Thursday, October 18, 2012

Narrow Sweet Spot

Japanese in general don't like to be different. They are comfortable to look and project themselves with in a safe socially accepted set image.

One example of that conservative nature can be seen in Japanese politics. One political party dominated Japan for over 50 years, and even when a new party took over, the new party was very similar to the old party. Japanese don't like to shift their social values.

In the arts and sciences, many talented emerging artists and researchers in Japan have a hard time, because they are rarely given a chance. Without already established reputations, they can't sell their pieces or ideas. Being desperate, some move overseas. After being successful enough abroad, they are finally accepted in Japan as well. However, by then they often choose to remain abroad. This results in Japan exporting its best and brightest for free.

In all aspects of Japanese society, there are widely accepted values, which are very narrowly defined. For instance, a woman has to be young, slim, have straight long hair, have an Associates Degree, and the requirements keep going on and on.

But because the accepted values are so narrowly defined, once they find a formula in a particular field, they will succeed. That's one of the reasons why many Japanese love to look similar. They are consistently following others. By conforming to social norms, they insure that they are accepted by society.

It is extremely difficult to change the existing perception of Japanese society. It probably will take decades of battling in order to make a tiny dent in the existing attitudes. But always some, such as women entrepreneurs who work in a fringe industry not dominated by men, find a way to get around without violating the traditional Japanese norms.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Women in Japan

In Japan, when women reach their middle age, society doesn't treat them as women any longer. As the middle age population increases and young population decreases, some so-called "around 40" or "around 50" people seem to be considered acceptable. But youth still is the most valuable asset of women in Japan.

However, Japanese women are not obsessed by the youth. Many Japanese middle aged women don't even have time to think about their appearance. They are tired of rearing children or working furiously in order to support themselves.

When men see these middle aged women, trying to make the ends meet, their mind drift away to younger women, who are free from the concerns of daily lives.

Last spring when I was in Japan and watching TV, a decently good looking professional woman who was in her early 40's was picked on by the host because of her age. The host was also in his late 50's. I was shocked to see the degree of disrespect to middle aged women. Every time when I go back to Japan, I feel I'm old. I don't feel that way at all when I am in New York.

Japanese expectations of women are still very narrowly defined. Due to the economic downturn from the 90s, many women entered or re-entered the workforce. But women's typical jobs are part-time or working as administrative assistants whose main job is to prepare tea for coworkers. They are extremely under utilized. Those women often have A.A. or B.A. degrees. Japanese society expects women to be educated, but not successful in business.

I learned that the purpose of women's education in Japan is to find a better husbands. Women who graduate from good colleges land good jobs. There, they select husbands, and retire to be housewives. Occasionally, there are some who remain single, and stay in the same company. Then, coworkers put "gentle" pressure on to those "aged" women, even though there is no specific retirement regulation on women.

There are some women who tried to elevate women's social standings, but all of them failed miserably, because no one, including women themselves wants it to happen. Many women are proud of their traditional roles, such as mothers or housewives, and look down at other women who don't fit in those roles.

Out of frustrations, some Japanese women start their own businesses, and some look overseas, as Japanese society won't change quickly enough for them. I am one of those who have ridden a wave to greater possibilities.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Japanese Home Cooking

I just launched my Japanese home cooking site, Japanese Kitchen. It's a site to introduce Japanese cooking, such as recipes, kitchen gadgets, vegetables, spices/condiments, etc. The site contents are basic Japanese cooking tips, which any Japanese would know in order to cook ordinary home made Japanese food.

I got this idea from occasional questions I was asked by American acquaintances who told me that they loved to dine at Japanese restaurants, "Can you tell me how to make a sushi?"

I assume I was asked how to make a nigiri-zushi, a tiny morsel with a piece of thinly sliced fish on a small amount of seasoned rice. The ones sushi chefs make so easily at Japanese restaurants. But a piece of nigiri-zushi is a deceptively simple looking food. All Japanese know that it takes years of practice to make a nigiri-zushi properly, so they don't even attempt to make it.

But there are home made sushi, which anyone can make, even though it's not as spectacular as a nigiri-zushi. But when I try to explain it, I realized that I have to start from why rice should be washed.

While working on the site, I was reminded a fundamental Japanese wisdom of simple life. For instance, saibashis are just a pair of extra long chopsticks made of bamboo for cooking, but I use them as tongs, a fork, a whisk, a tube squeezer, and even as a bottle cleaner with a sheet of paper towel. There are individual tools for particular purposes, but Japanese people tend to use one simple tool in many ways.

When I came to the United States, a wide array of special kitchen gadgets appeared to be attractive to me. I loved to wonder around at Bed Bath and Beyond and was amazed by food processors, juicers, garlic peelers, and many other gadgets. But once I bought a food processor, I quickly realized that it wasn't so easy to clean it. I also had to find a space to put it away when I wasn't using. I eventually went back to the small simple tools I used to use, which were a mandoline slicer and a grater.

As I get older, I became more inclined to live a simpler life. Rather than being overwhelmed by many things I rarely use, I want to keep a few small things I always use. In that way, I can preserve my sanity.