Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Won't Miss #44 - filing 2 tax returns (reflection)

For the first decade plus in Japan, I didn't file any tax returns at all. I didn't do this in complete defiance of the law. It was an act of pure ignorance. It wasn't until one of my coworkers pointed out to me that it's written right there in my passport that I am obliged to file returns in the U.S. that I learned that I had to do so despite not making any money there. And I've already talked about filing returns in Japan and the confusion and complexity about whether or not I needed to do so there (sometimes I did and sometimes I didn't depending on whether the company did it for me or I had to do it myself).

Fortunately, the I.R.S. didn't get their undies in a wad over my husband and I missing filing returns for a long period of time because we didn't owe them any money anyway. We filed back returns for 3 or 4 years and then started filing regularly after that. Every year, it was "exempt" from all payments because we weren't rich enough to pay to both countries.

I truly do not miss having to file two tax returns, but the truth is that I have so much other paperwork in the U.S. (especially related to car ownership) that it feels as if I still had to do less in Japan. I think at this point that I had it easier there than here when it comes to bureaucracy, but it could really simply be a wash.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Will Miss #43 - liberal ideas on birth control (reflection)

I don't know if there are programs in Japan in which high schools distribute free condoms to teens to control unwanted pregnancy and the spread of disease. I am pretty sure, though clearly I cannot be certain, that such programs would not be debated based on religious concerns if they were proposed. They almost certainly be pondered in terms of expense (who pays) and the potential embarrassment that would follow offering such private items to kids. In the U.S., some schools do offer condoms, but some do not because there is too much blowback from people who believe that it promotes promiscuity among the hormonally charged youngsters.

I continue to miss the fact that the Japanese have a more enlightened attitude toward birth control (though not necessarily sex itself, but that is a topic for another post) and make it relatively easy and morally acceptable to seek it out. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Random Memories: First Christmas Meal in Japan

I think this had to be our second Christmas in Tokyo. The T.V. was tiny so it had to be early on, but there were too many decorations for it to be the first one.  There were also too many videos in the cabinet for it to be within 7 months of our having moved there.

I will be returning next week to my "Tales From a Japanese Office" saga, but it was too good an opportunity to pass up to go back and explore some of my earliest Christmas memories from Japan.

When my husband and I moved to Japan in 1988, we took several books along to help us adapt to living there. One of those books was a book called "Food Buying in Japan" (linked book is newer than the version we used). This book endeavored to educate you such that you could go into a Japanese market and not be totally confused and overwhelmed. It may seem strange to people living there now to think that it could be so disorienting, but there were far fewer imported food items back then and far less English. It was the wild, wild East as far as figuring things out in supermarkets.

This guide, hard as it tried through pictures and English with Japanese and Chinese characters, did not really solve our problems. It didn't help that the book was in black and white and the pictures weren't the best, but the hardest thing was comparing squiggles in the book to squiggles in the store. We couldn't learn to read Japanese based on what the book presented.

The bottom line was that the book simply did not - and likely could not - cover all of the bases we would have wanted covered. It seemed to assume that we wanted to understand and prepare Japanese dishes for the most part so it focused on a lot explaining about what those things were. What we really wanted back in those early days was for it to mainly help us find Western food and avoid the "weird" Japanese stuff.

Most of the time, we resorted to visual assessment with the occasional tactile evaluation. Those round things that look like bread? We gave them a squeeze and they were hard as a rock. It wasn't until  many years later that I learned that they were wheat gluten.

Our very first Christmas meal in Japan.

Sometimes, our evaluations failed us. It looked like a duck, walked like a duck, but, man, it was not a duck. This was something which revealed itself to us during our first Christmas. No, we weren't trying to eat duck. We were looking to eat turkey.

We went to local markets and there was no joy on the turkey front. Even by the time we left Japan in 2013, it was very hard to locate such birds. Japanese people don't tend to eat them and they are too enormous to fit in most small Japanese ovens. We checked out KFC, and the answer to our needs appeared in the pictures on their menu. There was what looked like a large, roasted turkey leg. Hurrah!

We purchased the "turkey' and took it home for Christmas dinner. We also picked up a tiny Christmas cake (note the box behind the leg). After peeling back the foil and catching the aroma, something seemed very amiss. It didn't smell anything like turkey or even chicken for that matter. In fact, it smelled very much like ham. A taste showed that, despite all superficial appearances, we'd bought ourselves a bird-leg-shaped hunk of ham.

At that time in my life, I was not eating pork. The truth is that I still eat it rarely, but I was avoiding it entirely at that time so that meant I wouldn't partake of this repast. I do recall that, even if I had been forgiving of its porcine nature, I couldn't have bore the intensely sweet and smokey flavor. It was the most flavor-intense ham I'd ever tasted and I passed entirely.

The next year, we were so "scared" of buying the wrong thing that we completely gave up on anything resembling our own traditions. In order to be safe rather than sorry, we went for steak for my husband (as I don't eat beef) and a tiny little pizza for me. It ws somewhat deflating, but we had years ahead of us making the best of things rather than following our old family customs.

Over the years, one of our enduring difficulties was finding food which was appropriate for festive meals while living in Tokyo. When the Foreign Buyer's Club made turkey available, we often bought a turkey roll which they had available that was small enough for our oven (it was a de-boned turkey which had all of the rest of the bird intact - you'd be surprised how small it gets when you remove all of its supporting infrastructure). Now that we're back in the U.S., it seems almost too easy to get anything we want to eat. Of course, that applies only as long as "anything" isn't something Japanese. ;-)

Merry Christmas to all of my readers. I hope you have a lovely holiday.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Won't Miss #531 - being an observer (the bad)

I had a conversation with one of my friends recently in which she said that she had a problem with objectifying people. For those of you who see that as a somewhat ambiguous or too psychological term, I'll say that it has to do with dealing with people as if they were things for you to operate upon rather than people.

The truth is that I am also guilty of this, though I'm very aware of it every time that I do it. I first noticed it many years ago in Japan when I was going through my "I hate Japan" phase (part of the adaptation stages). My way of coping with the prejudice and racism was to simply frame the people around me who laughed, pointed, stared, and moved away when I came near as little more than animals. They objectified me, so I started to objectify them.

When this contempt passed as I moved along in the stages of adaptation, it was replaced by "the observer" persona that I held for years while I lived there. This had the benefit of allowing me not to be reactive, as I said in my last post, but it also meant I was not truly engaged with people. It was insulating and protective, but it was also isolating and carried the risk of making me feeling above the people who I was observing.

I don't miss this role and how I assumed it largely as an emotional survival tactic. It helped me stop being angry, but it also left me a little empty. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Will Miss #531 - being an observer (the good)

When I first came back to the U.S., I felt completely outside of the culture. When people around me spoke to me, I felt as if they were invading some invisible bubble of privacy that they should have detected and respected. I felt this way because, in Japan, I spent so many years being an outsider who was observing from a sense of separate space and a unique perspective that it felt odd to not be in that place anymore.

The truth was that being an observer granted me many things psychologically. It made me hyper-aware of my surroundings so that I sensed everything more acutely. It made me emotionally detached from what occurred in them such that I was much less rarely activated by things. It was insulating and made me feel protected. People were less likely to overhear my conversations and try to insinuate themselves into them. They were less likely to bother me at all.

After near one and a half years at home, I feel far too "integrated" with my surroundings. In some ways, this is good because I feel less alien in my home country, but in other ways, it is bad because I feel as though I'm sleep-walking and not heeding the details of life around me.

In many ways, I miss the benefits of being an observer in Japan. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Random Thoughts: How the other .2% lives

(please note that my series of memories from my former office job will continue next week)

Since returning to the U.S., I've been trying to reacquint myself with aspects of the American psyche via various outlets including magazines. This is one of the easiest ways to get an idea of how marketers perceive people as well as how information is organized and grouped for audiences who do not include those who primarily use the internet. I already know how my ilk are getting information and how they are being marketed to, but I don't know much about people who watch T.V. (as I don't have one and don't plan to get one) or those who pick up the plethora of magazines as they approach the supermarket check-out.

Since I can get so many subscriptions for free, I can look at many periodicals at my leisure that I would never pay for. One of these magazines is "Us", a rag devoted to celebrity news. The truth is that I don't know who most of the people featured in the  magazine are. However, I can see that the general theme of the magazine is taking celebrities and presenting how they are "just like us". They wash their dogs, buy fast food, exercise, and have bad hair days - just like us!

The whole thing is interesting because celebrities probably are, by and large, "just like us", but we assume they are not because they are rich, have their daily needs looked after by lackeys, and have more power to achieve what they want than average people. The magazine seems to be attempting to "normalize" celebrities so that others can relate to them and see that they are people, too. It's an interesting approach as it runs contrary to the type of celebrity marketing which hooks people in based on the idea that they are special in their talent, live a glamorous  life that others cannot achieve, and think and feel markedly different than others by virtue of these traits. One approach has to do with having people identify ("just like us") and the other has to do with have them live vicariously (like we want to be rather than like we are).

I've noticed that many people subscribe to the latter in terms of how they view the Japanese. That is, they conceptualize their lives as being somehow more ideal and less problematic than those of Americans (or perhaps other Western folks, but I can only talk about people around me). I've had people say that the Japanese work harder, better, are smarter, more attractive, eat more healthily, live longer, are kinder, politer, friendlier, cleaner, more law-abiding, etc.

From a subjective viewpoint, many of these are, generally true. The Japanese are cleaner, though that is not due to an intrinsic sense that is written into their genetic code. It's about how they view their environment reflects on them. It's about identifying with and feeling they are identified by how clean things are to a greater extent than some other cultures as well as a culture which traditionally sits, sleeps, and operates much closer to the floor. If you had to sleep on the floor, you'd also want to keep it clean.

At any rate, I'm talking less about the adjectives that surround the stereotypes of Japanese, and more about the sense that their lives are generally more idyllic than those led by people in the U.S. Most people think Japanese people are waking up every day, enjoying a full breakfast of fish, rice, and miso soup, getting on a train smartly dressed in a perfect suit and tie, peacefully enduring the packed train, laboring diligently throughout the day, eating a bento or a quick bowl of ramen before getting back to work, going home, enjoying dinner with family in a peaceable fashion, and tending their zen garden on the weekend or watching fall leaves or flowers over a cup of tea or sake.

This idealized vision of a kinder, gentler, healthier, more harmounious existence mirrors the same vision of celebrities as having easier, more glamorous, and more exciting lives. The reality is that there is just as much boredom, misery, and difficulty in the lives of the Japanese as there are in the lives of Americans.

I'd like to share a few stories which are part of an enormous amount of experience that I have had with folks in Japan who shared the intimate details of their lives. These are by no means "common", but they are also not uncommon. What is uncommon is for a foreigner who is outside of the immediate family of these folks to be told about such things.

One of my students, a lovely older lady with two grown sons and grandchildren, told me that she was suffering some stress lately due to a situation with her son. She told me that his wife, her daughter-in-law, had come to her in a state of pronounced anguish because her husband had gambled away so much money that they were at risk of losing their home.

She and her husband gave them five million yen ($50,000) to safeguard the future of their children. Her son prostrated himself in front of them and begged for forgiveness. It was a grueling and painful experience for everyone which undermined my student and her husband's financial security by carving out a big chunk of their savings and created a familial relationship problem that is likely to reverberate throughout the rest of their lives.

Another one of my students told me that, while she and her husband were still dating, he disappeared for nearly a year because he claimed that he needed to figure things out for himself. She had little contact with him during this time, but she patiently waited for him to return and marry. Eventually, he did come back, but he did not talk about what had happened during his absence.

For a time, their marriage was fine, but he never had a stable salaried job with regular benefits (retirement fund, guaranteed hours/terms). She is self-employed and makes more money than him and was able to get them by, but as they got older, she worried that they'd be in trouble in retirement because she also had no plan. They discussed it and he said he'd seek a "regular" job. He found a better job, but eventually quit it without telling her he did so. He hid his actions for a time and when they were finally revealed, he would not explain his choices to her. Eventually, they divorced.

An acquaintance of mine cosigned a loan for her brother so that he could buy a house. He had a good job that paid well and invested in improvements that should have enhanced the value of the home. After some time, it became clear that he had ceased to make mortgage payments and his add-ons created a debt which greatly exceeded the value of the home.

The debt fell on his sister since she co-signed the loan and, when all was said and done, her brother ended up in jail (for a non-related situation) and she ended up more than 10 million yen ($100,000) in the hole after the house was sold. Now, she will need to declare bankruptcy and may have to divorce her husband to protect their assets because, if she doesn't, their life savings and home will go down with her.

One of my students had an uncle who she said simply vanished. Without explanation, he disappeared and no one had any idea what became of him. His family, including his wife, were so ignorant of what was going on in his life that they had no clues as to what happened to him. Efforts to track him down yielded nothing.

Another acquaintance of mine, a lovely woman who had a great career which paid better than many mid-level managers at companies, is multilingual, attractive, and kind, was engaged to be married. Her future husband did what many Japanese people do when planning to marry and conducted a background investigation of her family. After doing it, he decided not to marry her because her father had organized crime roots (though no longer was involved with them). After this, it became clear that she was, despite her many advantages for a future mate, unmarriagable. She is the modern equivalent of "burakumin" - the untouchables who handled raw meat in Japan's past.

And, of course, there was my coworker Vanessa, whose life reflected a husband with career failure and domestic violence.

These stories are by no means all I've heard and I'm sure that I haven't heard anywhere near all of the difficulties and deep personal suffering of people who I've met. The fact that I was told the things that I have is pretty amazing in and of itself. The stories themselves aren't particularly "amazing" to me. I'm sure that such skeletons are residing in many closets in Japan, just as they are in those in America because, the Japanese, they're "just like us."

(The title refers to the fact that .2% is the portion of the planet that is Japanese.)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Won't Miss #43 - girly mags everywhere (reflection)

I lived in an enormous city in Japan so take this observation with an appropriate quantity of salt, but I have not seen much in the way of porn in my environment since returning to the U.S. Keep in mind that I have walked around San Francisco - even some of the seedier areas - but I haven't perused any red light districts. It does not appear to be common here for men to openly read their girly magazines in public, at least not in my experience.

In Tokyo, I didn't have to go anywhere special to see men looking at naked women. They did it on the train while commuting. Such magazines were sold on the street, in book stores, and in newstands. While I really don't care what men look at to titillate themselves, I think that such behavior (like using the bathroom or having sex) should be private and I should not have been a non-volitional witness to their prurient interests.

I still don't miss seeing men looking at porn and such materials being sold everywhere as I did in Japan.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Will Miss #42 - fine bean cakes (reflection)

In terms of shopping for Japanese food, I actually landed in an area as close to "paradise" outside of Tokyo as one can get. It turns out that there are quite a few Asian markets within driving range of my current apartment and I can buy more things than I ever dreamed of. That is not to say that I can get anything I want or that I can score some of my favorites from Japan, but I can get far, far more than I anticipated.

That being said, the only type of bean cakes that I can get here are the sort which are the most shelf-stable. I can't get anything really fresh and many of the specialty items that I loved can't be had. I still miss those lovely, really fresh and delightful bean cakes. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Random Memories #58

This is part of an ongoing series that I've been doing about my memories of working at the same place for 12 years. The other parts are here: 123456789101112131415, 16.

As I mentioned in the previous post, a former coworker of mine from Nova just so happened to move in when the new boss took over. This fellow, Steve, wasn't just "any" coworker, he was notorious for a variety of reasons. Beyond being one of the not tiny number of Canadians who was offended to the point of being angry if he was mistaken for a citizen of the United States, he also had temper tantrums on the job.

Steve and I worked morning shifts at Nova on Mondays and Fridays. We were the only two people who started at 10:00 a.m. on those days so there wasn't any slack if one of us was late. It's not like another teacher could cover so the students would have to cool their heels until the teacher made an appearance. I was always either early or on time and Steve started to habitually show up late on these days. He made it clear that he hated being on the early shift and wanted taken off of it. The obvious conclusion was that he was intentionally late to vex the staff until they capitulated to his request.

After the 4th or so time, the staff told him that he would be docked the hour's pay for being late. When told this, Steve had an absolute meltdown in the office. He started shouting and dropping F-bombs loudly enough for everyone to hear. Fortunately, most of our students didn't know what he was saying, but his anger and volume certainly conveyed the message quite well. The strange thing was that knowing he'd be penalized didn't stop him from being late again. He just had another fit the next time.

Beyond his temper tantrums and America-hating, Steve was also known for being extremely pathetic when it came to women. He wanted to date Japanese women, but couldn't really make headway with any of them. Since he wasn't a bad-looking guy (though he wasn't a great-looking one either), it had to all come down to personality. If you're a foreign guy and even Japanese women dislike you, something must be amiss as cultural differences tend to obfuscate most personality problems and allow foreign men to find a girl abroad when they can't get one at home.

Steve dealt with this issue in two ways. The first one was that he tended to enlist the high school girls to go on outings with him. I must make it perfectly clear that he wasn't trying to romance them in a creepy way, but rather just find some girls who were willing to spend time with him. Part of the reason for this was certainly that he wanted to hone his Japanese skills and the only way to get in practice was to find Japanese folks to socialize with.

The result of polishing his language skills in this way was that he talked like a Japanese schoolgirl. I was new to Japan and couldn't understand anything, but I was told that he used female language and childish phrasing. The Nova office ladies tittered at how he spoke and the other teachers who understood him because they had similar language capabilities snickered behind his back.

The other half of his acting out on his need for companionship was that he formed a crush on one of my coworkers. This (British) woman joined Nova at the same time as me and had come to Japan with her (also British) boyfriend. She and I bonded over our newness at the job and tended to spend our lunch time together and socialized outside of work. Steve mooned after her pathetically and she tried to politely rebuff his advances. His response to this was to hate me because I seemed to be monopolizing her lunch hours and cutting off his access. It didn't occur to him that she was more interested in talking to me than a 22-year-old with a temper problem and a social life that included a lot of trips to Tokyo Disneyland with high school girls.

As one might imagine, finding out that Steve was going to be working in a similar capacity as my boss and me was not exactly happy news. The truth was that I didn't exactly recognize him at first and he's the one who recognized me. He had changed a lot in the decade since I'd last seen him. He had quite a few more pounds on his frame and quite a bit less hair on his head. Fortunately, he seemed to have grown up quite a bit and pretty much did his job and kept to himself. This was an enormous relief because my past experiences had primed me for the worst when I learned that Steve was one of the new president's transfers.

Part of the reason he had to bring in his own people was that we were losing the head of our materials coordination. Mrs. O. had been threatening for years to retire and we had been doing everything short of sacrificing goats to get some deity or another to have her make good on that threat. She wasn't a bad person, but her notions were so idiosyncratic and outdated that our hands were constantly tied when it came to advancing the program. She held us back in the 1960's when she learned English and her husband held us back in the 1970's in terms of publishing technology. We got him to allow us to move along, but she was immovable. Fortunately, she left when the company was sold and we got a new guy, Hagihara. As old-fashioned and hidebound as she was, he was not. (to be continued)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Won't Miss #531 - dyed hair

When I was growing up, I didn't see my maternal grandmother with gray hair until the end of her life when she was too ill to leave the house to do anything except go to the hospital. I recall her as having extremely pale skin which got paler as she grew older and very black hair. Compared to my paternal grandmother, who let her natural aging process run its course, my mother's mother always seemed a little unearthly in appearance. Even as a child, I felt she never looked "right".

As we age, it is natural for things to go south as gravity drags us down and for things to get paler. This is because the number of cells which contain pigment is reduced and skin gets thinner. Seeing pale skin with dark hair is just weird-looking to me. Lighter hair, by virtue of graying, goes hand in hand with lighter skin. I'm sure that has been the natural order throughout the history of mammals with fur or hair. When older folks dye their hair black or a dark color, it just feels "wrong" and is one of the clearest indications that someone is rejecting their age rather than settling into it gracefully.

Like my granny, many Japanese women (and some men) dye their hair black or a very dark color as they age. Since the overwhelming majority of Japanese people have black hair and don't dye their hair lighter colors as they age to match their skin tone (an option which is more palatable to foreign people with their greater genetic diversity in skin, hair, and eye color), I constantly saw people (again, especially women) who rather obviously and sadly tried to hang on to their youth.

I don't miss seeing so many women with unnaturally black hair and pale skin and thinking about what it said about how they regarded themselves as they aged.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Will Miss #530 - male pattern baldness

OK, I realize this is going to be a weird one, but it does say something about Japan and America. In the U.S., I see an inordinate number of men with shaved heads. Why? Well, some of them actually look great with a smooth head - like Avery Brooks looked much better without hair than with it (and he actually had a full head of hair). Most of the men I see*, however, are trying to hide their male pattern baldness by shaving all of their hair off. I blame Bruce Willis for this trend, and I think it says something about rejecting your body and natural appearance not because you think you look better, but because you're embarrassed by your bad luck with genes. The ones who don't shave their heads tend to run around constantly with a baseball cap on and that really isn't a whole lot better.

In Japan, I saw plenty of men with male pattern baldness and I felt that they lived more with their natural state of being. Rather than try to cover it up in embarrassment by adopting a look which makes them look like everyone else, they looked their age. I miss this sense of people living with the cards they inherited rather than trying to hide them.

*I realize that I'm living in a particular part of the U.S. and other areas may have different styles. I'm in Silicon Valley, and I have very rarely seen a semi-bald pate here.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Random Memories #57

This is part of an ongoing series that I've been doing about my memories of working at the same place for 12 years. The other parts are here: 1234567891011121314, 15.

Before I went off on an extended tangent about my coworkers, I had mentioned that the company I had been working at, the darling of Mr. O., had been sold to someone who couldn't recognize a pig in a poke when one was wriggling around in front of him. I say that because business had been slowly tanking since I'd joined the company.

It was nearly a decade of solid decline in sales and a shrinking client list that caused Mr. O. to decide to put his baby on the market in the first place, but he sold it to a subsidiary of Nova ICI (the company famous for its owners disgrace and for treating the teachers at its conversation schools pretty shabbily) as an opportunity to gain our company's "know how".

Mr. G., which is what I will call the man who arranged to purchase our company, was interested in the materials and effort that went into creating a correspondence course that appealing to major companies. I don't know how Mr. O. danced around the fact that sales had been capsizing for a decade, but I'm sure there was a lot of selective showing of various books and name-dropping of major corporations. The idea that the company was being sold to a subsidiary of a major English conversation school struck terror in the hearts of all of the employees and my Aussie boss D. and I were no exception.

Our main concern was that Mr. G. would decide to replace all of the employees with staff that he knew from his office. Of secondary concern was the possibility that Nova's tricks to cheat employees out of wages and benefits would be imported. We were already getting screwed over on holidays as the president flagrantly broke the law and capped our vacation time at well below the legal first year mandated level of ten days and we imagined that this might mean we'd also be cheated out of part of our salaries as well.

It turned out that Mr. G did bring in his own staff, but he assured all of us that he wanted the entire old team to stay. In fact, he felt that he really needed us if he were to retain the very thing that convinced him to purchase the company in the first place - the "know how". He was more concerned about our quitting than we were about being fired and that was a relief to all.

Despite our worries, the new administrators swept a lot of the thornier aspects of our employment aside. When Mr. G. came in, he followed the law. He didn't change our salaries and both D. and I finally got the vacation time we were due. I went from being locked at five days off per year to receiving the full number that I was due - 20. What was more, no one was put out by the idea that I might actually take all of the days off that I was entitled to.

Beyond doing what was legal, Mr. G. ended up not being around very much. The president's office which oversaw our cubicles was now vacant much of the time and that eased up the well-heated summers that we had been enduring. With no president to dictate 84 degree heat blowing down on us in summer, we were free to set a more comfortable temperature.

There's an old saying about hitting yourself over the hammer. "Why do I hit myself over the head with a hammer? Because it feels so good when it stops." When Mr. G came in, I felt as if I had been hit on the head with a hammer for ten years and it felt so good now that it had finally stopped. The old president had been unfair, controlling, irrational, old-fashioned, and omnipresent. Having a president who did not micromanage, cheat, or watch us like a hawk felt like coming up for air after being held under water for a very long time. It wasn't that we were suddenly treated so well, but just that we stopped being treated so poorly.

Though these changes were refreshing and welcome, we still had to manage the personnel changes that were to come. Of greatest concern to D. and I was the foreign materials development person who was being imported. We were both concerned that he was going to slowly take over our work, but it turned out that was not going to be the case. The weird thing about it was that the two people who came in to work with us - one foreign and one Japanese - were not entirely new to me.

One of them was a teacher who I'd worked with at Nova before. His name was Steve and I mentioned him briefly in my first post in this series. No one was more surprised than me that he was still around in some capacity related to Nova, and his presence did nothing to inspire confidence in the rosy future of the company. (to be continued)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Won't Miss #42 - Disney Obsession (reflection)

It's hard to understand the aggregate effect of a trend or fad until you find yourself removed from it and encountering a relatively different one. In Japan, it was not the least bit uncommon for adults to festoon themselves with the vestiges of cuteness. From "Hello Kitty" to "Rilakkuma" (relax bear) to Minnie Mouse, you'd find women ages 20-40 with trinkets attached to their cell phones, images on their tote bags, or clothing bearing these icons. It often seemed utterly ridiculous, but now that I've been removed from it, I have a very different sense of what it meant.

The cumulatve effect of all of these people embracing Disneyana and other child-like trappings was one of making the atmosphere seem harmless, diminuitive, and inoffensive. In America, I don't see 30-year-old people walking around with Pluto key chains and Mickey T-shirts, but rather with enormous tattoos and T-shirts devoted to alcohol brands, rock bands, and nasty messages. The aggregate sense of these people is one of defensiveness, danger, and aggression.

While I though it was incredibly silly for adults to be so attached to something meant for children, I find now that I miss the atmosphere that surrounded such people in a manner that I could not anticipate. As reflections go, this one, surprisingly, has found me in a complete change of opinion.