My interest in Japan is multifold.
Firstly I have a Japanese daughter-in-law. She was born in Japan, immigrated to Canada in her mid-twenties, and married by youngest son. I also have a Chinese daughter-in-law – she was born in Canada shortly after her parents arrived in this country. Raised in Vancouver, she is married to my middle child and they have two children. Vancouver’s population is 50% Asian and now so is my family. I have struggled to understand “Asian thinking” and am really little farther ahead than when I started. Saving face is key. I am very curious to understand.
When I was in India, a culture as different as possible from our Western culture, I gained tremendous insight from “Being Indian”, a great book. Japan’s culture seems equally ‘different’. Understanding cultural context is key to travel – and understanding family dynamics!
In my travels over the last ten years, I have encountered many Japanese fellow tourists. I doesn’t seem to matter where you are, they are a significant minority of the people on the traveller “circuit”. It always amazes me how isolated they are. Often traveling alone, they keep social interactions with other travellers to an absolute minimum. Sometimes ability to speak English is a problem, but most traveling Japanese have reasonable English skills, and there is no problem with carrying on a conversation. They still don’t interact. It is suggested that young Japanese are so electronically connected, that they don’t even feel socially able to talk on the telephone or talk face to face. It is one reason why marriage is on the decline in Japan – that meeting and getting to know a future mate is difficult for them, as they feel so socially inept.
I once met a young woman in Nepal. We were all on a three day tour in Chitwan National Park where one is forced into social interaction. I spent most of my time talking to another Japanese girl who lived in Korea and held a Korean passport and we were the only two people on our specific tour (the activities are very programed, people arrive daily and simply move into the rotation). She was quite friendly and seemed very un-Japanese. Sitting next to us at several meals was another Japanese woman who I surmise was in her late 20s. She never looked up from her book, never showed any interest in talking, and over three days, never spoke to another person at the resort. She was on the same bus as me when we left Chitwan heading to Lumbini and the India border crossing. I sat next to her on the crowded bus, and after initiating the conversation (which I believe she never would have – we could have sat next to each other for the next 5 hours and she wouldn’t have uttered a word), I found her to be very interesting and engaging. I asked why she never joined in the conversation when in Chitwan. She had assumed that I was with the other young Japanese woman (who was 33 years younger than me – it was unlikely that we were anything more than casual aquaintances, simply fellow travellers on the same trip), and did not want to intrude. That seems to me to be very Japanese. Maybe it is a result of living in a country with a large population, and it is easy to be anonymous, and in fact to be very alone in any big city. I told her that interactions with others travellers was a big part of my traveling adventure. You never know who you will meet and many fellow travellers are an interesting, intelligent lot, with a wide range of life experience. She was a good example – she was well traveled and had just spent 6 months working in an orphanage in Nepal and was now fluent in Nepalese. I encouraged her to “put herself out there” and open herself to that important aspect of the traveling experience.
Another thing that I wonder about the Japanese tourist – do they ever take a photograph without another Japanese person in it?
We view the Japanese economy as being very sophisticated. But in fact, it is a mess. As you will read below, its national debt is almost twice that of any other country in the world, including the real disasters of Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland. I was curious to understand it. I hope you will find the explanation below.
Another aspect of Japanese behaviour that I have difficulty resolving is the absolute brutality exhibited by Japanese troops during WWII. This was most pronounced against the ethnic Chinese, but also against Allied troops held as prisoners of war. Whereas only 1% of Allied POWs died at the hands of Nazi Germany (viewed as a sadistic, brutal regime by everyone), an astounding 37% of Allied POWs died in Japanese camps. And their deaths were not pretty, many as the result of starvation, daily beatings, and bullets to the back of their head. Read “Unbroken”, a true story about an American bomber crew shot down over the Pacific who initially set a world record for duration of survival in a life raft. Then shit really befell them. They were captured by the Japanese. It is an amazing story of strength of character. Read the post detailing Japanese war crimes at the end of my series on Japan for details of Japanese war atrocities. And this from a country that everyone now views as being peaceful and full of kind hearted souls!