You know you’ve lived in Japan too long when you’re incapable of pouring your own beer. It’s true — in Japan it’s customary for friends to pour beer or sake (sah-KAY) for each other, and “lifer” gaijin like me get so used to this that anything else becomes impossible. Pouring your own drink is called “tejaku,” and it’s rarely done in mixed company — although in enka, the traditional sad music of Japan that fills the same niche as country music in the U.S., the image of a broken man pouring his own sake while he cries his eyes out over his lost love, is quite common.
Living outside of my home country as I do, it’s sometimes possible to see things I wouldn’t be able to see otherwise. Sometimes I feel the U.S. doesn’t look as hard as it could at other countries when trying to come up with solutions to its problems. Japan has an annual tax on cars that’s based on engine size that makes a lot of sense — if you drive a car with a huge, inefficient engine, you’ll pay around $800 a year, but for drivers with small, efficient engines the tax is just $30, and hybrid cars are free. And when the topic of health insurance was big in the U.S., the model that Japan uses — a health insurance system with a 30% deductible that’s available to everyone without insurance through their place of employment — didn’t come up at all. Now, some people are discussing how to improve schools in the States, and I fully expect there to be little discussion of Japan’s approach to education. The one thing that Japan does differently is create competition among students: competition to have the highest score in the class, competition to get into a good high school or university, and so on. By and large, Japan’s competitive education system creates students who are serious about setting goals and working at them over several years, and because they spend more time studying, they have less time for getting into trouble. Since the best national universities are also the most affordable, it creates a class of people who succeed through their academic skills and hard work, not because their family had money, which is a great idea for every society to strive for.
I’ll be going to Kyoto over the weekend with my family, so we’re doing a double-strength product update for you today. First and foremost, we’ve got the long-preordered Battlestar Galactica toys from Konami, and they are really something special for fans of the original series. In the tradition of Konami’s previous sci-fi toy sets, this new set of all the vehicles and Cylons from the 1978 series — known in Japan as Space Aircraft Carrier Galactica — are extremely well made, a very special item for collectors. We’ve got both the basic set of 5 toys and the three “rare” items — the Atlantia, the Pegasus and the gold Cylon commander — available on the site. Since we know some fans will want extras of their favorite ships, such as sets of three Cylon Base Ships for display, we’ve posted individual items to the site too, with discount for buying multiples.