Sofia Coppola, who owns a
fashion business in Japan, recently captured the
best original screenplay Academy Award for the movie
Lost in Translation—making her the fourth
Oscar-winning member of the
Coppola dynasty, after her father Francis,
Carmine, and first cousin Nicolas Cage. Bill Murray
stars as a
morose and mordant American action movie star who
washed up in a Tokyo Hyatt.
The hotel seems
dispiritingly like every other downtown luxury hotel
in the world. But its Japanese idiosyncrasies make it
refuses to import millions of Third Worlders, so the
robotized many service jobs. This takes Murray some
getting used to. His drapes fling themselves open in the
morning. In a hotel gym devoid of personal trainers, he
finds himself in the clutches of an unstoppable and
hyperactive exercise machine shouting indecipherable and
no doubt deranged commands.
But, of course, it`s the puzzling uniqueness of Japanese
life that helps make Lost in Translation so
entertaining. You leave the theatre thinking that a trip
to the Orient would be disappointing if it wasn`t a
little disorienting. Isn`t travel more fun when other
countries are different from your own?
In a lot of small ways, Japan is indeed very different.
Consider professional nail care. Here in the U.S., you
can head down to your local inner city and find dozens
of storefront nail salons. The first thing you`ll notice
is, to paraphrase
Aretha Franklin, the sisters are not doing it
for themselves. No, even though there are plenty of
unemployed women in the neighborhood, the salons are
staffed by East Asian ladies who have come
all the way across the Pacific to paint the
fingernails of the black lady customers for less than
cousin LaQeesha would charge.
Now that`s diversity!
Except that, one of these days, you`ll be able to go to
any formerly exotic place on earth—Zanzibar, Istanbul,
the Galapagos Islands, it won`t matter—and see the same
old thing: Korean, Chinese, or
Southeast Asian immigrant ladies polishing nails.
But not in Japan. The Japanese voters think their
crowded enough already without importing human nail
polishers. And the
Japanese government is mysteriously
enforce the will of its people.
So the Japanese have done something that by our
standards is weird, even comical. They`ve invented yet
another kind of
vending machine, this one for doing your nails. You
stick your finger in, and it gives it back (you hope)
with the nail painted to your specifications using
inkjet printer technology.
New York Times
reporter James Brooke was recently shocked, shocked
to discover that the Japanese people`s famous
fascination with robots and automation stems from their
"xenophobia." [Japan Seeks Robotic Help in
Caring for the Aged
Mar. 5, 2004 NYT ]
The labor-saving device that gave Brookes the willies
was Sanyo`s new clamshell-shaped automated bathing
machine. It allows frail people confined to wheelchairs
to roll in dirty and roll out clean and dry.
"Futuristic images of elderly Japanese going through
rinse and dry cycles in rows of washing machines may
Yet the machine doesn`t seem to give the shivers to its
users. Toshiko Shibahara, an 89-year-old resident of a
Japanese nursing home told Brooke, "You don`t get a
chill. You feel always warm." Likewise, Kuni
Kikuchi, an 88-year-old in a wheelchair, noted, "It
automatically washes my body, so I am quite happy about
it. These bubbles are good for the massage effect."
It`s easy to imagine other advantages. A roll-in machine
means that attendants don`t have to manhandle the
elders` wizened naked bodies into the tub, which must be
a relief to all concerned. Greater automation means
bathing times are less dependent on the staff`s work
schedules, which can be a blessing to old people
struggling with incontinence. Finally, as this kind of
technology progresses and becomes cheap enough, the
elderly can stay in their own homes longer before
finally being bundled off to nursing homes.
But the NYT
can`t be bothered with what a bunch of old ladies
want, not when it has important brow-furrowing to do
over the dark urges behind the Japanese drive to empower
their elderly. Brookes writes:
"But [these bathing machines] also point to where the
world`s most rapidly aging nation is heading. Leaders of
the Philippines and Thailand … suggest a different
route: granting work visas to tens of thousands of
foreign nurses. But that is unlikely in a nation that …
in the last decade has issued about 50,000 work visas a
year… Building on such xenophobia,
Japan`s nurses` unions successfully lobbied
lawmakers of the governing Liberal Democratic Party in
late February to block the admission of foreign doctors
My question: doesn`t the uniqueness of
Japanese culture add to the diversity of the world?
And aren`t we supposed to
Oh, excuse me, that`s the
wrong kind of diversity. We are supposed
to celebrate the right kind of diversity—the kind where
each country becomes so
diverse in population, its
culture so diluted by immigration, that all
countries are eventually the same.
How silly of me to forget that the ultimate goal of
"diversity" is global uniformity—and monotony.
[Steve Sailer [email
him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and