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Why Jimmy Kimmel is wrong about Japan’s cleanliness

The pursuit of societal excellence must not overshadow the human element
US comedian Jimmy Kimmel.

US comedian Jimmy Kimmel. (Photo: Youtube)

Published: April 11, 2024 12:14 PM GMT
Updated: April 11, 2024 12:21 PM GMT

Japan, with its pristine streets and meticulously clean public spaces, often presents an image of order and efficiency that many countries admire.

Like many, popular comedian Jimmy Kimmel from the United States came to visit Japan recently and was captivated by the immaculate condition of even the most unexpected places, such as truck stop bathrooms. He was left marveling at their cleanliness and the general public’s commitment to maintaining public spaces.

His astonishment at the contrast between the cleanliness in Japan and what he perceives in the United States is evidence of the profound impact of Japanese culture on first-time visitors.

Kimmel’s reflections during one his monologues, humorous yet insightful, offer a glimpse into the visible layer of Japan’s societal structure, which is rooted in respect, responsibility, and a collective effort to uphold public decency.

However, beneath this polished surface lies a complex web of societal pressures and expectations that exact a significant toll on the Japanese people. The same cultural forces that drive the public to maintain such high standards of cleanliness also propel an intense work ethic and a rigid adherence to social norms that can lead to stress, overwork, and, in extreme cases, social withdrawal.

This contradiction within Japanese society presents a nuanced reality far removed from the idyllic first impressions of many visitors.

Take, for example, Japan's work culture, famed for its grueling hours and the phenomenon of "karoshi," or death from overwork — a concept virtually unheard of in Western countries.

Workers endure immense pressure to meet exacting standards of performance and commitment, often at the expense of their personal time and health, all in the name of job security and allegiance to their employer.

Furthermore, the workplace is dominated by a strict hierarchy that, rather than valuing intelligence, creativity, and innovation, emphasizes strict compliance, mirroring the obedience expected within a military rank structure.

Moreover, the social fabric of Japan is woven with expectations that prioritize harmony and the group's needs over individual desires. This collective mindset, while fostering a sense of belonging and community, can also suppress individual expression and lead to a sense of isolation for those who feel unable to conform.

The societal push for uniformity and perfection extends beyond the workplace, influencing education, family life, and personal relationships, often at a significant emotional and psychological cost.

In this scenario, Kimmel's apparent leaning towards preferring life in Japan highlights a profound decision between contrasting lifestyles and societal norms. For those acquainted solely with Japan's superficial neatness and efficiency, the intense societal pressures upholding this image could be shocking. There is a key divergence in cultural values: the American focus on personal liberty and self-expression in contrast to the Japanese emphasis on communal harmony and collective duty.

This dichotomy raises important questions about what constitutes a desirable quality of life. Is it the visible cleanliness and order of public spaces, or is it the freedom to live a balanced life, free from excessive societal pressures?

For many, like Kimmel, who briefly lived and worked in Japan, the answer would surely lean towards the latter. The allure of Japan’s cleanliness and public decorum is undeniable, but the hidden costs associated with maintaining such standards can be too high a price to pay, especially for those who had been raised with a different set of values.

Japan's impeccable public realms might epitomize a dreamland, yet beneath what most people don’t see is the ongoing struggle to reconcile time-honored cultural demands with the personal aspirations of its citizens.

The real-life journey unfolding in Japan with all its obligations and duties should serve as a reminder to the world: the pursuit of societal excellence must not overshadow the human element.

It's a delicate balance between upholding communal ideals and nurturing individual welfare, a balance that every country, Japan and the US alike, should continuously update. This excursion into a comedian’ remarks highlights a universal truth — true progress is achieved not just in the streets and squares of our cities, but in the lives and happiness of the people who walk them.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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