Japan is old-fashioned

When someone is asked what they imagine Japan to be like, they probably think of electronics, cars, robots and other high tech gadgets.  But coming to Japan, they will quickly notice how many places look quite old.  The buildings are simple and old looking, many houses are old looking.  Of course, this is changing with redevelopment projects and the fact that people often demolish their houses when they move out, and someone else builds a new house.  It’s a very interesting mix, though.  New and old exist here in Japan side by side.  Let’s look at the good and the bad.

The Good

Japan has a lot of old architecture, especially shrines, temples and castles.  There are so many historical places to see.  It’s unfortunate that many were destroyed during World War II, earthquakes and fires.  However, Japan has a knack for rebuilding the old and making it look old.  Places like Kamakura, Kyoto and Kawagoe have centuries old buildings.  But when it comes to castles, most of them are modern concrete reproductions.  Usually, they’re done quite well.

Another wonderful thing about Japan is the festivals.  They can often go back centuries, and showcase a lot of vivid colours, traditional dance, traditional clothing (kimonos, yukatas), and some great food.  I really enjoy Japanese festivals.

Japan has a very colourful history.  I find it quite fascinating, so I enjoy going to museums.  Japan has so many museums, and you can find tiny ones everywhere.  It’s really very interesting.

The Bad

Unfortunately, Japan is slow to change in some key areas.  The recent Tohoku earthquake and tsunami have shown government procedures for getting aid to the people who need it to be full of red tape and bureaucracy.  This is because of part of the Japanese mentality of never rocking the boat.  Status quo is safer, and never cutting corners takes responsibility away from people.  Unfortunately, people are starving and homeless because of this.  Most aid is still stuck in procedural paperwork hell.

The banking system in Japan is very inefficient.  Although they use computers all the time now, they still use a ridiculous amount of paperwork.  Waiting times are long, and simple processes are actually complex.  The banks seem to be reluctant to completely modernise.  Yes, they’ve become more modern with technology, but the procedures have to become more streamlined, too.

Many businesses in Japan are still run like they were during the 1980s bubble economy.  That business model doesn’t work with today’s global economy, and many companies don’t want to change.  One disturbing aspect of the old style business model is how many workers tend to be “motivated” with threats by upper management.

Japan is an island country, so it often seems isolated from the rest of the world.  Attitudes here are often self-centred and many people don’t seem to see what’s going on in the world outside.  With globalization increasing, Japan needs to become more flexible and put aside some of its old ways.  It can’t be successful if it won’t adjust.



Filed under Japan

10 responses to “Japan is old-fashioned

  1. Even those working in the Embassy, in foreign countries arent all that efficient. China Embassys staff wins over the slow poke Japan Embassy staff by far here in Kuala Lumpur!

    • Japan is obsessed with procedure and paperwork. They want to stick with the old ways, even though computers have made things more efficient. Japan was slow to adopt computers in business, too.

  2. Yes I was surprised to find just how old fashioned some aspects of Japan were when I first came here. For instance, I haven’t used debit or a credit card in a store since I’ve been here the past 6 months.

    “Japan is an island country, so it often seems isolated from the rest of the world.” I’d disagree with this, unless what you’re saying is that the isolation of the past is the result of the thinking today, then I disagree. But to say Japan is isolated now I don’t think is true. They’re just as connected and striving to “Americanize” as the rest of the globe, especially in the big cities.

    • Oops I meant to write, “unless what you’re saying is that the isolation of the past is the result of the thinking today, then I **agree**”.

    • After 6 years of being here, I’ve realised how insulated many people are about the world outside of Japan. I don’t mean that it is isolated now, but there’s still an attitude that many people have about Japan being an island country, so it isn’t as open. Immigration is not very open at all, for example. One of my recent posts was about 4 seasons. That’s an example of the isolated thinking.

  3. There is always two sides to the coin… and I’d agree that the frustrating side of Japan is the single-mindedness about the way things are supposed to be done. Just because. However, on the upside, there’s a whole heap less volatility as well… Definitely in this digital age, there’s a need for Japan to stream-line a lot of process, to remain competitive.

    And yes – there remains an attitude of separation from the rest of the world’s issues; but is this really so much more than say what you experience in the US? Yes, there’s plenty of people in the US that are concerned with what happens in the outside world – but then again there’s also a lot of people that are only concerned about what’s happening at home. Australia’s a little better (or at least for an island country), but we also like to imagine that we’re better.

    For all that – there is one fact that’s not really in dispute… and that’s that Japan’s economy has been tanking for a long time, and without some substantial (cultural as well as financial) reform, they will be left behind. It’s already happening. Then again – there’s no guarantee that all reform is good… history tells us this.

    • I understand what you mean about the USA. I’m from Canada, and many of us are often frustrated with how many Americans are just as uneducated about the world as people in Japan. I’d like to say it’s better in Canada, and I think it is, but I agree that this attitude exists everywhere.

      Japan’s economic problems have me worried, and I’m always dumbfounded about how business leaders and government seem to do absolutely nothing about it. Innovation is required, but that goes against Japanese culture, where blending in and doing what everyone else is doing is the norm. Being creative and standing out is a social taboo. But I see that it is changing. Younger people tend to be better at this than older adults, but the aged in this aging population still has control.

  4. The Government really has no fucking excuses. This generation long decline with no foreseeable cure sits on their slow asses.

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