Why do people think Japanese skin is yellow?

There was a fascinating discussion about this on the BBC Radio 4 sociology programme Thinking Allowed. Perhaps the most interesting thing was the story of a researcher who found convincing evidence that there was no particular yellow element to East Asian skin but ignored it because it was a racial assumption that he couldn’t change his mind about, despite the complete lack of scientific evidence behind it.

Apparently all early visitors to East Asia from Europe described the Japanese as white. The explanation for the later idea that they were yellow seems simply to be that yellow caused a nice round quartet with black, white and red.

Available to download on this page.

Different in Japlish and Konglish

Just posted a pretty big list on my TEFL blog here.

Why aren’t the Japanese more religious? Third attempt

I can say from personal experience in my teenage years that one of the most attractive things about religion is that it takes away the need to make all kinds of difficult decisions. In Japan, most of those things are decided by other people or social pressure anyway, and traditionally were more decided by Confucianism (which isn’t a religion) than Shinto and Buddhism.

Why is seafood so important to the Japanese? Second attempt

As someone from an island nation with a much stronger seafaring tradition but where meat is much more important to the culture than fish, I remain fascinated by this question.

No doubt the biggest reason was that most meat was forbidden, but as reliance on seafood goes back to pre-historic times that can’t be the only thing. Something I hadn’t considered until reading a book on Tsukiji fish market is simply how close to the sea most Japanese people are, with many mountains and those mountains being avoided pushing them towards the coast.

This post of course poses the questions why meat was banned and why they avoided the mountains, which I will deal with in the next couple of posts.

Why is Spirited Away based at a bathhouse?

According to this blog post, it might have something to do with prostitution.

The same in Japlish and Konglish

Have made a list over on my TEFL blog. More than you might think, given the tricky history between the two countries!

English made in Japan/ Korea and used in both

Why have the Japanese always accessed the internet more by mobile phone?

“While the rapidity of the Internet penetration rate has been remarkable, that is not to say that the actual PC penetration rate for Japan is high. It remains lower than for some other developed countries. This has no bearing on Internet access, though, because Japan has led the world in the use of mobile phones to access Internet sites…NTT’s Do-Co-Mo … had grown to be Japan’s leading Internet Service Provider… only a year after the 1999 launch of the i-mode technology” Language and Society in Japan pg 134

Reasons for this:

1. The technology was developed first in Japan

2. When it was invented a lot of people didn’t have PCs, perhaps because they still had dedicated word processors from the previous boom (caused because Japanese language typewriters were virtually impossible for ordinary people), or because until laptops became standard a lot of people lacked the space at home

3. People don’t spend a lot of time at home and do spend a lot of time on trains

4. There is still often just one computer and television in the house, so people escape to their bedrooms with their mobile phone for both of those functions

Why are wa, e and o spelt ha, he and wo in Japanese?

They used to be pronounced that way, but over the years the pronunciation of Japanese changed while the conventional spellings did not (as in most languages, e.g. English after the Great Vowel Shift). In 1946 the policy on Modern Kana Usage aligned kana spelling and modern pronunciation. As would probably happen with words like “are” and “was” if English spelling was ever rationalised in a similar way , these very common grammatical words were the only ones left unchanged.

Why do the Japanese have little bins in the kitchen sink?

It’s probably another sign of my Western slackness, but I always fill the bloody thing with water when I’m washing up. What I assume to be the the main reason for its existence, having a separate collection of nama gomi (“raw rubbish”), has also disappeared where I live.

Reasons for still having them might include food preparation usually happening on the draining board due to lack of other worktops, small kitchen bins, and having to be especially careful of drips with carpeted or tatami floors.

Why do the Japanese buy so many newspapers?

The most in the world, apparently.

Reasons for that statistic include:

1. Many of those newspapers are actually bought by offices (including, strangely, some offices where being seen reading them would be completely unacceptable…)

2. Most statistics include the thinner and cheaper evening editions

3. Many Japanese don’t read for pleasure*, leaving a newspaper the obvious thing to read

4. Really heavy sales tactics by the newspaper delivery salesmen

5. Many Japanese would be embarrassed by everyone being able to judge their political position by seeing what paper they read in public, so regular home delivery is the only solution

6. Most Japanese access the internet on their mobile phones rather than through PCs, making reading of full news articles a bit inconvenient (when possible)

7. TV news is dull and says nothing (NHK) or sensationalist and says nothing (all the rest, e.g. Fuji Terebi), so a newspaper is your best chance of getting some slightly deeper and more even handed coverage

8. It provides some conversational ammunition, the Japanese generally being even worse conversationalists than the British and so desperate for things to speak about

9. Extreme negative reactions to not knowing things that others consider general knowledge

*“a 32-country survey… showed Japan to be the country with the highest number of middle and high school students reporting that they did not read for pleasure” Language and Society in Japan pg 94


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