Japan Trip Report

Dear Bart -
I frequently travel to Japan on business.  Was over there about
1 1/2 weeks after September 11, in fact.  Just got back about
from another trip 4 weeks ago.
Interesting dynamic in Japan.  First of all, it's as an American-
friendly county as can be.  One-on-one, in groups, whatever,
Japanese folks' graciousness to "American water buffalos" (as
Dave Berry coined it) is always "on."  Some Western-types
(North Americans, Europeans, Aussies and Kiwis) can
tire of it, especially after being told "No" for the hundredth time,
with a smile, and not exactly "No," just "that would be difficult,"
which usually means, "Hell, no!"  But, as a Southerner, I'm
rather used to this as one of the Yankee problems with Southerners;
("Oh, sure, they act all polite, but you never really know what they're
thinking!").  A real parallel there.  And both the South and Japan,
after some initial successes, got badly licked in a war against the
U.S. and were occupied thereafter.  Also, 82% of Southerners
belong to the Jodo Sect of Buddhism.  O.K., not the last one.  Just
checking to see if you were really reading this.
Anyway, after 9/11, Japanese taxi drivers, business people, friends,
waiters, whomever you might strike up a conversation with, were
so, so sympathetic and with us.  Remember when La Monde declared
"We are all Americans" (except in French).  Well, the Japanese felt
the same.  Very heartening.
Now, this is going to come as a real shock to you, Bart, but after the
U.S. invaded Iraq, it changed.  Well, sort of.  Still, Japanese folks
are nice and gracious and "pro-American," but good God in
heaven they loathe Bush.  You see, Bart, wars of adventure haven't
been overly popular in Japan since at least August '45.
Now, part of being polite in Japan means not acting like an overtly
contrarian ass towards guests.  Thus, most of those who've told me
about their intense dislike of Bush, don't say (some do, but not most)
that Bush is an asshole (it translates pretty directly) or idiot (that one, too),
no, rather, they say its all very, very regrettable, and that they worry very
much about Bush and how he acts towards the world, in general, and
regarding the Iraq and North Korean situations in particular.  This type
of criticism is -- for most never-been-abroad Japanese -- very, very strong,
when told to an American.  The ones who've lived abroad and speak
English pretty well are much more direct.  No surprise there.
So, the good news is that, like so many other conscientious folks
around the world, the Japanese people (at least the dozens, or hundreds
I've spoken with - and they should be pretty indicative of their fellow
citizens) are able to separate their fear and loathing of the U.S. Government
(and those in control of it right now) from their overall, general goodwill
towards Americans.  Thank goodness for small favors, I guess.
Still, wouldn't it be nice to have a President who was an ambassador
of goodwill throughout the world?  Wouldn't it be nice?
Richard R. N

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