Why do Americans call shichirin “hibachi”?

From Wikipedia shichirin page:

‘In North America, small BBQ cooking stoves resembling shichirin are referred to as “hibachi” or “hibachi-style”, which in Japanese refers to a small heating device which is not usually used for cooking. It has been suggested that these grills were confusingly marketed as “hibachi” when they were introduced to North America. ‘

Why was the name of Edo changed to Tokyo (Eastern Capital)?

I’ve often read that the capital was moved from Kyoto to Edo, but that would make Edo simply “The Capital”.

The book I’m reading at the moment (Old Tokyo by Keiko Imai Packard) says that in fact the plan was to have two capitals but the Emperors never got around to moving back and forth between them as they were supposed to, in which case the name makes much more sense. Also according to the book, some people in Kyoto still expect the Emperor to suddenly remember and rush back there.

Why would the Japanese think I’ve Never Been to Me is a suitable song for weddings?

Rather unusually for Wikipedia, the page on this song jokes that its story of a bitter party girl who wishes she’d had a family instead could reassure the bride she’d made the right choice in tying the knot. Luckily, it also has the more sensible explanation that the Japanese song with that tune has much more romantic message. I’m guessing nobody who chooses it has noticed its presence in Priscilla Queen of the Desert then…

Why are there so many diaries by WWII Japanese?

I wondered why I had never wondered why when I read this:

“Members of the American armed forces were forbidden to keep diaries, lest they reveal strategic information to whoever found them; but Japanese soldiers and sailors were issued with diaries ever New Year and expected to write down their thoughts. Because they knew they might be required to show their diaries to a superior, to make sure the writer was guided by the approved sentiments, they filled their pages with patriotic slogans as long as they were in Japan. But when the ship next to the diarist’s was sunk by an enemy submarine or when the diarist, somewhere in the South Pacific, was alone and suffering from malaria, there was no element of deceit. He wrote what he really felt.”

Chronicles of My Life by Donald Keene pgs 36-37

Why are the Japanese so happy to hear you can’t eat their food?

Donald Keene sounds mystified in his autobiography, even after 60 years of dealings with the Japanese:

“Japanese, even taxi drivers who clearly have no intention of inviting me to dinner, often start a conversation by asking what Japanese food I dislike. (Nobody ever asks what Japanese food I like.) They are particularly eager to know whether I can eat sashimi (raw fish. When I say that I am fond of sashimi, they seem disappointed, but they persist, asking next about natto (fermented soybeans), and if I say I eat natto, they ask in desperation if I eat shiokara (salted fish guts).” Chronicles of My Life pg 11

I’m afraid I see something unpleasantly nationalistic in it, as if they wish to hear that no one else could ever become Japanese as hard as they might try.

Why do Japanese shop assistants know so little about their goods?

I’m hardly the first person to mention this, but I’m still regularly flummoxed by this huge hole in the otherwise incomparable Japanese service ethic. A couple of examples:

The girl I was buying my mobile phone from looking up the answers to my questions in the exact same booklet that she’d given me earlier.

A guy in Yodobashi replying to my questions about the differences between two irons with the shrug and then with a simple “Oh yes, you’re right” when I pointed out that the cheaper one rather worryingly had no temperature control. And the conversation ended there…

I know Japanese students don’t ask many questions, but I often read that Japanese consumers are some of the most demanding in the world. Doesn’t that include asking questions, and if so why aren’t the staff prepared to answer them?

Maybe they believe that giving no information is better than giving wrong information. Or maybe apologising takes up all their training time and using those apologising phrases makes up for a complete lack of info…

Why the random selection of British foods in Japan?

Like the selection in international shops generally, it doesn’t seem to be stuff the average Japanese person wants to buy and it’s not generally stuff I want to buy either… I finally worked out a pattern, however. Most of the stuff is British food that is sold in the US, and in fact is often imported from there to Japan, for some reason. For  example:

Newcastle Brown Ale

Fullers ESP


Some apparently British brown sauce that I’d never heard off and turns out to have been bought up by Kraft foods, rather than the Daddies Sauce that you normally see at home

Sure there must be others, and does anyone know if that explains the strange occurance of Sarson’s Malt Vinegar in just about every import shop?

Should that selection match your demands more than mine, here’s a whole blog of mine on the topic:

Tips for Brits in Tokyo

Why did Tesco think Japanese people would want to buy this stuff?

The British supermarket chain Tesco is apparently the third biggest in the world, but like the second biggest (Carrefour), they have failed in Japan and are giving up. Not a big surprise when none of the other big chains are making money and apparently Aeon set out on a deliberate attempt to squeeze them out of the market, and even less of a surprise given the Aldi-like appearance of their stores in Japan and the complete lack of effort to sell to people who actually want British food. One of the bizarrest things about their attempt, however, is what British goods they choose to sell, e.g.

– Tea that is far too strong for most Japanese tastes

– Sweet stuff that I haven’t seen since I last had tea at my nan’s (orange and lemon jelly slices, ginger nut biscuits, Nice biscuits, greengage jam, fig rolls, Bourbon biscuits, shortbread biscuits)

– Madras curry sauce

I’ll miss being able to buy brown sauce for 140 yen rather than the 450 yen at most import shops, but for most daily shopping I’d miss Aeon’s cheaper and more attractive My Basket neighbourhood grocery shops more.

Should you be interested in that stuff, here’s a relevant post on my Tips for Brits in Tokyo blog:

Tesco food in Tsurukameland

Why don’t Japanese cities have walls?

I’d always assumed it was some kind of policy of the shogunate to stop individual cities becoming centres of power and more able to rebel, but the history of Asia I’m reading at the moment says Heian and Nara were notable at the time of their foundation for copying Chinese cities in everything but the walls – walls that Chinese cities very much pride themselves and that the Koreans happily copied. No reason given, unfortunately!

I suppose one aspect is that though there was plenty of internal fighting in Japan there was rarely the danger of outside invasion as there was in China and Korea, but that hardly seems reason enough on its own…

Any ideas?

Why is the gaijin card system changing twice in one year?

Just had my gaikokujin torokusho (the fabulously translated “alien registration card”) updated to one with some kind of chip in it. It was a reasonably simple operation, despite the pain of having to go back to the ward office years before my old card was due for renewal, and was pleasantly surprised to see 2016 written on the new one. I was downright shocked, however, to be given a piece of paper saying that in the middle of this year said gaijin cards are being phased out. I still won’t have to do anything more until my visa needs renewing, but can you imagine a worse use of government money than introducing a new high-tech ID card 7 months before the whole system is being scrapped???

Anyone know how this happened? I’m imagining government agencies not talking to each other…