Friday, October 27, 2006

Cultural Devolution

Allow me to attempt to stay on topic here, for this is, after all, Adventurepan.

I know a lot of my posts stray outside the topic of Japan, but while I like to keep things Japan related (being that I'm here and whatnot), things get a little cloudy and I tend to lose focus.

That's ok though, because I don't tend to follow my own rules. And now I give you......a completely uncohesive, incoherent, pointless post!


I heard about this article posted in the NYT about Japanese people traveling to New York. It reminded me of a trend that I'd been reading about, namely two articles published in my beloved WaiWai. The first was an article about young Japanese people wasting their lives away in Cambodia. The second was about Cambodian dudes taking advantage of Japanese female tourists.

I read these types of articles and I just have to scratch my head, and wonder what people in these places think of Japanese people, and what the Japanese folks are thinking when they go over there. One thing that kinda depresses me is that Japanese folks a lot of times feel like Japan is some sorta prison, and feel obligated to act "Japanese" when they're here, and that somehow going somewhere else gives them to green light to do whatever they want, and they have a reputation for being pretty inconsiderate tourists (not that Americans are any better, but everyone expects that of Americans because we're generally loud and rude). Since Japan is a stratified and regimented country, when they get to their destinations, they don't really know what to do with themselves, so they end up doing pretty much the same thing they do in Japan surrounded only by Japanese people, and somehow that's liberating for them. The extent of the womens' cultural experience seems to be getting tricked into having sex with the dudes wherever they go and buying things that they could get anywhere in Tokyo. And as for the guys, well, I dunno what the hell they do.

I try not to be "that gaijin" who runs around talking shit about Japan all the time -- a lot of roundeye over here are consumed with a serious bitch complex about Japan -- but I feel that I talk approximately the same amount of shit about Japan as I do about the USA. I might even venture to say that recently I badmouth the youth of America more, as I am frequently subjected to user comments on myspace and youtube, which are typically written at a 3rd grade level by people with popped collars and huge, flat billed ball caps turned sideways.

Be that as it may, stuff like this makes me think about evolution. Yeah, I said it. Evolution. The societal type. Now, we all know natural selection, right? Things that, for whatever reason, can survive long enough to reproduce faster than its competitors will be more successful, and the other one will eventually go byebye. It doesn't necessarily have to do with how smart something is or how cool something is, all it has to be able to do is fill a specific niche and pass its genes on enough to survive. Pretty basic definition, I guess. Anywho, animals adapt physically (and behaviorally I guess) to deal with the shit sandwiches they're forced to eat on a daily basis, because aside from domesticated housepets, the life of an animal pretty much sucks. More specifically, if they haven't adapted well enough and everything changes, they're SOL. Humans on the other hand adapt extra somatically. I had an anthro prof whose favorite definition of culture was An Extra somatic means of adaptation. I like it too. Wanna see if someone knows what they're talking about? Ask them to define culture, and if they give you an answer like they know what they're talking about, they're lying. People write books about defining that word. But today, we're gonna define "culture" as "an extra somatic means of adaptation," and therefore, the mechanism by which a culture succeeds or fails. We're gonna include behavior and stuff like in there too, btw.

Follow me?


So where am I going with this? I'm concerned for the survival about Japan, that's all. Japanistan. Not that I'm predicting a doomsday thing or anything, but I think there are gonna be some serious consequences to some of the shit that's going down socially here. Am I worried about the survival of the USA? Naw, the USA will be OK, because Americans tend to adapt to change pretty well, which is a key to survival. Bear in mind, the smartest don't necessarily survive, the ones that can adapt and procreate survive. (So yeah, we'll be taken over by hilljacks I guess...) So what's wrong with Japan? And what am I most worried about? I'll tell you, and it's probably going to surprise some folks.


Yep. That thing that we all love so much about Japan. "A culture With Deep Traditions." or how about "A country Rooted in Deep Tradition." Notice the rooted part. In the USA, we like traditions, because we're generally pretty non-traditional. Traditions to us are more like a distraction; something we do once a week or once a year, or some silly ritual that we do during our martial arts class to bolster the sensei's ego. So what is a tradition anyway? Let's consult my good friends Merriam and Webster.

Let's use this one:

1 a : an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a religious practice or a social custom)

One thing about Japan is that their daily life is much more governed by these "customary patterns" (read: traditions) than those of us in the USA, and they are, again, in general, more accustomed to following patterned behavior and sticking to it for an indefinite amount of time. It's what's made their society great. Whenever they get hold of something, they perfect if through exhaustive revision. They (again, that "in general thing") have an almost limitless capacity (and seeming desire) to do shitty grunt work, and seem to derive pleasure out of sticking out really shitty situations and overcoming something "together as a group". It's something that's instilled in them from the time they're little kids. It's the sort of thing that enabled the odd Japanese soldier to live in a fucking cave until the 1980s, and it's what enabled them to stick it out during post war and completely rebuild their country in a couple decades.

But, dear readers, could it also be their bane? Their doom? Their Achilles-san's heel? What happens when they're no longer a happy homogeneous isolated country, and are all of a sudden competing with foreign countries? What happens when they're not allowed to seal their borders and marginalize foreigners (as much/as blatantly) anymore? What happens when that common thing -- that common ideal -- that drives people to dig in their heels and sacrifice everything is gone? I dunno, but I think we're just starting to see it now. There's this generation of listless Japanese 20-somethings and below who don't really see what the point of anything is. They're living at home until they're well into their 30s and just expecting something to happen, but the social mechanisms that made this feasible aren't really in place anymore. A lot of the Japanese women are working odd jobs for a few months, saving up some scrill, traveling to weird countries for a few months at a time, having sex with exotic men, and making their way back to Japan to repeat the process ad nauseum. They don't really have to worry about living expenses because their parents will house them infinitely, and they can just save up their money and/or hit up their parents for money to buy accessories and whatnot. The Japanese guys have the attractive option of joining a company, working 80 hours a week for about $2000 a month, on which they can live at home for free (and not meet women) or they can live in a shoebox in Tokyo and be house-poor. I often sit there and wonder what kind of force would be able to motivate these kids to get ambitious, fired up, and say "OK, this is bullshit." But they won't. Why? Because everyone before them has had to deal with it. Because they don't want to be the one(s) to stand up and draw attention to themselves.. Because it's all about the struggle, and we likes the struggle, doesn't we, precious? It's Tradition, bitches, and you bettuh reconnize. It's what We Japanese do. When Japanese people don't wanna act Japanese, they just scoot off to a foreign country, get they' freak on, feel liberated, and come back to the grind. The escapes found in rock gardens and meditation practices have simply been replaced by beach resorts and Manhattan Island. The birthrate in Japan is the lowest it's been ever, and right now all the baby boomers are fixin to retire. What's gonna happen I wonder? If Japan fails to adapt as a society, will it suffer the same fate as every other thing that has not been able to adapt in competitive situations? I think about the potential these people have and what they've been able to accomplish numerous times in history over incredibly short periods of time, and the loss of potential saddens me a little bit.

Again, I don't wanna seem like I'm Japan bashing, and anyone who knows me can tell you that I do a lot of America bashing too, which, uuh, somehow justifies anything I say I guess... When I talk to Japanese people about the future, I'm usually just met with shrugs. "We'll try real hard," they say, but trying hard at something that's doomed to fail is just gonna get you there faster. I asked my girl about what she thought might get people excited and motivated to change, and she doesn't really think anything could. "It's not a total waste," she said, "They're unambitious people, but we have a lot of smart, ambitious people here in Japan too. Those people will run stuff, and the unambitious will work at convenience stores, gas stations, etc, for the rest of their lives. After all, we need people to work at convenience stores, don't we?"

I guess she's got a point.

Discuss. I really want an informed, irrefutable, well stated comment showing me that I'm completely full of shit. I wanna be wrong on this one, folks. Show me that everything's gonna be ok.. h...hold me..


Blogger brando said...

There you go again, Paul. Trying to expose the seedy underbelly of Japan. You do your best to peel away the Suntory Times, youhzers, and bronze dogs, and reveal the stinky poo smell of Ropongi complete with homeless men sprinting after you.

Is Japan going to be OK? Let me grab by magic 8-ball...........

"All signs point to yes."

4:32 PM  
Blogger Jinxy said...

That's so fucking funny.

Everything about it.

I laughed out load at the LOLZ PWNT and had to explain to everyone in class what was so funny.

Talk about "lost in translation".


Get it?

"Lost In Translation"?

The movie about Americans self-alienated in Tokyo?


I just farted.

11:45 PM  
Anonymous cory said...

You just described the function of "taboos" in Jared Diamond's "Collapse of Complex Societies" (Also check out his "Guns, Germs and Steel" -- it was made into a PBS documentary).

Traditions and taboos are adapting strategies that allow cultures to survive in certain environments, but can also destroy entire civilizations. The Norse brought over a ton of European influences when they settled Greenland, including Christianty, which held them together as a people during the early years when a fractured society would've spelt doom (they shared their food and whatnot). However, they wouldn't eat fish because they thought it was "filthy" (which was the religious belief at the time) so they imported a shit-ton of cattle to Greenland from Europe. Guess what, Greenland isn't condusive to grazing cattle and the Norse died out due to overpopulation and overgrazing, all the while thier Inuit neighbors (who they called "wretches" and hated) thrived on seal and fish. (also, the rich Norse families shared their stockpiles with the masses because it was the "Christian" thing to do -- and ended up dying out as well).

So traditions (or really a European identity and Christianity) kept the Greenland Norse together to have a society for about a hundred years (or so, I don't remember), but then backstabbed them when they should've changed their traditions to fit the environment (gotta eat fish!).

Pretty much that's the same thing you talked about in your blog, only with the Norse. The moral is: Japan is Doomed. Sorry Paul.

2:20 AM  
Anonymous chad said...

Good post. I’ll try to play devil’s advocate, though I don’t know much about Japan.

I think the Japanese way works extremely well in a competitive capitalist environment. They might have tradition when it comes to culture/politics. However, they seem to be the exact opposite with new technology. How many turntables or tape players have you seen since you’ve been there? Japan might not invent the thing, but it will take whatever the US has made and make it better. Atari vs. Nintendo & Sony? Toyota vs. the ‘Big 3’. C’mon, no comparison.

Personally, I think the US has a lot to be worried about. The reason we’ve done so well in the past is that we’ve been the first out of the gate with new technology, getting a big head start on everyone else. Computers, TVs, cars, SUVs, drugs, alternative fuels, you name it. If we fall behind (which we have, especially with car engines), our system isn’t designed to catch up.

To amend this, US companies simply buy up small upstarts with the better product, just to get their patent. This helps your stock prices for a bit, but eventually it’ll catch up with you because you need to build on their already established market share.

4:00 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

brando-- i forgot about that crazy asshole chasing us around roppongi. and im glad you have such a positive outlook -- maybe next time u can bring the missez out here (barring any social revolution)

cory-- part of what i described had to do with taboos, but taboos are a little more specific than what i was talking about i think. im glad you love jared diamond tho and think everyone should read his stuff.

chad-- you have a good point -- the japanese are masters (ninjas?) at improving on stuff, but they seem to have a little more difficulty with the innovation part, at least in social organization/management. they are certainly the masters of taking a product and making it quite badass tho.

jinxy-- do u do anything in class besides fart and surf the web? sounds like a good school.

1:22 PM  
Blogger brando said...

Well, my positive outlook for Japanese just comes from setting the bar really low.

When it comes to cultural traits, Japanese know how to keep the machine chugging. Some other spots have some very counterproductive habits.

In the grand schme of things, they've got their act together.

1:25 AM  
Anonymous Tony said...

I'm sorry Paul I couldn't focus on any of your article after I read the part about Japanese women paying men for sex. Where can I get in on that? I've been offering myself to Japanese women for free for the last five years and have had no luck. Where are the women that are paying for it?

3:05 AM  
Anonymous Tony said...

I added a manslap story further down the page for you.

3:27 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

brando-- yeah they're doing ok, but the population decline thing is a big issue these days. they're simply not having babies, and much like the USA they're about to have a bazillion retirees hangin out doing nothing.

tony -- i liked the manslap story. the guy from the article was probably really big, and could issue a manslap like this guy. im only 5'9 and not a monster so it wouldnt work quite the same, unless my adversary were like 5'5. the thing about hitting someone in general is you never know how they're gonna react, so it's not a really good thing to do. especially at a bar, 'cuz they know where you're gonna be and might come back and do something really retarded. i was talking to my friend about this, and how getting into "street fights" really isnt worth it. in a lot of cases, the winner is the person who is willing to escalate it the most, and when you run into someone who actually "doesnt give a fuck," well, I cant really compete with that because i do give a fuck and feel i could stand to lose a lot if i got permanently injured or maimed.

7:37 AM  
Anonymous Tony said...

That video was hilarious. That's a guy who's not taking a lot of shit.

You're right about the "don't give a fuck attitude". One of my friends here in Chicago grew up in a really bad neighborhood and spent a lot of time bouncing in a local club. Whenever we're training and we start getting into the "streetfight" discussion he always brings that up. We've finally reached the decision that in the street, crazy always wins the fight.

It's not just about not wanting to get killed or maimed. Most people aren't really game for breaking someone's neck to make sure they don't get back up, or hitting them in the head with a brick repeatedly. You don't want to fight the guy who is willing to do that. You probably don't even want to know that guy.

8:56 AM  
Anonymous Uncle Mike said...

Hummmmmmmmm........must be over my head,(doesn't take much). Could they be bored because the're boreing? Maybe they need somthing to get excited about,like defending their country against the N.Korean hords! Wow! They could line up fifty abreast along their entire western shoreline and crush the invading barbarians rushing up on the beaches! Could work wonders in so many ways....

3:06 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

my friend jon (who has lived in japan since we graduated college) told me he didn't feel he was "qualified" to talk on this subject, which is of course nonsense. either way, he mentioned that having the emporer to rally around [may have been] the last thing that could really get these folks excited, and when the emporer came out and said, "oh, yeah, before i forget, i'm not really a god, im just a human", that was it.

these days tho it's not OK (according to who? MSM?) to rally behind the common hatred of an evil enemy, even if they want to kill you, enslave your women, and destroy your way of life. the japanese would never rally together against north korea because the japanese media is very left wing, and somehow everyting would be the USA's fault. japanese people [generally] also tend to amazingly apathetic about anything that doesnt directly effect them anyway, and have a real "head in the sand" approach to just about everything.

3:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

" I really want an informed, irrefutable, well stated comment showing me that I'm completely full of shit..."

I am informed, irrefutable, and well stated and you ARE completely full of shit.

Try the veal. I'll be here all week.


10:05 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

whenever i hear "veal" i think of the time we were rotting in that annihilated apartment building in guam, shitting in bags and pissing thru holes in the floor, and you were going on a tirade about how lovely it would be if you had the opportunity to redocorate it. you talked about making a "european kitchen" so you could cook veal with bowtie pasta. that's when i knew you were gay.

it woulda been a nice place tho, i admit.

10:33 AM  
Anonymous Tony said...

Shitting in bags is fun.

3:27 AM  

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