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The culture of writing systems

This is a pretty interesting article about the writing systems of China and Japan and how cultural identity is expressed through them. I love reading stuff like this. Since I started using Bloglines I get to see all kinds of news and information about Asia.

The article makes Japan’s notions of “insider” and “outsider” far more obvious by contrasting this mindset to that of China. It’s something that I’ve heard about and even felt, somewhere along the fringe of my consciousness, during my visits to Japan–though I probably always chalked that up to how I’ve never really fit in with the “in-group”. I always wondered, behind the smiling faces, generous gift-giving, and friendly laughter, whether any of the native Japanese I met thought anything of me at all, or if they were just going through the polite motions. I think when you suspect something in your gut like that, it’s worth looking at.

I’m not sure how this will affect my hopes to live in Japan, or if it will affect them at all. I, more than many people I know, understand the motions of politeness. Thinking about what can and can’t be said and done is second nature to me. I do it even though I wonder if I’m tainting my sincerity. I do it because I want to be civilized. And so I can understand, if not completely relate to, false friendship. I just wonder if it would hurt me too much to be subjected to it daily.

Of course, making sweeping generalizations about a population is dangerous, not to mention rude. While the “us vs. them” mentality may be a deep-rooted cultural phenomenon, I can’t simply assume that everyone I meet will subscribe to it.

On a more lighthearted note, I wanted to point out that Taipei Times needs a (better?) copy editor. See if you can spot the blatant error:

In the media, the names of Bush and Saddam are written in the characters reserved for foreign names. But so are the names of people of Japanese ancestry, like Alberto Fujimori, Peru’s deposed president, or Kazuo Ishiguro, the author of Remains of the Day, who left Japan at the age of five and is a British citizen. Their names could be written in kanji, but are instead written in kanji, in an established custom indicating that they are not truly Japanese.

Yeah, good job, guys. (The prose could use some tightening up, too…the bulk of the content of that paragraph was already produced earlier in the article, and the flailing, stumbling sentence structure needs to be taken out back and shot.)