One thing that strikes you very hard here is the lack of computer use. This
has been something that has been gnawing at me since I first arrived. As a
matter of fact, I had to look back through my writings to make sure I hadn't
already addressed it.
Before leaving, I was aware that the use of computers in Japan lagged
somewhat behind that of the United States. The extent of this difference is
more incredible when you actually are here. Here are some examples:
1. Very little use of email at Kameda
2. No use of the Internet at the local library
3. Limited implementation of computer networking (My boss has yet to get
on the LAN. The computer staff believed they couldn't get an English
language computer on the network. When I got mine working on the network in
less than an hour, the ball started rolling on correcting this problem).
4. The Public Relations group at the hospital does not use email or the
web AT ALL.
5. Many people not only don't have a computer, but have no desire for one
when it is offered. There is a real technophobia in some ways. This is
surprising for a country that seems to perfect every electronic product.
In many ways, the use of computers at Kameda is like it was in the US back
in 1995. There is a little use of the web by consumers, extremely limited
use of email, and almost no Japanese e-Commerce. The punchline is that no
one sees the profit potential of getting on the net and starting e-Business
It is clear that there are many differences between the US and Japan
regarding the use of computers. There are also sharp differences in social
encounters. During the last week, I had my first bizarre cultural
misunderstanding. I visited the home health care area of the hosptial with
the assistance of a translator. The supervising physician greeted me by
extending his hand and we exchanged a handshake. He quietly retreated to
the corner of the room, indicating one of the his employees would conduct
the teaching session. The session proceeded, with the doctor sitting close
by. After a while, he left. The session continued for an hour without
incident, with a good exchange of information and ideas.
Later I learned that the physician thought I was rude. Though I responded
to every gesture he made and responded to the few words he said through the
translator, this was not satisfactory to him. I believe he wanted to talk
to me more than he did, though he made no efforts to assert this. After my
session was over, the doctor called a few people to explain his feelings.
Mr. Wocher straightened it all out at the end. I was a little concerned
about it, but I was reassured that these kinds of situations happen
frequently, particularly among those people not very familiar with
westerners. I don't think I can be doing anything too obtuse, since I have
had over twenty other interactions with departments that went very smoothly
and concluded with an exchange of smiles. Oh well, you can't please
In a more positive cultural exchange, I taught an English class. Four
people attended, which I don't think is too bad for a class held at 5:00 on
a Friday afternoon. The class consisted of three men and a woman. We
decided to talk about the differences between the United States and Japan.
We went around the circle, discussing various issues. Examples:
-The size of food portions in the US is larger than in Japan
-Japanese bathrooms put the shower and toilet in different rooms
-American colleges are more difficult to get into (I quickly put down that
idea, assuring the people there that there are a wide range of American
colleges with varying degrees of difficulty of admission)
-There are no open container laws in Japan
-Cars and roads in Japan are very small and sidewalks are absent
-People in the US eat more meat (though there are almost no vegetarians in
-Socialism is much more prominent in Japan (I didn't bring it up, but felt
pleased that someone mentioned it)
-Quote: "American women are so loud and Japanese men hate it!" I led this
comment into a discussion about the lower place of women in Japanese
society. The man attached to the quote is a physician who, when flying
overseas, goes in business class and his wife goes in coach. I don't think
I know a single American man with the cajones to try that one. I certainly
-There are almost no restrictions on cigarette smoking in Japan. If you
want, you can smoke IN THE HOSPITAL! We also discussed the banning of
smoking in American domestic air travel.
I enjoyed the class and we had a good set of discussions. The most
interesting comments were found in a discussion about the relative happiness
of Japanese people and Americans. The group agreed that Americans seemed
happier and more patriotic than the Japanese. I found that interesting and
somewhat unexpected. For a country with a very ethnocentric view (like the
US) I would expect that they would project their national superiority in an
area as important as happiness.
The national superiority is projected in other places, like the low crime
rate. This is a given when traveling in Japan, or at least it was. It
seems like there have been a lot of bizarre murders reported since I have
been here. I can recall at least ten murders (throughout Japan) in the last
month. I realize that murders are so rare here, they all make the news.
People here seem worried that the younger generation is more violent and out
of control than their predecessors. Japan is in no danger of paralleling
the violence of the US, but it seems to be moving away from the
violence-free utopia image that the rest of the world sees when thinking of
The perception of Japan by the rest of the world is an interesting thing.
The country just received a very strong rating from the World Health
Organization for excellence in healthcare. If you have been reading what I
send from Japan, there are many reasons that this seems strange (lack of
infection control, very few life-saving transplants, extremely high use of
prescription drugs, poorly trained nurses, doctors licensed for life, etc.).
When this news was coming out, I was reading a book that my boss, Mr.
Wocher, wrote. This book is a consumer's guide to Japanese healthcare.
Many of the shortcomings of the healthcare system are highlighted. He
discusses a variety of factors that patients should look for in their
healthcare system and contrasts it with the US.
It turns out that the WHO definition of a quality healthcare system is
longevity of the population. I guess that diet, lifestyle, and other
factors don't impact that at all. Apparently, the long lifespan is solely
the product of Japanese healthcare. It seems the WHO needs to spend less
time drawing poor inferences from data and more time actually looking at
On Wednesday night, a small group of Kameda people went out for a musical
performance by some Kameda staff. The band was called Justin Staff. They
played a mix of original tunes and covers. Some of the songs were in
English and others were in Japanese, truly an eclectic mix of music. The
band has recorded four CDs now. I was very impressed with their
performance. They used two keyboards, two guitars, a bass, and drums, so
they had a very full sound.
Of course, where there is music, there is drinking. I tried some delicious
red wine. Mr. Wocher is a wine connoisseur and brought some samples. I, on
the other hand, am a wine idiot. I am beginning to see where the appeal of
fine wines comes from. After a little wine, I felt like trying something a
little stronger. A whiskey sour sounded good, but they didn't have all the
ingredients. I ended up drinking straight scotch. I planned to have one
glass, but Japan has an interesting cultural component I call the "empty
glass principal." In essence, when you finish a drink, that means you are
ready for another one. From my experience in the US, if you finish a drink,
they ask you if you want another, then bring it. On this night, the
Japanese principal was in effect. At the end of an hour and a half, I ended
up drinking three good sized glasses of scotch. The last two, of course,
were not on the agenda.
All this hard work to fit into Japanese society...
I was waiting for an elevator with Chiaki, Mr. Wocher's assistant. After a
long wait, the elevator arrived. The doors opened, revealing a tightly
clustered group of people. I firmly asserted that I wasn't going to fit in
the elevator. Chiaki's response: "How are you going to function on the
subway in Tokyo?" Oh crap. I guess I'll find out soon.
An older man and his wife entered an elevator I was riding. The man walked
up to me and made some gestures about my height. He tried talking to me in
Japanese, until it became obvious that I didn't understand. In slow,
deliberate English, he said, "What do you eat?" Smiling with satisfaction,
he awaited my response. Fully extending my arms to my sides to demonstrate
breadth, I said, "Everything." He smiled, apparently pleased by my answer.
A nice concluding part:
What aspects of American life do I miss most?
1. Pizza, before I left, I was certain that Super Hot Chicken Wings, Spicy
Bloody Marys, and Tacos would take the cake here. Alas, pizza is what is
miss most in the food arena.
2. TV in English
3. Being able to go to a movie whenever I want
4. Walking up to someone and being (pretty) sure that they speak your
5. High ceilings. I can't stress this enough. If I weren't 6'3", I would
see less trouble here. Alas, I am a corn-fed Iowa boy and am faced with
great height in a nation designed for small people.