It’s been said that Japan is the only country that cares what its foreigners think, and I’ve generally found this to be true. They love to read books about Japan written by foreigners, and I’ve got more than a few Japanese followers on J-List’s Twitter who like reading what observations this crazy gaijin has about their country. Recently I caught a TV program called Love It or Hate It? Time to Discuss that took Japanese-bilingual foreigners living here and asked them to talk about whatever they wanted. There was a girl from Iran who was frustrated by Japanese associating people from her country with illegal activities, a perception caused by Iranians selling bootlegged telephone cards back in the 90s. A Chinese asked why negative news about China was over-reported here, then apologized on behalf of tourists from mainland China, who don’t always have the best manners when visiting Japan. Then an American spoke out against the Japanese penchant for organizing themselves into senpai/kohai-like “vertical” relationships, which makes it harder for us to make friends with them. Finally, several foreigners disliked Japan’s tradition of tatemae, the social façade we’re forced to assume sometimes, like the Japanese office worker who must pretend that he likes working long hours rather than going home and spending time with his family.
If you’ve ever travelled around inside Japan, you may have noticed some flashy buildings that were very loud inside. These are pachinko parlors, a popular game in Japan that involves buying a few buckets of metal balls and trying to shoot them into the machine at just the right angle that the balls fall into special holes in the machine, netting you more balls than you started with. It’s a form of gambling, but since gambling is illegal here, you exchange the balls for “valuable prices” which you can “sell” back for cash (another good example of tatemae, above). There’s quite a strong connection between anime and the Pachinko industry, with the latter licensing everything from Evangelion to Macross to Osomatsu-san for anime-based pachinko machines, in order to get new young players in the door. This funding helps the anime industry out a lot.
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