Saturday, May 21, 2016



I've been here in Japan for half my life. 26 years (please don't do the math!).

I came here when George Bush, Sr, was US president. I was here for the first Gulf War, saw "the skies lit up over Baghdad." Here for the Clinton economic boom, the dot-com boom. Bush, Jr's presidency, 9-11, two more wars. The home-lending meltdown, economic recession. The Obama administration, slow economic growth.

The biggest thing that comes to mind over these 26 years is change:  personal, technical and political.

I met my wife at the end of my first month here, we started dating 6 months later, and have now been married for 23 years. We have four great kids of whom we are very proud. Our eldest works for an airline, the 2nd is in med school, the 3rd in college now, and the youngest in high school.

I have a job I enjoy, and have started to grow some vegetables in summer.

When I came to Japan in 1990, you had to pay $600 to buy a phone line, which could be sold to others when you left. I chose not to do so; instead, I bought magnetic cards you could use in int'l pay phones to call the States at over $1/minute. I made one phone call per month. One.

ATMs were a brand-new phenomenon, only available in bank lobbies, and only from 9am to 3pm on weekdays. I had a hungry weekend when I discovered that fact on a Saturday morning...

Nobody had a PC, banks did everything on paper. Even a deposit needed to be checked by 4 different people, and took close to 10 minutes on a good day. Was handed my monthly salary in cash (and nearly had a heart attack, having literally never seen that much cash at once. Paid by check in the US, paid my own bills by check). Bought my first computer on a trip home in late '94, because PCs here were hard to find and twice as expensive.

In late 2000, when then-Prime Minister Mori set a goal of high-speed internet access for over 3 million households within 5 years, I laughed (I had 56K dialup that disconnected every time I got a call). But they did it, and then some.

1G home access is standard now, at some of the lowest rates in the world. PCs, while still slightly more expensive than comparable units in the States, are much more affordable. Smartphones are de rigueur.

Thanks to Line™ and Skype™, I can now speak to family Stateside for free. I just signed some contracts electronically, instead of having to snail mail, sign, get notarized, and return by snail mail, for a grand total of about 3 weeks.

These changes are primarily positive. But there have been changes, politically, which I find quite disturbing. Not about your political party, but about discourse in general.

I have no problem with people of different political bent; that is what democracy is about. But the increasing polarization of the political process, the refusal to even civilly discuss issues among those on opposite sides, let alone try to reach compromise solutions that, you know, compromise, is truly heart-rending. It has become "My Way or the Highway!" And if people lose an election, many of them, instead of looking to continue working toward their goals, act like a child having a tantrum and threaten to leave the US.

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