Why is there a Harris tweed boom in Japan?

I first heard of this through the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan magazine, and finally came across it myself last week in my local Aeon supermarket, of all places, where Harris tweed was brightfully decorating some manbags which were twice the price of the other choices.

Upon doing some research, this hand-spun wool from the Outer Hebrides of Scotland seems to be going through a bit of a boom in general, but virtually every article on the topic mentions that Japan has suddenly become the number one market. What I can’t find is any ideas about why. Could it be related to the Japanese love of expensive Scotch whiskey or, more recently, expensive Scottish beer? Any theories or further info, anyone?

Why are the Japanese so big on umbrellas?

You might just as well ask why the British are so resistant to them, but a student of mine says that even elsewhere in Asia they have been struck by how much less common umbrellas are than in Japan.

The many possible factors include:

- The long history of umbrellas in Japan

- Japanese trusting weather forecasts more than many nationalities (seen by how few people have umbrellas when there is totally unexpected rain)

- When the number of umbrellas reaches a certain level, you need an umbrella to defend yourself against the other umbrellas

- Haircuts that would be completely messed up by a hat or the rain

- No social pressure against clear plastic umbrellas and cycling with umbrellas

- Rain is often accompanied by high humidity, and coats and waterproof trousers make you sweat, especially if you’re on a bicycle

- The Japanese are generally good at doing what their mothers told them to do, also seen with vests

Why did Uniqlo suddenly switch to having katakana in their logo?

This changed seemed to happen slightly earlier abroad than in Japan and I also saw Uniqlo advertising “Japanese technology” in their winter underwear, it seems like a deliberate move from wanting to be generically international to wanting to have a specifically Japanese image. As I know nothing of the internal decision making of this company obviously talking about the reason why would be pure speculation, but here goes anyway with three possible theories:

- It was an internal decision to bring back some national pride to the poor Japanese salarymen who were being forced to use English in the headquarters in Japan

- It was a reaction to the success of the faux-Japanese brand SuperDry

- It was due to the expansion of Uniqlo in China, where everything Japanese is either cool and worth a premium price or evil and worth burning, depending on the day

Why aren’t Superdry clothes sold in Japan?

This came up in a teachers’ room conversation the other day and I could instantly make myself unpopular for being a smartarse because I’d heard all about it on a BBC Radio download in which the CEO mentioned they are still in dispute with Asahi of Superdry beer fame over the use of the name.

If you’ve never heard of them, there’s a Guardian article on the company here.

Why do some Japanese men carry handbags? 4th attempt

A theory I hadn’t heard before that I recently read in a book about Korea is that it is connected to the wads of cash it is still common to carry around in many Asian countries, making them large wallets rather than handbags. Makes sense, but so did the other three theories I have somewhere elsewhere on this site…

Why does the average middle aged salaryman put up with plastic suits?

Meaning feeling like nylon rather than actually made of plastic- although if it doesn’t say 革 (kawa- leather) on shoes they probably actually are. Some theories:

- Their wives have control of the budget and won’t let them buy anything more expensive
- The clothes retailers know all the money is in youth and women, leaving 洋服の青山 the monopoly position to sell any old crap they like
- Not the most adventurous of market segments, they are scared off by anything that looks young, unfamiliar or foreign
- Most Japanese don’t have the fear of the manmade and artificial that has taken hold in the West, here meaning artificial fabrics but also including things like food additives
- It’s just because all the suits come from China
- They have to be careful not to dress better than their boss

Why are there plenty of young Japanese kids with fairly light bright brown hair but few older people?

According to a letter in the Japan Times, kids with naturally brown hair are treated like they are as rebellious as those that dye their hair that way, and might even be forced to dye it black to look more natural/standard. That could be a factor, as could hair naturally becoming darker as you become older, in the same way as I started blond and cute and then to my horror turned ginger as a teenager…

 

Any other theories?

Why is a man’s hakama (very formal kimono worn during weddings) padded to emphasize the belly?

Possible influences:

-Showing your wealth (in the same way as men in some societies show off being able to feed many fat wives)

- The Chinese and Japanese philosophy of your mystic energy (気-ki, or chi in Chinese) being centred on your belly

- Wanting to look like rikishi (sumo wrestlers), the ultimate Japanese men

- Just to make a distinction between the female shape (also in a kimono and with breasts flattened, but with a big obi emphasizing any bumps at the back) and the male shape (obi worn under the belly to emphasize its shape at the front)

- Some kind of cultural universal of manliness that has been lost in the West (see paintings of Henry VIII of England for examples)

Why the recent trend to put slithers of blue diamond inside wedding rings?

It’s a borrowing of the “something blue” part of “something old, something new, something borrowed,…”, turned with typical Japanese ingenuity towards commercial ends.

I refused it, even though it was a free special offer, because couldn’t see any point at all and the fact that it wasn’t just on the bride and wasn’t from the beginning of the ceremony seemed not just different, but wrong. Sometimes I worry I’m turning into a cultural relativist, other times I see how unlikely that is…

Why do rikishi (sumo wrestlers) have their hair cut off when they retire?

At the end of the feudal period they were the only ones allowed to keep the samurai topknot haircut, so I guess that privilege ran out when they retired
 

 

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