Guidance is absent in our society

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Guidance is absent in our society

I learned Japanese while serving as Tokyo correspondent, and in order to not forget the language, I download a Japanese radio program on my smartphone to listen to during my commute.

“Sunday Paradise” is hosted by popular TBS anchor Shinichiro Azumi. Even though I do not understand the whole thing, I listen to it religiously. The following is an episode from the show.

“We are living in a strange world where talking to a kid in the same apartment building makes you a strange man. There is a manual that says you are not allowed to talk to them face to face but it is okay to talk when you are passing by. Also, you can’t ask where they live or go to school but you can talk about yourself. So instead of asking where they live or if they like their school, I say, ‘I live in this apartment’ or ‘I am tired of my job.’?”

Azumi discussed the manual provided for grown-ups on how to deal with neighborhood children without being mistaken as a kidnapper. He is known for exaggerating to make mundane stories interesting, but this manual actually exists. Japan is indeed a country of manuals.

A three-year Seoul correspondent for a major Japanese newspaper told me an interesting story. Her children go to a Japanese school in the city, and she received a letter from the school in late April that said: "Last week, a student was absent because of the flu. When students take school busses, please make sure they wear masks.”

It was based on a manual that states all students are required to wear a mask on school buses when there is a flu patient. Twenty days later, parents got another letter stating that the school is now flu-free, and students do not need to wear masks any more.

Just as some Japanese manuals are considered excessive, the “urgent MERS alert” text message sent by the Ministry of Public Safety and Security surprised me. I was amazed by the fact that the “emergency” message was sent 17 days after patients were diagnosed and that the content was hardly “urgent.” As if trying to prove the saying, the empty vessels making the most noise, the alert was loud and lacked substance.

Having witnessed the chaos after the MERS breakout in Korean society, a Seoul correspondent for a Japanese media outlet revealed a rather diplomatic opinion.

“I am not sure which is more abnormal, Japan’s excessive manuals or Korea’s absence of manuals,” they said.

Which would you choose between the restraint of an excessive manual and the chaos of no manual? What happened to the emphasis on manuals in Korean society after the Sewol ferry incident?

The author is a deputy political and international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 10, Page 30


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