Thursday, October 16, 2014

Omotenashi 3

 Omotenashi -- You Gotta Pay

Equality? A “non-dominant relationship between equals”?   As we have said, strangers or travelers and the poor – ordinary people --were not invited to Shogun’s tea ceremony rooms --    “Guests” gave up control –temporarily --to the “Master” – as in the temple – but behind him was the weight of social order.

And it was only for samurai or the very rich – the nobility.

Many, if not most Japanese company presidents, affect "equality" -- as in "I'm just another worker here".  But visit the company and you quickly realize that a company President is Master, and the Master is God.  And God makes all the rules.

Tepco's Chairman and President: Just Ordinary Guys Unaccountable to Anyone
In modern day world of  Omotenash service,  ‘equality’ is …um….equally a façade – those providing service set the rules – so that they always have the upper hand. And you are only really welcome, if you can pay.  

When you go to a Japanese department store, there are girls who sole job is to bow and welcome you to the store.  Just ritual. They don’t care about you. The store doesn’t care either.    Go ahead and buy one of their overpriced items– and just try to return it because you just don’t somehow like it.   No, the customer isn’t always right!

Or take hotels.  Granted that hotels have improved a lot in Japan. Time was, however, they kicked you out at 10 AM, far too early for my hangover.  Why? Because they said they needed time to clean for the next “guests”.  Omotenashi, you see. And the next guests are paying customers --and you are leaving so you are not now -- so fuck you very much.   

Recently many hotels have set check out time a little later –maybe 11 AM – or wonders! – a few of the more expensive --noon.   But room service still sucks.  And they charge you extra if there’s two of you! (You pay by the person, not by the room).  Then there is that huge “service charge”.   Omotenashi costs. Avoid the Food Machine at all costs....

Returning to the tea ceremony, it was and is held in a special room– not your home. And the tea was  not dinner. 

Tea ceremony is a social and political exercise, as we have said devoid or real warmth or human feeling.
As mentioned, Sen no Rikyū eventually ran afoul of his boss and was forced to disembowel himself, as part of seppuku --a ritual which I wish the Japanese government would reinstitute for erring bureaucrats  and company presidents.  Then maybe the idea might spread to other places like Wall Street.

One should keep in mind that the “selflessness”, “emptiness” and attention to ritual order implied in omotenashi and tea ceremony – this ultimate mindless obedience to social order -- are also aspects of the ritual of seppuku – in fact of many of the memes that underlie the samurai tradition – life as preparation for death, the inevitable meaninglessness of all individual action, “honor” unmitigated by love or care, bushido.

This unthinking feudalistic submission to form without content is also the essence of Japanese corporate life -- perhaps of all corporate life.

The Japanese: No Principles

The great Japanese social anthropologist Nakane Chie once wrote that the Japanese have no principles. 

 And certainly this is true:  they are the most modern of peoples, creatures of habit, creatures of their organizations, and despite what people say – short-term thinkers – situationalists.   

No, organizations here do not have long-term goals – because that would imply reasoned analysis and an examination of values in human terms.  Instead, organizations have direction, driven by the momentum of the past and maintained by inertia.

Nakane also compared the Japanese to amoeba. Touch them and they change shape -- but the core remains the same.

How many times have I said to company executives:  “But this is wrong – factually wrong – if not inviting ridicule”?   “Yes,” they reply “But we said it before so we have to say it again.” Social embarrassment, as in admitting a mistake, it the most immediate of situations – and therefore the most important.

Real Soft Power for the Japanese would involve communicating values and principles.  But a country that cannot take responsibility for comfort women or atrocities in China or forced labor in Japan -- or even the several hundred children in Fukushima with precancerous conditions -- is unlikely to do that. And sadly old images hang on.

Better To Be A Hypocrite 

“Soft power” is really just a form of social identity, which turns on reputation, on what other people think you have done or do, and from which they make assumptions about personality. In High School, you were a geek or a nerd or a jock or a badass or maybe just invisible.  In fact, you were both a lot more and a lot less than these things.  

 If you were smart, you learned to manage your social image so you could have friends, get good recommendations from teachers, get laid, and the like. All this depends on people, liking you and respecting you because they agree with what they perceive to be your values --the principles you hold.  

Social perception is necessarily superficial -- but is also important.

Nations are like people.  Their reputations are based upon perception of their principles.

The US came out of WWII as winners -- controlling perceptions globally.  GI Joe  was jut-jawed and handsome -- and Good -- unlike the Cruel Hun, the Shifty Japs, and the Merciless Slavs..  

 The US was Democracy, Liberty, Justice, Opportunity. It was caring and warm and generous.  This image was belied by Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Korea War, the overthrow of democratically inclined leaders in the Middle East and South America, support for Zionist neo-colonialism, the Vietnam War.  .

 Then one day we realized that the US was just like the jock you thought was so great in high school until he screwed you. 

Looks aint everything.

But, even so, the US still has a lot of leverage – even today --because we want to believe it is better than it is.  And perhaps because media in the West (which includes Japan) is controlled by just a few large corporations, which find it convenient to stereotype Americans as the ‘good guys',  Every movie, every TV program proclaims America as the Chosen Land.  The human mind, as Wallace Stevens wrote, balances the pressure of reality with the pressure of imagination.

Yes, America is the ultimate national hypocrite -- but you need principles for hypocrisy-- and the dissonance between principle and practice is also the fulcrum for change.  in this sense there is hope.

 Nakane also compared the Japanese to amoeba. Touch them and they change shape -- but the core remains the same. Principles are the vertebrae of nations.

Pity  Japan has no backbone.

Japan:  A PreTeen World

If America is GI Joe, what then Japan?  

General MacArthur famously characterized the Japanese as a nation of children – and that still applies.  The human face of Japan is pubescent.  Schoolgirls in sexy miniskirts? It doesn't cut it in some places.

Yes, AKB48 in their Hello Kitty panties. Salarymen?  Again, implicitly adolescent in their corporate uniforms, white shirts and ties, chubby and middle-aged but dripping teenage lust as they visually grope school girls on the subway. 

Japan could only have “soft power” if it decided what its values are – and acted on those values.  Sadly, it merely harks back to imperial glory.

Posturing about territorial issues such as the Daioyu Islands, the Kuriles, or Dokto Island does not demonstrate principle – only an inability to give up the expansionist dreams of the past – more adolescent fantasy.   The Amoeba is Japan's national animal.

A more adult Japan would not have confronted China over the Diaoyu Islands -- rather it would have sought cooperation -- and ended the US Security Treaty, ensuring better balance in Asia -- and acknowledging the inevitable -- the end of the US Empire.  

An adult Japan would have seen the Fukushima disaster as a wake-up call and invested hugely in geothermal energy and green technologies.   A more adult Japan would have eschewed the Olympics in favor of  other projects. Japan has 20 years at best before the shit hits the fan.  

And adolescent "public diplomacy" is not going to help. 

Posing in a jet trainer won't help -- not if your public diplomacy is still on trainer wheels.

No matter. Here's Japan's next PM.....



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