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Sunday, November 14, 2004



James Hood, thanks again. I've pondered your point, and I'll try to answer your questions.

I teach English in Japan, mostly to children, but also some adult classes. I'm 30.

I also remember the Japan-is-kicking-American-butt scare, it was popular when I was younger, especially on the West Coast. I heard it almost every day, teachers used it to make us study at school, and adults brought it up at dinner when talking economics. And you know what? It's silly. Sure, Japan does lots of things really well. They're a tiny island nation, the size of California, with almost no natural resources, who was almost wiped out 60 years ago in a war, who is now the second strongest economy in the world. That's absolutely incredible. But they're not perfect, and they have their weaknesses too. It's a bit like if you were in an athletic competition, and everyone kept trying to intimidate you by saying your opponent had huge muscles and extraordinary speed, without mentioning his crippling asthma or his agoraphobia.

Japan is, like any nation, good at some things and lousy at others. And like other nations, there are a lot of things that work really well here as complementary ingredients in a complicated stew, that without all those other ingredients, would never work in another culture. Conformity may be a factor in the success of Japan, but it just happens to work well within the context of this culture, and in conjunction with its specific history and society. In America, conformity would be disastrous, and individualism is where much of our strength lies.

High school exams are extremely difficult in Japan, while in America, they are often absurdly easy. However, I understand college in Japan to be in general a breeze, while in America, I remember it being pretty strenuous. Plus, social factors must be considered: an American high school student may not have to study much, but he also probably has a part-time job and some housekeeping responsibilities to stay on top of. High schoolers in Japan usually do not work, and traditionally the housework is the sole responsibility of Mom, Grandma, and maybe Aunt, and the same might go for college. The average American college kid can probably run a washing machine and cook a basic meal, while I've met Japanese people my age, still living in their family home, who could not, and didn't ever have to. My Japanese peers may work a few more office hours, but they often don't have to do their own cooking and cleaning or worry about rent.

This is not to say one way is better than another either. Each way works in its own culture for a reason. In America, independence is of utmost importance, and parents start weaning their children of family dependence early. In Japan, for various reasons, co-dependence is important, and relationships are fostered toward that end.

And yes, things are changing. The economic depression has meant more women work, more employees change companies rather than staying with one for life, people retire later, and young people have a harder time getting started in the job market.

As for differences in education, I can only tell you what I've seen. A friend once commented that, while most any Japanese person could tell you the exact height of Mt. Fuji, very few could tell you how that height compares to other mountains, or how it fits into the big picture. Last time I mailed something to a friend in Scotland, the postal clerk had no clue where in the world that is, although no doubt she took some extremely difficult test to get her job. The greatest task for most English teachers in Japan is getting students to talk, to express an opinion, or to imagine, while the greatest problem of an American teacher is probably getting students to shut up for a minute and listen and be serious. It's often noted that while America will often think of an idea first (the telephone, the assembly line, the automobile, rock and roll), Japan will improve on it the best (the video cell phone, Asimo the robot, the cheap reliable fuel-efficient car).

Things are changing socially too. There is a lot of talk lately about how disrespectful the younger generation is, how they have bad manners, dress sluttishly, and are selfish. That's the talk the older generation ALWAYS has about the younger generation though, so I don't know exactly how much of this really signifies an actual change, but I suspect the gap between generations is bigger now than is usual. Immigration is also soaring in Japan, and both media access and actual people influx are slowly changing the homogeneity, and the changes in store for Japan should be interesting ones to watch. Stay tuned.


I love how in Eastern culture people come out of food all the time. In India children are born from jars of ghee. I was raised on stories like this, and I still am fascinated by them.


I love this story. My stepmother has a book of Japanese fables/stories/fairy tales that I used to read all the time as a kid and this was my favorite one of the bunch. :)

james hood

Thank you for the nice response to my comment. Its important to remember that people can be civil and disagree gosh thats what the US is all about. One quick point I wanted to make concerning that post before my other question. As to rights ponder this. When we are talking about rights of Health care or housing is that best let up to the legislative branch with the mechanisms of research and such to battle the problem or an unelected judiciary that has no such resources as congress does.I guess thats was my point not that these rights couldn't exist but probally are both in law and reality need to be tackled by the legislative branch which is what Scalia I think is saying. However on to my main question.
Just curious what you teach in Japan by the way. I know a few people who have taught english there. Also when I was a teenager everyone was freaking out over Japan. You heard things like there going to buy up the entire US, They are so smart and driven we will never be able to compete, They will rule the world economically because there cultural value of team and business models are better. But a funny thing happened on the way to economic domination they faltered and still haven't come out entirely of their recession. I mean with the amount of trade deficits that wewere running back then with Japan it still boggles my mind. I am curious, alot of success was attributed to the the school system there and the culture of team work with less emphasis on individualism. There has been some talk that the lack of individualism or the lesser degree of it at least in the corporate life(Iguess that mirrors culture as a whole) was part of the reason. Also the fact that japanese kids had to plot out a career path pretty early in life might also had been part of the problem. I vividly remember a tv show that showed these High school kids studying and preparing like it was medical school to get into college. If I remember right their college track was pretty well chosen by the circumstances involved in the process. What are your thoughts on this. Has there been a shift in thinking in Japan since the 80's and early 90's. Do they talk about it in Japan. I don't know old you are but trust me the Japanese model was feared by many because of its success and admired by all many of whom said we had no choice to copy it. Then with the recession in Japan thats went on for years the whole debate was forgotten. Sorry to ramble but I thought you might have a perpesctive. Thanks and again nice pics

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