The truth about living in Japan

Beyond the picturesque mountainscapes and vibrant red Tori gates lies a world of concrete skyscrapers and fashion victims.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Cogs in the machine

What a strong country it must be that rides on the back of a united community, where each member sees themselves as a small part of a greater whole, a cog in a well-oiled machine, with everyone working together for the good of their office, their community and their country.

How poor is the society of individuals, where everyone stands on their own and takes as much as they can for themselves, even at the expense of their brother, their workmates and their neighbour.

This is the image that has been planted in my mind of the way Japanese society is seen, compared with countries like America. The great Japanese community, ah yes everyone working together.

I’ve witnessed two road accidents caused by drivers on the busy Japanese road that passes near my house. I am willing to assume that there was no contact made between the vehicles involved, because that thought is too horrifying to consider, but both times a large, family-sized car has forced a smaller vehicle off the road and toppled the rider as a result. The obvious guilty party has then proceeded to drive away without stopping to help the victim.

The first time this event was witnessed, the driver stopped long enough to watch the old man she had pushed off his bicycle fall down backwards over a near cliff. As she started to drive away I thought “Surely she’ll just turn the corner and stop her car and make sure the old man is ok!” But she accelerated and drove away. Jeremy and I ran to the aid of the old man who seemed to be in a state of shock and tried to climb back up the cliff only to fall again. I clambered down some steps and helped him to his feet. By this stage a couple of people stopped, moved his bicycle off the road and offered me the bag I’d left at the top of the slope. We tried to communicate with the old man, but language was a barrier, then finally someone stepped in and took over in Japanese.

Just a few weeks later we witnessed another accident in almost the exact same location. A driver of a car got too close to a scooter and pushed the young female driver over. She had trouble picking up her scooter and it was obvious that she hurt her knee in the fall, as well as being visibly shaken AND it was starting to rain. The car drove away and nobody went to her aid. Again we went to help her and see if she was ok, she insisted she was. Her friend came to her rescue and we left her in his hands.

How is this possible? How can I process what I’ve seen with the information that has been fed to me regarding the communal spirit of Japan? I’ve looked at this from all angles and I think I’ve figured it out. The car involved in the accident must move away from the scene as quickly as possible to keep the traffic flowing on the busy road. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the individual. This is the sacrifice made to keep the machine going.

Ok, so I disagree with the system on an ethical level, but there it is, that’s why the guilty party drove away. But now I need to try to understand why no one stopped until after we (2 Gaijins existing outside the system) did.

Is it because the cogs of a machine can only follow the grooved patterns of the wheels that turn? If there is no other pattern to follow, the cogs keep going. But Jeremy and I are not cogs in this wheel, we embrace our individuality and that of the people around us. We see an old man fall backwards down a cliff, we see a young woman thrown off her scooter in the rain and hurt her knee, we don’t see kinks in the chain, we see people in need. So we break out of the pattern and in doing so we form a new one, NOW the cogs can move behind us, but it truly seems that they can’t move before us, we’re always the first on the scene even though we’re not the closest and through our difficulties with the Japanese language we’re the furthest from being actually useful.

These are two instances that happened recently and fired my mind to consider the big question “Why?” However, these are far from stand-alone events. Every day it seems that I experience something as a by-product of the Japanese machine. I don’t want to be a part of this system. Maybe it works, in a soulless economical way, but it saddens me deeply to see the effect it has on the people of Japan. I don’t think its right and NO! I won’t be a part of it in the community, at home or at work.


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