What I love about Japan, part 2

19 Jan

Here are the next three entries in this series! Before I continue, let me explain that this series was partially inspired by a very low point in my time here. Back in the fall, I was feeling quite bummed about Japan and wanted to return to the USA.

So I tried Googling “what do you like about living in Japan?” and I had a hard time pulling up good, substantive results. This series is my little attempt at filling that void.

3) The absence of conspicuous consumption.

Japan is a middle-class society, and most people live modest, comfortable lives. Here in the suburbs, at least, there is little “keeping up with the Joneses.” Sure, people compare houses, cars, and so on. But there are no McMansions. I don’t think I ever see flashy cars – everyone drives very practical, fairly ugly, solid family-sized cars.

There was recently an article in the Times about this, as a matter of fact. Japan gets a bad rap for having a failed economy, but that just isn’t reality. As said in “The Myth of Japan’s Failure”:  “Japan has succeeded in delivering an increasingly affluent lifestyle to its people despite the financial crash.”  When you look at education, life expectancy, access to technology, homelessness, unemployment, and more, Japan is doing far better and has far less inequality than theUSA.

While the US has expanded the gap between rich and poor over the last several decades, my experience in Japan indicates that people here are mostly doing alright.

And people accept alright, which is key. TV shows don’t glamorize the dissipated lives of the rich and stupid. There’s also the Japanese spirit of “gamman” that I’m always talking about, the sentiment that encourages them to accept whatever comes and, relatedly, to respect the status quo. Obviously, that often becomes hugely problematic. But in this sense, at least, it contributes to the lack of angst and dissatisfaction that seems pervasive in the States.

 

4) Knowing that everyone around you is going to follow all of the rules, and generally behave like good people.

It is such a relief to know that you don’t have to fight your way to the head of the line; that no one will get special treatment; that you’re not going to get into an argument with a cashier; that no one is going to yell at you for mistakes; etc etc.

Like a lot of things you’ll see on this list, this just lowers the level of stress you feel on a daily level. Where, in NYC, you might get into a screaming match on the subway, that doesn’t happen here. There’s something to be said for politeness, after all, and especially politeness as the default.

 

5) Knowing that service people will always be scrupulously polite, and often overly helpful and friendly.

I hesitated to post this because it makes me sound like an entitled Westerner. But I’m not going to skip acknowledging a truly pleasant aspect of Japan that I think everyone, entitled or not, can appreciate.

It’s nice to go into a store and be treated with great respect. Mise no hito (store staff) will always treat you as if you are important, they will walk you to an object you can’t find, answer your questions, and always with politeness and patience. Granted, sometimes you’ll realize belatedly that you’re massively inconveniencing them. But often, especially in smaller stores, mise no hito are eager to help.

They will make sure that you find what you need, gift wrap it if you ask, ship it to you if you prefer, help you fill out paperwork if you can’t read Japanese, and often venture their tentative English if you’re struggling to communicate – or call in a coworker who speaks your language.

Like everything else on this list there are good and bad sides to this (i.e. you can act like a huge a**hole without knowing it), but generally, the customer service makes shopping in Japan a real pleasure.

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