To: Newsletter
From: Peter Rivard
Subject: J-think--another nutshell


Hi, all,

I loved this just because it so perfectly captures the thought processes of officialdom around here. I actually agree with the decision--the article goes on to say how many times the schools were informed of the rule before the competition, and of course martial arts are all about doing something THE RIGHT WAY ("the way" is the "do" in "Judo"). On the other hand, the reason for the rule is the kind of "how can anyone with four or more brain cells say that with a straight face" statement that one hears and reads every day here. From yesterday's Japan Times (online):

Judo meet organizers disqualify 6 students for thin eyebrows

Saturday, July 13, 2002 at 21:00 JST


UTSUNOMIYA — Six junior high school athletes were disqualified from a prefectural judo tournament held in June in Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture, because their eyebrows were too thin, tournament organizers said Saturday.

"We have banned thin eyebrows because they are intimidating to opponents and cause displeasure," said Tatsuo Kakizaki, who is in charge of judo martial arts at the prefectural sports federation for junior high schools.

Of course, another important aspect of martial arts is developing enough concentration not to be bothered by your opponent's eyebrows. The people behind this ban must have thought their athletes were real sissies if this is the real reason for the rule.

Another very Japanese trait is use some sort of principle of fairness and consideration in explaining a rule, even when it sounds ridiculous to anybody who actually pays attention to what is said, who will realize that the real reason is completely different: "we think the little &%@)¥s are trying to look like Yakuza (Japanese mafia) and that seems pretty sleazy" or "we don't like teenage boys plucking or shaving their eyebrows" or "we don't allow cosmetics or other adornments, and this is consistent with that," or, simply, "because we have the power and we say so." This is a case where no one is expected to believe what is actually said, and the actual message Japanese will read in this (without even registering the words actually spoken or written) is just that the guy is being polite enough to give an explanation--the explanation itself doesn't matter. Again, the meaning isn't in the words spoken, it's in the act of speaking them--the words themselves aren't important, as long as they're in the right form. Unfortunately, there's no way to translate that, and the meaningless explanations themselves look ridiculous in English. Even man-on-the-street interviews tend to read like the statement above, because it's more polite to give a reason than to just say yes or no to a question, but it's impolite to actually say anything meaningful, so people make vague or absurd appeals to universal values. The meaning understood is, "Yes, and I'm being polite by speaking for another 30 seconds even though I don't have anything to say."

Peter

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