Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"Weird" US

It's nothing new that many folk in the US, and many in Japan, view one anothers country as exotic, weird, and so different as to be incomprehensible. Perhaps a little less so from the Japanese side, but that's just a personal observation.

Try this: Ask a Japanese friend if he/she thinks that a non-Japanese (or a Westerner) can ever understand Japan. Then ask him/her if a Japanese can understand the US (or any other Western country). Bet the answer to the first is "no" and the second is "yes."

It's been over a decade since I returned to Japan. I have rarely visited the US in that decade and it is becoming harder and harder for me to understand what is going on there. No amount of reading newspapers, watching TV news, reading books, or whatever really gives me the same feeling of grasping the "sense" of the culture and why things are happening and what people really feel and believe. Most Americans I know have been here for years too, so I don't gain much insight from talking to them.

I have not really understood the feelings in the US since Sept 11 occurred. I could read about it, I could get angry, and feel the emotions that most Americans felt that day, but I have never really grasped why we seem to have made the "un-American" choice to trade a little freedom for a little security (and theoretically lose both). I can't figure out the Tea Party; the Texas Board of Education; the extreme partisanship that seems to prevent anything from being attempted, let alone accomplished; the apparent surrender of any privacy; the suicide of the Republican Party which may be followed by their resurrection made possible by the Democrat Party (and citizens themselves who can't seem to compromise on anything).

I am much more comfortable with things Japanese---except for the exclusionist fantasy of nihonjinron---than I am with the US and I feel (right or wrong) that I have a better grasp of what is going on here than I do of the US.

I wonder just how people who have never been to the US; who have never had more than the standard media presentation of America; and have had no more than the K-12 education system view of it can assume that they know diddly-sh*t about it. But I still meet people who think that they do and are willing to debate the point. It is like---to steal former Sen. Phil Graham's words---"dueling with an unarmed man."

I really like Ms. O, my long-time friend and tutor, but like many, she seems to believe some of the Fujiwara Masahiko crap. I do enjoy pointing out the fallacies of Ol' Barcode though.


  1. Anonymous4:31 PM

    Ha, I've been here the whole time and I have no understanding of what motivates most of the "Real Americans" who watch Fox News. I might as well be on Mars; I would have no less understanding of why they see health coverage as a personal insult and channel racism against Obama into accusations that he's a Nazi.

  2. So it's not just the 10,000 mile distance really is weird?

  3. Oh dear, can a Brit offer his opinion? Our Man lived in the States for four years back in Clinton's first term, and he got his fill of the views now expressed by Fox and the madhatters of the Tea Party. But back then, he just ascribed it to living in the backwoods of Arkansas.

    Now, the backwoods have gone viral.

    Or maybe it was always thus?

  4. Yeah, what Anonymous said. Many of us here don't understand what the hell is going on either.

  5. Anonymous1:47 AM

    It's bizzaroland. When I was a kid growing up in Ohio, or even a college student, I used to think I had a pretty good grip on what the story about America was. Now, I have no idea. Maybe it's because I don't watch enough television.

    But then, maybe the idea that you could possible "understand" an entity on the scale of a nation-state -- even your own -- is a bit dumb. Do most Japanese people understand what it's like to be an Ainu in Tokyo? Or a gay person? Or a Korean resident alien?

  6. Somehow, it's not exactly reassuring to find out that nobody else can figure it out either.

    It is a bit much to assume that one could understand the entirety of a nation, but I'd be satisfied right now with just some sort of sense of why things are happening and what direction the country is going.

    Maybe it's like Our Man said, the madhatter view has always been there. It did not seem so extreme when when I was exposed to it every day, but looking at it from thousand of miles away it truly seems "alien."

  7. Anonymous11:50 AM

    I certainly feel that I am not connected to this country anymore, and find myself many times at a loss for understanding. Do yourself a favor and never under any circumstances visit "people of walmart dot com". Enjoy reading your perspectives, btw.

  8. Oh...I just did visit it. Should have listened...

  9. Barcode is how folks refer to those who try to hide natural balding with a very thin comb-over that resembles the barcode on merchandise. Fujiwara's is dignified, of course..

  10. Anonymous6:05 AM

    Back in the States several yrs now. About 1/3 of the US pop is either a paranoid Tea Bagger or susceptible to them. I don't think other countries are much different; Japan has those crazies in the vans. But a majority of the USers are sane and normal, if not as urban as Tokyoites. Teabaggers and reactionary conservatives are slowly fading, but very loudly and messily....

  11. That's good to hear, but you sure can't tell by reading the news