I assent from the bottom of my heart to Roger Pulvers’ description of compulsive reverence toward others in his June 10 Counterpoint column, “In Japan show reverence where it’s due.” There is nothing that alienates me more from this country and its people than what I would call “the double-edged sword of preemptive consideration.”
I say “double-edged” because preemptive consideration is probably what you love about Japan when you first arrive here. You become a revered Mr. or Mrs. Foreigner and are, for the time being, at the receiving end of everybody’s consideration. It is only after you have stopped being a guest (if this is ever possible) and shifted your life completely to these shores that you can’t help but become a troublemaker by asking odd questions: of the gynecologist, for instance, about whether the X-ray of your wife’s abdomen one week before she is due to give birth was really necessary, or of the pediatrician about whether there wasn’t any alternative treatment for your daughter to constant prescription of antibiotics.
Of course, we gaijin have sort of a jester’s license and are not really expected to act “Japanese,” but my Japanese wife makes sure that I don’t go over the top. Apart from her private self, her socialized self kicks in as soon as there is any number of other Japanese around. She suddenly becomes absorbed by a frenzy of mutual adulation, which leaves me at a loss.
Needless to say, for my own behavior, there is much less adoration. Nothing has caused more distress in our relationship than my perceived “lack of consideration” for others. As a result I shun these reunions.
Building a house can lead to a similar experience. An informed customer who asks too many questions is not appreciated by many professionals in the construction business. Although there are constant reports of mismanagement, mistreatment, fraud in hospitals, the construction business or social security, you are not supposed to ask any questions.
So don’t stick around the construction site of your house too much, because you might hurt the pride of the craftsmen. But I wonder whether these professionals who shun transparency so much don’t have something to hide.