Tokyo Big Sight's bi-yearly comic markets are world-famous for nerd manga. But what if I told you there was a whole separate section, a hidden corner of zines? Zines which were totally otaku but not about manga or anime at all? I'm talking about the motherlode of old-school Japanese overly-specific hobbyism.
For those of you wanting to check it out, it's called the RONBUN section (論文 meaning 'essay').
"MYSTERIOUS TACTICS! YOKAI PICTURE BOOK! VOLUME. . . ONE?"
Yokai are traditional spirits, folk monsters, and fairies. In this book, some guys take pictures of themselves impersonating famous traditional illustrations of yokai, using everyday household items as props.
"THE CURRY MUSEUM (WHICH EXISTS IN MY VERY OWN HOUSE!)"
This is a very common type of zine at this event: home-made encyclopedias of foods, all done like a Dungeons and Dragons book or a video game , where each "character" is broken down into attributes, and each attribute is assigned a number.
CURRY MUSEUM ranks curries on the following attributes:
category of curry, spiciness, amount, calories, and "degree to which I'd recomend it."
Sample review (from the hello kitty curry):
It's a "bon curry" for kids, with Kitty printed on the cover. There is more corn than beef! But even so, the taste is basically "bon" style. But at 120 grams, the amount is not even enough for kids!
degree-that-I'd-recomend-it: one out of five.
Are you lewd?
THE BOOK ABOUT THE ADULT GOODS WHICH YOU KNOW SO WELL
by "the hallucination corporation HDS".
This has small articles about how to use various buttplugs, vibrators, etc. And surveys of people re: how often do you use "adult goods"?
"chasing the Fourier transformations"
Note the cat-like "emoji" mascot: this is what a Fourier transformation looks like to 2-channel guys.
This book was at the same table as a political rant called "consumers are BAKA!!"
I got both.
WAKU WORK MAGAZINE!
(the title is a pun based on how the English word "work" sounds like the sound-effect "waku waku" , which means to be excited about something)
"stories from workers' real experiences on the job. Volume 3: convenience stores."
This is a sort of "information manga" – a textbook on how to be a better clerk, in manga form. The Japanese tendency to make textbooks or manuals in manga form is not new or shocking at this point. But. . . a manual written by workers, for workers? You'd think that anonymous workers publishing DIY manga would make the manga be an expose of how crappy the job is, but you'd be wrong again. Here are porly-paid 7-11 staff, taking their free time to – for basically free- write motivational manuals for other convinience store clerks. wtf japan.
Left page (21)
Petty crime counter-measures!
panel one: These are small crimes, so you can handle them yourself.
If there is a sale on anything at all, you should yell "Such-and-such percent off of this-and-that" throughout the store in a loud, cheerful voice.
Shoplifters don't like to come to stores where the clerks are so enthusiastic.
Even if there is no sale, you should simply yell greetings: "Hello! Welcome!"
panel 2: suspicious people!
if you see someone glancing nervously at you or glancing covertly around the store, approach them and ask if you can help them find something.
If they are innocent, you will be helping them, but if they are guilty, they will be deterred from shoplifting!
panel 3: don't neglect or ignore the merchandise!
even though there are anti-crime cameras, some people are still rude enough to steal, so make sure one person is behind the counter at all times, even if the other person has to go to the back room for more supplies.
Before you go in back, make sure and announce it to your co-worker so they will be on alert!
Right page (20)
panel one: crime-prevention tips:
every convinience store chain has a contract with some security-guard company. As soon as possible you should hit the "anti-crime buzzer" located behind the counter, and summon the guards.
There are also buttons by the ATM machines, and come chains issue neck-straps to employees with buzzers on them.
Also there are "color balls" you can throw at muggers or shoplifters as they are running away from your store. these balls explode on impact, staining the criminal and making it easy for the police to spot them.
But if the criminal is naked, it will be easy for them to wash off the evidence, won't it?
anti-crime cameras save the images!
male clerk: Fuck! That camera caught me loafing in the back room!
female clerk: Loafing is also a crime!
In every convenience store, there are many cameras which feed images directly to the associated security company. If there is any problem, the security company saves a copy of the video and can reply it later.
Recently the cameras are such good quality, the viewer can zoom and enhance parts of the image!
TELARC: AN INVESTIGATION OF THE AMERICAN MINOR LABEL
Now we're getting to some more serious otaku. . . this guy doesn't just collect everything ever released by a minor classical-music label, he gets his spectrum-machine and measures the SOUNDSPECTRUM of every CD on it, and then makes a music-critic fanzine, not analyzing the music, composition, or even the performance, but analyzing the sonic spectra!
A "sound spectrum" is like a snapshot of a song at one point in time, with pitch on the vertical axis and frequency on the horizontal axis.
18-AND-OVER BOOKS AND GIRLS
an essay about how buying porno is empowering for young women.
sample chapter title: BUYING ADULT GOODS IS PROOF THAT YOU HAVE BECOME AN ADULT!
TEA REVIEW BOOK! OCHA DOSE 2!
LET'S COOL DOWN IN SUMMER!
another food-ranking book. The categories rated are : sweetness, sourness, umami (beauty of the flavor), and cost performance.
sample review: "The price is reasonable, and the grains are local. this a good point! because it also makes for a good souvinier!"
MASS TRANSIT SEATS VOL.1
TRAINS,BOATS, AND PLANES
I was going to scan the inside, but basically the cover says it all: just page after page of poorly-photocopied color pictures of seats and beds on all manner of mass transit.
From the cramped to the luxurious.
This next one is part of a whole genre – usally all the women are next to each other in the convention hall.
ANECDOTES FROM SEX WORK! THE FUZOKU GUIDE SERIES!
table of contents is printed on the front cover:
sex tv channels, re-prints of questionaires that cat-house customers fill out, silly business cards from brothels with hilarious double-entendre names, and how to become a skillful "companion-san".
Then it adds, "The inside information!!!"
sample page below:
Upper left is a busniess card from a sex palace named kameman-namedo
This is a play on the name of a traditional japanese sweets shop, called kameyamannendo. (lit. "the hall of the turtle that lives 10,000 years")
but the dirty version is kame-man-name-do : kame (turtle head =penis) + man (manko= pussy) name (licking) do (hall).
I guess these sorts of puns don't translate any better than, say E3 THE EXTRA TESTICLE.
left page, bottom;
an order form for an "image club" (a type of brothel that has theme rooms and costumes, so that you can choose your own sexual adventure in a way that resembles nothing so much as a reverse game of CLUE) : instead of "murder colonel mustard in the conservatory with the fire poker", the client has chosen "sexually assault the stewardess in the high-school girl's bedroom."
right page: an order form for an s/m club:
the client checks the boxes for
"no previous s/m experience"
for the happy ending? would sir prefer a dry-hump or a blowjob? "blowjob."
He checks the following menu options:
vibrator play, mutual groping, golden shower and brown shower, and watching-of-masturbation-by-the-mistress.
THE PARASITE THAT EVERYONE LOVES: 2
another "educational manga", teaching people about tapeworms who dress like samurai.
english title: THE OPERATION DENTIST
japanese title (translated): REAL DENTIST GREAT CAMPAIGN
this is . . .get ready . .. DENTAL SCHOOL GAG MANGA. By dental students for dental students. Oddly, it seems to NOT be educational. Or funny.
left page, right side:
"at our dental school alumni reunion one day. . . ."
Japanese lady: how many patients do you see in a day?
canadian guy (left side, tan skin): about 8. We spend between one and two hours on each."
Other Japanese: Wow! Japanese dentists can see up to 20 patients a day!
canadian: We can fix an entire tooth in one appointment.
Japanese: WTF?!?!?!?!? IN ONE APPOINTMENT? REALLY???
Japanese: REALLY? NO SHIT?!?
(diagram of tooth: root canal, plus tooth filling, plus the cap: three proceedures)
Japanese: (still gaining steam) HUH? WHAT? WTF??? IS THAT NORMAL IN CANADA? SERIOUSLY? HUH?
Canadaian (backing away slowly) : uh yes.
left page, left side:
WON'T YOU COME PLAY WITH US?
Japanese lady: By the way, in Japan it is normal to take three separate appointments just to do the root work
Japanese: we have to wait for the swelling to go down and for the bleeding to stop before proceeding. We worry that it might be painful for the patient to bite.
Canadian: But. . but. . . if you remove the source of the inflamation to begin with, there won't BE any swelling!
Japanese lady: What? but if you do it all at once, won't the gum swell up like so (see the diagram)?
Canadian: I have never heard of any case like that. It's rare enough that there is any pain at all.
Right page: KEEP A LID ON IT
top panel: When i started work at a new company they gave me a lot of stuff . . . cellphone, text-messager, laminated badge, books, and so on.
second panel: Anti-crime buzzer? With an instruction manual? Is that even neccessary?!?
third panel: "After you receive the buzzer, try it out right then and there to make sure that the batteries function."
fourth panel: right here? But the hospital boss is having a meeting in the next room!
THE BIG GUIDE TO TABLETS VOLUME 4
This book rates breath-mints. The criteria are:
product name, country, company name, catch copy, remarks, date bought, place bought, is it still on the market?, weight, price, ingredients, calories.
Then: the exact millimeters (to the tenth of a milimeter) height, width, and depth of the individual pills. (sigh).
At the bottom: rankings for mintiness, flavor, and "would I want to buy it again?"
Interesting nihongo note : the top-left brand is SHE-HER-HER.
The "sss" sounds of the English "she" , sounds like "suu-suu", which is the Japanese "sound effect" of mintiness.
The breathy, puffing sounds of "her-her" sounds like the sound of exhaling on someone, which is what you can do if you have good breath.
CONVINIENCE STORE CAFE AU-LAIT REVIEW
Here the cafe au-lait are reviewed by:
Honestly I haven't had the nerve to open this one. But based on the title i would say it is an essay like Malthus or Hobbes.
EROMANGA LOVERS VOL.1
FUNDAMENTAL SPECIALIZED JARGON AND KNOWLEDGE FOR EROTIC MANGA: CREATION, ILLUSTRATION, AND CONCEPTS
This is a highbrow one! It's a sort of dictionary of terms – not dirty words but conceptual terms that one might use to write "art criticism" of ero manga. Like before you start writing your ero-manga critical blog, you first need to make some jargon. More than a dictionary, it doesn't just define the words but it explains why the concepts are important to the history of eromanga, why they are uh satisfying in a way that just regular naked pictures are not.
Unfortunately most of these terms are not as unique or philosophical as the author seems to think they are – things like POV porn, analog vs. digital art styles, self-aware ero-manga references, "finishing scenes", and clothes becoming transparent due to being soaking wet.
and then there's this:名古屋
MISSLES FROM THE ASS!
back cover copy: GIRLS' ASSES ARE "ENEMY AIRSPACE."
Does anybody have any idea what this is a parody of?
RESEARCH OF THE PEOPLES' UNIFORMS
UNIFORMS OF SUN YAT-SEN
This is a scholarly, 6-page leaflet describing how Chinese nationalist Sun Yat-Sen designed what would become famous as the "mao uniform" while studying in Japan at the turn of the last century. At the time, China was being colonized by whitey.
they have their own logo!
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
p2: a small encyclopedia of fascism
p12: the great experiment named fascism
p15: a small lecture on fascism
p16: my personal opinion re: the uniforms
p18: a general introduction to the Japan Justice Party
p22: the raw material of the third revolution
p28: the black light of fascism which shined on Tokyo
p31: poems about fascism.
NEW BIG FRIENDS' STUDY SERIES, ZERO FOUNDATION:
INSTANT BONDING GLUE BOOK: EXTREMELY SMALL NOZZLE EDITION!
Nothing but the tiniest nozzles of model glue applicators, for detail gundam work, one assumes.
the first half of this book is about nazi uniforms and serious military history. the second half is basically the most baffling manga ever.
It starts with Donald Rumsfeld vowing revenge on Adolf Eichmann (it's a common misconception that Rumsfeld is Jewish), and then Rumsfeld transforms into Obama, who summons a sailor-moon version of who now? Hillary.
Just as sailor hillary and obama are ready to fight nazis, a huge amount of Ronald McDonalds all jump in and the americans team up with nazis to fight them. Yes the nazis are using iron crosses as shuriken.
In the end, a dracula-looking Josef Menegle flies in to save the day with his surgical tools.
There is no explanation for this.
FUNNY NAMES FOR AGRICULTURAL CHEMICALS, VOLUME 4!
This particular page is a review of a pesticide for rice called JUDGE.
name: Judge brand boxed medicine
ingredients: ben furakarubu (5%), purobenazooru (24%)
form: white powder
notes: Not related to The Disciplinary Committe
Not enough for Level Four Teleportation Ability.
For rice disease
Causes water pollution, so don't let the water drain out of your field into rivers.
Not related to the wild bird die-off in Nagano.
The cartoon at the bottom features the zine's mascot, saying,
"IT'S TIME FOR THE FINAL JUDGEMENT!!!!!!
THIS PRODUCT IS. . . it is. . .uh., er, that is . . .uhhh"
Other "funny" agricultural chemical names are:
KUSA-RANGER (literally grass ranger, but sounds like "stinky ranger")
HOME RUN KING
THE CHINA-DRESS WAITRESSES!
a " WORLD OF CHINA-DRESSES" SPECIAL EDITION
A page-by-page review of restaraunts, omitting any mention of whether the food is good.
KUN PO, in ikebukuro.
dress shape : one-piece dresses, as well as others
sleeves: mostly mid-upper-arm-length
hemline: various lengths. Waitresses with mini-dresses wear black stockings.
dress slit: many types
They then note that "Besides china-dresses, many other Asian costumes can be seen: Ao Dai, Thai, Malaysia, South Asian costumes, etc."
MITSUME AND YUNBO!
This zine is an example of another repeating motif of these zines: anthropomorphism. That is to say, Japanese people tend to look at things and ask themselves, "If this thing were a cute girl, what would she look like?"
In this case, the authors did a book of the equipment being used to clean up the Tohoku region (the region of north-east Japan ravaged by the tsunami and earthquake). In the upper left corner of the cover you can see the personification of one of the claw-machines.
CANNED COFFEE CAFE MOCHA-CHAN VOL.3
This is a whole book of illustrations of "what different kinds of canned coffee would look like if they were cute girls." here is Wonda brand coffee:
Another magazine which does the same thing, but with more details:
Wonda is named Asami, she is 15 yeas old, and she thinks it's a shame to just only use Wonda to help her wake up in the morning.
below: UCHUU DE KYA-KYA!
LET'S GET WACKY IN SPACE!
This is an educational gag-manga about sattelites Ikaros (a space exploration sattelite) and Akatsuki (the venus climate orbiter). It is staggeringly unfunny.
AT THE AMUSEMENT PARK
IKAROS: let's ride this one (points to spinning cups)
AKATSUKI: Ikaros really likes rotating things!
AKATSUKI: 25rpm? Isn't that too fast?
IKAROS: Akatsuki are you scared!
IKAROS: But isn't it more scary to be shot in a rocket into outer space?
(gales of laughter)
LEFT SIDE: TRIM YOUR SAILS!
(the friends are now in the cup ride)
AKATSUKI: it's spinning at a pretty normal speed!
(a third satellite is at the control panel)
THIRD SATELLITE: let's make things more interesting! (increases speed)
IKAROS: (turns into hamster) (hamsters like going round in their little exercise wheels)
IKAROS: TURN FASTER!
AKATSUKI: I KNEW IT!
On second thought, this is pretty funny.
10,000 YEN AN HOUR! ACTUAL EXPERIENCES OF A NAGOYA WORKING GIRL, VOL. 5
Again, there's a whole row of booths of these type of manga. 4-panel gag cartoons about bad vs. good customers, mostly.
a model-railroad hobby magazine that is so otaku, there is NO TRAINS in it. Too mainstream, man. This just focuses on the little buildings and people that go in them.
There are articles about guys that replicated specific (fictional) stations from famous anime, and articles about how to use graphic design software to design and print custom tiny decals for the various busses and convinence stores that populate your train set.
This is a zine about how to use various affordable home radiation detection devices to measure fallout from the Fukushima plant.
Above, the author checking air levels near the street sign showing the location. The lower picture is him leaving the device out overnight to capture the radiation footprint of overnight rains.
THE FIRST-TIMERS' GUIDE TO CROWD CONTROL, SPECIAL EDITION
"NOTHING SCARES ME AFTER THIS" . . .OR DOES IT?
FROM THE PREPARATIONS BEFORE THE EVENT, TO THE DAY AFTER, THE REAL EXPERIENCES OF EVENT STAFF
This is mind-blowingly good: a guide to how to do crowd control AT EVENTS LIKE THE ONE IN WHICH IT IS BEING SOLD.
All these big nerd conventions have hundreds of temp-staff crowd-control kids waving people this way and that way, organizing queues so that they don't get in the way of other queues, shouting out of megaphones, and making a nuisance of themselves.
Below: an organizational chart showing how a mid-sized event crowd-control staff breaks down:
BACKUP AUDIO TECHNIQUES FOR PRACTICAL USE VOL.3
DOES THIS HEADPHONE REALLY HAVE THE BOOMING BASS ADVERTISED?
DOES DE-OXYGENATED COPPER WIRE REALLY IMPROVE THE QUALITY OF SOUND?
LET'S TRY THE FREE HEADPHONES THAT COME WITH THE MP3 PLAYER FOR NOW. . .
THE ADVERTISEMENT THAT PROMISES "SUPER SOND" . . . WITH SUCH ENGRISH, ARE THE CLAIMS CREDIBLE?
WELCOME TO THE WORLD OF SUPER-CHEAP HEADPHONES! BUT PERHAPS THERE IS A HIDDEN GEM HERE WITH REAL BALLS!!!
This is a huge book of technical specifications of under-$10 earbuds and the free earbuds that come with consumer electronics.
That is all that it is. No reviews. Just hard scientific data!
ERO MANGA STATISTICS #8
AN ANALYSIS OF ADULT MANGA
THE SECRET STATISTICAL AVERAGES OF THE GIRLS!
WITH YOUR OWN SKILLS, MAKE A DISTRIBUTED DATABASE TO QUANTIFY YOUR CONCEPT OF CUTENESS!
This is my favorite of the bunch: simultaneously serious, rigorously executed, and self-consciously idiotic.
all the dots are different sex acts. I have no idea what the x and y axes are for. The main oval clusters are "penile penetration acts," "acts where the man does to the woman," and "acts where the woman does to the man."
below, more of same.
what makes this wonderful is that I WOULD BE JUST AS CONFUSED BY A "SERIOUS" STATISTICAL DIAGRAM . . . IN ENGLISH.
below, the four lines plot the statistical likelihood, per page, of 4 kinds of sex acts in 11 different manga?
the four kinds are (I think) – man on top, woman on top, doggy-style, and anal.
in the middle graph, the four lines indicate different kinds of illegal acts:
sex with virgins, sex with minors, adultery and .. . . some other illegal act.
The third graph: the likelyhood of breast milk, vagina juice, and semen.
next, a look at the most common behaviors in the beginning part / middle part/ and end part of ero-manga.
next, . . .???? Honestly?!?!?! Someone help me out here. . .
next, a breakdown of how often the male version of something is shown vs. the female version of that thing.
For instance, at the top, the likelihood that the woman's face is visible is exactly 97.62%.
ALso: sex organs, butts, and underpants. Male underpants are only visible 0.46% – once in 200 manga!
ERO MANGA STATISTICS
LET'S GO HOME AND DO STATISTICS TOGETHER!
MOST LUXURIOUS STATISTICS BASE!
ERO GAME STATISTICS!
WHO ISN'T EXCITED TO HAVE A HAREM OF HEROINES?!?
Here 's a whole book of the "decision trees" used in creating choose-your-own-adventure style dating-simulation and sex games.
And a list of heroines' hair color, as it correlates to their likelihood of doing various nasty things.
Middle graph: eye color and same.
Lower graph: um, breast color?!?
heroines' secondary-sex characteristics: body size, breast size, do they have glasses? and so on.
below: brutal concrete "toys" from a park by the Tama river.
yes, it's a trilobite. My first thought was GOD I LOVE THIS COUNTRY.
amazing pedestrian walkway by my local station:
above: the pagoda facade was a nice touch.
back to the Tama river, a bit after the scary animal park is this: MAEDA AUTO – a company that rents exotic vehicles for TV and movie use!
Right next to Maeda Auto is a garbage hauling company that doubles as a uyoku (right-wing militia) group. Keeping Japan pure both metaphorically AND literally! The guys in their trash truck were on the left, while their right-wing loudspeaker truck was on the right. it was – i am not joking – playing speeches and patriotic songs as the guys were working.
It was kind of like a neo-nazi version of Stanford and Son!
below: why did i snap this picture of a typical, if run-down apartment?
the security camera! I was biking with my Japanese friend and said, "WTF security camera? In this dump? What do they have worth stealing?" and my friend said, "The camera is to prevent people from dumping their trash in the trash bins."
Readers: is this a phenomenon in your home countries?
Break in my house, sure, but for God's sake don't dump your trash. Recycling rules around this town are baroque as fuck. Like you can only recycle bottles twice a month. if you miss your deadline, you're stuck with them for 2 weeks. That might not seem like much, but multiply that by all the different types of trash, and multiply THAT by the fact that the vast majority of apartments don't have a dumpster. This means you are expected to keep several weeks of trash in your apartment and only throw it out THE DAY OF.
The building above, although crappy in most respects, has the most coveted of luxuries: a dumpster! Hence the camera.
Lest you think I'm exaggerating, here's another trash-cam, from a totally different 'hood:
What's funny to me is that the main building is a CUSTOM CAR PARTS STORE. And it DOES NOT have an external cam.
So next time you're trying to explain to your friends about Japan being sort of obsessed with purity and contamination, you now have another example.
below: what I hate about summers in Japan:
cicadas nesting in my beard.
below: some raunchy warehouses down where Tama river meets the ocean:
And now back to trash! Here is a forlorn pillow/panda. I don't know what's funnier: that the trash-collectors (perhaps the same uyoku from Nazi Stanford and Son?!?) didn't collect it, or that they attached a note to it, explaining specifically what bureaucratic category panda/pillows fall into.
and a photo roundup would never be complete without some language fun. . .
below, the absolute shittiest park in Tokyo:
it's your typical dirt-lot that passes for public recreation in "the world's most expensive city." But – check out the natural wonderland right behind the wall! What sets this dirt-lot apart from every other dirt-lot is that THE WHOLE PURPOSE OF THE PARK IS TO MAKE YOU JEALOUS OF THE REAL PARK BEHIND THE WALL. That walled-off bit of gorgeousness and lush greenery is basically the ONLY thing you can see from the dirt lot.
This represents the pure, distilled, concentrated, raw and uncut essence of Japanese parks: the public "park" is a vacant lot, while the private "not a park" is full of trees, lawns, probably duckies and bunnies.
Pure dick move.
Also: the non-park ALSO has video-cameras, just in case.
I went around it one time on the ole' bicycle, and it seems to NOT be a temple or museum – it looks like some Yakuza headquarters / fort thing.
below: more of Tokyo's "nature": a bit of the Zenpukujigawa river, which they're not content with concreting the bottom and sides, now they're building over the TOP of it, too. Rode the bike downriver from the construction, and the whole river turns like milky, semen-y white. WTF are they building there?
but it's not all bad: check out this AWESOME house in Nishi-Shinjuku:
below: a bus ad for a prep-school course. Normal so far, but . . .
Below: THIS is how a river is SUPPOSED to look:
A while back, I posted about these small shrines squeezed between modern-style buildings. And I stole the photos from other blogs, only linking to a few of them. I guess that is Tumblr's whole business model. Anyway here are some more pictures that I actually took this time;
America! One week! Two universities, two clashes with police!
In this corner: UC Berkeley, where some students were camping out in support of increased taxes for the rich. The students were peaceful, but 3,000 cops come out of nowhere and kick their ass, drag some to jail, mace everybody.
In that corner: Penn State, where students gathered to protest the firing of a coach who covered up for a child molester for over a decade as he preyed on more and more young boys. The Penn students were violent, and the cops wept quietly in a corner, letting students rage on for hours, before dispersing them with no injuries. . . the cops don't seem to remember if they arrested anyone at all.
The American media reacted swiftly: "Even though most protestors were not violent, the violent few discredited the whole movement with their anarchist ways and disrespect for authority. This movement has no future and lost all popular support. Clearly football nationwide should be banned."No comments
Like some people say they are awesome and others (hippies) say they are immoral (WTF targeting people for death based on statistical algorhythms of “behavior patterns?”), but here’s one thing I haven’t heard either side even say once::
“What’s gonna happen when Russia gets drones? When China gets drones? When they start selling them drones to all the little countries around the world which we’re presently droning the shit out of?”
I mean, how weird is it that no one is pointing this out. . . even liberal hippies are just taking it for granted that USA is the only one who will ever have drones- our assumptions about American military supremacy so deep we can’t even question it.
But think about it – how long did we have the H-Bomb for, before Russia got it? Or the A-Bomb? How long did the Russians have that shit before China got one? How long did we have PONG before the Japanese invented Nintendo and then nobody bought American video games for 30 years?
Here’s another weird thing: even back in the George W. Bush days when no one really bothered to argue about policy (“If you criticize the COMMANDER IN CHIEF during WARTIME you are a TRAITOR TO MER’CUH!” remember that? Whatever happened to those people?)
But even in those days, you’d find military guys speaking out occasionally against our new “Torture Is Awesome” policy on the strategic (not moral) grounds that “When, not if, our soliders get taken prisoner in the future, if we torture, then our enemies will be more likely to torture US.”
And now in the Obama days, we can’t even muster up that level of elementary “what-if?” for our drone-related arguments.
So let me be the one to put that shit out there:
What’s gonna happen when Russia gets drones? When China gets drones? When they start selling them drones to all the little countries around the world which we’re presently droning the shit out of?
Not saying "never have drones". Just saying, why isn't this kind of basic strategic concern even a little tiny part of our national debate?
Plus, you think Homeland Security is taking away Americans’ rights NOW??
When whatever borderline insane “freedom fighters” that we are presently funding to help us fight GWOT inevitably turn into Next Generation Super Wacko Gives No Fuck Al Queda and THEY get drones (that we sold them?!?!?). . . . what the fuck kind of new Homeland Security rules is the government going to impose to "keep us safe" from THAT shit?
We’re going to be nostalgic for the time we ONLY got our email read and our radioactive naked pictures taken at the airport.10 comments
speeches start at noon @ the amphitheater in the park.
If I'm reading this flyer correctly, the actual march doesn't start until around 3:30, and will go from hibiya park past the TEPCO office!
also, these links:
KILL THE KINGGGGGGGGGGGG
HOLE IN THE HEAD
DEAD IN A DITCH
YOU'RE GONNA GET YOURS
LYBIAN HIT SQUAD
X IS COMING
KILLING AN ARAB
WELCOME TO HELLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL
YOU GOT KNOCKED THE FUCK OUT6 comments
CHAPTER THREE: THE FLOOD OF STANDARDIZED SPEECH.
Again I have a syndrome to report to you: I suffer from “slogan neurosis.”
For a long time, the whole length and breadth of my country has been blanketed in these DON’T DO THIS! DO IT LIKE THAT! slogans – what I’d like to call ‘Behavior Management Broadcasts’. I’ve managed to tolerate them until recently, but now they cause me mental suffering! It’s not just that they turn our streets into ugly places.
Warning slogans like PLEASE DON’T THROW YOUR CIGARETTE BUTTS ON THE GROUND and LET’S NOT PICK THE FLOWERS and PLEASE STOP PARKING CARS WHERE THEY WILL BE A NUISANCE TO OTHERS, to say nothing of ‘road-manners’ slogans like LET’S GREET PEOPLE CHEERFULLY TODAY and LET’S WATCH OUT FOR THE CHILDREN ON THEIR WAY TO AND FROM SCHOOL . . .they cause spiritual harm to us all.
Everyone has individuality. Grown-ups should have the mental capacity to make their own judgments and take responsibility for their own actions. But these slogans are trying to destroy that. Our culture is packed to the brim with every possible slogan, but the powers-that-be don’t expect us to read each one, think about it, and accept its message. That isn’t the point. It’s just like promotional signs for businesses: the signs and slogans work subliminally on the passers-by, precisely because we don’t take time to look and judge them objectively. Their messages hover between conscious and unconscious thought, guiding us. That’s the point. That’s why the powers that be don’t want Japanese to develop a sense of self-responsibility and critical thinking: those things are totally opposed to the process I just described.
Allow me to take this explanation a bit further: TV commercials attempt to persuade us to buy certain things without us realizing it. In the same way, DON’T LITTER banners attempt, through sheer repetition rather than logic or instilling a sense of responsibility for one’s actions, to get us to obey. They try to stop the thought of “I’ll drop my cigarette here” from even occurring in our minds, without us even noticing that our behavior has changed or asking why. Surely that is the goal of the behavior management slogans! The same way with the LET’S GREET EVERYONE CHEERFULLY slogans on the street . .. if you see the same slogan every day for years, you’ll start to find the phrase “Hello sir!” coming from your throat as if it was a natural reflex. That’s what the city officials are hoping will happen.
If you think about it this way, they’re taking away our ability to consent. The message is supposed to sink into your body through repetition and be absorbed. That seems to be a central principle of Japanese culture: without exception, Japanese training in everything from tea ceremony to kendo is conducted in this way.
And that’s why we have this magma-like flood of behavior management slogan posters. Back when this type of training was limited to things like kendo and tea ceremony, I think it had beneficial effects. But the dam broke, spilling slogans and posters over the entire surface of Japan! It’s a crisis, because, as I said, the behavior management slogans are designed to operate subliminally. Our bodies cry out in protest, though we know not why. Our critical thinking and individual-responsibility faculties are being suppressed. We’re living in a time of spiritual violence! Instead of strict mental training, from now on we’ll only get simplistic advice. We’re turning into a nation of “body-ism,” where the mind doesn’t matter anymore.
And let me add something else, a little icing on the cake for my more astute readers: my biggest reason for hating these slogans is NOT that they are turning the MASSES stupid by inhibiting their faculties for self-determination, critical thinking, and self-responsibility. I’m not that philosophical. My #1 beef is this: I can’t tune them out!
Unlike most Japanese, I have to stop at each one and ponder if I agree with its message, and weigh it critically to see if it’s logical. I’ve tried to stop doing this, as there are millions of these things and I’m busy, but it’s impossible for me! I can’t stand it anymore! I can’t walk down a simple street without having a mental argument with every flag, poster, banner, sign, and flyer! On the streets, in the trains, at the amusement parks, my place of work. . .the signs are everywhere, there is no escaping them, they assault my body from all sides, leaving me both physically and mentally exhausted.
DON’T FORCE OPEN THE ELEVATOR DOORS, PLEASE
I’m sure you’re sick of me always complaining about my employer, Dentsu University, but fucking West Hall Four was just built and already it’s full of dreadful behavior management slogans: PLEASE DON’T THROW YOUR TRASH ON THE FLOOR, LAST PERSON IN THE ROOM PLEASE TURN OUT THE LIGHTS WHEN YOU LEAVE, and so on. The most absurd of them all is: PEOPLE WHO DO NOT PROMISE TO FOLLOW ALL THE ABOVE SLOGANS ARE FORBIDDEN TO ENTER THE CLASSROOM.
No one is reading these things! Nobody asked for them, either. But, nobody minds them either. Nobody says a word in protest. Sometimes in the middle of class (especially big classes with a hundred students), I will suddenly ask the kids, “Does anybody know what is written up there?” The kids turn to look, but so far not a one has been able to say, “Yes.”
The elevator in the main administration building has warnings posted : CHILDREN, PLEASE DON’T RIDE ON ME WITHOUT AN ADULT and DON’T LEAN ON MY DOORS! But the most ridiculous one has got to be: PLEASE DON’T FORCE MY DOORS OPEN. Perhaps I’m the only person in the whole campus to read this warning! But, it’s better to evaluate them consciously (as pesky as they are) than to be controlled by them unconsciously.
At Narita airport, the immigration station, there’s a hilariously oversized banner reading: INTERNATIONAL PEOPLE, FOLLOW THE RULES!!! (in Japanese, of course). Some hero must have thought this would stop people from trying to bring in drugs or guns.
I could go on forever with these sorts of examples. It seems like in the time it takes to read one of these ridiculous signs, someone installs ten more signs in a row!
In Choufu city, there’s a paved road running along the banks of the Tama river. One day in summer, around sundown, I was walking with some of my friends. Many other people were also out for a stroll. A man and a woman were jogging. We could see endless rows of hills in the distance. I felt freed from my worries, freed from the weight of my anxieties at last.
But even here, there were signs, in letters over a meter high, saying, DON’T RUN FAST HERE, BE CAREFUL OF PEOPLE AROUND YOU. Can’t we call an end to this nonsense? Of course one should be careful about people around one! But as I’ve said before, the signs aren’t meant to be read, or taken literally. . .they exist to make us want more signs! They exist to replace critical thought and self-responsibility, and, little by little, instill a deep craving in our bodies for signs and slogans to tell us what to do at all times.
At the Chofu station coin lockers, there’s a sign reading PLEASE CHECK YOUR BELONGINGS ONE MORE TIME. What does that even mean?!? Oh – I get it: Maybe people put their stuff in one locker but take the key from the adjoining locker. Wait, that doesn’t make sense. Hm. Well, maybe. . . . maybe they have so much stuff that they have to use two lockers? And then they take the key for one locker, and leave, while leaving the other locker unlocked? That’s probably it.
At the newly-renovated Sangawa station men’s bathroom, there’s a sign by each urinal: TAKE ONE STEP CLOSER, PLEASE. Well, that’s easy to understand: that’s to stop urine from splattering on the floor. It’s the OTHER sign that’s ALSO pasted above each urinal that I don’t get: LET’S USE THE RESTROOM CLEANLY TO EACH OTHER. “To each other”?!? Maybe it means to consider the next person to use the urinal when you’re using it? Or does ‘to each other’ include the person before you, who used the urinal improperly? If so, that’s quite a strong message!
At the JR Bakurochou station, there’s a long escalator, and on both sides, there are signs posted at regular intervals, reading BETWEEN THE ESCALATOR HANDRAIL AND THE WALL, THERE IS A SMALL GAP. PLEASE DON’T DROP YOUR TICKET IN THIS GAP.
Just by reading this sign, I am forced to imagine the entire absurd useless sequence of events: I have to imagine customers (how many? One? Three? Half a dozen?) with no common sense, dropping their tickets in the tiny gap. Then I have to imagine the train-station employees stopping the escalator, putting up safety cones, and searching under the escalator until they find it. Then I have to imagine them finally getting fed up and complaining to the station chief, and thus the creation of these signs. How exhausting to even imagine it. . . It’s no wonder no one reads them!
One time I made the mistake of leaving the house with my glasses on, which allowed me to accidentally notice many far-away slogans, forcing me to imagine even more and more of these ridiculous chains of events! I got sucked into them, staring vacantly into the distance. . . I almost was unable to reach my destination!
My own fault, I suppose.
THE JAPANESE-VIENNESE SCHOOL FLOODED WITH SLOGANS
But the fact is, we people with “slogan neurosis” are even more of a minority in this country than people with “cultural noise neurosis.” In a world where we’re all surrounded and suffocated by slogans such as FASTEN YOUR SEATBELTS or DONATE BLOOD PLEASE or THIS BLOCK IS WATCHED BY THE NEIGHBORHOOD ANTI-CRIME PATROL or LET’S NOT FORGET TO LEND A HAND or LET’S MAKE THIS A KIND, INTIMATE NEIGHBORHOOD, almost no one questions it, let alone suffers from the overwhelming amounts of it.
The situation is particularly bad in schools. There’s almost no teachers left who can even imagine doubting the slogan-based teaching methods. They line the children up and bombard them with loudspeaker announcement after announcement with a single-minded fierceness. They pickle the children with their slogans! By the time the children are “educated”, they turn into adults who feel very anxious or uneasy if they’re NOT surrounded by signs: warnings, be careful’s, advice, prohibitions, etc.
My son went to the experimental Meisei school here in Japan, then to Vienna for a year to study (four months at a Japanese-Viennese school, and a further eight months at an American English International School). I confess I was very curious about what effect these various educational environments would have on him!
The Meisei school was dedicated to encouraging freedom of thought and individuality in the children. So, there are none of the usual behavior management slogans that crawl on most school walls, bathrooms, halls, and gardens like so many cockroaches. No “PLEASE OBEY THE XXXX” or “PLEASE STOP DOING YYY.”
Somehow, just by removing these nuisances, the atmosphere of the place seems very un-Japanese. . . .is that really what “Japanese-ness” has been reduced to?
On the other hand, when I went to visit the Japanese-Viennese school, I was taken aback: they had EVEN MORE of the management slogan posters than in Japan! The irony! As if they were trying to protect the children from the foreign European cultures, they tried to cram every single slogan into one tiny room. The room was called, of course, The Japanese Culture Center! You couldn’t set one foot inside the halls without seeing some vertical banners saying something like this:
JUST BY HOLDING HANDS, WE CAN BRING SMILES TO THE WHOLE WORLD
And these three, written in huge letters:
THIS WEEK’S GOAL: GREET OTHERS PLEASANTLY WITHOUT SHYNESS!
LET’S ALL TRY TO BE ON TIME!
LET’S BALANCE OUR STUDY WITH PHYSICAL EXERCISE!
And another example: on the blackboard of my junior-high-aged son’s classroom:
OUR SLOGAN: EDUCATION TO DEVELOP OUR DREAMS!
THIS SCHOOL MAKES LEARNING FUN!
A SPUNKY SCHOOL FOR US!
OUR FUNDAMENTAL MISSION:
ONE: CONSIDERATE CHILDREN
TWO: STRONG HEALTHY CHILDREN
THREE: THOUGHTFUL CHILDREN
FOUR: CHILDREN THAT WON’T LEAVE A TASK HALF-DONE
FIVE: CHILDREN WITH THEIR EYES ON THE WORLD
Of course, the blackboard already had a lot of other slogans crammed in the corners : FREEDOM, COOPERATION, LIVELINESS and mysteriously, in English, PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT.
It was as if there was a bit of “concentrated Japan” floating in the absolutely non-Japanese atmosphere of Vienna.
One day, my son – already 14 years old – brought home the following SAFETY FIRST! Pamphlet from school.
SAFETY WHEN WALKING ON THE STREET:
Make sure to stay on the sidewalk!
Make sure to check both ways before crossing!
Don’t go in parking lots!
Please be safe when riding your bicycle!
If you see someone you know, greet them cheerfully!
If you don’t know them, don’t stop!
SAFETY WHEN RIDING CARS OR BUSES
Don’t stand up or yell!
Don’t annoy those around you!
Don’t play with the doors!
SAFETY WHEN RIDING THE SCHOOLBUS
Say hello to the driver cheerfully!
Fasten your seat-belts!
Don’t stand or yell!
Don’t eat or drink on the bus!
Remember where your stop is!
Don’t do anything else bad!
The pamphlet then went into even greater detail:
Only cross in the crosswalks!
Check both ways before crossing!
Greet people cheerfully!
Don’t do anything that people might think is dangerous!
Treat the bus seats and items carefully! And so on.
A whole page of these stock phrases, fluttering by like zero gravity.
I think the purpose is not bus safety – the purpose is creating the type of children that find this level of BS normal or even trustworthy. Well, there’s nothing I can do about that. That’s what people demand of schools nowadays! That’s how we make Japanese people Japanese. By the time they grow up, they won’t find anything absurd, or petty, or infantalizing about “grown up” signs like THROW YOUR TRASH IN THE TRASH BIN or OBEY THE TRAFFIC SIGNALS or DON’T BRING DANGEROUS THINGS IN THE PARK.
WE GRATEFULLY THANK YOU FOR USING THE KICHIJOJI BRANCH ONCE AGAIN!
It’s not merely that I hate slogans. What really causes problems is that I hate the Japanese-y way that people use the Japanese language. Especially the standardized, robotic politeness – it causes me actual bodily pain!
When I’m working from home, I sometimes get a call. I know it’s not from anybody I want to talk to, because I’ve already told all my friends not to call me at home (I consider it a violation of my private space). But there it was, ringing, so I had to answer it.
“This is Mizuho Bank, Kichijoji branch respectfully calling. Thank you for honorably using our branch for your banking needs! Is this the honorable Nakajima residence?”
“Honorable Mr. Nakajima, I’m sorry to bother you, but are you the head of the household?”
“Are you the honorable husband of the household? Once again, thank you for honorably using Kichijoji branch for all your banking needs. Today, I humbly would like to present a proposal, which is why I have humbly telephoned your honorable residence.”
“The fact of the matter is, I’d humbly like to make you aware of a new form of high-interest account which . . .”
Irritated, I cut him off by saying, “I have no interest in this!” and hung up. Partially because of the cumulative rage built up by who-knows-how-many of these phone calls, but mostly because, as I just mentioned, the insufferable, robotic politeness which runs in direct contradiction to the rudeness of the actual content of the message.
It doesn’t matter who calls me, it’s always the same phrases: “Once again, thank you for honorably using Kichijoji branch for all your banking needs.” I suppose that’s part of their training.
In the time it takes for me to use the ticket machine for the shinkansen, the machine yells at me at least ten fucking times, THANK YOU FOR HONORABLY USING OUR HUMBLE SHINKANSEN SERVICE WE ARE GRATEFUL HONORED CUSTOMER! I absolutely have had it up to here with this phenomenon! It’s a stereotyped politeness with no informational content whatsoever. In department stores and restaurants too, it’s bad enough that they play tapes, but every meaningful sentence has to be accompanied by a stereotyped formal phrase of equal or greater length: THANK YOU FOR HONORABLY USING OUR HUMBLE XXXXX STORE!
And what’s more, many of these announcements are recorded in a cloying, too-sweet voice, like someone trying to coax a cat. More and more, it seems as if the politeness and the anxiety are forming an alliance against me!
My wise readers might by now have realized that it is the very machine-like, rote nature of our business-related language that makes it easy to adjust to actual pre-recorded tapes and announcements. But that doesn’t make the phenomenon natural or forgivable! If anything, my “Mechanical-noise neurosis” stems from the fact that we flesh-and-blood humans are nowadays being raised to imitate the speaking style of the tape machines!!
And this insidious problem is not limited to words, either. The whole “extreme politeness” phenomenon makes a mockery of the individuality of the speaker at the same time that it totally ignores the individuality of the listener. As far as I can tell, far from being ‘tradition’, it’s the most UN-natural thing in the world! The young women working in department stores and banks . . . when they are on their lunch break , they sound absolutely different! When talking to their co-workers, they use a way of speaking and a tone of voice which is natural for them. (when I was a student, one time I worked part-time in a department store, and that’s how I know this). The metamorphosis is so complete, it’s a gut-wrenching thing to watch.
In the West, the manners of sales-girls and bank tellers is less affected. Even at Macdonald’s, the staff don’t have to be as rigid and long-winded as their Japanese counterparts, who say HONORABLE WELCOME! WHEN YOU DECIDE, PLEASE BE SO KIND AS TO LET US KNOW. PLEASE WAIT A MOMENT!
As for Japanese bank tellers, it doesn’t matter what unreasonable demands the customer makes, or how rude he is – they have to respond to any and all treatment with the same wan smile and deferential attitude, to the last drop of their endurance. Their Western counterparts are free to adjust their own attitude in response to the customer’s: they can be as blunt or curt as the situation demands. It’s an altogether more human policy. And when a regular customer comes in, they can greet him or her with informal friendliness, and even make small talk!!
As you can see, I prefer the Western attitude towards customer service, but it’s not merely an issue of personal taste. In Western countries, you absolutely won’t find this nationwide blanket of loudspeaker announcements, and that’s not personal taste, that’s a fact.
In my country, customer-service people are expected to lose their capacity to show emotion. If anything, they’re expected to transform into deferential robots. If you go to any bank, you can hear for yourself that the young woman at the counter talks exactly like the pre-recorded tape at the self-service ATM machine. This “the more mechanical the better” ideal of customer service is probably one of the main culprits of the whole CULTURAL NOISE phenomenon: If we didn’t expect our clerks to talk like machines, then we wouldn’t demand machines that talk in the first place!
Japanese people who have been born and raised in such an environment grow up to expect and even demand this. The mechanical language and the over-politeness, functions just like the slogans, the SOUNDS, and the obsessive signage: we feel anxious and even uneasy without them. I’ll discuss this in more detail in the following section.
STANDARDIZED AND MACHINELIKE, UN-EMOTIONAL SPEECH
The following incident occurred when I gave a lecture at Kyoto’s Bukyou University.
A few days after I returned to Tokyo, I received this letter from Bukyou:
DEAR AND HONORED PROFESSOR,
Please allow us to humbly state that it was our honor to have the honorable opportunity to hear your honorable lecture. Every time you honor our humble educational center with your unforgettable words, you bring us honor and more honor. Allow us to humbly state that the contents of your honorable lecture were sublime and we humbly owe you a huge debt of gratitude. Anytime you honorably wish to honorably return and impart more of your honorable wisdom, please don’t hesitate to honorably let us know. Please allow us to humbly state that we have humbly presented your honorarium fee to your honorable bank account. We wish you the best of luck in your future honorable endeavors, and anxiously await further guidance, should you wish to honorably bestow it upon us. Please look favorably upon our humble educational center.
Please accept our humble and most sincere wishes for good luck in your honorable and great career, as well as our humble and most sincere wishes for your continued good health.
The respectful language aside, I get this exact same letter every time I go there. As does everyone else who guest-lectures there. I don’t know if it gets on their nerves as much as it gets on mine. But to me, it’s a form letter, all the worse for pretending to not be one.
But the majority of Japanese don’t react like I do to this kind of pre-formatted polite language. They prefer their thank-you letters to be superficial and devoid of content. It’s just the same as the loudspeaker announcements that blare THANK YOU VERY MUCH : they understand the sentiments without really thinking about the content. Just like the PLEASE DON’T CROWD ONTO THE TRAINS, AS IT IS DANGEROUS warnings which play all day on the station platforms. People are bathed in these announcements every morning but don’t think about it one way or the other.
Now, let me return to my story about the annoying phone call from Mizuho bank, Kichijoji branch. Seeing as how I was too wound-up to return to work, I decided to use the time to call the branch manager directly. I said, “I’d like to complain about the attitude of the staffer who called me.”
“What’s the matter? Was he rude, sir?”
(Oh, that’s right: in this country, only insufficient politeness is considered grounds for complaint)
“No, he was a nuisance to me because his choice of words was TOO polite.”
“See, I work from home. If he’s going to interrupt my labor, he should come right to the point rather than waste time with phrases like WE GRATEFULLY THANK YOU FOR USING THE KICHIJOJI BRANCH ONCE AGAIN! And other such clichés, again and again and again. Won’t you please make him stop? Can you explain to me how that is supposed to make it more sincere? If anything it strikes me as inginburei ( 慇懃無礼：polite on the surface but actually contemptuous; offensively obsequious)”
“*sighs* I’m very sorry we interrupted your work.”
And that was about the end of the call! The branch manager didn’t understand – make that didn’t WANT to understand – what I was talking about. Perhaps I should have apologized for speaking so rashly. I merely meant to indicate that if they really want to show respect for me, personally, as a customer, then they should show this by taking my personal preferences into account. Of course there’s many different kinds of regular customers, and they all have their own ways of talking. Perhaps some of them like the excessive politeness. Perhaps for some of them it doesn’t cause unease and resentment.
So I’m not asking you to change your whole speech for everybody. Just, if you call me, get to the point like so: THIS IS MIZUHO BANK, KICHIJOJI BARNCH. IS NAKAJIMA HOME? I WOULD LIKE TO TALK TO YOU ABOUT A NEW HIGH-INTEREST ACCOUNT.
Real respect means actually taking the time to learn the individual speaking styles individual customers prefer.
However, I was not able to actually tell him that on the phone. As a Japanese, I know how extreme – how violent – such a demand would sound. Most Japanese have been raised with pre-formatted speech to the extent that it’s soaked clear down to their bones. To them, having to deal with the individual speaking style of each customer would be the most difficult thing in the world.
That’s why the current rule exists: “be so polite that none of the many personality types could possibly find anything to object to.” In other words, ‘idiotic politeness.” The ultimate aim is not to actually respect the customer – if anything, it’s just self-defense measure. That’s why I find it so discomforting.
Another example: the asinine messages one gets when the phone lines are down: For instance, NHK (telephone company’s) message: THIS IS NHK. WE HUMBLY THANK YOU FOR YOUR COOPERATION EVERY DAY. YOU ARE NOW USING OUR HUMBLE TELEPHONE, HOWEVER AT THIS TIME WE CAN NOT ACCOMMODATE YOUR WISHES TO BE CONNECTED TO THE HONORABLE PERSON ON THE OTHER END. WE ARE TERRIBLY SORRY ABOUT THIS. WE HUMBLY BEG YOU TO HONORABLY TRY YOUR CALL AGAIN SOMETIME BETWEEN NINE AND TEN O’CLOCK.
All I wanted to know is, what time will the phones be on again! But instead, because of the politeness-speak, I have to wait a full thirty seconds to hear a two second message!
WHAT, HE’S OBJECTING TO GREETINGS TOO, NOW?!?
I’m aware that my hyper-sensitivity to the clichés of politeness is, out of all my hyper-sensitivities, the one least likely to elicit any sympathy in Japan!! The majority of people like to be thanked for anything and everything, over and over again, even if it’s just a tape. But if they don’t get an arigatou gozaimasu, they are hopping mad. If the conductor makes an announcement of the train’s schedule but omits such formalities as THANK YOU ONCE AGAIN FOR CHOOSING SUCH-AND-SUCH TRAIN LINES, people will feel disrespected. To the average Japanese, service-industry people are expected to behave like slaves: in their choice of words, they should humble themselves as low as possible and exalt the customer as much as possible. That is what “service” means. People take this at face value: that they are valued, that they can feel safe and relax at this store.
According to a Western economist, Japanese consumers are treated badly by Japan’s economic policies. Perhaps that’s true, but it’s also true that Japanese consumers have entirely different expectations than their Western counterparts. Japanese place less emphasis on things like “whether the goods are overpriced” or “are they good quality?” . . .instead we mainly care about “Is the service attitude correct and sincere?” We constantly complain to each other, saying things like, “That train-station worker’s choice of words was wrong!” or “That bank teller lacks proper knowledge of politeness-speak!” So rather than concentrating on more choices for consumers or lower prices, the stores exhaust all their energy on raising their politeness levels to the point where no one can possibly find anything to object to.
A particularly unbearable example is when the train stops due to some sort of accident. Instead of explaining the cause of the accident, they say WE ARE DREADFULLY SORRY TO CAUSE A NUISANCE FOR THE HONORABLE CUSTOMERS ESPECIALLY AT THIS BUSY TIME. PLEASE FORGIVE US. ACCEPT OUR SINCERE APOLOGIES!! On top of being stuck, we are now assaulted on all sides by these ceaseless announcements, buffeting our heads as they whirl through the air above us. Well, I’m sure my fellow passengers are perfectly satisfied!
It’s the same way with the ceaseless signage that we all must swim through when we leave our houses. Most people have come to need the signs – without them they don’t feel comfortable. The examples are too numerous to mention. So I’ll just do this one:
At the Mita station, when a train pulls to a stop, the loudspeaker blares, A TRAIN BOUND FOR WEST NAKAJIMA HAS ARRIVED AT NUMBER THREE PLATOFORM. PLEASE WAIT FOR THE TRAIN DOORS TO OPEN. PLEASE BE CAREFUL OF THE GAP BETWEEN THE PLATFORM AAND THE TRAIN DOORS. And other such too-obvious warnings are broadcast one after the other. One day I stood watch and this is what I found: This tape is played once every two minutes all day. The people entering the train show not the slightest concern for the gap between the platform and the doors. Perhaps because they’ve been so reassured by the tape? In any case, people have heard this tape so many times that it is regarded like a gust of wind, a cloud in the sky, a drop of rain: a natural sign, which has nothing to do with them and yet constitutes their entire world. Something about which they can’t do anything.
This is true of all stations, especially the Narita Airport Express stations. When it’s time for the train to leave, AFTER everyone is on board, they play the following announcement: HONORABLE RIDERS, PLEASE WAIT ANOTHER FEW SECONDS FOR THE TRAIN TO START MOVING. This drives me up the wall!!!
In the Keio Train stations, their ticket machines play this tape: PLEASE WAIT, YOUR TICKET WILL COME OUT SHORTLY. Japanese people, having put money in the machine, can’t wait even the three seconds for their ticket! They need some kind of official sign to reassure them, or they get nervous!
In the cash machines at banks, too, there is a continuously-looping tape which says WELCOME! THANK YOU FOR SHOPPING WITH US AGAIN TODAY! WELCOME! THANK YOU FOR SHOPPING WITH US AGAIN TODAY! WELCOME! THANK YOU FOR SHOPPING WITH US AGAIN TODAY! WELCOME! THANK YOU FOR SHOPPING WITH US AGAIN TODAY!
Again, people have come to need this to feel safe. If they didn’t hear it, they would think, “Oh, the machine must be broken!” and break out in a sweat. (Viennese bank machines, on the other hand, are dreadfully slow to use, but they have no taped announcements whatsoever).
A few years ago, banks and post offices started using a “take-a-number” system, complete with automated loudspeakers that would say, COULD THE OWNER OF NUMBER SUCH-AND-SUCH PLEASE PROCEED TO THE FRONT WINDOW NOW? Apparently just displaying the current number on the LCD display was not enough to satisfy the neurotic and insecure Japanese customers’ obsessive desire for announcements. (in Vienna, the take-a-number systems only used LCDs, not tapes).
Even our language-instruction tapes have announcements! When the tape runs out, a voice tells us to turn the tape over. And the voice on the tape is invariably a grating, un-naturally shrill, “cute” voice which goes poorly with the actual contents of the textbook. A little cuteness never hurt anyone, of course, but with a textbook, one has to replay the same voice over and over, lord-knows-how-many-times as one studies, so even a small irritation can grow and grow until you are at the brink of violence! (as far as I know, there are no Western tapes-accompanying-a-textbook which have this problem)
But I suppose that’s what we Japanese crave and long for: to be bathed in limitless signs and warnings from cradle ‘til grave. I guess you must understand this by now. And the whole service industry, and the people in it, are accomplices in this conspiracy. It’s so omnipresent that it seems natural.
WHY CAN’T WE ONLY HAVE WARNINGS ABOUT APPROPRIATE THINGS?
This next example has a very deep flavor to it! One time I was drinking a bar near the University.
There was a drunk young couple next to me, and I could hear their loud conversation. The young woman was complaining: “That time, it was majorly snowing, and yet the fire department kept saying ‘THIS WEEK IS SUMMER FIRE PREVENTION WEEK’. What’s up with that? It was snowing right in front of their eyes! They should have been saying, ‘IT’S SNOWING, PLEASE WATCH OUT SO YOU DON’T FALL DOWN!’ I mean, what were they thinking? It was so totally snowing! And yet they kept saying. . . .”
At first, I thought, “Well! This is exactly what I’ve been all along hoping that someone would say!” But upon further consideration, I realized that the young lady was saying the OPPOSITE of what I’d hoped: She would never object to the warnings on escalators. Her only objection was that the constant fire department announcements were the WRONG KIND OF announcements. She still wants to be bathed in announcements.
Aha! I thought, feeling like Earnest Satow or Erwin von Balz – or one of the other foreigners who first “discovered“ Japan at the beginning of the Meiji period. “Wow! I’ve discovered some really interesting people! Their logic is so unusual! I can’t wait to tell people in my home country about this!“
I WORRY ABOUT HOW TO TEACH JAPANESE WHAT “APPROPRIATE” MEANS
Recently, I was sent a copy of the magazine Japanese Language Monthly, which contained an interview I did with respected teacher Haruhara Kenichirou. This interview was on a topic I am very interested in: teaching Japanese to foreigners. Mr. Haruhara said that he wanted to try to teach his students natural Japanese, but this of course was a catch-22: the more natural it was, the more ambiguous and elusive it became for the students.
He had to teach them never to speak anything but ritualistic clichés to strangers. To erase their desire to make lively or individualistic conversation. To only ask the most clichéd questions, and to give only the proper answers, even if they were not the truth. The more “natural”, the more “Japanese” his lessons became, the less the students could comprehend.
The students would complain that, outside of class, they would get the same ritualized questions again and again: “Where are you studying Japanese?” “Why are you interested in Japan?” and other such safe but harmless questions. And they would never get asked anything else! And after the clichés had run dry, the conversation would stop altogether. In other words, the cliché questions ultimately took the place of anything that could be considered communication.
Haruhara said that Japanese, who have very little direct contact with other cultures, often ask him: “I’m going to such-and-such a country. What should I avoid talking about ?” or “I’m dating a person from such-and-such country – what subjects should I be careful of?” They saw language primarily as a means of self-defense. They wanted to talk like the boring speeches of Japanese overseas diplomats!
Allow me to supplement Haruhara’s commentary in my own way: Learning “proper” Japanese is another way of saying, learning “public discourse.” Colorless, invisible, ritualized phrases devoid of individuality. The ultimate aim is to speak at all times in a manner guaranteed not to surprise or offend anyone, even a total stranger. Language which hides your true self even as it prevents you from asking your partner about his or hers. This is the “true” essence of Japanese language, regardless of what is written in textbooks.
Grammar is not the issue. . . Even such questions as “What school did you go to?” or “What company do you work for?” – spoken with perfect grammar – mark the asker as a novice of Japanese. Because for many people these questions are too personal for a stranger to ask. Of course, it depends on who you’re talking to!
But for some Japanese, even questions like “What city do you live in?” are “outside the cliché zone” and thus cause surprise and discomfort. And of course if the foreigner is asked, “What do you think of life in Japan?”, answering at length is not “correct Japanese.” The “correct” answer has nothing to do with grammar. Once again, the “correct” answer is to reply to the cliché with another cliché, hopefully a short one. The true ‘master’ of Japanese would reply simply: “I get along somehow!”
Even if the foreigner is asked a provocative question such as, “When you were young, did you fight with your parents a lot?” the “correct” answer is not “Yes” or “No”, but “I really don’t remember.”
The trick is to neither ask nor answer in a direct fashion. Even if you are in the right, you should say “Excuse me!” and assume an apologetic stance. And even if the other person is wrong, you should not blame them. If the other person’s explanations are too ambiguous, it’s not “correct” to keep asking them “Why? Why?” and trying to pin down their meaning.
Of course I’m not saying that these rules are always true at all times! Like anywhere else, correct behavior depends on the person and the situation. But if you don’t know, you’d better err on the side of caution. Going over “the cliché line” will mark you as a gaijin! In other words, “correct” or “native-level” Japanese is not just a matter of grammar or listening comprehension. A crucial skill is being able to read the vibes of a given situation and intuitively understand how far one can go beyond clichés into the realm of conversation, without causing surprise or discomfort.
And in any case, none of their very passionate arguments ever overflows the classrooms and affects anyone of the MASSES No matter how much they may sigh, wring their hands, and write their little essays, they still haven't figured out the answer is: to FIGHT. If they really think that "Musical education is 100% impossible these days!" then they should either go on strike until the education system is reformed, or they should quit their jobs! Have some dignity, people!