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Journal: Modernization

Note: This Journal entry was written on September 29, 2001, as I walked on the Old Tokaido. Take a look at that day's Logbook for more.


Radio celebrity Garrison Keillor has a made-up town called Lake Wobegon. He tells stories about the "fictional" happenings there; but these stories often carry more truth than the newspaper.

Once, he said they were going to put in a traffic signal on the main street, so the school children could cross safely. A storm of protest was raised in letters to the editor--100% of which had come from people who no longer lived in the town! "How can you change the sweet, simple nature of our little town by putting in such an ugly, modern appliance?" etc., etc. But their kids didn't have to cross that street!

Nostalgia ain't what it used to be.

I often hear people lamenting that Japan has become "so modern," losing her traditions, etc. Many of those complaining are Tokaido walkers. "Oh, the trucks," they whine, "and the billboards, and..." blah, blah, blah.

Hey, I'm not fond of having my hat blown off every 30 seconds when I have to walk on "modern" Highway 1. But there's something we need to think about: If Japan hadn't modernized, we wouldn't be here.

At what point would you like to "freeze" Japan? In the Tokugawa period, when foreigners were excluded? Or before that, when foreigners hadn't even arrived? But right after the Tokugawa period comes the Meiji--and the beginning of rapid, almost violent modernization.

I have a really funny story about one of these ranters. I won't name names; let's call him "Emile Latella."

"What's wrong with this country?" he says. "They're in such a hurry to become modern and 'Western.'

"For example, do you think Japanese women are fat? Of course not! So why do they need a 'national diet center'? I mean, there's this building near here--I guess it's a hospital--and it's huge! And the sign out front says 'National Diet' something. I wonder how many women a day go there to 'get slim' just because it's a 'modern' thing to do. And another thing..."

"Uh, Emile?"

"What is it?"

"Did you know that the Parliament or Congress here is called 'The Diet'? And that the Diet Building is just about where you said this hospital is?"

"Oh. It is?"


"Well. Never mind!"

OK, I admit that I Latella-ized the conversation. But it really happened. This guy doesn't live here, and had a lot to say about how the Japanese have rushed into the 21st century without any respect for tradition.

Thank you, Tevye. But these people have to live here. So next time you hear someone go on about the trains, and the crowds, and the traffic, and the blah, blah, blah... just remind them that it's part of the package, and if it hadn't happened we foreigners wouldn't be here.

Posted September 30, 2019

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