.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}


Sunday, January 02, 2005

No bang bang

Last night, after a fine holiday dinner of lasagna and wine with Miyuki and her parents, in a contemplative mood, the talk turned to politics, or more specifically, the differences between Japanese and American cultural priorities. As is the case with most thoughtful, non-nationalistic folk, each delegation generally disparaged their own country and found reasons to promote the other. Now, I'm still on the fence about Japan or more accurately, I'm still treating it like a curio held at arm's length. I feel that I just don't understand the place well enough yet to come to many hard and fast conclusions. So far, I find myself perpetually interested and I'd like to keep it that way. Things are very different here and it would be very easy to dismiss certain aspects of the culture out of hand; to reflexively fall back on cultural prejudices you didn't know you had.

But I've been in a foul mood lately about the state of America and as many of you know, it was one of the prime reasons for us to get out of Dodge. To reiterate what tweaks me so much: primarily the re-election of the monkey king spurned on not so much by approval of his performance but rather, fear of the world at large; the growing gap between rich and poor; the increasing crassness and acquisitiveness of most popular culture (the "Simple Life 2"(!) anyone?); the complete disregard for the environment and how owning an oversized "sport" "utility" vehicle is directly related to it's increasing degradation.... I could go on.... and on.

But I got an unexpected gift from Miyuki during our conversation. In discussing the differences between American and Japanese culture it has often been noted that America is a culture of guilt and punishment and that the Japanese one is a culture of shame, where social pressures act as a corrective. The idea is that in America people follow the rules because to not do so could mean dire consequences and that laws are passed to restrict people from doing what they would naturally do, given the chance. And in Japan it's the same, except that many times there seems to be a certain laxness or delay in enforcement, to allow the offending party, pressured by a sense of shame, the chance to come correct, save face and maintain social harmony. However, if there's no law or shame against doing a certain thing, well then, all bets are off (ie: soiled panty vending machine's).

So, last night in the middle of me bad mouthing my Homeland, Miyuki brought up a startling fact (for me, at least)... that I don't and most of the people we know back in America never owned a gun. Seems a simple enough observation, until you realize that many, many, many people, living in a country where it's legal to own one, have also decided not to. We are infamous as a nation of gun nuts (with quite a bit of justification) but the amazing thing, at least from a Japanese perspective, is that we ALL don't own one. If it's legal, well then, there must be no shame in it , and why not own one? I'm not saying that Miyuki is advocating gun ownership, far from it, what I am saying is that I never realized how many MORE sane thoughtful folk must live in America than I had given credit to.

Also, that I hope the Japanese never change their minds about the social value (or lack) of personal firearms. Because that could prove to be quite scary indeed.