Pet Peeves: Life In Japan

I’ve been unable to come up with a description for this photo. Photo credit Stack Jones.

Prior to coming to Japan I was working as a screenwriter, and project developer for a Japanese film production company. Just like most people that lived in southern California, I had a lot of technical skills. Ironically, the company president, who was Japanese didn’t know how to use a computer, let alone send, or receive an email. The same was true for the vice president. It was also true for most of the company clients. I thought this had to be an anomaly, as I was certain that Japan was a high-tech country, after all isn’t that what we’ve all been led to believe?

After writing features for the company for five years, I was burned out. I decided to go to law school. During that same time, I also obtained a brokers license, and was gearing up to make a killing in the real estate industry. I somehow did manage to graduate with a Juris Doctorate in 2007. Not bad for a writer, and musician. However, thanks to the banks, and their Ponzi schemes, there was no work in the real estate, or finance industry. Unfortunately, all of the deals I had on the table vanquished into the same place money is made — thin air. I had to take drastic actions to find adequate employment. I decided to look overseas.

Out of a whim, and personal interest in the Japanese culture, I replied to one (and only one) job that was advertised on the Internet. In my cover letter I stated that I would only take the position if it included a car, and an apartment on the beach. Ironically, I got the job, the car, and the apartment on the beach. I thought, wow, this is going to be easy! I handled my visa matters, and soon found myself on a plane, heading to Japan. That was five years ago! Time certainly has flown since then.

Despite the experience I had with my prior colleagues, I remained convinced that Japan was a high-tech nation. After all, Japan makes component parts for much of the global goods, and some of the most reliable cars in the world. I continued to remain under the impression that Japan was a cutting-edge nation. Oh, how wrong one can be! I was a bit taken back to find out that the reality is quite to the contrary. I’ve been in Japan now for more than five years, and I do enjoy being here. However, at times I feel as if I’m living in the U.S. circa 1970, sans the long hair, clogs, and pleated, plaid elephant bellbottom pants.

This lack of the Japanese as technical wizards led me to ponder about some of the inconvenience pertaining to life overseas. Before I get into my personal pet peeves, and what some may construe as Japan bashing, let me just say that, I’ve been in Japan for quite some time now, and I have no plans of returning to the states any time soon. The reality is, after living in a culture as refined as Japan, the thought of returning home, and living amongst the supercilious, and inattentive, is not something I look forward to. Simply, Japan has become home, and as much as gaijin are considered outsiders by the Japanese, Japan is still is a great place to live. It’s safe. It’s fun, and the food is great. In that, I want to discuss some of the obvious things that bug me?

Japan has mastered the inability to understand technology must be properly maintained. Photo credit Stack Jones.

Technology.

The lack of the use of technology in day-to-day matters really bugs me. Japanese are way behind the curve in this area of modernization. After more than four years, I had to practically force my girlfriend to purchase a new laptop. She didn’t have one. She never had one. I promised to teach her Skype, and convinced her that she could save money by using the Internet to talk to her friends online instead of using her cell phone, which is quite expensive compared to the U.S. She finally relented when she thought that she could save money. After all, the Japanese truly love to save money. So, she purchased a laptop, got a good deal, and learned how to use Skype, but the computer sits idle on her desk. It has never been used.

Everywhere you go some old bastard is choking on the devil’s dick. Photo credit Stack Jones.

Smoking.

My biggest pet peeve when it comes to social situations in this country is cigarette smoke. In California, a smoker can’t smoke in an office, a bar, a park, or even the beach. Apparently, the state grew tired of cleaning up after adults as if they were unlearned children. The state was also tired of picking up the tab for health related costs, the environmental impact, and all the clean up related to butts, matches, empty packs, black ash smears, and the plastic wraps that are recklessly tossed about.

I dislike cigarettes so much that the first Japanese words I learned were “Tobako o, suwa nai de kudasai.” Is there anything worse than sitting at a sushi bar, when you’re about to take your first mouthful, and a group strolls in, sits down next to you, and lights up? I love Freshness Burger almost as much as sushi, but I have to tell you, the one thing that is not fresh in a Freshness Burger is stale cigarette stained air. There has been numerous times I have wanted to eat at Freshness Burger, stopped and looked in, but kept going, as the restaurants are almost always filled with someone holding a cigarette in one hand, and a fried potato in the other. Although, some restaurants are beginning to post no smoking signs, Japan still has a long way to go concerning public health matters for both customers and for non-smoking employees who are subjected to second-hand smoke in bars, and restaurants on a daily basis.

Japanese websites.

An issue related to technology. Have you visited a Japanese website lately? Don’t worry, nothings changed! Most Japanese websites look like they were designed during the advent of the Internet, way back when people were using Netscape, and Microsoft’s discontinued FrontPage. Pretty pathetic stuff! Forget the fact that most of the sites have no English links, when approximately 96% of the World Wide Web is in English. I’m not saying that all Japanese websites need to have English links, but it certainly could draw some much-needed revenue to a company that operates one. Honestly, Japanese websites are terrible, especially the forms, and the tiny, and useless descriptive photos of the products being sold. Whether it’s Rakuten, Amazon, or a government related site, Japan internet technology lacks much to be desired! At least I give them credit for not forcing us to sit through a Flash introduction.

Fear.

Fear of foreigners really bugs me. Usually, when I walk into a bank, or a post office, I’m greeted with a horrifying look, and the words, “choto mate” as the employee scurries off to locate someone else to deal with the foreign, and alien presence. The technology thing creeps its way into every transaction as well. It’s incredibly painful to wire money to my U.S. account. What takes minutes in the states, painfully takes hours in Japan. I was shocked to learn that when you “wire” funds to the states, the Japanese Post Office actually sends it snail mail. Yes, you read correctly, the company actually mails wire transfers to the states. This causes transfers to be delayed for several days. Snail mail wire transfers, whodathought!

The price people are willing to pay for that thing called economic freedom. Photo credit Stack Jones.

Freedom Of Movement.

Getting around in Japan during rush hour mornings, and evenings is probably similar to a Jews final ride on a stuffed cattle car heading to Auschwitz. And that’s the good part! Driving a car from Tokyo to Sendai, one way, will cost approximately 100.00 USD, and that’s not including the myriad of tolls just to get out of the Tokyo area. There are no places to park your car if in fact, you manage to get to your destination in less than half a day.

Japanese English.

You’d think people who study English for an average of six year, and are tested dozens of times on the subject throughout their entire educational career, one would be able to communicate in the most basic of terms. It seems no matter how many years the Japanese study English; the majority of its citizenry simply cannot communicate. “How old are you?” “I’m fine thank you, and you?” Is it really that hard to speak in a language where your native tongue has borrowed literally hundreds of words? I won’t even address the companies that spend thousands of dollars on promotional advertisements, and signs with expressions that are clearly worse than some cat with a screwed down hairdo. And don’t get me started on T-shirt slogans. One of my favorite things is to ask a teenager what their shirt says. They never know, yet they may be promoting a message they may not agree with.

Love.

I’ve had the same Japanese girlfriend for going on five years now. It’s pretty serious, and we get along great. Her family… Well, that’s a horse of a different color. I have never met her father. “Ao me janai.” When she was a university student he threatened to not pay for her final semester tuition if she continued to remain with me. Fortunately, since it was actually her grandmother who was paying her tuition, this threat never came to fruition. The threats then turned to her being excommunicated from the family. Collectively, her entire family has schemed, and conspired, and done all they could to pry her from my life. Be it, Obon, New Years, or Golden Week it always ends up “them” against her, and as her tears do fall, she almost always comes close to a vow of never seeing me again. It usually lasts about forty minutes though. (An update: This was written four year ago. We have since married, and have an infant son.)

The world believes the Japanese dress like in the photo above. They’d be surprised to discover that every Japanese male has the same haircut, the same suit, and the same disinterested distant stare. Photo credit Stack Jones.

Japanese music.

The Japanese music scene is deplorable. One of the biggest reasons for this is the bands are forced to pay to play at the “live” houses. So, bands pay up the nose for expensive gear, drop a ton of money to record, and rehearse, put together press packages, and pay for expensive photo shoots, and garb. Then, on top of that, they are supposed to pay to perform.

I recently read an article by a western writer calling Japan’s music industry exciting, and stated that we were fortunate to live in such a wonderfully creative era. The writer compared the music of AKB48 to the renaissance that took place in Austria. Uh! Mmm… The fact is that Japanese pop is so sterile that Japanese teens prefer K-pop to J-pop. That same writer continues to believe that Sumo Wrestling is a real sport despite Tokyo’s controversial mayor publicly stating that the “sport” has always been a fraud not unlike professional wrestling in the west. Oh, well, one man’s certainty is another’s fabrication. We couldn’t have a war economy without it.

Tolls.

You can drive from New York to Los Angeles, and then head to Miami and watch the sunrise over South Beach, and not pay one penny in tolls. Yet, you need to take out a small loan to drive from Tokyo to Kyoto, and that’s a one-way trip! It’s no wonder that every night, all night long, transportation vehicles, loaded with cargo, race up and down local streets, as even the corporations that own them can’t afford to pay the unconscionable fees. I won’t even mention the price of train tickets. Clearly, some things should never be privatized, and public transportation is one of them.

Post offices.

It recently cost me 7,000 ¥ to send two bottles of sake as a gift to my sister who lives in Hawaii. I had other items that I wanted to send as well, but I had to remove them from the box, because it would have cost much more. The sake cost less than the price of shipping. Again, some things should not be privatized, and the postal service is certainly one of them.

Food.

Simply, Japan has the worst bread and cheese anywhere on the face of the planet. White bread? That’s a product from the 60s that no longer exists in the states. It was introduced to Japan as a form of sustenance after WWII due to allied fire bombings, and starvation. White bread it dead bread! Nobody still eats that stuff do they? So, I thought! And the best part of the bread is the crust, which the Japanese call, the ears. They chop it off and toss in the trash bin. Secondly, I wish Japan knew that Kraft Cheese, and other commercial U.S. products that find their way on the shelves in stores like Kasumi, Olympic, and Aeon, is not fit for a dog to consume, and that was even before it all became saturated with cancer causing glyphosphate. Americans don’t eat that crap. Why is it sent here? Why are some of the worst products from the states sold in Japan? Japan’s perspective on U.S. culture must be McDonald’s, Coca Cola, and tobacco. All of which are things I personally despise. McDonalds… Does anyone really eat that stuff?

Another issue I have with food, and beverages are when I go to stores like Yamaya, or “higher end” (translated – overpriced) markets that have foreign drinks, and sometimes even foreign foods. Usually, the selection is abysmal. I’m surprised as to what actually makes its way into a box, and onto the shelves of this country. I know Japan imports about 61% of its food, but does it have to import the worst of the worst? I’m really perturbed by stuff packaged as “gourmet.” This is an immediate red flag to me, as I know it will be a horrific culinary experience. No wonder when you ask a Japanese person what their favorite foreign foods are they usually say Italian. And speaking of boxes…

Packaging.

Does Japan realize the amount of plastic in the Pacific Ocean is larger than the U.S.? Are the words “garbage vortex” a consideration to the manufacturers of packaged products in this country? Is the subject even taught in school? Just yesterday I opened a box of chocolate that was given to me as a gift. It came in a plastic bag, and inside the plastic bag was a box. Inside the box was another box. Inside that second box, was a plastic container. Inside the plastic container was a plastic lining, and inside the plastic lining were six pieces of chocolate that were individually wrapped in a shiny piece of plastic paper. The volume of trash for six pieces of chocolate was ridiculous. The size of each chocolate was about the size of three stacked ten-yen coins. I’m certain all that packaging was more expensive than the miniscule amount of chocolate that made its way into the box. Also, have you noticed all of those near empty boxes displayed on convenient store shelves? There have been numerous times I’ve picked up a box, and was surprised at how empty it actually was. Why am I constantly surprised, when I already know this is going to happen? Who buys an empty box anyway? Why are they there? Please, just charge me more money, and actually put something in the box.

Paying bills.

To pay an electric bill, a water bill, and a gas bill, I have to trek to three different locations. Is this really necessary? Hasn’t anyone in Japan figured out how to get this all done in one convenient location?

My most current peeve is being forced to pay Tepco for the electricity that I use. My electric bill used to run about 3600 ¥. My most recent bill was 8890 ¥. This, as I do all I can to conserve power. So, my bill has nearly tripled, and I have to pay it to a group of miscreants that I’d rather see in prison where they belong. And Tepco dares to ask the government to raise their rates by another ten percent? And when the company requested this raise in rates, they also announced their intention to cut costs. Isn’t that exactly the reason Fukushima, and the surrounding communities are in such dire despair? Because Tepco’s recklessly operated those reactors in a manner to cut costs!

Washing clothes.

Washing clothes in cold water is not washing clothes. Cleaning clothes is achieved through the use of hot water. Even the country bumpkins in a William Faulkner novel understood this basic fact. Also, it took me a while to figure out that I needed to purchase clothes a size smaller than I was used to wearing, as hanging clothes on a line to dry keeps them stretched out as if they had already been worn. The concept of expansion and contraction just doesn’t seem to apply to laundry.

Stickers.

Ever purchase an item in a convenient or grocery store? After declining to pay 5 ¥ for a plastic bag, as fast as lightning, the clerk sticks an ugly colored strip of plastic on the item, as they’re handing it to you. I have tried in vain to get clerks to grasp the concept that a receipt is proof of purchase, and that there is no need for that plastic strip. Now, I just put my hand over the item, and refuse to let them “sticker” it. If they sticker it, I refuse to accept it. This is very troublesome to the employee, who doesn’t understand the principle of autonomy. He was told to stick it, and stick it he must! Who was it anyway, that thought a receipt, as proof of purchase was not enough proof of purchase? And who was it that managed to convince every store in Japan that sticker tape was a necessity? Inquiring minds!

I was supposed to meet my friend here five hours ago. Photo credit Stack Jones.

Overcrowding.

Going anywhere on Saturday, or Sunday sucks in Japan. Period! Especially, if it is a damn holiday.

Finally

The invisible gaijin rule. Ever notice that you don’t exist? I have been bumped by cars, stepped in front of in lines, and even bypassed because there was a Japanese person present. I first experienced this as I was arriving in the country. I was next in line, and it was my turn to deal with a customs officer, get my visa stamped, and get on my way. Out of the blue, a Japanese person walked up to the counter, past the myriad of people standing in line (all foreigners). The agent asked me to return to the line, stating, “Japanese are first.” Welcome to Japan!

I’m sure there are scores of other idiosyncrasies that irks us from time to time, but in reality, these things pale in comparison, as most of the Japanese are extremely polite, friendly and at times go out of their way to appease us. This is one of the main reasons that I continue to live here. Even in the midst of three nuclear meltdowns.

The following images are some reality checks for the Japanese populace that like to believe everything that glitters is gold. Enjoy!

Japan is an orderly country filled with obedient people. Photo credit Stack Jones.

Did anyone notify this unfortunate teller that life was going to be this meaningless? Photo credit Stack Jones

2 thoughts on “Pet Peeves: Life In Japan

  1. Ted says:

    The first photo description is a bit like a sister in the Award–winning Australian television comedy series, Aunty Jack from circa 1972-74. Maybe Japanese would like?

  2. Kobe Kid says:

    “Who was it anyway, that thought a receipt, as proof of purchase was not enough proof of purchase? And who was it that managed to convince every store in Japan that sticker tape was a necessity? Inquiring minds!”

    Tape is easily seen, thereby negating the need for conversation, “Do you have a receipt for that?”. The Japanese go to great lengths to circumvent face to face dialogue. Especially potentially loss of face interactions.

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