Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Diabolical Nature of the Japanese Social Relationship

As I am starting to write this entry, it is 4:37 a.m. Japanese time. I am writing to stay awake because going to sleep would only make my situation worse. This is the burden of Japanese social organization.

Let me explain.

Tonight was Saturday night, and as a typical mid-20s guy, I had a typical mid-20s night out. I went out to dinner with a bunch of friends, then we went to a bar for a few beers. Tonight, we chose the ironically named "cannabis" (Japan is obsessed with pot culture even though the drug is largely unknown to your average Japanese person). We made some new friends, and were having fun, so we took advantage of the fact that Japanese bars in this area don't seem to close until you're good and ready for them to close. We finished around 4 a.m. I headed home.

Now, the monkey wrench in my agenda is that I have rowing practice at 7 a.m. on Sunday morning. So what, right? Just skip it. Well, there's the rub. See, I can't skip it for a lot of reasons. We only have practice on Sundays because our stroke needs to get dialysis on Saturday and Monday, but he still shows up every Sunday. Oh, and my teammates are generous to the point of outrageousness to me. They flew me to Sapporo, ferried me around the Snow Festival, take me to parties and dinners constantly, and never let me pay amongst all these hijinks. The one tiny thing they want from me is a couple hours of wattage on the river each Sunday morning. How can I say no to that? I just can't. Can't do it. I've missed a few practices and feel guilty as hell every time.

Monkey wrench number 2 is my trip to Sendai. Immediately after rowing practice, I have to go to Sendai to visit the Tohoku University rowing team and check out their facilities. Their coach is a Japanese doctor who trained at Harvard for a bit, visited Brown and Rhode Island, and loves rowing. He took quite an interest in me when I was throwing down the old 2k at the winter erg race. He has been asking for me to come visit for 3 months. He's always been totally respectful of my schedule and undemanding, but persistent in a way that puts him out on a limb, and the burden of refusal is perplexingly shifted to me. Like, the more I beg off this visit, the more he loses face. It's really an astounding social skill the Japanese have developed, and I can't do it justice in writing.

So here I am, at 5 o'clock in the morning, drinking strong coffee and eating an omelet and waiting for the sun to come up. I would love to go to sleep and rest up after a long week at work, but I can't. I have obligations to fulfill.

I believe that 75% of the famed Japanese productivity is borne out of this complicated and completely unavoidable web of social debts.


Tom said...

Don't forget to bring an omiyage.

Nate said...

Unfortunately, there's no omiyage shops open at that time of day.

Tom said...

Without an appropriate omiyage you will further increase your obligation to him which will require another visit and a much larger gift. He also has earned the right to have you sing three songs of his choosing at his favorite karaoke bar. Just hope there is not a wedding coming up in his family or you are really screwed....

Nate said...

luckily I can respond with the "gaijin feint," a social parry in which I pretend to not understand anything about Japanese social norms and ignore all his obvious cues, thereby sidestepping any further obligation.

Todd Johnson said...

5 Hour Ennnneeergggy!