July 16, 2016

Upon leaving the country, if Japan had given me a feedback form, this is what it would look like:

As you know, in Japan we value cuteness above all else. With 1 being "meh, only American-style cute" and 5 being "OMG! KAWAIIIII!!!!," how would you rate the cuteness of the following?

Our tiny, boxy, toy-inspired cars and trucks
Our haircuts, heavy on product and bangs
Our dogs' haircuts
Our absurdly adorable children and their school uniforms

In your experience, what do you think Japan does well?

Retaining Walls
Your retaining wall game is on point, Japan! Seriously. While most countries will say "what's the least we can do to hold back all that dirt?," you really take it to a whole new level.

Rice Crackers
Oishi desu (delicious)! And so saku saku (crispy)! Our paltry potato chips have nothing on your cornucopia of crackers.

Clean, fast, adorable, and ALWAYS ON TIME! The rest of the world can learn a lot from your trains. The only problem is that because you know they will be precisely on time, sometimes you only give me one or two minutes to transfer trains! And it usually takes me longer than that to figure out which platform to find and to actually get there.

Hot Springs
Beautiful, natural, always nude (way to fly in the face of your prude reputation)... your hot springs (onsen) are amazing. For western guys especially it's a cultural adjustment to bathe and socialize with other naked dudes, but despite the awkwardness it remains the most relaxing thing you can do in your country.

Sometimes I think you care too much, but it makes for a level of precision and beauty in your craft that is simply unparalleled. Whether it's a $200 pair of chopsticks, or a convenience store onigiri (rice ball), the care and attention you put into everything you make really shows.

Sake, miso, natto, shoyu, and pickles of all kinds—you have mastered the art of letting things go bad in a good way.

Toe Socks
While toe socks in America are a rare novelty, in Japan they are a way of life. An adorable way of life.

In your experience, what do you think Japan could do better?

Plastic bags
No, I don't need a plastic bag for that apple I bought. No, I don't need a plastic bag for those crackers, that are already individually wrapped, on a plastic tray, sealed in a plastic bag to begin with!

No Touching!!
Your handshakes are mostly horrible, dead-fish handshakes. If you want to greet a westerner in a way they're familiar with, maybe just stick to high fives? And I think I only met one Japanese person in my time there who is a hugger. How do you live without human contact??

The Madonna/Whore Complex
Okay, we all have this problem, but the expectations placed on women in Japan to be both cute/sexy/sexually-available and coy/shy/pure are particularly extreme. You end up with this hyper-fetishization of women that can never be reconciled with reality. And women clearly spend hours and hours a day devoted to preening and styling themselves to meet social norms of sexiness/cuteness. But they don't have permission to actually show any sexual agency! So the only women who can meet all of men's expectations are actual prostitutes dressed in conservative costume. How is this good for anyone at all ever??

The "Kind Lie"
There is a common behavior in Japan to always say the nice thing, even when it isn't true. A Japanese guy I talked to called this the "kind lie." It makes for a lot of politeness, but it also means you rarely actually know how people feel about anything. And when there's a problem it will remain a problem because no one's going to say anything about it! I'd prefer some blunt honesty from time to time, personally.

Sacrificing flexibility, individuality, expression, and fun for the sake of order and risk aversion.
Okay this is a big one. You seem to place so much importance on keeping everything in order, and avoiding any and all risk, that you kind of kill all truly free expression, and any sense of spontaneity or mystery. Sure, it makes you one of the safest countries on the planet, but it's kind of a buzzkill.

Just give them a break for a second will you? It's not very nice for them, and it makes it kind of hard for us vegetarians when you're basically flying around in crop-duster airplanes, spraying a fine mist of fish extract over the entire country!

Any other thoughts you'd like to share?

I absolutely loved my time in Japan, and I definitely want to return. Unfortunately you seem a little too set in your ways for me to feel fully at-home there, so it will have to be short, very sweet visits from now on.

And now for my final batch of Japan photos, most of which are relevant to the above feedback.

Your kids are cute enough as is, do you really have to put them in such adorable hats all the time?? Oh, and by the way she's visiting the train station master, who is a cat.
Japan is so orderly, even the fig trees have to grow in a straight line!
It was so cold and rainy when I camped in Hokkaido that I wore 7 layers to keep warm. Luckily there were also incredible hot springs just a stone's throw from my tent!
In Japan even their tools are so well made they deserve their own museum. (From the Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum in Kobe)
This nicely illustrates their love of both high technology and ancient tradition: taking a photo of traditional washi paper made from wild-crafted fibers with an iPad.
Risk-aversion 101: always wear a hard hat when blowing leaves. Because you never know.
And finally, just because I don't think I posted enough (or any?) rice paddy photos.