Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Anti-Rationalism of Pro-Gun Activism

Recently, I stumbled across this inane meme (above). Not once. Not twice. But FIVE times on my various social media accounts. So, allow me to respond.


If social media existed when the Constitution was written then right to privacy laws would likely have been included in it. But that's why we have the 9th Amendment anyway, because it clarifies there are moral laws & rights that aren't included in the Constitution as it is not an exhaustive text.

That said, there's a difference between calling for a ban of a lethal weapon which was used to murder all your friends vs. calling for more rights.

One is a response to a problem and the desire not to be murdered by a lethal weapon, mainly a gun. Which is a real problem in America. Although fatal school shootings aren't on the rise compared to previous years, they still register a higher fatality rate than soldiers in active service. That says all you need to know about the gun problem via statistics.

Also, when it comes to "ownership" of weapons, freely giving up weapons to maintain civil and peaceful society is a form of progress. The most peaceful societies on the planet do not allow weapons. Of the few who do, their regulations far outstrip those of standard American systems. In societies like Finland, with high gun-ownership per capita, they are offset from the U.S. by having amazingly good universal socialized health care, including more than adequate care for mental illness, among low poverty and disenfranchisement rates among its citizens.

Basically, in America, angry and poor people without access to good mental health care are arming themselves. And a lot of this "their taking away my rights" paranoia has led to people doubling down on their desire to own something they don't inherently need for happiness or survival in the modern world.

Privacy is far more important than guns in the digital age, and if you don't see this then, by all means, feel free to go build a log cabin somewhere remote and live off-grid until you're able to partake in civil and polite society again. I mean, that's about the only real way you're going to be able to hold onto your guns *or privacy, for that matter* in the future. By waiting till the Feds show up to your front doorstep and pry them out of your hands.

But this just goes to show the crux of the gun problem isn't so much the proliferation of guns, although that is a symptom of bad gun policy. But the fact that so many people think they need to "own" guns when they are merely confusing the desire to maintain an unnecessary privilege with a right.

Yes, in 1789 a well-organized militia could fend off the United States military. It was not a robust military.

Yes, in 1861 the North and the South fought and you could have a need for self-defense in such a scenario as enemy soldiers tramping through your fields and property. But in today's world, the 2nd Amendment's intended purpose of overturning a corrupt government is impossible. A single drone strike would end any militia or insurrection and 'we the people' simply are underequipped to take on a state of the art military, regardless of how many guns we might have. I mean, they can literally kill you with a flight simulator. Game over, man.

And, even I admit, there could be valid reasons to have shotguns and rifles on farms and for hunting, but with much stricter gun access laws and in a limited capacity. And I'm not talking about mere regulations. But real restrictions. Like you have to prove you need the tool for its said purpose and obtain a special license for it. After all, they don't let just anyone use large commercial vehicles like heavy equipment and airliners. There are a whole slew of regulations and special licensing that is required to use such tools and machines. They're specialized. And in a way, so are weapons designed to kill.

So do I see Hogg's comments as hypocritical. No.

He's sayings these are separate issues about different kinds of rights. And we can either evolve our thinking on the issue or keep going around in circles because people don't want to relinquish a lethal tool designed for killing just because.

I know the standard fair whataboutism styled arguments. But what about cars? But what about hammers? What about all the crazy murderers who'll still resort to stoning you with rocks if they really want to kill you? Well, yes, life is a fragile thing and we can die from any numerous causes. Even eating too much cheese.

But, come one. Let's be adults here. Cars, hammers, and rocks were not deliberately designed with the function of killing others. That's a side effect of bad safety when using a device improperly. Guns are no different in that they can be extremely unsafe, except in the way of their standard function of killing is also extremely unsafe. And that sets them apart in a degree from, say, hammers and cars where hammers and cars are no different (i.e., their standard and proper function is non-lethal. Cars are for transportation and hammers are for construction. Guns are for killing).

And only in a non-rational debate would these self-evident truths about the true function and nature of a gun be so brazenly ignored.

As for the argument, well, 'bad-guys will still find a way to get guns' doesn't necessarily hold either. Because even if they do, it doesn't mean they'll use them. In Japan, for example, which has some of the strictest gun laws on the entire planet, the Yakuza (Japanese mafia) do in fact get guns. They typically shoot up each other, and very rarely turn their weapons on the public.

There's a very good reason for this.

When it comes to crime, it pays to stay off the radar of law enforcement. Because having an illegal gun in Japan is like waving a big red flag that says, "Arrest me! Arrest me! I'm up to no good!" And criminals tend to shy away from drawing too much attention to themselves just as a matter of habit. So, I've never bought into that argument that criminals everywhere would arm themselves and then turn their weapons on the public. It seems to be a kind of paranoid thinking that leads one to conclude that anyone you don't like who happens to get a gun will try and harm you with that gun, hence the need for more guns.

I think the usual rationalizations gun proponents use just don't hold up under rational scrutiny. I've considered them and thought about them for over a decade now and I haven't found one that relies on the inherent strength of a basic rational tenet that isn't propped up by whataboutisms and poor moral rationalizations that conveniently seem to ignore the stronger counter-arguments to the position. Like, literally disregard the arguments because they don't fall in line with the gun-mentality, to call it that. And that's a sign of dogmatism. Something that's dangerous whether or not guns are involved.

Kid President once said if your dream is stupid, get a better dream. I think that applies here too with the entire gun debate. It's not stupid for people to have the healthy desire not to become a victim of gun crime. What is stupid, in my opinion, is in the light of so much gun crime to think it's stupid for a person to want to ban guns out of their fear of guns rather than do the irrational thing -- which is to arm themselves with more guns -- of which they are afraid of being harmed by.

That's a very irrational response to not wanting to become a victim of a gun-related crime and or death. If you're afraid of dying by eating the sashimi of the poisonous puffer fish, you don't go on a raw puffer fish eating binge to counteract this very real fear and potential risk to your safety and life. That's entirely irrational. If you don't wish to die by poisonous fish, you simply avoid eating raw puffer fish at all costs. Problem solved.

And yet, there are at least 6 deaths a year from eating raw poisoned fish meat. So, when I see people claiming more guns will solve our gun problem, this is what I think of. It's the ole puffer fish excuse. It's just a bit irrational.

(Coincidentally enough, the rate of gun death in Japan is equivalent to the rate of death by the consumption of poisoned fish. So, scaling up the analogy to 300 million American gun owners should show you the absurdity of the gun rationale. Just saying.)

Being a gun culture simply for the masturbatory lust for guns is a stupid dream. Let's all grow up and realize that the value of life should outstrip the value of ownership of lethal weapons. We don't let people carry around vials of lethal poison just because they feel it's their right to do so. That's insanity. Why should it be any different with guns?

Really, the only real moral argument for owning a gun is to safeguard oneself from a present and imminent harm. Something that is threatening one's life and the life of their loved ones. But, in America, in many cases this threat is simply another person with a gun. Think about that for a moment. Then, you'll see the solution to ending this threat is quite simple.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

**Me Too** (My Sexual Harassment experience that I've kept silent about for more than 10 years)

I came to Japan in my mid-twenties and started my career as an English teaching professional teaching TESOL to Japanese students at elementary and Junior high school.

One of the first experiences any foreign teacher has the privilege of experiencing in Japan is the infamous "kancho." 

It's basically a physical gag where a school child will sneak up behind you and wait till you bend over to wash your hands or drink from the drinking fountain, and then, placing their hands together, their index fingers pointed toward your nether regions like a gun--they jam their fingers into your anus with as much force as possible.

Many foreigners yelp out in shock at the first time small probing fingers try to enter their asshole. If you're a guy, sometimes the little kids miss and mash your balls, which really smarts. If you're a girl, sometimes they hit you right in the glory hole. Either way, none are immune to this childish prank.

During my first week in Japanese public schools, I got kancho-ed no less than seven times. Each time I felt myself getting angrier and angrier. I eventually complained to the vice principal of the school who informed me it's simply something children do.

When in Rome, I thought to myself. And sure enough, the antics of the school children blew over once they got to know me. As a matter of fact, I later found out that many school kids do this to new teachers to "test" them and see how they'll react. And being a foreigner in a strange land, I knew that they were taking advantage of the situation. But this isn't a case of sexual harassment since, in most cases, school kids six and seven years old aren't even aware of what sexual harassment is. To them, it's just a silly prank.

What came as a rather big shock to me, however, was when my 14 and 15 year old junior high school students did the same thing my first few weeks of school.

Again, as a new teacher, I got the sense they were testing me. But the guys also liked to swat at my balls in the bathroom when I was taking a pee--as a joke. And if you've ever listened to pubescent teenagers of 15 talk, you know they are all entering their hormonal stage where everything becomes about sex for them.

After my second year teaching, several of my third year students (the equivalent of freshman in high school) decided to play a naughty prank on me.

As it turned out, I achieved the thing I was aiming for--familiarity with my students. I went through great trouble to learn each and every one of the names of my graduating students. I wanted them to like me and think of me as a cool, hip teacher. And to that effect, I succeeded. Also, being the token foreigner amongst an all Japanese staff, many of the students would approach me with questions asking about the difference between their culture and mine. 

I was always happy to answer such questions except when they were sexually explicit and entirely inappropriate.

Once a boy student asked me, "Are Japanese girls' pussies tighter than American girls' pussies?"

I was taken aback by the bluntness of the question. I merely replied to him in Japanese, "I can't talk about such things at school. It's not appropriate."

He laughed and wandered off with his friends. Another time, a different boy student asked me how big my penis was and if he could see it. I didn't know whether to be flattered or traumatized. 

I politely apologized, as is custom in Japan, and informed him it wasn't appropriate to talk about such things and shrugged it off and went about my week. 

But the more familiar my boy students became with me as their teacher the more emboldened they got and, soon enough, began asking me all kinds of lewd questions. 

Granted, they were curious and I was technically the only one who could answer such questions about the "cultural" differences they were interested in, except for the fact that it would have been entirely inappropriate. So, as always, I deflected their questions or did my best to change the subject to something that would hold their attention--such as sports.

As the boys kept me preoccupied, I never saw the real threat of the girls--who were equally curious and perhaps a little more aware of their own sexual maturity. Whereas with the boys it was just a game, the girls approached their sexuality in a more up front sort of way. A way which snuck up on me. Quite literally speaking.

In Japan, the students all have a cleaning hour at the end of the day. They all work together to clean their school. Which is why Japanese schools don't have janitors.

One day while cleaning, a couple of girl students of mine rushed over to tell me that their friend had fallen down and hurt her knee. They were adamant that I should come right away. Worried that a student of mine was actually in trouble, I followed them to the stairwell.

One of the girls pointed to the dark area behind the staircase, which was merely a storage area, and stepped to the side as I leaned in to see what the matter was. Without warning, from behind, both girls shoved me into the nook behind the stairs.

I reached out as I fell forward and my hands mashed into something soft. When I looked up I found one of my girl students, her shirt and bra pulled up over her chest, laying under me as she stared up at me with brown eyes and flushed cheeks.

I looked down to find my hands firmly pressed upon her small budding breasts and I quickly recoiled, pulling my hands away. But as I tried to clamor to my feet, the two girls behind me leaned into my back, practically hopping on me piggy-back style and forced me back down onto the third girl.

I caught myself with my hands, my face hovering dangerously close to the third girl's face. As she looked up at me, she asked me in a deliberately sensual tone, "Do you like me, Mr. Vick?"

One of the girls from behind said in a loud voice, "Mr. Vick, please touch my breasts next!" 

The other girl from behind quipped, "I want him to touch me someplace else."

All three girls snickered and giggled excitedly. I remember one even snorted and that made them laugh all the more.

Angered, I pushed myself up and shoved the two girls behind me out of my way. I retreated to the hallway when, turning to the right, I saw Kanda sensei making his way toward us.

I knew that if he caught wind of anything that had just transpired, I could get in huge trouble. I might even lose my job. And the girl students, for their crime of adolescent naivete and sexually immature antics, could get expelled. 

Flustered, I didn't know what to do. My heart raced with nervous embarrassment and fear gripped me. I remember panic set in and I began to have trouble breathing.

Meanwhile, the girl beneath the stairwell pulled down her clothes and casually stepped out into the hall with us. All the girls turned as Kanda sensei approached and when he saw them giggling he ordered them to get back to cleaning. Without even batting an eye they took off, giggling amongst themselves down the entirety of the school corridor.

Seeing that I was without a broom, Kanda sensei opened the broom closet underneath the stairwell and handed me a bristle broom. I thanked him and moved on. He immediately turned to see boys throwing rocks at each other outside and rushed out to chastise them and order them to get back to cleaning.

As I stood in the hallway, sweeping the same spot over and over again, I tried to wrap my brain around what had just happened. Of course, I never mentioned it to anybody. I was too scared.

I knew that if I came clean with what had actually happened the girls could team up against me and lie about what had occurred, claiming that I attacked them and molested them. I knew they were all close friends and so would protect each other--if push came to shove--and being minors I could lose my job. 

And even if it was deemed that it wasn't my fault--that I merely was a victim to their adolescent antics, at the very least it cast suspicion on me as a potential sexual predator. Which was practically just as bad as actually being falsely accused as one. Because then everyone would be wondering whether the rumors were true and this would give rise to new rumors--none of them bound to be good.

At the same time, I didn't want the girls to be unfairly disciplined, and from my short time in Japan I had seen first-hand how harsh some of the school's punishments were for things that, by my American standards, were trivial non-offenses. I didn't want to get them suspended from school for a one-time offense. Moreover, I didn't want my relationship with my students to become strained to the point where they didn't feel like they could trust me or be themselves around me.

So, I did the only thing I could do. I kept it to myself.

Was it the right thing to do? I think so. 

I couldn't change what had happened. But at least I had some small control over what happened next.

I went the rest of the year without another incident. If it would have continued, I would have certainly mentioned it. But instead, the girls just blew me kissy faces, batted their eyes at me, and giggled the rest of the year long. They were only teasing.

But, in retrospect, I think their big prank was perhaps a little too much. And because it was overly sexual and placed me in an awkward and potentially problematic situation, I sometimes grow anxious whenever the memory should resurface. Which is why I have never talked about it till now.

That said, this account showcases only a mild case of sexual harassment. These students all acted out of innocent ignorance and out of a sense of fun and wanting to get to know me better. And, as the saying goes, no harm no foul. 

In fact, all three girls stay in touch with me to this day. And if that should sound weird, consider that they're all college graduates now, and are the age I was when I first taught them (25). Two of them are married with children and they send me pictures of their families and tell me that whenever they get together they reminisce about the good old days and tell me they always talk about how I was such a fun teacher for them.

Sexual harassment is a sensitive subject matter because it's also a highly personal subject matter--and because people will undoubtedly respond differently to it. Most assuredly, there are cases far more severe and damaging than what I experienced, so please don't feel sorry for me. Everything worked out well enough in the end. Nobody was hurt by it, other than a bit of awkwardness it may have caused me. 

Needless to say, I was on my guard around young adolescent people from there on in, and I most certainly never followed students blindly into dark corners of the school ever again.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Vick Fam Japan Earthquake Relief

Please help my family piece our lives back together after the back-to-back devastating Japan quakes and chip in if you can. Any amount helps.

Friday, April 29, 2016

7.4 magnitude Earthquake shatters Kumamoto (We survive)

If you follow me on social media, FB, Twitter, that sort of thing... you know that I am extremely active. You may have also noticed that for the past two weeks I've been entirely absent. Dead silent, you might say. There's a reason for this.

As you may well know, Kumamoto, the city I live in, was struck by two back-to-back devastating earthquakes. Both a level 6.5 magnitude quake, which happened on April 15th, and a 7.4 magnitude quake, April 16th, rocked the Mashiki area of Kumamoto city. That's a mere 3 km from where we (my family and I) live. Meanwhile, downtown the quake measured a whopping 7.1. That's about 5 km from the epicenter.

After the 7.4 quake we were forced to evacuate our home, where we fled outside to the middle of the street with all of the stunned neighbors. The local schools in our area were all turned into emergency shelters and the gymnasiums quickly filled up with the elderly and those who had lost their homes due to the quake.

We opted to camp out of our cars instead of go to one of the shelters, and for the past two weeks my family has been living out of our car. Not easy for a family of four, two grandparents, and a couple of dogs. But we managed. We were just glad to be alive. 

Granted, it wasn't the ideal living arrangements, but we made due. My kids thought of it as a kind of camping trips. Mom and dad were just terribly stressed. The ground hasn't stopped rumbling for two weeks. As of now, there have been over 1,000 sizable tremors and aftershocks. 

That's right. There have been over 1,000 earthquakes in just two weeks! 

I felt that it was worth repeating because it's such a large number to even attempt to grasp. Living through it has been... well... educational, to say the least.

The first few days after the big shake there was an aftershock every 15 to 20 minutes. The first few aftershocks register as level 6 magnitude quakes. There were seven of those intermixed with a series of high level 5 quakes. 

Now, the level 6.5 quake was enough to knock down all our bookshelves, cupboards, cabinets, and picture frames. All our dishes, the toaster, and anything else that could fall onto the floor and break into a gazzillion pieces did so.

But the 7.4 was the real trouble maker. 

I describe the difference of a 6.5 quake and a 7.5 five magnitude quake as the difference between Bruce Banner and the Incredible Hulk.

The reason that 1 point is so much more devastating is that it's a 10% increase in magnitude. Remember, earthquakes are measured exponentially. So it's an exponential growth. 

Additionally, the level 7.4 quake was powerful enough to send out tsunami warnings. 

Luckily (if luck had anything to do with it) the vibrations headed north inland instead of out to sea. So the tsunami warning abated, but it was still terrifying to have to worry about an 800 ft. tidal wave traveling faster than a Boeing 747 headed your way to wipe you off the map. Luckily that didn't happen. But the threat was very real.

And while you worry about trying not to die, you worry ten fold about keeping your children safe. And that seems like a daunting task when you're up against Mother Nature.

If you want to know what it's like to be in the thick of an earthquake, please read this excellent blog post regarding How Does an Earthquake Really Feel?

By the end of the first week the aftershocks had died down to a few every 30 minutes or so. At the end of the second week, where we're at now, we're down to a few high level 3s and 4s every few hours.

Now that I have the Internet back... and I'm sorry to say this... the JAPAN earthquakes here in Kumamoto and the Kyushu region left our house in terrible disarray... and it looks like I'm left little choice but to set up a crowd sourcing campaign and start groveling.

It's not something I really ever wanted to have to do. Ask for handouts. But as my friend Brad pointed out, it's not begging for money so much as it's a genuine plea for help when there's a more than valid need for a humanitarian relief effort.

Our water boiler bit the big one. We haven't had hot water in two weeks. And after spending 5 days living out of a car, the first thing you want is a hot bath.

A portion of our roof tiles fell off the roof, and now we're using a blue tarp to keep the rain out.

We lost the east facing glass windows to our house. The neighbor's stupid cat keeps coming into our house because -- hey -- new hole to explore.

Every wall inside the house needs to be replaced due to the amount of damage done to the dry wall. Although they broke mainly along the seems, because our walls use wallpaper (not paint) the wallpaper has been shredded and so the whole thing must come down. (Major pain in the ass -- but this is labor we can do, we just need to be able to afford enough materials for replacing the bulk of our home's walls).

90% of our dishes will need replacing. It's not a huge priority. We still have a lot of bowls that survived because they were protected on the inside of the fridge.

Family portraits lost some glass from the frames, meaning we'll need to replace those. Although it's not a huge priority. A simple glass frame from the dollar store is all we'll need.

Many other small and trivial items need replacing. We lost our toaster oven. Our automatic tea kettle. Things you really take for granted when you want some tea or toast and realize you can't make any.

There are, of course, things I won't ask to replace such as trivial items like my Sideshow Collectibles Premium Format Wonder Woman statue. She's busted up, but I'll probably have a lot of fun gluing the pieces back together and repainting her.

Our house isn't earthquake insured, and it didn't sustain enough damage for regular insurance to kick in (which, I suppose is a good thing considering the house would need to be toppled over for the insurance to kick in), meaning we are getting stuck with the full financial burden of the repairs.

And since it's my wife's family home, we can't just up and move. Which means we will need to do some major fixing. Which costs money.

As such, it seems I have little in the way of options and am currently looking for the best crowd sourcing platform to begin my groveling and begging for money. I post the details of that later this week.

Until then, here's a video showing the startling amount of destruction done to Mashiki:

Reflections #1: From Nightmare School to Dream School

After JET Programme finished for me, and I moved from Hiroshima to Kumamoto, I was lucky enough to find a teaching job just two weeks after the move.

It was in a town about an hour and a half from where I lived, but an easy enough commute on the train. A little longer by car.

Needless to say I was just happy I could continue to pay the bills, put food on the table, and provide for my family. I really didn't care how far I had to go to do that.

And everything seems alright. After all, I had taught at 14 different junior high schools and elementary schools in Japan. I thought this one would be like all the others. I couldn't have been further from the truth if I'd tried.

I had a nightmare first year at the new JHS I taught at.

The kids were a nightmare. Every day there was some strange or dangerous incident. Just off the top of my head...

A teen once threw his desk through a window.

A girl student stabbed a teacher with a pair of scissors.

A couple of parents were suing the school because the school counselor found out their daughter wasn't taking her anti-psychotic meds, and the teacher was obligated by the law to inform the school and, supposedly, this embarrassment caused the family to feel as though they lost face with the community -- thus the lawsuit.

And this same girl kicked a underclassman down a flight of stairs because the underclassman wouldn't agree with her as to what the best K-pop band was.

I dad a boy student with ADHD who kept jumping out of the 3rd floor window and scaling the wall to the 2nd story window then running around like a wild-thing.

It was insane to say the least.

And those are the good stories of the year. Everything just got worse from there on in. That school took me to my breaking point as a teacher.

Luckily, once those kids graduated, it was, you might say... a miraculous change. The dynamics of the whole school changed.

Once the Children of the Corn graduated, that school became my all time favorite school I've ever had the privilege of working at.

Strange how that works.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Non-alcoholic Beer and Japan as a Social Drinking Culture

Non-alcoholic beer is just soda flavored beer. It's a lot like chocolate soda flavored beer. It exists without reason or purpose simply for the sake of existing.

That said, non alcoholic beers do play a rather big social function here in Japan, where they have a ZERO alcohol policy for drinking and driving. The actual legal limit is BrAC 0.15 mg/L (equivalent to 0.03%). To put this into perspective, a piece of rum cake would set you over that limit.

A one time offense for drinking and driving in Japan (with zero altercations) is the suspension of your license for six month and a 5K $USD fine! The second offense is the permanent suspension of your license and up to a 10K $USD fine (my Japanese driver's education manual says this fine is actually up to the presiding judge). If you kill anyone in a DUI / DWI it's an automatic jail sentence plus anything else the judge wants to throw at you.

Japan has some of the strictest drinking laws I've ever seen.

That's where non-alcoholic beer comes into the equation.

In Japan, social drinking with work employees is ritualistic. There are several mandatory drinking parties a year -- even for public schools like mine!

New Years, is of course the biggest, but then there are PTA, Graduation, and start and end to the semester drinking parties. There's a Christmas drinking party as well. Every December 22nd all teachers receive a pledge form from their school that they must sign promising that they will not drink and drive and will use good judgement throughout the evening, even if they become intoxicated. The form is legally binding, so drinking and driving would result in losing their job!

Corporate companies have even more drinking parties, as they host foreign bosses and work exchange employees and every time there is a visitor or a tour of the factory / company, there will be a drinking party. In Japan, being a good host is vital to the identity of the Japanese people and part of their inbuilt tradition of manners and serving as a sign of respect. So, of course, such parties are mandatory.

With this amount of pressure to drink -- sometimes two or three times a week... non-alcoholic beer becomes the polite way to join these events without actually becoming an alcoholic, or getting slobbering drunk for that matter.

It allows employees to save face, pay the proper respect, be a part of the group, and not loose their driving privileges! It also allows women employees, who feel the same pressures to drink, to switch out to something that won't give them alcohol poisoning as they have to drink for two to three hours at the main party -- only to have to drink more at the ni-ji-kai or after-party.

The more you know!

(Classic Japanese beer ad snagged from Everything Japan)

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Conformity in Japan: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Part 3: The Ugly)

Resistance is futile.

It has taken me longer than expected to write this article mainly for two reasons. First, I've been extremely overwhelmed this year. This year has been non-stop trial and tribulation and has been one of the hardest years for me that I've ever experienced. 

I started a new job that paid less than half my old job, and to make things worse, I was lied to about the salary and the quality of the school. On top of suffering financial strain due to the aforementioned lackluster job deal, I've been extremely busy. My daughter started preschool and I've been driving an extra hour out of my already overly busy, overly long, commute everyday; raising my daily commute to ***three hours instead of one and a half, and that has given me stress--both mentally and physically. Rush hour traffic and the time spent in the car is realling beginning to take its toll on my lower back, and I'm this close to tearing out the car seats.

I have had so many challenges this year that's it's not even funny. In fact, it's worse than not funny. Earlier this year my father took his own life, unexpectedly. Nobody even saw it coming, because there was nothing particularly wrong--at least that any of us were aware of. We're still at a loss to explain it. So that's been tough. 

The second reason that I've taken my sweet time getting to finishing up this series is that I truly love Japan--more than I can express in words--and in my mind it feels something like a betrayal to criticize and badmouth a country that has come to be like a second home to me. 

But that said, I have to be realistic and honest about it. Japan is great, but she isn't perfect.

As I mentioned in my previous essays, conformity is the real binding strength of Japanese society, but at the same time, it is also what causes Japan her greatest hardships.

I've talked about both the good and the bad, but now it's time to talk about the ugly.


The Pacific Conflict was a great example of this. Japan thought Imperialism was the way to go, and everyone went along with it. Japan was the first Asian nation to grow as powerful as any Western imperialism, and they were able to rival all of Europe and the United States in terms of economic strength. What they lacked, however, was diplomacy.

You see, in Japan they were under the rule of an emperor, and his cabinet of advisers, half of whom were military affiliated. That means, those who had the emperor's ear were all about deploying a command and conquer type plan to ensure Japan maintain her new-found economic greatness.

In a land of conformity, where the majority rules, there is no disagreeing. They simply do not allow for the difference of opinion.

This lead to wars with Russia, Korea, China, Australia, and eventually escalated into the bombing of Pearl Harbor--and war with the United States and the Allied Forces.

Here's the thing though--the Japanese Emperor was AGAINST the war!

But even he, a veritable god (in his time), could not persuade the majority--especially when they are all power greedy cabinet members with one track minds about how to maintain Japan's might in the global economy.

In today's Japan, things are much better. But at the same time, things are still far from perfect. Or, for that matter, even ideal.

Japan is a nation divided by generational barriers.

On the one hand, young Japanese people in their twenties and thirties have access to technology, the Internet, smartphones, and are interested in other cultures beyond simply that of Japan's.

But the older generation, for the most part, is not.

I have experienced extremely shocking incidents of racism in Japan. Being singled out as a minority, being profiled, stopped at the train station and have my things searched through by the police, more than once, for no other reason than I look different--is always a drag.

But this attitude stems from the older generation. No millennial or gen X Japanese person would ever dream of stopping all foreign looking people simply because they're foreign. Profiling would never enter their mind. After all, looking suspicious has nothing to do with the color of your skin. But the policy makers of an aging Japan would certainly think profiling works. This stems, in my opinion, from a hangover from the war era and the way they were probably raised (racism begets racism, after all).

This unwitting racism takes many forms. Consider the 60 year old principle at my old school, for example. He was raised to think the foreign invaders were evil intruders wanting to steal their land and rape their women. They were instructed to throw rocks at the American soldiers. And they were taught to hate the foreigners. So imagine the heads of state, all men from this generation, and the top officials in the police, all from this generation, unable to shake the fear lingering in the back of their mind that foreigners may be evil and are therefore likely suspect?

That kind of brainwashing is hard to get over. So a lot of the racism I experience comes mainly from these types of people... from one very specific generation.

I've never been singled out by a young Japanese person in the decade I have lived in Japan. But I have been punched, standing in the customs line at the airport, by a random drunk 60 year old Japanese man, for no apparent reason. If a Japanese young person gets drunk, they usually just want to try using English with me. But that's the extent of it. But I have often been harassed by old Japanese men--for no reason--other than I was in their direct line of sight.


In Japan you often can find Japanese people praising Japan to high heaven. Entire television shows are dedicated to talking about how great and wonderful Japan is on a weekly basis (never mind nobody running these shows has likely ever been to a foreign country). And what's more, they want everyone in Japan to be reminded of how great Japan is every damn day.

If a show talks about a foreign culture, the celebrity guests puzzle over what oddities other countries are, and then talk about how in Japan they do it a different way--but express it in such as to insinuate that in Japan they do it in a better way.

Such one sided praise feeds into an underlying nationalism, and conservative worldview, which is at odds of what Japan needs to become in order to adapt to today's multi-cultural global society. It's ancient Japan competing with modern Japan--and the generational rift re-emerges.

It also leads to bad policy making due to a limited, or lacking foresight.


Instead of outsourcing and hiring more foreigners to come take care of their elderly, Japan spends billions of dollars in robotics research. Not entirely a bad thing mind you, but it won't be enough to fix the rapidly aging population. With so many of Japan's farmers retiring, and so many young people moving to the cities, their agriculture infrastructure is on the brink of collapse. Instead of bringing in foreigners to help stabilize the farming industry, Japanese farmers simply keep working into old age--with no one to replace them.

By 2016 there will be approximately six elderly people in retirement homes for every single thirty year old working in Japan. That's just too many old people for Japan's current economy to sustain.

But knowing this problem, why the continued reluctance to change?

Truthfully, I can't help but feel that part of the problem might be because of their reluctance to bring in foreign assistance. Bringing an influx of foreign nationals would force Japan to be less nationalistic in its stance with regard to foreign policy. Japan currently exists under the paradigm of "do what's best for the Japanese" not "do what's best for Japan."

It's paradoxical, because the Japanese make up Japan, but instead of doing what's best for everyone, they seem to abide by more selfish goals--at least as far as policy making goes. Whereas my home country in America has think tanks specially designed to address very specific American concerns, like how to improve education, how to deal with global warming, and so on, Japan has none of these. It seems the Japanese mindset is akin to--Japan works--if it's not broke, don't fix it. But after living her for practically a decade, it's very apparent, that Japan barely works. There is room for much improvement.

So instead of dealing with the issues that challenge Japan head on, and doing things like making new laws to accommodate foreign workers, well, this is Japan! No need for that. Why bother bringing in foreign aid, passing laws, and having to adjust your society to accommodate something explicitly non-Japanese when you could just build more robots?

These are just some of the biggest problems facing Japan today.

But worse than all these combined is the penetrating apathy that conformity breeds when conformity proves to be counter productive.

Think of it like this, conformity is a double edged sword. It's great for slicing through your problems, but if you fall on it, you'll be cut in two too.

If a group of Japanese do not grasp a concept, or cannot seem to adequately address or assess a real potential threat, then the rest suddenly begin to reflect this attitude. It exists at all levels in Japan. Elementary school first graders will play a bingo game, and the ones who never get a bingo, cry miserably--because they failed. Japanese politics is the same way. When it succeeds, it goes above and beyond, but when it fails, everyone falls down on their swords.

Japan seems to be a country destined to either succeed together or give up together. And that's why conformity is so ugly in Japan.

English education doesn't work? Well, let's scrap all funding for English education then! Never mind that it's been taught completely wrong for over three decades.

That's how Japan fails together!


Understandably, however, I can't blame all of Japan's failings on a misguided socialistic conformity which occasionally backfires. All I am saying is that this misguided conformity seems to always resurface wherever a genuine problem arises.

It's never just one thing, but it is always something plus the conformity issue. As I mentioned in the previous essay, tattoos are viewed as taboo here in Japan. But only because it's a conformity issue and nobody questions it. Nobody says, hey, wait, maybe tattoos aren't bad? Maybe I'll let you work at my establishment or join the city gym or come to the bathhouse because you're a genuinely good person. Nope. Tattoos are bad. If you have one. You're bad. So conform already, because hell, it's not about you. It's about everybody else.

Of course, this sort of thinking impacts all areas of Japanese life. It is impossible to ever walk away from the pressure to conform to society's norms. It's not like America, where standing out and being yourself is applauded.

Standing out, like having a tattoo, is seen as taboo. In fact, what is having a tattoo other than an attempt to stand out? That's the thinking anyway.

Instead, in Japan, it's about holding hands and not rocking the boat--together. Sing kumbaya and that kind of shit. That head banging, tattooed, metal head type person who stands up and rocks the boat too much is pounded down, like a pesky obtuse nail. And they will keep pounding you down until you stay down.


Much of Japan's legal system is predicated on this type of unquestioning, socialistic, attitude as well. It's not so much whether or not you follow the laws, per se. It's that you follow the laws the same way society follows the laws as a whole.

Which is kind of shooting yourself in the foot, when you stop to think about it.

It's basically like ignoring the speed limit simply because everyone speeds anyway. And then the police not enforcing the speed limit because they know everyone speeds anyway. So what good is the law to begin with?

But if everyone follows some unspoken rule, then by god, everyone will do that thing--because it's Japan. To keep with the driving analogies, there is a strange thing Japanese people do that is NOT a law, but you would be forgiven thinking it was one.

At a red traffic light, at night, everyone who comes to a stop turns OFF their headlights.

Suddenly the only thing illuminating the street is the red glow of the traffic light. If it sounds horrifyingly dangerous, it is. I see more cars start up on a green who forget to turn back on their headlights than any where else I've been to in my entire life. Why even do this strange thing?

Well, because it's something most Japanese people just do.

Who knows why they started it? Maybe they're being polite. Maybe it's a type of Japanese respect being paid to the other driver. Is it safer? Not in the least. But everyone does it none the less.

The saying when in Rome, do as the Romans do is a good rule of thumb when visiting a foreign land for the first time. But having lived in that foreign land for a decade, sometimes there comes a day when you have to say, wait a minute, this is wrong. This does us no good. Let's stop with this and try something else.

But in Japan, such a notion is sacrilege. And that's the ugly.

But hey, they have nice castles. So it's not all bad.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Bento She Needs

It's not the bento she deserves, but it's the one she needs right now.