2011-02-25

Positive aspects of living in Israel (vis-à-vis Japan)

It is already two weeks since I returned from Japan to Israel, but I am still living under the "shadow" of Japan, comparing pros and cons of Japanese and Israeli societies. It took me a while to start appreciating Japan, but I would definitely prefer living in Israel because of some of its advantages which are totally lacking in Japan.

During my last visit to Japan I realized how boring life is in Japan in spite of its order and precision, as it is too mechanical and "sterile". Lack of sense of humor and lack of spontaneity really drove me crazy. Upon my return to Israel, I have started enjoying spontaneous humorous talks with owners and workers of grocery stores and supermarkets as well as other stores and companies. Japan used to be like Israel in this respect, at least in the time and place in which I spent my childhood, but in the meanwhile it has become such a boring (and even scaring) place in terms of interpersonal communication. Most of the vernal and nonverbal interactions have become so formulaic, therefore predictable and void of any intellectual stimulus.

Such lack of spontaneity can even be dangerous, as they do not know how to behave verbally and nonverbally in those situations that are not prescribed in their "manuals". Lack of sense of humor is even more scary, as they have no mental defense mechanism coping with unexpected crises.

I think the whole approach to life in Japan is sick and wrong. It makes a list of possible "threats" and other problems that can be predicted in advance and tries to spare people the trouble of coping with them. But we can never predict every possible problem we may encounter in our life. The alternative approach as taken in Israel and probably in many other countries simply train their citizens how to cope with unexpected situations with the help of spontaneity and sense of humor. I am sorry and worried that Japan is becoming more and more "sterile" in this respect, but on the other hand, I am happy that I do not live in that kind of "sterile" society.

2011-02-11

Three-week trip in Japan

This Thursday I returned to Israel from a three-week trip in Japan. I have to say that this was probably the best trip I have ever made in Japan. I enjoyed almost everything I experienced there this time. The only problem I had was that I lost my purse with a credit card somewhere on my way to my parents' place and was left with no cash and credit card; somehow I managed to solve the problem.

The official reason for this trip was to give three talks in Kyoto and Tokyo. Fortunately, all the talks were accepted favorably. I am used to inserting spontaneous jokes in my talks even in Japanese, which is not so "friendly" to jokes; this time I also told ready-made Jewish jokes during my talks. In spite of my initial fear that the Japanese audience might not understand my jokes, they seemed to have appreciated the jokes even more than the contents of my talks per se. This has made me think of giving a talk on Jewish humor in my next visit to Japan at this time of next year; I would like to analyze what makes Jewish (or to be more precise, Ashkenazic) jokes Jewish.

The pinnacle of this trip was, without doubt, a private lesson in Total Immersion Swimming. I was taught the basics of freestyle swimming according to this method. To my great surprise and joy, I could start swimming freestyle after several hours of learning though I had never tried this swimming style in my life. I am already planning to take another private lesson in this method of swimming during my next visit to Japan in order to have my style checked and corrected. This is one of the most amazing and revealing learning experiences I have ever had in my entire life.

It is ironical (or probably natural?) that I had to lose my Japanese citizenship and live abroad in order to enjoy what Japan has to offer. But I am not ready to live there as a citizen, and I was glad to return to Israel. What impressed me more strongly than before about Japanese society is that no joy of life is felt there. Having spent three weeks there, I felt as if my "battery" of positive energy were about to run out and needed to be recharged. The only place in Japan where I could recharge my "battery" was the synagogue in Kobe, where I spent my first Sabbath there. It is so sad that many people in Japan look so sad in spite of all the material affluence. In a sense this material affluence may be a compensation for lack of joy of life.