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The art of making excuses

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Unswerving cyclist
14 Mar 2002
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Interesting article about shoseijutsu - "phrases and expressions that get you through difficulties and make good impressions"

Most prominent among shoseijutsu are various iiwake (excuses) that go down with everyone as "teisai ga ii (looking good in the eyes of society)." My personal favorite standby is "I have to attend a hoji (Buddhist commemoration ceremony)," used during the times when I'm desperate for a brief holiday. Hoji are held on the anniversary of the death of an important family member, and every Japanese over the age of 7 is familiar with them. We all know the hoji as a long, monotonous day in which shinseki (relatives) gather, listen to a monk chanting for hours and eat cold shojinryori (Buddhist vegetarian cuisine) with bad sake. All this is followed by inevitable family bickering in the drafty zashiki (large tatami mat room) of the temple. [...]

When nursing a hangover and planning to take the morning off, it's best to trot out the old line of "ima byoin ni imasu (I'm at the hospital now)." Somehow, the Japanese like to imagine people sitting on a hard bench in the labyrinthine corridors of an influenza ward, preferably in an odorous and antiquated daigaku byoin (university hospital) where the total average wait time for shinsatsu (diagnosis), kusuri o morau (dispensing of medication) and shiharai (payment) can approach 3 1/2 hours. [...]

The key word of course, is kuro (pain and suffering). The Japanese will forgive most things if they think it entails hardship and frayed nerves. I remember my mom making excuses to her mother-in-law before taking us kids on a beach holiday to southern Japan. [...]

All this reveals how Japan, in spite of its high-tech trappings, has retained the nomin (peasant) psyche, a frame of mind formulated over many centuries that holds that anything that's not hard work, sweat on the brow and general unpleasantness, is sinful. This is why colleagues who don't particularly like each other go out for drinks after work and men get up at 4 in the morning to catch the first train to go golfing with clients. This is their way of saying, "You see? No one's having fun. We're all suffering. And the only reason we're doing it is because it's shigoto (work)" -- which in Japan is the greatest, mightiest, most effective iiwake of all.

=> japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/getarticle.pl5?ek20030217ks.htm

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