When East Meets West: Some Things Never Change
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Commentary by Hank F. Miller Jr.
In the last edition of this column, I have tried sew together a few of the major changes I have seen in Japan since first arriving here 30 years ago. Yet, some things never change so the task I have set for myself is rather difficult. The Japan of yesteryear and the Japan if today may resemble each other so much on the surface, but if you take out your shovel and pick, and dig, it doesn't take long to hit the very same bedrock. And much of that stone is of gem quality.
To sing but a few lines on Japanese generosity and hospitality, or Japanese sufficiency and precision or Japanese eagerness and energy seems woefully inadequate.
In similar fashion, to but briefly note the heady mix of past and present does no justice to the intoxication high of Japanese culture, as potent now as it was 30 years ago.
To fail to address Japan's beauty in all of its many forms-- from Mt.Fuji to kimonos to manicured gardens and more--is to miss one of the more endearing parts of life here.
I admit that few societies, I imagine, are as neurotic as Japan's the nation is so starved for attention that any step onto the international stage gets zoom--focused to the extent that all perspective is lost.
Whether the focus be an astronaut or space shuttle or a ballplayer in an interview, Japan reacts like a parent at a
Grade school pageant. This nation has eyes only for its own, with every success magnified and every perceived failure met with a wince.
Even the core event such as the IAAF World Athletic Championships, I have been watching on TV from Osaka.
I've noticed that other participants get regulated to background noise, and thus are hardly noticed at all no matter their notoriety in world athletics. After watching the cameras are constantly focused on the Japanese athletes, one might think that they are all alone in the event.
One might trace the Japanese craving for recognition but at the same time it is remarkably introspective and provincial...one might trace this nature to Japan's period of isolation from it's beginning, yet many of its people use the buzz word of internationalism. It's alive everywhere in Japan.
Perhaps an open door policy does exist--on the surface.
But the bedrock sediments are tightly packed and I feel the door to Japan's heart is still fairly closed to the world,
Maybe it's because Japan is an island country and still remains a bit over protective.
Japan likes rules and I find, that too, has not changed over the years. Just like greetings, many rules are to uphold harmony and lend emotional distance. Individualism maybe on the rise, but all the rules holds it in place. There is a formal rigidity to life that left a strong taste in my mouth when I first arrived here, a taste that is still alive now.
An acquired taste, however, as I have learned to appreciate Japanese formality and protocol.
Throw in some slices of group harmony, a spoonful of consensus decision--making, and a pinch of obsession with form, and I sometimes feel Japan has changed hardly at all.
With the larger certainly being this:
In 30 years Japan has changed me so much than time has changed Japan.
For the better? Sigh.... At least I can hope so for now.
Warm Regards from Kitakyushu City, Japan
Photo Hank Miller, is formerly from Gloucester City NJ