Bill Lise

Things Japan Gets RightRequired Reading for Chronically Disgruntled Foreigners Here

by Bill Lise

Having lived here in Japan for over 45 years (this time), I have seen some things that Japan could do better, but have also seen many things that Japan does better than the home countries of some chronically disgruntled foreign residents. Here are just a few.

Almost No Guns

In my decades of living here, I have not once directly laid eyes on a gun not being carried by a police officer. Ordinary citizens do not own guns, do not want or think they need to own guns for their protection, and do not think that the government is unfairly keeping them from owning guns.

The extremely few guns in private hands are limited to hunting rifles, and they are required to be kept and managed in a way that would make random shootings and planned mass shootings impossible. Japan got this right.

Perhaps more importantly, however, Japan does not have the murder culture of the US, nor does it have the great divisions—racial and ethnic—that draw the lines between us and them in the US. The overwhelming portion of the population feels that they share common interests with their neighbors.

Secular Society

Whereas the US has loads of Bible-thumping "Christians," you will have a hard time locating a devout Buddhist or Shintoist here. Except for certain specific events and days (new years, weddings, and deaths), those religions do not intrude themselves into the lives of the vast majority of people here, who generally do not have anything that could be described as a spiritual life or religion.

Yes, Japanese people might occasionally go to a Buddhist temple or Shinto shrine, but the beliefs and teachings of those religions do not affect political beliefs or everyday life in any noticeable way.

Low Crime Rate

You are much less likely in Japan than in the US, for example, to be harmed on the street—any street in any neighborhood—by someone you do not know. And there are usually only bewteen five or ten gun murders in the entire of Japan each year. That's so low that some people in the US don't believe it. And it's so low that Japan is often left out of international surveys of gun crime. They're off the scale—at the bottom.

Excellent Public Transportation

This is so well-known that it probably doesn't need to be mentioned. I included this partly because the wide availability of public transport has some knock-on effects on society.

Drunk driving is much rarer here than in the US, for a good reason. If you are caught drunk driving you almost always lose your license—at least temporarily and sometimes permanently—and are not granted a restricted license to commute to work and are not allowed to drive if you can pass a breathalyzer test to start your car's engine. You are out, that's it. You can take a train or bus; that is possible for the vast majority of the Japanese population; not so in much larger areas of the US.

Excellent Government Health Insurance and Health Care

Almost everyone here in Japan has government health insurance or semi-governmental insurance linked to their job, but portable if they lose their job or change jobs. The premiums are keyed to income. And a special system to handle large medical expenditures places an effective cap on the patient burden that means it is nearly impossible to have to declare personal bankruptcy because of medical costs.

Since just about everyone has health insurance, Japan does not see the US phenomenon of uninsured people going to the ER for things that are not emergencies. The medical system here works very well.

Seismic Intensity Scale

Whereas in the US and many other places the magnitude of an earthquake will likely be reported in the news, the magnitude is a measure of how large the earthquake itself is, and is unrelated to the amount of shake, which differs depending upon location.

Japan has traditionally used seismic intensity, which represents the degree of shake at specified locations, to report the seriousness of earthquakes. The system is explained on a webpage of the Japan Meteorological Agency.

The Japanese system of reporting seismic intensity is much more useful than reporting the magnitude; it is much more important to know how much a particular location shook than how big the earthquake itself was. That said, in recent years Japan has taken to reporting the magnitude of earthquakes as well, thereby requiring news reports to add a formulaic explanation that magnitude is the size of the earthquake, not the amount of shake.