Perfection is the key to insanity, my insanity mainly.

Everyone knows at least one perfectionist. They are the ones straightening their pencils, ironing their underwear, and scrubbing the toilet with a toothbrush. The rest of us believe that these tasks are unnecessary, that the world will go on if our underwear are wrinkled, it’s not like the world can see them anyway. However, for those of us living in Japan, the perfectionist ideology is more than just a case of that pencil pusher sitting over there, instead it’s a deeply rooted aspect of Japanese culture.

Why does one apple cost 158yen ($1.70) in my local store? It’s because that apple is perfect. Just look at it. It’s bigger than my hand, perfectly round, and not a mark on it. Mother Nature herself could not have carved a more faultless specimen. Add to that the individual wrapping and methodical placement on the shelves, and presto. Who wouldn’t consider this the cream of the crop? But, it’s not just this apple, it’s this whole box of apples, this entire store’s apples, every apple in every store in the country, every single piece of fruit in Japan, and pretty much just everything in Japan. The cost is high, the quality is higher, but there is also one other factor to consider, the time.

Why does it take my students 50 minutes (a whole class) to draw a simple cartoon character? It’s because they erase it at least 50 times in the pursuit of perfection. They will draw the entire picture meticulously, map it out like a skilled artwork, creating something so marvelous, something that I could never hope to draw myself, and then erase the entire thing. By the end of the class I guarantee that a handful of students will have a blank page, with only the faint remnants of something that used to be near perfect, but not good enough. It’s actually quite infuriating to watch, the minutes ticking by with zero productivity. But that is what it takes to achieve perfection, time, money and determination.

When you consider it closely, this cultural phenomenon is the answer to many questions. Why did it take 4 hours to set up my phone plan? Why do Japanese people work so late? Why is the restroom at 7/11 cleaner than the one at my apartment? Why is the sky blue? Ok, maybe not that question, but you catch my drift, and see why it might drive a person insane. But, at the end of the day, I can sit down and bite into my perfect apple, and use public toilets without fear of losing my stomach, and the Japanese can admire a job well done, and feel pride in their work. So will it be time and money, or quality and perfection for you today?


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