Japan has a lot of great things to love about it. There are convenient train systems, relatively low crime, and 24 hour vending machines. These all make life extremely nice for us all, but if I may I’d like to add some tweaks that might make it a little better. And of course these are completely biased and based on my sole opinion, but I thought I would just get them out there in hopes others will help me campaign for their existence.
10. Good Mexican fast food
Japan secretly likes Mexican food. I know because every chance I can, I take someone to a Mexican restaurant so that they can taste the wonders that Mexico has to offer. And a lot of people in Japan say they would like to have a good Mexican place to go to eat Mexican food.
So, why is it not so popular? Why can’t we get a stinking Taco Bell over here? (I’m not saying Taco Bell is the best, just has the most marketing power). Well, they tried in 1988, and failed. My opinion is that they tried a little too early, and there was a bit of branding issue as well.
See, the word taco to most Japanese people means octopus as in takoyaki (fried octopus balls, a famous delicacy of the Kansai region). In Japan, takosu means tacos as in the food from Mexico. So maybe they should have called it Takosu Beru or maybe American Tacosu House? Apparently, it is important that it is Western sounding. When they shortened Kentucky Fried Chicken to KFC, sales dropped for the famous fast food chain. Now, everyone just calls it Kentucky. So, if you happen to be from Kentucky, this why everyone might be offering you fried chicken all the time.
But, anyway, I think this is a great time to reintroduce it. Tacos and tortilla shells are becoming more common place, and there has been more of an interest in foreign things. Also, McDonald’s recently took a huge hit from the whole tainted chicken meat fiasco. I think Taco Bell could sneak in and grab some of the market.
I should also note that Taco Time did have some locations in Japan up until about 2012 or so, but they seem to have all closed up.
9. Entrepreneurial Culture
America is lucky in the sense that it seems to attract all those who want to create something new and make a lot of money. It has attracted some big name stars like Elon Musk (of Paypal, Tesla Motors and SpaceX) as well as some home-grown stars like Steve Jobs. These tech giants have gone on to fund smaller tech companies which generate more money and those companies beget more tech companies, and so forth and so on.
Even though we’re not in the heyday of the Internet, there is still a lot of money being thrown around at people that have brilliant ideas and just need some fuel to power it to the next level. There is a lot of know-how concentrated in Silicon Valley that can help take a small idea and make it concrete, churning out more and more things every year. And these have even spawned off smaller communities in other parts of the country that create the new gizmos and software platforms we can’t live without.
But, this has not really come to Japan. At least on the scale that it really needs to be to effect some change to the market. This is even more odd when you consider Japan leads the world in granted patents (but is #3 in patent applications). They are ranked second (behind South Korea) for number of patents per capita. So with all this patenting going on, they have to be creating a lot of new things, just not new products I guess.
Whatever happened to the ingenuity that gave us the Walkman or CDs, DVDs and BluRay Discs? It seems like engineers and creators in Japan aren’t hungry like they once were to create something new, which seems like a bit of a shame. I’m still rooting for the underdog company that comes out of nowhere to create the next big thing, and with the new found capital begets more little gizmos for us all to use.
8. Anti-ageism laws
Every other week, there is some newspaper article about the insurmountable problem of Japan’s aging population. People tend to get older when you have one of the best healthcare systems in the world, and people have good genes to boot. It just tends to happen.
The healthcare system is so good that people still have plenty of energy and vigor at age 60 and 70. They take up new hobbies and travel the world living it up. So this is obviously the perfect time to fire them from their jobs. I mean it makes great economical sense to let go of your most experienced workers at age 60 for no other reason than they had their 60th birthday.
At least that is what most major companies do in Japan. They force retirement at a certain age, usually 60. The kicker is that these same companies will take on those same former employees as consultants.
And then everyone stands around with the hands in the air wondering what we could possibly do to have a bigger workforce to support the aging population. They are baffled as to why there are so few workers earning a salary, paying taxes, and paying into the national pension. How can this problem possibly be solved?
Easy, make it illegal to fire (and hire) people based on age. Make it based on their abilities not some arbitrary number. Do the same for women. There you go, you probably just doubled the workforce. Is there something I’m missing here?
7. Saying Thank You
Okay, so I know it is a cultural thing, and it is just how things are in Japan, but I’m tired of everyone saying ‘sumimasen’ for absolutely everything. If you hold the door for someone, instead of a polite ‘arigatou’ you are inevitably treated to a ‘sumimasen’ and a bow of the head in embarrassment showing that you made the other person uncomfortable by your act of kindness.
I’d much rather have a smile and a thank you. And, I’ve even heard from a few people living in Japan that they would like to see this, too. But, unfortunately like a lot of things in Japan, it just exists because it exists.
But, I like doing nice things for people and that making them happy. I like making people happy. Is that so wrong?
So, I say let’s try to make the change ourselves. The next time someone picks up something you dropped in Japan, look them in the eye and say thank you and give them a great big smile. Together we can make a change for the better.
6. Banking for the Little Guy
Okay, so I can’t really speak for banking products in countries other than the States, but Japan for being such a big company seems to have abysmal banking options. Now granted if the interest rate in your country is so low that you are advertising returns of 0.1% as the next big thing, you are going to have a slight problem getting people to do some banking.
But, is it not possible to setup some kind of automatic saving program? or make it a lot easier to invest in the stock market? Yes, there are options out there for the little guy, but they seem to be a bit confusing and investing in stocks doesn’t seem to be what your average Joe does here. Whenever I ask about buying and selling stocks people seem to think you have to be very rich in order to do anything. But, you don’t really.
And Japan needs people investing there money to boost the economy and get the money out of savings, which is pretty big drag on the economy at the moment. So if the best you can do by letting your money sit in a bank account is 0.1%, then isn’t worth a little risk to do some trading? I mean companies have to be growing at least slightly better than that.
What would you like to see in Japan? Let me know in the comments below.
Photo by Hiroaki Maeda
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 23:22 — 21.4MB)
Things I really wish Japan had: good pizza, and my #1 by far… a concept of work-life balance!!
And cheap pizza. Why is it so ridiculously expensive? I think a lot of countries need work-life balance, but the concept barely exists in Japan. I know a guy who starts work at 6:30 and leaves at 11. 5 days a week, then has tennis lessons and class on the weekend. Nuts.
When I was teaching in rural Nagano on JET, I’ll never forget this conversation with an ES teacher. Her students asked her about what time her husband came home at night –
On early days, about 11pm… In late days, about 3am. He leaves for work every day at 5am.
Students response: 「それじゃ、帰って来る意味ないじゃん？！」
Totally agreed with them. The teachers’ husband’s job that demanded so much hours – JHS teacher in the next rural town over… If that is the work hours as a JHS teacher, I can’t even imagine what it would be like as a college professor in Japan. I hope they didn’t have any kids because they would basically be growing up without a dad!
Anyways, I really hope something can eventually cause this visious cycle of work non-stop, 働き放題、過労死まで mindset to change!