Ethnocentric Japan

Japan. Ethnocentric Japan. It gives one a feel for how it must be to come to the US as a non-English speaking tourist; we do things the way we think is best and damned the rest who can’t figure it out. That is the same attitude the Japanese operate under, and if you don’t like it they feel okay about you leaving.

Almost all signs are in Kanji, one of three Japanese alphabets. Not since I was eighteen and a fresh traveler visiting Greece have I been in a country where I had no idea if I was entering a bank or a restaurant. My son has a great story about entering what he thought was an ATM when he first came to Japan only to discover after being unable to locate the card slot for his bankcard, he was actually in a rice weighing station for the neighborhood.

A person has to learn the train and subway system by time rather than by destination. Although they do put the towns in our Latin alphabet in larger towns, the majority of smaller towns only have Kanji. However, because the Japanese are habitually punctual, you can bet that if your train is bound for a certain place from a certain track at, say, 10:53 it will be your train. Get on it and you’re sure to get to your destination.

The conductors wear little blue suits and white cotton driving gloves. Every so often on the route they will point to a marker on the track, then to their watch, and then a time table stating when they are due at that particular point in the journey. My son tells me that, although he thought it was a myth, in fact the train companies have sued families of suicide victims who chose the train as a method of exiting this world because it put them behind schedule.

The Japanese have a fondness for vending machines that borders on the irrational. The second day we were there we stopped at a machine to pick up some water. Sam’s friend, Jack, climbed back into the van drinking a “Depresso.” It was a canned semblance of espresso and not very good he said, but we all got a laugh out of the beverage name.

I would guess the amount of items sold out of vending machines must edge up into the billions per year. Everything can be bought out of a machine; there are sports drinks (Pocari Sweat), soft drinks, green tea, canned flan, rice crackers, chips, and anything else you might think of. All I could think about was the tons of garbage generated by these distribution systems, so I was stunned by the lack of litter I found during my stay there. Every public place has a recycling system that shames the US. Stainless steel counters are found everywhere offering the opportunity to recycle everything from cellophane wrappers to plastic bottles.