“Smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette!”

It is commonly held to be true in North America that the Japanese do things by common consensus rather than by individual effort. Harmony is far more valued in Japan than the singular achievements we so much admire in the Western World. I see evidence of this almost every day at school. Sports Day (Undokai), is one of the biggest events of the school year. Almost all of the events are communal: The races are relays and I cannot think of a single event in which an individual excels. It’s the team that wins; not the star runner. Similarly, when a student is called upon to give an answer in class and comes up a bit short, the student who leans over and whispers the answer in his/her ear,  is never criticized or told to shut up. It’s considered ok to do that: It’s the team.

Although I have not read anything about this and am probably sticking my neck out a bit, it seems to me that with this tacit understanding that Japanese society is working for a common consensual good, comes with a concomitant sense of freedom. An implicit trust suggesting that people will behave responsibly, seems to exist between the government and the people. I went to a Kabuki (traditional Japanese theater)  performance recently. It was a wonderful,interactive performance between the actors and the audience. The very crowded audience  sat on tatami mats and, half-way through the performance, were served piping hot bowls of soup and cans of beer. In Canada red flags would have been thrown down everywhere: The room would have been overcrowded/ beer could not have been served and I think it’s unlikely hot soup would be dished out to people sitting on mats on the floor. In Japan: Not a problem. In truth, there is a degree of freedom the Japanese have that we do not .

Afterwards, I took a stroll to “Nemunoke”, my favorite bar that happened to be just around the corner. As I  sat at the bar I noticed that there were smokers on either side of me (cigarettes are inexpensive in Japan, about $4.00 a pack). Was I outraged? Did I go into a paroxysm of outraged indignation at the thought a whiff of second hand smoke might precipitate an immediate bout of terminal lung cancer?  Not at all: Even though I do not smoke, I loved it. Taking chances, as I did with the “whiff of death”, I paid little attention to the deathly fumes and appear to have miraculously survived. The Lonely Planet guide suggests that people who are averse to cigarette smoke may want to take a pass on visiting Japan. I wholeheartedly agree: Perhaps a visit to Salt Lake City might be a tad more salubrious? Better still; just stay at home. Don’t leave the house.