Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Only in Japan 7/30/09

You may recall a certain post a couple of weeks ago about a certain invitation that was too early for my tastes. Well, it was an interesting day. My friends and I wound up making udon noodles. Well, we helped. Well, mostly Rachel helped while Joe and I alternated between watching supportively and sitting on the couch. We did stomp on some dough, though. Oh yeah, we stomped it good.

Here's a token shot of me doing a little dough cutting. Prior to this, we placed the dough in plastic bags and stepped on it. I guess it was comparable to kneading (although we did that, too, earlier). After the cutting, the dough was boiled in 出し (dashi), which is soup stock usually made from fish. It came out quite well, but took something like 3 or 4 hours to make.

The meal was also...interesting. We started around 1 and just sat and ate noodles and sushi until about 4 or 5. There were some awkward conversational points, which I will attempt to briefly and diplomatically recount.

First off, let me paint a broad brushstroke by saying that while Japanese people are generally very polite and the Japanese language is built around ambiguity and diplomacy, the Japanese can be very unabashedly blunt and forward, to the point that confrontation can easily arise if the situation is not carefully handled. At one point, one of the other guests asked my friends and I (in Japanese), "Which would you rather work for - a Japanese company or an American company?"

I looked at my friends and inwardly groaned. I could have said "both are good" or something vague and diplomatic, but I was already pissed from an early dialogue.

"An American company," I replied. The man's smile wavered a little. "Japanese salarymen (office workers)," I started.

"I'm a salaryman," he interupted, subtly warning me.

"Yes, well, Japanese salarymen work too much," I finished. "Japanese companies are very strict. In America, we don't work as much overtime. In fact, some companies limit overtime."

He asked about our working hours in America, and tactfully explained that his impression of an American businessman is someone who works 12 hours and eats hamburgers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Growing weary of the conversation, I conceeded that maybe there were some people like that, and that certainly the top businessmen at many companies would work many hours and maybe eat a lot of fast food. Eventually we drifted into another topic.

The earlier conversation that really got me annoyed was (of course) political. Let me lay my cards on the table - I am a conservative. I like to consider myself fairly open-minded and open to discourse, though. One of my best friends from college is perhaps one of the most liberal people I know. The trick is to be respectful and not let it get personal.

When Obama came up in conversation, I knew where things were headed. I did my best to smile and nod and say nothing, but apparently they detected a glint of skeptisim in my eye. Or maybe it was the uncomfortable glance I shot at Joe. "You don't like Obama?" asked my VP and his wife. "Why not?" I did my best to explain in Japanese, but lost my composure and resorted to English, which they could basically understand.

"Well, I don't really like politicians in general," I started, trying to keep things light and simple. "Basically I think Obama made a lot of promises that he can't keep." I was being charitable and simplifying my views to the max. "I take it you like him?" I asked with a smile.

"Well, he's a lot better than Bush," remarked the VP. Catching my look (and entirely missing the look his wife was giving him to indicate that a change the topic might be prudent), he returned the question. "You like Bush?" I then muttered something about not loving him, but liking him better than Obama.

Now specifics aside, that exchange really bothered me. If they had disliked Obama, I may have felt more comfortable, but I still would have been bothered. Is it only common knowledge in America that politics and religion are taboo? Or did they just assume that all Americans are of one mind, and that since we elected Mr. Obama, everyone loves him? And what do they know about American politics, aside from keywords and concepts like "Iraq" and "hope"? Most of the Japanese people I've met only seem to know two things about Obama: He's black and "Yes we can." Regardless, I felt it was rather rude of them. I didn't come into their house and start knocking Aso or Abe or Koizumi. I would use an example of a marginally more popular Japanese politician, but there aren't. And God help me if I started talking about the emperor. Sure, American government has and had its problems, but how about cleaning your own house before telling us ours needs to be cleaned, or at least making sure it's a little tidier than ours? Don't even get me started on Japanese government and politics...

Anyhow, my friend and I vented our frustrations afterwards over a pizza. At least the pizza was good, and predictably the waitress was cute.


  1. *sigh* my brother would have a thing for Japanese waitresses... Why don't you pull a Luke and make 'em something pretty to catch their interest?

  2. Hey, sometimes waitresses are cute. And also, this is all the waitresses are Japanese.=P