Why are some Japanese always dabbing at their faces?

… both with the little (and sometimes not so little) towels they carry round with them, and with the very popular special paper for removing oil from your face.

I don’t think this is the main reason, but many Japanese salarymen wear vests all year, apparently to avoid any hint of a nipple being seen through their white shirts. Some of them also use special pads in their armpits to absorb sweat. Not sure why they think that is a good idea, because it just seems to lead to all the sweat coming out of their foreheads…

Why are public baths and laundrettes often next to each other?

I’m sure they don’t put the used bath water into the washing machines like many Japanese families do, do they?

Or do they????????

Why do the Japanese take so little holiday?

Famously, on average they only take one week of the already minimal two weeks that they have available.

“A joke among some Americans who deal with Japan is that one reason Japanese white-collar workers take so few holidays is that if they were gone for more than a couple of days it might be obvious how little work they actually do”

America and the Four Japans pg 100

What could also be a factor is that there is a blurring between holiday and other kinds of days off. For example, if you don’t use your paid sick days you could theoretically take them as paid holiday, but almost no one does. This possibly reinforces the idea that time off is something to feel guilty about.

Why do the Japanese work such long hours?

“… endlessly long meetings in which everyone tried to figure out what everyone else was feeling without tipping their own hand. Politics – tense, back-stabbing power-play politics – in which various managers who had come to the project from different backgrounds tried to line up factions against one another. All this had to be done without creating so much as a ripple on the surface of the pool (harmony must be preserved!), so naturally it took far more time than open warfare would.”

About Face by Clayton Naff

Good point that. Another important factor is that the Japanese prize hard work above creativity or efficiency. I think the most important factor might be, however, that being the only one to leave early makes it seem like you are leaving the work for others to do (even when that’s not true) and generally not doing your best to fit in with the company culture, as those are certainly the reasons why Japanese only take one of their two weeks on annual leave.

Why do the Japanese divorce less and late?

Although divorce has increased a lot in Japan in percentage terms, it is still far behind the US or UK, and a lot of those divorces are among older people.

I don’t think anyone believes the Japanese are more happily married than Westerners, but I have heard arguments that suggest that the lower divorce rate is because of more realistic ideas of what marriage is for or even a selling point for the stability of the semi-arranged marriages that are still surprisingly common. As often is the case, however, pressure from society is almost certainly more of a factor:

“Women tolerated bad marriage because the alternative was intolerable. Even in postwar Japan, divorce left women virtually unprotected and cast a lifelong stigma on the children, cutting them off from a good job or marriage.

… A 1993 poll of Japanese found that less than half of those interviewed said they would marry the same person if given the chance to do it over again… The most commonly cited benefit of marriage was not love or companionship but acceptance in public as full-fledged members of society.” About Face pg 57

Once they are retired, the Japanese no longer have to worry about social pressure or the effect on their already married and employed kids. The other factors for divorce among the retiring baby boomers include:

- Wives having seen very little of their husbands while they were working, and so reacting negatively to having them around the house, being expected to spend time with them, or just to finding out who they have really been living with all this time

- The husband becoming even more useless and offensive due to unhappiness with being retired, e.g. because they have no idea how to spend their time without work and work-related socializing to fill it in

- Negatives that were seen as a side effect of typical Japanese working life and its accompanying long hours and stress like drunkenness, abusiveness and not helping around the house remaining true or getting worse once they retire

- Retired husbands often spend more time back at the family home, either due to wanting to get out of the city or to look after even more elderly parents, and the wives don’t want to accompany them

“Even after death, husbands aren’t getting the respect that they used to: A growing number of women are resorting to shigo rikon – ‘divorce after death.’ Wives refuse to have their remains interred with their husband7s in the family grave.” About Face pg 64

Why do Japanese doctors expect birth exactly on time?

“One hospital even required all women to give birth by induced labour on a fixed schedule. This, I supposed, was an offshoot of the just-in-time inventory method that made Toyota so successful.”

About Face by Clayton Naff pg 232

Hopefully this is just a joke, because he also points that Japan has one of the world’s lowest infant mortality rates, and that is partly because of doctor’s obsession with birth weight and therefore inducing birth before it would become too difficult. Like most Japanese, they are also free of the irrational Western love of the “natural”.

Why the early mandatory retirement?

“By age fifty or fifty-five, the employee’s salary is often much higher than his productivity [due to seniority-based pay]. Most companies want to replace overcompensated older workers with low-cost younger personnel.

For the worker, what typically follows ‘lifetime’ employment is retirement employment, at lower wages and without security. In 1988 about 67 percent of Japanese men in their early sixties held jobs, as did 55 percent of those in their late sixties. This was more than double the rate of postretirement work in the United States.”

About Face by Clayton Naff pg 267

Another factor is that there is nothing to stop most companies imposing early retirement because most employees get a one off payment rather than a regular pension or with only a small regular pension.

Why so much drinking with colleagues in Japan?

“Large Japanese companies are political battlefields where, in the absence of clear job descriptions or standards for promotion, a man’s hopes for promotion to an executive position turn largely on his ability to attract loyal retainers. This works both ways. An ambitious junior must learn the inclinations and desires of those on whose coattails he hopes to ascend… Tsukiai provides the means. Through after-hours drinking, paid for by the boss, secrets are revealed, favours promised and mutual obligations incurred. This… may be called the bonding of lords and vassals”

About Face by Clayton Naff pgs 183/184

Why do Japanese slippers only come in one size?

This is one of the oldest gaijin complaints about ryokan (Japanese-style inns) etc, but if you look around you’ll notice that plenty of Japanese are hanging out of the back of their slippers too, and different sizes of yukata are usually available to match the size of the rest of your body, so it is not that there is a lack of awareness that people come in different sizes.

You don’t have to wear them for too long, what with them coming off or being exchanged on tatami, in the toilet or outside, and it’s no problem walking in any size of them if you shuffle properly. More important, I believe, is that – like a tiny towel held somewhere in the vicinity of your genitles in a hot spring – slippers are more symbolic of cleanliness and taking care than they are practical. This can also be seen in the fact that slippers are often exchanged for shoes in an area that both touch.

Why are you supposed to cross out “sama” next to your name when sending something back?

It is the more respectful version of “san”, so leaving it in would be even more big-headed than referring to yourself as “Smith-san”.

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