Reflecting on my time in Japan.
The Japanese are loyal to their employers and seemingly married to them for life, working within towards promotion.
Rather like working for the EU institutions where the bind is known as the golden cage.
Before the working day begins, they are duty bound to gather, often on the rooftops of Tokyo, to exercise and sing the anthem of their beloved company. The rules around the greeting of bowing are basically the lower the bow the more servile, e.g., a cleaner should bow very deeply to a CEO.
They have the reputation of working extremely long hours, striving to be last to leave, however they pace themselves throughout the day. There are still suicides or hara-kiri when they ‘lose face’ though thankfully they are ever rarer. Strikes are rare because of their sense of duty, for example a shoe factory went ‘on strike’ but continued to manufacture only left shoes while striking.
It is customary for the men to congregate in bars after work, returning home very late. This is when the normally docile men can be violent towards their wives. Tokyo must be the safest capital city in the world for women to walk day or night. Attacks, rape, theft are unheard of as the Yakuza, or mafia, control all the crime. So, if someone outside the organisation dares to commit a crime the Yakuza will find and punish them, or so they believe, and this does work as a deterrence.
A quick fumble on crowded metros is the worst that women could fear though my towering height, 5’7″, and race presumably saved me from this imposition.
An acquaintance left a case on a train platform and returned the following day to find it still sitting there. In which other capital city in the world could that happen?
Within a few days of arrival, a friendly Japanese colleague accompanied me to the astonishing electronics district of Akihabara, buzzing with small covered market stalls. I bought a music system so at least I could have radio and play my music while waiting for my furniture to arrive.
Also, a top of the range shaver as a present for my brother in Tasmania whose family I would visit for Christmas some months ahead. The array of advanced gadgets yet to reach the west was mind boggling.
Karaoke originated in Japan, and I enjoyed being entertained by the locals singing American and British pop music in broken English.
I spent some enjoyable evenings at ancient Kabuki traditional theatre, amazed that I could understand the stories from the acting and expressions despite being unable to speak Japanese. I had inadequate language lessons at home for only two hours per week.
Most Sundays I spent watching the youth parading their latest fashions, followed by antique browsing in expensive stores or the flea market. Sometimes I booked tours of the sights of Tokyo along with visiting tourists. Whenever I could I travelled at weekends to other cities by bullet train or the countryside. A fun German colleague and I enjoyed an open-air hot water springs break in the mountains in a traditional ancient Ryokan guesthouse.
In Kyoto I booked a city tour, and the travel company honoured my booking despite being the only tourist to have booked.
That is an example of the obliging nature and courtesy extended by the Japanese. It was a crisp winter’s day as sole passenger in a huge bus with my personal guide.
This ancient capital retained the original ancient customs with many wearing traditional kimonos.
I visited the Geisha school to learn the traditions, alongside mostly disappointed western male tourists who held the mistaken belief that they are prostitutes. Far from it.
There are no names of streets nor consecutive house numbers so even taxi drivers must negotiate areas of Tokyo using landmarks. They will rarely stop when hailed by foreigners as more than likely they will be unable to find the destination thus losing face.
Everyone has a map with landmarks like unusual buildings drawn up of their home to assist in locating. A small minority of diplomats had the courage to drive there.
It is rare to find an English speaker in Japan and all signs even on the metro are in Japanese. A British diplomat was reduced to tears after trying all night to get home. Cars are built to Japanese standards therefore imports must be converted to be driven legally.
It took time and experiment to learn what I loved to eat.
Vegetables unique to Japan were delicious. The diet is non-dairy which is presumed to be responsible for life longevity.
After several weeks in Tokyo, I discovered a supermarket selling European foods. Butter was sold only in tins, more like industrial oil and inedible. I would skip quickly past the insect section in the chiller. At lunchtime I ate out at restaurants or a French style cafe.
Someone in the office often took a Japanese girl’s carton of food. Annoyed, she left a carton of dog food in the fridge and sure enough it was stolen, and no doubt eaten, too much hilarity. Once when the kitchen was littered with plates and cups, I filled the dishwasher and started a wash but returned later to find the room filling with soapsuds. The perils of not speaking a language.
The Japanese are sweet, gentle, calm, and polite. Japan is utterly beautiful and spotlessly clean. I love it.