Tokyo Damage Report

american school reform: a real heartbreaker

This is not a “how to reform schools” rant. That is another web page of mine. This is more like WHY IS IT SO EFFING HARD TO EVEN TALK ABOUT REFORM IN THIS FUCKING COUNTRY.
 
All discussions of reform seem to get hung up on 2 issues, both defined by the American right: unions and religion in schools.
 
These polarizing issues are enough to stall any meaningful discussion, so the other 98 aspects of this very difficult problem never get talked about!
 
My parents are teachers. And not just any teachers: my Dad taught at a institutional foster-home for kids who had basically been thrown out by their parents. I really respect him for that, since it would have been much easier for him to teach public school kids without so many issues.
 
And yet at the same time some of the people I most want to get revenge on are also teachers. Still. Right-wingers complain that teachers get paid too much, and yet support wars and private insurance companies. But just because right-wingers are insane doesn’t mean they are wrong. Wait, yes it does. Because the problem isn’t that certain teachers need a pay-cut, the problem is certain teachers need to be fired. Because they are assholes.
 
(ALSO:  why all the repubs concentrating on TEACHERS’ salaries? We should concentrate on firing all the extra administrators. Who knows what the fuck those people even do all day! That’s the way to save money: either fire the pencil-pushers or reform the education bureaucracy so that there is not a NEED for 1,000 forms to be filled out in the first place)
 
But unions can’t say “OK we’ll allow you to sack the burn-outs, the bullies, and the incompetents, in exchange for more wages for good teachers.” They can’t say this because there is no way to measure who is a good teacher.
 
That’s the central problem. And this sets teachers totally apart from other government bureaucrats, who are supposed to be interchangeable parts. As long as the dude from DMV knows the manual and all the rules, he is a good employee. But teaching is not like that! There is no manual for motivating students to have self-worth and aspire to go far in life!
 

 
How to separate good teachers from bad?
 
You can’t use standardized tests because, as the last 10 years of No Child Left Behind has shown, a) teachers will just help the kids cheat, b) they will force problem kids to drop out or put them in jail , because they drag down the average class test score, c) the teachers just “teach to the test” instead of teaching the non-quantafiable life lessons which , let’s face it, are what all of us remember about our favorite teachers.
 
 
How about popularity with students? All really good teachers are popular, but some of the most burn-out teachers are also popular, because they let you fuck around in class and give everyone a B.
 
Should we let the administrators and principals decide? Hell no! since the life-changing teachers almost universally stir up shit and are hated by the school administrators, who will use any bureaucratic tool to get rid of them?
 
How about we let the parents decide. Are you nuts? The bible-thumpers would flip out and within a week there would be no science or literature teachers left in the country.
 
 
At the unspoken center of the debate: what makes a teacher really life-changing and inspiring for students is NOT RANKABLE OR QUANTAFIABLE.
 
 

FUCKING SPUTNIK
 

 The race to space! (aka the race to have LRBMs). Back in the ‘50s, when Russia launched sputnik (demonstrating it had the technology to lob a fucking nuke missile at us from across the ocean), science and smarts became an immediate matter of national survival. It’s difficult to imagine, but  it used to be the most right-wing, General Jack D. Ripper type Crusty anti-commies that were pushing the HARDEST for more education.  Smart kids were seen as vital for national defense. WWII vets got the GI bill to repay them for being good warriors. If a modern right-winger went back in time to the ‘50s and started talking about reducing teacher salaries and sending all the kids off to private religious schools to learn about Jesus, they would be laughed out of the fucking Republican party, if not called a Commie agent!

 
 

WHY DOESN'T OUR TAX MONEY BUY RESULTS??
 
Liberals like to point out that “we spend more on each prisoner than each student.” But the fact is: USA still spends more on education per-pupil than most industrialized countries. The problem is, we aren’t getting good results for the dough. So why the fuck is that????
 
Throwing more money at a problem without finding out who is wasting the existing money is just gonna guarantee that the culprits will simply have more money to steal!
 
you can’t teach poor kids who are mostly worried about having to quit school to get money, or if their parents are sick and the insurance isn’t covering it, and they have to take care of their parents. Or if they ‘re mostly worried about doing all the household grown-up stuff their parents don’t have time to do because the parents are working 2 jobs each. You can’t teach kids who are mostly worried about gang violence, or their family being in jail.  Or if the parents are on drugs and they have to deal with that. They have other shit on their minds. But because of our separation of bureaucracies, the school system doesn’t have the power to fix poverty. And the social welfare bureaucrat says, “It’s not our problem if poor kids can’t learn, it’s the schools’ problem.”  
 
In other words: When you try to fix schools, you quickly run into half-a-dozen systemic problems that you have no power to fix: poverty, the penal system, the drug-treatment system, the  health-care system, religion,  labor law, and so on. And then when the kids don’t learn because the welfare system, penal, health-care, labor, and drug-treatment systems don’t work and the kids can’t concentrate on schoolwork, who gets blamed? The school systems! Better cut their budget, since they are crappy teachers!!!!
 
 
And when I say poor neighborhoods, I don’t mean Compton or Detroit. for every Compton or Detroit there are like a dozen white towns in the middle of nowhere, where there is nothing to do and all the jobs left because factories move to china, and so the parents re unemployed hillbillies strung out on meth.
 
But on the other hand, a lot of kids are assholes, too. They need to go to that special school where they will be the bullied, not the bullies. Talking about juvie. Later for all that “he is just misunderstood” crap. Remember that rolling stone article about the Michelle Bachmann school where the gay kids kept suiciding one after the other? It didn’t even mention penalties for the bullies. Not even to argue against the idea. Just not even on the fucking table. Can you believe that shit?
 

 

SCHOOL REFORM WITHOUT CURRICULUM REFORM?!?

 
Also: even when someone tries to reform schools, like michelle rhee, there is a lot of controversy. She’s great! She’s a fraud!  The righties scream “But more kids are graduating, barely!” and the lefties scream, “But she’s firing teachers!”
 
But even given all the media time debating it and all the public, grass-roots protests, NOT ONE MENTION ON EITHER SIDE of the actual CURRICULUM!! No one on either side cares what THE KIDS ARE ACTUALLY SPENDING ALL DAY LEARNING UNDER MS. RHEE.
 
And yet that subject is not even up for discussion in the media. It’s like reporters and pundits were never kids themselves, who never had to sit for 5 hours a week memorizing the exports of Chad or the life cycle of the common fern. Fucking adults, man.
 
 
 
“YAYYY!! OUR KIDS ARE GRADUATING AT A SLIGHTLY HIGHER RATE!!! THEY ARE JUST BARELY SMART ENOUGH TO PASS THE GRADUATION TEST WITHOUT BEING SHOT DEAD IN CLASS!! USA #1!” 
 
What the fuck. Is that where we are at, as a country?
That is just sad. It doesn’t matter if you are a indie, repub or dem,. . .that should be saddening.
 
Is our shit that small-time now? Cmon. Let’s talk about curriculum. Parents should ask themselves (regardless of politics) ARE MY KIDS LEARNING THE SAME RANDOM OUT OF CONTEXT FACTOIDS THAT I PROMPTLY FORGOT AS SOON AS I GRADUATED, OR ARE THEY LEARNING THE SHIT ABOUT LIFE THAT I JUST LEARNED AT 30 AND WISHED I HAD LEARNED SOONER?
 
Who wouldn’t want that for their kids?????
 
 
Fucking weird as hell . .. unless you remember exactly how much work it is being a parent!
 
Every parent, whether repub, dem, or indie, knows damn well that 90% of the shit they were forced to learn had no practical application and they forgot it as soon as they graduated. You’d think that being loving parents , preventing their own kids from undergoing these 10,000s of wasted hours would be a huge priority! And yet by the time people get older and busy and spend 5 years changing diapers, they are so worn down! By the time their kids are old enough to go to school, the parents say JUST TAKE THEM OFF MY HANDS FOR 8 HOURS A DAY, I COULD GIVE A FUCK WHAT YOU TEACH THEM. JUST LET ME HAVE SOME QUIET TIME.
 
And that’s sad.
 

 
TO SUM UP
 
 Repubs are like FIRE all the teachers!  Public schools are government socialism! Everything kids need to know they can learn from goldman sachs and jerry fallwell!!
 
Dems are like union power! Never fire any teachers!
 
And yet, ALL the adults had that one teacher: that taught much more about life than what their official state-mandated course was. That opened their eyes to new ways of thinking. All the adults had that one teacher that gave them more self esteem that taught them: you are capable of so much more than what your environment expects you to be. You have so many unique qualities that can be a boon to you an those around you. And ALL the adults had like 5 or 6 teachers that were burn outs bullies or just plain didn’t know what the fuck they were talking about, teachers that deserved the sack. 
 
I’m pretty sure if a person on one political side talked in detail about the teachers who changed their life for the better, the people on the other side would be like, “That teacher sounds great. We can agree that the system needs more people like that.”
 
 And if a person on the other political side talked about a teacher who was a dick or a waste-case, I’m sure their political opponents would remember the asshole teachers from their OWN youth and say, “Hey I agree with you too! That teacher was a clown! We need less teachers like that in the system!” And then we could fucking get down to business. 
 
And yet adults grow up and pretend everything is black-and-white, and use crappy schools to make political points about unions or privatization, rather than trying to help the kids. 
 
And then we wonder why kids hate adults.
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probably gone until april

working on a big musical project.

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comic market 2009 RONBUN ROUNDUP

let's start this off modestly:

THE WATCHES ON MY ARM

 

This is a page-by-page review of all the watches dude owns. Not like the best watches. Just ones he owns.  The dude is defiantly analog:  writing about wind-up watches in a zine format.


POSTAL GUIDE VOL. 7

I didn't post any scans of the inside, because this is basically a guide to filling out post-office forms. Written not by the post office, but a post office customer/obsessive maniac.

I asked him why HE was doing it (instead of the post office itself) and he just looked at me, as if this should be self-evident.

Also: just like with the watch zine, there is something defiantly old-school about this. . . considering the USA post office is now considered obsolete and about to shut down!


 

THE ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO TIC-TACS FROM AROUND THE WORLD

(at the bottom it adds: A MEMBER OF THE  "TABLET FIELD GUIDE CREATORS" ASSOCIATION) which should give you some idea.

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The scan shows tic-tacs of latin america and africa.

Each box is analyzed for the following criteria:

local maker

flavor

color

country of mexico

date bought

type of label (adhesive, etc.) (IS there even more than one type of label?!?!)

Comment:
 "There's more than I thought around here! I suppose South America wants some too!"

 

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ACADEMIC JOURNAL #23

 

 

This zine is thick- almost a pound! And consists mostly of reviews of the most eccentric or absurd books (fiction and non-) from around the world. Like a freak-show of books.

For example, here are some article titles:

"katakana foreign words I learned from anime"

"the author of this book is spiritually deluded!!"
"a book about animals trained to fight wars"

"I want to explain to fictional characters what their nuroses are"

"funny new subculture words  in Japanese Wikipedia"

"a book which is a fictional interview with barrack obama from america"

"a new manga which is entirely about anti-korean sentiments"

 

But the main article in this book is not about literature at all. The main article is an analysis of the physics and math involved in making 3d-animated boobs bounce realistically.

 

 

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S=?-2

 

This is the creation of a gentleman who is 1) obssessed with Eames furniture, and 2) interested to see what each Eames chair would look like as a moe girl.

The term for "anthropomorphism" in Japanese is 擬人化 (gijinka).

 


BLUE OCEAN SOMETHING SOMETHING

 

 

The same idea as the previous 'zine, but substitute "deep-sea life-forms" for "eames furniture."

Is this a great country or what?!?!?

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AN ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO SURGERY AND THERAPY OF THE HEISEI (the current era) ERA

 

Here , a cartoon panda teaches you how to do surgery. Just like the Post Office book, this is not written by any official institution.

Below: the panda is dressed like Michael Jackson while teaching you different suture knots.

below: a rabbit helps the panda put on his/her surgical scrubs.


A GUIDE TO SEPARATING YOUR GARBAGE INTO RECYLABLE AND NON-RECYCLABLE, FOR OTAKU, MANGA, AND EROTIC PEOPLE.

 

 

A guide for specifially otaku items: your PC, your porno magazines, and (in a nice touch) your old comic market merchandise!

But the best part is this:

. . . how to break down your old pocket pussy to recycle it.

Also: the zine is printed on news-print. Kudos.
 

 


 

Another "ranking" zine, but this one is more tongue-in-cheek. The "categories" are different for each pen. For instance:

 

GUNDAM-NESS: *****

PROBABILITY THAT THE DESIGNER IS A FAN OF GANDAM W: *****

PROBABLITY THAT HE'S A HERO FAN: *****

THAT HE'S WORRIED ABOUT GANDAM 00: *****

FUNNY-NESS:******

the rest of the text:

You know how when a comedian you like debuts a new joke that you find un-funny, but you instantly adapt to it because you like the comedian?

This pen is not like that.

This pen combines the instant-transformation beloved by gundam fans with principles of ergonomics, and. . . .

Oh, forget it.

I'm sure there are lots and lots of reasons why it looks the way it does, but the fact is. . .

IT IS UNCOMFORTABLE TO USE!!!

I suppose that pens, like everything else which evolves, must have some false-starts in their evolution!

 


MOKONIKA YONJIJUKUGO

Mokonika's four-kanji expressions

 

 

 

 

This book is a really nice idea: they  take four-kanji idioms (yonjijukugo) and not only personify them as cute girls, but they do a little manga that shows the girl doing the thing.

The opposite page has her statistics as if she's a game character. Also the book's cover is designed to look like a elementary school-kid's kanji workbook.
 

NAME: ACCOU ZOUGON

SPECIAL ABILITY: every time she opens her mouth, bad things come out.

PERSONALITY: For her own benefit, or to shame others, she delights in putting on a magnificent display of abuse and scorn. If you see someone talking irresponsibly, making sure they aren't caught by the target, backstabbing, or spreading malice without ever making a mistake, you know it's her!  However, if confronted, she gives up more easily than a regular person.

MEMBERS OF SAME CATEGORY: akkoubari, zannboubari, barizougon (none of these are in my dictionary, sorry.)

 

 

Right page:

PANEL 1:

STICK FIGURE GIRL: Thanks so much for helping me!

AKKOU ZOUGON: (taking off her mask) Don't worry about it. By the way. . .

PANEL2:

AKKOU ZOUGON: Is it true that your older brother is unemployed? That he's a hikikomori?

PANEL 3:

AKKOU ZOUGON: Everybody's saying it so I just happened to overhear. They say he's otaku, but to the extent that he stopped coming to school altogether? I was just wondering because everybody's talking about it

PANEL 4:

STICK FIGURE GIRL: (runs off crying)

PANEL 5:

GLASSES GIRL: You're enjoying yourself, aren't you? Even you shouldn't take things too far, Accou Zougon

PANEL 6:

 

GLASSES GIRL:  That girl's brother got hurt – he's been in the hospital. And of course he's unemployed – he's still in school, like us!

PANEL 7:

AKKOU ZOUGON: FUCK YOU, I HATE YOU!!!!!

PANEL 8:

NARRARATOR: (translation of above statement: you're so cool, i wish i could be more like you!)


H25

 

 

A "lifestyle magazine" for people who enjoy the ona-ho (short for onna-hole, which means "woman hole" which means "pocket pussy")

What makes this zine unique is that every issue has back cover which is a parody of a real lifestyle magazine: in this case, MEN'S NO-NO.

Below:  weekly sales rankings of the top 5 brands:

text on the cover reads:

ona-ho will save the world!

ona-ho and lotion!

limited edition and special collaboration ona-ho festival! wheeee!!

the lucky vibrator that calls the god of death!

i will become the unrivalled king of winter ona-hos!!!!!

 

also in the issue:

How to make a glove out of fried bean paste so when you jack off it feels like someone else doing it.

masturbation-related chinese zodiac forcasts

final page just says "this space for rent"

 


 

 

 

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Just that! it only works if you already have the english transcript but can't find the slang in your J-E dictionary.


 

DAILY LIFE WITH YOUR PROSTHETIC LEG

 

 

 

The main article in this one is , how to change the batteries in your prosthesis. I didn't even know they HAD batteries.


 

DO YOU LIKE ROMANCE???

The lovely but absurd world of Harlequin Romances

This is yet ANOTHER review zine, reviewing only japanese translations of Harlequins! It comes complete with its own 3 ranking categories:

ROMANTICNESS

REDICULOUSNESS

STORY QUALITY

 

The standout review, which the zine seller helpfully pointed out to me is this:

a review of NIGHT OF MADAM BUTTERFLY – a novel about a western woman who goes to Japan and gets laid.

(romanticness 3, rediculousness 5, story 3)

 

the title of this section is:

GEISHA COSPLAY AND SUPER-EXPENSIVE BONSAI GIFTS ARE THE WAY TO A MAN'S HEART?

 

It goes on to print an extract from the book, which takes place at a bath-house, where the Japanese man says to the foreign lady:

"When in Japan, you should forget your western attitudes about nudity.  Here, mixed bath-houses are common. We're not embarrassed of our bodies. Neither should you be! Perhaps the fat or aged are another matter, but you've got a nice style there, so you shouldn't be shy about it."

The zine author then goes on to make fun of the book for saying the heroine bought her man a 370-year-old bonsai: "No one would be able to afford such a thing, and even if it did exist, it would be listed as 'a national treasure' and not for sale! Clearly the heroine got decieved by the bonsai seller."

the final verdict?

"This book thoughtlessly gets the details of our culture all wrong.  Perhaps only a foreigner can fully enjoy the "exotic Japan" atmosphere of it. "

 


CONVENIENCE CAFE AU-LAIT REVIEW

 

 

 

 

Just like all the other "ranking" zines. Honestly there are hundreds more of these things. I include this one because they went the extra mile and included a diagram which familiarizes the reader with how to read their coffee-ranking diagrams:

 

 

COFFEE AMOUNT:

MILK AMOUNT:

SWEETNESS:

MAKER, PRICE, QUANTITY, CALORIES

COMMENTS


THE HISTORICAL BOYS LOVE MANGA OF JAPAN

 

 

This book is amazing!  The guy gets these real, historical gay pornos from back in samurai times, and "translates" them from old-timey Japanese to modern Japanese. He says that, although we would today call the pornos "fiction", or "manga",  they are actually closer to journalism – such distinctions were not made back in those days.

In the passage below, well, you figure it out.

 

 


As a bonus, here are some indies gag comics I've picked up over the years.

 

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that's right: SUPER-DEFORMED HITLER!!!!

 

 


. . . AND HERE ARE SOME RANDOM UH BL ("boys'-love") MANGA:

 

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this is the only ultra-man sex joujinshi i could find. I must have gone to 2 or 3 comic conventions looking for this kind of godzilla-fucking-ultraman's-ass stuff, and the guys at the tables stocked with underage rape-porn would be offended , like really indignant , that i would even ASK them such a thing: SHIRANAI!!!

 

I don't know what is so offensive about it. I guess comics should only be used for porn, never just for humor? But finally just by chance i found this one, which is kind of nice.

 

 

 

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also!

kanjidamage (the How To Learn Kanji With Yo Mama Jokes site I do on the side) now has a paypal button.  Believe it or not, people were asking for one. It took around 6 months but I finally got around to it. TDR is never going to have ads or paypal or anything.

 

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comic market summer 2011 RONBUN ROUNDUP

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.


below:

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?

panel 2:

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.

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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!

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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!"

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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:

OVERHEAT NIGHT

"at our dental school alumni reunion one day.  . . ."

panel one:

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!

panel two:

canadian:  We can fix an entire tooth in one appointment.

Japanese: WTF?!?!?!?!? IN ONE APPOINTMENT? REALLY???

panel three:

Japanese: REALLY? NO SHIT?!?

(diagram of tooth: root canal, plus tooth filling, plus the cap: three proceedures)

 

panel four:

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?

panel one:

Japanese lady: By the way, in Japan it is normal to take three separate appointments just to do the root work

Canadian: EEEHHH?!?!?!?

 

panel two:

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!

panel three:

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.

panel four:

 

Japanese:  WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

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:

"coffee-ness"

milk-ness"

 and

"sweet-ness"

 

 


 

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?

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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.

 


FASCISTA ARCHIVE

 

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.

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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!

 

a

 

 

 This particular page is a review of a pesticide for rice called JUDGE.

 

name: Judge brand boxed medicine

ingredients: ben furakarubu (5%), purobenazooru (24%)

poison: yes!

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:

GANG

KUSA-RANGER (literally grass ranger, but sounds like "stinky ranger")

DYNAMAN

SHOCKER

KIKUEMON

GAIA

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.

This page:

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.

 

 

RIGHT SIDE:

AT THE AMUSEMENT PARK

panel one:

IKAROS: let's ride this one (points to spinning cups)

 

panel two:

AKATSUKI: Ikaros really likes rotating things!

IKAROS: 25rpm!

panel three:

AKATSUKI: 25rpm? Isn't that too fast?

IKAROS: Akatsuki  are you scared!

panel four:

IKAROS: But isn't it more scary to be shot in a rocket into outer space?

(gales of laughter)

LEFT SIDE: TRIM YOUR SAILS!

panel one:

(the friends are now in the cup ride)

AKATSUKI: it's spinning at a pretty normal speed!

IKAROS: yes!

 

panel two:

(a third satellite is at the control panel)

THIRD SATELLITE: let's make things more interesting! (increases speed)

panel three:

IKAROS: (turns into hamster) (hamsters like going round in their little exercise wheels)

panel four:

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!

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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!

 

no clue!

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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.

 

6 comments

2011 fall photos

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

buildings!

 

 

 

 

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 . . .

 

Sudden hitler!

 

 

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;

 

 

 

 

8 comments

USA has madd doody on its chin

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

wtf drones

Wtf drones?

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

anti-nuke rally this sunday tokyo hibiya park

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!

 

Anybody down?

 

also, these links:

 

http://onaironaironair.wordpress.com/2011/08/08/nouvelles-de-tokyo-%E6%9D%B1%E4%BA%AC%E3%81%8B%E3%82%89%E3%81%AE%E7%9F%A5%E3%82%89%E3%81%9B/
 
http://doc.radiationdefense.jp/dojyou_map.pdf
 
http://www.radiationdefense.jp/
 
http://www.radiationdefense.jp/investigation
 

1 comment

conclusion of Nakajima’s JAPANESE ARE HALF FALLEN

CHAPTER FIVE: IS IT POSSIBLE TO LIVE TOGETHER?

A DIFFICULT PROBLEM TO SOLVE

This problem that I’ve been grappling with . .. at last I’ve come to realize how difficult it is to solve! The burden of “insolvability” has been weighing more and more heavily on my shoulders, so the time has come to confront it! I suppose I must quit dreaming of a large-scale reformation of Japanese peoples’ attitudes. I suppose I must quit dreaming of authentic human contact and a society which respects everyone’s sensitivity levels. The administrators of this country are never going to budge from their idea of “rule for the benefit of the majority,” and the administrators of shopping malls are never going to put anything before profits, are they?

The common people are simply going to demand more and more SOUNDS, and there isn’t a way to change the laws or customs. The spiritual corruption has become too deeply embedded in our bodies. Everyone says that it’s all worth it just because we’re developing the economy.

On TV the other day, I saw a new model of refrigerator with built-in tapes that said YOU’RE LEAVING THE DOOR OPEN and PLEASE PUSH THE DOOR HARDER, THANK YOU!   The reason given is that consumers demand such features. After a detailed investigation of the markets, I have to admit that they’re right. . . it’s impossible to hold in check this demand for more and more SOUNDS. Soon they will install new public telephones that greet you with a message of THANK YOU FOR USING ME! PLEASE INSERT YOUR PRE-PAY CARD HERE! Transport trucks no longer simply beep when they back up, now they say I’M BACKING UP! I’M BACKING UP! I’M BACKING UP! I’M BACKING UP! I’M BACKING UP! 

But the most shocking recent experience was one I had in a taxi:  As   I got out, the car said THANK YOU FOR RIDING ME! PLEASE MAKE SURE YOU HAVE NOT LEFT ANY ITEMS BEHIND! In an annoying high-pitched voice. But that was not the big shock. The big shock was: I can’t ride in taxis ever again! Not only that, but this also struck my brain like a lightning bolt: the handful of us “announcement-neurosis-patients” are expected to endure all the SOUNDS . . . but for every noise we train ourselves to forgive, there are RIGHT NOW entire teams of technicians inventing a dozen MORE sounds for the future!

We can’t change anything; we’re powerless, aren’t we? Here is the question I’d like to put forth: who will protect those of us who want tranquility and quiet from the majority who demands noise? Who will defend those of us who still take responsibility for our own actions and want to make up our own minds about things from the majority who wants to escape responsibility and have others decide everything for them? Who will defend our right to speak up, against the majority that doesn’t want to hear our voice? In this final chapter of the book, I will grapple with these themes.

I am certain that my activism on behalf of a self-determining, self-responsible society is justified. As for those among us who are not capable of self-determination/responsibility (the elderly, children, the mentally and physically handicapped), let’s help them on an individual basis, without resorting to just-in-case announcements. Let’s be objective about our own noise levels : we should keep the sounds we are enjoying (be it the loud playing of our children, the barking of our beloved dogs, the rock music that we for some reason enjoy, etc.) at the same level as we’d want our neighbors to keep THEIR sounds.

Instead of framing noise debates as “he’s too sensitive to sound,” we should frame them as: “How would I feel if I had to hear a disagreeable sound at the same volume and frequency as this sound?”

In other words, we should strive to build a society in which the reactions of “this noise is pleasant” and “this noise is offensive” are given equal weight.


THEORY MUST SURRENDER TO FACTS!

But, it’s easy to simply write demands. Making them reality throughout the country, however, is almost impossible! Such wicked thoughts are almost unspeakable for Japanese, to say nothing of having a logical debate. Instead of logic, people respond with comments such as, “You’re right. . . that’s the truth! But in today’s society . . . (*shrugs*)” More sly and tricky people have a different technique. Worse than disagreeing honestly, they pre-empt any serious discussion by pretending to agree, and then dismissing me with a “Yes BUT. . .”

“Yes BUT, in this capitalist society, don’t customers like to be treated to such beautiful words?”

“Yes BUT if we stop the warning announcements and even one person has an accident, I’ll get fired.” 

“Yes BUT if we don’t have any announcements, the people won’t do anything at all.”

And so on and so forth, ad nauseum. It’s like the old saying, “Necessity doesn’t need rules.”  Like immature high-school debaters, if the facts don’t fit their argument, they retreat into abstraction, where nothing can be conclusively proved or disproved. And they stick fiercely to this shoddy tactic.

What I hate more than anything, what burns me like sulphuric acid, is this: at school, work, and in the family, we are told RESPECT DIVERSITY, RESPECT INDIVIDUALITY, TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR ACTS. But it’s all lip-service – almost no one who spouts such clichés has the slightest desire that the kids will actually act on them. The real face of the institutions lies in all the posters that line the walls of the schools, which preach the exact opposite message. Of course no one is allowed to point out the glaring contradiction.

What’s more, the final effect is to turn such sentiments as LET’S ALL TAKE RESPONSIBILITY! LET’S RESPECT DIVERSITY! Into just another of the empty, conformitizing slogans, absorbing them completely into the system!!!

Taken together, all this “education” amounts to an intentional numbing or paralysis of the students’ ability to think critically or make up their own mind about messages. To submerge them into a group mentality, and make them blind to their own likes and dislikes. Systematically, children’s sensitivities to many different things are brought into line. They are trained to check what the group thinks about a phenomenon, rather than using their own senses to examine the reality of the phenomenon directly. Any individual speech patterns are stomped out, leaving only standardized “public speech” devoid of thought or emotion.

But however persuasive my analysis is, the fact remains that we Japanese have survived such education for over a thousand years. It’s like a thousand-year-old wave, so deep and wide that we are simply unable to change it.  “Change” is superficial, like a plastic surgery which changes the outer layer of skin, the body will immediately continue to grow in its natural form, unseen, below the surface.

Even our youth, who seem so strange and untraditional at first, to me they are 99% “classic Japanese.” There are a lot of students with dyed hair under their uniform school caps, a lot of students who make a big show of not paying attention to the teachers. They think they can simply throw out a thousand years of tradition and behavior patterns. But even these “manner-less” students are completely normal.

No different from their Western counterparts, they would  (when disputing a grade , for instance) never argue their case stubbornly for thirty minutes in front of the school’s Review Committee. They would never persistently and cool-headedly use reason and logic to persuade the teachers. If they wanted a better grade, they’d come and beg the teachers with their head bowed, asking “please please please!”

They’re just not that interesting to me.

What I’m really curious about is the words and actions of the adults who criticize these youths! The adults, oddly, all have the exact same complaint, in almost the same exact words:”The youths lack the traditional value of consideration for others. Youth lack this virtue, which is the most essential fundamental Japanese virtue.”

That this point (of all Japanese points) is the attack chosen by the adults just leaves me speechless!! Honestly, it makes me feel like I just landed here from Mars! 

My countrymen have noticed that lately young Japanese have lost a bit of the stench of Japanese-ness. This is a huge incident!  To them, it’s as terrible as if Japan’s sperm count had started dropping off due to abnormal hormones in the food! A national emergency! In this political climate, the growing self-centeredness of the youth enrages the grown-ups’ heads and hearts. And yet, the youth are just as compliant (and oblivious to) their elders, when it comes to the ever-present management slogans, announcements, and signs that pickle them!

I really don’t want to sound like one of these “hysterical critics” when I get worked up. I don’t want to say things like, WHY ARE JAPANESE SO INFANTLIZED?!? WHERE IS OUR SENSE OF SELF-RESPONSIBILITY? IS THIS HOW WE “RESPECT INDIVIDUALITY?” and so on.

What I would like to ask for, though, is that the critical grown-ups phrase their attack in a more prudent, more down-to-earth and straight-forward manner, like so:

“To the extent that it doesn’t harm me, I want to avoid all self-determination. I wish to float and twist around in the sea of management slogans and invasive sign-boards. I want to extinguish individual ways of speaking. Use the most safe, cliché phrases at all times, and try as much as possible to avoid responsibility for my own actions. I admit here that this is the kind of life I want for everyone.”

And then I’d like them to wait patiently while I state my whole case in turn.





IT’S NOT A PROBLEM OF A PUBLIC NATURE

My wise readers might now respond thusly: “Your demands are so prudent, and reasonable!” Yes, but you have to know that even though they would win a rational argument, the people of this society won’t even argue with me: they just dismiss the demands out of hand as being arrogant.

As for the people who design urban spaces and amusement spaces, they don’t listen to people like myself, who constitute a tiny minority. Unlike private spaces, public spaces have to meet the needs of the majority: whether this is back-ground music, endless warnings about trains coming soon, warnings that one is almost to the top of escalator so one had better watch one’s step . . .to the extent that the majority demands these things, they have to be installed.  The designers of public spaces have no room to choose their own vision in this regard.

Even private enterprise can be thought of as “public space” to the extent that it’s a space which people use in their everyday lives: banks, trains, busses, malls, hospitals, and so on.  This is not some abstract notion that I arbitrarily decided upon; it is a reality which is manifest in the everyday conditions of people and places.

Since Narita is the only international airport available to Tokyoites, its “public-space-ness” is very high. To people in any given neighborhood, the closest train station is the one they use daily, making that station have a high “public-space-ness” (even if it’s a private railway line). In many new residential communities, there is only Supermarket A – the next closest supermarket might be a thirty minute journey, making Supermarket A much more “public-space-y” than Supermarket B.

In the same way, banks, restaurants, theaters and pools (to say nothing of beaches) may have “public-space-ness.” However, it is not a question of “Do they have it or not?” but “To what extent do they have it?” To answer that question, one must look at the situation from many different residents’ point of view, and see – in daily life – how much of a need they each have for it.

Of course, I wouldn’t complain about noise if I were to walk into a disco. The same thing with a pachinko parlor. Those kinds of “amusement spaces” have relatively little “public-space-ness”. But amusement parks, beach parks, ski slopes, in short, places where one brings one’s family, tend to have more “public-space-ness”.

Keeping that in mind, I’d like to declare that spaces that have a monopoly on something necessary to everyone’s everyday life TYPE ONE SPACES. Other spaces, where one can easily choose among several of the same type to go to, I designate TYPE TWO SPACES. I will continue this chapter using this system.

However, first I need to stress one point: I don’t think this concept of “public-space-ness” is going to lead to any revolution in Japan’s sound environment. There are some writers and social critics who totally over-rely on the word “public space”, and they use it too abstractly. Frankly, this country simply doesn’t have the concept of public-space as it applies to SOUNDS. But the idea that public spaces exist in some abstract world where they don’t impinge on peoples’ sensitivities is just absurd, a fantasy! Places like shopping districts aren’t seen as public, so we don’t see them as being vulgar; rather, we see them as “vulgarity which conforms to Japanese rules of space.” (In other words, we don’t have any absolute principles or morals about vulgarity, we only judge based on if something meets expectations of what it’s “supposed” to look like. – ed.)

Many social critics, such as Kato Hisatake, say this: Every private shop can blast its loudspeakers onto the public streets. Because we lack the concept of “public vs. private”, and we can’t tell the difference, we find nothing odd about this.  

But that’s simply not the case.

Think of the shopping district; average people demand a noisy sound environment, and that’s why shop-owners point their loudspeakers at the street! The speakers are not an annoyance to anyone. In fact, if people like me had our way and eliminated the speakers, the SILENCE would be an annoyance. The echoing, tinny voices from the loudspeakers make people want to shop! The same people lose their enthusiasm for shopping in the quiet streets of Europe: it would feel too cold and unwelcoming to them!

The SOUNDS are there for the public’s benefit . . that is the nature of “public-space-ness” in Japan. It’s not a colorless, invisible abstraction. It’s a reflection of the vivid and noisy inner lives of Japanese bodies. Perhaps it’s even a reflection of the ideals of our society! But, the same majority would still claim that “calm and natural tranquility” is also a Japanese ideal, even as they seek out the most noisy, vulgar shopping districts.

But here’s the thing: “public-space-ness” is NOT the same as “space used by the majority.” No matter how much the majority demands clamor and din in a given space, the minority who hates clamor and din should not be ignored: after all, they need to use the space just as much as the majority. “Public-space-ness” is an absolute concept, based on how necessary the space is to daily life, not a relative concept based on how big the noise-loving majority of users is. However, teaching society to understand this concept is going to be a long journey!

It’s not as if European society is systematically based on catering to minorities. Building codes (for color, shape, and height) are extraordinarily strict. People who want to give their homes a unique design are almost without exception turned down. The shopping districts are quiet because of strict speaker laws. But of course those laws infuriate the minority of Europeans who wish to be bombarded with loud sounds whilst shopping!

So, if the Japanese intellectuals and social critics really want a society “for the minorities”, then they must logically be wishing for European cities to be awash with noise. European cities are not quiet because they have a fundamentally different or more correct conception of “public space.” Majority rules there, just like here.

STRENGTH OF GREAT NUMBERS

It goes without saying that the elites of society are in charge of public space, but there is one exception to this: Michel Foucault’s concept of “strength of great numbers”. The person who demands a noisy shopping district is nobody special. The person who demands management announcements plastered all over their trains and stations is nobody special. And when these everyday folks join organizations (shop-owners’ associations, police departments, fire departments, tax bureau, and neighborhood associations) they form a sort of WEB of everyday-people-power.  

This WEB transmits to us our sensitivities, trains and forges our sensitivities, checks them, and excludes those who don’t match up. No matter the surface appearance of a public space (rich neighborhood or poor, for instance), the underlying feel and flavor will never change. In other words, the public spaces of today’s society are a reflection of the true desires of average people, not elites. For example, the mall owners aren’t stupid. They’re in business to make money. They only give people what they want.

If everyone were like me and demanded quiet tranquility in the streets, the banks, the parks, and so on, the speakers would be soon gone. There is no way that a handful of elites could force the speakers on the vast majority (which, remember, includes shop-owners’ associations, police, and neighborhood associations – ed.). This is how the “strength of great numbers” works.

The “strength of great numbers” theory also explains why it is so difficult to grapple with or change society: the WEB is leaderless . . .   One cannot appeal to the police to change peoples’ attitudes. One can not appeal to the shop-owners’ associations or the individual store owners. All one can do is pass out questionnaires (“How would you feel if we changed such-and-such . . . ?” to random people.

The real enemy isn’t the people or the elites, it’s a set of traditions and sensitivities (or rather, INsensitivities) that has built up over time. And this enemy has no face, no physical body, no leader, no neck to wring. It’s impossible to do battle with.

It’s as if the whole country, every nook and cranny, was “averaged out” to one number, and “fractional” people like me got “rounded off” in the process!

About ten years ago, the anti-smoking lobby was able to get some “no-smoking zones” established, because they had documents proving that smoke was bad for health. But unfortunately, the SOUNDS haven’t killed any of us “sensitive neurotics.” They haven’t even driven any of us insane. We have nothing to point to, not even an accusatory suicide note.

When we protest to the mall owners or train station managers about the loudspeakers, they always swindle us by using “Standard-Toleration-Level Theory”, and we have to retreat. Standard-Toleration-Level Theory (STLT for short) holds that there’s a noise “threshold”, which the average Japanese can tolerate, and anything above is “bad noise,” but anything below it is automatically OK. Even though noise sensitivity is a personal issue, and varies greatly from individual to individual, (in fact, precisely BECAUSE it is!) the authorities think they can mathematically average everyone out, and that this is the most fair way to settle noise disputes.  In fact, the courts can not use anything but  this sort of ‘statistical’ method.

It’s clear that this STLT theory – based on the principle of statistical fairness- is actually totally AGAINST equality : Sounds which the majority enjoy are damaging to the minority – it’s not at all equal. You could say we minority have a “cultural handicap”, but no hospital will diagnose us or validate our condition with a diagnosis. Despite the suffering it causes us to ride the train, we have to pay the same fee as the majority. Same with the price of coffee in the too-hot coffeehouses with their hateful background muzak. We have to pay taxes at the same rate as the majority, despite the fact that these taxes fund many of the SOUNDS and other annoyances.

People like me, who are trapped in a man-made hell of SOUNDS at all times and places, where merely leaving the house is like being cast into a lake of blood, no matter how much we suffer, we have no forum to present our case to society in general. Our pain and suffering is not recognized or legitimate. And that’s the biggest suffering of all. There is no exit from this public space!


WE WHO WANT PEACE AND QUIET ARE A NUISANCE TO OTHERS

The point I want to emphasize is this: intellectual theories are not going to help solve the problem of SOUNDS. The problem exists in a “blind spot” of theory, where there is no practical application. You can cogitate about the problem all you like, but it’s like a “black hole” that sucks in ideas without producing any results. As we have seen from looking at how Japanese social critics discuss “public space,” when they set out to discuss it, they wind up (without realizing it – or perhaps they secretly do?) drawing conclusions on other, irrelevant topics.

For instance, some of them begin with the concept of “You shouldn’t be a nuisance to others.” Oh, we Japanese are so kind! But this doesn’t address my questions in the slightest: it only works in a situation where everyone shares the same value system to begin with. The second that one introduces diversity to such a system, the theory becomes ineffective! Actually justifying things by “majority is always right” can lead to dangerous situations.

Bosozoku (teen biker gangs that like to race at night –ed.) are annoyance to the majority because most people want peace and quiet during the night-time. What’s more, nobody but the bosozoku asked for such noises. So according to those two criteria, the bosozoku’s noise is considered bad.

But when it comes to the Emergency Disaster Evacuation speakers, such criteria can no longer be applied. After all, some people ask for the noise, but some don’t. The “don’t faction”, also wants peace and quiet, yet the majority, who claimed “peace and quiet” when it came to bosozoku, now wants more noise! And, what’s worse, both factions accuse the other of being a “nuisance.” 

The “don’t faction” claims that the “do faction” is colluding with local government to make our lives miserable. But the “do faction” claims that the daily announcements are a good public service, which the “don’t”s are conspiring to take away from them. In other words, the same exact sound can have two opposite meanings to two sets of people. In the end, the majority and the government – despite their “don’t be a nuisance to others” policy – figure that the suffering of the minority is a price worth paying for the “public service” of announcements.

If a “don’t” presses his or her claim of mental suffering caused by announcements, and dares to appeal to the “don’t be a nuisance” rule, the city government official dismisses his / her claim as “egotistical” and outrageous, thus placing the “don’t” outside the social contract altogether.

In the case of escalator announcements, there is no doubt they cause me much mental anguish! But to the vast majority, doing away with the announcements would be “causing a nuisance.” Same with all the rest of the various SOUNDS.

More generally, any change at all that any minority demands can be dismissed out of hand as “causing a nuisance”. Without needing to think about it or negotiate logically! The majority doesn’t even realize that they are privileged by winning so easily!

To an average Japanese having dinner at a sushi or soba (noodle) restaurant, asking “Can you turn on the ball game?” is natural – it never crosses their mind that the owner will say “no.” Why? Because he assumes everyone else in the restaurant also wants to watch, therefore he’s asking on behalf of the majority. If someone should object, he gets mad – THEY are the egoist who wants to force THEIR taste on everyone! “If you don’t like it, go somewhere else!”

Similarly, if I were to ask for a nature documentary instead of baseball (something I certainly don’t have the courage to do anymore!), he’d think it was an unthinkably selfish request. He’d go pale in the face! And if I defended myself by saying, “If you don’t like it, go somewhere else!”, he’d be sure that I was truly mad. In his wildest dreams, he can’t imagine that his baseball program could be as much of a nuisance as a nature documentary.



KICKED OUT OF THE BAR

I’ve just described the “social construction of nuisances” (i.e. how the same exact criteria are used to label something “normal” or “irritating” depending on the circumstance). I have some rather interesting experiences of this, which I’d like to share with you now!

At a small bar near my University campus, I was drinking with a small group of editors. Behind a wooden screen was a group of about five or six young people. Perhaps because they were mostly women, they were really loud, laughing and clapping hysterically. I couldn’t hear my companion 50 centimeters from my face! I finally went up to the screen and loudly said, “Can you please keep it down? We can’t hear ourselves talk over here!” (in tennis terms, this was a ‘weak opening serve’).

From behind the screen, I heard mutterings of, “What’s that? What’s he yelling about?!?” and they were quiet briefly, but soon had returned to their habit of screaming hysterically. After thirty minutes of this, I could stand no more. I had to leave the bar. But as I was leaving, I poked my head behind the screen and yelled at the startled young people: I’M GOING HOME ALL BECAUSE OF YOU! ARE YOU HAPPY? I CAN’T STAND IT ANYMORE, BUT IT’S ALL OK, BECAUSE YOU GOT TO YELL AS LOUD AS YOU WANTED! (a ‘strong second serve’).

The young people screamed back: WE WERE HERE BEFORE YOU! WHAT THE FUCK! 

So far, this was a typical argument for me. It’s what happened next that merits inclusion in this book: the proprietress came flying out from the back room and dragged me outside! Then, while bowing, she asked me:

“Sensei, is there something the matter?”
“You’re asking that now? Those young people have been so loud, we can’t even hear our own conversation! You didn’t bother to put a stop to it, so I did it myself!”
Then the proprietress said something so retardedly amazing it made a huge impression on me: “I’m very sorry, sensei, but perhaps they didn’t realize their own volume in such a small place.”

It took me a second to realize what she was getting at: since it was a “small place”, it was my job to endure the noise, not their job to be quieter. It was me that was the nuisance for complaining. OK, I get it! I had the wrong idea all along! This realization made a deep impression on me, but now was not the time to dwell on it, as I had left all my stuff inside.

But the bar-owner had also come out, and stood in the doorway with both hands out, warding me off. In the end he went in to fetch my shoes and briefcase, rather than let me back in. Since I was the problem. As I was waiting for him to return, I could hear the young people, still screaming and laughing.

But in the end, I was not unsatisfied. I’d learned a valuable lesson about the Japanese mentality. If customers fight, the bar doesn’t sell more drinks. So it’s the duty of the quieter people to raise their voices as loud as the loudest people. That way, it seems that no one is annoyed. Until someone like me comes along!


UNABLE TO SEE THINGS FROM THE OPPOSING POINT OF VIEW


In a related topic, many sociologists, political theorists, philosophers, and social critics say “You should look at things from the other person’s point of view”. But, as I previously mentioned, when it comes to sensitivity levels, this is impossible! As for getting a “impartial third party observer” to help, where on earth could you find one? It’s like telling someone who likes not-hot curry to put himself in the shoes of someone who only likes super-hot curry. You could say, “Well, just use your imagination,” but how can you imagine enjoying a curry so hot it causes you physical pain? I suppose the “impartial third-party observer” would just force both people to eat “middle-hot” curry.

No matter how hard I try, I can’t imagine enjoying the SOUNDS. And I expect the average Japanese can’t imagine my suffering, either. We need to face the unpleasant facts here. But if we can’t argue based on “objectivity” or “seeing both sides,” what should we base our arguments on?

One of the ideas of contemporary German philosophy is that arguments can not be based on an objective notion of “what is good”: individual subjective “truths” can coexist without contradiction. In their theory, we should base our arguments on the notion that a “public space” is one in which everyone’s opinion can be heard.

When I first started proposing this German theory in Japan, everyone reacted very coldly. I tried my best, in phone calls, panel discussions, and letters, but in the end it became clear that it was futile. I must have argued with 500 people over the course of five years, and as time passed I noticed that I kept hearing the same responses over and over again. At the same time, I began writing and researching this book. And in the course of my research I realized that I’d been mistaken: it’s impossible to logically argue a case against all the announcements, cautions, warnings, etc.

The reality of the situation was grimmer than I realized! The same intellectuals that loudly preach “self-determination” and “self-responsibility” when it comes to abortion, bank scandals, and education, totally fail to apply these principles to street SOUNDS. The same “cultural elites” that decry the “spiritual degradation of modern Japan” are completely blind to the problem of the management announcements and slogans which pickle the nation!!!

When I propose that these are a social problem, they will nod their heads in agreement, but have no desire to actually do anything about it. Why is that? Because they agree intellectually but they are not suffering emotionally. They do not have the same sensitivity level as I, and they can’t imagine it. Even they, the smartest and most logical class of Japan, cannot use their logic to bridge the gap. Logic cannot compute suffering! Not only that, they don’t even understand what they are missing!

So, nowadays I don’t bother trying to argue logically anymore. Now I just yell SHUT THE EFF UP!, I might carry my own loudspeaker and point it at the “official one” to yell back at it, I might just hurl curses or act obsessive-compulsively. I’ve become quite extreme! Perhaps, in my abandonment of democracy, I’ve become like Hitler. But unlike Hitler, my ability to manipulate the general public is zero, my speech-giving skill is zero, my ability to comprehend the emotions of the common man is zero, and my desire to murder (though this might be difficult to believe) is also zero. So don’t worry about the Hitler thing I just said.


JUSTICE FOR SOUND-SENSITIVE MINORITIES: IT’S NOT THE SAME AS THE ISSUE OF MINORITIES WHO ARE AFFECTED BY ENVIRONMENTAL POLLUTION

I’m sure you’ve guessed by now that my personal anti-noise-pollution campaign can’t piggyback on the popular anti-environmental-pollution movement. The environmental campaign is based on statistically measurable damage. The damage has to be documented and approved by some external authority.

For example, the villagers who sue airports over noise make their case by documenting all the cases of hearing loss and miscarriages and then comparing it to the national average. The more “out-of-average” their community is, the more likely they are to win their lawsuit. Even when they sue for mental suffering, that claim is also backed by statistics: they point to an increase in their rate of crime and suicide.

People like me don’t have that kind of official recognition yet. And even if the doctors did develop a category of “hyper-sensitive to announcements”, even if I were diagnosed, proving cause and effect would not be that easy. Who is to blame for my condition? Is it something caused by external loudspeakers, or something I was born with? How to divide the blame?

Perhaps I’ve always been a bit “off” but the SOUNDS pushed me over the edge? But if that’s alone is enough to gain official recognition as “environmental damage”, what’s to stop someone who got romantically heart-broken (or failed his college exams) and attempted suicide from claiming the same thing?

The environmental problem is one of shared communal values and sensitivities: what each society decides collectively to tolerate in the way of pollution. So it offers no help to people like me who suffer because our sensitivities are unique. Nobody can defend us, because we’re statistically insignificant. Unlike the mentally or physically handicapped, we’re not even recognized as a minority group who is being discriminated against!

Especially since I am often loud and aggressive in stating my case, it’s difficult to be taken seriously as a “weak person” in need of legal protection.


BUT AREN’T ANNOUNCEMENTS FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE BLIND?

Let me be clear: I’m trying to get official recognition as a “weak person” but I have some misgivings about that term. In Japan, “weak person” generally is thought to mean blind or deaf people – the supposed audience of many excessive announcements: THE ESCALATOR ENDS SOON, PLEASE PRESS THE BUTTON WHEN YOU’D LIKE TO EXIT THE BUS, and so on. In other words, “helping the weak people” is the very foundation of the SOUNDS that I’m fighting against!

When the Sangawa station was remodeled, they installed some astoundingly useless tape loops, saying things like PLEASE DON’T ALL CRAM ONTO THE TRAIN, IT’S DANGEROUS and THE DOORS OF THE ELEVATOR WILL SHUT SOON, PLEASE BE CAREFUL. But they did not put a loudspeaker on the escalator. Now, as a result of my constant protests, both Hanamizu and Hachimanyama station had removed their escalator speakers. I assumed that Sangawa station had likewise decided to show some consideration to people like me, and was overjoyed!

So imagine my shock several months later, when suddenly I boarded the escalator and was assaulted by a huge voice yelling PLEASE WATCH YOUR STEP. . . . Of course I immediately went to the station office to protest, and then called the public relations office of the parent company. He explained to me the reason: a few days ago, a blind person asked the Sangawa station worker “Where is the escalator?” I replied, “He only wanted to know where it was, not how to use it! There’s no reason to play that tape loop all day at such a great volume!”

As a result of my phone call, they didn’t stop the announcement, but did reduce the volume. If they really wanted to be considerate of the visually impaired, they should just have installed some sort of quiet beeping tone near the entrance to the escalator. They didn’t need such a loud ridiculous announcement.

When I go to Kyoto, I often stay in the Garden Palace hotel. One day, as I entered the lobby, I realized there was an announcement playing: THIS IS THE GRAND PALACE! THIS IS THE GRAND PALACE! THIS IS THE GRAND PALACE! THIS IS THE GRAND PALACE!  After checking to confirm that it was on a constant loop, I went to the front desk to ask about it.  They told me that according to a new Kyoto city regulation, all public places had to install a “sound system” to tell blind people where the entrance was. I couldn’t believe it! The next time I go to Kyoto, will I have to listen to announcements every single building I visit?!? 

But when I read the actual regulation in question, it said absolutely nothing about the “sound system” having to be words. They could simply install some kind of bell that chimed KIN, KON, KIN, KON. Even if there were a lot of entranceways in one area, different sounding bells would be easy for a blind person to tell apart. In fact, recently on the news, I saw a report about a bell that would only ring in proximity to cell-phones owned by blind people, so it would only be on when it was needed.

And I’m well aware that a chime or bell is all that blind people are asking for. I’ve interviewed a blind person activist for a previous paper. According to him, out of the innumerable announcements that flood the streets of Japan, over 99 percent of them are NOT for the benefit of the blind. They’re not asking for these announcements. Furthermore, these excessive sounds are a nuisance to blind people, since they interrupt useful sounds which they need to navigate.  

And yet the elites – metro police, city hall, business associations, and so on, continue to install new announcements “for the benefit of the blind.” Hey! Why don’t you try asking them what they want?? Why don’t you examine the situation in more detail: what time of day are blind people most apt to be walking on the street? You could probably keep the announcements off most of the day, if only you were able to think outside the box.




SEGREGATING THE SOUND-SPACES IS IMPOSSIBLE

As I’ve mentioned, there is no theory which I can use! I can’t appeal to notions of “see things from the other person’s point of view” – since I’m seeking to protect myself! And I don’t think I can use mere logic to justify what I believe is right either. I don’t want to enlighten or guide my countrymen.

I just want to live my life without being labeled as a “crazy egotist” or “hypersensitive” or “he starts fights all the time.” I want to co-exist without having to be excluded from society. If only for ten minutes, I’d like to live like the majority do: in safety, comfort, absence of worry, with the idea that I’m entitled to pursue happiness like everyone else.

Here’s what I’d really like you to understand: Sounds from your environment penetrate your skin. The violence of this is not measurable. I’d like you to realize that when you are demanding this “cultural noise”, you are forcing your choices on everyone else (remember what I wrote earlier about how all places have a “public-space-ness” to some extent).

What if living spaces were segregated into SOUNDS and NO SOUNDS districts? The majority requires not just endless spewings of background music, radios and such, but they require endless announcements that tell them what to do at every moment: warnings, cautions, advice, reminders, just-in-cases, exhortations, and stern rebukes. Without these things, they would be incapable of doing anything at all, since they have no idea how to live their own lives. I want a separate space for people like me who DO. That way, everyone is happy, and I can be left in peace.

As for the people who don’t want to think for themselves or be responsible for their own actions, whatever! We let people smoke, don’t we? Despite the fact that it causes cancer. We expect smokers to choose their own fate and be responsible for it, don’t we? So why do we need the SOUNDS to tell us how to do everything else?

But at any rate, not all public spaces can be segregated into noisy and not noisy; the beach, the high plains, malls, and airports. . . the more widely used – the more public –  a space is, the more difficult it is to segregate. Simple segregation is simply not realistic, but it might give us a hint of how to proceed in the direction of co-existence.

If you want to complain about the SOUNDS at a mall, you’d have to go to each store and explain how they are causing you pain. It’s causing too much trouble, you think. It’s being too pushy about one’s rights, you think. But you’re wrong!

It’s no easy job to decide exactly what constitutes “public-space-ness,” let alone get others to re-consider their own views! Take for example, wheelchair users. Nobody can say that they get respect from city councils. It’s impossible for them to enter many coffeehouses, barbers, and supermarkets. To say nothing of public pools and bars! And they get no help from the government. Everyone knows that that’s the situation in Japan today. 

People like me (the “excessive noise neurosis” patients) are in exactly the same situation. We can’t go into coffeehouses without hearing crappy muzak. Even when they do play classical music, we can’t listen to it in the way we’d like to: there’s always people talking and clanking their silverware. Nobody listens to classical at home in such conditions!

But it’s next to impossible to find a café with no music. The same way, it’s impossible to find a restaurant, department store, supermarket, bookstore or barber with no muzak!  But if the muzak-having café was next to a NO-music restaurant, next to a muzak-having department store, next to a NO-music bookstore, only in such an atmosphere of equality could I enjoy my daily shopping. 

In other words: it doesn’t have to be completely silent, the important thing that people like me get some respect and can hold our heads up.

Having an environment where I don’t have to constantly worry about searching for a quiet place. This would make me feel like my rights are being looked after. Not complete silence, merely a splitting of the noise into pieces so it’s not a suffocating blanket. However, even this “half quiet” idea would be bad for the economy, bad for profits, so let’s give up on it.

However, people like me who have a “cultural handicap” find that – just like those who have a “physical handicap” – this country is not made for us or concerned about us. And unlike the latter, we (the former) aren’t even recognized as a minority group. Acts against us are not regarded as prejudice. We have no choice but to band together with other people of the same sensitivity. Or go home and cry.

We can’t very well construct our own supermarkets all over the country. Perhaps we should just ask for a “quiet section” in each supermarket. But even that would be bad for business. Just like real estate, the “sound environment” is so precious that every square meter generates profits for someone. Even if they made one single car of the shinkansen “the quiet car”, hardly anyone would use it.


TODAY’S SOCIETY IS JUST NUTS

Well, I suppose that would be enough to satisfy me. But that’s just speculation on top of speculation, not a proper conclusion. ??? 223

For the end of the book, I figured I’d finally stop being so cool-headed and rational, and at last let you know how I REALLY feel.

No matter how hard I try to understand it, the sound environment of contemporary Japan is just nuts.  I mean crazy nuts! Everyone is paranoid, unable to feel safe in their own bodies. If any kind of incident occurs, our first instinct is to blame the other person entirely. We’re all so alienated it’s crazy! We can’t decide anything on our own, we seek to avoid responsibility for everything, we blame everything on others, we can’t speak “private language”, we can’t do anything unless someone instructs us what to do, and all of this is considered great because it makes society run so “smoothly” and “efficiently”.

Add all the management announcements and slogans, the standardization of speech, thought, and sensitivity . ..

And still some social critics say, “In these modern times, there is no way that mere cultural background can be controlling our way of thinking so much!”

You’re jabbering nonsense! You don’t live in the distant past, you don’t live in the future. You don’t know how much past or future people were affected by their respective cultural backgrounds. . . I absolutely hate it when intellectuals indulge in such abstract speculation!

I want a society where you have to take responsibility and do things yourself, with a little more danger, a little more self-reliance, a little more inefficiency, a little less reliance on strangers, a little less expectations that strangers are the same as you, a little more suspicion of how people are trying to fool you . . . in other words, a society where all these management slogans and announcements aren’t necessary!

If we are spiritually able to act on our own, able to protect ourselves, able to speak “individualized language” . . . then we will be, at last, able to sense our own feelings. People, in the end, must realize that it’s their own responsibility to protect their own lives, bodies, possessions, and honor.

Yes! That’s the kind of society I’d choose for Japan. No, I can’t conclusively prove that it would be better for everyone. I can’t use logic. I only have my convictions: I BELIEVE it would be rad. I BELIEVE it would allow us to be more human. I BELIEVE it’s the right thing to do.



A PROPOSAL FOR SOCIAL REFORM OF JAPAN

Now, we’ve returned to my core beliefs. Futile as it may be, I’d like to propose a comprehensive 12-point plan for reforming Japanese bodies. Why futile? Because the Ministry of Education and Culture isn’t going to implement it. Changing our bodies (and the thousand years of training that those bodies have inherited) will require re-training of children from elementary school to college and beyond. It will also require all the “new-employee trainers” of various firms to cooperate to ensure that the new workers put the ideas they’ve learned into practice on the job. And I don’t anticipate that the corporations are going to cooperate, either!  So this plan is totally unrealistic. I’m just writing it because it’s the end of the book and I’m still mad. I need to get this off my chest in order to quell the anger.

ONE: For God’s sake, stop all these overly-detailed, overly-polite “guidance” slogans, announcements, and signs. They’re actually UNkind to people who are unfamiliar to a place, because they indicate that one should not ask other people for directions, and they imply that regulars should not help newcomers, since “the signs are supposed to do that.” Newcomers should have the confidence to ask random passers-by if they need to know something.

TWO: If you’re asked a question by a newcomer, don’t respond “How could you not know that?” or “What are you asking me for?!?”

THREE: Japanese should develop the ability to detect and overcome danger on their own. We should limit “be careful!” announcements to the absolute minimum. If you do detect a danger, you should react by telling people individually, through word-of-mouth, rather than constant pre-recorded announcements “Just in case there is a dangerous situation.” As for the Emergency Evacuation System, in no cases should it be used to transmit voices! Klaxon noises will do just fine, provided that people have been taught beforehand where to go in the event of an emergency.

FOUR: As to the so-called “weak people”, they should be assisted on a case-by-case basis, by able-bodied strangers, without announcements. If you see an old person or a handicapped person, or someone with heavy luggage having trouble on the stairs, you should just help them.

FIVE: The so-called “weak people” should not have to be excessively grateful for receiving help – this makes them feel like a burden. Just say, “Thanks” and that’s it.

SIX: These rules should not be phased in bit-by-bit. They should start immediately in full force!

SEVEN: Let’s really punish people who break these rules! Let’s abandon the idea of a paternalistic government. Let’s throw out all the bicycles parked illegally. Students who whisper in class should be suspended immediately. Either it’s a rule all the way or it’s not a rule! Let’s arrest the bosozoku, all of them! Or make them pay a 10,000 dollar fine every time they make a loud motorbike noise!

EIGHT: People in the service industry should be allowed to be rude right back to rude customers! Even to the point of refusing to serve them. Just say, “You’re disrespecting me!” and that’s the end of it. Rude customers have to learn to take responsibility for their behavior.

NINE: Everyone has to work diligently. Lazy people’s preposterous excuses like, “I didn’t hear your order” or “I was tired!” or “I misunderstood” should not prevent them from escaping one bit of punishment!

TEN: Society’s rules should not be subliminally forced on people through repetition and absorption – they should be fully spelled out and backed up with logic and discussion, so that people can understand the rules and consciously follow them. Then we wouldn’t need a hundred flags saying TRAFFIC SAFETY IS IMPORTANT or a hundred loudspeaker trucks urging us to PLEASE DON’T THROW LITTER ON THE GROUND.

ELEVEN: Seriously, get rid of these fucking meaningless “attitude slogans” like LET’S BUILD A NICER CITY or BE A CONSIDERATE CHILD! and other such vague and patronizing clichés.  While we’re at it, let’s ban the utterly hollow and brow-beating “management slogans” as well. No more THIS WEEK’S GOAL IS. . . or THE MOTTO OF THIS COMPANY IS. . . or BE A BETTER WORKER, TRY HARDER!

TWELVE: Stop training new employees to only speak in formalized clichés. There are plenty of ways to be polite while still sounding like a human, not a robot.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

 “If only we could put these rules into practice, what a human-centered and international country we could be! We could restore our traditions of kindness, respect for nature, aesthetic sensitivity, and seasonal feelings.”  . . .Is what you say. Bah! You know nothing! 

Japanese cannot change easily, even if we train our young from an early age to be different. . . even being conquered by America could not change our national character. It would take a hundred years of brand-new childrearing practices to even make a dent in it! So, why even worry about it? If you don’t like society, you don’t have to act Japanese. If you think that’s an impossible task, then fuck it! You can just go on not giving a shit. Go on, then. Fuck it!


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Nakajima’s JAPANESE ARE HALF FALLEN part FOUR

CHAPTER FOUR: THE BODIES OF JAPANESE


THE SPACE THAT CULTURE OCCUPIES INSIDE OUR BODIES


So far I’ve talked about how I feel that I’ve entirely slipped off the path of “normal Japanese society” because of my sensitivity. But more and more I’m convinced that my problem is not a ‘normal’ case of hyper-sensitivity (such as those whose eyes or ears cause them pain because of nervous system defects) . . .if anything, I’m realizing that my sensitivity lies within my entire body. My body looks exactly the same as that of the average Japanese, but somehow, something inside is steadily slipping away, sliding away from what a normal body possesses. If I enter the “cultural spaces” that we Japanese have created for ourselves (amusement parks, cities, farm villages, etc), I immediately feel in my body a sense of self-consciousness, of not belonging. These cultural spaces reflect what the majority demands, so therefore they must be healthy for the bodies of average Japanese.

Just because people don’t care about things like the ozone layer and global warming, it’s wrong to say they don’t care about the environment in which they are living. Actually, they care very much, if one defines “environment” as “the place where one leads one’s daily life”. If we limit ourselves to this “lifestyle environment,” suddenly we find that everyone is very sensitive to, and unforgiving of, changes in some things, but everyone is very insensitive to changes in other things. So if we were to make a chart of “things which people are sensitive to ” (foreground) and “things which people don’t notice” (background), this chart would show us the “cultural space” that Japanese people inhabit.

Allow me to explain in more concrete terms:

For example, the behavior management announcements and official warning announcements which I’ve been writing about. They go in our ears and eyes, but, no one thinks about them consciously – just like how we’re not conscious of our own bodies when we stand, sit, bend, walk, and so forth. Therefore I stipulate that culture lives inside our bodies. It occupies space in our bodies.

When I’m on the train, I go to grab the strap which hangs from the roof, I don’t consciously think, “OK, my hand is here and the strap is there, so if approach the loop at such-and-such and angle . ..”. I simply wish it and my hand is holding the strap. The hand has been “erased” from conscious analysis, as has the strap. Just like all everyday physical activity – and just like the cultural milieu in which we live – all the signs, slogans, behavior management techniques, and messages are hidden in the background.

Sounds go in our ears, but we don’t hear them. Sights go in our eyes but we don’t see them. That’s how we go through life in the big outside world.  By omitting the many reports from our sense organs, we can avoid being distracted by unpleasant stimuli, and avoid agitating our bodies.

To put it another way, if you’re walking around your neighborhood, you don’t have to think about how to get to your destination. Without consciously deciding “Turn left here, turn right there,” your feet take you where you want to go. In this way, the border between your individual body and the surrounding community/space becomes ambiguous.

In the same way, Japanese people’s “cultural space” exists simultaneously in our bodies and in the real world. That’s what I’m trying to get at here.


CULTURAL SPACE: FOREGROUND AND BACKGROUND

My wise readers, you’ve probably figured out where all this is going: for the majority of Japanese, the cultural “space” in their bodies is aligned perfectly with the physical , communal “spaces” of Japan: cities, villages, malls, etc. So they don’t mind the many announcements and signs and SOUNDS. But my own body has not developed an “instinct” to subliminally grasp the “hanging strap” of culture, and that’s why I can’t tune out anything. That’s why I have to actually read all the signs and listen to all the announcements, and that’s what is producing my neuroses.

To me, there IS no background, it’s all foreground.

Imagine if you had to think consciously every time you sat down, took a bite of food, moved your head, etc. . . it would drive you to distraction! The same way, the “cultural noise” doesn’t enter my brain automatically, I have to concentrate on it even if I don’t want to. A case in point: cell phones! To most people, the SOUNDS of cell phones are part of the foreground. That’s why they become self-conscious if their phone rings on the train, and they get angry at others whose phones are ringing. However, on that same train, the fearsome din of the conductor’s interminable announcements is considered the background, so people don’t consider it loud, even though it is louder in physical terms. That’s what I meant last chapter, when I said that we can see the shape of the “cultural space” by looking at what people can and can’t tune out. 

It’s no coincidence that everyone has the same reaction to cell-phones; the lines between “tolerate” and “can’t tolerate” are social rules. Although they are so deep in our bones that they feel automatic and therefore instinctive. 

For example, to Westerners, the sound of slurping soup is foreground – they can’t tune it out, so they find it annoying and will soon hush the slurper. It’s not that they can’t tune it out because it’s rude. . . it’s seen as rude because they can’t tune it out!  It forces itself into their consciousness again and again and again. SLURP! SLURP! SLURP!


I’m well aware that this particular instance is just a matter of different cultures having different table manners. But the main point, the point I wish to emphasize is this: to someone who has been raised in the West, with no experience of other cultures, the angry reaction to the SLURP! SLURP! sound can never be un-learned, it can never change. It’s become instinctual. Of course, to Japanese at a soba restaurant, the slurping from the other customers all around one is expected, it blends into the background, therefore we can tune it out. Because we can tune it out, it causes us no irritation, and therefore we label it “not rude, but natural.”

If one substitutes dog-eating for slurping, the same thing applies to English people and Koreans.

And to most people, transvestites are a huge eyesore, and we get very angry when we see one, because we can’t take our eyes off of him.  These rules (of which we are unconscious) pertain to food, clothing, and housing. Social leeway is especially small for matters of sex and food, since these two drives are seen as the most ‘natural.’ The ‘background’ of food and sex is the most ‘dark’, so even the slightest deviation stands out like a light spot! People can’t have rational, calm discussion about these things. It seems as if the instinct of the body itself is demanding an emotional reaction!  

In order to have a logical discussion of the social construction of these ‘basic’ customs (such as slurping and dog-eating and transvestism) . . . in order to get past the basic “aesthetic objections,” one has to really travel a long way, delving deep to the roots of the mind. Deviations are thought of as “wrong”, rather than a matter of individual preference. Transvestites are thought of as defective humans. 

Anyone out of step with the “this is comfortable, but that is uncomfortable” code of the collectivity is judged to be “too sensitive” and dismissed out of hand. English people who don’t mind dog-eating are thought of as logically flawed people, just as much as Koreans who DO mind dog-eating.




MANAGEMENT SLOGANS AND ANNOUNCEMENTS AS THE NATURAL BACKGROUND

Once again I’d like to return to the discussion of Japanese people’s bodies. No matter how fierce is the torrent of management signs and announcements which pours into our eyes and ears, the majority can absorb it complacently, because to them it’s the background. Our ears no longer hear the recordings which blare: BE CAREFUL WHEN EXITING THE BUS, AS THERE WILL BE TRAFFIC IN THE STREETS. Our eyes no longer see the signs affixed to each and every hand-strap dangling from the bus’ ceiling: PLEASE PRESS THE BUZZER WHEN YOU WANT TO GET OFF THE BUS. 

Not that these things don’t enter our bodies via our sense organs, but that we perceive them as background. Not only do they not bother us, but they seem as natural and inevitable as nature itself: the sound of the wind, the light of the sun. At the same time, they become internalized, part of our bodies: we no more perceive these signs and announcements than we notice our hands dangling at our sides when we walk, or the glasses upon our faces, or the feeling of our tongue in our mouth.

And it’s not just the announcements and signs: it’s the concrete which surrounds us on all sides, the ugly telephone poles and their thousands of wires over our heads, the store signs and advertisements everywhere . . . I call these eyesores CULTURAL STRUCTURES. Which is to say, natural-seeming by-products of a culture. Like the white and misty clouds of the summer sky, or the deep purple of a fall sky,   these cultural structures surround us, forming the background of our lives, pickling us until we can’t see that they are artificial, until we actually need them around in order to feel normal. It’s not that we actively take enjoyment in the sound and visual pollution, but that we passively take comfort from their all-encompassing embrace: DON’T PARK YOUR CAR ILLEGALLY! DON’T STICK YOUR HANDS OUTSIDE THE BUS WINDOW! The bright lights and flashy store signs. . . . they make us feel at home, welcome, wanted. To us Japanese, anyplace devoid of these things feels barren, lifeless, stark and forbidding.


We want our shopping centers and sightseeing spots to be as artificial, overdone, and synthetic as possible. That’s the meaning of the city planners’ slogans: A LIVELY CITY! A KINDLY AND WELCOMING SHOPPING COMPLEX!  Just as we want our small streets to be lined with pots of morning glories, we want there to be a poster above each pot saying LET’S HELP PROTECT OUR YOUTH FROM DELINQUENT WAYS! This gives us a feeling of communal rapport. The loudspeakers blaring PLEASE BE CAREFUL OF SMOKING IN BED! And NOW IT’S TIME FOR ALL GOOD CHILDREN TO GO HOME FOR DINNER! Are seen as acts of benevolence.

One of the members of The Society To Think About Those Damn Megaphones is an architect named Mr. Yamada. For a long time, he’s been trying to convince the city administrators in his hometown that “minimalism is beauty.” Right now, Japanese streets are a nonstop jumble of store signs, utility poles, power lines, and so on. Mr. Yamada has been proposing a plan to do extensive city-wide renovations to get rid of the clutter. Some administrators agree with him, but it’s simply impossible to undertake such large-scale plans in today’s circumstances, they say.

Mr. Yamada will take offense to this, but I agree with those administrators. Japanese people like the jumble and clutter. Because the clutter has always been composed of very small things, added one layer at a time, and each layer has been accompanied by loud slogans of LET’S BUILD A LIVELY CITY! A KINDLY AND WELCOMING SHOPPING COMPLEX! By framing the debate this way, Japanese people’s bodies have come to demand cramped, artificial, plastic spaces . . .we see them as friendly, lively, and even welcoming. Mr. Yamada’s plan flies in the face of this, so it’s impossible to carry it out in today’s society.

These bodies of ours have evolved over thousands of years of such conditioning, so it’s not possible to change them quickly. I don’t think it’s a matter of Japanese being illogical or aesthetically crippled. I think that our aesthetic consciousness and norms have been shaped, tempered, and trained by a thousand years of management slogans, and this has seeped into our Japanese bodies, to the point where we can sit in a 28 degree coffee-house in our layers of winter clothes, and show no signs of discomfort. Over history, our individuality and sensitivity has been broken down to the lowest level, and replaced with a one-size-fits-all “normal” sensitivity level, which has been pounded into our bodies since forever.





WE LIKE THE IDEA OF NATURE, NOT THE ACTUAL THING

I hate seasonal greetings so much, and I never use them in letters! But they’re the best example I can find for clichés of correspondence: Like at the end of February, everyone writes, “Can’t you feel how spring is practically around the corner? Doesn’t it just make your heart dance?!?”
 And at the end of August, you’re practically required to write, “The early morning and evening winds are finally starting to cool down, aren’t they? It’s like they’re delivering us a preview of autumn, isn’t it?”

People who write this crap: It’s not that I have a “hyper-sensitivity” to good manners, but I get mad at how only “socially encouraged” phrases are allowed in private correspondence. Come on, now! Your heart isn’t really fucking dancing. You don’t feel that the evening breeze is wafting Autumn tidings directly to you. So why write that stuff? Because you feel that you ought to. You don’t for a minute contemplate writing things which you’re actually feeling!  

You’d never write, “It’s the end of February and boy am I glad it’s still cold!!!” You’d never write, “It’s the end of August but boy is my heart dancing from the continued heat!” Even if you happened to be the kind of person who honestly preferred winter and summer. But seasonal greetings in praise of winter and summer simply won’t do. If you express a unique or individual preference, YOU are the one considered “close-minded”. (Japan is really mysterious sometimes!)

We Japanese take great pride in our delicate sensitivity and subtle appreciation of the seasons. But in fact, our only faculty is a very delicate sensitivity to which seasonal clichés are appropriate at any given time. Zing!!!

 If anything, we’d have to kill off all the clichés and social expectations in order to re-connect to the seasons and appreciate them directly. Our bodies are not directly connected to the surrounding atmosphere anymore. If you hear “oborodzuki” (poetic word for a hazy moon) or “shiwasu” (poetic word for December), you automatically feel a connection to the winter season. But instead of the words containing all the splendor and subtle majesty of the seasons, the seasons’ splendor and subtle majesty has been stripped down and reduced to these clichés! Of course, to a certain extent this goes for any language. But nowhere more than Japan do people raise their children to be more cliché-prone. Only here are we trained from birth with such passionate single-mindedness to use exactly the right pre-selected combination of clichés for every conceivable situation.

Waka (a form of poetry typically done during the first week of the new year) is positively bursting with the feeling of medieval Japanese celebrating the new year around Kyoto. Hearing the word “Haiku” makes one think instinctively of the late-Edo-period poet Basho’s classic seasonal poems. After the capital moved to Tokyo in the Meiji period, elementary school-children were all taught shouka (European-style songs), so much so that shouka make one instinctively think of that era. As part of the centralization and standardization of government under Meiji, the same songs were drummed into children all throughout the colonies: Hokkaido, Okinawa, even Manchuria. If it was April, every child had to sing “Sakura, sakura”. In October, everyone had to sing “Momiji” (the fall moon song) And so on.

Throughout our history, the emotions or atmosphere of the seasons have been thought of as a communal affair, something which belongs to society, and something that having one’s individual opinion/feelings about is tantamount to being un-Japanese.

This “communal” idea of what the proper associations and feelings of the seasons are lives in our bones, in our blood, in our bodies. It’s so deep that it feels as natural as the seasons themselves. But in fact it’s a matter of power: the power of the majority to “allow” only certain types of feelings. It’s a peculiar Japanese sensitivity: one could say that we treat people who don’t have the “correct” feelings about a season the same way we’d treat someone who denies the factual existence of the season itself! (That is to say, we mix up the phenomenon with the “correct thoughts” about the phenomenon).

Thus Okinawans have to associate April with cherry blossoms, though there are almost none there. Likewise, Hokkaido people have to associate June with the rainy season and hydrangea blossoms, though they don’t have a rainy season that far north! In Manchuria, they were raised to associate mid-August with the beginning of fall winds and the sound of insects, as though they were living on mainland Japan, and so forth. In December, one has to whistle “Kogarashi” (the “nipping biting wind” song), and so on.

At the Viennese-Japanese school, even when the temperatures were below zero, the students had to sing “The Flowers Starting To Bloom Song” and “The Carp Are Jumping” song, as if spring in Japan meant that it ought to be spring in Austria! That’s how desperate the Japanese are to commingle seasonal ambience with national identity! However huge the gap between their mental “feeling” of the season and the actual weather outside, it doesn’t trouble them –that’s not the point. The point is to educate the children that there is only one “correct” feeling, to the point where the “correct” feeling seems as natural as the seasons themselves.


THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF NATURE

Through fierce and unending training, we Japanese have had a “sensitivity to anything but the one appropriate cliché which matches the situation” pounded into our heads. Thus, we adapt to our environment, an environment constructed by those above us, as if it was all natural and had always been so. Where we were once sensitive to nature itself, now we are sensitive to an “artificial nature” which consists of seasonal clichés. We only pay attention to whether the clichés are appropriate or not: “The cherry blossoms of April,” “The hydrangeas of June,” and so on. It is not allowed to doubt such things, regardless of what is actually blooming.

Some examples of this “socially-constructed nature” are: the official announcements of the beginning of cherry blossom season, plum blossom season, and the rainy season, and the “official” time to change our clothes for the new season.

When the sakura begin to bloom at the grave of Somei Yoshino in Yasukuni Shrine, the official announcements declare SAKURA SEASON throughout all of Tokyo. Though it might be the hottest time of summer, the Weather Bureau announces that it is the rainy season as per its schedule. No one is allowed to comment on any of this. The whole nation, as one, changes from spring to summer clothing, and from fall to winter clothing, at pre-arranged times that have nothing to do with the actual temperature. Man-made arrangements and nature have become fused to the point where the confusion itself seems natural. This is the “social construction” of nature. We are constantly looking for the many man-made social signs to tell us what the weather is! Without them we feel great anxiety!

The constant warnings, mechanized greetings, cautions, scoldings and automated announcements of the coffee shops, trains, and department stores (to say nothing of the flood of muzak) (and the heaters set to 28 degrees) . . . we think nothing of them, because they are the NEW NATURE!

Official authorities (such as the Traffic Safety Association, Young People’s Guidance Association, Small Business Administration, and so on) are in charge of deciding the official “first day of spring” and “first day of autumn” . . . because our own bodies are numbed, unable to feel the passing of the seasons on our own. Under the onslaught of clichés, ritualistic speech, and slogans, our own individual sensitivity to what is comfortable and what is offensive have been numbed. No, it has been stupefied! Grown women and men allow themselves to be told by conductors: THE DOORS OPEN AUTOMATICALLY, PLEASE DON’T FORCE THEM WITH YOUR HANDS, PLEASE WALK AND DON’T RUN WHEN YOU DISEMBARK, PLEASE FORM AN ORDERLY LINE, PLEASE DON’T CROWD ONTO FULL TRAIN CARS, PLEASE REFRAIN FROM RUNNING INTO TRAINS WHEN THE DOORS ARE CLOSING, and so on. We think nothing of this. This is how our bodies have been transformed.


Thus, I have to dispute the following popular wisdom: “In ancient times, Japanese have loved peace and tranquility. But as we developed our civilization , especially in the postwar period with its massive economic growth, we have forgotten the traditional virtue of quiet serenity in our daily lives.” 

This is a conceptual, abstract view which totally ignores the factual evidence of Japanese people’s lives.Yes, it’s true that in feudal times, most Japanese were rice farmers who relied on good weather conditions for their livelihood. So they were very sensitive to changes in the seasons and environment. They kept their metaphorical “ears” constantly pricked up, alert for any “sounds” of seasonal change. The poets often spoke of “hearing” insects molting or flower stalks growing. Nakagawa Makoto being a good example. Or take the following example (from Higuchi Ichiyo’s VOICE OF THE INSECTS), and see how exquisitely sensitive the ‘ears’ of the poet were:


 The morning glories bloom, lined up like a miniature fence.
Yesterday and today’s leaves begin to go slack, the flowers begin to wane, as the crickets start to chirp.
The transient voice of the morning cricket.
At the edge of the ditch, inside the wall and all round, their miniature lives multiply, become stricken, and then fade away.
There’s nothing to which this can be compared. 
As the first snows approach and the year finishes, the insects are at their nadir . . . their voices grow dim and dimmer. . .where can they be?
 Even the sturdy kutsuwa beetle, someday his time will come to wither, just like we humans.
We come in many varieties, like the bell crickets, and we flourish for a brief period and then we age, our old heads nodding down on our chests as if in agreement with the natural order. . .


OUR MAN-MADE ENVIRONMENT IS THE NEW NATURE

In ancient times, commoners and nobles alike treasured seijaku (a tranquil atmosphere), but seijaku is not the same thing as silence!!
 
In contrast to today’s life, we were once surrounded by many rich natural sounds. And our human sounds were in harmony with the sounds of other animals. The “old-timey nature” so beloved by we Japanese was tidy and well-maintained: mowed fields, the well-trimmed trees surrounding the village shrines. It was a nature where you could feel a human warmth to it. A nature where people could hear the sounds of insects and birds, the babbling brook, and the wind in the trees. In the same way, one could hear the human sounds such as the temple bell and the people passing by clapping their wooden clappers as they called “Be on the lookout for fires!” The clickity-clack of geta and the barking of local dogs, and the playing of children. These sounds blended in to the already rich tapestry of nature sounds. Both types of sounds were integral to our lifestyle.

Perhaps it was the same in early Europe as well. But some things were definitely different: first, the amount of nature noise in Europe was always quite small to begin with. I’ve heard it said that in central Europe, to say nothing of the north, that it’s silent for fully half the year! Secondly, Europeans are not a rice-farming-centric culture, so their bodies never developed the sensitivity to seasonal change characteristic of Japanese bodies. Third, their houses were constructed of rocks and possessed thick walls which prevented natural sounds from penetrating inside.

The third point is the most important.  We Japanese co-existed with nature: our environment did not have a border between nature and man-made activity. With no discomfort and no protest, this is how we lived. Our house were wood and paper, so outside sounds permeated easily, and vice versa. People would leave their windows open and peer leisurely into their yards, at the moon, at the snow, at the cherry blossoms: they saw nature as their companion.

As I mentioned before, sometimes I guest-lecture at Osaka Music University. Once, I heard an amazing report there: One of our traditional Buddhist musics, called Shoumyou, was composed by transcribing the environmental sounds coming in from outside the monastery! One time, when performing in a European church, cut off from the outside, a troupe of Shoumyou monks was very distressed!

But of course, those monks were experts. But in olden days, even average Japanese, the overwhelming majority of which were farmers, lived in the same conditions, the same type of houses, and had the same sensibilities as the monks!

But – it hardly bears saying – most of us now live an urban, artificial lifestyle. Our apartments are stacked one on top of the other , and built of cheap materials. So sounds still come in from outside, but now those sounds are more like yelling running brats and crying babies, shrieking wives, bellowing barbaric dogs, idiots with loudspeakers on their trucks trying to sell us things, and the begging of priests! It’s really a human stench of sound! As the amount of human noise has developed together with urban congestion, the power to make noise has become a symbol of authority.

Instead the old class system of “gentry, farmers, artisans, merchants” has given way to a new class system. The upper classes are those with the power to tell the rest of us what is a proper “seasonal feeling”! Kadomatsu (New years), setsubun (the final day of winter), tuskimi (full-moon-viewing parties),  and so on . . . throughout the year, our individual experiences of real nature are mediated by and systematized into these man-made “cultural events”.

In the same way, as we’ve become a more “civilized” nation, we’ve come to expect our cues to come from the loudspeakers in schools and city halls. The bells of the administrative offices, the organ music from the schools, the official fireworks parties’ sounds, the radio music that accompanies the PE classes, to say nothing of the ritualized chants of the coaches on the PA, the slogans spewing from the politicians’ sound-trucks (THIS WEEK IS TRAFFIC AWARENESS WEEK!), the other slogans spewing from the fire-department trucks (THIS WEEK IS FIRE AWARENESS WEEK!), these are the sounds that now define the passing of the seasons for us.

These sounds are accepted as if they were as natural as the seasons and weather, but in fact they’re deliberately constructed and forced on us by the elite of society.  People would no sooner protest the SOUNDS than they would protest the shortening of the days in winter or protest a typhoon. The power is too overwhelming, too omnipresent. This man-made “nature” has penetrated our bodies to the point where we can’t imagine that our own interests and its interests diverge.

So I suppose it could be said that Japanese are still co-existing with “nature”!!!


YOU CAN’T WRECK THE CONCEPT OF NATURE

If you look at it that way, you can get a hint of how to answer one of the difficult questions posed by contemporary life : “Why do we Japanese, who value nature so much, bulldoze entire mountains, pave entire beaches in concrete, and deface our fields with vulgar billboards?” The usual facile answer is “Because our sensitivity to the environment and seasons has changed rapidly.” But, the truth is this reply is no real answer at all! Although we have changed, we haven’t killed off our seasonal sensitivity altogether!

We send the customary New Years’ cards, and put the decorations out by our doors, we go in great numbers to hanami (sakura viewing parties), and in fall, the hotels in Nikko and Hakkone always sell out. From the “mamemaki” ( a game where beans are thrown to keep demons away) of the pre-schools to the year’s-end parties of grown-ups, we still spend our whole year doing seasonal events. In department stores, shopping districts, train stations ,etc, a huge amount of money goes to season-themed advertisements. We love cherry blossoms as much as we ever did. We sit under them, drinking ourselves silly and talking loudly just as in medieval times. But the scale and the nature of these holidays has changed. Just like pleats, the secret lies in the hidden way that everything changes or stretches while seeming to stay the same!

Here, I dare to introduce a hypothesis . . .and challenge other writers and theorists to refute it (incidentally, of the many, many, many writers on this subject, their explanations never amount to more than “Japanese don’t respect nature anymore. . . BECAUSE WE ARE STUPID AND DUMB.”) I know, I have a presumptuous attitude! My hypothesis explains the facts better than any other hypothesis! If you find a more persuasive hypothesis, please let me know about it, because I certainly couldn’t find one!!

First, let’s look at the facts impartially: during the decades of Japan’s rapid post-war growth, we suddenly and totally lost our traditional sense of aesthetics . . NOT!! Even today’s Japanese, who don’t mind the “cultural noise”; they still love cherry blossoms, plum blossoms, hot girls in yukata, and handsome guys in happi coats. We still love the insect sounds on summer evenings, the red dragonflies flitting in front of the setting sun. If anything, we still love the IDEA of nature as much as ever.

We love the idea of nature, while damaging the real nature, and we don’t notice the contradiction. We keep the idea of nature inside ourselves, where it is safe no matter what happens to real nature. For instance, in the middle of the most squalid, hideous shopping district, if we can find a single red dragonfly perching on one pathetic dandelion growing out of a crack next to a utility pole, we can feel the “spirit of summer and fall” in our hearts.  

In our huge apartment complexes, we have a tiny goldfish in a bowl on the windowsill, a tiny wind-chime, a little teruteru bozu (a sort of dangling ghost which is supposed to ward off bad weather), and some ceremonial bamboo sticks . . .In the midst of the gray concrete canyons of the projects, these tiny things alone are enough to guarantee that we can feel the idea of nature.

Our bodies catch and hold onto the symbols of natural beauty from the external world. The “Japan” depicted in traditional paintings is just a symbol, an idea of Japan – in other words, Japan as it’s supposed to be.  We Japanese have a strong tendency to “read” the external world with our eyes and ears, turning it into a concept which we store inside us. We don’t view passively (taking in what we see as it is) but we view actively (only noticing things that fit into stereotyped, idealized models). That’s why the same people who fail to notice the gaudy billboards and hideous shopping districts will tell you, “Japanese love simplicity. There is nothing more important to us,” without noticing the contradiction.


KATSURARIKYUU  AND AKIHABARA

This “idea of nature” is not something in opposition to the man-made world. If anything, it pacifies the people, who, content with merely the idea, go blindly along with the continuing uglification of their environment. The lack of protest or even thought has itself become “natural”. If you think about it like that, it’ll give you a hint of how to unravel the mysteries of this chapter!

Fields of crops are nothing if not man-made. And they’re beautiful: the beauty is also man-made. But they were everywhere, so they were natural to us. But then the authorities started putting up utility poles, cutting the sky in half. This was for the social good, to bring power to the villages, so no one could protest. And now the “new” fields, in all their utility-pole-blighted ugliness, are now natural too, because that’s what they all look like nowadays.

Next the authorities put in train tracks, so the trains could belch exhaust onto the fields. And that’s also become natural. Same way with the iron bridges, the factories, with their smokestacks, and the billboards that began to appear in the fields. It’s all part of the “new nature.”

So when I’m riding the train and see some beautiful rice fields ruined by gigantic ridiculous billboards, that’s not “real nature ruined by modern times” that I’m seeing, it’s “legitimate new nature that’s demanded by Japanese.” The same way, when I take the train from Sanjima to Shinfuji station, and can’t even see Mt. Fuji because the entire time it’s hidden behind a forest of smokestacks, that’s because smokestacks are the very archetype of the “new nature”. That’s the “landscape” we deserve in these times.

The icing on the cake: this “new nature” is not something forced on us by a handful of elites. We all demanded this. We are all accomplices to the elites. We’ve all been thoroughly trained. Our compliant attitudes are also part of the “new nature.” Going shopping in a skeezy mall with plastic flowers and speakers blaring “The Cherry Blossom Song” at top volume. . .this doesn’t feel at all un-natural to us. If anything it feels comforting – the “new nature” atmosphere suits our “new nature” bodies.

Katsurarikyuu was made in harmony with nature. In the best tradition of old Japan, the man-made structures worked with the land in an artful way, because that was what people demanded at that time. By the exact same principle, today we get the vulgar un-natural chaotic noisy jumble of Akihabara because that is what people demand nowadays. But although they couldn’t look more different, both places are equally “in harmony” with people’s idea of what is natural (at the time). As our civilization has developed, we now demand places like Akihabara.

For those of you who are cocking your heads in disbelief, let me add a little more explanation:  Picture a festival, with its rows of booths selling goldfish and candy-floss, its tents, and so on. To this nostalgic scene, add the sound of flutes and tyko drums. In fact, for good measure, let’s make it the Autumn Festival, and set it next to a medieval castle! 

Now, zoom the camera out to reveal that the festival is in the middle of a very dense and wide city neighborhood, packed full of pachinko parlors and game centers. That’s Akihabara. 

Or Shimokitazawa, Harajuku’s Takeshita street, Shibuya’s Center-gai, or any other place where young people gather to celebrate Autumn Festival. That’s where they feel comfortable.

Now if we were to take these young people and teleport them to Katsurarikyuu, they would feel really uncomfortable. Because of all the peace and tranquility!   Harmony does not automatically equal silence, in other words. People only feel in harmony with their environment when the environment has the same amount of “noise” that is in their heads all the time.

Our “tea ceremony masters” don’t need to live in a place that’s as quiet as a traditional tea-house: they can live and shop in the same crowded gaudy streets as everyone else. I’ve never seen a tea-master sigh in dismay at a cheesy shopping mall. I’ve never seen a tea-master who was too “pure” to drink in a back-alley “standing bar” where the patrons lean on utility poles in the street in lieu of chairs. The “refined” tea-house and the vulgar mall have different “sensitivity levels”, but (and this is my main point) the latter is the true center of modern-day Japan.

The former is just the pure, clear layer floating on top of a bowl of soup! In common society, it’s the latter that is clearly visible everywhere – the actual soup itself.

Finally, some of the more superficial writers like to point to the Heian period and say things like, “Japanese have lost our sense of tranquility and delicate things.” But in fact the noisiest days in modern life are festivals – the most traditional days of the year! In this they are no different from modern things like amusement parks. And these writers ought to know this.



WHY IS IT SO DIFFICULT TO CHANGE THIS “SOUND-PICKLED SOCIETY”?

Well, I’ve talked enough about Japanese cities, haven’t I? So I’ll only mention one more thing.

In the past, whether in the streets or in our homes, we could hear human sounds: the cries of gold-fish sellers and tofu-merchants, bells from a nearby temple, the fireworks that announced the early-morning athletics, and the radio music which accompanied the neighborhood exercise sessions. But during the era of rapid economic development (particularly the ‘60s) speaker-, tape-, and machine -noises increased at an incredible pace. 

Instead of the traditional hoarse-voiced masculine call of the tofu- and gold-fish-sellers, we got curtain-rod-sellers, roast-potato-sellers and ice-cream-vendors (to say nothing of green-grocers, hot-oil-salesmen, and scrap-iron-buyers) cruising in their loudspeaker trucks, invading our neighborhoods with their inhuman volume levels!  THERE’S MORE WHERE THIS CAME FROM! WE HAVE BIG BARGAINS ON THIS AND THAT! 2 FOR FIVE HUNDRED YEN OR 4 FOR EIGHT HUNDRED YEN!! And so on, glibly droning on and on.

At the same time, the old festivals with their flutes and drums got turned into “loudspeaker festivals” overrun with pre-recorded music and fools yelling into megaphones. Bus drivers got in on the action too, with PA systems built into the bus itself, which allowed the drivers to harangue us nonstop with cautions, warnings, and then (later) announcements of stores, malls and places of interest around the various bus stops. Not to mention the abuse of the utility-pole-mounted Emergency Disaster Announcement Systems, which concern such emergencies as tardy children: IT’S NOW TIME FOR ALL GOOD CHILDREN TO GO HOME FOR DINNER!

The combined noise is now so much that one can no longer hear the temple bells.

This modern sound environment is no more dense and vast than the old-timey Akihabara festival sound environment I discussed earlier, or the old-timey man-made village sounds I mentioned at the beginning of this section. That’s why Japanese did not find it uncomfortable to adapt to the present sound environment. And that’s why it is so difficult to persuade people to change the situation. It’s enough to make one lose hope.


THE LANGUAGE AND ACTIONS OF JAPANESE

But, if we look at the origin of the present-day infestation of man-made noise and “management announcements”, and add to it this concept of “new nature” I discussed, then we can begin to see why Japanese talk and act the way we do.

 In the previous chapter I explained my theory of why we crave constant exposure to signage. This is one of the main components of our Japanese bodies, so one can’t afford to ignore it.

We Japanese hate “individual communication” (i.e. talking using non-stereotypical phrases, conversation outside established patterns –ed.) because it means we have to try to guess the other person’s intentions and expectations. We’ve done our best to stamp out “individual language” and replace it with “public language” (i.e. speaking formally as one would to a stranger, speech guaranteed not to give offense or surprise -ed.).

We don’t like confronting one another, so we rely on train conductors to lay down the rules: IT’S GOTTEN HOT, SO PLEASE CLOSE THE WINDOWS. THERE IS ONLY ROOM FOR SEVEN PEOPLE ON A BENCH, SO ANY EXTRA PEOPLE MUST STAND UP. CELLPHONES CAN CAUSE ANNOYANCE SO PLEASE TURN THEM OFF FOR THE TIME BEING. The conductor has to say every possible warning.

 We Japanese are kind at heart, so even if the person next to us is smoking and it’s really hot inside, we wouldn’t think to open a window. We would prefer to endure silently. Nor could we possibly ask our neighbor if he/she’d mind if we opened a window. To say nothing of asking someone if they could move over and make room for us. We leave all this “social management” to the authorities!

My main point is: this mentality is deep in our bodies, in our bones. There’s no changing it. What’s more, this mentality affects our sense of aesthetics. The most beautiful object is one which does not cause others worry or distress. To ask one’s neighbor, “Could you please scoot over so I could sit, too?” means flying in the face of aesthetics, and not many have the sort of raw animal courage required to withstand the cold stare that they’d receive from the person who was scootching their butt over. We lose our courage and bitterly regret having asked in the first place. It’s easier to remain standing, trapped with other riders like octopi in an octopus trap.

The roots of this phenomenon are deep, frighteningly deep.  

Here is a true story which I read: an American couple were living in an apartment, when one day suddenly the neighbors turned cold.  They had no idea what the reason was. The wife tried to ask but nobody would tell her. Then people started leaving trash by their doorway. Nobody would say hello to them, let alone tell them the reason for the cruel treatment. Finally, the wife cornered a neighbor before the neighbor could run away and forced her to explain.

As it turns out, the cause was this: the Americans had left their washer/dryer in a communal alleyway, where it was really hard for people to get around. Not only did the Americans not know what a nuisance their washer/dryer was, they also failed to understand all the hints that the kindly neighbors had been giving them.

I’ve accumulated a great deal of anecdotes of this nature. We Japanese prefer to communicate sensitive things by glances or gestures, not words, and it’s up to the other person to decipher us. What’s more, learning how to decipher hints is not a skill that anyone is taught. You have to do your utmost to learn it all on your own. This talent is of the utmost importance to Japanese. As for those who lack the talent to understand hints, nobody is going to explain this to them in plain language! Explaining clearly is considered the mark of a simple-minded, even immoral, person.

Every nook and cranny of this country is the same way. We are constantly on high alert, for fear of missing a hint or a sign. Oh no, I missed one, and it’s already too late! The neighbors point at me and whisper. My classmates ridicule and bully me! This is what makes Japanese so nervous and insecure in uncluttered, quiet places. We are like ancient villagers who are constantly alert for signs of storms : there is no way to explain ourselves to the storm, no way to argue back at it. The same way, the “storm” of punishment awaiting those who fail to see “signs” is regarded as natural, as their own fault.



OUR BODIES WHICH FEEL SO SAFE ONLY WHEN BATHING IN THE ENDLESS STREAM OF SIGNAGE

That’s why we demand signs in every nook and cranny. They’re like the social hints I described above. Signs take the place of people directly confronting each other about public manners. We can’t discuss manners openly, much less decide for ourselves what is the right thing to do in a given circumstance. So we have to rely on signs to tell us. We never had to develop self-confidence, but we don’t realize this until we find ourselves in a place devoid of signs, at which point we become anxious and uncomfortable.  

The ticket machines that tell you PLEASE DON’T FORGET TO TAKE YOUR TICKET OUT OF ME are not just “signs”, but also they’re viewed as evidence of the benevolence of the train company. As are the warnings: PLEASE CHECK THE NUMBER OF TICKETS YOU RECEIVED IS CORRECT and DON’T FORGET YOUR CHANGE. The fact that nobody is going to forget their change is immaterial. The important thing is being surrounded with signs at all times.

At construction sites, signs like SAFETY IS NUMBER ONE or CHECK FOR DANGER! Together with the usual behavior management slogans, they combine to form a sort of encircling curtain of signage. And of course, the more danger, the more signs.

It’s often said that Japanese people supply their conversation partners with an endless stream of “Really?”s and “Is that so?”s and “Uh-huh!”s. And our encouragement is not limited to words: we widen our eyes, nod our heads, furrow our brows, laugh, and gesture – a veritable waterfall of signs. We demand that our conversations all be pickled in signs. Anything less signals that we don’t enjoy the conversation (whether that’s the case or not!) and causes distress to the speaker.

As for myself, having long since slipped off the main path of society, the habit of “conversational over-signing” causes ME distress! I don’t bother with it myself, which causes problems on the phone: even a silence of one or two seconds causes the other person to start frantically calling, “Hello? Hello? Are you there?”

It seems that every conversational sign requires the other party to give a polite counter-sign, which in turn requires a further counter-sign, which sets in motion a vicious circle. As the flood of signs increases, each individual sign loses its potency, requiring ever more signs – a sort of inflation. More stimulating and newfangled signs are required for conversation; the same as in advertising, architecture, and business. As for the people in the path of this flood of signs, we have to consciously tune out signs which are not important to us. Our bodies soon learn how to “choose the right altitude”.

We’re evolving to reject or deny most of the signs. Consequently, the signs multiply even further, to force us to pay attention. And the announcements begin to be repeated more and more times.

When the out-of-service train pulls up to the platform, the conductor calls at a deafening volume: NUMBER (WHATEVER) TRAIN IS NOT IN SERVICE. PLEASE DO NOT TRY TO BOARD THIS TRAIN. PLEASE DO NOT TRY TO BOARD THIS TRAIN.
PLEASE DO NOT TRY TO BOARD THIS TRAIN.
PLEASE DO NOT TRY TO BOARD THIS TRAIN.
PLEASE DO NOT TRY TO BOARD THIS TRAIN.

. . . and yet still people are walking towards it!

It’s not that they don’t hear these messages. It’s that we’ve been so thoroughly trained to respond to certain stereotyped announcements and slogans that our bodies no longer respond to new, ad-hoc announcements. This is an important point that I will discuss at length later.


FRESHMAN ORIENTATION

Japanese have been so well trained that certain actions come automatically. These “accepted actions” are so deeply ingrained that even when the “powers that be” decide to change them, they have to resort to huge, fierce numbers of announcements to over-ride the previous habits.

For instance, years ago, when one went to the train station, one gave the ticket to the staff-person at the turnstile, and boarded. But when they replaced the staff-person with an automatic ticket-reading machine, they had to put a loudspeaker : PLEASE INSERT THE TICKET DARK SIDE DOWN, PLEASE INSERT THE TICKET DARK SIDE DOWN, PLEASE INSERT THE TICKET DARK SIDE DOWN, PLEASE INSERT THE TICKET DARK SIDE DOWN, PLEASE INSERT THE TICKET DARK SIDE DOWN, on an infinite loop. Even today, the ticket-reading machine in Shinjuku’s Odakyu station still has a tape telling us I DON’T SELL TICKETS – IF YOU DON’T HAVE A TICKET, YOU HAVE TO GO BACK TO THE OTHER MACHINE AND BUY ONE. I DON’T SELL TICKETS – IF YOU DON’T HAVE A TICKET, YOU HAVE TO GO BACK TO THE OTHER MACHINE AND BUY ONE. I DON’T SELL TICKETS – IF YOU DON’T HAVE A TICKET, YOU HAVE TO GO BACK TO THE OTHER MACHINE AND BUY ONE.

I’ve protested this who-knows-how-many times, but the station staff only say, “Some people still make mistakes”, as if that explains anything. I was about to retort that “Surely everyone knows you need a ticket to get on a damn train! Surely everyone knows where to buy tickets!” but then again, these days, maybe people really are just that stupid. In confusion, I retreated from the argument.

In this society pickled in signs, we are becoming unable to adapt to new circumstances, to say nothing of individual circumstances! We can’t do anything without signs – instead of “homo sapiens,” our society is cranking out “homo wait-for-instructions” in record numbers. No one notices or complains about this. Instead they complain, “Young people these days don’t know what to do with their lives! They need more instructions!”

Let me give you one example of the absurd lengths to which we go to train our citizens: the freshman orientation meeting (not just at my University, but at most Universities these days). I reluctantly attended the ceremony two years ago, and was totally unprepared for such a hideous spectacle!

Several dozen buses were hired to transport everyone to a hotel, so the ceremony could last overnight. The intention of the whole thing was to let the students and faculty line up and greet each other, to make everyone comfortable and friendly. It was a good plan, but the way it was implemented, at every stage, was polluted with Japanese body odor!!!

Before we could go to the hotel, we had to attend an “explanation meeting”, where the only activity that occurred was to collect payment for the hotel in advance. Nothing was explained at all! At any rate, the busses arrived on campus, but I had a bad feeling about this. . .

In fact, we were still there at 9PM, all lined up, with speakers yelling at us at high volume, instructing late arrivals where to go, and telling people what we were supposed to have packed, repeating over and over. 

Finally when we get to the hotel, and line up. The teacher in charge instructs each person exactly what to do, as if we were all (students and faculty alike) pre-schoolers: Student A, go to teacher B. Now present your business card to him. Now teacher B, take the card and introduce yourself. Now, Student A, proceed to the next teacher! This level of detailed guidance was to continue throughout the evening.

The following morning, we had to wait, lined up, for over an hour. . . waiting for tardy people to come from the hotel. No one seemed at all irritated by this. We got on board the busses, our breast pockets full of everyone’s business cards. And we couldn’t board any old bus: we had been assigned “bus groups”, and even seat assignments, and we had to “check in” with the “group leader”, to make sure we weren’t cheating! It was the same with the four-person hotel rooms: each room only had one key, given to the “room leader”, who was responsible for everyone in the room. And who knows how many “room leaders” left the hotel with the keys still in their pockets!

As for the orientation itself, it was utterly valueless. Each teacher was assigned thirty students, and all we did was recite lines off of mimeographed papers, to students who paid no attention and were loudly talking amongst themselves, for hours.  The students would grab the microphone periodically to ask questions like “Will this place help me get a job?” and “Could you make the letter on the orientation packet bigger?” and “Whose courses are the easiest to pass?”

After that, we were all given a high-quality meal and got to use the excellent public baths, but the students merely kept on babbling and behaving poorly, taking the luxuries for granted.


After classes had started, I was surprised to hear the students talking about the orientation: “That was rad! That ruled!” Huh? Not a one said, “They treated us like children! Are they fucking with us?” Almost 100 percent of the students had attended the horrible orientation, and the one or two who didn’t said “I wish I had gone, too!”

WE ARE ALL COMPLICIT IN CREATING THESE “JAPANESE BODIES”

We teachers – from orientation onwards – spare no effort to create “waiting-for-orders-sapiens”. And then we complain, “Children nowadays are so immature”, “They are incapable of judgment,” “They don’t think for themselves” and so on. It’s laughable! No one realizes the contradiction at all – I should say it would be laughable if it weren’t so scary.

As for me, I think we should immediately stop stunting students’ capacity for judgment, freedom of thought. It’s barbaric. Let’s just for the sake of argument, see what an orientation would be like if it treated students as responsible free-thinking adults:

We’d arrange for the busses, collect the money, but that would be it. No meetings, no lectures. Anyone even one minute late – too bad! At the hotel, there would be no formal “orientation.” Instead – unstructured informal conversation which would actually promote friendship. And on the way back, anyone who is late – left at the hotel! Welcome to adulthood! Anyone who took the key accidentally, they have to go back to the hotel on their own dollar and return it. Or mail it. Or at least defend their actions using logic and courage. I think these are important things to teach students. Of course, nobody at all would show up for the following year’s orientation!  Everyone wants to be alternately spoiled rotten and lectured to. They want their failures to be forgiven. They don’t want to use their head – they want the guidance poured into their bodies until it becomes instinctual.

Even if I were put in charge of orientations, nothing would change in the unforgiving larger world.  What I really can’t forgive is the companies that fear any disagreements at meetings would result in instant bankruptcy, so they train their employees to only say the most safest, empty phrases. The employees must speak with one single voice, take the corporate oath, sing the corporate anthem, even learn to imitate the speech cadence of their boss! Their every utterance is, little by little, forced into the corporate mold until not a trace of individuality remains. It seeps into their blood and bones, until there is no changing them back to their former self. Why is that? Because most Japanese demand that it be that way!

2 comments

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6 comments

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