Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Way It Is, Is The Way It Is

I was sitting at lunch the other day with two English teachers and another teacher who knows some English.  We were discussing differences between the US and Japan.  They said that they enjoyed talking to me because I told them something new about American culture everyday.  I told them that it wasn't such a big deal because as an American, living in America, I also learned something new about Americans almost everyday.  This surprised them.  In Japan you can pretty much assume what other people are doing and how they do things.  I told them that you can't say any one thing about every American.  They don't get it.

Knox with Oita Nishi Students at the School Festival in September

The homogeny permeates everything.  It's an experience.  In the United States I have rarely been in the minority, and even in those rare circumstances I have almost never been the only white person in the room.  In Japan, there are Japanese people in the room.  That's it.  Most Japanese people only know other Japanese people and maybe a foreigner or two.  The customs go back thousands of years and stay pretty much the same.  And Japanese people do not like change.  It constantly comes up - I say it and the foreigners around me say it, even Japanese people say it, "This is the way it has always been done, and this is the way it will continue to be done."  I even saw blatant evidence of this concept in an advanced reading exercise that I was helping with yesterday.  The paper was about Minamata Disease and told about the history of the disease as a result of industrialisation.  It was documenting a report done by a third party outside of the government and the victims, and went on to say that there should be a review of the criteria needed to recognise someone as a sufferer of the disease.  The Supreme Court agreed and called for more lenient treatment of the disease victims.  The Environmental Agency's final decision stated that any change in the criteria would sow too much confusion and delay relief.  So, things would better if we changed, but it would be too hard, so we will stay the same.

This perspective is obvious everywhere.  I was driving home around ten one night.  My neighbor and I were noticing that, despite the light traffic, every light we came to was red and we had to wait.  They don't change the light cycles.  Ever.  They are on a timer and that's how they stay.

The consistency does have an element of comfort.  It's nice to know what to expect.  Who's to say which perspective is better?  They all have their goods and their bads.  As an American, however, I value change and thinking outside the box and I wouldn't be here if I didn't have strong convictions about dreams.  Not goals, not aspirations, Dreams.  There is something ineffable about this complacency.  People are not accustomed to change.  For instance, I mentioned one day that I donated my hair last year, and my partner teacher wanted to know all about the organization that accepted hair to make wigs for cancer patients.  He said that there are so many organizations like that in the US.  He liked that.  He said there weren't so many things like that in Japan, where someone starts an organization because they want to change people's lives for the better.  They have a different, more practical mindset on dreams, I think.  These students have practically decided what they want to do with their lives when they enter high school at 15 years old.

There are several kinds of high schools, but the reason you choose a high school is because you already know where you are going to end up.  There are technical high schools full of kids who will not go to college.  There are other high schools that you go to if you will go to a community or local college.  We are all randomly placed, and I work at one of those.  If you want to go to a top university, you have to get into, at age 15, a top high school.  I think it hard to ask a 15 year old to make such an important decision.  There is wiggle room.  A few students change their minds and work very hard to change their course, but I don't think it happens very often.  I talked with a fellow teacher about this to try to understand better.  She said, "If they don't like studying then they choose to learn how to do a job instead."  I don't think 15 year olds should be given that option.

There are different worlds out there, and I am here to learn about this one.

From Japan,


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