[US Vets to Japan] Aileen Kenney: A Tale of Two Countries
I was going to write this post while I was in Japan with my fellow veterans, but I purposefully avoided email and news from home, and did not log into my computer. While we were proudly traveling as representatives of ACYPL to meet with Japanese political leaders, 6,800 miles away our two-party system was failing. It was almost impossible to conduct our meetings while not confronting, in a cerebral sense, the crisis at home. What would be the cascading issues from the shutdown, both personal and international? My sister was furloughed, and still remains without work or a paycheck. As a DC resident, would my trash services be cancelled? Would my livelihood be jeopardized? Afraid of the collateral damage to the world economy, local Japanese leaders urged our bi-partisan delegation to return home and help forge a compromise. Unfortunately, our small group of six barely has a voice in this fight.
By comparison, Japan is a well-oiled machine. There is an inherent trust between strangers that is a completely foreign to me. The people there do not lock up their bikes (I had two bikes stolen just this year), and they are extremely respectful of traffic signals and pedestrian crosswalks. There is also trust that the state will take care of you (yes, they have nationalized healthcare), while people remain accountable for their actions. Everyone seemingly operates with a high degree of integrity (which according to my boot camp definition is doing the right thing when no one is watching), and the Japanese are determined to satisfy or exceed expectations.
This sensibility is pervasive and we saw examples everywhere, but it was especially apparent to me in something as simple as ordering coffee. On our second day in Japan I ordered a quadruple-shot espresso drink and the cashier apparently knew English well enough to understand my order and once prepared, someone had written the words “Thank you!” on the cup. There is a lesson in this brief and gracious encounter, which transcends language and any culture barrier, and it was a lovely foreshadowing of an amazing two weeks learning about Japanese politics and culture. Domo arigato Japan!
Aileen Kenney works in Business Development at the Boeing Company.