Thursday, November 26, 2009

So you think you can be a Japanese?

Everywhere you go, you’ll definitely meet someone who wants to be a Japanese. No, don’t get me wrong. The person isn’t coveting the citizenship like how Malaysians would for a Western country’s PR, but more to be one. I think yea, they’re cool because their innovative thoughts are leading in endless fields. But, at the end of the day, there are both the good and bad sides to it. So to quench the thirst of those who want to feel like a Japanese, here are the 30 things you must comply to. Scoring 100% tells me you are a cheat because unless you ARE a Japanese, a perfect score is impossible (yea, yea, you can try). But scoring anything around 20 is pretty high. 10 over 30 is well, you’re 1/3 Japanese because that’s what it says! Anything below that, sorry buddy, you’ve got to try harder. Ganbatte ne.

So here goes.

1) Wear layers – I guess this really depends on the climate of your country but well, get creative. That’s what it’s all about, no?

2) Sink or swim – there are approximately 127 million Japanese living on those few islands. A lot of space for you to stay in the middle ground and hide but if you really want to be a true blue Japanese, you’ve got to compete, man. Time and tide wait for no kick- back-relax-have-a-beer kind of attitude. Down under and Up north I realize, are two very different places.

3) Support local economy and buy Japanese – that’s how the Japanese will never evolve out of their culture. Because believe it or not, their culture is commodity. That’s why you have Japanese kimono prints on eco bags. That’s why Malaysia’s strongest survived ‘culture’ is batik (though there is contention on the origins of it but that’s a different story all together). Sepak takraw? Gasing? Wau? Get what I mean? It’s sad but, commoditizing culture seems to work.

4) Mix classics with contemporary – you’ve got to absolutely own a piece of classic clothing item – Scottish tartan, Oxford shirts, brogue shoes, Burberry print, whatever. And then wear it with something modern like a pair of slim cut jeans.

5) Strike plural perfection – it’s all about individualistic choices. There are not 50 choices of neckties, there are 500 to cater to every stratum of the society and every archetypes of people in one shop.

6) Don’t complain, just do it – even if you do, do it quietly, under your breath, in the storeroom, in the lowest basement, to the mop. To be Japanese, you need to conform. And conforming means you don’t necessarily enjoy what you do though you still have to do it. With a smile. And a zest. That shows you’re absolutely most happy to perform the task, however horrendous it is.

7) You’ve got to own at least one thing of these colors – electric blue, crimson red, mustard yellow and jade green. And then add on layers (please refer to number 1).

8) Work till dawn – or at least think till dawn. They are always thinking. Why? Please refer to number 2 and 5.

9) Be a socialist – hey if you’re Wallstreet and all that, this place is not for you. Being Japanese means you have to put the priority of your collective self (your nation, community, company, etc) before you. I think many people will fail at number 9. Au revoir!

10) Appreciate design or at least learn how to – right down to the pencil and eraser and underwear you use. No one’s looking (well, at least most of the time) doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be wearing well-designed underwear.

11) Work and rework and rework and rework – in product manufacturing especially, this really means that perfection is an illusion that sits in the realm of infinity because your consumers will evolve and evolve and evolve.

12) Walk – a lot and to everywhere. Take out your bike and stop complaining that it’s hot and unsafe. I’ve got knocked down thrice in Japan while cycling but NEVER in Malaysia (yes, I once owned a bike in Malaysia too).

13) Service with a smile – and with such enthusiasm that either makes customers feel like they’re royal or simply just to scare them away.

14) Study everything you need with regards to what you do – pick up a shirt in the store and you’ll trigger an encyclopedic journey of how the style came about this season, what was the inspiration, who designed it, what was his inspiration, where the buttons came from, how you should wash it and how you could trick it out by matching it with different items, etc. You see a salesperson in Malaysia and ask for a size, you get: Sorry, no have.

15) Details, details, details – if you truly think about it, our world is really made up of quite few simple ideas but what differentiate you from Jo next door, is the detailed thought that you put into whatever you do. A classic oxford white shirt with red stitching and white stitching, whether they are close or spaced out, are essentially DIFFERENT things. If you can’t figure this out, then you’re the weakest link at number 15.

16) You don’t have to be born with good looks but it’s pertinent that you try – not all Japs are good looking but they’ve invested a lot (time, effort, money, etc) to look the way they do. If you don’t have time, effort and money, stick to your own citizenship.

17) Research and reference – everything that can be tested must be tested. Research is a very dynamic business in Japan because everything must be measurable, reported and documented. That is only how the society can improve. Nothing that I know of is properly and consistently researched and documented in Malaysia. The census is only done once every 10 years. ONE DECADE! The most consistent one being MCMC’s internet study. Even that, the numbers are inaccurate upon further research. Accuracy is the name of the Japanese game.

18) Be punctual – duh.

19) Eat well and appreciate all 3 meals a day – appreciating good food is something which I think most people can do. So, I think everyone will pass number 19.

20) Draw your inspiration from other richer cultures – European culture is something which the Japanese have always aspired to. The German, French, Italian, and upcoming the exotic mystery of Eastern European are some cultures the Japanese tinkle with to create a whole new hybrid of EuroJap way of life which as I mentioned before, can be bought as commodity – be it a house, a piece of cake and even socks.

21) Own at least one expensive suit – and wear it even if you have to wrestle with sardines to take the train. Yes, even when it’s rainy and wet.

22) Listen to your superiors and learn to behave – these are the ingrained cultural norms that you must never break or risk being doomed to be an eternal outcast.

23) Stay cute or try to – no matter if you’re male or female or transgender, no matter if you’re a child, parent or grandparent, no matter if you’re boss or slave. Cute is the most overused word in the Japanese vocabulary in a day.

24) Never say no – ask any non-Japanese businessman dealing with the Japanese ones and you’ll know what I mean. You should never say no to any request. You should listen, think, make some mmm mmm sound and then say maybe. If the gaijin (foreigner) persists tomorrow, repeat steps all over again. Until he gives up and gets that it’s probably a NO.

25) Ironically, don’t stand out – you will function best collectively. Wanna see a headless chicken Japanese? You single them out of the system.

26) Wear a mask – this is to protect other people from your germs. On the contrary, Malaysians wear masks to protect themselves from other people whom they think might be contaminated. Tsk tsk tsk.

27) Wear cool glasses and cool shoes – even the minority of uncool Japanese wears cool glasses and cool shoes. Muji ones are very affordable.

28) Do your hair – if you think the only style short hair has is… short, then you are wrong. In this land of hair-dos, you’ve got to have the right cut. Most of the time, I’ve got this out-of-bed hair look, as in the most literal sense. So I myself may not pass number 28. Sumimasen.

29) Carry a man bag – well this is totally optional. But hey, if you can carry it off, then carry it on!

30) Consume, consume, consume – what is Japan without the retail experience. Shop till you drop. Shop like there’s no tomorrow. Feast your eyes on all those well-designed and superbly crafted whatevers that you know you don’t need, until now. Can you shop like a Japanese?

Well, there you are. Thirty defining points on whether you make it as a Japanese. I probably score one or two out of all of the above which is why I should remind you of nothing short of a true blue Malaysian. Because I am anak Malaysia. Was, is and forever will be.

The above writings are purely purely purely for entertainment purposes only. Please don’t take it to heart whether you ARE a Japanese or one who is really trying hard to be one or one who just got offended for no particular reason at all. I’m typing this on a ^$*!@# 7-hour flight. Give me a break, what would you have me do? Don’t write hate comments on this post. I’ll delete them. Trust me. Try me.