Jan 22, 2009

Things I Won't Miss

One thing that I've tried to avoid doing on this blog is bitching about Japan. I'm sure I've done it a bit, but foreigners who constantly complain about this place annoy the shit out of me. There are lots of them, and they pop up all the time in bars and gatherings where a significant percentage of expats gather, and I usually want to say "Look, no one forced you to come here. If you don't like it, leave. The airport's over there."

But anything you love- any friend, lover, family member, place, or institution, will have a few qualities that drive you up the wall. Nothing is flawless or aggravation free. Here are a few hopelessly irritating things about this place that I love:

"Nihongo jozu!"

In almost any situation where I'm speaking even a little Japanese to someone, there is a high probability that someone will say "Nihongo jozu!" meaning that "Your Japanese is very good!" I've gotten this after all I said was "konichiwa." That's how reflexive it sometimes is. I understand that some people may just be trying to be nice, or don't know what else to say, but I really don't like being patronized, having my ass kissed, or recieving insincere compliments. It's embarassing for all parties involved.

I often just say "Nihongo jozu!" right back.

ATMs That Close

ATMs usually close at night and on holidays. Over New Year's, they were closed for four days straight and the one nearest my apartment is closed on Sunday. This is especially annoying in a cash-based society like Japan. Why do the ATMs close? Why? They're machines. The whole point of machines is that they mindlessly and tirelessly slave away for us humans. Why on earth do they need time off?


In Japanese society, "maybe" often means "no." It also means "maybe." I've gotten used to it, but still prefer blunt answers.

Talking Machines

I don't need vending machines to say "thank you." I also don't need the escalator to tell me to hold onto the handrail because it's dangerous. A simple sign will do, thank you very much.

Overpackaging and Overbagging

I'm sure America is guilty of this too, but it seems that convenince stores and supermarkets use way, way too much plastic to package and bag stuff. The toothpaste and onigiri can go in the same bag- that's fine. They don't need to be separate.

Come to think of it, it is always plastic. Where are the more eco-friendly, biodegrable, recycleable paper bags? What's up with that?

"That's Dangerous!"

Japan is very nice, safe comfortable country. Which means that, by comparison, the rest of the world seems dangerous and scary to lots of the people here who haven't been abroad much. I get a little irked when I hear America (or anywhere else) described as "dangerous." Billions of people live abroad, and every day billions of them manage to not die.

To be fair, though, I do have some pretty badass, world-wise, globe-trotting students, and I suppose there are naive homebodies in every country.

The Lack of Dark Beer

This is the second largest economy on earth with an enormous population, yet somehow porters and stouts haven't caught on. I don't have anything against Asahi or Ebisu, they're great. I'd just like a bit more variety. I guess I've been spoiled by Oregon's myriad microbrews.

"Do you like Japanese girls?"

This is one of the most asked questions that I get when meeting new people, a bit after "Where are you from?" and "How long have you been in Japan?" I know that the guys who ask me this are just trying to socialize and find common ground, but when I first got here I heard the question as "Are you one of those Orientalist perverts who irrationally fetishizes Asian women?" I know, I know. I overanalyze this stuff way, way too much. Now I'm just sick of the question. Especially because the answer is mostly "No."

And the thing that I'll miss the least:

Naive Assesments of Japanese Uniqueness, Specialness and Isolation

Lots of people here, both foreign and Japanese, have this image of Japan being this unique, special, magical place. It's an amazing place, yes. But so are many places. Japan is one nation among many, one culture among many, and there are many things that it does well and many things it does poorly. In many of the conversations that I've had, Japan's supposed "isolation" is often cited as a factor in this. But, it is not a utopia, nor is it cut off from the world at large. There is a huge, messy, international and intercultural system out there. Japan is a node on the network, a participant of the system, as vibrant and flawed as any other.


Anthony said...

Regarding the ATM machines closing, I've heard it explained in the following, highly depressing way: Because if one breaks at those times, noone will be immediately available to repair it.

Yes, I'd rather have my 99% uptime than ZERO, please, thank you very much. Repair the damn thing tomorrow!

Anyway, can't say if that's true or urban legend.

Regarding dark beer: Here, they've just come out with this draft dark beer that's, well, really frigging great. They put it in front of you and it's 100% head and you just kinda watch it receding upwards in waves. Or you just slurp up as much of the bubbly as you can before it goes away. And I'm not even a fan of head! (Misconstrue that however you will.)

So good. Feel free to, like, drop by or something. The BRICs (or is there no plural) are important sociopoliticoeconomically these days right?

SonicLlama said...

I most certainly want to drop by at some point. I've already been to one of the BRICs and now I gotta catch 'em all!

Anthony, I'm sure that eventually you'll learn to love head.