Episode 7: Ara Sagashi – Nation of Nitpickers

When Westerners first encounter the Japanese writing system, which is an application of the much more ancient and complex Chinese system, they look at it from several different perspectives.

In my particular case I stand in wonder as to the aesthetic aspect of written Japanese, or actually one can say that Japanese is drawn in stylized calligraphy.

Most are overwhelmed by the sheer complexity and the enormity of the system, and never bother to learn it at all.

Still many others look upon Japanese with a degree of arrogant superiority for the Japanese to have adopted such a difficult way of writing, certainly in these peoples own mind they think the Japanese writing system is a clearly a handicap that is impossible to overcome.

Learning to read let alone to write Japanese is a formidable mountain indeed, and in my more youthful and immature days, I took the advice of my well-intentioned, but somewhat misguided good friend as he said to me. “You are a Westerner and it is not necessary to learn to read or write Japanese“.

Then, I was thinking to myself, boy is that ever a relief.

And I lulled myself into thinking for a few years, until I came to the absolutely correct conclusion, if you are going to live here all your life, learn to read and write Japanese, and thus I started my journey down the eternal rabbit hole of the Japanese language.

We can say for sure that the Japanese way of writing has indeed been a mixed blessing for the citizens of the Land Of The Rising Son, but with the passage of time we can honestly say that this highly complex system has gained many more advantages which now I believe far outweigh any of its disadvantages.

The fundamental advantage of the Japanese writing system derives, in fact, from its complexity, and the degree of effort and long period of time that is required to learn to read and write it.

This effort, which naturally begins in childhood, has an extraordinary influence on the mental attitudes, manual skills, as well as the character of the Japanese.

All young Japanese must learn patience, perseverance, a considerable degree of manual dexterity, appreciation of graphic harmony, and some familiarity with aesthetic’s in order to master the ideograms used to write the Japanese language.

This discipline and the training Japanese must undergo to learn to read and write their own language is enough to set them apart from most other people, and give them advantages that continues throughout their lives

When the Japanese system of writing, which is obviously very precise and demanding, is combine with other traditional activities that require equally precise form and process, the overall influence on the Japanese character is profound.

To the Japanese, the making of anything requires extraordinary attention to the finest details, which is the primary factors which makes the Japanese among the worlds most fastidious and discriminating people.

Even more so, the Japanese have been conditioned to be compulsive about forms and processes and about identifying and labelling everything in accordance with its status and role, and the word for this characteristic in Japanese is arasagashi which translates nicely into English as nitpicking.

As a real life example, in early years many foreign products failed in the Japanese market place because they were far below the quality standards acceptable to the Japanese, or because they were not neatly finished; for example threads were left hanging from apparel, or the inside or bottom of product were left rough and unattractive.

Steve Jobs was one of the examples of a fan and you can see this reflected in his legacy of Apple products.

Compare the design atheistic of Apple products against the others and you can see the influence of this way of thinking.

The design and finishing stands for products in Japan evolve centuries ago through the apprenticeship system in the handicraft industry.

This approach demands virtual perfection regardless of how mundane the product might be, with the result that even something as mundane as ordinary kitchen utensils were typically works of ceramic and lacquerware art.

Regardless, this cultural conditioning which turns all Japanese into moderate arasagashi has waned somewhat in recent years, but enough of it still remains in the education system in the overall cuturalization process of the Japanese that even the youngest generation has a critical eye that distinguish its members from their counterparts in most Western countries.

If you are planning on selling anything to Japanese one must always be aware of the nature of the Japanese before starting out, and avoid learning about it the hard and expensive way.

Nation of Nitpickers