Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Mystery of the Orient

As I sat on the train at 630AM yesterday morning beside a guy who had his left index finger knuckle deep doing his annual nose cleaning, I began to once again ponder inscrutable, mysterious Japan. As he rolled some of his nasal contents between his fingers and flicked them on the floor, I was confused by what might seem to be a lack of manners despite the well-known fact that the Japanese are the most polite, well-mannered people in the universe. I then thought about a guy from Europe who asked me how there could be such a close relationship with nature in a country in which "they have done more to destroy nature than any other." He had just returned from a ski trip where there was blaring music all day, all over the ski resort.

I thought of last weekend when I went to the mountains myself to relax and enjoy nature and to get away from the noise, pollution, and man-made artificiality of Tokyo, and was followed on a mountain trail by some old guy with his transistor radio blaring full blast scaring every living thing away and destroying any thought of nature. I wondered how this could represent the mysterious close relationship with nature which is so invisible here.

I thought about my recent experience with the unhygienic food handling at the Denenchofu, Tokyo McDonalds and how McDonalds Japan has to date failed to respond to 2 complaints I made. I could not seem to connect this with quasi-mythical Japanese good service. The idea that" the customer is god" is hard to reconcile with this behavior. Perhaps there is another idea that the merchant is atheist. I dunno. It's all part of the mystery of the Orient.

What got me thinking of all this was a post on the blog Shisaku about an article by David Pilling in the Financial Times which Shisaku (aka MTC) calls "the worst essay on Japan published in a major newspaper in the last 20 years." That is quite a claim since the competition in the worst article category is so strong. (The full article no longer appears to be available to non-subscribers.)

I had tried not to read it as the first few lines told me what it was all about. What was surprising is that the "journalist" (?) who wrote it has been in Japan since 2002. Usually one loses the fantasyland view of the mythical uniquely unique Japan after a few years---at the latest. Apparently, it's different for idiots---sorry, I mean journalists.

I'm sorry, but I don't see what is so mysterious about Japan. Everything here is understandable and explainable just like anywhere else. There are reasons things are the way they are. It ain't magical. However, if you believe the nihonjinron mythology, then things do get confusing. As long as you understand that it is 99.99999% horse manure, and look at how things are instead of how folks like Edwin Reischauer and Masahiko Fujiwara claim them to be, the mystery tends to disappear.

What is troubling about this sort of nonsense is that it is written by someone who is supposed to be trained in fact-finding and observation. We are depending on people like this to tell us what is "really" happening in Iraq, or China, or France, or even our own country. It is very obvious that we have to take what they say with a huge grain of salt.

Anyway, I wasted a whole day thinking about it and was still thinking about it as I was being pushed and shoved unnecessarily on the train home while listening to two drunken old men shouting and giggling all the way. uniquely polite. (Oh, yes, I know that there is an explainer excuse for this behavior that would let us know how this rude, impolite behavior is not really rude and impolite in Japan because the drunken old ojiisans were "outside" their group. To those folks I politely say "horse-poo, you silly boy--or girl".)

No comments:

Post a Comment