"The" way vs "a" way (Japan v China dept)

This is not a scientific comparison, but when i saw one scene I remembered another.

This is the recent scene: yesterday afternoon, Naha airport, Okinawa, Japan. Line crew gassing up a Cirrus SR22:

http://i142.photobucket.com/albums/r96/jfallows/IMG_4476A.jpg

Details to notice below: crew identically dressed in company uniform; complete safety gear -- hardhats, reflective chest straps with procedural checklist clipped on, puffy protective cuff to shield the plane's wing from damage. It's hard to see in the picture, but even the boots are part of the uniform: black, with red laces, and company logos on the back. Impossible to see in the picture: the coordinated shout and semi-bow toward the plane when the fueling was done.

http://i142.photobucket.com/albums/r96/jfallows/IMG_4476B.jpg

Now, the scene I remembered and mentioned last year: Refueling the same kind of plane in Changsha, capital of Hunan Province, China.

http://i142.photobucket.com/albums/r96/jfallows/IMG_0969.jpg

With usual caveats against sweeping generalization, what this made me think was: Japan is all about the way of doing things. Practice, ritual, perfectionism, as much fanatical attention to the process as to the result. China is all about finding a way to do things. Improvisation, little interest in rules, putting up with whatever is necessary to attain the result.

(Yeah yeah yeah, there are exceptions: perfectionist operations in China, loosey-goosey ones in Japan. Still.)

At the moment, I am feeling positive toward both approaches. The emphasis on the right way of doing things is re-surprising on each encounter with Japan. And the determination to do things in China, no matter what, commands respect, despite the obvious complications and problems it creates.

But when it comes to refueling the plane....

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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