Back in Japan, and over the last few weeks I’ve been thinking about a few things that irk me in Australia and in Japan. And things that make me happy. They might be different to what you’d like or dislike. I thought I’d share them. Here they are.
Things I dislike about Australia:
- Rubbish on trains and public transport. Have some respect for your environment, people, even if it is a train.
- A little bit of disingenuousness in some people, e.g. shop people that are like ‘Hi how you going!?’ when they’ve never met you before and don’t even listen to the answer (which pretty much has to be ‘Yeah good!’ unless you are ready to have a breakdown on them.)
- Bit of hierarchy making people feel that they are worth more or less than others.
- Breakfast. People think it’s weird to have vegetables in your breakfast. Why?
- School: many students leave school with less personal confidence than they had going in. I read this here about a week ago and thought, wow, yeah. Is this a place where this is not true? Maybe in Finland, as seems to be suggested in the article.
Things I dislike about Japan:
- You can’t get lunch in most cafes after 1:30pm, and that’s borderline. I was once turned away at 1:15pm because they had ‘closed for lunch.’ Seriously! All the food and the cooking staff are still there, you can’t be all packed up yet. (You can go to a noodle shop or probably a sushi train or something. I just like cafes.)
- Quite a lot of disingenuousness in general everyday life. It’s possible that, as a foreigner, I see a bit more of it than the average Japanese person. But then again, most high-ups like branch managers and school principals would see an awful lot of it. They have a name for it here: 建前 tatemae. If this concept interests you, check out this, this, or this.
- Not sure if it’s separate or is really part of tatemae but definitely related: People in Japan seem to feel that it’s necessary to have some sort of reaction to seeing a person who looks visibly foreign. Maybe they feel it’s a graceful way to cover how awkward they feel, or their surprise or shock at seeing some freaky white, black, or coloured person. For example, hospitality staff: ‘Wow, you are so beautiful/handsome! You speak Japanese so well.’ Random lady in an onsen (a public bath where everyone is naked): ‘Oh, you’re really pretty!’
- Hierarchy and inequality, big time. I guess I feel it more in Japan because here I’m way further down the chain than in Australia, but in both places, as a woman I’m behind and as a ‘young person’ too.
- School: same as Australia, many students leave school with less confidence than when they started. Also, other points that I will link to when I finally write them.
Things I like about Japan:
- Foods often come in handy sets. Breakfast set (thanks Nagoya!): toast, egg, salad, yoghurt and coffee. For maybe $8.
- Safety. Most places in Japan, a woman can walk home alone from the station at 2am without much cause for worry.
- Considerateness – it’s not all tatemae. If you are walking up a mountain or across a carpark and you see a towel, a shopping bag or a jumper (as in a pullover, not as in someone who wants to die, North American friends) lying on the ground, by the time you walk past again an hour later, it will be hanging on a tree or handrail somewhere in an easy-to-spot position. There is also very little stealing in Japan.
- Public transport. Like many things in Japan, it really is pretty convenient and, just as importantly, reliable. (THESE THINGS ARE IMPORTANT, MELBOURNE.)
Things I like about Australia:
- Working conditions. Work-life balance, annual leave, sick leave, parental leave… 8-hour days. Long service leave.
- Social progress. Working conditions are part of social progress, I guess, but the fact that it’s OK to talk about pretty much anything and point out when something’s not right, and hold those responsible accountable (unless it’s something you saw in an offshore detention centre, and I like the fact that a lot of Australia is not afraid to condemn both what is/has been happening and the law that forbids victims and witnesses to speak out). I think honesty comes into it, but open-mindedness is probably more relevant to social progress, so let’s go with that. Multiculturalism is maybe part of this, too.
- GPs and the public health system. No, I’m not saying it’s perfect. But it is really, really useful to be able to go to one doctor and say ‘OK, I’ve got a headache and a stomachache and an earache, and I think I broke my elbow and can you please have a look at this mole and oh I need a PAP check. Oh and it hurts when I poo.’ OK, a list like that would take quite a while, but any GP can deal with all of these things or refer you to specialists where necessary. Do you have any idea how many doctors you would have to go to in Japan to deal with the above list? Probably five or six, I reckon. So it’s extremely useful to have one doctor who can be like your base coordinating doctor. You do have to have one you trust, though.
- Safety – similar to Japan.