Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Bedroom Paint

A Paint Switch
My mother, in Florida, identified that our house, in Ohio, had the paint switched for my children's future bedrooms. My mother-in-law on the ground confirmed it. The room in question did not even exist when we bought the house last summer. My children have spent only an hour or two in the house which is undergoing an extensive remodel. A room that was twenty-five feet long is becoming two bedrooms of equal size with a bathroom separating them. In a family meeting, my children selected their rooms from a blueprint with some input from mama and dada.

In the nebulous idea of the future, to children in first and second grade, this blueprint of their bedrooms is where they can imagine their soon to be lives in America. It will be the first time for them to have their own rooms, the first time to attend school in English, and the first time to live in Ohio. These future bedrooms exist, for them, as an agreement on paper rather than an actual experience.

Sitting at the kitchen table, in Japan, after school with my children, cups of milk tea in hand, I broach the subject of the paint switch with my daughter. I know she's the key in this negotiation, not her brother, my American kid. I say, "Nana figured out that they painted your room the color for the Moose's room." I pause; she says nothing. I continue, "Do you want to just switch rooms?" A dark cloud comes over her face. She says, "No. It's my room." At issue is that on paper, it is hers, and we had all agreed on that.

Rain Man Nation- it is not all bad
My daughter is blonde and blue eyed, but she has the heart of a nihonjin, and she's been schooled in the ways of Japan these past five years which accentuates that part of her. You don't change what is agreed upon, the ground rules, the deal, if you will, easily in Japan. This would require meetings, consensus, and a lot of time. Westerners with any experience in Japan know to either run or skip it altogether. I was not going to win her over on the room change thanks to our agreement. That I thought I could renegotiate easily with my blonde nihonjin with her generally sunny disposition and positive viewpoint, was rebuffed by the cloud that came over her face. I was not on solid footing.

I wondered what the builder, really the painter would think. It's a mistake whether in communication on my end, the builder's end, or the painter's end, but that's not the point. My concern was how would they think of this need to repaint two rooms because of an eight year old child. Americans would flex on this, most. However, to understand my daughter, you have to understand the Japanese view of this scenario.

The short hand of any frustrating experience in Japan, as a gaijin, has to do with it being in many ways a Rain Man nation. "Judge Wopner, four o'clock, Judge Wopner, four o'clock," shouts Rain Man in the movie of the same name. I think they end up knocking on some family's door to watch Judge Wopner at four o'clock in the middle of driving across America. Later a portable TV lends some flexibility to this adherence to the way a day passes. What is agreed upon, whether on paper or by an unstated general consensus, is what is done.

The flip side of this is that when there is a triple disaster, this Rain Man nation ethic remains. It's why they lined up to patiently for gas during a shortage, why they took one yogurt like the sign instructed, and it's why when people didn't have enough food to share wherever they were stranded, they just didn't eat it. It is why they impressed the hell out of me in the face of a triple disaster- earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown. There was no jump in crime, no breaking into shops, and no hoarding as I saw it unfold here in Kamakura. Admitedly I keep thinking of the American response to Katrina- a whole lot more drama with the good, the bad, and the ugly on display.

The way, the rules, the so called agreements in Japan are also why I feel a bit insane inside when someone tells me to put my garbage here, but not there, and why one must drink cafe au lait from a yellow cup but not a red cup. Two sides of the same coin so by having to live by the rules, you benefit from knowing what to do, but you have to do it in the prescribed manner with no room for "close enought for government work." You can't tell Rainman to switch rooms.

A Bolt Story
My husband lost a bolt on his road bike recently. It was dark, he rides home from work late, and it's a long way. He said, "I looked around. It was just a bolt. I thought no big deal." Last weekend he road the bike to the local bike shop to get a replacement bolt. He returned empty handed saying, "They capped the cable, but couldn't sell me a bolt." The bike shop could not sell him a bolt because they didn't have a Trek bolt. Here in Japan a bolt is not a bolt.

He sent an email to the bike shop in Ohio requesting a bolt. The shop owner said, "It's just a bolt." He couldn't understand why my husband wanted one sent from Ohio to Japan. My husband explained the Rain Man nation concept. The bike shop told him to have his mom stop by, they'd give him the bolt for free for the cultural lesson that made them chuckle and marvel.

"No" in Japan
We've learned to give up sooner in Japan, when we hit a road block. We know the definitive signs of "no" in this culture even though we rarely hear "no" nor find such defined or firm signs in our own culture. The Japanese version of "no" is a polite, even a soft, but ironclad, "So sorry."

The Pearl Industry Talk
I told my husband about the Japanese domination of the pearl industry. Growing pearls is broadly tedious and time consuming work. The Japanese's control of the industry stems from their specialized equipment, particular knowledge and skills to seed the pearls, and frankly their utmost patience to deal with the microscopic detail required. The result is that whether you are looking for a round creamy white pearl from Japan or a large black pearl from Tahiti, the Japanese have their fingers on it and that Tahitian pearl in Tahiti has likely been to Japan before it hits the market even there.

Reap What We Sow
There's some value to a high tolerance for tedious work, but it does make for inflexibility on other fronts. I will not press my daughter to change her room for it is in her nature to not flex on this, and it has been reinforced by the culture in which she has been immersed. I'll hold out for something else as there is enough change on her horizon.

I actively pursued the opportunity to immerse myself and my family in Japanese culture. I have no heritage or spouse to root my interest. It is purely a great respect for a culture that has flourished for over one thousand years, and so we reap what we sow. The bedrooms will repainted.

1 comment :

  1. You are ignoring an important aspect of Japanese culture. Namely that no one has much control over their destiny. Indeed many companies make a point of it, moving their staff around on the 3-5 year scale. This could just be a cubicle move, or a move to a different site, a move across the country or a trip abroad. They certainly shuffle rooms and cubicles here on a regular basis, and the chief bureaucrats are circulated in and out on a 3 year timescale. The worker does not get to decide. I think that in a typical Japanese family your daughter wouldn't get to decide either. OTOH I have full sympathy with your daughter. I am still territorial about my room at my Dad's house and hate that my brother stays in it with his wife and daughter, because it is much bigger and nicer than the floor of my brother's room, which I get relegated to. I don't think it has anything to do with Japanese culture.


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