View Full Version : Maciamo FAQ

Jul 19, 2006, 03:31
I know it can sound rather self-centred to start a thread about oneself, but as one of the most active member of this forum, as an admin, and because a certain number of members have been confused regarding my position vis-à-vis of Japan when they talk about me, I thought it necessary to make a brief summary of a few key issues concerning my opinions of Japan, Japanese people, culture, society and other Japanese things.

1) Do I like or dislike Japan ?

Some forum members think that I hate Japan because I have criticised, sometimes harshly, Japanese politicians, Japan's education system, and the behaviour of some Japanese people. This is not true. I came to Japan in 2001 because of the girl that was to become my wife, but also because I had always been attracted by this country. As a child I grew up practising Japanese martial arts, watching Japanese anime, playing Japanese video games, using Japanese electronics... I travelled extensively around Asia before going to Japan and made a lot of Japanese friends on the way. When I first came to Japan, my image of the people and culture was thoroughly positive.

Perhaps, like many other fans of Japan, I had a slightly idealised image of Japan before first setting foot there. I only knew one side of Japan, mostly the good side that was imported to my country, and which I had come to associate with Japan. Naturally, I was bound for some disappointment. Japan had far worse housing than the environment in which I grew up, people were less knowledgeable about the outside world than I thought, and I had my first experience of discrimination and police checks in my life...

But this didn't discourage me overall. I put up a lot of time and efforts learning Japanese and everything I could about the Japanese culture. I wrote a full travel guide of Japan (http://www.wa-pedia.com/japan-guide/), visited eagerly the country from one end to the other, took pictures of everything I could... I do not regret this experience. I always wanted to know more deeply about Japan - well now I do (compared to 6 years ago). I had stopped watching anime when I was about 13, but started again in Japan and enjoyed it. Contrarily to what I thought, not all anime suitable for adults are porn - far from it. What remains my favourite thing about Japan is the food.

I left Japan 8 month ago because I needed some change, and because I never intended to stay forever in Japan (or in any single country for that matter, as I like travelling and experiencing life in different cultures).

2) What is my opinion of Japanese people ?

I admit that I have long had an image of the Japanese as extremely polite, respectful, hard-working, discreet and obedient. My stay in Japan hasn't really changed this image, except that I noted some fairly common bad manners (http://www.wa-pedia.com/forum/showthread.php?t=9224). Naturally too much politeness often leads to hypocrisy and lack of trustworthiness. Maybe that is why adult Japanese find it so hard to make real friends beyond their childhood friends.

I also found that many Japanese behaved differently with foreigners than with other Japanese, sometimes even more politely and sometimes very disrespectfully. In any case I believe that this is due to anxiety at the contact with someone who has a different mother tongue and culture and may not be aware of "Japanese ways". So it is ignorance, but for me ignorance is the basis for discriminative behaviour too.

So my opinion is divided. There is a lot of good but a lot of bad too. This is probably because I personally attach so much importance to values that are contrary to Japanese values : candour and openness.

3) Why have I posted many negative topics about Japan ?

I am neither a "Japan-lover" (they are numerous on the forum), nor a "Japan-hater" (there have been a few as well). I always like to have a realistic and balanced view of things.

I believe that a website calling itself "Japan Reference" [EDIT : now Wa-pedia] (not "Nippomaniacs" or "Japan Fanatics") should discuss all aspects of Japan, good or bad, and if possible keep the balance between the two. Unfortunately the vast majority of the non-Japanese who are interested in Japan are one-sided people who only see or talk about the good things, which are often their hobby (e.g. video games, anime, J-pop, cars...). There are in fact hundreds of websites dedicated heart and soul to such hobbies. But we are not such a website. The website itself is an informative one, while the forum deals with all aspects of Japan, including serious topics (politics, economy, history, immigration...).

One of the dilemma of Japan viewed by Westerners is that most of the good things about it belong to the "casual" category (pop culture, food, dating, onsen...), while most of the bad things belong to the "serious" category (politics, economy, society...). I didn't choose it, it just happens to be so. The main exception is traditional culture, which is somewhere in the middle between casual and serious, and also brings less fervent feelings from either side.

I used to post a lot about the positive aspects of Japan on the first 1 or 2 years on the forum. However, three factors have contributed to a shift on my part toward more serious and negative approach :

a) too many forum members posting exclusively about the positive (but casual) aspects of Japan gave the site an impression of being an undiscerning place for light-hearted Japan-fanatics.
b) I wanted the forum to be more serious (and unfortunately serious topics are generally negative in Japan)
c) I became increasingly informed on the negative issues, sometimes through direct personal experience

Some topics, I admit, were posted only for the sake of controversy, to stimulate discussion, and do not necessarily relate to my personal feelings (I like playing the devil's advocate). For instance, I personally don't give a damn about the relation between China and Japan, being neither Chinese nor Japanese, but I have often taken the Chinese side for the sake of the argument, because there were too few people to defend China on a forum dedicated to Japan - except for a few Chinese extremists with poorly articulated arguments.

Many threads in the culture shock section relate to real disappointments I have had in Japan, but probably because I came with too rosy expectations (like many of you). So I felt it necessary to warn the ardent Japan lovers of haven't been to Japan yet, or haven't lived there, that not everything is perfect in Japan, like everywhere else.

4) How do I feel about the term "gaijin" or "gaikokujin" ?

There have been numerous threads on the topic, and my opinion has naturally evolved through discussion on the forum and the longer I stayed in Japan. First of all, I would like to make clear that for me the difference between "gaijin" and "gaikokujin" is purely aesthetic, and both mean the same for me. Contrarily to what some believe, I do not take either term as "insults" nor as "racist slurs". But I do think that these term can sometimes be charged with racist or xenophobic connotations. But I dislike them for another reason than that; because they are terms meant to exclude non-Japanese from Japanese society. They represent the mental barrier that almost all the Japanese put between themselves and foreigners, and which makes complete integration and acceptance into Japanese society for a non-Japanese virtually impossible, even after having become fluent in the language and naturalised Japanese.

The words "ga(koku)jin" thus has connotations of "you will never be like us", "you will never fit in, even if you want or try", "you will always remain an outsider for us, even if you marry one of us". For short-term residents or visitors to Japan, being called a "gai(koku)jin" often sounds like "You are a foreigner and thus you don't know Japanese ways, and cannot understand Japanese culture or language". I also dislike it because it assimilates all non-Japanese under a single term, without any attempt to distinguish people based on their nationality, language, ethnicity, or status in Japan (e.g. tourist or permanent resident). I should also mention that I only have such strong negative feelings about this term because of the frequency with which it is used. It is nearly impossible for a foreigner in Japan not to hear it on an almost daily basis.

5) Do I see Japan as a Western country or not ?

In the thread Is Japan a Western country ? (http://www.wa-pedia.com/forum/showthread.php?t=1303), at least 5 people thought that I thought Japan was a Western country. I started the thread playing a bit the devil's advocate and arguing about the definition of Western. However I see Japan as an "Eastern" (in the sense of "East Asian") country which has modernised itself by importing/copying technologies, economic and political models from the West (i.e. Europe and North America). Japan is therefore an Westernised country, but not a Western one. The same is true of China, which first westernised itself by adopting Communism (a European ideology) and copying a great many things from the USSR, then the USA and Western Europe more recently.

More general notes

6) My views on generalisations

I consider that generalisations are not only acceptable, but necessary in cross-cultural comparisons or comments on a country's society (esp. culture-shock related). I feel I have the duty to explain why I do so. I have read numerous books about cultural comparisons (within Europe, or Western vs Asian countries), and I realised that it would be impossible to discuss anything without generalisations. A generalisation is a statement about the most visible trend (e.g. of behaviour, thinking...) within a given society. It never applies to the whole population (100%), but to the biggest segment of the population even if it is under 50%. For instance, about 70-90% of the Japanese are not religious, but Japan is typically described as Shintoist and Buddhist, because it is the dominant segment among religious people. So this is a generalisation, but nevertheless quite true.

Generalisations can also be used to give the "average", i.e. the big picture rather than the details. If I say that summers in England are not very hot, it is a generalisation based on average temperatures in summer. It is pointless to criticise this generalisation with arguments like "yes, but last summer we had a whole week over 30'C, so summers in England can be hot". These are exceptions, and do not reflect the general tendency, which is the basis for healthy generalisations.

Statistics are my favourite form of generalisations. For example, one could say that a majority of the Japanese population has confidence in the police (http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/lif_con_in_soc_ins_pol-lifestyle-confidence-social-institutions-police) or dislike living next to homosexuals (http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/lif_und_nei_hom-lifestyle-undesirable-neighbours-homosexuals). These statistics are based on surveys which do not cover 100% of the population (not even 1% maybe). But statistical methods of representative segment of the population have been established and margins of error calculated (just like for election polls), so that such statistics, if properly carried, give a reasonably good idea of the whole image. So statistics are generalisations, but they are nevertheless reliable and scientifically tested.

I also do generalisations based on my own experience and my own "surveys" (on the Internet or in real life). These are less reliable as the sample is usually between 50 and 200 people (I will not to take it into account if I have asked the opinion of less than 50 people). In this case I mention that it is based only on my experience or on what I have been told by people that I surveyed.

7) Read what is written, not what you think is written

I tend to choose my words carefully with regard to semantics. To avoid any misunderstanding please read carefully before judging, or replying to what I wrote. It has happened times and again that members misunderstood me just because they missed a word or didn't take heed of a nuance in one of my sentences.

For instance, if I say "Japanese people", I do not mean "all Japanese people" unless write "all". In the absence of all it means "the majority" or "the mainstream" of Japanese people. This is just an example. It works for any group of people or things, not just for Japanese people.

I am not a person with a black-and-white vision. I do not speak in absolute terms. If I mean "all", "always" or "every", I specify it. If not, I never intend to mean them by default. In an effort not to cause misunderstanding I try to add "most", "usually" or "many" in my sentences as often as possible (even if that makes it 'heavier' and less elegant to read).

I also make a point to differentiate between expressions like "he is an ignorant" (in general, on a fairly permanent basis), and "he is ignorant of/about this" (only about "this", and most likely a temporary matter until the "he" in question has learned about "this").

Please also take care of the context of what I am talking about. When I reply to someone, my comments refer to the quoted passage, not necessarily to things in general.

If you have any other question of general interest about my posts or Japan-related opinions you can post them here. :-)

Jul 20, 2006, 14:36
I think it's a nice thing that you feel open enough to anwser some common questions about yourself.

Dutch Baka
Jul 20, 2006, 20:14
sad thing this need to be written down!

Jul 24, 2006, 03:31
sad thing this need to be written down!

I certainly cannot expect 20,000 members to have read all my posts, and even less to know well about my opinions, when I see that even some regulars have serious difficulties understanding what I write. :blush:

Jul 25, 2006, 21:52
If we establish the criteria or actually having posted or even lurked, and have been active even within a year, how many members does that number shrink to?.

No shame in admitting you disliked Japan Maciamo, you werent kidding when you said you get irritated at being in one place too long, some of your posts near the end of your Japan stay were emitting this aura of impatience and irritation.

It woulda been sufficient merely to post that Japan is a love-hate kinda place, you either love it mostly or hate it mostly.

Thanks for posting this little bit of infomation, though I'm not entirely sure myself its reason, since Japan hasnt been a big concern of yours for a while now, and if people are that interested, they can probably come across your older posts.

Jul 25, 2006, 22:15
It woulda been sufficient merely to post that Japan is a love-hate kinda place, you either love it mostly or hate it mostly.

In my case, it isn't "either" it is "both at the same time" (depending which aspects). It's interesting because Japan is the country which has arisen the most polarised feelings inside me. It's really a love-hate relationship, "not love it or hate it".

Jul 26, 2006, 01:03
I hear ya, Maciamo, I both loved alot of aspects of Japan yet hated others, generally I loved it.

For example I often commented on how exhausting the constant urban crunch seemed to be, yet now I'm home I find myself yearning for it alot.