Maintaining Culture

There are a number of “Japanese” traits that many JAs continue to manifest. Many are straight-forward practices and can be categorized as mundane, such as taking off one’s shoes before entering a house, or automatically expressing a greeting at appropriate times. There are also those traits that are just as noticeable but less quaint…

1. Omiyage: the practice of bringing back something from a trip to distribute to friends and relatives is relatively common. I practiced this when i lived in Japan, because to not to meant being totally anti-social. But back in the US, I find very few non-Japanese/Asians who do this. Even Japanese who have lived here a significant number of years seem to have stopped giving omiyage, so I sorta did too: Why continue to give omiyage to people who accept it, but NEVER return the courtesy? This may sound rather selfish, but how many people coninue giving Christmas gifts to those to don’t return the courtesy? Very few i would imagine. Of course, since I married Musubi-chan,this has changed. She is steeped in J tradition, so she can’t imagine NOT bringing back omiyage. Fortunately, the number of omiyage is slowly decreasing as she begins to realize that many truly don’t return the courtesy…

2. Enryo–reservation/modesty: this is, in my opinion, the kiss fo death for JAs in American culture. Indeed, I would venture to say that this is the root of the “model Minority” syndrome. “Oh, Mr. Tanaka, you did a very good job. You deserve a raise.” “Oh no! Not me, I must have been lucky. I just try to do my best…” Well, that gets you no where fast in American culture. More often than not, people will accept your opinion of your work and leave it at that. “Mr. Tanaka? Yeah, he did a good job, but he doesn’t seem to think much of it. Maybe he didn’t really put that much effort into it, so he probably doesn’t really need (choose one or more) a. raise, b. promotion, c. recognition.”

3. Tsukiai: In Japan, cultivating a relationship with friends and colleagues takes hard work, or more specifically, hard drinking. Indeed, I too have indulged…er, I mean, been subjected to this way of life. Even in LA, I had a lot of fun… I mean, was forced to cultivate relationships with colleagues in J-Town. The only problem is that sometimes this gets out of hand. How often have I had to babysit a sick friend at a Denny’s until they sobered up? Once or twice is okay; a wild Friday night? Maybe understandable. But when it becomes a regular Wednesday thing, or a Thursday tradition, I had to start drawing the line. When a friend started to ask me to lie or hide things so his girlfriend would find out, then I began to wonder what this friendship was about?

I’m sure there are more “customs” that don’t seem to fit into the US lifestyle. I’d also bet that JAs aren’t the only ones. I have heard about Korean cultural practices that would even boggle the mind of the most conservative of Japanese. For example, if you’re a smoker, you can NEVER smoke in front of an elder. I thought this was mostly in Japan–I became friends with a few really old school (read: North Korean/Kita-Chosenjin) people–but I have seen a number of my Korean students hurriedly put out their cigarettes whenever they saw me approaching them on campus. I have known a few to leave the room in order to smoke. Talk about smokin’ in the boy’s room! Anyway, if you got another one, time to share…

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