Japanese Protectionism, Latinos in the USA and The Age of Reason

I have to say, I love my iPad.  Everyday I pick it up about 15 times and flick through the various news apps to take a quick pulse of what is happening in the world.  When I tire of the news I can quickly switch to my books or watch a documentary on Netflix.

I wonder, am I getting too much stimulation?  Am I learning too many things?  When I created this blog I desired to share all the wonderful things I learned while living and traveling overseas.  Now that I’m grounded here in California I’ve found I can escape to new worlds simply through my iPad!

And so it has been for the past couple of days I ran across some great new insights as well as news articles that I’d like to add a bit more of an international perspective to.  I’ll number these learnings to keep things organized.

1.  Japanese Protectionism

I like my USA Today app on my Ipad.  It gives me a quick and easy digest of what is going on usually with colorful pictures.  Today, the article “Japan accused of protectionism in wake of tsunami” caught my eye.  As you know I lived there for three years, speak the language and have worked for a large Japanese company.  So I was curious to see what was going on.

Before I give you a summary and my take on it I have to say that although I like my USA Today, it never really gives you any insight.  It is just a quick view of what has happened, combined with a few quotes.  It is not in-depth and what I would consider to be news for the 8th grade level.

Now, as for Japanese protectionism, more than a few American companies are angry about not being selected to help build housing for the tsunami victims.  Basically, the Japanese simply chose Japanese companies to build the housing and even though they asked for American bids, the Americans never stood a chance.  Read the article if you like, but here are my interesting takeaways.

a.  Of course the foreigners would not be selected

– File this one under a crash course in Japanese culture.  Japan is so insular, so isolated and so homogeneous that they will never accept large amount of help from foreigners.  The reason the Japanese themselves give for this is that Japan is an island country and has always relied on itself.  In fact, if we look at history Japan would have preferred to remain isolated until Matthew Perry and his “Black Ships” forced Japan to open up.

Even though they were forced to open up the mentality remains the same.  There are Japanese and there are gaijin (gaijin = outside people = foreigners).  The gaijin will never be fully accepted in Japan and Japan will never change.  If you want to see an everyday example of Japanese isolation just try using an ATM and connect to your foreign bank.  Japanese ATM machines only work for banks in Japan even though in just about every country in the world you can draw from your own bank, you cannot do so in Japan.

Isolationism is the true mentality of Japan and the Japanese.  However, they will not tell you this directly.  The Japanese are very polite and do not like conflict.  Therefore, in an event as enormous as the tsunami it was obliged to ask for a bit of outside help.  Japan accepted only a trickle of the help that was offered because again they do not want to rely on foreigners too much.  So, when Takami Shinji-san who is the deputy director of the housing production division of Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport & Tourism was asked point blank why none of the foreign bids were accepted his reason was “We were overwhelmed,” and “They all came in English!”

All the bids came in English???  

When I read that I just had to smile.  An entire government department is unable to function because of the English language.  I cannot think of a more perfect way to exclude any and all non Japanese.

Now, let’s back up a minute and set all languages on equal footing.  If American companies were really savvy they would have taken the time to have their bids translated into Japanese.  Then they may have gotten their foot in the door just a little bit.

In business school the professors like to throw out that word “global” a LOT!  It is always global this or global that but how many people can really function on a global scale?  It is always one nation, one company, or one individual hiring the locals to do business their way, in their style.  There is very little understanding, cross-cultural learnings going on.  People and companies are only “global” in that they may have once traveled to another country and accomplished a few transactions, but they never really morph into a “Global Citizen.”

For example, if you take a horse and throw it into the ocean it does not turn into a fish.  It does not even turn into a sea horse.  It is simply a horse that comes out of the water a bit wet.

This brings me to my image of a “Global Citizen.”  A Global Citizen is a horse that can turn into a fish when in the ocean but then change back to a horse on land.

So who would I fault in this Japanese bid case?  Well, from reading this Western article one would think it is the Japanese.  But no.  I would fault the Westerners for not being able to change into a fish, or even a sea horse and translate their bids into Japanese.  They should hire some Global Citizen’s and perhaps they would have stood a chance.

I also dock the Westerns quite a bit in this case due to the comments made by the owner of one of the American companies.  The following really stood out for me.

a.) “We didn’t care if we made money, so we were very disappointed to find that Japan wasn’t playing fair.”

– When I read this I had to suppress a very hearty laugh.  It appears that absurdity is matched by absurdity.  Yes, the Japanese government cannot read English and now we have American companies that do not care about profits!

This seems to contrast starkly with the current shenanigans in every aspect of the American economy.  Government = corrupt and wants more tax.  Wall Street is a casino.  Corporations and companies very existence is to make profit!

Sure I would like to believe that the owner of this American company would like to help out of the goodness of his heart.  But you’ll just have to excuse me as I’ve become rather jaded while coming of age in this period of L’hypercapitalisme Americain.  

b.) The American business owner who also criticizes U.S. government agencies for failing to support U.S. export business in an aggressive manner.

– I have to point out that the USA has done quite a bit in “supporting U.S. export business in an aggressive manner.”  If you look above I mentioned Matthew Perry and his black ships.  It would seem the USA was very aggressive, so aggressive in fact that they forced open an entire country.

The reason the USA is not exporting enough is that the Japanese completely whipped the USA in terms of quality product manufacturing.  (Anyone remember the FEMA trailors?  Apparently the USA didn’t do so well in housing victims of its own catastrophe.) In the beginning Japanese goods were considered on par with the Chinese goods of today.  That is to say, low quality, inferior product goods.  But they learned very quickly and eventually the American consumer preferred Japanese goods to American made items.  So it is not the government that is at fault here and if you would like to place blame, you’ll have to blame it squarely on your neighbor.

But that point is moot now since all our American products are now made in China which brings me back to American companies existing to make a profit.  I love it when things just tie together so neatly.  🙂

2.  Latinos in the USA!

The Latinos are coming!  The Latinos are coming!  Check that, they are all ready here according to the Census report and this USA today article, “Census tracks 20 years of sweeping change.”

When I read an article like this I wonder how the Tea Partiers must feel.  I would imagine they would think that the identity of the USA is under assault.  From their policies such as building walls running citizenship reports and limiting immigration one would think they dislike foreigners very much.

On one hand I can understand that the USA has laws in place and these laws should be enforced.  Yet, I cannot support the Tea Party on this because I believe their stance comes from blatant racism.  They are afraid of all these brown people coming to the USA and fundamentally changing its identity.

Now as for my take, I also speak Spanish and spent time in Spain and Mexico.  I LIKE THE CULTURE!  The more Latinos the better in my opinion.

Why do I like them?  Well, I find the Latino culture to be much more laid back and friendly.  In Western culture we are much more, well, uptight.  For the Westerner reading this who has never been to Spain or Mexico it might be hard to understand this.  I don’t mean uptight in a derogatory way really but as you read this blog for international insights I’m just telling you how Latinos may see the “Western attitude.”  Let’s just say that Westerners are a bit more guarded.  We greet each other with a safe distance handshake and it would seem there is always some sort of wall between each other.  Yet, in Latino culture there is no wall.  You get a chance to really open up and if you get along well you may even get a kiss on the cheek!

Now, what really stood out to me in this article is the following.

“By 2050, Americans will look back at the controversies around immigration, controversies about diversity and wonder what the big deal was.”

That is a big fat slab of truth if I ever saw one.

Here we are in 2011 and quite a bit of the population is afraid of losing a white majority identity of the USA.  There is real fear there!  yet, by 2050 a lot of people will have mixed, the population will look much different and people will indeed look back at the current Tea Partiers as making much ado about nothing.  Again, our horse is turning into a sea horse but very very slowly and some people would prefer to remain a horse.

Enter completely unrelevant but entertaining video.

Now time for quick cultural learnings

1. Spanish – In Spanish a “caballo” = a horse.  A caballero = a cow boy.  Funny if we look at it literally in Spanish it would be a “horse man” and in English a “cow man.”

2. Japanese – a quote from an old website about Japanese culture.

“The Japanese would perceive a Westerner who spoke Japanese in the same way as if they saw a horse that could do math.”

Ok, enough of the horse analogies.

3.  The Age of Reason

By “The Age of Reason,” I’m referring to a book written by one of America’s founding fathers Thomas Paine.  In it he thoroughly denounces religion as corrupting and oppressing institution.

Now, why do I find this so interesting?  Well, because the Republicans as of late have been harping on this concept of bringing back America to as the founders envisioned it.

a.) Keep out the foreigners – See above

b.)  Religion – They want the USA to be a Christian nation and believe the founding fathers believed as much.

But thanks to my Ipad and the massive amount of learning I’ve been doing it would seem that two of them ( I learned about just this past week) did not necessarily agree.

In fact, Thomas Paine, with his work The Age of Reason is completely against religion!  I for one agree with him on most of the points he is making but that is not what I’m concerned about with this post.

I just wanted to punch a hole in the argument that America should be Christian by referencing the founders.  But it is not just Thomas Paine.

I am also watching a documentary produced by PBS and Frontline on religion and it’s influence in shaping America.  God in America:  How Religious Liberty Shaped America.


I’ve only made it through the first two episodes but what I found interesting is Thomas Jefferson’s support of the Baptists when the Baptist religion was extremely unpopular among the majority Anglicans.


Because the Anglican church created a lot of revenue for the political leaders and if they were losing members to the Baptist religion their profits were going way down.

Now, let us also not forget that the Anglicans simply became a religion because Henry VIII simply wanted to divorce his wife.  The Roman Catholic pope doesn’t let him so he just creates his own church and this is shipped to America.

Then, these Baptists create a sort of “countryside” religion where you do not need the structure anymore, can be “born again” and get all excited, jump around and cry when worshiping.

But who does Thomas Jefferson side with?  Well, the Baptists due to the founding notion of freedom of religion and all that good stuff.

Now fast forward to today.  Today, the Baptists are no longer the targets.  The Baptists today are the Muslims.  And what do the conservatives do?  Well, they tried to put on a Congressional Hearing targeting Muslims!

Of course we wrote about this when it was going on.  Seems to have died very quickly though.

Congressional Hearing on Muslim Americans

Yes yes, you know the cliché.

“Those that do not remember history are condemned to repeat it.” 

So if we are going to draw parallels let’s call the Republicans “The New Anglicans,” and we can call the Muslims “The New Baptists.”

Well, that is all I have learned in one week with my beloved Ipad.

Just as Thomas Paine’s book was banned perhaps it would do The current Republican Party well to start banning peoples iPads.

By Mateo de Colón

Global Citizen! こんにちは!僕の名前はマットです. Es decir soy Mateo. Aussi, je m'appelle Mathieu. Likes: Languages, Cultures, Computers, History, being Alive! (^.^)/