Entry: The Identity Monday, June 06, 2005

Two facts explain a lot:

  • Until recently (1835) Japan had isolated itself entirely from the rest of the world !
    No harbours, foreigners entering Japan were beheaded, ...
    - until this day only 2 of 127 million inhabitants are foreigners

  • In Western cultures we see initiative, individualism, having a strong personal opinion etc. as showing a strong character - in Japan that is considered a sign of weakness !
    Instead the social goal is to subordinate oneself to the group, hence
    - little crime (group sticks together - some say this comes from rice growing where the community needs to share the water together and hence breeds cooperative culture)
    - Hence Tokyo has the lowest violent crime stistiscs, lowest homicide in the world
    - Hence children under 10 routinely travel alone across Tokyo to school
    - better at science than arts subjects (e.g. philosophy - where you need an opinion ...)
    - you never discover your bosses name (he remains tencho)
    - the buddhist monk will get out of his mercedes to go to a red-light district bar (no consistent individual in the western sense - but "one man in his life plays many parts")
Curious facts:
- shoes must be changed between street, home, toilet etc. all day
- signs are everywhere: like in a socialist country: "let us avoid rubbish !" but also as the ultimate nanny state "please do not kill yourself during the rush hour"
- do not look people in the eye (provocative), do not shake hands (avoid contact)
- it is better to be a foreigner than a local in Japan (we are indulged, are not expected to conform - but benefit from the advantages of everything working, politeness, cleanliness etc.)
- religion is eclectic/pick&mix: e.g. celebrate birth with shinto ceremony, have christian wedding and then buddhist funeral. When government did a poll, adding up the adherents to religious groups gave 2x the population
- 13 million people live in Tokyo, 21 million in greater Tokyo, 4.4 million people go through Shinjuku station a day
- due to paucity of space, lack of cellars/attics due to earthquakes/tornadoes/torrential rain - spare stuff is spread around the houses' environs
- suitcases are rented so as not to fill house
- Japan consists of 6852 Islands, from arctic circle (latitude above Omsk) down to tropics (latitude Bangladesh), most is south of the latitude of the alps, 90% is mountainous and unpopulated
- Tokyo is at the Latitude of Tunis - hence the heat in August !
- phone is often used for a few seconds only to talk (as they don't want to disturb others). But mostly a phone is used only for sending mails - not phoning
- when invited, it is rude to come after the appointed time (no ct !) and best to come earlier. I.e. exact opposite of Europe
- Japanese will not help or talk to a person lying in the gutter (unless he's ill). They want to stay away from trouble and avoid any obligations. Unusual in such a helpful, service-oriented society.
- pointing with flat of hand - see here for other Japanese hand gestures
- impolite to blow your nose in public
- "heavy burden" husbands (who flop drunk on wife's doorstep at night)
- "christmas cake" women (who wants one after 24th?)
- sararymen
- "inemuri" spontaneous sleeps
- adults reading manga/watching anime- love and capsule hotels
- "giri (obligation)-choco (chocolate)" as opposed to "honmei (prospective winner)-choco" given from women to men on Valentine's day
- Yakuza (Ya=8 Ku=9 Za=3 the worst combination in Oicho-Kabu (a blackjack-like card game), a hand that always loses)
- Mobile phone variants: throw away, in-store with customer-to-customer telephone directory, local city only ...

Understand more by reading these recommended books

And now enough theory ...

Here follow the Crudities, those hastily consumed and as yet undigested morsels of events, for the nourishment of the reader - live from our trip ...

[Thomas Coryate, 1611]


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