Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A little bit on public transit and a hell of a tangent on Japanese work and shame

Not having a motor vehicle to call your own in Canada kind of wrecks havoc on your freedom to get out and do stuff, you know? Normally I don't miss my (t)rusty Neon so much over here in the exceedingly far east, since (as I've said before) the public transportation is top knotch. Well, perhaps second to top knotch. There are some issues.

1. The buses cost a fortune.

My dormitory is 15 minutes away at a brisk walking pace from the Aobadai train station (on the Tokyu Den-entoshi Line). This station is hella convenient for getting into downtown Tokyo proper (240 yen and about 24 minutes). But sometimes I don't want to walk 15 minutes to get to my station.

My dormitory is also a 15 minute walk away from my work (maybe closer to 20 door to door, but I usually stop and get a doughnut). Unfortunately its 15 minutes in the opposite direction to Aobadai station, which sucks when I want to get to Tokyo lickedy-split after work.

So the easy answer to these problems is "take a bus, dude." I would absolutely love to take a bus to work in the morning and take a bus to Aobadai and all, but that just ain't in the cards. It would cost me 420 yen to take a bus to work in the morning (I've got to change buses which are 210 yen each, and there is no "transfer" as far as I can tell - and my boss didn't know what the hell I was talking about). If I pay 240 yen to go 23 km into the heart of Tokyo, there's no way I'm paying double to go to work when I can just drag my lazy ass out of bed a bit earlier and walk.

My cheap and bitter self (who is being ridiculously frugal these days, with exceptions like billion yen trips to Korea) is even too cheap usually to take the bus to get to Aobadai if I'm on my way to Tokyo. It doubles my costs, man. Why are buses so expensive?

I'm pretty sure its just my being spoiled by free buses at Waterloo and Notre Dame (South Bend).

Of course all these problems could also be solved by getting a bike, but those are also crazy expensive considering they're all one-speed pieces of shit. Come on, Japan. You have holographic screens in your airports and robotic garbage men, but you can't put gears in your bikes? These Nipponese don't even know what they're missing when they're pumpin those pedals to maintain a moderate pace on level ground. I feel like some kind of mechanical energy Prometheus.

2. Midnight train to Georgia Nagatsuta.

The last train that I can take to get home from Tokyo at night leaves Shibuya station at 12:25am. Its not so early and its usually as decent time as any to end a night (unless its a karaoke night, in which case its not in Tokyo and it only ends when the sun comes up). The problem I have with this train is its passengers. I've found myself on this train on weekdays a few times, but mostly on weekends, and every day, without fail, it is packed to the brim full of drunk salarymen in suits. And not just tipsy-I-got-a-beer-with-the-guys drunk, full on passing-out-after-a-14-hour-workday-and-2-bottles-of-shochu drunk.

I don't know how many of you have been on a busy train in Japan, but they're BUSY. I'm up close and personal with some Ichiro Sato who is having trouble focusing his eyes and keeping his head on straight, all the while breathing noxious shochu fumes into my face. And 100 or so of these people in a traincar makes the thing stink. They're all leaning on eachother drunkenly, burping and trying in vain to look presentable. The other day one went to the little room between traincars and peed through the hole there onto the tracks. Have they no shame?

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How do these guys do it? They follow the "work long, not hard" philosophy that guarantees respect and advance in the Japanese workplace and neccessitates working until 10 or 11 at night. And then they all go out as a group and get shitfaced drunk (not just on weekends, often everyday). And then they go home on a train with a nearly-puking gaijin. Finally they arrive home after 1am to their "families" (I'd prefer to call them sporadic cohabitants) and likely collapse into bed. And of course it begins again at 5am the next morning. I repeat, how do these guys do it?

I don't expect these guys to head home at 6pm and watch Touched by an Angel with their families, but how is this a manageable lifestype? Don't the 20-something salarymen look at the 50-something salaryman beside them on the train and engage in a little self inspection? Do they really want this lifestyle for the rest of their life? Do they know there is an alternative?

In the Japanese workplace you need to work long days; the guy who works 8 hours and gets a lot done will fall far behind the guy who does shit all and stays later than his boss. In the Japanese workplace you need to go out drinking with "the guys" as much as possible. If you don't you will not be seen as a team player and a part of the company. In the Japanese workplace, once you're hired by a corporation, you're expected to work there for life. Any attitude other than this is seen as anti-company, and highly undesirable. How Japanese people go to America or the western world for education and then come back to Japan to be a salaryman is completely beyond me.


This is an oh-so-common occurrence. On a busy train there are enough of them to support eachother standing upright.

Wikipedia has articles on Karooshi (death by overwork), Suicide in Japan, Salaryman, Japanese work environment and Shame Society. This is freaky stuff. Japan and South Korea have the highest suicide rates of industrial countries (by a significant margin) yet their definition of suicide is highly conservative, and generally covers only 1/3 of cases the WHO would class as suicide. Suicide has never been criminalized in South Korea or Japan, and they are generally tolerant towards it. These shame based societies are depressing as hell.

Whats worse, indoctrinating children towards organized religion or indoctrinating children to constantly fear the inculcation of shame and the complementary threat of ostracism leading way too often to self-harm?

Wikipedia puts it well:

"Shame is a reaction to other people's criticism, an acute personal chagrin at our failure to live up to our obligations and the expectations others have of us. In true shame oriented cultures, every person has a place and a duty in the society. One maintains self-respect, not by choosing what is good rather than what is evil, but by choosing what is expected of one.

Personal desires are sunk in the collective expectation. Those who fail will often turn their aggression against themselves instead of using violence against others. By punishing themselves they maintain their self-respect before others, for shame cannot be relieved, as guilt can be, by confession and atonement. Shame is removed and honor restored only when a person does what the society expects of him or her in the situation, including committing suicide if necessary. (Hiebert 1985, 212)
"

Yah I'm being judgemental, but this just seems like a terrible idea to my radical western sensibilities.

That was a hell of a tangent that deserves a blog post of all its own.

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3. Umm, the shinkansen is expensive?

Yah I don't remember what this third point was anymore. I'm all up in a fuss about the clay of the every day faced by these Nipponese salarymen.

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