On a different subject, I’m sure most of you have ended up being late for an appointment because you had a little time to kill beforehand and, like me, started running around trying to get one thing done after another. Even if I don’t end up technically being late, when my Italian friends see me arriving all sweaty in the nick of time, they sometimes fire off snide comments like, “Oh, I didn’t realize there were Japanese people that were late to things.” That’s when it really hits me how trustworthy the Japanese are thanks to their reputation for always being on time.
Japanese electronics were at the cutting edge of technology until about twenty or thirty years ago, so the Italians who traveled to Japan back then came back with expressions that looked as if they had actually visited the future—like they’d seen some kind of fantasy film.
Maybe it’s because Japan had reached the cutting edge, but I heard that the Italian agency in charge of processing the paperwork for foreign immigrants set up a service desk just for Japanese people (this was before I moved to Italy). In my mind, they staffed it with kindhearted Japanese speakers who would handle everything politely… but because I came to Italy after they had gotten rid of the desk, I ended up just waiting in a sea of diverse ethnicities for my number to be called. When it was my turn and I timidly approached the window, I was given the cold shoulder and told that I didn’t have the right documents or they weren’t completed properly. I didn’t have the language ability to criticize their poor handling of the situation, so I just stood there dumfounded. As a result, they ended up yelling at me and making me feel like I was an awful person—despite the fact that I hadn’t done anything wrong.
Why didn’t they have that magic service desk anymore? I wondered again and again…
These days, China has become the economic powerhouse and attracts the most attention in Asia, though I’m happy to say that Japan still retains a deeply-rooted popularity in Italy. I’m guessing it’s partly because of the quality and reliability of Japanese goods, the fact that we’re always on time, and of course because of faithful dogs like Hachiko (lol).
In another example that may be a holdover from when Japan was at the top of its game, there is an Italian landlord who has made it a policy to only rent to Japanese people. There’s an apartment next to where I live that only has Japanese tenants. I heard that originally it was mostly vocalist exchange students, and the landlord went so far as to furnish them with pianos so they could practice their songs.
There are also a surprising number of Italians who still say they’d like to start up a business with a Japanese partner. The two countries have the highest life expectancies in the world, so the new venture could succeed if it were sensitive to the similar needs of these now-aging societies.… in any case that’s how I’ve pitched it to them, though it doesn’t seem like there are any kinds of businesses that would be like that…