Metropolis Magazine
Issue #805 - Friday, Aug 28th, 2009
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Past Issues
804: Drama Scene
803: Heads, Tails & Snake Eyes
801: A Legacy of Emotion
800: Through the Monocle
799: Fighting spirit
798: Taking the Stares
796: Friends Don't Let Friends Become Salarymen
795: Fuzzy Democracy
794: Hung Jury
792: Highway to Hell
791: The Cartography of Cyberspace
790: Train Talk
789: A Confessions of a Teenager in Kimono
787: A Downloaded Question
786: Counterculture Shock
785: The Good Sensei
783: Me, Charisma Woman?
782: Stumbling Block
781: Paradise Lost
779: Half and Half
778: Road Rage
777: Dumb Luck
775: The M-List
774: Compatriotic Spirit
773: The Naked Truth
770-71: It Ain't Easy Being Green
769: 'Twas the Night Before Christmas in Japan
768: Japanese Lessons
766: Bad Credit
765: Chew on this
764: Red faced
763: Down and Out in Tokyo
761: Kicking the bucket
760: Thumbing It
759: Fixing the System
757: Smoke rings
756: Stalking the Predators
755: Banding Together
753: No Competition
752: Sex and This City
751: Let's Shogi
750: The Yasukuni Follies
748: Loud and Clear
747: I'll be back
746: Raiders of the lost SMAP
744: Magical Mystery Tour
743: Murder in Lotus Land
742: Stereotypes 'R' Us
740: The Mother of all Mothers
739: Crimes of Fashion
738: The Hafu Dad Brigade
737: The Green Team
736: Fight Club
735: The Paper Chase
734: The Wind-Up Writer Chronicle
733: Food For Thought?
732: Home and Away
731: The 2008 Nazi Olympics
730: The Two-Wheel Revolution
729: Gimme a Break
728: Power Play
727: Dying for a doctor
726: Footloose Revisited
725: Little Fish, Bigger Pond
724: Japan's Peace Monster
723: Language Abuse
722: Scumbusters "R" Us
721: First Action Hiro
720: The Return of Asashoryu
718-719: A Time to Give
717: My Homelessness Dilemma
716: The 30 Percent Solution
715: Past Imperfect
714: Killing the Kimono
713: The trouble with Tibbets
712: Surfing the Shinto-net
711: Falling Stars
710: Macho Man
709: Bad Impressions
708: Bloodsport
707: Our Last Word
706: Anonymocracy
705: The Air Up There
704: Read the Signs
703: The sky should not be the limit
702: My Year Zero Proposal
701: The Joys of Freeganism
700: Prada for the People
699: The Parasite Country
698: Washed up in Tokyo
697: Birthing's Not for Babies
696: On the Handlebars of a Dilemma
695: My So-Called Poverty
694: Get Out the Vote
693: The Ishihara Mystery
691: Let it Flow
690: Caf Culture
689: Oyaji Fashionistas
688: The Democracy of the Dysfunctional
687: Polite Disregard
686: Venting on Climate Change
685: Silent No Longer
684: To protect and serve?
683: Save the Sanshin building!
682: In the Realm of the Pond God
681: The Open Society and Its Enemies
680: Five-Ring Circus
679: Topic of Cancer
678: Pet Peeves
677: Why I am Banned in Japan
676: A long way to the top
675: Euro-vision
674: Child's play
673: Why I did it
672: I Love Japan
671: Running Crazy
670: Planet Apology
669: A peek behind the curtain
668: Opening Up
666: Pitching a fit
665: All wrapped up
664: Yule Rules
663: Field of Dreams
662: Save Lives, not Face
661: Why Do I Buy a Ticket?
660: Dying for a Nap
659: We, the jury
658: Grain of truth
657: Remembering The Maverick
656: A Rose by any Other Name
655: Heir today, gone tomorrow
654: Manhandled on the Metro
653: The bodyguards of the road
652: Separate but equal
651: Going for the gold
650: Being Audrey Hepburn
649: Not Sitting Pretty
648: Get Smart
647: Through foreign eyes
646: A failing grade in cute
644: Club Lands
643: Sayonara, Hide
642: The JET SET
641: What, me worry?
640: The Da Vinci Load
639: Making Waves
638: Final Cut
637: Resave the whales
636: Soccer Silliness
635: I, Smoker
634: The Ultimate Loss
633: Shoot the Messengers
632: The second sex
631: A Maverick Moves On
630: The curse of Baron Mitsui
629: Waiting for Heidi
628: Memoirs of a fake celebrant
627: Take it Outside
626: Wa? What wa?
625: A well-drawn life
624: St. Patrick the abducted
623: Bend over
622: The (Un)Late show
621: Oil spill
620: Ice Follies
619: Pride Goeth
618: Lost roles
617: Saying it with Cookies
616: Wrestling with foreigners
614-615: Blank Pages
613: Fretting Over Freeters
612: Farewell, Sensei
611: Sympathy for the wild ones
610: Back in Black
609: Out of many, one
608: Youth culture
607: The Russians are coming!
606: Meddle Detector
605: Tokyo, Mon amour
604: The Wailing Wall
603: Getting Abreast of Cancer
602: Willing Ally
601: New war,same story
600: The Big Chill
599: The Gray Zone
598: Jail break
597: Extremely Lost in Translation
596: Wounded Despot
595: History Lessons
594: Valhalla of the Imperial Army
592: Culture crash
591: Complaints Department
590: What lies beneath
589: Strange Games
588: Junk Science
587: The day the invaders came
586: The Test that Drove Me Crazy
585: Smile and say “lesbian”
584: Keep Article 9
583: The Great Divide
582: An ad for all seasons
581: Killing the Golden Goose
580: The other half
579: Give me back my bye-bye
578: Araki in Focus
577: Head out on the Highway
576: The hate that won't go away
575: Here's the beef
574: Yukking it up
573: Squatter’s rights and wrongs
572: The Trouble with Yokoso
571: Fire from the sky
570: Invasion of the gairaigo
569: Good company
568: Find Out What it Means To Me
567: Field of schemes
566: In the Name of Justice
565: Winner or Loser?
564: Staying Foreign
563: The Scare after Tomorrow
561-562: The Spirit of Things
560: War for remembrance
559: Storm damage
558: The Meaning of Godzilla
557: Who’s left to listen?
556: Paying respects
555: Gender Trouble
554: Coming clean at last
553: Go our own way
552: Hits of yesteryear
551: Heir apparel
550: Personal Reflections
549: Nuclear Reactions
548: Article of faith
547: Martyrs for the firm
546: A different anniversary
545: We, the jury
544: Wrongs & rights
543: Moore or less
542: Fair games
541: Developmentally challenged

By David Chester

Counterculture shock
Or, why it’s not always so easy to go home again

David Chester is a professional songwriter, pianist and voiceover actor, and an award-winning screenwriter and short filmmaker based in Tokyo

It starts almost as soon as I exit the plane at Los Angeles International Airport. Upon approaching immigration, staff start screaming at the newly arrived: “US citizens, this line! Non-US citizens, that line!” If this were Japan, there’d be a sign clearly indicating what line is for whom, as well as a staff member to help me figure it out—without screaming at me.

At the baggage claim I notice men in vests haphazardly moving around suitcases so they don’t clog the conveyor belt. They are airport staff, I guess, but they seem unconcerned about the safety of the suitcases, and they curse loudly and freely, laughing at their potty-mouthed jokes. As I observe their antics, I am suddenly yanked aside by an immigration officer who demands my passport. Because of my apparently multi-racial appearance, I’ve been mistaken for Spanish, Russian, French, but mostly someone from the Middle East.

I whip out my passport and say, “I’m an American citizen.”

“Oh,” says the officer, letting go of my arm. No apologies. Nothing. What would have happened had I not been an American?
Akemi Shinohara

Exiting the terminal, I head for the shuttle buses. Before I take ten steps, I am accosted by taxi drivers trying to sweet-talk me into using their services—which I happen to know cost double that of the shuttles. It’s not because they’re twice as good; it’s because any nutcase swindler with a car can try and pass himself off as a taxi driver. When I get past the drivers, the next challenge is finding shuttle service staff to help me. Should be easy, but not only do I have to track these people down, I have to guide them through the process. In all the years I’ve been doing this, I have never noticed any level of friendliness or willingness to assist me without excessive prompting. And I’m paying for this? At Narita, there is always ground transportation staff to help you figure out what to do and, I might add, it is all done with a level of professionalism and politeness.

Back on my old turf, I encounter two problems: supersize portions and tipping. Americans know they are overweight, yet buying a lot of food on the cheap still translates as “getting a bargain.” Which translates into obesity. In Japan, while I was initially shocked at how small portions were, I now feel they are just the right size to help me maintain my weight.

Also, the Japanese take your order, bring your food, and leave you alone. In America, waitstaff, with tips on their minds, feel compelled to check on you every nanosecond and ask, “Is everything OK?” I understand this, as both my mother and sister were waitresses. Of course I tip waitstaff—that’s what Americans do. If I don’t, not only will I get the evil eye, but friends and family will talk about me, first to my face, then behind my back, about what a cheap bastard I am.

So… now I’m fat and my wallet is lighter. Next?

Shopping. Regardless of what store it is, the likelihood of receiving a friendly greeting is about the same as me waking up and having the same waistline I did when I was 22. Most Los Angelenos are nice enough, but for some reason that doesn’t seem to extend to welcoming customers. I am not saying that Japanese staff shout “Irrashaimase!” because they are all sincere and thrilled I am bringing them business. Still, enthusiastically acknowledging customers leaves a much better impression than being systematically ignored. Maybe it’s just LA—so many people who work in restaurants and shops are trying to get into show business, they feel their current jobs are below them. Somehow it all adds up to a lonely, rejected feeling.

After a week or two of these counterculture shocks, I get used to it and accept them as being part of the world I grew up in. I love my hometown: the weather, the proximity to the beach, the chance to sit two tables away from movie stars in chi-chi restaurants. But now that I’ve spent a third of my life in Japan, I can’t help wondering how much nicer it would be if Americans might consider implementing a few Japanese customs and practices that, despite the crowds and prices, make Japan a truly enjoyable place to live.

Got something to say about this article? Send a letter to the editor at letters@metropolis.co.jp.

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