How can suicide be both so honorable and so disgraceful?

Given the role of seppuku (= harakiri) in Japanese fiction and history and the respect that people who did it are still held in, you might be surprised to hear that suicide in the family is a shame that is hushed up and can often cause families to move house so that they can avoid the stain on their marriage and job prospects that can ensue.

The main distinction seems to be that killing yourself due to private grief or depression is seen as selfish/ individualistic (basically the same thing in Japanese), while seppuku was often done to save other people and/ or as a public ritual. The other thing is that depression was until recently a taboo topic in Japan, perhaps because it was assumed that it was mainly genetic.

I suppose that doing something in public could also save you from gossip, a factor that explains a lot more in Japanese life than more popular topics like Confucianism, imo


Why are there so many kouban (police boxes)?

Although Japan does have a low crime rate, Korea’s is just as low and there are far fewer police boxes here. In fact, in Japan one of the main duties seems to be giving people, or even taxi drivers, directions. Same crazy house numbering system here, though, with a whole block having the same number and the blocks labelled chronologically rather than in order along the street. There is a crucial difference connected to that which I hadn’t thought of though:

“In Japan, you can’t even stop strangers and ask for simple directions when you are lost [due to the taboo against talking to strangers]. If you get lost, you  look for a policeman, who will help you because that is part of his job”

That’s an exaggeration, but Korea does have more of a Mediterranean feel of old ladies sitting on street corners who you can ask, and a crowd of people slowly gathering to all look at the map or address and exchange mutually contradictory advice

Why are Japanese women still so far behind?

My wife and I are presently caught in one of the major catch 22s, which is childcare. You can’t get your child into a houikuen (kind of daycare centre) until you both have full-time jobs, but you can’t get a full-time job until you have somewhere to put your child. That works better if you already had a job before you gave birth, but most companies will guilt trip you into quitting once you can’t do the ridiculous hours of overtime or if you actually plan on taking your maternity leave. When your child reaches three you can send them to a youchien (kindergarten), but you’ll have difficulty sustaining even a part-time job with their short hours, long holidays, PTA duties and expectation that you will be at home waiting every time they want to phone you to bring in an extra pair of shorts or take them home because they are crying.

Other factors include:

– Women not being able to take a full part in the drinking, golf and occasional whoring that Japanese corporate entertaining consists of

– Social pressure to quit as soon as you get married, and certainly within weeks of getting pregnant

– Very few women being recruited on the management track

– Women still being expected to wear uniforms, bring tea, etc

– Many women not wanting the slavish devotion to the company that they see from their men

– Polite female behaviour and language making it very difficult to do business

Nice quote on the last one:

“Talking seems especially futile when I have to address a man in Japanese. Every word I say forces me to be elaborately polite, indirect, submissive, and unassertive. There is no way I can sound   intelligent, clear-headed, or decisive. But if I did not speak in a ‘proper’ feminine language, I would sound stupid in another way – like someone who is uneducated, insensitive, and rude, and therefore cannot be taken seriously. I never speak Japanese with the Japanese man who teaches physics at the college where I teach English. We are colleagues, meant to be equals. The language I use should not automatically define me as second best.”

Polite Lies by Kyoko Mori pg 12