An Algerian in Japan


I created this post and the page remained empty for at least five minutes. I didn’t know what to write which would be a typical Algerian’s view on Japan. The Land of the Rising Sun is indeed so different from anywhere and any foreigner may come up with impressions similar to mine.
But I am not in the mood to write about Algeria so I kind of have no choice.

P1000630Like many Algerians, my first introduction into the Japanese world and culture was through anime. I also remember Takeshi’s Castle which gave us another view on the Japanese people who appeared funnier than one might have expected. It is by the way paradoxical to find foreign items such as Japanese anime and Indian Janitou among the national memories my generation shares. Electronic devices and brands such as Sony, Sharp and Panasonic were what represented the Japanese identity to me.
Later on, I discovered Japanese literature. Among others, Eiji Yoshikawa‘s Musashi, Yasushi Inoue‘s work and, more recently, Death of a salaryman, a novel by British Fiona Campbell, gave me a valuable perspective on Japan and its people.

My last visit to Japan was some months ago. I have to start with the earthquake. I have witnessed many earthquakes in Algeria with magnitudes around 5, but I can tell you that an earthquake of 7.3 magnitude when you are in the 16th floor is something else. The building swayed for several minutes; the Japanese next to me were all on their laptops looking for information, and I was busy saying my shahada. Two hours later, elevators and metro lines were on again. One cannot predict or control such natural events but the way these people adapted is fascinating.

As often when I am away, my major concern is food. I went once to an Egyptian restaurant. It’s funny, I had to go to Japan to eat Egyptian food. When he saw me and knew I was Algerian, the owner admitted not all the food was halal so I ate fish like anywhere else. I had to speak in Standard Arabic as he was unable to understand the Algerian accent and I am not capable of speaking in Egyptian. We talked about the Egypt/Algeria football crisis; I didn’t tell him it was behind the creation of my blog.
Another day, the Malaysian owner of a restaurant kept repeating the food was halal but neither his face nor his restaurant convinced me.

I know this post might start to look like season 5 of the famous Ramadhan program Khawater but I have to mention the Japanese organisation. Around 36 million Japanese live in Tokyo and its suburbs. One can feel the big number but things are so organized that they seem to be really smooth. Every morning, in Shinagawa Station, I stood aside and watched all these men and women, probably in thousands, leaving the metro and heading to work. All you hear is the sound of their regular footsteps. The way they respect the waiting lines, the few metro lines with wagons reserved to women (I never heard anyone say this is a backward mentality of oppressed women) are but some noticeable points.
We are 37 million Algerians and I can imagine what would happen to Tokyo should we all go there and replace its inhabitants.P1000634

But the Japanese society is not doing well. Its population is decreasing, the economic crisis is still felt heavily, elders have to work and many do lose their jobs. Pachinko machines (see picture) are busy as shown in Campbell’s novel.

Anyway, I am not sure where I am heading with this post so I better end it soon. Unlike China, Japan seems to have a found a way between modernity and technology and tradition. Perhaps because this modernity and technology is their own product and is not imported like in our case. It’s a sort of continuous evolution. And speaking of importations, since it seems we are condemned to import anything, it might be good to import some Japanese, people and leaders. The recent apology of the Japanese finance minister to his people reminded me that none among our rulers has ever apologized or even admitted their mistakes for ruining our country. Also, it might be a good idea to import Japanese toilets.

23 thoughts on “An Algerian in Japan

  1. Haha “the Japanese next to me were all on their laptops looking for information, and I was busy saying my shahada”. An earthquake of this magnitude must be quite an experience.

    Where did you go in Japan? Tokyo only and for how long?

    The novel by Ryu Murakami “In the Miso Soup” is excellent, and disturbing. I wonder what you’d say about the nightlife and the people you witnessed compared to what the novel recounts/reveals.

    I was brought up with so many Japanese anime, thanks to Dorothee. Les Inconnus did a spoof of Bioman (Biouman) in which one character says “this rubbish dialogue is only created for exportation to France”. It’s one of their funniest spoofs.

    I wonder, through what lens/vehicle are Algerians known abroad? (can’t be just couscous…)

    • Only a few days unfortunately spent between Tokyo and Osaka.

      Haven’t read “In the Miso Soup” and I am not a night-life man so I cannot really tell. But I usually can’t sleep at all because of jet-lag so I wandered outside by night and I found Tokyo among the liveliest cities I got to visit.

      I didn’t watch French TV before I left Algeria. I only heard of Dorothee and les Inconnus are really inconnus to me🙂
      I guess Japanese anime is the Japanese reference for any non-Japanese. I wish Algeria had something like that, an identity reference which would be known everywhere… It saddens me but couscous must be discarded as there is the Moroccan, the Tunisian, etc.

    • Algerians are known abroad though primarily through Zidane, Couscous, Other Algerian Footballers, Possible run-ins with our community thugs.

  2. Japan is indeed a fascinating country! The last time I have been there was in the end of the nineties. I spent almost three weeks between Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo. People are generally very kind and a bit shy. I found that many things I’v heard about japanese were stereotypes. Since i like their cuisine and i am less demanding regarding the Halaliness of food than you, i have tried and loved the traditional restaurants for their meals (i like sushi and yakitori…) with their ceremonial way of welcoming and saying goodbye. But they are much more occidentalized than what is said about them, especially young people. The number of macdonald’s like restaurants is impressive also their fascination for everything that is american. The sense of discipline is indeed very high. It is visible even in the organized parade of taxis taking home drunk men getting off one of the numerous bars where many of japanese males go after work. Alcoholism is normal for men. I remember a moment of “collective” loneliness with two other guys when we have been to Haagen Dazs shop to eat an ice cream . The customers were exclusively females. Ice cream “machi rejla” would say a japanese man but whisky and Saké are …

    • Thanks Chatnoir for sharing. I’ve seen one or two documentaries on Japan and youths looked indeed very different from their elders. Also fast-food restaurants, malls, typical to Western consumerist model. Globalization I guess.
      But even so, I felt Japan retained a bit of what it was, even in the big cities, unlike countries such as China or Korea where you have to go to the countryside to have the chance to see things typical to these countries.

      Lol@collective loneliness. I like ice cream; thank God Algerian redjla standards are different🙂

  3. I have been hesitating for a while on whether to share with you the one experience I had with Japanese businessmen right before the mess that followed the 1988 uprising.

    Negotiations with Japanese businessmen are quite lengthy and peaky. It was quite an odd experience compared to the ones I had with the Frenchs, Dutch or even the Germans.

    Here is in substance the answer of one of the Japanese negociators when I asked why does it take so much time and so many Telexes with Japan?:

    ‘’Mister, if we sign for an agreement, we are confident that every person involved from our side is fully aware of its task and its responsibility on this project and has aprouved beforehand to engage fully ”.

    Indeed Japanese people place great importance on group’s harmony. Between what might be the best solution and another less perfect one, their managers will favor the second if it has the largest support. This is not democracy, nor good management practice. Valuing the common greater good: The human resources! Plain old common sense or not?

    • They have their priorities right. The most important asset a business has are the people working in/for that business. They are the business and they will make or break it.

    • Thanks eljin for sharing. I am not so sure about your last paragraph; I think things have changed now and the differences with European/American firms is not so big.

      I remembered some years ago we used to have weekly calls with our Japanese partners and they were long and boring. One of our guys once left before the end but, unfortunately, the Japanese asked him a question which he couldn’t answer since he wasn’t there. They immediately sent an email requesting to change the conf-calls into video conferences so that they could see us all and be sure nobody leaves🙂

      • It is obvious that the world went through tremendous changes at an ever accelerating pace during these last 25 years. We are indeed witnessing some cultural cross-breeding, sort of, through the planet. Sadly, the culture of western materialism is one-way and is rightfully felt as an invasion by groups of people that are put down or culturally weakened for whatever reason.
        You are right when you say that:
        – ”Japan seems to have found a way between modernity and technology and tradition. Perhaps because this modernity and technology is their own product and is not imported like in our case. It’s a sort of continuous evolution.” –
        I think that it is, also, because the spiritual culture and traditional behaviour of Eastern Asians are yet strong. Japan was not defeated militarily if not the two atomic bombes which forced its humiliating surrender. Despite of that, their spirit remained high and they came out stronger.
        Quid of our case? Well, a lot has been said many times and again. History tells us how much an oppression of any kind is damaging to people’s spirit and their well being, but the oppression of religious m_e_d_i_o_c_r_i_t_y is the worst for it is a ” mental genocide ”.
        The ”overall performance” of South Korea and Vietnam might be worth looking at from this religious-cultural perspective, where the group, not the individual, is paramount to everything.

        • eljin,
          I do not disagree. I’d just add a nuance in that generalized mediocrity is behind our situation and religious mediocrity is but one aspect, neither the most important one nor the worst.
          You rightly mention the Japanese spirit. We too would have ours (nif, etc.) if it hadn’t become empty slogans that is. And it is, in my opinion, because of the political oppression + the fact we do not develop anything (we do not offer anything to the human/global civilisation) that they became empty slogans.

          As for South Korea, Its case definitely deserves more consideration/study from our rulers and people. I don’t think I totally agree on your last paragraph, I’ll develop more in an upcoming “An Algerian in Korea” post🙂

        • As they say:” moderation has yet better taste.” Yours is best! Oops😉

  4. Thanks for sharing us what do you think
    well, no body can controvert all what did you say .. Japanses civilisation is well known in the whole world ..
    “the Japanese next to me were all on their laptops looking for information, and I was busy saying my shahada.”
    Lol this what did attract me the most … i guess it was a little forested !!
    i wish you enjoy your trip
    ^^

  5. There is a japanese way of doing things. After the WWWII, Japan has learnt a lot from the US and more precisely quality assurance (next to perfection) and this is what we are seeing in Japan.

    Amine from Australia

    • Exactly! Very soon they surpassed the US with the concept of Total Quality Management. Then the US struggled to catch up.
      I dream sometimes of having Algeria putting up, somehow, Total Investment Control. I recently learned about this project : http://edifice.over-blog.com/article-algerian-research-laboratoire-de-recherche-en-nanotechnologie-a-l-universite-d-oran-118577877.html
      and another one is about to emerge sponsored by French CNRS involving Algerian scientists from abroad among whom a friend of mine. This second project is estimated to cost 1.3 billion dollars? Each time such huge investments are made I see the blowing out of dollars and foreign companies sucking it all in with some leaks along the way. No one is made accountable beforehand. Back in the late 70s, we spent a few hundreds of millions of dollars to build an Integrated Circuit facility in Sidi Belabbès which ended up down the drain because of lack of accountability. And so, bad management, bad politics and also in my view the backward state of mind flourished.

  6. Hello,
    I recently went to Japan, Tokyo all alone, it was such an amazing experience i was excited but kinda scared but when i actually made it there everyone was so nice to me, one issue is that nobody speaks english in Japan so that was a major issue, i had trouble asking people around i got scared at first since im young and a female, the algerian social life always made me terrified but i actually felt safe there after seeing how everyone interacts with me, its intresting to find this article because i know no-one of my area who’s intrested in Japan. It’s definitely a massively great country, im thankful i was able to experience its greatness at such a young age :p totally going back there if i get the chance Ps: i made friends there and that motivated me to learn japanese to be able to talk more :p

    I appreciate your effort of making this article.

    • Welcome Sarah and thanks for commenting.

      Japan is indeed an amazing country and you’re lucky that you’ve visited it. It is definitely not the first country we think of in Algeria, it is too far and there are little ties between the two countries but the Japanese government awards some scholarships to Algerian graduates so at least a few Algerians study there and some even settled there with their families.

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