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Novelist John Updike famously declared America to be “a conspiracy to make you happy.” I wonder sometimes if Japan is, then, a conspiracy to make you unhappy? Or, if not exactly unhappy, how about uncomfortable, exasperated or confused?

You might suppose so from some of the views in columns like The Last Word, in Tokyo’s Metropolis magazine, or online forums for foreigners living in Japan. Puerile television, the despoliation of the countryside, grumpy and incompetent taxi drivers, disgusting salarymen, the illogical this, needlessly complicated that and possibly prejudiced other. Our well of dissatisfaction with the ways of our host country seems bottomless. Why, I even read one whiny malcontent having a go at those charming jingles at railway stations!

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