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  Asia-Pacific
Letters from Tokyo
Daily Life in Japan and Isolation
By Lee Jay Walker
Tokyo Correspondent
A subway scene in Japan

In the usual guide books you see beautiful Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, smiling faces to welcome you and a vibrant society based on modernity. However, my experiences in Japan could not be further from this because I have seen pain and sorrow, and witnessed so much stress and anguish.

Of course immigrants will share negative experiences wherever they move and Japan can’t be singled out on these grounds. Also, I am sure that many people will share a completely different point of view. However, this article will be about my experiences and within my small inner-circle of fellow “outsiders” it is noticeable that we all share a rather negative point of view.

When I first arrived in Japan I expected people to respect older people and to share a code of mutual respect. Yet time after time I witnessed elderly people, some who were in distress from standing up for so long, being ignored in the “age old custom” of pretending to be asleep. Obviously they were not asleep because time after time they suddenly woke up within seconds of their final destination or next destination.

I also noticed that you had only female train carriages in the morning in Tokyo and at first, being rather naïve, I believed that this was for a decent reason. Sadly no, it was because of “chican” (men who like to grope women on trains) and given the amount of love hotels all over Japan it did appear to make some sense.

More alarming, you even have magazines and websites about how to grope women on trains without being caught and a new phase is starting whereby a group of men work collectively to touch females and abuse them. This of course does not mean that all Japanese men are hentai (perverts) but clearly you do have a problem in Tokyo and the Saikyo Line is famous for this problem.

Then just when I thought it could not get worse, it did. This applies to pregnant women carrying a special badge in order to notify people about standing up for them on the train. Alas, to no avail because only a small minority of people will stand up and clearly it is obvious when women are pregnant but in Tokyo it appears not to matter. Once more it will be shoganai (nothing can be done).

Then you have the problem of homelessness which blights all nations but in Japan nobody appears to care or notice them. Therefore, often you will see a romantic couple on a bench who are kissing but behind them you can witness poverty and sorrow. While children will play near people in rags or sleeping outside and they appear to not have a care in the world.

Sadly, I have also witnessed two people killing themselves and this applies to seeing a man killing himself in Tobu Nerima and a young lady who jumped in front of a train in Harajuku. Again I felt complete dismay because the first time was very sad because a young man had jumped from his balcony and he was naked and lying in blood from his head injuries. Yet I never witnessed any compassion and maybe it was shoganai again but I was more upset by the lack of compassion?

Then only a few days ago in Wakayama I saw a grandmother beating her grandchild and her strikes were very severe and shocking. Despite this, nobody did anything and when I complained to some officials they also stated that they could not do anything. This image reminds me of the endless number of cases where you read about nobody helping children who are being abused.

Again, child abuse is a global problem and no society is pure when it comes to this issue. However, you often read about cases in Japan where local neighbours new about child abuse but just like many school teachers or the local police, nobody did anything.

Also, tatemae (façade) is a real problem because on the outside people behave properly when required and look friendly. However, the inward thinking remains hidden and it is hard to know when people are being kind. After all, I regularly come into contact with possible new clients and it is noticeable that when someone speaks with great kindness, then rarely do you hear from them again.

Turning back to the suicide crisis in Japan and I am talking about a real crisis, then little is being done to help Japanese people. I rarely see any major events or signs about “the sacredness of life” or the need for people to get support. Instead I witness the usual indifference and this year around 33.000 people will commit suicide in Japan.

Japanese people themselves are also being victimized because of overwork and other stress related issues. Of course, not all Japanese people will suffer from this problem but many do and the Japanese work ethic appears to be motivated by the need to work long hours. Therefore, productivity is not the main issue. Instead it is based on a working tradition which is not helping but infact is hindering the quality of life.

Japan also remains to be an enigma when it comes to sex because you have love hotels and sex shops near hospitals and temples or ordinary shops, which all co-exist side by side. Also, enjo-kosai (men giving gifts or money to young ladies for sex or companionship) can be seen often and even school girls sometimes sleep with men for gifts or quality products but again nobody says or does anything.

Also, the feeling of not belonging in Japan remains deep and for Korean born Japanese it is very difficult because of endemic racism. It is also ironic that sex-workers can get working visas but left behind foreign parents can not.

Again racism is a worldwide problem but it does not help when the Governor of Tokyo is a complete bigot when it comes to China and Korea. Wait a minute, he also doesn’t have much time for all foreigners and he constantly makes rash statements about denying the Rape of Nanking (Nanjing) or blaming us for criminal activity. I guess he doesn’t know about the yakuza (organized Japanese crime syndicates)?

While I wonder what local Buddhist priests do apart from becoming wealthy by charging extremely high prices for families who have suffered a recent death in the family and being given a new name in the afterlife. After all, I rarely see Buddhist organizations helping the homeless, getting involved with local issues, raising the issue of suicide (maybe not in their interest because it provides a high priced income) or doing anything actively in the community.

I understand that this may seem very negative and of course I have met some great people in Japan but I only met them because of work. Yes, I am sure that a Japanese person is sitting in Manchester or London in England, and thinking the same. Maybe it is a common problem because culture is very complex but I still feel the daily silence around me and it is crushing my basic instincts.

Oh well, I am just going to go to one of the local cafes that I visit. Wait a minute, this means the same café on the east side of Ikebukuro and the very same place where only one person ever spoke to me in 6 years, and sadly this was not a productive meeting because he just blamed the Chinese for everything.

Therefore it is shoganai but without any tatemae from me!



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Lee Jay Walker serves as Tokyo Correspondent of The Seoul Times. He specializes in int'l relations and geopolitics. He is also involved in analyst work and research on business. After finishing BA degree in East European Studies at the University of London, he earned MA degree in Asia Pacific Studies at Nottingham Trent University. Website at http://www.leejaywalker.wordpress.com where work is published.

 

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