I completed my Japanese tax return the other day. [Pause for applause] For the first time, I was able to submit it to the National Tax Agency electronically, a feat made possible by the fact that I am now the proud bearer of a My Number card.
Japan hasn’t been swift to go digital. But now we have the My Number card, which is the equivalent to a Social Security Number or tax number The system was introduced in 2015, and now offers ‘the Numbered’ the chance to apply for a shiny, plastic card featuring one’s name, number, photo, and an IC chip. The card is reassuringly pink (with a touch of green), and comes with a privacy sleeve covering the sensitive information—I chose the one with a picture of Doraemon on it.
Armed with a My Number card, a smartphone, and the Mynaportal app one can perform a host of administrative tasks from the comfort of one’s home—including filing a tax return. It’s wonderful.
But we all now have one fewer reason to go outside and meet people.
Now, I’m not saying that a trip to the City Office to do government-required admin is an especially pleasant and rewarding addition to one’s social calendar, but at least it gets you out, and in Japan there seem to be lots of reasons not to run the risk of interacting with other people.
In Japanese society relationships are hard. Resentment is often held as a higher value than forgiveness, which means that if someone makes a mistake the right thing to do is to hold it against them. Conflict resolution is frequently impossible. Being cut off from the group is painful, can happen without warning, and is usually permanent. People are constantly on their guard, trying not to offend anyone else. Conforming to the societal value of conformity is just plain, hard work.
The alternatives to going out and interacting with other humans are many. Social media brings a sense of connectedness with as wide a group of ‘friends’ as you want. Then there’s other media—all the films you used to have to go to the cinema to see. Amazon delivers to your door, as does Rakuten—and your supermarket. And who hasn’t been almost run over by a KFC, or Pizza La, or McDonalds delivery tri-motorcycle?
The challenge of dealing with others, and the ease with which this can now be avoided, has created a more acute isolation in Japan than ever before. People have long been talking about the hikkikomori (shut-ins) but the reality is that even amongst those who do continue to participate in society, many do so on the surface of their lives only. Their hearts are safely locked away inside the walls of their apartments.
As an introvert, all this seclusion is a tremendous temptation for me. I struggle not to envy the walled lives I perceive going on around me. But we were not made to be alone, and I know that’s not what God wants for me. It’s not what he wants for the Japanese, either. Please join with me in praying that the fragrance of the gospel (imagine freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies here, if you like) will become strong enough in this land to lure the solitary and frightened out.
By Simon, an OMF missionary