Tokyo Damage Report

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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8 comments

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!

 

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 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!

a


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!

a


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

kadafy death mix: sayonara shithead

KILL THE KINGGGGGGGGGGGG

BIG PAYBACK

HOLE IN THE HEAD

DEAD IN A DITCH

YOU'RE GONNA GET YOURS

??????

LYBIAN HIT SQUAD

X IS COMING

KILLING AN ARAB

WELCOME TO HELLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL

YOU GOT KNOCKED THE FUCK OUT

6 comments

nakajima’s JAPANESE ARE HALF FALLEN PART 3

CHAPTER THREE: THE FLOOD OF STANDARDIZED SPEECH.

SLOGAN  NEUROSIS

Again I have a syndrome to report to you: I suffer from “slogan neurosis.”

For a long time, the whole length and breadth of my country has been blanketed in these DON’T DO THIS! DO IT LIKE THAT! slogans – what I’d like to call ‘Behavior Management Broadcasts’.  I’ve managed to tolerate them until recently, but now they cause me mental suffering! It’s not just that they turn our streets into ugly places.  

Warning slogans like  PLEASE DON’T THROW YOUR CIGARETTE BUTTS ON THE GROUND and  LET’S NOT PICK THE FLOWERS and PLEASE STOP PARKING CARS WHERE THEY WILL BE A NUISANCE TO OTHERS, to say nothing of ‘road-manners’ slogans like  LET’S GREET PEOPLE CHEERFULLY TODAY and LET’S WATCH OUT FOR THE CHILDREN ON THEIR WAY TO AND FROM SCHOOL . . .they cause spiritual harm to us all.

Everyone has individuality. Grown-ups should have the mental capacity to make their own judgments and take responsibility for their own actions. But these slogans are trying to destroy that. Our culture is packed to the brim with every possible slogan, but the powers-that-be don’t expect us to read each one, think about it, and accept its message. That isn’t the point. It’s just like promotional signs for businesses: the signs and slogans work subliminally on the passers-by, precisely because we don’t take time to look and judge them objectively. Their messages hover between conscious and unconscious thought, guiding us. That’s the point. That’s why the powers that be don’t want Japanese to develop a sense of self-responsibility and critical thinking: those things are totally opposed to the process I just described.

Allow me to take this explanation a bit further:  TV commercials attempt to persuade us to buy certain things without us realizing it. In the same way, DON’T LITTER banners attempt, through sheer repetition rather than logic or instilling a sense of responsibility for one’s actions, to get us to obey. They try to stop the thought of “I’ll drop my cigarette here” from even occurring in our minds, without us even noticing that our behavior has changed or asking why. Surely that is the goal of the behavior management slogans!  The same way with the LET’S GREET EVERYONE CHEERFULLY slogans on the street . .. if you see the same slogan every day for years, you’ll start to find the phrase “Hello sir!” coming from your throat as if it was a natural reflex. That’s what the city officials are hoping will happen.

If you think about it this way, they’re taking away our ability to consent. The message is supposed to sink into your body through repetition and be absorbed. That seems to be a central principle of Japanese culture: without exception, Japanese training in everything from tea ceremony to kendo is conducted in this way.

And that’s why we have this magma-like flood of behavior management slogan posters. Back when this type of training was limited to things like kendo and tea ceremony, I think it had beneficial effects. But the dam broke, spilling slogans and posters over the entire surface of Japan! It’s a crisis, because, as I said, the behavior management slogans are designed to operate subliminally. Our bodies cry out in protest, though we know not why. Our critical thinking and individual-responsibility faculties are being suppressed. We’re living in a time of spiritual violence!  Instead of strict mental training, from now on we’ll only get simplistic advice. We’re turning into a nation of “body-ism,” where the mind doesn’t matter anymore.  

And let me add something else, a little icing on the cake for my more astute readers: my biggest reason for hating these slogans is NOT that they are turning the MASSES stupid by inhibiting their faculties for self-determination, critical thinking, and self-responsibility. I’m not that philosophical. My #1 beef is this:  I can’t tune them out!

Unlike most Japanese, I have to stop at each one and ponder if I agree with its message, and weigh it critically to see if it’s logical. I’ve tried to stop doing this, as there are millions of these things and I’m busy, but it’s impossible for me!  I can’t stand it anymore! I can’t walk down a simple street without having a mental argument with every flag, poster, banner, sign, and flyer! On the streets, in the trains, at the amusement parks, my place of work. . .the signs are everywhere, there is no escaping them, they assault my body from all sides, leaving me both physically and mentally exhausted.

DON’T FORCE OPEN THE ELEVATOR DOORS, PLEASE

I’m sure you’re sick of me always complaining about my employer, Dentsu University, but fucking West Hall Four was just built and already it’s full of dreadful behavior management slogans: PLEASE DON’T THROW YOUR TRASH ON THE FLOOR, LAST PERSON IN THE ROOM PLEASE TURN OUT THE LIGHTS WHEN YOU LEAVE, and so on. The most absurd of them all is: PEOPLE WHO DO NOT PROMISE TO FOLLOW ALL THE ABOVE SLOGANS ARE FORBIDDEN TO ENTER THE CLASSROOM.

No one is reading these things! Nobody asked for them, either. But, nobody minds them either. Nobody says a word in protest. Sometimes in the middle of class (especially big classes with a hundred students), I will suddenly ask the kids, “Does anybody know what is written up there?” The kids turn to look, but so far not a one has been able to say, “Yes.”

The elevator in the main administration building has warnings posted :  CHILDREN, PLEASE DON’T RIDE ON ME WITHOUT AN ADULT and DON’T LEAN ON MY DOORS! But the most ridiculous one has got to be: PLEASE DON’T FORCE MY DOORS OPEN.  Perhaps I’m the only person in the whole campus to read this warning! But, it’s better to evaluate them consciously (as pesky as they are) than to be controlled by them unconsciously.

At Narita airport, the  immigration station, there’s a hilariously oversized banner reading: INTERNATIONAL PEOPLE, FOLLOW THE RULES!!! (in Japanese, of course). Some hero must have thought this would stop people from trying to bring in drugs or guns.

I could go on forever with these sorts of examples. It seems like in the time it takes to read one of these ridiculous signs, someone installs ten more signs in a row!

In Choufu city, there’s a paved road running along the banks of the Tama river. One day in summer, around sundown, I was walking with some of my friends. Many other people were also out for a stroll. A man and a woman were jogging. We could see endless rows of hills in the distance. I felt freed from my worries, freed from the weight of my anxieties at last.

But even here, there were signs, in letters over a meter high, saying, DON’T RUN FAST HERE, BE CAREFUL OF PEOPLE AROUND YOU. Can’t we call an end to this nonsense? Of course one should be careful about people around one! But as I’ve said before, the signs aren’t meant to be read, or taken literally. . .they exist to make us want more signs! They exist to replace critical thought and self-responsibility, and, little by little, instill a deep craving in our bodies for signs and slogans to tell us what to do at all times.

At the Chofu station coin lockers, there’s a sign reading PLEASE CHECK YOUR BELONGINGS ONE MORE TIME.  What does that even mean?!? Oh – I get it: Maybe people put their stuff in one locker but take the key from the adjoining locker. Wait, that doesn’t make sense. Hm. Well, maybe. . . . maybe they have so much stuff that they have to use two lockers? And then they take the key for one locker, and leave, while leaving the other locker unlocked?  That’s probably it.

At the newly-renovated Sangawa station men’s bathroom, there’s a sign by each urinal: TAKE ONE STEP CLOSER, PLEASE. Well, that’s easy to understand: that’s to stop urine from splattering on the floor. It’s the OTHER sign that’s ALSO pasted above each urinal that I don’t get: LET’S USE THE RESTROOM CLEANLY TO EACH OTHER.  “To each other”?!?  Maybe it means to consider the next person to use the urinal when you’re using it? Or does ‘to each other’ include the person before you, who used the urinal improperly?  If so, that’s quite a strong message!

At the JR Bakurochou station, there’s a long escalator, and on both sides, there are signs posted at regular intervals, reading BETWEEN THE ESCALATOR HANDRAIL  AND THE WALL, THERE IS A SMALL GAP. PLEASE DON’T DROP YOUR TICKET IN THIS GAP.

Just by reading this sign, I am forced to imagine the entire absurd useless sequence of events:  I have to imagine customers (how many? One? Three? Half a dozen?) with no common sense, dropping their tickets in the tiny gap. Then I have to imagine the train-station employees stopping the escalator, putting up safety cones, and searching under the escalator until they find it. Then I have to imagine them finally getting fed up and complaining to the station chief, and thus the creation of these signs. How exhausting to even imagine it. . . It’s no wonder no one reads them!

One time I made the mistake of leaving the house with my glasses on, which allowed me to accidentally notice many far-away slogans, forcing me to imagine even more and more of these ridiculous chains of events! I got sucked into them, staring vacantly into the distance. . . I almost was unable to reach my destination!  

My own fault, I suppose.

THE JAPANESE-VIENNESE SCHOOL FLOODED WITH SLOGANS

But the fact is, we people with “slogan neurosis” are even more of a minority in this country than people with “cultural noise neurosis.”  In a world where we’re all surrounded and suffocated by slogans such as FASTEN YOUR SEATBELTS or DONATE BLOOD PLEASE or THIS BLOCK IS WATCHED BY THE NEIGHBORHOOD ANTI-CRIME PATROL or LET’S NOT FORGET TO LEND A HAND or LET’S MAKE THIS A KIND, INTIMATE NEIGHBORHOOD, almost no one questions it, let alone suffers from the overwhelming amounts of it.

The situation is particularly bad in schools. There’s almost no teachers left who can even imagine doubting the slogan-based teaching methods. They line the children up and bombard them with loudspeaker announcement after announcement with a single-minded fierceness. They pickle the children with their slogans!  By the time the children are “educated”, they turn into adults who feel very anxious or uneasy if they’re NOT surrounded by signs: warnings, be careful’s, advice, prohibitions, etc.

My son went to the experimental Meisei school here in Japan, then to Vienna for a year to study (four months at a Japanese-Viennese school, and a further eight months at an American English International School). I confess I was very curious about what effect these various educational environments would have on him!

The Meisei school was dedicated to encouraging freedom of thought and individuality in the children. So, there are none of the usual behavior management slogans that crawl on most school walls, bathrooms, halls, and gardens like so many cockroaches. No “PLEASE OBEY THE XXXX” or “PLEASE STOP DOING YYY.”

Somehow, just by removing these nuisances, the atmosphere of the place seems very un-Japanese. . . .is that really what “Japanese-ness” has been reduced to?

 On the other hand, when I went to visit the Japanese-Viennese school, I was taken aback: they had EVEN MORE of the management slogan posters than in Japan! The irony!  As if they were trying to protect the children from the foreign European cultures, they tried to cram every single slogan into one tiny room. The room was called, of course, The Japanese Culture Center! You couldn’t set one foot inside the halls without seeing some vertical banners saying something like this:

JUST BY HOLDING HANDS, WE CAN BRING SMILES TO THE WHOLE WORLD

And these three, written in huge letters:

THIS WEEK’S GOAL: GREET OTHERS PLEASANTLY WITHOUT SHYNESS!
LET’S ALL TRY TO BE ON TIME!
LET’S BALANCE OUR STUDY WITH PHYSICAL EXERCISE!

And another example: on the blackboard of my junior-high-aged son’s classroom:

OUR SLOGAN: EDUCATION TO DEVELOP OUR DREAMS!
THIS SCHOOL MAKES LEARNING FUN!
A SPUNKY SCHOOL FOR US!
OUR FUNDAMENTAL MISSION:
ONE: CONSIDERATE CHILDREN
TWO: STRONG HEALTHY CHILDREN
THREE: THOUGHTFUL CHILDREN
FOUR:  CHILDREN THAT WON’T LEAVE A TASK HALF-DONE
FIVE: CHILDREN WITH THEIR EYES ON THE WORLD

Of course, the blackboard already had a lot of other slogans crammed in the corners : FREEDOM, COOPERATION, LIVELINESS and mysteriously, in English, PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT.

It was as if there was a bit of “concentrated Japan” floating in the absolutely non-Japanese atmosphere of Vienna.

One day, my son – already 14 years old – brought home the following SAFETY FIRST! Pamphlet from school.

SAFETY FIRST!

SAFETY WHEN WALKING ON THE STREET:
 Make sure to stay on the sidewalk!
Make sure to check both ways before crossing!
Don’t go in parking lots!
Please be safe when riding your bicycle!
If you see someone you know, greet them cheerfully!
If you don’t know them, don’t stop!

SAFETY WHEN RIDING CARS OR BUSES
Don’t stand up or yell!
Don’t annoy those around you!
Don’t play with the doors!

SAFETY WHEN RIDING THE SCHOOLBUS
Say hello to the driver cheerfully!
Fasten your seat-belts!
Don’t stand or yell!
Don’t eat or drink on the bus!
Remember where your stop is!
Don’t do anything else bad!

The pamphlet then went into even greater detail:

Only cross in the crosswalks!
Check both ways before crossing!
Greet people cheerfully!
Don’t do anything that people might think is dangerous!
Treat the bus seats and items carefully! And so on.

A whole page of these stock phrases, fluttering by like zero gravity.

I think the purpose is not bus safety – the purpose is creating the type of children that find this level of BS normal or even trustworthy. Well, there’s nothing I can do about that. That’s what people demand of schools nowadays! That’s how we make Japanese people Japanese. By the time they grow up, they won’t find anything absurd, or petty, or infantalizing about “grown up” signs like THROW YOUR TRASH IN THE TRASH BIN or OBEY THE TRAFFIC SIGNALS or  DON’T BRING DANGEROUS THINGS IN THE PARK.

WE GRATEFULLY THANK YOU FOR USING THE KICHIJOJI BRANCH ONCE AGAIN!

 It’s not merely that I hate slogans. What really causes problems is that I hate the Japanese-y way that people use the Japanese language. Especially the standardized, robotic politeness – it causes me actual bodily pain!  

When I’m working from home, I sometimes get a call. I know it’s not from anybody I want to talk to, because I’ve already told all my friends not to call me at home (I consider it a violation of my private space). But there it was, ringing, so I had to answer it.

“This is Mizuho Bank, Kichijoji branch respectfully calling. Thank you for honorably using our branch for your banking needs! Is this the honorable Nakajima residence?”

“Yes.”

“Honorable Mr. Nakajima, I’m sorry to bother you, but are you the head of the household?”

“No.”

“Are you the honorable husband of the household? Once again, thank you for honorably using Kichijoji branch for all your banking needs. Today, I humbly would like to present a proposal, which is why I have humbly telephoned your honorable residence.”

“Huh.”

“The fact of the matter is, I’d humbly like to make you aware of a new form of high-interest account which . . .”

Irritated, I cut him off by saying, “I have no interest in this!” and hung up. Partially because of the cumulative rage built up by who-knows-how-many of these phone calls, but mostly because, as I just mentioned, the insufferable, robotic politeness which runs in direct contradiction to the rudeness of the actual content of the message.

It doesn’t matter who calls me, it’s always the same phrases: “Once again, thank you for honorably using Kichijoji branch for all your banking needs.” I suppose that’s part of their training.

In the time it takes for me to use the ticket machine for the shinkansen, the machine yells at me at least ten fucking times, THANK YOU FOR HONORABLY USING OUR HUMBLE SHINKANSEN SERVICE WE ARE GRATEFUL HONORED CUSTOMER!  I absolutely have had it up to here with this phenomenon! It’s a stereotyped politeness with no informational content whatsoever. In department stores and restaurants too, it’s bad enough that they play tapes, but every meaningful sentence has to be accompanied by a stereotyped formal phrase of equal or greater length:  THANK YOU FOR HONORABLY USING OUR HUMBLE XXXXX STORE!

And what’s more, many of these announcements are recorded in a cloying, too-sweet voice, like someone trying to coax a cat. More and more, it seems as if the politeness and the anxiety are forming an alliance against me!

My wise readers might by now have realized that it is the very machine-like, rote nature of our business-related language that makes it easy to adjust to actual pre-recorded tapes and announcements. But that doesn’t make the phenomenon natural or forgivable!  If anything, my “Mechanical-noise neurosis” stems from the fact that we flesh-and-blood humans are nowadays being raised to imitate the speaking style of the tape machines!!

And this insidious problem is not limited to words, either.  The whole “extreme politeness” phenomenon makes a mockery of the individuality of the speaker at the same time that it totally ignores the individuality of the listener. As far as I can tell, far from being ‘tradition’, it’s the most UN-natural thing in the world!  The young women working in department stores and banks . . . when they are on their lunch break , they sound absolutely different!  When talking to their co-workers, they use a way of speaking and a tone of voice which is natural for them.  (when I was a student, one time I worked part-time in a department store, and that’s how I know this). The metamorphosis is so complete, it’s a gut-wrenching thing to watch.

In the West, the manners of sales-girls and bank tellers is less affected.  Even  at Macdonald’s, the staff don’t have to be as rigid and long-winded as their Japanese counterparts, who say  HONORABLE WELCOME! WHEN YOU DECIDE, PLEASE BE SO KIND AS TO LET US KNOW. PLEASE WAIT A MOMENT!

As for Japanese bank tellers, it doesn’t matter what unreasonable demands the customer makes, or how rude he is – they have to respond to any and all treatment with the same wan smile and deferential attitude, to the last drop of their endurance. Their Western counterparts are free to adjust their own attitude in response to the customer’s: they can be as blunt or curt as the situation demands. It’s an altogether more human policy. And when a regular customer comes in, they can greet him or her with informal friendliness, and even make small talk!!

As you can see, I prefer the Western attitude towards customer service, but it’s not merely an issue of personal taste. In Western countries, you absolutely won’t find this nationwide blanket of loudspeaker announcements, and that’s not personal taste, that’s a fact.

In my country, customer-service people are expected to lose their capacity to show emotion. If anything, they’re expected to transform into deferential robots.  If you go to any bank, you can hear for yourself that the young woman at the counter talks exactly like the pre-recorded tape at the self-service ATM machine.  This “the more mechanical the better” ideal of customer service is probably one of the main culprits of the whole CULTURAL NOISE phenomenon:  If we didn’t expect our clerks to talk like machines, then we wouldn’t demand machines that talk in the first place!  

Japanese people who have been born and raised in such an environment grow up to expect and even demand this. The mechanical language and the over-politeness, functions just like the slogans, the SOUNDS, and the obsessive signage: we feel anxious and even uneasy without them. I’ll discuss this in more detail in the following section.

STANDARDIZED AND MACHINELIKE, UN-EMOTIONAL SPEECH

The following incident occurred when I gave a lecture at Kyoto’s Bukyou University.

A few days after I returned to Tokyo, I received this letter from Bukyou:

DEAR AND HONORED PROFESSOR,

Please allow us to humbly state that it was our honor to have the honorable opportunity to hear your honorable lecture.  Every time you honor our humble educational center with your unforgettable words, you bring us honor and more honor.  Allow us to humbly state that  the contents of your honorable lecture were sublime and we humbly owe you a huge debt of gratitude. Anytime you honorably wish to honorably return and impart more of your honorable wisdom, please don’t hesitate to honorably let us know. Please allow us to humbly state that we have humbly presented your honorarium fee to your honorable bank account.  We wish you the best of luck in your future honorable endeavors, and anxiously await further guidance, should you wish to honorably bestow it upon us.  Please look favorably upon our humble educational center.

Please accept our humble and most sincere wishes for good luck in your honorable and great career, as well as our humble and most sincere wishes for your continued good health.

The respectful language aside, I get this exact same letter every time I go there. As does everyone else who guest-lectures there.  I don’t know if it gets on their nerves as much as it gets on mine. But to me, it’s a form letter, all the worse for pretending to not be one.

But the majority of Japanese don’t react like I do to this kind of pre-formatted polite language. They prefer their thank-you letters to be superficial and devoid of content. It’s just the same as the loudspeaker announcements that blare THANK YOU VERY MUCH : they understand the sentiments without really thinking about the content. Just like the PLEASE DON’T CROWD ONTO THE TRAINS, AS IT IS DANGEROUS warnings which play all day on the station platforms. People are bathed in these announcements every morning but don’t think about it one way or the other.

Now, let me return to my story about the annoying phone call from Mizuho bank, Kichijoji branch. Seeing as how I was too wound-up to return to work, I decided to use the time to call the branch manager directly.  I said, “I’d like to complain about the attitude of the staffer who called me.”

“What’s the matter? Was he rude, sir?”

(Oh, that’s right: in this country, only insufficient politeness is considered grounds for complaint)

“No, he was a nuisance to me because his choice of words was TOO polite.”

“Whaaaa?”

“See, I work from home. If he’s going to interrupt my labor, he should come right to the point rather than waste time with phrases like WE GRATEFULLY THANK YOU FOR USING THE KICHIJOJI BRANCH ONCE AGAIN! And other such clichés, again and again and again. Won’t you please make him stop? Can you explain to me how that is supposed to make it more sincere? If anything it strikes me as inginburei ( 慇懃無礼:polite on the surface but actually contemptuous; offensively obsequious)”

“*sighs* I’m very sorry we interrupted your work.”

And that was about the end of the call! The branch manager didn’t understand – make that didn’t WANT to understand –  what I was talking about. Perhaps I should have apologized for speaking so rashly. I merely meant to indicate that if they  really want to show respect for me, personally, as a customer, then they should  show this by taking my personal preferences into account. Of course there’s many different kinds of regular customers, and they all have their own ways of talking. Perhaps some of them like the excessive politeness.  Perhaps for some of them it doesn’t cause unease and resentment.

So I’m not asking you to change your whole speech for everybody. Just, if you call me, get to the point like so: THIS IS MIZUHO BANK, KICHIJOJI BARNCH. IS NAKAJIMA HOME? I WOULD LIKE TO TALK TO YOU ABOUT A NEW HIGH-INTEREST ACCOUNT.  

Real respect means actually taking the time to learn the individual speaking styles individual customers prefer.

However, I was not able to actually tell him that on the phone. As a Japanese, I know how extreme – how violent – such a demand would sound. Most Japanese have been raised with pre-formatted speech to the extent that it’s soaked clear down to their bones. To them, having to deal with the individual speaking style of each customer would be the most difficult thing in the world.

That’s why the current rule exists: “be so polite that none of the many personality types could possibly find anything to object to.” In other words, ‘idiotic politeness.” The ultimate aim is not to actually respect the customer – if anything, it’s just self-defense measure.  That’s why I find it so discomforting.

Another example: the asinine messages one gets when the phone lines are down:  For instance, NHK (telephone company’s) message:  THIS IS NHK. WE HUMBLY THANK YOU FOR YOUR COOPERATION EVERY DAY. YOU ARE NOW USING OUR HUMBLE TELEPHONE, HOWEVER AT THIS TIME WE CAN NOT ACCOMMODATE YOUR WISHES TO BE CONNECTED TO THE HONORABLE PERSON ON THE OTHER END. WE ARE TERRIBLY SORRY ABOUT THIS. WE HUMBLY BEG YOU TO HONORABLY TRY YOUR CALL  AGAIN SOMETIME BETWEEN NINE AND TEN O’CLOCK.

All I wanted to know is, what time will the phones be on again! But instead, because of the politeness-speak, I have to wait a full thirty seconds to hear a two second message!

WHAT, HE’S OBJECTING TO GREETINGS TOO, NOW?!?

I’m aware that my hyper-sensitivity to the clichés of politeness is, out of all my hyper-sensitivities, the one least likely to elicit any sympathy in Japan!!  The majority of people like to be thanked for anything and everything, over and over again, even if it’s just a tape. But if they don’t get an arigatou gozaimasu, they are hopping mad. If the conductor makes an announcement of the train’s schedule but omits such formalities as THANK YOU ONCE AGAIN FOR CHOOSING SUCH-AND-SUCH TRAIN LINES, people will feel disrespected.  To the average Japanese,  service-industry people are expected to behave like slaves: in their choice of words, they should humble themselves as low as possible and exalt the customer as much as possible. That is what “service” means. People take this at face value: that they are valued, that they can feel safe and relax at this store.

According to a Western economist,  Japanese consumers are treated badly by Japan’s economic policies. Perhaps that’s true, but it’s also true that Japanese consumers have entirely different expectations than their Western counterparts. Japanese place less emphasis on things like “whether the goods are overpriced” or “are they good quality?”  . . .instead we mainly care about “Is the service attitude correct and sincere?”  We constantly complain to each other, saying things like, “That train-station worker’s choice of words was wrong!” or “That bank teller lacks proper knowledge of politeness-speak!” So rather than concentrating on more choices for consumers or lower prices, the stores exhaust all their energy on raising their politeness levels to the point where no one can possibly find anything to object to.

A particularly unbearable example is when the train stops due to some sort of accident. Instead of explaining the cause of the accident, they say WE ARE DREADFULLY SORRY TO CAUSE A NUISANCE FOR THE HONORABLE CUSTOMERS ESPECIALLY AT THIS BUSY TIME. PLEASE FORGIVE US. ACCEPT OUR SINCERE APOLOGIES!!  On top of being stuck, we are now assaulted on all sides by these ceaseless announcements, buffeting our heads as they whirl through the air above us. Well, I’m sure my fellow passengers are perfectly satisfied!

It’s the same way with the ceaseless signage that we all must swim through when we leave our houses. Most people have come to need the signs – without them they don’t feel comfortable.  The examples are too numerous to mention. So I’ll just do this one:

At the Mita station, when a train pulls to a stop, the loudspeaker blares, A TRAIN BOUND FOR WEST NAKAJIMA HAS ARRIVED AT NUMBER THREE PLATOFORM. PLEASE WAIT FOR THE TRAIN DOORS TO OPEN. PLEASE BE CAREFUL OF THE GAP BETWEEN THE PLATFORM AAND THE TRAIN DOORS.  And other such too-obvious warnings are broadcast one after the other. One day I stood watch and this is what I found:  This tape is played once every two minutes all day. The people entering the train show not the slightest concern for the gap between the platform and the doors. Perhaps because they’ve been so reassured by the tape? In any case, people have heard this tape so many times that it is regarded like a gust of wind, a cloud in the sky, a drop of rain: a natural sign, which has nothing to do with them and yet constitutes their entire world. Something about which they can’t do anything.

This is true of all stations, especially the Narita Airport Express stations. When it’s time for the train to leave, AFTER everyone is on board, they play the following announcement:  HONORABLE RIDERS, PLEASE WAIT ANOTHER FEW SECONDS FOR THE TRAIN TO START MOVING.  This drives me up the wall!!!

In the Keio Train stations, their ticket machines play this tape: PLEASE WAIT, YOUR TICKET WILL COME OUT SHORTLY. Japanese people, having put money in the machine, can’t wait even the three seconds for their ticket! They need some kind of official sign to reassure them, or they get nervous!

In the cash machines at banks, too, there is a continuously-looping tape which says WELCOME! THANK YOU FOR SHOPPING WITH US AGAIN TODAY!   WELCOME! THANK YOU FOR SHOPPING WITH US AGAIN TODAY!   WELCOME! THANK YOU FOR SHOPPING WITH US AGAIN TODAY!   WELCOME! THANK YOU FOR SHOPPING WITH US AGAIN TODAY!   

Again, people have come to need this to feel safe. If they didn’t hear it, they would think, “Oh, the machine must be broken!” and break out in a sweat. (Viennese bank machines, on the other hand, are dreadfully slow to use, but they have no taped announcements whatsoever).  

A few years ago, banks and post offices started using a “take-a-number” system, complete with automated loudspeakers that would say, COULD THE OWNER OF NUMBER SUCH-AND-SUCH PLEASE PROCEED TO THE FRONT WINDOW NOW?  Apparently just displaying the current number on the LCD display was not enough to satisfy the neurotic and insecure Japanese customers’ obsessive desire for announcements.  (in Vienna, the take-a-number systems only used LCDs, not tapes).

Even our language-instruction tapes have announcements! When the tape runs out, a voice tells us to turn the tape over.  And the voice on the tape is invariably a grating, un-naturally shrill, “cute” voice which goes poorly with the actual contents of the textbook. A little cuteness never hurt anyone, of course, but with a textbook, one has to replay the same voice over and over, lord-knows-how-many-times as one studies, so even a small irritation can grow and grow until you are at the brink of violence! (as far as I know, there are no Western tapes-accompanying-a-textbook which have this problem)

But I suppose that’s what we Japanese crave and long for: to be bathed in limitless signs and warnings from cradle ‘til grave. I guess you must understand this by now. And the whole service industry, and the people in it, are accomplices in this conspiracy.  It’s so omnipresent that it seems natural.

WHY CAN’T WE ONLY HAVE WARNINGS ABOUT APPROPRIATE THINGS?

This  next example has a very deep flavor to it! One time I was drinking a bar near the University.

There was a drunk young couple next to me, and I could hear their loud conversation. The young woman was complaining: “That time, it was majorly snowing, and yet the fire department kept saying ‘THIS WEEK IS SUMMER FIRE PREVENTION WEEK’. What’s up with that? It was snowing right in front of their eyes! They should have been saying, ‘IT’S SNOWING, PLEASE WATCH OUT SO YOU DON’T FALL DOWN!’ I mean, what were they thinking? It was so totally snowing! And yet they kept saying. . . .”

At first, I thought, “Well! This is exactly what I’ve been all along hoping that someone would say!” But upon further consideration, I realized that the young lady was saying the OPPOSITE of what I’d hoped:  She would never object to the warnings on escalators. Her only objection was that the constant fire department announcements were the WRONG KIND OF announcements. She still wants to be bathed in announcements.

Aha! I thought, feeling like Earnest Satow or Erwin von Balz – or one of the other foreigners who first “discovered“ Japan at the beginning of the Meiji period.  “Wow! I’ve discovered some really interesting people! Their logic is so unusual! I can’t wait to tell people in my home country about this!“

I WORRY ABOUT HOW TO TEACH JAPANESE WHAT “APPROPRIATE” MEANS

Recently, I was sent a copy of  the magazine Japanese Language Monthly, which contained an interview I did with respected teacher  Haruhara Kenichirou. This interview was on a topic I am very interested in: teaching Japanese to foreigners.  Mr. Haruhara said that he wanted to try to teach his students natural Japanese, but this of course was a catch-22: the more natural it was, the more ambiguous and elusive it became for the students.  

He had to teach them never to speak anything but ritualistic clichés to strangers. To erase their desire to make lively or individualistic conversation. To only ask the most clichéd questions, and to give only the proper answers, even if they were not the truth. The more “natural”, the more “Japanese” his lessons became, the less the students could comprehend.

The students would complain that, outside of class, they would get the same ritualized questions again and again: “Where are you studying Japanese?” “Why are you interested in Japan?”  and other such safe but harmless questions. And they would never get asked anything else!  And after the clichés had run dry, the conversation would stop altogether.  In other words, the cliché questions ultimately took the place of anything that could be considered communication.

Haruhara said that Japanese, who have very little direct contact with other cultures, often ask him: “I’m going to such-and-such a country. What should I avoid talking about ?” or “I’m dating a person from such-and-such country – what subjects should I be careful of?”  They saw language primarily as a means of self-defense. They wanted to talk like the boring speeches of Japanese overseas diplomats!

Allow me to supplement Haruhara’s commentary in my own way: Learning “proper” Japanese is another way of saying, learning “public discourse.”  Colorless, invisible, ritualized phrases devoid of individuality. The ultimate aim is to speak at all times in a manner guaranteed not to surprise or offend anyone, even a total stranger.  Language which hides your true self even as it prevents you from asking your partner about his or hers. This is the “true” essence of Japanese language, regardless of what is written in textbooks.

Grammar is not the issue. . . Even such questions as “What school did you go to?” or “What company do you work for?” – spoken with perfect grammar –  mark the asker as a novice of Japanese. Because for many people these questions are too personal for a stranger to ask. Of course, it depends on who you’re talking to!

But for some Japanese, even questions like “What city do you live in?” are “outside the cliché zone” and thus cause surprise and discomfort.  And of course if the foreigner is asked, “What do you think of life in Japan?”, answering at length is not “correct Japanese.” The “correct” answer  has nothing to do with grammar. Once again, the “correct” answer is to reply to the cliché with another cliché, hopefully a short one. The true ‘master’ of Japanese would reply simply: “I get along somehow!”  

Even if the foreigner is asked a provocative question such as, “When you were young, did you fight with your parents a lot?” the “correct” answer is not “Yes” or “No”, but “I really don’t remember.”

The trick is to neither ask nor answer in a direct fashion.  Even if you are in the right, you should say “Excuse me!” and assume an apologetic stance. And even if the other person is wrong, you should not blame them.  If the other person’s explanations are too ambiguous, it’s not “correct” to keep asking them “Why? Why?” and trying to pin down their meaning.

Of course I’m not saying that these rules are always true at all times! Like anywhere else, correct behavior depends on the person and the situation. But if you don’t know, you’d better err on the side of caution. Going over “the cliché line” will mark you as a gaijin!  In other words, “correct” or “native-level” Japanese is not just a matter of grammar or listening comprehension. A crucial skill is being able to read the vibes of a given situation and intuitively understand how far one can go beyond clichés into the realm of conversation, without causing surprise or discomfort.
 

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Nakajima’s JAPANESE ARE HALF FALLEN chapter 2

CHAPTER TWO : WIDENING THE BATTLEFIELD


SOUNDS THAT DRIVE YOU TO THE BRINK OF INSANITY

While looking at the MASSES  who walk around oblivious to the speaker noise, the herds of people who would never protest it, I thought to myself, "I really feel like a stranger in my own country." Actually, that's too poetic. I'm just a weirdo.

 When I began my activism, I was convinced that I was in the right, but my convictions are steadily being worn down. Now I just feel sick. My sickness is half spiritual (feeling alienated from my countrymen), but the other half is caused by the very specific kind of violence contained in the constant broadcasts. Imagine if your neighbor, Mr. X, had a dog which barked all day and all night. You can’t sleep during the night, and of course you couldn't sleep during work either. For a while you could try to maintain, but eventually when you couldn't take any more, you'd go to the neighborhood residential association and complain. But the association's representative only said, "Well now, let's send your neighbor a letter asking him to consider his actions." Of course such a letter will have no effect.

 You played by the rules, and got ignored. Wouldn't you burn with humiliation? And more than that, wouldn't the sound of the dog's yapping fill you with an almost physical pain of hatred? So you finally go to the neighbor to complain directly. But the neighbor curtly replies, "You're the only one who's complaining. It's only natural for dogs to bark, after all."

 Everyone else around the barking dog seems to feel it's none of their affair. You talk to another neighbor and he says, "Well, they have to put up with our crying baby, so it's only fair . . ." Your other neighbor says, "Well, I'm not often home, so I don't know anything about it. It should be illegal, but . . . ." Finally you realize that you are the only victim.

At this point, wouldn't your grip on mental health be slipping? The smallest woof would, in your head, turn into a great roaring howl. Even when it was quiet, you wouldn't be able to do anything but wait for the next bark, your heart pounding in your ears. And then you see Mr. X, having a cheerful chat with Mr. A and Mr. B, all laughing. And the disgusting, hateful dog scampers around them, as they pat its head and stroke its fur. Now you begin to despise your other neighbors as well.

The anger turns to a piercing pain, leaving your hands shaking so badly you can't hold things.  Your hatred threatens to go out of control . . . You begin to have fantasies of killing the dog.

Wouldn't you, too, in the end, start feeling as sick as I feel?

This is the power of sound. Sounds just in themselves have the capacity to cause suffering. Sounds in themselves can drive a person to the brink of insanity. Especially since other people can't see your suffering and think you're making it all up, this doubles the pain and feeling of hopelessness.


SOUNDS THAT BURROW UNDER YOUR SKIN

But, why is it that people who enjoy a certain sound are so totally incapable of understanding how another person is deeply pained by that same sound? Even the most wise, perceptive, and gentle person tends to think that the sound they're making – or listening to – must be enjoyable to those around them. If someone tells them they're being too loud, even such a gentle, wise person can fly into a rage: they instinctively feel that their whole existence is being criticized; they feel indignation. Why is that?

It's because sounds span the divide between "inside me" and "outside me." To return to the previous example, you despise the barking dog so much because its barking is not "outside" you. The barking has wormed its way "inside" you, gotten under your skin. The sound is provoking insanity by directly touching your nerves. But to the dog’s owner, that same sound is so far “inside” them that it’s become a part of them- they think nothing of it.

I’m not speaking in metaphors here. If you go to a concert and close your eyes, you can guess the direction and volume of the music. But you can’t tell the exact location that it’s coming from. If you want to find the outside, origin, you have to use your other senses – eyes or touch. Because the property of sound is, you can’t distinguish between it being inside of you or outside of you.

Just like if you get in a taxi and ask the driver to turn off his radio, he’ll instinctively resent it. To people enjoying a sound, it is coming from within them. Especially people who drive taxis – their working environment is so small, it must feel like an extension of their body, their interior. So when a stranger comes into their interior, and says “That’s too loud!” , the driver gets mad. As far as he’s concerned, it’s the same music he was listening to before, in the same place, so nothing has changed to make the music unpleasant: he’s become lost in an illusion of where “outside” begins and ends.

Everyone knows that music has the power to control one’s emotions to a fierce extent. That’s exactly why cults and totalitarian governments use sounds to brainwash people, instead of visuals. People that were moved to tears by Hitler’s speeches, given using gigantic PA systems, when they later read the text of the speech in a book, would ask themselves, “Why did I get so worked up by that?” There are many reports of things like this.

Or in Japan, before the war, all one had to do was say the phrase, “His Majesty the Emperor!” and people all around would snap to attention, as if an electric jolt had been rammed down their spines. And of course that infamous four-letter word for the female genitals is much more shocking if said aloud than read.

Because sound has the capacity to get under one’s skin! Infiltrating, penetrating, absorbing in. You can’t argue with or protest against a sound. Particularly when people have been born and raised in such a pickled sound environment, it's very difficult to get them to understand my defiant attitude.


It’s very rare for children, who have never experienced a different sound-environment to complain. “It’s too loud in the street!” or “There’s too many announcements on the shinkansen!”

The same way, when these children grow up into adults, it’s very difficult to persuade them that things might be done better another way. As the Don Quixote of SOUNDS, I get to meet many people who are very sensitive to sounds. But frankly speaking, some of the absolutely extremely most sensitive people are a huge pain in my ass. I’m talking about audiophiles and classical music buffs. They are very picky about their speakers and audio recording quality, but care not at all about the sounds outside. There’s nobody left like Kawabata Yasunari, Akutagawa Ryuunosuke, or Shiga Naoya (famously neurotic authors – ed.) who flips out about the loudspeakers on trains or the background music in cafes anymore.

Even myself, when I lived in Vienna, I was very picky about my classical: “This composer is crap! That symphony is crap!” And yet I’d go to any old café, with its  relentlessly repeated back-ground music, and not even mind it. Or I would go to a magnificent Mozart concert in Tokyo, but not even mind when the beautiful music was replaced with the roar of trains and announcements on the way home!



PAIN THAT YOU DON’T REALIZE IS THERE, THOUGH IT CRIPPLES YOU

Sometimes I am contacted by “patients” with “very acute syndromes” : “Sensei, I want to commit suicide already,” they write. “But I couldn’t stand it if I was beaten by such a barbaric, rotten-noise country such as Japan.” I understand their feelings, but perhaps the majority does not.

 One such comrade-in-struggle is a manga editor named Mr. I. who moved to Gunma-ken. He sank all his money and effort into building a brand new house there, only to find an unpleasant surprise: no sooner had he moved, than the city built an Emergency Disaster Public Address system on his street which, of course, played announcements all through the day, loud enough to be heard inside.

Mr. I. went to the local city hall to complain, but all the bureaucrat had to do was tap his foot nervously and wait for Mr. I. to run out of steam , and then the “discussion” was over.

This is a typical case of “civic noise harassment,” the kind that has been recently seen on NHK television.

Another comrade-in-arms is Mr. Y, one o the few harpsichord makers in this country. He moved from Tokyo to the rural country town of Tomioka, specifically to have peace and quiet. But right after he moved, the city started building a whole line of Emergency Disaster Public Address system poles on his street. And their broadcasts completely disrupted his work. He fought tooth and nail, but it seems the majority of the residents supported the broadcasts, so he couldn’t have the announcements stopped or even lessened. And what were these important announcements?

“THERE HAS BEEN SOMEONE SELLING BAD QUALITY FIRE EXTINGUISHERS IN TOWN, SO PLEASE BE CAREFUL.”

“THERE’S AN OLD MAN MISSING.”

“THE NEW MOVIE THEATRE IS NOW OPEN”

“HERE’S THE RESULTS OF THE ELECTION . . . “

Not to mention the daily chimes, with their message of, “IT’S TIME FOR ALL GOOD CHILDREN TO RUN BACK HOME”

And even if the Disaster PA was used for actual disasters, the “disasters” were like this:

“THERE’S A STORM COMING!”

“IT’S WINDY TODAY, KIDS, SO DON’T DAWDLE ON YOUR WAY HOME FROM SCHOOL!”

The city of Atamishi has announcements every morning saying, “LET’S ALL GO TO WORK CHEERFULLY!”

 To people who think “WTF, who needs these announcements?” , I say: face facts! If you’re thinking that, you are very different from the average Japanese ! This should concern you deeply. It’s easy to laugh at these ridiculous announcements, easy to criticize them. Easy to say “These small-town folks are idiots,” or “The city councils must be retarded!” But you should know it’s a whole different matter to actually try to persuade city government to actually change them. And further: if you are not personally trying to change it, then you have no right to criticize or laugh at anyone.

As for Mr. I and Mr. Y., their enemies are not the city councils of their small towns. Their real enemies are the majority of the population whose complacency makes the town councils’ decisions possible. Once you realize this simple fact, it’s a short step to despising the average Japanese. You lose your goodwill, you lose the desire to return smiles and greetings. You could say that these NOISES help to destroy the sense of community. They leave their wounds so deep in our bodies. We start to imagine that we are strangers in this country, that we are some real weirdoes! 

Personally, I hate the escalator announcements so much, I not only use stairs instead, but I clamp on my headphones, rush to the absolute farthest-away stairs, and rush up them (or down) in a huge hurry. One day, a columnist for the Weekly Bunshu said that until he heard my speech, he thought that HE was the only one who did that!

He didn’t use headphones, but he ran up (or down) the stairs, with a scowl, despising his countrymen who, sheep-like, rode the escalators and tolerated their hateful messages of “LOOK OUT, THE ESCALATOR WILL BE STOPPING SHORTLY!”

As for the shinkansen, with their relentless taped announcements of “THANK YOU AGAIN FOR RIDING US TODAY!”, and their too-long speeches, given by a woman, talking slowly and lovingly, as if addressing a beloved child cradled in her arms, (What is up with that, anyway? Do they think that this honey-sweet maternal voice will make people look forward to a novel-length announcement?), followed by another tape, this time in English, followed by yet another announcement by the conductor, followed by yet another announcement by the food-vending girls . . .it seems as if you’re already at your destination by the time the announcements finish!  Just hearing these endless tapes is enough to make you hate the other people on the train, the kids snickering, the idiots with their rumpled newspapers, the snoring uncles with their folded arms, the people furiously devouring their bento boxes, all the horrible, cow-like people on the train, who seem to be totally oblivious to the announcements. I hate myself for it, but I begin to despise Japan and its “noise culture.” Moreover, I begin to view these countrymen of mine as accomplices to the announcements. It is because of their complicity that the tapes go on. It’s as if they’ve teamed up with the train company to torment me: they are perpetrators!


BURNING WITH DETESTATION

One time, when I’d reached my limit of endurance, I paced my house, my anger threatening to get out of hand: I wanted to scream, “WHAT HAVE I BECOME ? I’M NO LONGER HUMAN – JUST A BUNDLE OF NEUROSES AND HATREDS!!!” 

All my microphone-grabbing and off-switch flipping had not dispelled the poisonous stress which was accumulating within me. All my protests (such as the time I lectured managers of the Inokashira park for playing an endless loop of PLEASE DON’T SHOOT YOUR FIREWORKS INTO THE LAKE, THANK YOU FOR YOUR COOPERATION IN THIS MATTER PLEASE DON’T SHOOT YOUR FIREWORKS INTO THE LAKE, THANK YOU FOR YOUR COOPERATION IN THIS MATTER PLEASE DON’T SHOOT YOUR FIREWORKS INTO THE LAKE, THANK YOU FOR YOUR COOPERATION IN THIS MATTER PLEASE DON’T SHOOT YOUR FIREWORKS INTO THE LAKE, THANK YOU FOR YOUR COOPERATION IN THIS MATTER) had come to nothing, and I began to consider playing dirty.

Revenge, that’s what I wanted!

 Call up one of these bastards and let him have a earphone-full of Beethoven’s Fifth, at full volume! The neighborhood association chairman who wouldn’t stop the irritating morning announcements, I used to call him at home in the middle of the night. Not say anything. Just call and call. I started to go to the offices of my old enemy, Keio Subways and threaten them: “Since riding your subways causes me so much pain, you should give me a free pass! Better yet, you should pay for all my taxi rides! If you don’t I’ll have no choice but to come back, raising hell every day!”

But eventually, even these petty acts of vengeance didn’t relieve the daily stress. I began to realize that I might be heading down the slippery slope to madness. I began to fantasize about getting my OWN megaphone, hiding it in my handbag, and every time I was forced to listen to an unpleasant announcement on a train, I could whip it out and reverse-yell: SHUT UP! LEAVE ME ALONE!

 Then I fantasized about simply carrying a hidden hammer, with which to smash the speakers, right in front of his patronizing face. I’d then refuse to pay the fine, and use the resulting trial as a forum to publicize my views. Better yet, why not smash his face directly?


I’m not even joking. My thoughts were really spiraling out of control. I began to despise other people even more, then despise my own life. I don’t think I would have committed suicide; if anything it would have been a frenzied murder spree. But I knew such a course would not be advisable. I still had that much sense. I didn’t want to give my opponents the satisfaction of seeing me in jail. I had to find some other way to endure the daily torture.

You may be laughing, I assure you, it’s no laughing matter. Well, maybe a little : “Ha ha ha! Nakajima sensei finally snapped! He finally hit a guy with a hammer!”


STRANGERS WHO TALK AND ACT EXACTLY ALIKE


Since then, I’ve tried to run away from conflict. I know where all the loudspeakers are on my route to work, and in order to avoid them, my path now has more back-and-forths than a snake’s trail. 

I absolutely can’t pass by my old enemy, the preschool. Same with that fucking pharmacy, and that damned CD shop. Can’t go here, can’t go there. My daily life is like running through a maze. The station near my house is always playing announcements like PLEASE DON’T CROWD ONTO THE TRAIN, AS IT IS DANGEROUS, so on a good day, I’ll walk a whole 30 minutes to this other station – the only one in the whole neighborhood which doesn’t play such ridiculous announcements .

And if I do go there, I have to get on the express train. Why? Because, the local train plays that same fucking announcement at every single station until my stop. Twice. 

When we get to Chofu station, I don’t take the more convenient central exit, I have to take the small north exit, and then run down the stairs. Why? Because the central exit leads to my old enemy, the Paruko shop, with its blaring announcements of bargain sales, which pretty much echo throughout the entire fucking station. But even if I make it out of the station OK, chances are there might be some asshole doing a super-amplified political speech outside. If not, then it’s something else. And if not that, some other damn fucking thing. . . .

And of course I can’t take the main street all the way to the University. That would mean passing the hated CD shop. Instead , I turn the corner at the MacDonalds (who incidentally DID turn down their escalator announcements for me), cut inside the bookstore. Why? Because the street in front of the bookstore is so full of fucking bicycles that one can hardly walk. From the bookstore, I cut back onto the main street, and then enter the University from the rear entrance. But even then I am not safe. The bookstore sometimes plays the Doraemon theme song on their speakers, and the station’s north exit includes an electronics shop that just fucking installed some speakers of their own.  

Merely to enjoy a reasonable chance at peace and quiet, my route has grown torturously long and twisted.

And even when I’m on the train, I can’t enjoy a book anymore to pass the time. I keep getting distracted by the announcer’s voice, the cell phone conversations of strangers, the other passengers’ stupid conversations . . . it’s like I can’t let my guard down even for a second. I want to say, “Won’t you scootch over and make some room for me?” But I can’t. I want to say, “Could you please stop doing such-and-such?” So many things I want to say but can’t! Instead, I do the Japanese thing: stare at the person doing such-and-such, then stare at the notice posted on the ceiling which forbids doing such-and-such, and then stare back at the person again!

Even if it’s fine weather outside, and I can see the sun shining through the windows, inside the train I am in my own personal hell! I keep obsessing about the flickering of the fluorescents, about the crappy way that people sit sometimes, and the assholes that won’t give up their seats for the elderly. . . even when they’re sitting in the special old-people seats!

One time, two old people got on the train, they must have been in their ‘80s or ‘90s. They both had walking sticks and even with the sticks looked about to topple over every time the train shuddered. And all four of the “silver seats” were occupied by a gang of non-elderly people. I stormed over to them and said, “These seats are for the elderly! Don’t you see these two old people? Go somewhere else! Everyone, get out of the damn seats!!” It’s strange to say, but, like robots, all four got up without a word, simultaneously stood, simultaneously turned, and walked away.

Now the seats were all totally vacant. I went to tell the two old people, but they’d already found other seats. There was one more old man nearby, but he merely said, “Well, I’m getting off at the next stop, so. . . “

I didn’t see why I should stop preaching, though: “Well, don’t you think you have a duty to demand the silver seat, when some young person is sitting in it? You have to stand up for yourself, don’t you agree?” The old man said, “I didn’t see the silver seats.” And turned his head decisively away from me.

In the dramatic pause that followed, not one passenger said anything to me. They mostly pretended to be asleep, but were all checking me out when they thought I wasn’t looking. Perhaps they were thinking, “Ah, he must have some strange syndrome that compels him to help strangers,” and then, satisfied, perhaps they went back to sleep.  As for myself, I regretted nothing. I only regretted the poor reactions I’d gotten so far.

So I decided to continue my activities  a little more. I turned to a woman – very pretty, I must admit- who was fixing her makeup. “The train is not a place to do makeup! That’s a really repulsive habit you’ve got!”

The woman started crying, and only then did I realize that the only free seat was the one next to her. I sat there for the thirty remaining minutes of the ride.

I mostly don’t feel any shame about my actions. All I feel was an annoyance with those around me, and their bad habits, which compel me to pay attention to them. I’m not just the Don Quixote of SOUNDS, I’m the Don Quixote of the whole culture that produces the SOUNDS, the whole hateful atmosphere of the country. It seems designed specifically to annoy me, so I have every right to annoy it right back!


FALLING COMPLETELY OUT OF STEP WITH SOCIETY

From SOUNDS, the scope of my battle has widened to many other things – I realized that I’ve been steadily developing sensitivity to an ever-enlarging number of phenomena. It seems that I’m falling more and more out of step with the average Japanese. What I’m irritated by, they are not, and vice versa. In other words, my enemy is not SOUNDS anymore, it is JAPANESE PEOPLE.

I have to say this clearly!

Looking back on all my “comrades in struggle”, I realize that all along, about half of them were mainly concerned with SOUNDS, but fully half were sensitive to many various things. I used to be mystified by them, but now I am one of them!

We hate the bank and fast food clerks’ pre-programmed banter. We hate vending machines, cell phones! We hate the “set menus” of restaurants, where you can’t choose what appetizer goes with your entrée. We hate “katakana” words like SHIRUBAA SHIITO and PURIPEIDO KAADO. We really really hate field trips, PE class, hospital visits, business retreats with co-workers, end-of-year parties, and all these sorts of mandatory group activities. We hate the “safety campaigns” where leaders lead a chant and we are expected to respond. We hate the old men doing “fire safety” warnings by running around our neighborhoods at night clapping wooden sticks together. We don’t fucking care about baseball. We hate excess layers of packaging. We hate loud children on trains and restaurants. We hate the confusion and chaos of shopping malls. We are fucking sick of all the utility poles and the million types of power cables overhead. We are fucking sick of the billboards, the shops that display their merchandise on the sidewalks, We hate people parking cars and bicycles on the sidewalk. We hate frivolous young people that think they’re so cool. We don’t want your fucking free samples.

You could say we don’t like things that normal people like. We don’t care if the fruit is perfectly shaped. We don’t care of the shop staff is saying their “polite-speak” perfectly or not. We don’t care if people are not seated by rank at the table. We find the “PLEASE DON’T SMOKE IN THIS AREA” banners and announcements far more irritating than the actual smoking. We’d rather spend all fall walking on the colorful leaves than spend all fall fruitlessly trying to sweep up each and every one. We’d rather live amidst lush and verdant forest like trees than live among amputated trees whose tops have all been shaved because “There might be bugs there!!!!!!”

The city is too light at night! The heaters are too hot! The coolers are too cold! A little rain never hurt anyone!

In short, we’ve totally fallen out of step with Japan. We are very conscious that this makes us seem like foreigners, like “others.”  What seems like the background to ordinary Japanese is the foreground to us: we can’t tune it out no matter how we try. It assaults all our senses.



THE PLUM-BLOSSOM ORCHARDS ARE BLOOMING. . . WITH TRAFFIC SAFETY FLAGS??

Next to my university is the stately and ancient Nunota shrine. Nunota is famous for its beautiful plum trees, which bloom in early summer, with a riot of bright white and dark vermilion blossoms. The aroma and the sight of them is very moving! But one day, as I approached the orchard, I noticed that each tree had an ugly sign hung around it: THE BLOSSOMS ARE VERY BEAUTIFUL SO PLEASE DON’T HANG YOUR OMIKUJI HERE (omikuji are small wooden prayer cards, upon which you write the wish you’d like to come true –ed.).

I thought this was the dumbest fucking thing I’d ever seen. I passed them quickly so as to keep my temper, but was dumbfounded to discover that the entire next area was full of ugly yellow-and-black flags which announced LET’S AVOID TRAFFIC ACCIDENTS! LET’S AVOID TRAFFIC ACCIDENTS! LET’S AVOID TRAFFIC ACCIDENTS! LET’S AVOID TRAFFIC ACCIDENTS! LET’S AVOID TRAFFIC ACCIDENTS! LET’S AVOID TRAFFIC ACCIDENTS! LET’S AVOID TRAFFIC ACCIDENTS! LET’S AVOID TRAFFIC ACCIDENTS!

These flags were fully a meter tall, and attached to the trunk of each and every beautiful plum tree. Where was the sense in this?!?   I straightaway walked to the shrine office, knocked loudly and marched straight in, my face red with anger, announcing myself as “I’M A PROFESSOR OF LITERATURE, LET ME IN!” 

The abbot came out, wearing traditional pantaloons. “So you want to stop people hanging omikuji, and your best solution is to hang ugly signs and flags on every single tree?!? What the hell are you thinking?!?” I bellowed. The abbot must have sensed danger, for he replied in a huge, Yakuza-style voice, “WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? ARE YOU GOING TO DISRESPECT ME IN MY OWN HOUSE/??!?!?!!!11”  

Far from being scared, I simply talked over him, albeit in a more calm voice : “There is certainly a large number of ‘prayers’ for traffic safety, aren’t there?”

My more diplomatic, indirect tone must have paid off: I returned several days later and found the flags gone.

Around the same time, I was riding on my old enemy, the Keio train, when out the window I spotted something which made me stare for a long time: a field with two long rows of plum trees, and in between them, this gigantic two meter square sign that said TOUO REAL ESTATE. The sheer senselessness of such a thing made my blood boil. Another day I got off the train at a nearby station and set out on foot to take a picture of this monstrosity! I wrote down the number and address of the real estate agent, and then called them when I returned home. But they merely said, “Ah! Is that so? I understand what you mean, sensei. We will have to give this matter some serious study.”

 But of course, that meant they would do nothing. But still I felt like checking every time the train passed that field, hoping childishly that they would actually do something. Finally, I had to make a rule to always ride facing the opposite direction!

You must think I’m a fool.

While I was facing the other way, the plum blossoms all withered and went away. And the billboard was still there. A whole year passed, and again the blossoms started to bloom. I resolved to visit the real estate office in person, bearing my year-old photograph. The clerk who took my call the previous year seemed to remember me just from my voice.

So I decided to threaten him.

“So you’ve had a year to “seriously study” the issue, haven’t you? And yet I see the billboard is still there. Exactly what kind of “study” are you people doing around here? If you don’t get rid of that eyesore, I’m going to put this picture in my next book and tell everyone what a dishonorable company you are!” He took a copy of the photo and promised to send it to his supervisor. Sure enough, a few days later, the billboard was gone

(Nakajima published the photo anyway! – ed.)

But even so, how many people had to witness that eyesore of a billboard over the past year? Perhaps a few might have furrowed their brows, but even they didn’t take any action.

There were other cases, though, where my “surprise attack” methods were met with stone cold indifference. For example, the Christian church in Chofu. Every Sunday they put a absurdly huge sandwich-board right in the middle of the sidewalk, announcing their mass. You had to go in the damn street to get around the thing. I went to the nearby police box and explained the situation to the patrolmen there. They told me that, since the sidewalk was still under construction, technically it wasn’t an “official” sidewalk and therefore was not under jurisdiction of the “obstructing the sidewalk” laws!  

I was left with no choice but to take direct action. The following Sunday, I VERY QUIETLY stormed into the mass. Many worshipers were watching the priest give a sermon. I disrupted this as quietly as possible, by saying “Moshi moshi.” (the greeting one usually gives on the telephone!) A cold-eyed middle-aged priest came out of the back to talk to me. I once again explained, quietly, my concerns, and then he said the following ridiculous thing to me: “But you don’t have the right to disturb our services like this, do you?”

“You whine when I interrupt your services for one second, but every Sunday, all day, you interrupt every single person walking on the sidewalk? Do you have the right to do that?”

He said, “I understand,” but clearly he didn’t, because the following Sunday, there was the sandwich-board again, right in the middle of the sidewalk. And every time I see it, I get funny in the head and have to fold it up and set it against the wall.


NOBODY CAN HAVE A LOGICAL DISCUSSION ANYMORE!

Perhaps the cooling units aren’t like this, but I really can’t stand the bizarre amount of heat produced by heaters.

As soon as I say this, people misunderstand me. They think I’m simply using “personal experience” or “physiology” as the only reason why I don’t like heaters.

 Perhaps you even think that all of my suffering, all of my complaints, are based on nothing more than my own personal sensitivity. But honestly, you need to know that I always couch my arguments in logic and rational discourse. I never say simply, “I don’t like it because it feels bad.” I don’t make claims based on emotions.

In January, I got on board the shinkansen. It was just hot as hell in there! My hand-held thermometer read 26 degrees. (almost 80 F- ed.) The snack-selling girl wore short sleeves! Even the conductor! But, oddly, the passengers didn’t take off one article of their winter clothing. They stood there in their wool sweaters and layers of undershirts, with stoic faces. Why was that?!?

26 degrees? That’s high noon in the beginning of summer! You guys wouldn’t dress like that on a summer day, would you? Personally, I took off my overcoat, my suit jacket and vest, leaving on nothing but my collared shirt. It was still hot though. (another time, I was so hot I even took my shirt half-off on the train! The conductor looked at me, but I was like, “What?”)   I approached the conductor and asked him if he couldn’t maybe turn down the temperature a little?

“Aah, you’re too hot?”

“It’s not that I think it’s hot, it’s actually 26 degrees in here. That’s like the beginning of summer in full sunlight. And everyone is wearing winter clothes in here. Can’t you just turn the heater down a little?”

But even though I was speaking politely and rationally, he just couldn’t hear me. He made a pouty face and answered, “But isn’t what’s hot for one person actually pretty cold for another person?”

I suppressed a sudden urge to smack him upside the head. I know I’m abnormally sensitive, but here I was using hard evidence and logic, but even that couldn’t penetrate his thick skull! I was going to have to frame the debate in a way that a “company man” like him could relate to.

“But, is it the official policy of Japan Rail to waste energy this way? Especially after Japan signed the Kyoto Protocol on global warming? Japan is in the middle of a “save-energy” campaign, where individual homes are expected to use less power. And yet on public transit, can you really go against the national policy this way?”

But yet, he still made his sour face and said, “Frankly I don’t understand what you are asking me to do.” I had to concentrate very hard on not punching him. I know that my confrontational, logical approach does not go over well in this country, but still.  I couldn’t bear to approach him in this fake-polite way: “Erm, excuse me sir, can I beg you to turn the heat down a notch, perhaps?” . . . as if I asking a favor based on feelings. . . As if it wasn’t a scientific fact that it was 26 degrees in the fucking car.

Finally realizing that there was no way to win with this conductor, I decided to repay his hostility with some of my own:

“Sir! You are an idiot! You can’t understand simple logic. What’s the matter with you? Are you evil or just mentally challenged? If you were born that way, then you shouldn’t apologize for it. There’s nothing you can do, I suppose.”

And so on, in that vein. His face grew beet-red. In his red face, I could briefly glimpse the face of all the cowardly, lazy, spiritually impoverished Japanese who can’t be bothered to explain or defend their point of view. And this renewed my resolve to keep up the good fight!


PEOPLE WHO DON’T CARE IF THEY HAVE 27 HEATERS IN THEIR APARTMENT


Let’s look at a different place: the Dotour coffee-shop in Sensaitoriyama. In the middle of winter, I walk in, and it feels like a fucking oven. I’m immediately engulfed in a fierce wind so hot it hurts to breathe. All the staff are in short-sleeves. Who on earth decided on such an illogical state of affairs?!? I turned and glanced at the customers’ , and was surprised to see them sitting there in their thick wool sweaters, jogging suits, with bright-red faces, talking or reading books as if nothing were amiss. I’m sure they were quite comfortable, weren’t they?

I asked the manager what the temperature the heater was set to, and he said 27 (almost 81F). That’s noon in July. I asked the manager to please turn it down a little, and he flatly refused. And yet Japanese people look at me like I’m the illogical one?

“I want to make it comfortable for people who have just come in from the cold winter morning.”

What a splendid specimen this answer was! A juicy fresh platter of Japanese style “service thinking”: the colder it is outside, the hotter we’ll make it inside, so as to cultivate a feeling of welcome. The very essence of service! It won’t do to simply warm the customers up – that’s not sincere enough. We have to show the depths of our sincerity by making it as hot as humanly possible. The internal logic of “service” demands it. And the customers, although they suffer from the heat, understand the nobility of our intentions, so they don’t utter a word of complaint.

This is the same kind of false cultural logic that creates the SOUND situation. The majority wants to be taken care of, immersed in a hot wind of SOUND “I want to be told what to be on the lookout for, I want to be warned, scolded, instructed, informed, and advised!”

So when I say that I absolutely don’t want any of those things, of course I’m not going to be taken seriously by my countrymen.

By and large, Japanese are pretty kind, so they tend to think, “Well, perhaps I’m hot, but the next person might be still cold. So even though I feel the discomfort on my skin, I accept it stoically.” 

The same way that people on a bus might hear an endless parade of messages, none of which apply to them, but think, “Well, I’m sure those messages are important to some other passengers. So even though they sting my skin, I find them acceptable.” This is considered the proper way of thinking, the proper responsibility of an adult to society. 

To state the obvious would be to put one’s self (an individual) ahead of the group, and thus one would be seen as an egoist or an immature person who hasn’t learned his responsibility to society.

Japanese behavior uses this sort of “skin theory” to permit or approve unpleasant conditions: Both sides (business owners and customers) collude in a fait accompli. Society is like a mechanism with a lever that won’t budge.

I asked the young lady seated next to me at the Dotour “Aren’t you hot?” She made a face like I was a pervert and said, “I just got here so I don’t know.” What kind of retarded answer is that?!? You just got here so you don’t know what temperature you are?!?

The icing on the cake: if you complain in summer, they DO turn the air-conditioners down. The Tokyo subway DOES have a “Not-so-cold” train car in summer, but NOT a “not-so-hot” car in winter.

Why is that? I’ll tell you: people who complain “It’s too cold” are thought to have a “hot heart”, but people who complain “it’s too hot in here” are thought to have a “cold heart.”


ELECTRIC NEUROSIS

Presently I suffer from what I call “electric neurosis.”  

In every outdoor shopping street, they keep all the street-lights on even at high noon on a sunny day. This is yet another situation where I’d love to have someone explain the logic to me, but so far no one has. At the Shanowaru chain of coffee-shops, they also keep their lights on right next to the window seats on sunny days.

I asked the passing waitress, ”Isn’t that a bit useless? Can I ask you to turn them off?” but she said, “Huh?” and made a face like she couldn’t believe her ears. Then she hesitantly said, “I’ll ask the manager,” and went away. She returned, looking stressed, and said, “He says there is only one electric switch for the entire coffee shop.” What a careless, half-assed way to construct a shop, you might think. 

But as for me, I was satisfied merely to get a clear, logical answer to my question. My anxiety eased, and soon I could concentrate on other things.

Incidentally, I got the exact same answer at Art Coffee. At that chain, they have no less than ten light-bulbs pointing STRAIGHT TOWARDS THE WINDOWS. Nothing could have less of an effect. The manager let me take him outside. I pointed to through the windows to the lights inside. “Here, my good man. Can you see any luminescence at all?” We agreed that we could not, but since there was only a single switch, there was nothing we could do. But still, I was happy just to get a straightforward explanation.

If you simply walk down the street at high noon, you’ll be surprised at how many electric lights are on. It’s like a whole river of electricity flowing right past your eyes.

In the outdoor shopping malls, too, the street-lamps are on all day. I went to the president of the shop association to confirm this. I then called the Tokyo Power company, and was sarcastically told, “Well, we make a profit out of that, don’t we? Haha!”

I hung up on him, of course, but I’d like the reader to think about his statement for a while. These damn street-lights are on at high noon. And in the trains, too, it’s so bright it hurts your eyes. Think about the amount of energy that wastes. For a long time, I had thought about calling the train companies and asking about it. But finally I realized that the bright lights ensure that customers can see the many advertisements plastering all walls of the train cars. That’s probably why the companies pay the higher electric bills. Especially the ads on the ceiling – direct sunlight might not reach those.

Far from being mad, I was happy – happy I’d discovered the logic behind the decisions. From then on, I didn’t worry about the train lights anymore. I suppose I’m really sick, if that doesn’t make me mad! But all I really want is straight answers. Even if it’s futile, I have to try to see the reasoning that leads to these types of situations.

Perhaps I don’t have “electric neurosis” . . .maybe it would be better to say that I have “logical man syndrome.”

MY HUGE BATTLE WITH THE RAMEN SHOP.

One of the most dramatic episodes I had at the hated Tenjin Doori shopping mall was at the ramen store. Although I accomplished nothing more than making the owner despise me, at least . . .at least . . . well, even I have to admit I was acting pathological that time. 

The whole thing started over their ugly, huge red sign, with not one but two rows of flashing lightbulbs adorning it. What’s more, the sign faced west, so the afternoon sun totally outshone any light the sign might have produced. Every time I passed it, I got more and more concerned: I simply couldn’t look away from this absolutely pointless waste of electricity! 

Eventually it became easier to simply walk in and have a word with the manager. I summoned my resolve, turned around, and opened the door forcefully.

“Hey, you!” (it turned out to be a young couple running the place)  “Can’t you see that your sign’s light-bulbs are having no effect whatsoever? What’s that about?!? Do you think they can outshine the setting sun?”

They both looked absolutely bewildered. The various customers suddenly stopped their ramen-slurping, leaving an eerie silence. Everyone was looking at me, so I continued: “I’m a professor at Dentsuu University, so I can’t forgive your wasting electricity. In fact I am an expert on exactly this topic.”

My sudden comments, as you might expect, left a bad aftertaste in everyone’s mouth. Upon reflection, it might have been my tone of voice that prevented them from hearing the logic of my words. After work the following day, I again passed by the store and its absurd sign. I carefully opened the door, and again saw their surprised faces. They said nothing, so I composed my voice, and said very calmly, “One beer. And some gyoza, and one plate of ramen, please.”   The husband made the food, deliberately not looking at me. He brought it over. The fat wife hid in the back. There were no other customers in the store.

I put on my most polite face, took the food, and sat in the middle of the counter, directly across from them. “Are you surprised I’d come in today like this?”

“It’s a nuisance. We’re trying to do business here.” He said. Just then a customer came in. I said I wanted to talk in private. “Go back there,” said the wife, opening the rear door and indicating a small garden beyond.

 The wife squared her shoulders, and with a pained look on her face, began to speak: “I can understand your point if you’d only speak calmly. But yesterday you rushed in suddenly and yelled. You startled our other customers, don’t you think? Just the other day, some drunk customer had cornered me and was blathering on, but my husband didn’t help me at all. Then yesterday you come in all yelling, and again he doesn’t help me! Yesterday was our anniversary, but we spent the whole night fighting because he’s such a coward. You ruined everything! I hate people with no intelligence!”

“I hate them too,” I involuntarily replied.

“That was wrong of me. But please don’t think I burst in without a logical reason . . .” and then I told her everything that was on my mind. It wasn’t like she was the only victim here. Given the circumstances, there was nothing else I could have done.

“. . . I’m glad we could talk person to person like this. There’s nothing like some calm, unhurried discussion to get a good result.”

She squared her shoulders again, and with a dissatisfied look said, “I have to get back to work now.” I followed her inside, and proceeded to order snack after snack. When it was time to pay, I paid my 2500-yen tab with a 5000-yen bill : “Thank you for hearing me out. In gratitude please keep the change.” However, that was not the end of the story.

The following day, the sign-light was not lit. I was quite pleased with that. But the day after that, it was on again. Well, it’s cloudy, I thought to myself, so maybe that’s OK for now. But the following day, again, it was on. There must be some misunderstanding! The next day it was on, too, and it was totally sunny! I opened the door and went in. There was the wife, looking at me with alternating expressions of fear and hate. Once again, I spoke in a very calm voice: “You said you’d understand my point if only I spoke calmly. . . were you lying?” She looked like she was about to cry. “Do you not remember saying it? Or what?”

Finally her husband came out from the back room to help her. “Leave us alone, won’t you? Unless you want to pay our electric bill, it’s none of your business!”

This line of reasoning I could not follow – my advice would only lower their electric bill.

“Well then,” I said, “How much is the bill?”

He only turned his head to the side and clucked his teeth.

“OK, well, then I’m going to your University and complain about you!”

“OK, let’s go together. It’s more than I could ever have hoped for! You can talk to the president or anyone you like. “

“Well how about if I call the owner of the restaurant?”

“Go ahead! And how about if you call the cops too? We can all have a sit-down!”

“Either way, I don’t want you coming back here.”

“”Fine! But I want my 2500-yen back. Since you lied to me, I feel that money was wasted.”

Again sucking his teeth, the husband went to the register, withdrew the money, and walked at me waving it like a flag to a bull.

Naturally I didn’t want it anymore. Instead, I shouted, “I’ll be back!” and ran outside.

Of course they kept the sign lit after that! But as always, win or lose, I felt better for having done all I could do. Relieved. Refreshed, even. Even if I had to keep looking at their wasteful sign, I felt better somehow. Really, I’m a sick man.


OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE DISORDER?

In fact, the most fierce of my “electricity battles” was fought at my own place of work, Dentsu University. 

For the first time in a long while, I arrived at work in the early morning: around 9 AM. I passed through the front gate and got quite a shock: all the evening streetlamps were still on, just as they had been when I’d left the previous night. Even over the guard’s kiosk, lights blazed. I yelled at the guard, “This electricity is nothing but a waste of energy! Turn it off at once!” The guard looked up and said, “What? Where?” . . .he couldn’t see the lights because they were so ineffective against the fucking mid-morning sun. “Over there,” I said, pointing to one of the few lit lights that I could see . . .“And over there, too, and there!”

He said, “I, uh, I’ll look for them next time,” and I ran off to my office. Much to my shock, the entire outside lights from the neighboring Building A were still on! I telephoned the Maintainance Department at once, and was put through to a young man in the Electricity Department: “What are you guys thinking of over there? Leaving the outdoor lights on all over campus during the day?” Of course, since I had once again started off by yelling, the young man hung up at once. I realized that I had no choice but to go there in person. Upon arrival, it looked like the Director was not present, so I went to the Vice-Director. But as it turned out, I was second in line to complain: the young man who had hung up on me was already there! “Who do you think you are, hanging up on people like that?” I asked him. He looked at me indignantly and replied, “You were too high-pressure!”

Well, I suppose so. But in any case, I gave them a long lecture, followed by this parting shot: “Since you guys have forgotten how to do your jobs properly, I will be watching you from now on! Please don’t try to escape from me!”

But what really worried me the most, as I left my final class of the day, was the many powerful lights that shone – not only from the hated street-lights, but also out of the windows of lecture halls. There was no one in the halls at this time of night, and yet, here, there, and who-knows-where, the windows still spewed electricity! Once I noticed that, I couldn’t un-notice it, until I was unable to do any of my academic work. I called Tokyo Electric company and asked then to estimate the cost of running all our campus’ street- and class-lights all day. They gave me an unexpectedly low answer: only three or four hundred dollars per month.

Well, I decided, it wasn’t a problem of money anyway. The real problem was that the electricity wasn’t helping even one person. Not one person had asked to have those lights on, and yet, there they were, and nobody even noticed! Even one single yen was too much to pay for this useless state of affairs.

It looked as if I’d have to turn them out myself.

In the hall next to my office, there were ten classrooms, the majority of which had the lights still on! And on top of that, they’d left the heaters on too! I went looking for the guard, to talk to him. But he refused to turn anything off, saying his job was to turn the electricity off at 10PM. But the halls are deserted by 6, I thought to myself. I pictured the guards, walking back and forth past well-lit, well-heated rooms for four hours, their faces registering nothing.

Then I had a talk with the Director of Maintenance. He came all the way to my office, only to say things like, “It’s not our problem. It’s a problem of you teachers and the student’s morals. We could put up more signs, saying ‘Please turn off the lights when you leave’?”

Nothing but the typical Japanese way of thinking.

So, I decided to try my luck with the Board of Education : they were normally up for a lengthy and tedious debate on any subject. But it turned out that even they dismissed my claims: “That kind of thing is not going to change easily. You can’t just suddenly alter an entire system.” And so on. But they allowed me to make a leaflet on their official letterhead, which I distributed personally to teachers who had evening classes. But those teachers just said, “I see!” and then proceeded to leave their lights on.

Next, I took my pocket watch and measured exactly when all the classes finished. I showed this information to the University President at the next faculty meeting. But he only said, “It’s impossible to legislate people’s morality.” At one point, I would have simply given up. But I resolved to make one final effort. I resolved to ask, “Shouldn’t we as a University try to economize and save on electricity?”

However, they ended the meeting right before it was my turn to speak again. I stood up and exclaimed, “Why are you all so idiotic?!?” However, even this could not provoke any debate beyond simple counter-attacks.

After that, I sat at the window of my research-room, rolling down my blinds so that I wouldn’t have to look at the useless lights outside. Then I went to the toilet, careful not to look outside on the way there or back. Then back to my room with all the blinds down. No. I couldn’t live like this. Even the merest flicker of outside light was enough to send me into a fit of anxiety, which I had no way of getting rid of.

With grim determination I set out once more for Hall A.  I saw two or three students, outside the building, eating by the light of the empty classrooms. “You kids! Don’t you see what’s become of you?!?” I yelled. They looked scared for a second, but didn’t stop eating. I ran inside the classroom and violently turned off the switch. But clearly just dimming one single room made no difference. I started running around campus switching off all the electricity I could find.


Another day, when I was especially plagued by these lights, I went to see the school nurse, who diagnosed me with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). This official recognition of my suffering made me feel a little better.

 My salvation came from an utterly unexpected source: the Campus Fire Prevention Night Patrol. Suddenly they started going around every night, and as part of their duties, they shut off all the lights of unoccupied rooms. You can just do that? It seems my actions of the previous week were not illegal, after all.

But, soon they stopped their activities as suddenly as they’d started. Things went back to normal. I started to think, “To students, night-time is lonely. . . maybe seeing light coming out the windows makes them feel more cheerful.” What kinds of thoughts were these, invading my mind? This was nonsense! They left the class  lights on all day, too – even though there were one to three hours between classes. Good lord – they’re wasting energy even during the day!

The solution was quite simple: all the faculty had to do was turn off the lights and heaters at the end of class. Nothing could be easier.  But why most of them not do it? I remembered seeing a new high-tech toilet on the TV news – a toilet that would not let you out unless you washed your hands. Why not a classroom that would not let you out unless you turned off the lights? Or, better yet, a room that would automatically calculate the electric bill for the unused time, and deduct it from the teacher’s salary? That would be effective, wouldn’t it?


FIGHTING WITH MY UNIVERSITY OVER THE CAMPUS LOUDSPEAKERS.

Once again, I’d become a lone wolf, crying out in the wilderness. . . only this time it was my own place of work! I realize how strange this must seem to you. “He picks a fight at work?”

I understand. To help explain, let me explain that there were SOUNDS involved. I did a thorough investigation of the situation on campus, and let me show you the results: (keep in mind that, as I work here, I am probably being unusually lenient on them) First of all, there are a lot of announcements on the school PA. Among them are, PLEASE GIVE BLOOD AT THE BLOOD DRIVE! IT IS 3 O’CLOCK, SO THE LECTURE HALL IS NOW OPEN!

All of these are useless, particularly ones like, TODAY AT TWO, THERE’S A SPECIAL EVENT! PLEASE COME HEAR SO-AND-SO SENSEI’S LECTURE!

On top of that, in my own building (East One), there are loudspeakers in the halls, turned up so loud you can hear them in all the classrooms, all the research rooms, and everything. It’s barbaric! And if you’re in the hallway itself, you’re bathed in its fierce roar. Every time I catch a “direct assault” this way, I call to the General Affairs department to complain. And every time they tell me they’re “Looking into the situation.” And some time will go by without the hated noise, and then BOOM it’s back again.

These meaningless responses from General Affairs are driving me to the brink of madness with rage! (but of course it’s all an act) (isn’t it?)

Eventually I snapped at them:

“If you can’t get an audience for these “special lectures” without yelling at people, you should not give the lectures in the first place! If you want people to be compelled to listen to them, I’ll go and buy you twenty sakura!” (sakura is a kind of fake person that TV producers use to swell the audience ranks, or that people who open up a new Ramen shop hire to make a big line of ‘customers’, or that people running a sexy-email business hire to pose as horny women, etc. – ed.)

The person on the other end was silent.

“Well, then, I’m going to complain to the President in person,” I said and hung up. I went to meet the President, and gave him a vast pile of documents I’d compiled. But I got no reply. I sent him a letter saying, “Sir, I don’t mean to intrude on your time, but I gave you some very important documents, so please reply to me.” Soon, all my documents were returned, as if the President himself had plopped them on my desk with a contemptuous thud. There was a short note which said, “Let’s talk about this sometime.”

My sensible and moderate readers, I beg you!  Even if you don’t agree with me, please at least try to feel my frustration with the situation. I don’t anticipate that things will change for the better. In the end, I went to my dean. I talked to him for half an hour, but it was no good. He told me that all the top people in the University knew my concerns, understood that I was suffering, but merely passed me on to the next person to deal with. Their only concern was avoiding my dissatisfied and combative attitude. (This is something I can understand).


“EVERYONE HATES YOU, NAKAJIMA SENSEI!”

A few days after that, the Director of General Affairs came by my office, wanting a word. “It’s OK if you do your activism off-campus, but doing it here is going to make problems for you.”

“Why is that?”

“In any organization, there has to be a chain of command. And there has to be proper channels for making decisions.”

“I have no idea what that has to do with anything. Even if you don’t like my opinion, I’m merely offering proposals to the group, as a member of the group. If I’m breaking a specific rule, please tell me what it is.”

“All the administrators hate you, Nakajima-san.”

“Besides you, who?”

“Ha, ha, ha , haaa!!”

But really, I knew exactly what he was talking about. Consciously bucking the chain of command does pose problems for an organization. To be honest, if I worked within the system (for instance if I put it to a vote at the Teachers’ Association meeting), I’d lose. If I tried to argue in good faith, most people simply would not share my opinions. On the other hand, sometimes my “rash” actions yield results. For instance, in the elevators in my building, if there are more than X passengers, a tape is automatically played that announces, IT’S VERY PACKED IN HERE, ISN’T IT? IT’S CAUSING A MAJOR INCONVINIENCE. PLEASE ENDURE IT FOR A LITTLE WHILE.

The elevator also had a small plaque with the manufacturer’s contact information written on it. I called them directly: “Can you get rid of that idiotic announcement?” They took me seriously, and I received a reply from their General Affairs, saying “The tapes are built-in, so there is no way to remove them, but we will send a guy to lower the volume to the minimum.”

My harsh words were also responsible for reducing the amount of TODAY AT TWO, THERE’S A SPECIAL EVENT! PLEASE COME HEAR SO-AND-SO SENSEI’S LECTURE! announcements by fifty percent!


Honestly, the only way to obtain reform in a reasonable amount of time is to violate chain of command. And even if one isn’t able to accomplish a reform, it’s still vital that students and faculty are able to express their points of view.

One day, gigantic, ugly yellow recycling bins appeared suddenly all over campus. Not only were they distractingly bright, but they came with “funny” manga illustrations that said LET’S ALL PROTECT THE ENVIRONMENT and other such clichés. In all my days I’d never encountered such a gaudy, childish, manga-fied waste bin. What has become of Japan?

Naturally I rushed to the General Affairs office: “Why on earth did you choose such a vulgar model of bin? This is a university, but you’ve made it look like a cheap-ass shopping mall!” Of course none of the other teachers cared. In other words, the University is just like the rest of the world. People seem oblivious to the obnoxious SAFETY IS #1 flags and the DON’T LITTER signs, and the equally vulgar, childish posters of the fire department and train companies. It’s as if we have become aesthetically numb. 

It’s as if we’re trying to save the physical environment by polluting our mental environment and our aesthetic environment instead!



COURAGEOUSLY BATTLING MY DAMN NEIGHBORS

“More than fighting at one’s workplace, fighting with one’s own neighbors must be the most difficult battle of all, even for a Don Quixote like yourself!”

At least that’s what they tell me. But in fact, I do my activism in my apartment complex just the same as I do it everywhere else. If I hear some loud, thundering music, I’ll go to the perpetrator’s unit, pound on their door. The door opens, and it’s a scared-looking teenage girl. I yell at her, “Quit it! You’re making a nuisance for all your neighbors! What are you thinking?!?”

There’s about 80 units in our high-rise, which makes it quite a challenge to pinpoint where that damned loud TV noise is coming from so late at night! Still, I can’t just let it slide. I dash out of the apartment, and go “noise hunting.” Usually it’s possible to trace the source. We live on the third floor. And the unit directly below us, or sometimes one of the units next to it, is responsible. But just to be sure, I go all the way to the first floor to check the TV noise level there. The housewife who opens the door is very logical. She says, “Please check the unit above ours.” She’s definitely not the perpetrator!

Thus I proceed to the second floor, and knock on the door of the unit below our apartment. As the door opens, I’m immediately assaulted by the huge din from the TV inside. I don’t mince my words: “The noise from your TV is a huge nuisance to those around you.” “I guess so . . . “ mutters the perpetrator, an old man, and goes to turn it down. The time before, I complained to the next-door neighbors, a retired couple: “Please don’t blare your TV so early in the morning.” But the thing is, I’m able to continue to greet my neighbors without any lingering resentment or awkwardness. (although frankly I don’t know if they feel the same about me!)

One time, it was my turn to be one of the apartment’s Neighborhood Council members. I took full advantage of the chance to do activism! There was a man who would play his cello at 3 in the morning. His downstairs neighbors complained many times to the Council. The other Council members thought they’d respond by including a notice in the monthly newsletter, or call and ask the man once again to stop, and other such moderate measures. Here is what I had to say: “That kind of thing won’t work on such a man! We need to get the apartment manager, and go together directly to the man’s apartment and tell him in no uncertain terms that he’s not to do it again!”

We put my plan into effect, and the problem stopped immediately.

The monthly general meetings of the Tenants’ Association were also a great place to do activism! One time the man next to me (a Council member, at that!) was smoking. I said, “I have an urgent proposal! Let’s make these meetings smoke-free!”

“Perhaps you’re talking about me?” responded the Council member. “Fine, whatever,” he continued, and snuffed out his cigarette. This incident caused some members to start whispering, so I quickly called for another resolution banning whispering. One old lady continued to whisper, so I walked directly to her seat and told her she was in violation, and if she wanted private talk, she and her friend should go outside. But they continued their conversation right outside the door- I could still hear them. I told them to go home!

As for the roast-potato trucks and the clothes-drying-pole trucks around our neighborhood (with their loudspeakers on a loop), I attempted to introduce that topic at the meeting but was voted down. I replied, “I really hate those guys. I can’t work from home when they’re around. I have chased them down the street, yelling ‘Don’t come around here blaring that noise!’ Perhaps some of you all might think, ‘If I can’t hear the potato-truck’s music, I won’t know when the potato-man is in the neighborhood’. If that’s the case, let’s discuss it rationally. Here is my phone number.”

But nobody wanted a civil discussion. I heard some people snickering at me, though. That’s right : I don’t always win. But in any case, little by little, more and more people are hearing my message.

“But what about your family?” you ask. “Doesn’t your activism make things hard for them?”

Of course, they were against it when I first started protesting. Against all my activities! But in the end, they got tired of resisting; it became clear to them that fighting with me was just going to make things take an even more extreme turn. But that was not all. . . luckily, little by little, they came around. My wife is not afraid anymore to call the police if the bousouzoku ride bikes noisily, and sometimes even tells café staff to turn down the background music! One time in Kyoto, we were out for a walk, and we found a coffee-shop blaring loud music into the sidewalk, even though there were absolutely no people around. My wife found the CD player hidden under the shop’s folding sign, and turned it off! And my son now uses headphones when watching TV. And sometimes I go to the train station master’s office to give a lengthy speech, my son will sit silently at my side.

Their transformation has really been a great boon to me, like an oasis materializing in a vast desert. When even my friends don’t understand me, when society mis-understands me, when strangers look at me like I’ve lost my mind, I can at least draw strength from the fact that my family at last understands me. Without them, I would doubtless give up hope.
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