Anti-whaling activists get the hammer

In Japan there is a saying: "the nail that sticks up gets hammered down." It's hard to imagine how conformist and rigid the society is from the vantage point of our "me-centric" culture.

Things we take for granted here, such as the right to assert one's own opinion - about anything from a bus route to a government policy - is sublimated to the goal of harmonious relationships. No direct communication is allowed, simply too harsh. Better to smooth things over and give the appearance of homogeneity. False politeness is second nature. One is always first considering how not to offend someone else and how not to assert one's self. Then secondarily, one can privately consider how to get what one wants. I, being only hapa, and raised almost entirely here in the US was completely mystified and frustrated in my first visit back since we moved stateside when I was a toddler. How in the world anything ever gets accomplished there is a mystery to me.

May I take that bus to my destination?

We wanted to take a bus from outside our hotel to some destination. Simple right? Ask the front desk. A direct question. "Does that bus go to point A." Oh no. That's just not done. And you think you could get a straight answer? The only possible way you would is if by some magic you happen to ask the single permutation of a question that would permit a "Hai!" or "yes" answer. Otherwise, it's "I'm most happy to help you. I see, yes, that's an interesting spot to visit. Many visitors enjoy it." Great, but you still need to know if that bus gets you there.

"Yes, many visitors love to visit that place. In fact, one can get there many ways." By now you're thinking, "Shit! I'm going to miss my bus. If that's even the right bus. But who knows." You might then logically ask, "So - THAT bus won't get me there? Is that what you're saying?" Now it gets worse. Now, you've made them feel bad that they have caused your frustration. Worse you've shown it. They shouldn't be forced to see such an ugly private thing as your frustration in public discourse. It's as if saying something so direct or expressing that frustration were like having dropped trou in church. You're not supposed to show those things there. It might make people feel bad.

"Well, we're so happy to help you. And it's just great that you want to visit that most sought-after destination. Of course, many people DO take a bus there. And yes, of course, one could begin such an excursion with the bus that stops here." Or stopped there, five minutes ago when you asked. 

Then you come to understand that probably, the most likely scenario is that the bus that just left might well have taken you to another place where a transfer could have been made. You were spared the horror of being told you had the wrong notion of how to get from point A to point B. Better to let you down easy with compliments about your wise choice in tourist destinations. There now, don't you feel better? 

GAH! Not if you actually wanted to get there! We literally had that conversation and, correction, my mortified Japanese mother - at my frantic urging, had that conversation while I sat there increasingly frustrated watching a bus (our bus? or not? who knows?) come and go while we tried to divine the precise line of questioning that might allow them not to offend us with actual correct, direct information and avoid giving us the obvious information that we were incorrect in our original plan for getting from point A to point B. Because it would have been preferable for all of us, to have been spared having those ugly things (like direct questions or frustrations) pushed in our faces. [even though we asked for it.]

SO - see how this simple act of asking directions gets perverted by the social customs that require you never to directly offend someone? Even risking offense when answering a simple matter like this silly bus route, is fraught with anxiety and much smoothing over of potentially ruffled feathers. Lots of nodding and bowing, too. And there's a set of rules about who bows more deeply than whom based on showing respect for the other based on divination of social status. But I digress.

Back to those poor whales and the two guys trying to save them

This little slice-of-life is just to help you understand how shocking it was for me to read this article about anti-whaling protestors in Japan. Sure, there have been protestors before, but these two guys are Japanese. They're actually, directly, and publicly challenging the governmental policy on whaling in the Antarctic. Or more correctly, they were. Now they're under house arrest and not permitted to speak together, nor to the media. 

Shocking really doesn't even convey how it feels to hear of such Western style thinking and activism. Reading the article, you can see that the mere inference of police heavy-handedness was such an insult the conversation was over.

It's really something that these two guys felt strongly about this opposition and that they also felt so compelled to take it public. It's also very interesting that they were surprised that the media and public did not take their side. 

The nail that sticks up...



So what about the whales?

The whales are still being hunted by a handful of nations though international protest still grows. Commercial whaling was banned in 1986, Japan is permitted to kill the animals for "lethal research" on their migratory and other habits in anticipation of a return to sustainable commercial hunts. Of course, as the article itself indicates, Japanese are eating it, not studying it. Maybe "lethal research" is just that indirect Japanese way of saying "eating it."