Friday, 30 November 2007

Interview With The Japanese

As you might know from previous posts I am again entertaining language (aka language tandem) exchange with a Japanese boy, Nakamura. Unlike in Germany where I did language tandem with my now good friend Akiko, this time I am teaching English.

Lately I asked myself what to do in the English part of the meeting, since Nakamura is already pretty good in English, has a large vocabulary and some growing feeling for the language. I ended up with the idea of interviewing him about his country and culture. Like this I only need to ask short questions, and he can train himself in speaking English for the most time. Furthermore he needs to concentrate to be able to utter in English what he would answer in Japanese. Since I deem the answers as quite interesting, I asked him for his OK to publish them here and without further ranting around here we go:

1. Gender Equality
2. Homosexuality
3. Politics
4. Yakuza
5. Religion
6. World War 2
7. Priorities In Life
8. Individualism
9. Suicide
10. Environment Protection
11. Surveillance
12. Free Will
13. Islam
14. Death Sentence
15. Likes/Dislikes

\1\ Gender Equality

|mika| What do you think about the gender equality in Japan?

|nakamura| In short, it's not yet good for everyone. About gender discrimination I can tell you a tale from my school time. While all boys were allowed to come to school in short pants, short garments were forbidden for girls.
Furthermore we have special short term girls' universities in Japan, which are a remainder of past times, where men thought women would need no higher education. However girls are allowed on normal universities, yet depending on the profession, professor might favor boys.
And as it happens to be most professors are men. As I see it the reason for that is however, that girls rarely want to become professors, especially in natural science areas.
Concerning Jobs it doesn't look any better. Women tend to get less salary, they have a though time, if they want to get promoted and men are favored over female applicants.

|mika| Is that related to women getting pregnant, while men don't?

|nakamura| Yes I think so. Women in Japan tend or tended to get children early. Therefore it was never profitable to promote women in jobs, give them much salary or put much effort into them, from a company point of view.
However the situation improves and Japanese women actually still strive for more equality.

/2/ Homosexuality

|mika| I have heard that in Japanese history gay love was very far spread, though silently, accepted among the people. What is the current situation?

|nakamura| (surprised that I knew about that) The situation changed when Japan tried to become a modern country like Europe and the USA in the second half of the 19th century (明治時代 Meiji Age). Because they did not only adapt technology and political, and social systems, but also many European ideas. One of these "modern" ideas was that gay love can not be tolerated. Leading up to the presence there has been no major change in this attitude, although among the public the most frequent attitude is now: Is it really disgusting, but if they really think let them do.

|mika| What about gay marriage?

|nakamura| It is unthinkable in Japan.

/3/ Politics (inner and outer)

|mika| Next will be about politics. Let's start with outer politics, like warfare directing to or originating from Japan, the article 9 (Japan's obligation to peace), the Iraq war and the political happenings, like elections, in other countries.

|nakamura| That one is easy. Japanese people do not care about politics.
They might care a little bit about this article 9, but when a foreign country would challenge Japan, they would accept it's abolishment.
If our government would declare war on another country, the people might be against it.

|mika| Would they protest? Go to the street? Protest letters? What about TV, news papers, companies?

|nakamura| No. Political protest is unheard of in Japan. They would certainly not go to the street, I can't even imagine protest letters, even protest letters are too much protest for Japan.
TV Shows, news papers, magazines and the internet however might protest against it, yes.
Companies probably not.

|mika| Do you think article 9 will be abolished? What is your own opinion about that?

|nakamura| Yes I think it is a possibility that the article is abolished. I would welcome an abolishment, since we have dangerous neighbours.

|mika| So what about wars like the one in Iraq, and political elections?

|nakamura| As I said before the Japanese people are not interested in things like that. They are maybe a little bit interested in what happens in China, Korea and the USA.
Oh but they surely are interested a lot in pop culture news from abroad.

|mika| Like in every other country I fear. But what about internal politics, the election for example.

|nakamura| They are also not interested in that. Japanese people want to see unbelievable things, like an unbelievable change in politics. Actually when Shinzo Abe ran for candidacy, he made use of this and made his campaign look like aiming for unbelievable change. He also tried to make politics more fun and less serious, since that is what most Japanese people said, when asked what they want about/from politics. They answered: They should be more fun, more entertaining and more unbelievable.
Summing up I have to say, that Japanese people care less about the actual content of politics and what's important, rather then wanting to be entertained by politics seeing funny or unbelievable stuff.

/4/ Yakuza

|mika| What do Japanese people think about Yakuza?

|nakamura| They are afraid of them. They have guns and are not afraid to use them, they do raids and kill people. They are string, because they always act in groups.

|mika| Can't you go to the police, if you have trouble with them?

|nakamura| Well yes, but uhm... it's difficult.

|mika| I heard the Yakuza's image isn't that bad, and that they even help during catastrophes.

|nakamura| This is just a tale/legend from old times. I think today's Yakuza is just like the Mafia in the USA.

|mika| I heard they have certain dress codes?

|nakamura| Yes. Tattoos, black cars with darkened windows, but they work wearing black suits, so they look like ordinary office workers.

|mika| How about how Takeshi Kitano displays them?

|nakamura| depending on the movie he displays the old and the modern Yakuza. I think his display of the modern Yakuza is close to reality.

|mika| What should I do, when I see one?

|nakamura| Do not approach him. Do not look him into the eyes. Running away depends on the situation.

/5/ Religion

|mika| What so you think about Japan's religion?

|nakamura| Japan is an atheistic country. We do not believe that any gods will help us. I think Japanese people see the world quite realistic.

|mika| What about Buddhism and Shinto in Japan?

|nakamura| Both are OK and accepted by the people. Hmm you must understand that before 1850 Japan had no concept of religion. What you might see as a Buddhist or Shinto religion, I would call customs and tradition.
Still people who go to shrines and temples, do it, because it is tradition, and even they pray, they don't really think the gods will hear or help them. I think you could see it more like a social event.
Sometimes when people get very sick or people are very lucky they might pray for help or thank gods for it.

Ah I know, here is a good metaphor how Japan sees religion.
Religion is like playing lottery without paying.

/6/ World War 2

|mika| Our countries share the same dark history in the 20th century. Therefore I am pretty curious about finding difference and similarities in how country and people work these events up. Speaking for Japan, how did the Japanese people work up what happened? What do they think about it now?

|nakamura| Japan invaded Southeast Asia, and the Japanese people felt and still feel sorry for that. I don't think this could happen again.
During this time the people, from the student to the politician, didn't really understand what was happening. There was too much power in the military and it was very independent. So nobody really knew what was happening. And the few who might have known something or suspected something kept quiet. Actually I think if I would have been there and I would have known, I probablly would have kept quiet too.

After Japan gained its independence back Japanese politicians frequently announced how sorry they are for what happened and expressed their regret.

|mika| Did the Japanese people have a sense of superiority at this time? What about today?

|nakamura| Yes, they felt superior to the rest of south East Asia. I think today, because of Japan's pole position in economy and technology, they subconsciously still do a bit.

|mika| Have you heard about the hate campaigns against Japan in China and Korea?

|nakamura| Yes, especially from China: Japanese people = evil. I think it is wrong and not fair. My generations was not even born at the time the second world war happened, so how can we blamed responsible. How can you be angry at someone, who didn't do anything wrong? I don't think guilt is hereditary, passed on from the parents to their children.

/7/ Priotities In Life
|mika| Please order the following ten terms in order of importance for Japanese people: work, family, religion (or tradition and customs), hobbies, fame, adventure/exciting life, having/following dreams, wealth, society, politics.

1. wealth
2. hobbies
3. family
4. work
5. following dreams
6. adventure/exciting life
7. fame
8. customs and tradition
10. politics

/8/ Individualism

|mika| A stereotype about Japan is, that everybody is the same, there is no individualism. What does Japan think about individualism?

|nakamura| Very young people think the individuality is cool and try to be the coolest guy in class. But as people grow more mature, they realize that it is important to become common and that it is already difficult enough to life in a common way.
Before I started at my company, I though I could easily do any job. But I was wrong. It is not as easy, I am not special.

Also I think individuality is not something people feel by themselves, but it is given to them from other people around them. But by that the whole concept is vain and empty. We can't really decide on our own.

Japanese people probably think the general concept of individuality is bad, and if they encounter someone who is different, they want these abnormal people to go away.

|mika| What if they do good things for all the people?

|nakamura| We cannot imagine a individualist can be a good thing/person. It is different on TV, there abnormal persons are funny and it is okay.
Concerning school I think abnormal people, for example someone interested in trains as a hobby and not into soccer and baseball is easily bullied by the class and the class will unite against him. If they don't unite against him, the class leader will also bully them, so they bully.

After school abnormal hobbies like trains are ok, as long as it doesn't make the person crazy.

/9/ Suicide

|mika| Japan has the highest suicide rate in the world. Why do think, many people see death as their only escape?

|nakamura| having no money, having no people to help you, having no work, in some rare cases because of family suicide.

|mika| But in other countries people have less money and work. What makes Japan special?

|nakamura| A different kind of people and a different society, an atmosphere
of isolation. Also maybe because thre is no religion in Japan.

|mika| What counter measures would you propose to fight suicide. Do you really think building walls on the rails helps?

|nakamura| Maybe a bit, because at the end of the day, when they have to wait for the train, it is less tempting to throw oneself unto the rails. I think to actually prevent the suicide, you need to get familiar/friends with the person and stay in contact. For example if you promise to meet him next week, he won't kill himself until next week, because of the promised meeting.

|mika| To my mind comes a picture of school club like clubs for unemployed people, where they can meet and be creative, entertain conversation and activities. Do you think it could help?

|nakamura| Definitely. But I am not sure if unemployed people would accept such a opportunity, because of shame and fear.

/10/ Protection Of The Environment

|mika| What can you tell me about Japan's attitude towards the protection of the environment? What about recycling, hybrid cars, environment tax for people, for companies?

|nakamura| Currently we practice waste separation. We have burnable waste and not burnable waste. If real recycling would be offered free of charge by the city I think roughly 1/3 of the people might accept it. The problem would be the big part living alone in solitude living only from Konbini instant food.
Hybrid Cars currently manufactured by Japanese companies are too expensive. If they become cheaper, yes maybe.
An environmental tax would strongly upset people. For example half of the gas price in Japan is already tax.
An environmental tax for companies would make more sense, and be accepted by the people. However the lobby of companies would never allow such a thing. I think it should start by reducing the incredible amount of waste, companies produce by merchandising products.

My opinion is the responsibility should be equally distributed between people, companies and the government.

/11/ Surveillance

|mika| Germany currently undergoes a transformation from a constitutional state to a surveillance/police state. But Japan shows similar tendencies. For example the recent creation of a central register for fingerprints of foreigners residing or coming to Japan. What do Japanese people think about that and surveillance in general?

|nakamura| They don't care about what happens to foreigners in Japan, since it does not concern the Japanese people. Apart from that the number of crimes committed by foreigners in Japan is rising.
This is different if the Japanese people are directly concerned. During and before WW2 the Japanese military rule was totalitarian and monitored each citizen. The fear form this time has been passed on to the current generation. So people are very afraid of surveillance.

|mika| I noticed a lot of surveillance cameras everywhere. What do people think about them?

|nakamura| The number of crimes in Shinjuku dropped since the introduction of cameras, so I guess it's a good thing, but it decreases privacy.

/12/ Free Will

|mika| Let's get philosophical. Concerning Japanese beliefs, is there a free will or are our life predetermined?

|nakamura| I think we have a free will, since we make decisions based on what's best for us. I think whether free will is good or bad depends on the situation. For example if I have a free will and I have achieved something, I can say Yatta! (I did it!) and feel fulfilled and happy. I think free will leads to a more active life.
On the other hand free will might make us overconfident in ourselves and allow us to make mistakes.

|mika| If our life would be predestined, don't you think we would have problems to convict criminals? After all they had no other choice from the beginning?

|nakamura| What is right and wrong is determined by the society. That would not change because of free will or predetermination. We see that more practical, if someone acts against the rules of his society he will be punished. After he committed a crime he will be locked away and can commit no more crimes, even if it is his fate.

/13/ Islam

|mika| Western media currently tried very hard to defame the Islamic religion in western countries. How many of these has reached Japan, and what do Japanese people currently think about the Islam.

|nakamura| I guess I have answered this before. Most people don't think about it. However seeing the frightening, unimaginable actions of Islamic fundamentalists on TV, people start to get frightened.
When asked I would consciously reply, that these Islamic fundamentalists oppose no reasonable threat to our country. However I think people start to fear such a thing unconsciously.
I think the confusion of Islam originates in British colonial times. So most Islamic people might think of colonial powers, like Britain and the USA as evil, but not of Japan.

|mika| What about compared to other religions.

|nakamura| Only because of the recent events people might currently answer, that they are more afraid of Islam, because seeing only Islam in TV they forget about other religions. The TV makes the Islamic Religion suddenly look like a big problem for us.
However I remember from earlier, that there are also Christian and Jewish fundamentalists. I guess it is just a question, of what you have lately seen on TV.

|mika| What about Moslems in Japan?

|nakamura| I think there are really really few of them in this country. Too less to even get noticed.

/14/ Death Sentence

|mika| The death sentence is quite controversial in many countries, whether they perform it or not. In Japan it appears to be widely accepted. How come?

|nakamura| Japanese people think the death sentence is needed, because people killing other peoples cannot change their personality.
And if we would let them live in a prison, it would be a waste of tax payers' money. Furthermore it is important that people who suffered from his crimes will meet satisfaction by having the criminal killed. Also if he is not killed, relatives might have to fear him escaping prison for their whole life.

But it is very important to only execute people who are really guilty, we cannot kill innocent people. Imprisonment is only an option, if the person is expected to become a good person again.

|mika| What if a person killed a person who killed his child/wife/husband. In this case he is not expected to kill again, right?

|nakamura| Revenge is a difficult thing, it can easily lead to families killing each other. That is why we have judges.

|mika| What about self-financing work prisons? They would cost no money and the criminals would be given the chance to be productive for society?

|nakamura| Yes that would be a good thing, but even than the killer might be able to escape. Also it is very important that the prison must not be a comfortable place. If the criminals do not suffer in prison, the people who suffered under their deeds will have not satisfaction.

/15/ Likes/Dislikes

|mika| Finally I want to give you the opportunity to tell the people, what you personally like and dislike about your home country.

|nakamura| I like that it is a very safe country.
I don't like the atmosphere that you have to do the same like everyone else. I see that it is important, but I don't like being forced to comply.
I like it, that we have a very good public transportation system. The trains/buses are always in time, you never have to wait long for the next train, and you can get everywhere you want quite quickly.
I like Konbinis, they are so convenient.
But I also dislike Konbinis, because they are everywhere in the country the same, and If I make a drive into the countryside, instead of a nice countryside I see the same Konbinis like at home.
I don't like that prices for land are so incredibly high, especially close to cities. I cannot afford a house for me and my wife.
I am very glad about Japanese food, it seems to have quite a large variation compared to other countries and it is less "gritty". Also apart from Mc Donalds we practically have no junk food, Japanese cuisine is quite healthy.
I hate traffic jams and the high amount you have to pay for using highways.
Recently I can only find the Japanese TV disgusting. It is almost only about people eating more and more. The more someone can eat, the more popular she/he will be. I also don't like that only VIPs can take part in Quiz Shows.
Finally because of the sea Japan's climate is very mild, but because its spread you can encounter different climates without leaving the country. This is very convenient.

|mika| Thank You really much Nakamura-san, your answers have been really interesting.

leading this interview: mika
star guest in this post: nakamura

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