Japan’s hidden world
Photo Courtesy of: xaxor.com
A FRIEND EXCITEDLY WENT off to Japan recently and his first post on Facebook would have had a familiar ring to anybody else who has been there.
Sounding like a travel agency brochure he gushed: ‘I have finally arrived in Japan, Land of the Rising Sun - this place never ceases to amaze me and I can't even put it in to words. The people are so pleasant, nothing fazes them, not in a rush, so polite and patient - just love it here.’
It’s true. There is no more polite race of people on earth than the Japanese. They even make head-bobbing Indians seem rude and arrogant.
In hotels, subservience seems to be their middle name. And, even more remarkable, the politeness and super-service is not motivated by tipping because, unlike avaricious New York, such bonuses are not encouraged.
This is not racist. This is the way of life. It is what is expected of people. But, on a recent visit to Tokyo (my first) I started thinking there must be an undercurrent.
I’m not advocating road rage or rebellion but, sitting back journalistically, I looked for signs. And I was sure the traditionally kimono-clad waitress, taking geisha-style steps to and from the restaurant table, was not quite as keen as she seemed to be photographed with the fat, loud, overly-familiar Yank at the next table.
It became a fascinating subject with my interpreter and guide. She agreed about the ‘happy’ snap with the waitress. And through her I learned the Japanese word ‘seken’. Generally it means ‘‘society’ or ‘world’.
But, she explained, it also meant an underlying society, a different world. An angry and frustrated side of Japanese people where all that head-bowing and scraping was part of an inscrutable façade.
Indicatively, this came from a successful young Japanese professional businesswoman who had spent years in the west. She was scathing not only about the subservience but about the fear of offending. She was also critical of the ignorance, retarded development and sexual inadequacies of Japanese males.
the emancipation of women at home
hasn’t come far from female foot-binding
It was an eye-opener at a fascinating lunch.
She rattled off a heap of reasons for such an oppressive and repressive society. Her belief is that the emancipation of women at home hasn’t come far from female foot-binding (only banned by the Japanese government in 1915).
I was told that there are no kindergartens on Japan and women are separated from the men at temple.
(That happens too at some Jewish ceremonies, like funerals, in the West).
My modern friend scoffed that her own father in 2013 could not even make a pot of tea.
‘We won’t have a female prime minister in Japan for at least the next 50 years’.
Add to that the undeniable fact that the Japanese psyche must have taken a pounding after the World War II surrender and deserved humiliation in post-war occupied Japan.
After that lunchtime lesson I found the row of head-nodding uniformed staff as I departed my hotel even more annoying. Unless they were genuinely happy to see the end of me.
Footnote: I was intrigued by the word ‘fuku’ in Japanese. Noticed there was a Fuku Room in my hotel and thought it might have a hidden meaning. Turns out it means ‘lucky’. While I was in Tokyo a large business caused a furore when they unveiled the name of their new mascot. The freezer and water treatment company Fukushima Industries named their mascot Fukuppy. I kid you not. You could understand it, perhaps, if it were the mascot of the deadly Fukushima nuclear plant.
Maybe it means something else in the mysterious seken world. Like with ‘go’ and ‘yourself’.