.

16. Been on the good end of discrimination and been treated to things just because you are a foreigner
Probably. I assume so. I've had it happen in Toronto... where a gas station run by guys from India offered me free donuts, but when my White wife came in 20 seconds later - nothing. That sucks.
In Japan, I was treated well because I was a minor celebrity in my city of Ohtawara. I'd go and get a flat fixed on my bicycle at a small family-run bike shop and not be charged anything... I don't care for that, and believe in paying fair prices for goods and services performed. Fair is fair, right?

17. Been refused an apartment or housing on the grounds of race
Not applicable. Never tried because I didn't need to because my housing was set up by the Board of Education... and... I bet that discrimination on rental refusal happens in every single country.

18. Had someone go through your rubbish and complain (unjustly) about something
Nope. Then again... I was there in Japan before we had to separate garbage. But... there are people who do that against gaijin and nihonjin, from what I have heard. Don't take it personally and ensure you are doing the proper garbage separation. Hells, my wife does it to me all the time. I'll never learn, I guess.

19. Had someone complain about you to somebody (police, boss etc) rather than to you directly
No... I was a good boy. If there were complaints about me, I never, ever heard of it from my bosses, and certainly not from the police.

20. Been called ‘gaijin-san’ by someone in customer service
Yes... they call me Mister Foreigner. It didn't bother me then, and if I was there now armed with 6 years of blogging about Japan, it wouldn't bother me either.
People really seem to be bothered about being called a gaijin. Whatever. At least they aren't calling you Whitey or Round Eyes or Big Penis. I don't think the Japanese use the word to mean outsider... they mean foreigner. Now... if I was married to a Japanese woman and was living there, and could speak jozu (good) Japanese, then maybe I would feel ticked off. I know there are many foreigners who can speak Japanese than some natives... but it goes back to the cultural thing where... no matter what... you will never ever be Japanese. I've been told by what I would assume was a White Canadian, that I can never be Canadian because of my skin color. The fact that I have more knowledge of hockey than most people on the planet, have seven years post secondary education, could have caught that person on six different grammatical errors and spellers... well... sometimes you can't win with a bigot.

21. Had a server or shop assistant direct all conversation at your Japanese partner / friend
Yes - and very much glad of it. I'd rather get the order right. Of course, when with other foreigners, I would go over to the fake food and point to what I wanted. That's what it is there for. I don't care... sometimes in Toronto, people talk just to me... other times to my wife... other times not at all. Guess which one I hate the most?

22. Had shop staff give your change to your Japanese partner / friend
Nope. Never. Maybe it's because I was the guy, and maybe they just figured the guy was paying? No... that wasn't it... maybe they did that because I was the one who gave them the money. That partner-money thing has happened in Canada, too... and I tell that I don't know that lady, so why did they give them that change? They feel dumb, but really, we all have a laugh about it. Sometimes, because people aren't paying attention they have no idea who paid and thus no idea who to return the money to. I'd chalk it up to an honest mistake.

23. Had someone ask questions about you right in front of you
Sure... I'm not very good with Japanese - understanding or speaking. Knock yourself out.

24. Been refused a credit card or bank loan on the grounds of being a foreigner
Not applicable. Never had a either. I had my Canadian Visa card over in Japan. It worked. No hassles. I only ever used it to buy antiques such as ukiyo-e.

Bonus Question: 

*25. Have someone do a double-take and say ‘bikkuri shita’ when they see you
Nope... not really. I don't sneak up on people because I'm pretty loud and visible. But really... maybe you just surprised them. Some people - the wife - are really easy to surprise.

Anyhow, to me the whole thing is akin to Mad Magazine because these gripes via questions were apparently things that ticked off some foreigners in Japan.

From a Mad Magazine, originally circa 1974 - this reprint is from Mad Special #23, 1977. This one always stuck in my memory... and was luckily in the fourth magazine I looked through in my collection. It's from the 2-pager: You Never Can Win With A Bigot! Pretty strong language... then again... Mad Magazine used to have a strong social commentary in their stuff. I haven't read anything recent, so I can't say if they still do.
I don't mean to belittle your pain and suffering for those complaining via these gripes, but none of these gripes is particularly irritating to me. Yes, I am aware that time heals all wounds, and I've spent a lot of time away, but I am 100% sure that sort of stuff  didn't bother me when I was in Japan because I have never felt like there was any malice behind it.

I'm sure the two things I was not answering were perhaps loaded gripes towards racism... which I am sure exists in Japan and elsewhere (trust me, the rest of Asian hates Japan for what it did to them in WWII and before)... but I don't feel like it's rampant in the country. No one is going to get lynched for being a foreigner in Japan.  

I just wanted to show that gripes are gripes... but for foreigners in Japan... if you don't like how you are being treated, you can: attempt to alter the way people think; ignore it and hope it doesn't drive you crazy, or; leave.

The gripes about Japan are gripes, and I know that every situation is different... but neither should anyone read that stuff and think these gripes are rampant throughout Japan. 

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Japanese Option

Growing up, I first began playing the accordion when I was six-years-old, switched to the piano when I was 16, taught it when I was 23.

In between I picked up the clarinet when I was 12 in high school (I used to be smarter), tenor sax and baritone saxophone when I was 13… and then because I was bored at school I learned to play all brass, woodwinds and keyboard instruments through high school.

I was good enough to play clarinet in orchestra, tenor sax in band, and baritone sax in stage band, though I would switch off between all three in stage band as required.

I came by my musical talent honestly… that is, aside from the clarinet, accordion and piano, I taught myself… and picked up things easily.

I could play all brass instruments from trumpet to tuba to trombone, but the buzzing and playing gave me a physical headache and so I never played again after high school.

Strings… percussion… I never attempted either, excel for guitar (twice), but couldn't stand the effort it made me put forth and never really tried.

Basically, if I picked up an instrument and could play it immediately without anyone's lead, I enjoyed playing it.

My uncle Harold (dad's older brother) was the conductor of the New Delhi Symphony Orchestra and the Indian Army, and wrote music and recorded and collected Indian folk music for posterity… he had the talent. I had ability, but lacked the drive to be artistic.

I'm no artistic, unless writers suddenly are getting respect. I swear… if I hear one more salesman say "I can write", I'll go back to doing door to sales… which was easy for me, but completely unappealing to my moral sensibilities. My university degree… while a BA in political science, was more about the psychological behavior of political science… which was more along the line of manipulation and control like Tom Sawyer, who could get kids to pay him for the privilege and fun of whitewashing his fence. It just seemed wrong for me to do stuff like that.

While I was a decent enough door-to-door salesman selling people stuff they didn't know they wanted or needed, I got no thrill from it… same for music… same for runway modeling (really… even though I'm no pretty boy)… or even as a newspaper reporter… or trade show organizer.

I might have been good at some of those occupations (forgot music teacher - piano and clarinet), but it wasn't until I felt the rush of putting pen to paper and later skin to plastic keyboard that I knew I found my niche.

I mention all this because the saddest day I spent in Japan was when I realized that for the kids in Japan, they were not afforded the opportunity to diversify their skills to discover just what they might not only be good at, but might enjoy doing.

Hell… I did judo and soccer as a kid… but as an adult, I got to play in a baseball league and found that I took to it like a duck to orange marmalade. I prefer eating over idioms. Now my kid plays baseball and is even better at it than I was at the same age when I played soccer - and I was playing rep then. Maybe it's good that he has ADHD and thus gets bored easily causing him to try new things until he finds something he likes.

In Japan, very rarely does one get a second chance at anything.

If there was one thing I hope that the Japanese manage to take away from the internationalization of it via the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme, is that just because you've done something right for hundreds of years, doesn't mean it can't be improved upon.

I know I learned that in my time in Japan about myself - taking some of the best aspects of Japanese culture… surely Japan can force itself ti implement some of the best of the non-Japanese cultural aspects for itself.

Wouldn't it just be nice to try something different for a change?

Hells, forget about drawing your anime and manga the same way with the same colors and the same bloody themes… try moving away from samurai dramas and inane variety and cooking-related programs on TV…

The women of Japan were pretty open to trying something different and exotic… and talking with my Japanese male buddies, I know they would have loved to do the same with various foreign women…

Now all we have to be able to do is stop forcing people to work so hard that they don't even know how to properly enjoy themselves.

And maybe we westerners could work harder, too. See… cultural exchange.

Somewhere tooting my own horn,

Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Noboko And Andrew: Area 5.1 Sake To Me

In our last blog, I ranted on a bit about crap mostly because not much happened.

I had my official board of education good-bye party the night before, and earlier this morning (Saturday) July 17, 1993, I waited until my girlfriend Noboko left for work before I got out of bed, and went out and about on my bike.

I cycled around Ohtawara looking at all the temples and shrines I could find in four hours… which, surprisingly was plenty. Japan has plenty of places to pray, should the desire or need hit you.

I got back yesterday at 1PM, had a shower and waited for Noboko to arrive after her teaching expectations on Saturday morning.

She showed up at around 2PM… and despite what you are thinking, and I was hoping, we didn't just screw our brains out until it was time for bed. Now... we only spent four hours doing that.


Nope... at 7PM, we did the unthinkable. Not for me because if there's a possibility of something being thought, I've thought about it.

Anyhow… she and I stepped out together into the real world…

Without bothering to peer through the peephole to see if anyone was there, she boldly threw open the door—pulled open, actually—and stepped outside… not caring if anyone saw the pretty teacher stepping out from the ever-smiling gaijin's apartment building.

No one saw us. And believe me, I was looking. For her sake.

She held my hand, practically dragging along the outside apartment complex hallway to the elevator, where we waited calmly until the car arrived and rode down from the third floor to the ground.

The doors opened… and there was a family staring at us.

Noboko, still holding my hand, says good-evening to all and pulls me out of the car as I stammer a hello and a short bow to them.

I turn to them and smile, they give a smile and a wave back. Noboko is still pulling me along like the stubborn dog that I am.

We aren't heading for her car, as I assumed, but instead, we are walking in the humid evening towards the restaurant and bar district located a convenient five minute drunken stagger from my apartment.

It's funny… I'm used to being stared at in Japan, simply for being me and for being a gaijin (foreigner).

Noboko, she's used to being stared at because she's pretty.

But now… she's not just holding my hand, she's got her left arm looped through my right and is practically hugging herself up against me as we slowly walk to a restaurant.

She - who had for months - actively avoided anyone seeing us as a couple, now didn't give a crap. It's like aliens had landed and the world was going to end, so who cares.

Oranges poronges - who cares?  (Kudos to you if you think you know where that line is from.)

As we walked, single men, single women, couples, and groups of not-yet-drunk Japanese would bow, say 'konichiwa (hello)' and allow us to pass unfettered - though a casual glance at a store window reflection would invariably show them turning to look back at this handsome couple.

Despite me sleeping with around 30 different women over the past three years, this is the very first time where I was allowed to be someone's boyfriend out in public.

Yeah, Ash and I 'did it' on the front lawn of the Ohtawara banquet hall at around 2AM once, but no one was around—Ohtawara, outside of the restaurant/bar area pretty much rolls up its sidewalks at 9AM.

So… although initially confused by Noboko's bold statement, I was now reveling in this newfound celebrity I just now had thrust upon me… with the conclusion of this evening leaving me with four more days in Japan.

I'll be honest, though… back then… in 1993.. I wasn't philosophizing the whys or the what-fors regarding what was going on… I was just enjoying the warmth of her body as I had my arm snaked around her waist, occasionally snapping lightly at the elastic band on her panties.

Why do women all of a sudden hate the word 'panties'… or have you always hated it? I mean… I've seen various form of women's underwear and undergarments… from g-strings, thongs et al… but this was 1993, and these were panties… no more, no less.

I could describe them for you in greater detail for you guys or interested … but I didn't get to the nitty-gritty until later, suffice to say they were a dark emerald green, with a floral lace pattern stretched across. I have no idea what they were made of… I could assume, but why bother… let it be whatever you want.

Noboko was NOT the type to wear black or red, at least I never saw her in anything like that ever before… but this evening she wore black… a black dress… no spaghetti straps or anything sexy slutty that way (I said sexy slutty… I did not say that was bad)… Noboko was still dressed to the nines (or tens), wearing dangling gold earrings that weren't so dangly… a matching gold necklace, and my sapphire ring on her wedding finger, which in Japan is on the right hand.

The way she was gripping on to me, that ring was front and visible to everyone who passed us by.
I'm not saying it was a stupid large stone, or anything like that—it wasn't, but like I said, I'm pretty sure every woman who passed us and gave us the eye saw it. I doubt the Japanese guys did… probably staring at me and hating me for holding onto Noboko…  maybe not hate… but certainly jealous envy.

As we got to the entranceway of the restaurant below the 4C (owned and operated by the same gentleman - and Matthew would know the name of the place - I've forgotten)… Noboko does to me what only one other woman has ever done to me before…. she stops me, hops up on her toes and plants a kiss on me.

Now… I'm a bit of a perv, in case you didn't know, so I'm up and ready to drag her into some side alley and lift, slide aside and go for… but no… Noboko is in charge tonight and says: "I'm sorry I was not a very good girlfriend to you all these months."

I was shocked.

I understand her social position. Her inability to 'show' me off… I put up with it with Junko, and I sure as hell put up with it with Ashley.

I know it's not them being ashamed of me, or of having a gaijin boyfriend… rather, it's to protect themselves from the prying eyes and chatter of other Japanese.

Despite Japan being this quiet, reserved society, they sure like to effing blab about stuff that doesn't concern them. It's even jucier if they suspect sex is involved.

And, let's be adults here, if you are dating someone in Japan, the odds are extremely high that sex is involved.

It's not talked about—certainly not when two or more Japanese are invalid, but when a foreigner is—there are no rules.

One of the first question anyone will ask a 'landed' foreigner after: name and  country of origin,   is their marital status.

Why? They may not want to sleep with you (probably), but knowing the marital status is very valuable gossip.

Now… this is 1993… and there is no Facebook or Twitter even on the event horizon of this black hole of information data gathering. So… when people find out stuff, they have to physical tell other people.

In Ohtawara, the grapevine is quick and dirty. It is not always purple-monkey-underpants- accurate.
Noboko had heard I had got some Japanese woman pregnant and that I didn't care.

That's totally not true. Not only would I have cared, but I did not get anyone—Japanese or otherwise—pregnant. I have joked about it here in this blog, wondering if such and such Japanese beauty queen might actually be mine, but I know who I slept with, an I know that protection was always involved, unless it was with one of the three mainstays - and not all that often. Back then, I probably didn't have the control I have earned nowadays.

Whatever… everyone is staring at us, and neither of us apparently cares.

I tell her she has nothing to apologize for and slide open the restaurant doors, walk through and allow her to shut them.

We find seats, easily enough at the counter and order up some steamed freshwater crayfish, some beer and sake, of which I mostly eat.

The owner ambles over from within the rectangular cooking area that the counter surrounds and casually asks me (in English) if this (Noboko) is my girlfriend.

You might wonder just why a Japanese man, with not a heck of a lot of English skills, would bother to ask me a question in English, when it would be far easier to do so in Japanese.

The obvious answer (to me), is that that us dumb gaijin have no problem in expressing the truth, while the Japanese might hem and haw.

I've never mentioned these two Japanese words before… and in fact, I didn't KNOW about these Japanese words until about one month ago:
  • Honne (本音);
  • Tatemae (建前).
I knew that these concepts existed in Japan… and have alluded as much in damn near every blog article I have written here since 2009.

Honne, briefly, is a Japanese person's true feelings and desires.

Tatemae, is the behavior and opinion one displays in public.

Some people have written books on the subject of Japanese personality, having you believe that this is something unique to the Japanese.

It's not.

I think all of us have hone and tatemae tendencies, regardless of what bloody country we live in.

I think the difference is, is that Japanese society tends to try and ensure that hone and tatemae are two distinct concepts, and by doing so, homogeneity can be better achieved.

It's true… there is a oneness about the way Japanese society tries to portray itself… the thing is, that honne—which was only ever released through social gatherings in Japan where drinking was involved, has now crept out more into the open (as of 2015).

Thanks to social media outlets like YouTube, Twitter and even Facebook, the Japanese are being exposed or are exposing themselves and all their individual foibles not just for Japanese society to see, but for the global community.

What is the real Japan? The stiff, unsmiling Japanese business man, or the falling-down drunk Japanese businessman waving at you saying "Harro gaijin-san!" ??

What about all those rockabilly dudes in the parsec, juking and jiving? This looks like a full time deal, and doesn't appear to be fueled by booze or drugs. The same for the kawai look on the women!
Japanese individuality of the group is being replaced by the individuality of the one.

Sorry Mr. Spock, but the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many, and the cracks are appearing all over the porcelain that is Japanese society.

Noboko - here in 1993 - she is acting as though she doesn't care about Japanese society.
As such, she answers the restauranteur for me—in the best language ever—by pulling me towards her face and kissing me.

I'm pretty sure I heard an 'eeeeeeh' escape from some immature Japanese woman, but other than that, I heard quite a few vocal 'suuuugay' utterances (a slangy way of saying 'wonderful', which is normally, 'sugoi' (sue-goy).

"I love you," says Noboko to myself and the whole restaurant.
"I love you, too," I say and kiss her again before turning and smiling to my curious friend. "Wakata?"
"Wakata."

Basically - "Get it? Got it." It's slang.
We enjoy our dinner… the restauranteur asks Noboko and myself if will be going upstairs to the 4C bar afterwards.

A very happy Noboko nods yes, and covers her mouth in that very Japanese way as she laughs - she's even giggling and lowering her eyes.

"You are so Japanese," I tell her mimicking her fingers covering her mouth.

She swears at me in Japanese, with that lovable muttering she does, but answers in Japanese: "Nihonjin, ne…" (I'm Japanese, right?)

I smile.

"Do you love me because I am Japanese?" she asks in English.
"What?!" I heard her, but what?!

She repeats it in Japanese, and this time the whole place is listening.

"Iiiiiiii-ya (No)", I practically yell at her. "I don't love you because you are Japanese.

The whole offing place went silent.

Seriously. Like for three or fours seconds. It was like everyone was listening and everyone immediately sucked all the air in the place into their lungs.

Noboko was smiling, however, so I knew she knew.

"I love you because you are Noboko."

Someone must have translated it to Japanese, because everyone suddenly exhaled. It was so comical, that the doors would have blown open if they weren't sliding doors.

"Yes… I am Noboko…. and you",  she continued, pointing at me, "are chotto baka."

Everyone laughed. Even me, because it's funny.

I told you she was fun.

"I must be. Look who my girlfriend is."

This time there weren't any eeeeeehs - just laughter.

In my head, I am thinking "see..  see how easy it is for us to exist in Japan."

But I know it's different… associating with the local gaijin could mess up her work, and not that I care, her dad's work. There's that whole loss of respect.

No wonder Japan's birthrate is running backwards

We pay up, go outside, open the glass door and walk up the steep stairs to the 4C.

Because I am a known entity, there is no pay as you go… and have a tab set up… but honestly, Noboko and I aren't interesting in getting drunk tonight.

We're interested in showing off.

We have a rum and coke apiece, and we're kissing in public.

As it's delivered, we're told it's on the house - only my second ever free drink in the place… the last time was when the local yakuza boss bough me a drink to size me up (I taught his son at Ohtawara Chu Gakko).

At the end of the night, I go over to the bar (the restauranteur is up there, along with Mark, the New Zealand bartender)… I shake their hand and tell them I am leaving Japan in a few days time.

Mark, my friend and ever the opportunist, asks me "What about her?"

"We'll see," I say… I want to marry her, but we're trying to figure out if that's going to happen. Right now… it appears as though we are enjoying ourselves until I come back in a few months time."

Bows and handshakes, and I feel sad, Noboko drags me by the hand, opens the door, walks down with me, opens the door and out we go into the still humid night of Ohtawara.

At least I have air-conditioning in my apartment… and I left it running.

It's just after midnight…  and although it's still hovering around 30C, we are comforted that any future sweating will be of our own doing.

We walk slowly back to my apartment, my hand slides down to her ass, and rather than push it away, she takes my forthrightness as though it's perfectly acceptable.

How could I leave this behind?
Andrew Joseph
Yeah, I know what I wrote.  

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Internationalization - A Question

If there's one thing the people of Japan have to ask themselves, it's whether they actually have anything in common with one another.

By that I mean: does a person living in Tokyo have anything in common with someone living in the do-inaka (boondocks) of rural Japan?

Or, does that same Tokyo-ite or Osaka person have more in common with someone living in the big city of London? Paris? Mexico City? Germany? Sao Paulo? Munich?

Forgetting the color of the skin and the language for a moment - does a person living in Tokyo have more in common with fellow urbanites than he or she does with the rural farmers or even the folks who live in small towns?  

The rush-rush-rush and the crush-crush-crush of the urbanite… the long, daily commutes, the concrete jungle… versus the small-town person who takes 10 minutes or less to get to work, or works in a small-town grocery store, or city office where the strains of life are not as great.

I have friends in Japan who live in Tokyo who have said there is no way in hell they would want to visit my boring old hometown of Ohtawara-shi in Tochigi-ken… too sleepy… too boring… too dull…

And yet, having lived in Toronto most of my life, going to Ohtawara was like a breath of fresh air because I was able to get a breath of fresh air! I could ride my bike 10 kilometers to a school and not have to go onto a highway and die. I could feel the wind at my back and the sun on my face. I could feel alive… rather than the anger I feel every day as I leave work at 4PM and get home an hour later. Ten years ago, the trip took 30 minutes. Traffic. If I took our public transportation system, it would take me 90 minutes.

But what about the Tokyo-ite… big businessman… isn't it quaint when you go to a small town and listen to the hick locals butcher the Japanese language? Daijobu-da!

I have seen farmers (and hung-out with them) from India, Pakistan, Nepal and more visit the Asian Rusal Institute in Ohtawara-shi to learn Japanese farming techniques because when it comes to farming, they all speak the same language. 

Do you really share much with the barbers, the farmers… the shopkeepers and bicycle repairmen that dot the small town landscape… can you talk about your business with them? Are you really all Japanese, when the culture you share is divided by economic classes and social structures?

Don't you share more with the educated businessman in London, Hamburg, St. Petersburg or Stockholm?

Does a metropolis create a culture that stretches far beyond national borders and language barriers?

Just wondering…
Andrew Joseph

Monday, August 6, 2012

Girls Follow Boys In Japan

Here's an observance... and we'll examine the significance of it, and if if there is significance, later.

As a junior high school English teacher in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan, I actually had a lot of free time. Time that I spent either moping around, checking out the cute female teachers, pondering the universe, and even doing stuff with the students.

By my third year, I had pretty much given up trying to learn Japanese. I could probably learn to speak it, but reading and writing - no way in heck.

All of which has nothing to do about anything except to tell you I really did spend a lot of time observing Japan and her culture... wanting to know what it was about them that was so similar and yet different.

Don't get me wrong... Japanese people are not that different from you and me... they love their family, work their butt off, are underpaid and appreciated and really, that's pretty basic, isn't it. We people of Earth concentrate on things like that and we'll be okay. However... there are differences.

In this case, I believe that Japan is a bit behind the times when it comes to gender equality. Looking at the US, the Boy Scouts don't want any open homosexuals in their organization and that golf grounds in Atlanta where they have the Masters - no women members... and I'm sure there are many examples all around the world  - WITHOUT getting into religion - so perhaps we shouldn't all point fingers at poor Japan.

But I'm from Canada, so screw that noise.

During physical education activities or parading or club activities, the Japanese maintain the de rigueur of its society.

When they jog, it is still boys first, girls following.

I asked a few teachers about that at various schools, and they seemed perplexed by my query... not so much WHY am I asking this, but rather WHY don't they have an answer for it.

My theory is that yes, Japan is a chauvinistic society... but the problem resides more along the women who have yet to come forth and challenge these ingrained beliefs.

It's true that change may have occurred... in the 20 years since I left...the women I talked to... and I truly believe I actually talked to more women than men about society in Japan... they were asking questions of me. Questions of equality. What are things like in Canada... so I told them my opinion. I said we believe in equality amongst the sexes BUT that it still doesn't always shone through... but there are enough advocacy groups who will fight the injustices...

Why do the girls follow the boys when they jog? Because that's the way it has always been done.

I would have bought the answer that perhaps the boys were faster, or that they didn't want the boys staring at girls asses...but not having an answer except for precedent... well, there you go.

I told you... life as a JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Program participant was less about teaching English than it was about internationalization. For you new teachers in Japan... keep that in mind.

Cheers
Andrew Joseph
PS: Others have commented that the Japanese Men's national soccer team fly 1st class to events, while the Women fly Economy Class. That the men have not had the same success as the women, so why do the women not get treated the same.
This isn't an excuse, but here's the reason. The men bring in more money to the JSA (Japan Soccer Association aka Japan Football Association), and as such more money is allocated to the men. The women, despite all of their success internationally and having brought more prestige to the JSA, do not bring in as much yen to the coffers. Money rules. Women fly Economy.