This is a topic that I have been thinking about a lot recently. I wasn’t sure how to explain it, but I hope you will be able to understand what I mean. The problem is not the words themselves, but rather the ideas and attitudes that lie behind them. As you know, I love Japan, and I now consider it my home. Like many of you, however, I worry about the future. In particular, I worry about how the country is being damaged for the next generation. Here are five words that I believe are causing the most problems.
Many years ago, I worked part-time at a high school in Sapporo. I asked one of the women in the office if it would be possible for me to get health insurance even though I was employed part-time. She said that she would check and get back to me. A week later, I went to ask her again, and she said: ちょっと難しいみたい. (It’s a bit difficult.) I said, “That’s very interesting, but I didn’t ask you whether it was easy or not; I asked you whether it is possible or not. Are you saying that it is impossible?” She looked shocked, and said that she would check again. A few days later, she came to find me to tell me that she had found out it was possible after all! I hate the word muzukashii because it is often used as an excuse by people who just can’t be bothered to do something. Unfortunately, Japanese people usually just accept this answer. This way of thinking needs to change, particularly in a country where so much is controlled by beaurocrats who spend their lives collecting large salaries for doing very little work. (I knew a girl once who got a six-month contract position working at Sapporo City Hall. She got told off by her boss after the first day for working too fast! He said, “If you finish all that, there will be nothing else for you to do, so please go more slowly.”)
This is a word that I hear a lot in Japanese universities, but I suspect that it is just as common in Japanese society in general. Basically, it is just an excuse for inaction. By saying that you are doing kentou, you can disguise the fact that you are actually doing nothing. Of course, when you have finished doing 検討, if you still don’t want to do anything, you can then recommend 再検討! Unfortunately, I think that far too much 検討 goes on in Japan, and nowhere near enough action.
Although I realise that there are a lot of good aspects to the culture of “preserving harmony,” this way of thinking is the enemy of change. We have a saying in English that “you cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs.” It basically means that you have to disrupt the status quo in order to make positive change. I think that Japanese society tends to put so much emphasis on preserving wa that it is almost impossible to change anything, because change inevitably disturbs harmony. I hope Japan will be able to find a way to make the changes that need to be made without abandoning this part of its culture.
This phrase basically makes anything that follows it completely meaningless. It means “this is the rule, but it’s not really a rule.” It is often the case in Japan that everyone sees the need to make a change, but that one group of people object to that change. The solution is usually to make a 原則として “rule.” This allows people to pretend that a change has been made without actually changing anything in reality.
We have talked about this before, and I think you all know how I feel about it. Amakudari is like a cancer in Japanese society, and until it is stopped, there is no chance that things will get better. It also costs lives, as we saw at the Fukushima Power Plant last year.
So, those are my top five. What do you think? Am I misunderstanding anything? Have I missed any? Can you add to the list? Look forward to hearing your thoughts.