One thing that’s good about living in a foreign country is the way you come to understand the people around you, especially their 国民性 kokumin-sei. This is a Japanese word translatable as “national character,” and it describes the common elements that make that group of people unique. Every country is different — what makes Koreans and French special is totally different from what makes Japanese or Mexicans who they are. From the Japanese point of view, Americans are always thinking big, both in terms of ideas as well as (ahem) food or drink portions, and my wife (who is very precise in everything she does) is often frustrated by my ability to say I’ll be there in 10 minutes then show up 2 hours later. From where I sit, Japanese are a very patient people, always willing to wait in line for an hour at a popular ramen restaurant, and they dislike confrontation of any kind, happy to wave away problems using the magical phrase sho ga nai (“it can’t be helped”) rather than deal with them head-on. When we went to Taiwan we were surprised to see very few vending machines, which is odd since they’re everywhere in Japan. When we asked our tour guide why this was she said, “Taiwanese hate buying from machines, finding it impersonal and cold. It’s much more pleasant to buy from a real human being in a convenience store instead, where you can have a brief friendly conversation. It’s part of who we are.” As a result, Taiwan has the highest density of conbini in the world, and walking in Taipei about every third business we saw was a convenience store (really). Since part of kokumin-sei involves you coming to know your own country from the viewpoint of outsiders, how would you describe your own country? The Japanese can go on for hours describing (usually criticizing) themselves in this way.
Defining a country through its convenience stores?