Why the sign language boom in Japan?

I don’t know how many people are actually studying sign language, but there is a lot more of it on TV and on the Yamanote line screens than there used to be.

I think it is partly to fill the gap left by the collapse of English conversation as a hobby, which proves more than ever that for most people in Japan English never had anything to do with international communication.

Why do the Japanese knock down instead of renovate?

I’d always assumed it was love of the new, but looking at the Tokyo Station renovation and many other brand new retro buildings in nearby Marunouchi is proof that it has nothing to do with style, let alone modern style. The station itself is a particularly extreme example, because they’ve knocked down the old domes that are everyone’s image of Tokyo Station and rebuilt the even older ones that no one missed or even remembered.

My new conclusion is that just renovating here and there isn’t gambarimasu (do your very best/ work yourself to death) enough. Alternatively, maybe Japanese decision making processes make a big decision like knocking the whole thing down the only way of getting projects properly underway. Or it could simply be bribes etc from the construction industry.

Why are there still so many chalkboards in Japan?

The most extreme example I’ve come across is a university I gave a workshop in that had two projectors and huge screens, but still had chalkboards rather than IWBs, or indeed just plain whiteboards. It’s not like the Japanese are generally anti-technology…

While working at another university with chalkboards recently it occured to me that the manic tapping noise I was producing and the sheer physical exertion were very conducive to a Japanese view of teaching and learning being mainly hard work. Sure there must be other more mundane explanations though…

Why would anyone shop in Don Quijote?

Despite its claim to be “geki an”, you can get most of the stuff cheaper elsewhere. However, it could be the fact that there are usually a couple of real bargains hiding in its chaotic set up that make it “fun” to shop there, the adjective that my students almost always use to describe it. There are also a few things that you don’t see (much?) elsewhere. Personally, it is my definition of shopping hell.

Why are the Japanese happy to travel such a long way for such a short time?

For example, my in-laws planned a weekend trip which involved four hours driving into Chiba, arriving in the afternoon. As the local area had no particular points of interest they would then have dinner and a dip in the hot spring baths before crashing for the night so they could wake up the next morning bright and early and drive all the way back – all with a famously noisy baby (my own) taking her first ever long car journey. I simply refused to go.

It must be said that there are plenty of the people in the UK who do virtually the same on bank holiday weekends or as city breaks, and I had exactly the same problem with Greek daytrips where the grannies pulled down the blinds so you couldn’t see anything while you were travelling and headed straight to a restaurant for the three hours we were actually given in town before heading back to Athens.

I do think it is more prevalent here, however, and with far less idea that you should actually do or see something while you are at the place you travel to. I have dealt with similar questions before (click on the category to see them) but have never considered its possible religious roots. Japanese religion does not ask for much more than claps, bows, incense and quick prayers most of the time, meaning a trip back to your ancestors’ graves or a pilgrimage was always going to be more about the travelling back and forth than the staying there.

Why has the price of imported foods gone up in Japan?

Coming back to Japan after two years in Korea I really expected the price of imported food to have gone down, seeing as that had happened in Korea and here there is also the high yen. Quite the reverse, however. Here are the only explanations I could come up with:

- As I wrote in my last post, one tactic of the importers was to undercut local retailers by importing and so missing out the middle men. They now seem to have mainly switched to selling imported foods and luxury premium goods, possibly because unlike the rest of the us, the rich are getting richer.

- I also have a feeling that those same middle men they were trying to avoid have now got involved, which would also explain why all imported shops have virtually the same goods nowadays.

- Unlike Korea, there has been virtually no liberalizing of trade

Why was there a flurry of expansion in imported food shops?

It certainly wasn’t because there was an overwhelming demand from Japanese consumers for Tim Tams and Haribo sweets, because most Japanese still have no idea what those things are. I’m guessing that the main reason was that by buying from importers the shops could miss out those famous Japanese middlemen and so ramp up profits.

Why the highball boom in Japan?

This was something I really noticed coming back to Japan after two years in Korea – suddenly whisky highballs were everywhere, including in a bizarre mix with takoyaki in a chain of casual snack bars.

You can find lots of comment on this by Googling highball in Japan, but something no one seems to have mentioned is that the rise of highball was almost exactly the same time as the Japanese government plugging the tax loophole that allowed first happoshu (low malt beer-like drinks) and then a further category of even less beer-like drinks (sanrui, I think they are called) to be both cheap and a huge source of profits for the drinks companies.

Why is Bass Pale Ale the most common British beer in Japan?

For the same reason Guinness is available everywhere – it is actually brewed in Japan by Kirin. I could also speculate that its bland taste suits those who are not used to real ale, but not sure who actually drinks Bass, which might explain why it is available so cheaply in supermarkets (about 225 yen for a small bottle).

Something I noticed which could also do with explaining is how both Guinness and Bass menu chalkboards appeared outside restaurants long before the beers became widely available - and still many of those places don’t have those beers in them.  A clever marketing trick by Kirin, or did they all just like the retro look?

Should you be interested in drinking some decent British (or British-style) beer in Japan rather than the bland travesty that Bass has become, that is a regular topic over on my Tips for Brits in Tokyo blog:

British beer in Tokyo

Why are there two ways of saying “there are” in Japanese?

I’m not asking this as a linguistic question as almost everything exists in one language or another (although if there is a linguistic or historical reason I’d love to know) but more as a philosophical one:

If the animistic Shinto tradition of rocks and trees etc being gods and having souls is so important in Japan, how can they divide things into animate and inanimate when deciding on whether to use iru or aru?

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