Rear Ending

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The one way to prevent rear-end collisions in Japan: Stick a “Baby on Board” sticker on the back of your car.

追突

Hey. Get your mind out of the gutter! This is about cars.

Culture Collision

Culture shock hits everyone differently. After all, it’s based around the concept that certain things are exceptional when they should be “normal”, and what is “normal” varies significantly from person to person. My breakfast of bacon, eggs, and toast is totally different from the Japanese breakfast of salmon, rice, and natto. But both are valid and “normal” in certain places.

When we encounter a new culture and become immersed in it, the areas of difference we notice first tend to be the obvious. Things like food, or convenience stores, or how orderly people are on the street. When I lived in China, the first things that struck me were how amazing and plentiful the food on the street was, how push-and-shove the train stations were, and how parents let their children relieve themselves on the sidewalk. The obvious things. You couldn’t be in China for a week and not notice.

Those things tend to be the high of the foreign life experience. The honeymoon period of a foreign stay.

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Some people really elaborate on this curve, but simplicity is best.

The shock happens when those little things–less obvious but more meaningful–turn out differently than expected. When basic aspects of life, like how people react to your humor, or how coworkers treat you in the long run, or how what was once endearing treatment now comes across as condescending. These little changes often lead to a basic depression of sorts, where the new things no longer seem so wonderful or new and the minute day-to-day inconveniences show their face.

Hopefully, the longer you live in a foreign place, the more everything becomes normalized. Like “gun violence” in the U.S., you might oppose it, and perhaps try to stop it actively, but you accept that at the present it is something you have to live with. I certainly voice my complaints about the Japanese work environment, and will do my best to help change people’s attitudes, but I’m working against the forces of the entire society. In the short run, it’s just something to accept as part of the current situation.

The normalization of everything is good too. It means that you can live without being thrown for a loop. That when people refer to things, you know what they’re talking about.

Japan is normal for me at this point. Very little surprises me anymore.

But sometimes… sometimes something comes out of nowhere.

Laws and Values

There are two ways to look at laws:

  1. An expression of the community’s values.
  2. An imposed order to change a community’s behavior.
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Or 3. A way to have a high-stakes conversation!

When people try to change the law, they tend to appeal to one or both of these viewpoints. On gun violence, polls that show people for or against gun control tend to be appealing to the first one. If everyone wants something, why isn’t it law? Others might be pro gun control because they believe fewer guns will make gun violence less common. It doesn’t address the gun-as-solution-to-problems culture that the U.S. has, but it does make an appeal to safety.

Neither of these is inherently wrong.

Certain things the community agrees on do become law: murder is bad, so let’s make it illegal. Stealing is bad, so let’s make laws against it.

Certain things are imposed in spite of community backing: insider trading is pretty rare and unknown in certain segments of the population, but needs policing nevertheless.

The community agreement also has another name, one invoked in regards to “normalcy”. That such things, seemingly regardless of culture, just “make sense”.

Common Sense

Whenever I do get incredulous that something happens a certain way in Japan, I’ve gotten a pretty standard response.

それは常識だよ。みんなわかるんじゃない?

(It’s just common sense. Doesn’t everyone understand?)

Of course, it’s not. It’s not normal where I’m from. Common sense, on a global scale, really isn’t so common.

The specific case that unexpectedly made me furious was being told that in Japan, if you get rear-ended, it could be your fault.

It’s not the first time something related to Japan’s rules of the road shocked me. In the winter, if you’re driving without winter tires and someone hits you, it becomes your fault. Even if it was totally their fault, the fact that you didn’t have winter tires on makes it your fault. I suppose I understood it: they wanted to make sure everyone had winter tires for general safety. It didn’t make sense at a basic level, but on a society level, I understood the intent.

But that’s why the rear-ending thing made no sense to me.

“Well, you see, if you get rear ended, it might be because you stopped on your breaks too hard.”

“Yeah, but,” I stammered, “that just means you were too close, doesn’t it? It’s all about maintaining a safe distance.”

“Is this why you get so anxious when I’m close to the car in front?”

My hands grip the armrests, fingers turning purple trying to mold the plastic into a new shape. “Could be.”

You see, the intent of making an accident the fault of the person who rear ends you is meant to encourage safe driving. After all, a person should “always be in control of their vehicle.” I was taught this in driver’s ed and in countless situations after it. If you slide on ice into another car, that was your fault. You didn’t control the car, even though the ice had a large part to play in the accident. All of this promotes safe driving habits. Keep a distance. Drive slowly.

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Not that that’s a lesson 200cc Mario will learn soon.

In moments like this, my mind goes a little dark. I start thinking of the sinister things. Perhaps a politician rear-ended someone who stopped short. But it couldn’t have been the politician’s fault? After all, he was just trying to get to work and the person in front was slowing him down.

I know it’s probably not so bad. After all, it does make a certain kind of sense. Be aware of your surroundings and don’t stop short when someone is directly behind you. Or it could just be because personal space isn’t as big here.

Staying On One’s Toes

Whatever the case, it did remind me that there’s still things to shock me about Japan. Still the occasional little thing that will give me pause.

And that’s good, in it’s own way. Sometimes we do get too complicit in a cycle of things that is more random than we’d like to believe. It could be that we aren’t thinking enough about the effects of our daily lives.

When you get used to things, it becomes that much more likely that you will get used by things.

Maybe… maybe there is more I can do about gun culture. Maybe I should treat it less like an inevitable force. Maybe.

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