japanshin

"The mountain goes up and down with luggage and garbage"

It's been a while!  Have some pictures:

Volunteering:

Happy Keichitsu Season of Bugs:


The subject is from a sign on a mountain.

I was having lunch with some people I hadn't met before.  We were all Americans so I fell into comfortable conversation easily.  They were "my people."  I forget sometimes that I'm a good 10 or more years older than most of the foreigners working in Japan.  I forget that "I've been here for over 10 years" also means "I'm 10 years older than you."  I wonder if this had been my own country, if these women would still be "my people."  I wonder if age would matter if nationality was no longer an issue.

So I was asked the question, "How has Japan changed in the last 10 years?"

I'm so used to answering, "How have you changed?" or "How has your company changed?"  Usually I'm the one asking Japanese people, "How has your city changed?"  I think it was the first time anyone has ever asked me how Japan has changed. I didn't have a good answer then, but I met up with my old roommate in Kobe over the weekend and we came up with a few ideas.

First, smoking.
When I first came to Japan, I saw lots of advertisements for cigarettes everywhere.  Actors in dramas were often smoking, especially if they were businessmen.  You could see large posters at bus stops promoting smoking.  Some of my students said that people smoked openly at their companies.  I had a friend who was burned by someone who was walking in too crowded an area holding a cigarette.

Now you aren't allowed to smoke in stations, some public places, and so many restaurants.  There aren't any new laws about the visibility of cigarettes on TV, but TV shows that have smokers receive complaints and so the prevalence is really going down.  It's pretty neat!

Second, cafe culture.
When I first came to Japan, there wasn't so much of a culture of young people hanging out at trendy brand cafes.  There were a lot more cafes catering to older people wanting a place to smoke and read the paper.  In crowded areas, these places might even be in the basement of some building.  Dark and soothing, like what you'd expect from a bar.  Fast food joints catered more to the dining side of business and less to sitting down for a coffee.

Now, you can sit down for a coffee in any fast food restaurant, and many convenient stores have a cafe section.  New businesses look for locations that have big windows and relaxing places to sit.  Most places are non-smoking.  Instead of older men spreading out newspapers, there are young people on their phones.  Some chains from other countries that couldn't get a root in Japan before, are finding it easier now that this cafe culture is becoming more prevalent.

Third, Google.
When I first came to Japan, Google earth had just come out.  Searching for things didn't automatically give you what you needed to know.  Online translators weren't accurate.  And there were no smart phones.  Flip phones could access a limited number of phone-friendly websites for a high price.

That meant that to prevent getting lost, you really had to know where you were.  Before going out, you might look up a couple useful phrases in case you got caught not knowing some important language.  People carried around phrase books and small dictionaries when traveling.  Knowing Japanese put you ahead of the rest.

Now, learning a new language is a hobby, not a survival strategy.

Now, anyone can get around conveniently.  I even know people who cannot put logic to the train schedule.  The online train schedule says to ride this train at this time from this platform and no one needs to think about where the train is from or where it's going.  No one needs to know how to use a pay phone or where the city information desk is located.  I know a woman who uses a voice translator to make friends in bars, and a picture translator to read, and she has no interest in learning Japanese at all.

That also means you can live conveniently inside your own personal bubble and not have to interact with the culture.  The more self sufficient we become, the less personal interactions we need to have.  There are still the rugged group of young people, trying to immerse in a new culture without the help of technology; the kind of people who shoulder their backpack and their wits, who go in without a plan and just see what happens.  But they don't have to.  The internet provides so many other options.

So how about you?
How has the place you've lived in changed over time?

Jennifer

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