AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Alarm clocks are for fascists

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, August 21, 2008

A professor must have a theory, as a dog must have fleas.
– H.L. Mencken

HERE IS THE PERFECT ARTICLE for the “I Couldn’t Make This Up If I Tried” Category:

A British study suggests a Japanese government-supported trend for arising early each day might be symptomatic of a revival of nationalism.

Brigitte Steger, a Cambridge University lecturer in Japanese studies, said the preoccupation with awakening early, last seen in Japan during the first half of the 20th century, might be a “conscious and coordinated attempt” to foster national identity.

If we were to draw the logical inference, that would mean: Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and a banzai-shouting chauvinist.

Or that all the rainbow warrior uno mundo internationalists sleep till noon. (Come to think of it…)

Most astonishing of all is that this woman has a gig as a Japanese specialist at Cambridge.

You have to wonder if this is just a ploy to convince the university to schedule her lectures after lunch.

Some Japanese are puzzled why people in the West still understand so little about their country.

Well, this is a good start on an answer.

UPDATE: Reader Tomojiro found a more detailed account of Prof. Steger’s theories, which can be read here. Some of the ideas she expresses will cause your navel to boil tea (i.e., laugh helplessly, as the old Japanese expression has it.) Here’s one example: Early morning yoga classes in Tokyo are a manifestation of the same thinking behind the effort to amend the peace clause of the Constitution.

This passage in particular demonstrates the problem nicely:

People who do not get up early, Dr Steger was told, are even regarded as darashi ga nai – meaning that they do not lead a “proper life” and cannot be entrusted with difficult assignments at work. The pressure on people to get up early, even when they have to stay up in the evenings, has also led to a surge in sales of energy and vitamin drinks to help them make it through the day. About 150 different kinds of drink are available to Japanese customers, with roughly 1,260 million bottles sold annually.

For starters, energy and vitamin drinks in Japan are not a new phenomenon. They were already ubiquitous when I first came here in 1984. So much for the Abe Shinzo effect.

But more important, note this phrase: “Dr. Steger was told”.

Putting aside for the moment that the plural of anecdote is not data, the professor is spinning odd theories based on what someone told her.

Her theories are derived from hand-me-down observations rather than her personal experience (or common sense, but we can dream, can’t we?) She has lived roughly three years in Japan–not nearly long enough–and all of them were spent on a college campus talking to people suffering from the same malady that afflicts her. In other words, she saw very little of day-to-day life in Japan at first hand. Had she done so, she wouldn’t be (well, probably wouldn’t be) producing such blather.

Here’s an idea whose time will never come: Require college professors lecturing about another country to have lived in that country–with no involvement in tertiary education–for as many years as it took them to obtain all their university degrees. That would probably work out to a minimum of ten years.

Since that will never happen we might as well resign ourselves to this: As with the poor, flannel-headed university professors will always be with us.

10 Responses to “Alarm clocks are for fascists”

  1. James A said

    >You have to wonder if this is just a ploy to convince the university to schedule her lectures after lunch.

    Hey, as long as some kids can sleep through her class and get some easy credits for their electives requirement, everything is just spiffy.

  2. tomojiro said

    Brigitte Steger seems to be an Austrian ethnologist (anthropologist) originally from the University of Vienna.

    According to this web site (which is an announcement about her lecture in German), she seems to be an expert about sleeping habits.
    http://www.studgen.uni-mainz.de/851.php

    Her last book which was published in German was “Inemuri. Wie die Japaner schlafen und was wir von ihnen lernen können (Inemuri. How the Japanese sleep and what we can learn from them)”.

    Maybe her next book is about “inemuri” and how it preserves peace and democracy.

    Or sleaping habits and warfare.

  3. tomojiro said

    Found her english profile at the University of Cambridge, too.

    http://www.ames.cam.ac.uk/general_info/biographies/japanese/Steger.htm

  4. Ken said

    This level can make a kind of hit with those who are interested in Japan only through anime, cos-play or so and want to know any trifle things about Japan.
    Well, I should have become the professor of Cambridge if anyone can fit for it at this level.
    By the way, speaking about Japan in knowing manner with experiences of 3 years or so may be in vogue as follows.
    http://www.chosunonline.com/article/20080817000004
    Though it is wonder that the author wrote about Japan but made a news item Only IN Korea.

    Bill,
    Meaningless posts apear lately but can you distinguish the origin of all posts?

  5. bender said

    American West Coast business folks are early risers, because NYC is still the center of it all, I guess…well, West Coast people go home early, too.

    I’d say Japan’s corporate culture to make people overwork till late-night is more fascist than the “early-bird” stuff. Let’s call it the “death owl shift” or something. Seriously.

  6. ampontan said

    Ken: Those are professional spammers. It is a multimillion dollar business, for some reason. Sometimes they get through.

    There is some software that catches them, which is why sometimes comments from people with several URLs don’t show up. I have to go through the spam trash can to find them.

    You would not believe the amount of crap in there. It is astonishing. WordPress says they catch 18 million spam messages A DAY.

    Thanks for pointing out that book. Actually, it’s a bit old, and was reviewed somewhat favorably in the US. Here’s the link in Amazon in English.

    The author has one good point, and that is that what people think of as Japan is what other people have made up about it. That’s what Oscar Wilde was talking about in the quote I put up on the right sidebar.

    There are so many people who come to Japan for a short time, and then go home, set up a madoguchi, and build a career for themselves. A lot of them are college professors.

    Some of them are even in Japan and know some Japanese language. But they “reside” here without “living” here.

    That’s one reason why I don’t read any blogs about Japan by foreigners. Even the ones who reside here.

    The man who wrote that book doesn’t realize that he is one of the people he is writing about. Some of his observations may have merit, but it is just too silly to generalize about an entire country. It’s so like a journalist–taking a top-down view and illustrating it with individual examples.

    Had he actually been more involved with the day-to-day business of the country instead of looking at it like a journalist, he might have gotten beneath his surface impressions. A brief look at excerpts of the book show he is intelligent and has done some reading.

    Here’s two more points.

    1. Wilde said the Japanese themselves help foreigners make up fantasies about Japan. The professor who thinks early rising = nationalism obviously got some of her ideas from Japanese college professors.

    2. Believe it or not, I think foreigners have the same problem with the United States.

  7. camphortree said

    Ampontan
    “The professor who thinks early rising = nationalism obviously got some of her ideas from Japanese college professors.”

    This Cambridge professor is a very independent and critical thinker(笑。

  8. Ken said

    “There is some software that catches them, which is why sometimes comments from people with several URLs don’t show up.”
    I took it for grantd that recent ones were from those who wanted to disturb the spread of truths of Korea or China judging from the adherence.
    For such people who not only translate other’s book into opposite meaning but also edit pseud-original in original language. A perfect crime!
    http://www.seoulselection.com/shopping_book_view.html?pid=50
    http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?_r=2&res=9C02E0DF1139E433A25750C0A9629C94699ED7CF&oref=slogin&oref=slogin

    “That’s one reason why I don’t read any blogs about Japan by foreigners. Even the ones who reside here.”
    It is a pity that there is surely such blogs as seem aiming at just seeking publicity though those are often named ‘Japan-something’ maybe to be googled at first.
    I wonder whether they can earn money by the numbers of accesses.

    “The man who wrote that book doesn’t realize that he is one of the people he is writing about.”
    Wise saying!

    “Believe it or not, I think foreigners have the same problem with the United States.”
    You bet! I have quarelled with a close friend, who lived in Chicago almost 10 years, because he asserted that standard American English was the dialect around there.

  9. Aceface said

    “This Cambridge professor is a very independent and critical thinker(笑。”

    Indeed She is.But then again I can’t all blame her that she is a black sheep in the heard.There has been some studies among Japanese historians and socialogists working on how Japanese starts to create idea of workshift around the clock after Meiji restorations.Some argue that military draft helped spread the idea to the peasants class.

    And there are pioneering works being sone by the Japanese academics.Like 「遅刻の誕生」

    http://www.amazon.co.jp/%E9%81%85%E5%88%BB%E3%81%AE%E8%AA%95%E7%94%9F%E2%80%95%E8%BF%91%E4%BB%A3%E6%97%A5%E6%9C%AC%E3%81%AB%E3%81%8A%E3%81%91%E3%82%8B%E6%99%82%E9%96%93%E6%84%8F%E8%AD%98%E3%81%AE%E5%BD%A2%E6%88%90-%E6%A9%8B%E6%9C%AC-%E6%AF%85%E5%BD%A6/dp/4883030830

  10. The Overthinker said

    It doesn’t seem a controversial or overly debated idea that clocks and such things as railway timetables had the useful side effect of getting the masses to consider such things as time and punctuality and the New World Order of the Meiji. So in that respect they were nationalist, in that they helped further the ideals of the modern Japanese nation-state, but far from unusual or sinister (far far more sinister things were done: keeping time just doesn’t cut it).

    The plural of anecdotes *is* data, if you’re a sociologist….

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