Simanaitis Says

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AMERICANS IN JAPAN—1965

JUST AS THE 1853–1854 Perry Expedition to Japan led to the Meiji Era’s assimilation of Western ways, the 1964 Summer Olympics, the first Olympiad held in Asia, enhanced Tokyo’s standing among the world’s cities. 

Encouraged by this, the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan published an updated 1965 version of its 1961 Living in Japan

A lot has changed since 1965, but the ACCJ’s book still makes for fascinating social history. Here are several tidbits gleaned from Living in Japan 1965.

The People of Japan. From Living in Japan: “The Japanese have been praised by scholars, missionaries, tourists, and authors for their cleanliness, respect for law and order, and for the general compatibility of the people, as well as for their courage, fortitude, and industry.”

This and other illustrations by George Stewart from Living in Japan.

“On the other hand,” LiJ notes, ‘you will wonder about their respect for law and order when you see the jostling theater crowds and the utter disregard for some traffic laws.” 

Pedestrians and Traffic. LiJ observes, “The pedestrian  always has reigned supreme, but even now, newspapers are editorializing to the effort that the pedestrian and cyclist, particularly, must assume some of the responsibility in the overwhelming traffic. It is not uncommon for the pedestrian to hold up his hand, palm toward an approaching car, and calmly proceed across the street, apparently with little thought of the scientific fact that it takes ‘x’ number of feet for a car going at ‘y’ speed to stop!”

A Lamentable Practice. “Particularly exasperating and dangerous,” LiJ observes, “are the people who walk well out in the lane of traffic on a narrow road and completely ignore screeching brakes and honking horns.”

LiJ notes that “Japan has the highest accident rate of any country in the world. At present, the only deduction one can make is that they are making every effort to hold on to this record…. To the foreigner, driving in Japan is no pleasure. It is a trial and a hazard.”

Times Have Changed. I have driven in Japan since 1980, when foreign auto journalists were first offered non-test-track opportunity on public highways. I recall that my first such drive was with Mazda. 

In time, I got confident (and automakers evidently got comfortable) in my borrowing press cars for individual adventures. Driving is certainly no more challenging than my keep-to-the-left British experiences.  

Food. “Japan is a paradise for the fish lover,” LiJ writes. “You will find varieties with which you are familiar and those with which you are not, but properly fixed, are delightful…. With the exception of lobster and shrimp, which may be high priced, fish is the most economical product in Japan. Ebi, the large shrimp, are unequalled in size and flavor.”

“Fresh fruit prices in early 1964,” LiJ reported, ”ranged from a high of $1.00 per pound for imported oranges to seven cents each for apples and 25¢ each for lemons. The native tangerine called nikan is delicious and very inexpensive during the winter months. Another favorite is the ‘pear-apple’ (Americanized name) which has the consistency of an apple but a combination of pear and apple flavor that is delightful. Children love it.” 

So do I. My local Mitsuwa Marketplace has nashi (what we ’Mericans now call the pear-apple). 

To quote Living in Japan, “Being accustomed to a way of life that is not equalled elsewhere, Americans may find adapting to the many changes not always easy. But it can be done and is being done by those who use a little ingenuity and initiative along with a great deal of imagination and sense of humor.”

Excellent advice in 1965—and today. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021 

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