The Computers Of The Pre-School Generation

You will be totally shocked! You will live a unique experience! You will have nothing to regret! Japan is not like other countries. These are not just some sentences whispered by friends or statements made by colleagues. They were my suppositions before leaving for Japan. They were based on whatever the press and the television made me chew. From early in the morning till late in the evening, these two tell you on and on about the Japanese hi-tech. If you were to believe them, the Japanese are not ordinary people like us, the people from Romania, where old-fashioned ebonite telephones still exist, and where the drivers can still drive on the highway with an iron bar instead of the broken brake. The reality there contradicted me irrevocably. Obviously, I have to admit that Japan is a different world not only from ours, the Romanian one, but from the Western one as well. The computer, for instance, is a familiar reality. At the airport, from the moment you get off the plane till the passport check, you run into computers everywhere. The Japanese resorts to the computer for all possible things. The New Otani hotel in Tokyo has different plugs. Hence, our electric razors cannot be used. Naturally, we enquire at the reception. "Just a moment!" the receptionist asks us and starts rippling at the computer in front of her. In a few seconds her face lightens up. The computer has come up with the solution. On a sheet of paper she explains to us, resorting to the classical drawing, that we have a European outlet in the bathroom. Being very keen on transmitting something to Bucharest through the modem of my personal computer, I appealed to the reception again. The maid will be with you presently! – I was told. Returning to my flat, I had a complete surprise. The maid was waiting for me at the door. By telephoning, by asking me, before long she installed my computer. You meet the world of the 21st century from the first steps you take on the streets of Tokyo. Concrete and glass. Glass and concrete. Buildings only for banks and offices. The centre, especially, is devoid of the domestic life of the European capitals. You don't see anywhere, in the evening, the light of a lamp. You don't discover anywhere a curtain discreetly drawn. Only cold neon, tens of neon lights on entire hectares of buildings cut into modern slices. Having little land available, the Japanese builders exploited every square meter at maximum. The buildings pop up where you least expect, pressing one against the other and rivaling in height. In opposition to other capitals of the world, Tokyo was not confronted with the great problem of traditional edifices, unremitting testimonies of the past. Everything was erected during the years of the "Japanese miracle." Therefore, in Tokyo, you will not see, as in Western Europe, houses carrying the burden of many years, but also of dampness. Here and there, among the cubes of concrete and glass, one can spot a green oasis: two or three trees, sprawling their branches above some tufts of grass. In their 21st century efficiency, the Japanese have arranged tennis fields and lawns up on the terraces of some 40-50-storey blocks. However, something shocked me in Japan. Even from the plane, since I happened to be in a group of Japanese young women returning from a trip to Paris and London, I felt an inexplicable annoyance. Something wasn't right. Something in me was defied up to violence. What exactly, I couldn't tell. This feeling lasted a few days after I arrived in Tokyo. It was everywhere. At the airport, in the street, at the hotel, in the shops, in the offices I went to. It was something about the people. On the plane, the Japanese young women rushed to buy some German watches that were advertised in a leaflet of Lufthansa. One contaminated the others. Hence, I could see some mature Japanese women, citizens of the second economic world power, famous precisely for its finesse artifacts, seduced by the German watches. I left Romania well aware of what the Japanese products meant on the world market. Automatically, I reasoned as follows: in a country that comes right after America as far as economic power is concerned, people must relish in welfare. Instead, I met some modest citizens, poorly dressed, who cannot afford much in life. Their only joy is to work, work and again work, for the firm where they are employed. I was walking on Tuesday, November 23rd, on a day of legal holiday, in a neighborhood with restaurants and shops. I was surprised by the scarcity and gloominess of the people. I passed that place again, a few days later. I happened to arrive at the end of the working hours. There was an indescribable joyfulness. And not without cause. A few days before, people were sad because they hadn't worked. Now they were happy because they had been working all day, they had proven their devotion to the firm, to the Japanese products, to Japan. I found the explanation for my fundamental annoyance in the discussion with Kakizava Koje, a Japanese deputy. I asked him if in Japan there are still forces that are nostalgic for the empire of the former days. For the country that conquered almost the entire Asia. "There are no real forces at this chapter!" he replied. And it is perfectly explainable. The world today is not to be conquered by way of guns, but by way of economy. Hence, Japan needn't occupy the planet militarily. It invades it with its exports, with its competitive products. "Our businessmen are all over the world. Why should we need soldiers?!" the deputy ended pathetically. That moment I could finally account for my violent annoyance. In a country that comes right after America as far as hi-tech is concerned, I said to myself, before leaving Romania, people must have an awareness of individual freedom close to that of the Americans. Anyway, far superior to that of Western Europe. Instead, I met some perfectly disciplined people, happy to live in a community. Some soldiers, in brief. Some soldiers of the 21st century, who fight and die not on the battlefield, but in plants and offices. The products of their hands and of their intelligence are the weapons with which Japan will conquer the world. Not militarily, but economically. Excerpted from: The World Seen by a Ragged Romanian. Satirical Travel Notes from Overseas, PRO, 1999

by Ion Cristoiu (b. 1948)