Insert Sound of Hand Slapping Forehead Here

by Jul 31, 20020 comments

Toori near Fukuma Station

You know, I made my earlier announcement this week about Wil Wheaton’s birthday partly in jest, but after poking around his site, he actually seems to be pretty cool. I mean, he listens to Underworld. How bad can he be? Not to mention he’s pretty funny. Ah, our little Wesley is all grown up. <sniff>

Now, I’m no alarmist or anything, but tell me that you can look over this and not get just a little creeped out.

One thing that seems unique to all expats living in Japan is that we can bitch, bitch, bitch about this country and it’s people until every last cow has come home to roost or whatever it is cows do in the privacy of their own homes. There are days when you get a call from someone back home and they say “How’s it going?” and all you can say is, “Man, it’s been a shite week to live in Japan.” The concerned party will always ask “What’s so bad about Japan,” and it’s always near-impossible to explain. There’s just so many little things that frustrate a foreigner living here that sometimes it’s a wonder that anyone can pull it off.

So in an attempt to shed some light on why it’s just not a good idea to talk to me some days, I’m going to highlight some of my more common frustrations of living in Japan on a daily basis.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to un-thank the JETs to whom I sent off an invitation asking them to chime in with any frustrations they might have so I could try and make this a balanced article with more than just my views. Thanks for nothing, renobs!!

My friends….HA!!

Where’s the Vacation??

Let’s start off with a relevant one, it being summer vacation and all. So you remember summer vacation when you were in school right? No classes, no job because you’re too young to work, a bunch of friends with as much free time and as many equally viable plans for world domination as yourself (by “world domination” I of course mean, “raiding the golf course on your dirt bikes.”), it was nothing but FUN for three whole months. Ah bliss.

Nothing of the sort here. No, sir.

Why would you possibly give the students a break, when you can instead require them to continue to show up every day crack of dawn for club practice, occasional study halls and a metric ass-ton or so of homework and summer projects, which all prompt them to keep up (Sink or swim!! Sink or swim!!) by going to cram schools?


I mean, it’s brilliant. Take an education system that already places too much pressure on students and parents to achieve misguided goals (all that exists in the world is the College Exam, Johnny. All businesses use the College Exam in their daily operations), and amplify the pressure and stress by refusing anyone to relax and take a break. If all goes well, hopefully one day all students will toss themselves out a window, or jump in front of a train or, better yet, go berserk, kidnap one of their classmates, saw off his head and carve a message in his tongue before placing said severed head at the school gates. Hallelujah!! I’m starting to see the inspired genius of the Japanese education system!!


All I can do is slap my forehead.


Random Store Holidays

A while back I really needed a certain book to use in class. Thing is, it was a book in English, so it was inevitable that I was going to have to go to the city to do it. So, in the middle of the week (I think it was Tuesday or something), as soon as the chime hit 5pm, I rode straight from school to the station, took the 25-minute train in, waited for the subway, then trekked through Tenjin finally arriving at the book store….. to find it closed.

It wasn’t a national holiday. They weren’t doing inventory. The lights were off, the doors locked and there was a sign on the door saying, “Today the store is closed. Please come again.” No further explanation was to be found.

I turned around and went back the way I came, wasting two hours and about $20 in train fare on a round trip that netted me nothing because this store’s managers felt the need to close for no reason that I could see (and since people like me, i.e. the poor bastards buying their books, are the one paying their bills, you’d think they may want to at least let us know why they’re pissing us off).

The maddening thing is, is that this is not something unique to this store. Businesses all over Japan will just randomly close on any given day for no good reason (by good reason, I mean it being a holiday, a weather emergency, or the same day as a Morning Musume concert.) And the fact that the only thing the customer, who came all across town (or in my case across nine towns) is offered is a sign that states the obvious, doesn’t go a long way to helping my anger management issues. >:-(


Cooperation and Reliance (or Can They Do Anything by Themselves!?)

An important part of Japanese culture is the concept of ‘the group.’ It’s one of the most basic tenant of how things work and one of the most frustrating for most foreigners of the Western world who are taught to respect and admire independence and self-reliance.

Basically, because Japan is such a small country to begin with, coupled with the fact that there’s very little habitable flatland area, Japanese people have been living in close quarters and getting in each other’s way for centuries. Of course, if people did this the New York way (you know, the “What the hell are you looking at? How about I break your jaw for you?”-School of Etiquette), they would have all killed each other long, long ago. Instead, they adapted by learning to work with each other and cooperate so mutual goals are met and everybody is happy. Sweet, I’m down with that.

Social evolution however, seems to have taken this to what is, in my humble estimation, a ridiculous extreme. Being able to work as part of a larger unit is, of course, advantageous to any organism, but it seems that this ability has morphed into a reliance on others rather than pure cooperation.

It used to be:

“Okay, let’s work together, we’ll get our shit straight away. You down?”

“Word, yo! That’s one dope idea.”

Now it’s turned into:

“It’s my job to help you. There’s no reason you should be expected to know how to do this”

“Yes, please help me. I have the intellectual capacity of a paperclip.”

There’s still cooperation offered but now it’s answered with passive acquiesence. Companies don’t trust their customers to possess brains, so they do all the thinking for them. I suppose that’s true of any good business to an extent, but I got to say that it’s taken to insulting extremes here. What I still have trouble grasping is that customers have come to accept this and even complain when it’s not there.

“Man, I can’t believe what a limited selection of travel packages and itineraries that travel agent had. Only six or so for that particular destination. How unprepared they are.”

Yeah, God forbid you actually think about what you want to do on your vacation yourself, eh?

The other day, a friend and I were at a Denny’s-type restaurant getting some lunch. She’s a vegetarian so most of the meat-laden menu wasn’t that appealing to her. She thought it would be nice to have the hamburger plate, which came with a salad and some tasty fries, so she asked the waitress if, instead of meat on the bun, could she have a fried egg on it.

I think I could hear the waitress’ head break from where I was sitting.

She bent down to look at the menu and asked, “Um, where are you looking?” “No, no,” Heidi explained, “it’s not in the menu, we’re asking if it’s possible to just leave the meat out and put in an egg like on page 2 from the menu.” The waitress in a fevered panic said, “Uhhh, wait here, I’ll go ask the chef.”

Now my head was breaking. What the fuck do you mean ask the chef??? Here’s the picture of the bun with some lettuce and sauce on it. Over here is the picture of the egg. Just make the egg from page 2 and put it on the bun from page 3. I know you have both the egg and the bun back there, so where’s the problem??

The waitress comes back and says, “Sorry, it looks like it’s not possible.” In my best rat-bastard, you’re-a-fucking-idiot tone I said, “It’s not….possible???”

“No, sorry.”

I had to do breathing exercises for the next 10 minutes to avoid killing the entire staff.

Our mistake was that we were doing the restaurant’s thinking for them. In their minds they had already come up with a contingency for every possible culinary desire the customer could ever have and put it on the menu. If it wasn’t there, the customer must have been mistaken in what they wanted.

It’s not a question of, they have the resources and you specifying how you’d like them used in the preparation of the meal you’re going to eat and pay for. It’s a question of, you’ve walked through their door, you are now their customer. You belong to them and are their responsibility. Don’t worry, Mommy and Daddy will take care of everything, don’t worry or even think about the particulars.

Cooperation has become reliance.

The real tragedy of all this is that while being able to cooperate to get things done is a clear evolutionary advantage, having to cooperate to get things done is almost as limiting as being a chronic isolationist who won’t accept anything from anyone. It limits your options and abilities, and I cannot for the life of me understand how this evolved into a desirable survival trait in Japanese society. (Although I have to wonder if part of my problem rests in that I’m applying ideas of biological evolution to social evolution, the latter being something I know very little about. Hmmmmmm.)

Sadly I see a LOT of this over-reliance on a daily basis, especially at my school. Once again, not a lot is expected of the students. After all, they’re only children right? It’s the teacher’s responsibility to do all the thinking for them.

The other day, I’m sitting at my desk at school. Two students come into the teacher’s room looking for the nurse. They both walked in just fine, both standing upright, the only difference between the two being that one of the girls has a hand on her stomach. She wasn’t even grimacing. I ask what the problem is.

“Her stomach hurts.”

“Okay, what about you?”

“I came with her.”

“Uhhh, why? Aren’t you missing class?”

“Well, her stomach hurts. She couldn’t come by herself.”

Can you hear the sound of my hand hitting my forehead from where you are? Man, if I had tried that crap in Jr. High it would have gone something like this:

STUDENT: Sir, can I go to the Nurse’s office. My stomach hurts.

TEACHER: Okay, off you go.

ME: Sir, I’d better go with him to make sure he’s okay.

TEACHER: You’re pretty funny, Scott. And by ‘funny’ I mean ‘RETARDED’!!! SIT THE HELL DOWN AND SHUT UP!!!

ME: I hate you, sir.

Packaging Waste

You would think that a nation as small and as crowded as Japan, they would be pretty conscientious of packaging waste and exercise extreme efficiency so as not to befoul what little habitable land area they have, right?


I’m no raving eco-terrorist or anything, but the levels of blatant, needless waste in this country offend even me. Man, I swear, I’ll go into a 7-11 with a backpack in my hand, I’ll be taking it off as I buy one can of soda, I’ll be opening said backpack so I can insert said can of soda and every time, without fail, the clerk will still put the damn thing in it’s own plastic bag!!

It’s even dumber when I’m getting lots of things. Say I’ll be doing some shopping (yes, at 7-11. I’m a bachelor, what do you want from me?) and I’ll get some ice-tea, some coffee grounds, a few packs of ramen, some cheese and like, a burrito. While they’re heating the burrito up for me (thanks, 7-11 guys) they put ALL the other stuff into a regular size plastic bag. Fair ’nuff. Then when the burrito is ready, this single burrito gets placed in another, separate plastic bag!! This is supposedly because it’s hot and you surely don’t want to mix hot things with non-hot things, so you must separate it, right? Give me a break!! It’s all I can do not to make them eat their little bag, stupid retards!!

The final insult is the Let’s Live Eco-Life logo at the bottom of each non-biodegradble bag they insist pushing on you.

If you’re still not convinced of the waste in packaging, let me enlighten you with this box of donuts.


Cue, hand-on-forehead.

I’ll probably be back later in the week with some more, but it’s about to ring 10:30 and it’s time for the fated Health Check. I sense a story in the making. :O

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