What Japan can teach America

They bow.

Is it subservient? Yes.

It’s subservient to the concept of “I respect you and I have time for you.”

It’s quite an alien concept these days.

In Japan, time moves, but it stands still.

Some say all the traditions and hierarchies make for frustration.

This must be true. But I’ve spent the last 10 days here and what I see dances beautifully with what I don’t see.

I see a gentleness and kindness that I don’t see in many other places. People come up to me and ask if I need help.

It’s true that I have emotional problems, but how do they know? It’s also true that every person who has come up to me and asked if I needed help, has actually helped.

This, to me, feels dangerously like humanity.

What I don’t see are guns. I see no police on the streets, other than a few directing traffic.

I see women of all ages walking home in the suburban dark, entirely unconcerned, listening to their headphones, walking without hurry.

I see people who stand in line to get out of the subway. No one pushes in.

Is this because they’re not competitive? Or is this because they’re not insane?

I don’t see anger. I don’t see people throwing litter on the street. I do see people at a Yakult Swallows baseball game pick up all the cardboard and plastic left over after eating stadium food and taking it with them to deposit in trash cans.

Mini-umbrellas. So much more poetic than fists.

Mini-umbrellas. So much more poetic than fists.

I see the ladies who roll a drinks trolley down the aisle of the bullet train turn around as they are about to exit the carriage. They do this in order to bow.

I don’t see anyone eating on the subway. I don’t see anyone offering a mean face, an aggressive eye or a passive sneer.

I see men and women holding hands and looking as if they like each other. It seems almost childlike. I see nothing wrong in that.

I see men and women in Harajuku, strolling around for the very sake of strolling around, because they’re wearing impossibly cool clothes.

Cool, original clothes.

No two cool people look the same. Each woman has her own style, seemingly concocted by an imagination fueled by a thousand cocktails.

Each man looks, at the least, put together. It’s a gentle pride, not an aggressive preening.

Of course, my view is of the idealistic traveler, rather than the wizened native.

Of course I miss many nuances that are lost in translation.

But the Japanese let their crazy out in radically different ways from, say, Americans.

Their ads are often from the School of Lunacy. Their game shows are from the same education.

At the baseball, they don’t so much have a seventh-inning stretch. Instead, they lift mini-umbrellas and sing.

Actually, they sing for most of the game. The chants aren’t the gruff, prosaic numbness of “DE-FENSE!”

Instead, each inning seems to have a different song, all sounding like something from a Spanish soccer game.

Oh, and 14-year-old girls wander round selling beer. Oddly, no one seems to get drunk.

I didn’t see anyone try and kill anyone else, either.

When I came back from the game, the San Francisco Chronicle headline read: “Dodgers fan slain following Giants game.”

Next to it was a happier story: “Ex-NFL-er: Charge vandals.”

Well, at least no one died in that one.







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  1. Gabriela says:

    Not Japanese, not American, but man, is your writing good!