Our Lives | JAPAN LITE

Town hall meetings: Abandon logic, all ye who enter here

Town hall meetings are all about discussion, so please feel free to speak your mind — just don’t expect any decisions to be made

by Amy Chavez

The first thing you want to do when you get to the meeting room, whether it be summer or winter, is open all the windows. This is because you’ll have to throw all logic out the window. Open as many as possible, ’cause there’s a lot of logic to heave.

The Samurai Meeting Master starts off by presenting the first topic of discussion. He asks people for their opinions. The first few contributions are usually pretty well thought-out and well presented. These come from active members in the community who are versed in how things are done and are able to prioritize and separate problems from issues.

After these prominent people have given their views on the subject, the Samurai Meeting Master asks if anyone else has something to say. Well, actually, someone does. This person is usually retired, doesn’t contribute much to the community and spends most of his time at home watching TV. He has no real clue as to what is happening in the community, except what he occasionally sees from his frosted glass window. As a matter of fact, the only reason he comes to these meetings is that he has nothing else to do! And at least here, people will listen to him and he’ll have a sense of purpose.

He gives his opinion, which is not at all consistent with the mood of the meeting so far. The topics under discussion don’t involve him, but he gets a feeling of satisfaction because he’s made his point.

Meanwhile, the Samurai Meeting Master mediates by dropping in a seasonal reference and asks if everyone has noticed the beautiful cosmos flowers in bloom around the community center. Japanese people love flowers, so a full debate ensues on whether the cosmos have bloomed late this year or whether they are, actually, precisely on time. And what do you know, Tanaka-san’s sweet potatoes are growing awfully slow this year! After some discussion on agricultural techniques, the group has had a bit of a break from the original topic and it is time for the deft Samurai Meeting Master to point the group back to it.

About now, a granny at the back pipes up about how really, everything that people have proposed to solve the problem thus far is wrong. She thinks we should call in Superman to take care of it instead. As it turns out, since the topic has nothing to do with her, she has the strongest opinion.

If you’re a younger member of the community in such meetings, you’re at a distinct disadvantage. Not only are you younger, and therefore clueless, but your entire generation is considered selfish, whimsical and, need we even mention it, lazy. This is because generations get better in direct proportion to their age and rate of memory failure. To add to that, as more people of that era die, there are fewer to remind them of the not-so-perfect times of yore — not that anyone would remember them anyway.

So, best of luck to the young generation who, no matter how hard they gambaru, will never have gambatta as much as the generation before them. I mean, who do you think you are anyway?

This should not prevent you from speaking up, however. Go ahead and give your opinion. You can talk about granny’s idea, but do not use her name, or anyone else’s if that would connect them to an opinion. Be considerate and accept that some people are just weird. And don’t expect anyone to come to your aid or take sides with you. This is because the aim of the meeting is merely to allow people to air their views. The goal is discussion, not decision-making.

In many instances, the Samurai Meeting Master and his warriors will have already made a decision and will do what they’ve previously decided anyway because they have budgets (that don’t include outsourcing problems to Superman), time limitations and outside pressures to consider. If that’s not the case, the topic will be brought up again at the next meeting, and the next, and so on until someone gives in on their side and allows things to move forward.

Putting off decisions can actually work to your advantage. Rather than resolving an issue while tempers are running high, for example, everyone has a cooling-down time until the next meeting to consider points others have brought up. Naysayers may move on to disagreeing with the next meeting’s contentious issue, rendering yours no longer new or interesting. Or, maybe the opponents will fail to show up at the next meeting (perhaps a good movie will be on TV), allowing participants to come to a consensus because the obstacle to this is no longer there.

But most likely, no decisions will be made by the end of the meeting. No worries, though: The goal of the meeting has been met! Village members have had a chance to express their views, which helps them feel they have a voice in the community, no matter how tenuous their relationship with it is: wa!

When the meeting breaks up, before you go home, be sure to close all the windows in the room. Logic may again prevail.

Japan Lite usually appears in print on the fourth Thursday of the month. Your comments: community@japantimes.co.jp