There’s an efficiency and utility to life in Japan that I love. Trains run on time, streets are clean and people follow predictable behaviors. There is a decided security to this.
Irony! I was writing the last sentence about predictable life here, an earthquake started shaking the building. Emma, Max and I all got up and stood in our hotel room doorway. The pendant lights in the hallway were swinging back and forth. I watched as a team of chambermaids scurried out the door to their safe location.
For me this is a surprising event, but for many in Japan it’s part of ordinary life. When we visit schools in Japan, there are rows of emergency backpacks and crash helmets for every student. Earthquake drills are regular part of life here. The preparedness is just part of the way people of Japan deal with living here. Crisis here, it is presumed to only occur from lack of planning.
This seeming automation of life, influencing people’s behavior in given situations, is cultural. People understand what’s expected of them and they behave according to their role. I’ve observed that these norms play out in stereotypes like “Boss,” “Ingenue,” “Student,” and “Wife.” Last July when we were in Matsumoto, I presented to a women’s organization about raising kids with EQ. The group of women attending the program were first time mothers enrolled in a program to help them to adjust to their new role. For many women in Japan, becoming a wife is considered a “happy retirement” from a career or kotobuki taisha. But what happens to a woman who is reluctantly “retired?” Maybe being at home with a baby is not the ultimate experience for everyone.
When we travel I am always struck by our distinctly American-stlye chaos and individuality. While much of the “loud American” stereotype I abhor, I do like to see Emma and Max’s non-conformity and unique path through life. Even seeing Max wearing orange in a crowded street full of people in black and white makes me smile. Perhaps that’s one of the things I love best about being here, simultaneously appreciating what’s best about both Japanese and American cultures.