Everything they know
On Saturday, August 2, 2008 I rode the Narita Airport Limousine Bus from West Shinjuku’s Keio Department Store to Narita Airport Terminal 1 for my Air Canada departure for Vancouver. I prefer the bus to the airport express trains (there are two of them - the Narita Express, or Narex, and the Keisei Skyliner) because it is more convenient and a little easier. On the bus, just as on the train or at the airport, people watching is the second most popular time filler. On this particular day I sat in front of two American businessmen on their way home. I eavesdropped on their conversation for the 90-minute ride to the airport. I was a little put off by listening to their grossly self-indulgent, self-important talk about their Blackberries. I guess Blackberries are indispensable to how many Americans do business these days. Perhaps I am ill informed, but I can’t imagine why people would have and use Blackberries if they have cell phones. If they want to text message, wouldn’t they just E-mail with their telephone like most Japanese do?
I was very much put off by listening to these visiting businessmen talk about Japan, Japanese culture, hotels, food, women, etc. because from my perspective almost everything they said was wrong. Almost everything they thought they knew about Japanwas wrong. Almost everything they believed they were talking about was wrong. The importance of business and international travel? Wrong. The importance of their university educations, their children’s schooling, their wives, wives’ jobs, houses, mortgages, insurance, investments and everything else I listened to them talking about was wrong. That these 30-ish businessmen come to Japan, stay a few days in the Tokyo Hilton, and then leave thinking they know something about the place really annoys me.
They think that money is more important that it really is. They believe in the virtues of the unregulated market and that government should follow free-flowing capital, not the other way around. They struck me as the kind of people who have MBAs - the most over-rated university degree there is - and who know less about running a successful business than they do of successfully selling off a business, or else running it into the ground. I thought, “Wow, American capitalists! Just like on TV.”
So many times when I experience Americans it is like encountering an alien creature visiting the planet. There is a little mix of fear and excitement. I think, ‘Are these the people we hear so much about? These are the Lords of the Earth?’ There is a little thrill when I can go home and tell my wife, “I saw Americans today!” the same way I might report other fantastic happenings, like “I saw a monkey riding a bicycle,” or“I rode an elephant at the safari park.”