Only In Japan

Friday, June 01, 2007


It is debatable whether drawing "national archetypes" has much sociological value. If you say "the average Swede is shy, rational, self-controlled, and believes in ecology, gender equality and community group", for example, any serious sociologist will answer "give me some serious statistics to back your claims, or else they're nothing but cheap racial characterisations!"

And the Sociologist will be right.

So just so you know, today's post is NOT a sociology essay, though it showcases some typical Japanese attitudes that would puzzle most people in the West. It is just a portrait of one of the many unsung heroes of the Japanese economy, a nice guy with a complex personality, who ended up selling his soul to his company.

And that "typical Japanese man" is my colleague and good friend Blackfield (not his real name, obviously), who is just now slumping on his desk 1.30 meters in front of me. 30 years old, slim, slightly dyed hair, glasses, a nervous look on his face: you would probably not pay attention to him if he were sitting next to you in the subway. If you look closer though, you will notice that he is inexpensively well-dressed, in a style quite of his own, and maybe that would let you guess the sensitivity hidden behind his "worker bee" demeanor.

Because the truth is, Blackfield is a real nerve ball. The Japanese would say, "it's not surprising he is so nervous, his blood type is A!"... Which would make him one of these people (quoting myself, sorry):
"Blood type A people are nervous perfectionists, law-abiding and working well in groups. They have a "perfect employee and good citizen" image, but are also associated with what Westerners call an anal-retentive personality, and as such are sometimes regarded as "not fun"."

And the thing is, that's exactly him! Blackfield is the "straight arrow", absolutely loyal, always doing the right thing, always terrified to do wrong, never relaxing, and happy in only one circumstance: when he has too much work and too many responsabilities, and he knows everyone is aware he is working too hard. Blackfield is also extremely patient: however much abuse the boss, the customers and I might throw at him, he always takes it without complaining, and never says no.

It's not that he doesn't have an opinion, far from it: Blackfield is very intelligent and realisitic, so he generally knows pretty accurately if something is going to work or not. But that's where Blackfield shows he is a true Japanese: for him, the truth is something akin to dynamite, i.e. a substance that can sometimes be useful, but which most of the time only means "deadly dangerous". So for fear of disrupting the group harmony, or making someone feel bad, Blackfield will often lie (especially by omission), evade the topic, mislead, or answer with generalities that he knows full well to be false. And for the same reason, he will rarely say "no". Of course, this often puts him in an awkward position, and generally has rather bad long-term consequences for him; but he feels it is the only way to make everyone live and work happily together, so he goes on lying as cheerfully as an Italian politician.

There is one topic, especially, about which he has a very "creative" approach to truth: his beloved country, Japan. Blackfield loves Japan, hates to have to admit its ugly sides, and always tries to promote "beautiful Japan", the fictional country that exists only in his head. Sadly, I think he has a lot in common with nationalists like Shintarou Ishihara, the racist and ultraconservative governor of Tokyo. Blackfield is not racist; he is actually rather tolerant and interested in foreign countries. But when it comes to Japan, he will always put a spin on the topic at hand, and I never believe anything he has to say on the subject.

Case in point: two weeks ago, we were talking about Sumo, and I asked him "is it true that Sumo is often rigged?"
I knew for a fact that Sumo IS completely corrupted, but I pretended not to know. Anyway, in typical Blackfield fashion he answered "well, I heard some Korean and Chinese wrestlers cheated sometimes, but that's about it..." which is a huge and blatant lie, of course! He knew fully well that most Sumo wrestlers are cheaters, and finally admitted it after I teased him a little. The look of embarrassment on his face was just priceless...

But on to a more interesting topic: Blackfield and women. As you can guess, they go together like blue cheese and mango ice-cream; still I am sure women are very much on his mind. But he would rather eat a live cockroach than talk to a woman he doesn't know! Actually, there's something of "The 40-Year Old Virgin" about him: you know, that guy who "respects women too much to desire them"? That's Blackfield.
The sad thing is, I think he would be the best husband ever: devoted, loyal, kind, interesting, funny... He is not really suitable for anyone, but the strong woman with a powerful grip who gets him will never regret it. To that special lady, I recommend: scold him regularly, make him jump through hoops and work hard even for modest rewards, but sometimes acknowledge his efforts with slight praise, and he will forever be by your side.

Yes, as you must have guessed it by now, Blackfield is fundamentally masochistic. Actually, I'm sure there is a gimp outfit under his bed, and his wettest dreams involve some East-German dominatrix spanking him as a punishment for his naughtiness.

So if you know a smart, single woman with a taste for cracking the whip, by all means leave a message! Just one thing though: it would be even better if that woman were also a Star Wars fan like him...

May the Force be with Blackfield!


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