Why do foreigners think Japanese education is wonderful?

There are plenty of good English language sources telling us the real good and bad of Japanese schooling, and still we regularly get news stories telling us that “Japan’s School System Tops International Rankings while Spending Little by Investing in Top-Notch Teachers“. Oh, come on!

Why do notices tell men to take one step closer to the urinal?

Also here in Korea. Although it’s not as common in Japan as Korea, I quite often see guys spitting (or even dribbling) into the urinal before they start peeing. It occurs to me that leaving room for this might encourage standing a bit further back than might be suitable for urination.

As for why they spit in the first place, spitting in general is also more common in Korea (and even more common in China) but I’d wager it was also very common in Japan until Meiji-era authorities thought it ought to be stamped out along with mixed-sex bathing and samurai haircuts. Spitting no longer being allowed on the streets, men are making the most of the toilets, perhaps.

The theory why blowing your nose is okay in Europe and spitting is better in Asia is something to do with what infectious diseases were most common in those two places, but I forget which diseases they were.

Why did Asia decline?

And why is it on the way back up again?

My book of the moment, Thunder from the East, presents the worringly convincing theory that a culture of greed was the missing ingredient in China, India, Japan and South Korea in the 500 years or so during which Europe and America’s rise was mirrored by Asia’s decline- an Asia that had dominated the world economy for well over a thousand years. That certainly makes sense if you contrast Confucianism and the caste system with rapacious conquistadors and the British empire.

The book adds that political unity in India and China was probably a bad thing in those terms, but I have another candidate for the greatest influence on rise and decline- a belief in the future.

I think these two factors probably also explain the change in Britain since the decline that ended (?) in the 1970s. Perhaps a better test is how well it explains Japan’s Edo-era stagnation, Meiji-era to 1990s rise, and recent decline.

Perhaps the most interesting difference between the Japanese and this theory is that even during the bubble years I wouldn’t say that there was much of a culture of greed. Obsession with financial security and a better future for your children, yes. Vicious competition for survival between companies at a time when not expanding as quickly as everyone else meant fading away to nothing, yes. Excess, yes- but that was fueled more by expense accounts than outrageous pay cheques. That was perhaps connected to the big difference in Japan, a belief that everyone should be middle class and generally more or less the same. And once the bubble burst they soon went back to the natural thrifty ways that make some of my Korean students call the Japanese stingy.

Even more recently, the Japanese seem to have lost any belief in a better future as well.

So, that explains that major part of world history then! Any other theories?

Why is the playing time of a CD 74 minutes 42 seconds?

“Because its Japanese developers were determined that it be stretched long enough to contain Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, a huge seller in Japan” From Thunder in the East: Portrait of a Rising Asia, an interesting book I have a feeling I’ll be quoting more from.

Of course, that answer just prompts another question, which is “Why is Beethoven’s Ninth so popular in Japan?”

Here are some possible answers?

1. “It’s a mystery even for the Japanese why it’s so popular,” Suzuki said. “I think a lot of people in Japan sympathize with Beethoven. He was not a happy person, in constant agony, and that attracts people.”

2. “I’ve heard a lot of theories,” said Kerry Candaele, who is making a documentary on the cultural influence of the Ninth around the world. “Someone told me that it’s the only time that Japanese women are allowed to scream.

“But I think it really has to do with a coming together as equals, of climbing this musical mountain together. In a way, it represents a kind of utopianism.”

Both from this article in the LA Times

Personally, I just think it’s the connection to the New Year. That, of course, poses another question…

Why are the police cracking down on the yakuza?

“Because …the ruling faction of the Yamaguchi-gumi, has broken the unwritten rules. They have harassed police officers, photographed their family members—they have challenged the police. They don’t take that well. And by parading their presence at the Nagoya sumo tournament last year, they basically spat in the face of the police as well. As if to say, “we even have claim to Japan’s national sport. We’re VIPS wherever we go. You can’t touch us.” It also doesn’t help that the acting head of the Kodokai, Takayama, is rumored to be of North Korean ancestry.”

From Q and A with Jake Adelstein, Author of The Last Yakuza on the World Policy Institute website.

Hattip to Japan Subculture Research Centre, also source of my last post on things yakuzary.

Why are pregnant Japanese women so mollycoddled?

My wife wasn’t supposed to even cook for one month after giving birth. My theory was that the (hidden) reason was to save them from the traditional slavedriving of their mothers in law. One commenter on this great post on all the things that are banned for Japanese women who are expecting seems to agree.

Wasei eigo dictionary Part Five

Just up on my TEFL blog here. Links to the other four bits in that post. Just found a bunch of extra ones on the Wikipedia page on Waseieigo, so will try to add them too soon.

Why do the police not stop guys from hostess bars hassling women?

Apparently, it’s legal if they do it right outside the club.

Info from a fascinating post on an Eikaiwa class with a yakuza boss, on the very interesting-looking Japan Subculture Research Centre

Why are the Japanese so anti raising VAT?

It’s five percent for goodness sakes! Would it really hurt a country with a government in so much debt to put it up to 7.5 or 10?? It’s between 17.5 and 20 in most of Europe. And where was all that fuss when they more than doubled local taxes??

Why do/ did the Japanese travel in large groups?

The book I’m reading at the moment (Gaishi- The Foreign Company in Japan) makes the point that not only do Japanese obsess about safety/ security, they also value “anshinkan” (feeling safe and secure) and are willing to pay for it. They are unlikely to be able to feel that arranging a holiday around Europe for themselves because they don’t know any of the brand names that might give the rest of us a similar feeling (American Express and Thomas Cook are still basically unknown, and international hotel chains are only just making an impact), and unlikely to know the language(s) to deal with any problems that might come up (if indeed they can be direct enough in any language to actually complain). This stress is likely to be increased by the typical Japanese reactions of feeling embarrassed by inconveniencing the person you are imposing your crappy English on, and being even more embarrassed if any other people, especially people you know/ other Japanese, see that interaction- possibly even more so if it shows a hidden ability to actually speak English!

One thing that is very noticeable is that a British coach tour is mainly people on their own or in couples who might want a bit more social interaction than they’d get from a hotel reservation and a train ticket, whereas Japanese often travel in whole families or group of friends inside a larger tour group, possibly to save Dad/ husband from any interactions with foreign people that might show him up and even lead to the famous Narita divorce*.

As usual, there are certain other more practical and historical reasons too:

 Japanese package tours actually offer pretty good value for money, considering how expensive the individual components like flying from Narita usually are

 The only way of getting Japanese levels of service in Italy is going with a Japanese company!

 If you want the kind of holiday explained in the last post, you need someone to arrange it for you

 If someone outside their family tells them “You really must see…”, they are virtually forced to then do so. A guided tour saves them you that pressure

 The main reason independent travel became such a big thing in the West is that an industry grew up around it and then sold the idea to us. Until HIS became big, Japan’s travel industry was a famously closed shop and so had no reason to promote change

 Japanese guidebooks don’t give you the kind of critical evaluations you need in order to plan a holiday for yourself- some of them even seem afraid to give a top ten things to see in case they offend the others! Translations of Western books like Rough Guide and online review sites and beginning to make up for that

 Decision making between friends can be almost as fraught with seniority issues etc as decision making in companies, so maybe it is just easier to leave it for a travel agent to decide

* When Japanese couples first started taking their honeymoons abroad, the female half of the new couple were apparently so appalled by how their macho husband back home turned into a nervous wreck who is incapable of ordering a coffee abroad that they dropped them as soon as they got back to Narita Airport (helped by the fact that the legal signing of papers often happens long before or after the ceremony)

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