Why do Japanese high school baseball players have buzz cuts?

If you see a buzz cut in Japan, it’s almost certainly means someone on a baseball team. I’d always assumed it was to inculcate a monk-like spirit of dedication to the cause, especially given its name in Japanese – “bouzu” or “monk cut”. This weekend’s Wall Street Journal takes in one step further:

“High-school players often sport buzz-cut hairstyles to minimize individuality”

Seems like that is going a bit far to me, but given the militaristic discipline (and sometimes bullying) of such teams, I suppose it is possible.

This question possibly also answers another one – why other Japanese don’t often go for a quick shearing all over (my own very British haircut choice).

Why do the Japanese jump level crossings?

I see a shocking amount of this on my walk to work, and I say that as someone who is regularly ticked off by policemen for being the only person crossing the street at a red light. So, why are the Japanese, famous for happily waiting for the green man on completely deserted streets, perhaps more likely to rush across the train tracks – and that despite the motion sensor buzzing at them for doing so and the regular news stories of people being killed on train tracks?

First of all, this is yet another example of how the Japanese are not, as some assume, “law abiding”, they simply follow what the majority does, also seen at the few streets where people do regularly run across when the red man is showing, a whole stream of people following each other up the wrong side of the station stairs, etc etc. More importantly with level crossings, this is a perfectly rational reaction to the typical safety overkill by Japanese organisations (and the people who work for them). Perhaps as a reaction to people jumping them, the level crossing gates close long before they need to, but this of course makes people more likely rather than less likely to continue ignoring what they say. In the worst cases, gates are only open for a few seconds after ten or fifteen minutes closed, adding up to only five minutes or so per hour. Better to ignore such an arbitrarily decided closing of the gates than be late for work or to meet a client.

Knowing people’s reactions, trains also tend to travel slowly over such busy level crossings, making it even safer for people to cut under closed barriers, and hence goes on the merry dance of counterproductive Japanese safety overkill. At times it’s almost as bad as my own country’s “health and safety culture”…

Why is Frozen so popular in Japan?

It’s of course been popular all over the world, but nowhere else has it been the top film for 10 weeks, and in fact without the overwhelming success in Japan it probably wouldn’t have been the record breaker it has been. It can’t be the Disney Princess effect, because that isn’t half as popular here as it is back home in the UK.

Here are some possible reasons why the Japanese have really got into Ana to Yuki no Joo (Anna and the Snow Queen, as it’s called in Japan), in order of probable importance and with the only explanation I’ve been able to find online top:

1. Disney really got the dubbed version right

This is Disney’s own explanation for the success, and I definitely think it’s a big factor – especially making sure that the singers sing a lot less “X Factor” than the American ones do.

2. The songs are great for karaoke

The singalong version of the movie came later to Japanese cinemas than elsewhere, but I’m sure the actual karaoke boxes must have been ringing to the tune of Do you Wanna Make a Snowman etc.

3. Disney have been on a roll in Japan

Although not this much, Tangled (called Rapunzel in Japan) and Wreck it Ralph (called Sugar Rush) were also big hits here. Even the pretty rubbish Monsters University did surprisingly well here.

4. Japanese anime films haven’t been doing so well

… leaving a gap in the market.

5. The songs work well in other languages

Apparently some people doubted whether these quite musically musical songs would be popular with the kids, but it seems that show tunes sure do at least translate into Japanese well.

6. The characters are quite anime-looking

I haven’t done any measuring, but even before I heard how successful this film was in Japan I’d agreed with my daughter that their eyes were bigger than any Disney cartoons we’d seen before.

7. The story seems to be more well-known in Japan than it is back home

When we saw it on the plane (in English), my daughter turned to me after about ten minutes and said “This is Ana to Yuki no Joo”, having no idea that was the actual title of it in Japanese. Apparently she’d come across the original story at nursery school long before the Disney cartoon came out. My (Japanese) wife had never heard of it though, the same as me, so don’t know how generally true that is, hence it’s place here near the bottom of the list above only…

8. The Japanese like animation with more complex stories

I’ve read Frozen being described this way, but it’s no Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi in Japanese), so this theory goes bottom of the list…

Did I get any of those in the wrong order or just totally wrong. Any theories of your own? Comments below please.

Why do the Japanese sell health foods by colour?

Today I saw an advert for a diet food including ‘five blacks’ (itsutsu no kuro) and there are plenty of juices boasting how many purple things are in them. Although generalising the health properties of foods by colour is certainly not unique to Japan, it seems to be more common and more discussed than I remember back home.

I wonder if it all started with the more traditional health drink of ao jiru (green juice- or literally blue juice - made from various green leaves including kale) and spread from there colour by colour in a typical Japanese process of innovations through variations.

Why do so many Japanese books consist of interviews and lectures?

I’ve never read and rarely seen a book-length interview with someone or transcribed lecture in English, but in Japan it seems like about 30% of the non-fiction section are exactly those two things. I’d long assumed it was just because of the “churn them out fast and cheap” philosopy of Japanese publishers, similar to the reason why reality television has taken over British TV. Still think that’s true, but there may well be another reason.

According to a student of mine and what I’ve read elsewhere, spoken and written Japanese are quite different from each other, more like spoken and written German or Greek than the comparatively similar spoken and written English. A consequence of this that I hadn’t thought about is many Japanese people going for books which are as close to spoken English as they can get, hence interviews and lectures. Probably even more true amongst the tired commuters who are a main market.

Might also help explain the popularity of comics amongst adults, of course.

Why do only expats have foreign nannys in Japan?

I’d been wondering this one for a while, because it’s fairly common to see foreign kids with a southeast Asian nanny, but I thought it was visa restrictions that was stopping Japanese parents doing the same:

“Only diplomats and foreigners admitted as highly skilled professionals can currently sponsor visas for housekeepers from abroad”

Japan Times, 21 May 2014

Why is it called “Japanese” encephalitis?

“Although named Japanese encephalitis, because it was isolated in Japan in 1935, this form of the condition is much more common in parts of Asia outside Japan”

Although it’s somewhat more common to the south and west and in rural areas “in Tokyo the last fatality was reported in 1969 and no infections have been recorded since 1990″. So – not much more danger than of getting Spanish flu in Spain…

Quotes from the May edition of the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan magazine.

Why is Asian bread so sweet?

This question still pops into my head when I bite into a sausage roll with sweet and milky bread surrounding it. When I first moved to Japan it was an almost daily question – one that expanded in geographical reach when I went back to Thailand on holiday and suddenly remembered having the exact same reaction to almost exactly the same kind of bread when I lived there in the late 90s.

And it was in a book on Thai popular culture that I found the answer. The bread was brought to Asia by the Portuguese back in the late 16th century when they dominated the area. One reason for it then remaining popular was probably what I first thought was the reason, the general lack of a clear black and white distinction between savoury and sweet in Asian cultures (and one could argue a dislike of Western-style black and white distinctions more generally).

Older answer to this here.

Why do the Japanese pronounce English like katakana?

As well as the obvious reasons (the many consonant sounds which can exist without vowels after them in English but only with vowels in Japanese, use of katakana in teaching English in Japanese schools and language learning materials), it’s recently occurred to me that some of my students are adding the katakana vowel sounds to give themselves thinking time.

I first noticed that some were using a long and intrusive sound even when there is usually a short and almost imperceptible sound in Japanese in situations like final k and final sh. A couple of weeks later I worked out that it was exactly those students who needed time to think of what they were going to say, translate in their heads etc who were adding the most intrusive extra vowel sounds to their English.

Why does Kunitachi city have the kanji of ‘kokuritsu’ (national)?

I’ve spent years passing and then working in this place in the west of Tokyo on the Chuo line, fairly often wondering “National what?” and “Why just the adjective?” I even walked the length of the quite impressive avenue that leads from the station to see if it leads to anything of national importance, but it just fades away.

Turns out the name is simply a combination of the first kanji of Kokubunji (国 from 国分寺) and Tachikawa (立 from 立川) because it was a new town  halfway between those two places, and it being the same kanji as national (国立) is just coincidence.

Thanks to the kanji column in Japan Times for this one.

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