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WIT Life #33: Of Babies and Bongs

************************************************************************************************************** WITLife is a periodic series written by professional Interpreter/Translator/Writer Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken, 2000-03).  Recently she’s been watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese and sharing some of the interesting tidbits and trends together with her own observations. Having recently returned from a trip to Japan, during my time there I was reminded of the cultural differences large and s

mall that exist between our two nations.  Some were simple things I forgot, such as the sometimes lack of paper towels and dryers in the restrooms and the need to carry around a small towel to dry your hands.  Other issues were more deeply integrated into the cultural psyche, such as the surprise that friends expressed when I told them about pregnancy/motherhood here in the States.  I happened to visit many pregnant friends and new mothers, and they get to enjoy a long stay in the hospital after giving birth.  Also, for working mothers the amount of time you can take off in Japan before returning to the workplace is quite generous (for some cases such as civil servants a year compared to the typical three months here), although I think the tendency for women not to return to work after having a baby is more common than here in the States. Anyway, the news this morning profiled a story that fits into the larger cultural difference category.  According to the report, actor Shunta Nakamura (31), the son of actor Masatoshi Nakamura (58) and actress Junko Igarashi (56), was arrested this weekend for possession of marijuana.  At around 3 a.m. on Saturday, Nakamura was in a parked car on a street in Tokyo's Suginami ward.  A policeman on patrol questioned him and discovered a little less than a gram of marijuana in the car.  After Nakamura admitted that it was his, he was interrogated and his fathe

r made plans for a press conference. The reaction from his parents, both significant public figures, at first made me wonder whether I was misunderstanding the story and missing some larger crime involved.  Igarashi said that she would have no response if people blamed the way she raised her son for this horrible outcome.  Nakamura Senior said he thought it was appropriate for his son to both quit his management agency as well as acting as a whole (whether this will actually happen or not is debatable).  When a reporter questioned whether this had been a hard decision for him, Nakamura replied that it wasn't because  that was the minimum that his son should do in this situation. As Japan has less of a drug culture than the States marijuana carries a much larger cultural stigma, as is evidenced by the string of recent sumo scandals, including the one where a young wrestler smoking marijuana at his local gym caused the Japan Sumo Association head to resign.  Of course, the discovery of Michael Phelps's bong picture caused him to lose the sponsorship of Wheaties, but there was a backlash against the harsh public reaction to the picture and though he received a temporary suspension from swimming, calls for him to resign from the sport because of it were not seriously considered. Going back to the pregnancy theme, another issue that is viewed differently in our respective cultures is abortion.  Of course Japan does not have the religious context like we do, but even so I have been surprised by my own friends who have undergone this procedure and not given it the weight it certainly would have received here.  In the States abortion is a polarizing political issue, whereas in Japan my impression is that people don't give it much thought in those terms.  It's not that it's any more out in the open than it is here,  but it seems to be a less loaded act.  Some people have even gone so far to say that it is considered just another option for birth control, as many men do not like using condoms.  I can't really comment on that, but it definitely makes you think about how what can be reprehensible in one country is palatable in another.

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