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Trust and how it fits into social expectations
here in Japan is always an interesting subject
to me. It's a topic that you could write
a book on, I'm sure, but it's probably best
illustrated with an anecdote.
One small, almost inconsequential, thing
that sums up 'trust as a feature of the social
system' for me is library fines: i.e., they
don't have them, at least not at my local
branch. I have a huge pile of books beside
my bed right now. The books all have a due
date (two weeks), but if I return them late
there won't be any consequences, other than
embarrassment I suppose.
I don't know if most people return their
books on time, but I'd be willing to bet
that they do. People just seem to be so on
the ball and reliable here about these kind
So why do people bring their books back when
they could just keep them indefinitely? What's
the point of having a due date if there's
no way to enforce it? I have no idea. I could
make guesses about 'social pressures,' or
'civility levels,' or 'unwritten social contracts'
but we'll probably never really know. However,
I do think that a Japanese person would find
these questions themselves a bit strange.
They would probably be thinking somewhere
along the lines of, "Why wouldn't you
bring it back in two weeks if that's when
it's due?" These questions themselves
just serve to illustrate my whole North American
cultural perspective and frame of mind on
I, of course, never fail to return my books
until they are at least ten days late. I'm
a classic slacker and system abuser in that
At first, when I thought there was a fine,
I made sure to return my books on time. Even
later, when I discovered that there was no
fine, I still returned my books on time just
because I thought that it was cool that the
system trusted me to be conscientious and
didn't hold some sort of threat of punishment
over my head to keep me in line. However,
after the novelty of the 'no fine situation'
wore off, I found myself returning books
later and later each time. Eventually I fell
back into my Canadian mentality approach
to things: i.e., get away with what you can,
and if you can get away with something that's
bad, then it's the system that's flawed not
Trust is a strange bird; not so easily identified
by its plumage. I like to think of myself
as a trustworthy person, but when it's a
'system' that expects me to be trustworthy,
as opposed to a 'person', I drop the ball.
I let the team down.
Anyhow, maybe there's still hope for me and
my Canadian lack of respect for the system.
We'll just have to wait and see what happens
to that pile of books beside the bed.
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A little while ago, after I got canned from
my weekend job as a 'faux pastor' conducting
Christian weddings, I took on a English student
to help make ends meet. She's a doctor, a
very bright middle-aged woman who runs her
own pain management clinic in Ginza, a glitzy
part of Tokyo. Let's call her Dr. Hayashi.
Every week on Thursday evening I go down
to her clinic for a two hour lesson. We sit
on opposite sides of a little white counter,
surrounded by sheets of foil-wrapped pills
and acupuncture needles, and I make her repeat
common English expressions back to me.
She told me that she hates studying English,
and this was one reason why she could never
really master it. It was true, her English
was fairly poor for a middle-aged person
in the medical profession who has been studying
for many, many years. However, her accent
and pronunciation were excellent, much better
than her knowledge of grammar or vocabulary.
This is quite the opposite of the norm. It
was very strange.
So, one day I just came out and asked her,
"Hayashi-sensei, why is your pronunciation
"Oh, no, no, no. It not so good. Really?
Oh, thank you very much," she answered.
"When I was girl, many foreign people
visit my parent's house. My mother did parties."
That sounded interesting, but I wanted
"Why were there so many foreigners visiting
your parent's house?" I asked.
"Ah, um, well my father. He also,...
He WAS also a doctor. He was a... a..."
She started to look up a word in her electronic
dictionary. "A gynecologist." She
"A gynecologist,..." I spat back
with a nervous little grin. "Oh, really."
"Yes," she said. "He had a
very big clinic here in Tokyo. And he did
operations for... you know... what's the
word? Operations for no babies."
"Oh, ya, you mean 'abortions'"
"Yes, yes that's right. Abortions.
many American couples come to my father's
clinic. Very often they stay at my
house beside clinic. My mother did
When I was girl, I always hear many
people talking. So, maybe, that's why
good accent now."
I think that must have been the most interesting
explanation for proficiency in a language
that I've ever heard. Who ever would of guessed
that American anti-abortion laws in the 60's
and 70's would result in a cross Pacific
language and culture exchange.
In other news, my friend and old coworker
Amanda (and her friend whose name escapes
me right now) are coming for a visit from
Boston tomorrow. They'll be staying in Japan
for a few weeks, but I'm not sure how long
they're planning to stay here with us.
Amanda is a real Japanophile, and was living
here until she decided to go back to school
in the US. Expect some vacation photos soon.
I've learned that Hunkabutta has been nominated
for a Bloggie Award under the category of Best Asian Weblog.
Thank you very much for the nominations and
votes. Go there now to check out some other great blogs.
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Although I worked for several years as a
computer programmer, I'm not really much
of a gadget guy. In a way this is kind of
sad since I'm living in gadget heaven, a.k.a
The one thing that sets Karen and I apart
from most of the gadget loving people here
is the cheapness and age of our mobile phone.
We've had the same crappy model for years
and years. Since we don't use it much, we
never bothered to upgrade.
People here seem to get a new phone at least
every year, and the newer models that are
out on the market are just amazing. Of course
everyone's doing email, surfing the net,
and taking pictures on their mobile phones
now, but some of the new ones even broadcast
live video -- pretty astounding as far as
Our phone, a Do Co Mo Paldio, should be in
a museum. Its most advanced feature is 'vibration
mode'. As my friend Chris said when he saw
me take it out to use one night at the pub,
"Wow man! Where'd you get that phone?
I think Jesus used that model."
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If you want to see some excellent documentary
photography then check out Alan Pogue's work
at the Texas Center for Documentary Photography (courtesy of wood s lot, my favorite spot on the web)
In contrast to the sensibilities presented
in the above site, be sure to check out HeroBuilders.com where you can now buy their latest action
figure: Captured Saddam.
HeroBuilders, who I found via an advertisement
on the New York Times site, makes specialty action figures. For
the ultimate in poor taste be sure to check
out the Uday figurine that seems to have
a swivel head that can switch from original playboy Uday to Bullet-ridden corpse Uday. However, for full effect you should go
to their Villain Action Figure product-detail page and play the sound clip from the talking
Uday figurine. Here's the transcript:
|"Someone help me. I'm still alive only
I'm very badly burned. Hello
out there. Anyone.
Can someone call an ambulance,
I'm in quite
a lot of pain. I'm very badly
burned so if
you could just...You shot me."