One of the more interesting countries on the planet is Japan. I was lucky to spend a bit of time there doing tours. We used to joke that it was the one place on the planet that when we dialed in what we needed for a show, it worked better than anywhere else on the planet. Aside from that and we would work months before we ever got a day off, the cuisine and social culture that one could leave a wallet on a table and no one would take it, or go for a run in the middle of a big city at night and be safe were some of the nicer things.
There was always a team from Japan working with a group from the USA, as we would tour most all the islands and the various cities of the country. What was interesting is that there was a distinct “corporate” or “company” policy that was somehow laid out from the top and the people on the bottom would soon realize how ridiculous the idea was in the reality of actually doing it from an executive who really had no clue how things probably worked on the road.
In the USA, we would change it, make it better. In Japan, you could see the faces of frustrated workers who had to follow the orders, even though they knew it was not the right path to getting the best job done. That was just part of the social culture in Japan. I learned to take my counterpart aside, alone, and ask, “I realized your company has this policy to do this a certain way, but what do YOU really think?”
Most of the time, there was a huge exhale of breath, as if, “wow, I am so tired of having to just go with the flow of the norm, even if I know it is not the best.” It was moments like this, that your would listen to what your counterpart really thought and then figure out a way for us to change things, and let him keep face with his bosses.
That was the unique part of Japan; the social consciousness far outweighed the individual’s right. They used to tell a parable “the nail that sticks out the furthest would be nailed down first.” It had to do with a social ideal that no one group or person should stick out to far from the rest.
I digress, as I am supposed to be writing about the war. But I had to give some foundation as to how I learned through my Japanese counterparts relatives and mine with the stories they told and the various lessons of history and the culture between the two countries of what happened.
How it happened was simply spending time away from the groups in a one to one setting eating sushi, going to a yakatori bar, or just having a ramen lunch. It was safe for the counterpart to speak what they really thought, not what they were taught to think.
It was the first time I thought, “how odd, just 50 years ago these two countries were locked away. I have friends in Sausalito whose families were put in American Internment camps for the war. Here I am eating sushi and having a beer with the grandson of someone that was fighting my relatives. How odd is this?”
The Japanese story was that there was a great start and honor for the country in WW2, yet, as the war raged on, the reality of the war coming to an end was when the B-29 bomber appeared over the skies of Japan and was basically going to systematically destroy the country. I think there were only three original castles out of many I went to in Japan that were not damaged in the war.
I heard the stories of shortages of goods and how people really believed the emperor was a walking god and they followed his wishes.
But it was the tales of the B-29 and formations flying over that his grandfather would talk about. There was a nickname for the plane that escapes my memory, but the talk was about planes and how they would rain terror upon the normal civilians because the idea of smart bombs hadn’t been perfected. The order of the day was carpet bombing with a wide swatch of destruction wherever the bombs fell.
Now I am thinking about my visit to Hiroshima and Dachau…. I will leave those for a time when I won’t get sad remembering the experience and contrast between the two.
What I learned from my Japanese counterparts is that myself and anyone not born Japanese is a “gaijin” (foreigner) we always will be.
But I did sit in a sushi bar looking at the grandson of someone that might have fought with my family relatives, years later, drinking beer and doing business together. I would go visit the Japanese art museums, but you really need a historian to go with you, as it seemed very little changed over thousands of years until the late 1800’s when the west came knocking on Japans door.
Today. There is still a lot of animosity in the Asian region for what happened in WW2 with the Japanese involvement. You see it in various countries immigration and passport lines. I am not sure if the idea of forgiving and forgetting will ever truly happen in that region of the world. As a westerner, we simply will never really truly understand the Asian culture and the subtle nuances within each society.
I am grateful for the time and the people I met in Japan. I comment to the Swiss in that overall their country reminds me a great deal of how Japan society works.
Sorry that this piece turned out to be more of a personal ramble. As I mentioned, this is just a first draft and hit publish blog…. these are the thoughts that came out after a morning brainstorm.
One day I was flying to Hong Kong and I was standing in the back of a plane looking down into the morning darkness. Then right after dusk, I saw the top of mt Fuji in a deep red poking up from the darkness. It was an image I wished I had a camera to take, as it was so unique, simple, elegant and beautiful. Perhaps that is how I will end today…. the memory of Mt Fuji at Dawn.