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"Letter-Letter VII"

Hello out there in the electronic universe! I'll start this with part of a letter from an Australian e-mail pal:

"May I ask you a question? Why did you move to Japan? Sorry, I am curious. If you don't want to answer it that's fine. It just seems like such a big move to go to Japan. I don't think I would like to live anywhere else, it's so quiet where we live and we are within 20 minutes of Melbourne. We have everything we need and love our home, we have a cat that loves our house too and I don't think she would want to move either."

This is a very good question, and one that I'm always being asked by everybody. The short, simple, and honest answer, is that I came because I wanted to, but that's not really answering the question, so let me just say that it was a right brain decision. I followed my heart, and here I am. Which brings me to the part about "I don't think I would like to live anywhere else" in the letter above.

I was twenty-four when I came to Japan, and I didn't have to worry about anyone other than myself, so it really wasn't a hard choice to make, as I knew I wanted to come. It's been quite an adventure actually, but I've gotten to the point where I long to escape the dirty air and water of Tokyo, and to be able to relax, which, for me anyway, is almost impossible to do in this city. So, descriptions of a quiet life just outside the big city are very appealing to me these days.

Now, in answer to LL-4, in which someone from Australia and another person from the UK talked about the image of America as a dangerous country:

"I'm sorry that I haven't replied to your LL-4; I have been getting so much mail lately it's a real headache. Every time I log in there is mail to answer and I'm falling behind just trying to think about what to say. In answer to that letter though I must say your friend from Australia was right unfortunately. We only really hear about the bad news from America, people being shot or buildings being blown up. It's sad to only hear things like that. I have always wanted to visit America. Every country has its own problems; it's just that the journalists do glorify them so much. You may have heard about a gunman that went crazy in Port Arthur in Tasmania a short time ago. He killed about 35 people and the papers and news programs were going on and on about it as though the man had done something really wonderful. I just don't understand why you would want to talk about something like that so much. Last year my husband and I went to the UK, and one night we were talking about crime with the owners of the B&B we stayed at. They said that crime is not reported as much as it used to be in the papers and on the news anymore. They also said that their crime rate had dropped since it has not been told to the public. Now that sounds like a good idea to me. You always read about how serial killers like to see their name in the papers. Well let's not give them the satisfaction; don't publicize what they did."

In Japan there are popular (weekday) half news, half gossip type shows in the morning that they call "morning shows" from about ten to twelve, watched mostly by people who don't work or go to school. On Saturday, there's a nighttime news show that spends about ten minutes to go over the big stories from the week's "morning shows", and they have a "top ten" deal where they start with number ten and count down to number one, showing the stories that got the most air time. It never fails. The worse the story, the more air time. Sad state of affairs, this.

From a Japanese e-mail pal:

"I'd like to try writing a letter in English. Because I hope that my English ability becomes more progressive.

Most Japanese are not friendly to foreigners. And we usually refuse foreigners in Japan or abroad. I think the lack of foreign languages is one of the reasons for our behavior. If we could use foreign languages (especially English) fluently, we might be more friendly to foreigners. Although we have a habit that we don't like strangers. I think we (I mean Japanese and foreigners) should learn each other's languages."

There's a lot to be said for this idea. I noticed that when I began speaking Japanese, suddenly a lot of things that didn't make any sense before seemed perfectly natural, in Japanese. And even now, when people (for example) ask me "How do you say natsukashii in English?", often I have to stop and think, because the same expression doesn't really exist in English, or vice versa. (Actually, I've been asked about natsukashii so much, I don't have to think much to answer this particular question. It's used when you, say, hear an old song that you liked a lot, but haven't heard for a long time, or when you meet a friend you haven't seen in a long time. In Japanese, you just say "Natsukashii", but in English it would become a sentence like "I haven't heard this song in a long time. I liked this song when I was in high school.")

And on the topic of whether Japanese are friendly or not compared to people from other countries:

"I can't say I know any Japanese people but I have found that some Chinese people are similar in the way they act. I used to work with a Chinese man and I thought he was wonderful, we would joke around, share stories and anything else that came to mind. However some of the other staff did not share what I thought about him, they thought he was quite paranoid and that he wouldn't talk to anyone else like that but me. I could see what they meant though, he was really friendly towards me, but was shy around other people. There were other people in our area at work that were Chinese as well, and they were pretty shy too. I can understand that though because I am shy around people I don't know. After I am introduced to a person and I feel comfortable with them they usually can't shut me up, it just depends on the person and the situation as you have said yourself."

I had to laugh about the line:

"After I am introduced to a person and I feel comfortable with them they usually can't shut me up."

I'm the same way. Once I get going, I just talk and talk and talk. (From all the e-mail I send out, you can probably imagine!)

And in answer to my question about whether Americans are perceived as being friendly or not, and also how dangerous America seems:

"Now to answer your questions from LL-6. America seems like it would be a pretty safe place to go to. As you said it just depends on where you go, all countries have areas that should be avoided by tourists or if they still want to go to an area that may be a little rough they should do a bit of homework first. I don't view America as a gun crazy nation but it's interesting to know that guns are more obvious there than in Australia. By watching the news we get the impression that most households would have a gun of some sort, although of course we shouldn't believe everything we hear now, should we? The American people I have met over the years have been very friendly. I can't really say whether they would be more or less friendly than other countries. I have met people from the UK that were very friendly also. Once again it all depends on who you meet and why."

And to jump the topic, about curry in Japan:

"This is the last comment. It is true that Japanese like curry very much. In my case, I cook curry almost every two weeks. But it's not so strange, I think."

Indeed! I don't think it's strange any more, but when I first came, curry wasn't quite what I imagined Japanese food to be!! Now that I've been eating it two or three times a month for twelve years, I definitely think it's Japanese food!

And one more letter, from a university student in Australia:

"Is America safe?

Well as you said, that all depends. Nothing is ever cut and dry. I have visited America twice, and I'm sure it's similar to Australia - only one difference. America has a population about 20 times bigger. So there is a lot more of the best of the best and the worst of the worst. America is a land of great contrasts. Because of this and the capitalistic style of government, you have a very large divide between the rich and the poor. Wherever there is poverty you will have violent crime. Because of circumstances, lack of education and a lack of value on life in general. As in any country, there are areas where it is not safe to walk at night, but at the same time there are many areas with a strong sense of community. America has basically been a very dominant force in the world because of its strong economy and large military force. So of course it is the focus of a lot of media attention. Everyone loves to bag America. And sure a lot of the policies, especially regarding third world countries such as in South America are bad. But basically I'm glad they're in control and not, for instance, the Muslims. Otherwise I as a female would never have received an education, and would still be considered property. Still the world now is starting to divide into blocks (e.g., the EEC, NATO, ASEAN), and because of this perhaps, we will not need one country in control, but instead may be able to strike a balance with each other with each block playing off against the others.

Is America safe? Well nowhere in the world is completely safe. Crime and violence was not thought up by Americans, and will probably always exist. All we can strive for is to better educate the people and reduce the population. Perhaps if we all stopped worrying about which country is better and just worked together to conquer problems affecting all of us (e.g., the environment, education, technology and research), our energies would be better spent.

Is America viewed as a gun-toting country?

Different countries have different laws regarding guns. America is very relaxed about this, but no matter what legislation is enacted, you will always have guns easily available on the black market. America has a high population and a big divide between rich and poor - which is worsened as a high proportion of the poor are of black or Latino descent. This combined with a clause in the constitution preserving the right to bear arms is probably a recipe asking for disaster. Still I'm a big believer in reducing legislation and instead educating the people and reducing the population.

Is America viewed as friendly?

Maybe overseas in Asian cultures but not so much in Australia. Australians are extremely friendly and tend to find Americans arrogant. I go to Bond Uni and we have a high US population of students but I find most of them tend to stick to themselves."

Well, that's "Letter-Letter VII".

What I want to ask here, at the end though, is this. If you could live in any country, would you stay in the one you're in now? Personally, I'd like to have homes in two different countries. Just staying in Tokyo is wearing me out.

So! I hope to hear from you about things.

Lyle Saxon