Gragh! Blogger isn’t letting me upload pictures from my P.C. tonight (although the problem appears to be with my internet connection rather than blogger) and my promised massive post requires a vast amount of pictures. So, sorry guys it’ll be delayed yet another week.
In place of that lets start a new feature.
Japan: The Good and the Bad (and the occasionally ugly)
The aim of this feature is for me to present two short essays, one bitching about some little irritating feature of life in Japan and the other offering ecstatic praise for something in Japan.
So lets see how this works.
The Bad Number 1: Oil Vans
Staying warm in Japan in winter can be a massive challenge. Homes in Japan have almost no insulation, there is no central heating at all and there are no carpets on the floors. This is not so bad in summer when all anyone wants to do is escape Japan’s tongue-drying heat for just one second, please is that so much to ask!!
Sorry, got a bit carried away there.
But anyway it gets cold in Japan. Not hugely cold but the winter temperatures are certainly comparable to winter in Britain. The lowest extremes in Britain are much lower than in the part of Japan I live in but nonetheless it is cold. In fact it feels even colder because going indoors offers no relief from the cold.
So most people have some kind of free-standing radiator, such as a space heater or an arger. I myself use the heating function on my air conditioner and it is wonderful thank you. Many of these heaters use gas or oil and so of course they need to buy gas or oil.
Enter the oil van.
The oil van sells all kinds of fuel for heaters and drives around residential districts to sell fuel and collect empty canisters.
So far so enterprising and useful.
And of course in the fine tradition of all Japanese mobile businesses the driver sings.
It is wonderful and charming to be walking down the street at night and hear a man cycling past pushing an oven full of hot potatoes and singing a song about how great his potatoes are. It is like being transported into a bygone age, and it makes you really want a potato.
Such a technique is sued by pretty much every Japanese businessman that has some kind of motorised stall, including the oil van.
But the oil van doesn’t sing. Instead it has enormous speakers mounted on it which blare out the song at roughly the same volume as your average death metal concert. I swear I have been to gigs with quieter speakers than this sodding van. Big gigs too, not ones in pubs, full blown concerts that makes less noise.
I have to turn my television up to almost its full volume to drown out the noise.
It wouldn’t be so bad if the van just used it to announce it’s presence and then got on with it. No, instead the speakers blare every time the van moves so I can be expected to be treated to a cheerful blast at any point for 2 to 3 hours.
Do you know that there are no laws limiting noise pollution in Japan?
What is the oil van man accomplishing with this sonic terrorism? He certainly isn’t attracting any new customers as I and everyone I know have sworn to boycott him. Maybe he is using the speakers in an attempt to oust all the rude gaijin that have moved into Gakuentoshi.
Regardless the oil van man is something BAD about living in Japan.
Everyone knows that Japan is a very safe country. Violent crime levels are astonishingly low here. I know of people that have left the country for a holiday and left their front door open whilst they did so with no ill effect. Murder is very uncommon so that single murders still make the news in a way that they simply do not in America or Britain. Drug use is very low and so the associated dealing and gang culture is non-existent. Basically bar a few genuine nutters there just isn’t much crime.
However more important and more surprising than that is the honesty of the Japanese people. British people, on the whole, are not lawbreakers. Very few of the people I know would give serious consideration to breaking and entering, ram raiding or a spot of mugging. Yet, under certain circumstances nearly everyone I know has committed theft. Few would steal a video, but what about download it? What about nicking a pint glass from a pub, trying to use an expired coupon or dodging the fare on a train for a short journey? We’ve all done some kind of small crime like this.
Japanese people don’t though. It wouldn’t occur to them to. Rules are sacrosanct here. In fact in many aspects of life the Japanese positively adore having some extra rules. The more rules there are the less decisions have to be made and the more likely everyone is to act the same and reach a consensus.
In western nations the highest ideal is individual freedom and expression. Rules impose a barrier on this, a restriction on freedom. It is in our nature to enjoy breaking rules. Some of our most revered artists are appreciated because they broke rules (think of any popular punk band for example) and we’ve all broken the rules once or twice and enjoyed it.
In Japan the ideal is harmony. Everyone getting along fine and the whole functioning well. This is why there are so many rules, both official and unofficial. Whilst we have punk Japan has art forms with thousands of rules (such as the tea ceremony) and the finest exponents of it are those which can adhere must strictly and perfectly to the idealised method (or way) laid down in the rules.
So there is very little violent crime, there is an appreciation of rules and restrictions and there is also a tremendous generous impulse towards others.
Take the example of a wallet left on a train. Lose your wallet on a train in Britain and you will likely never get it back. Many people wouldn’t bother making the effort because they assume it to be futile. Either it has been nicked or nobody bothered to give it into lost property and it can now no longer be located.
But just last week a friend of mine lost his wallet and found it the same day. It had been turned in at a police box near the station he obviously dropped it in.
To give a quick comparison here are some things I have lost in Britain and never seen again.
A bag containing a collection of CDs I was using for DJ work.
A camera (pre-digital).
A model tank used for the wargame “warhammer” with a retail value of about £20.
In contrast stuff I have lost in Japan only to have it be returned to me the very same day.
A travellers backpack I was using to go on holiday containing probably about
£400 worth of stuff.
A replica air-soft assault rifle worth about £60.
I can say that living amongst such trusting and thoughtful people is definitely a GOOD thing.