Why is Sarsons malt vinegar so widely available in Japan?

I’ve noticed this again while I’ve been searching shops for British Xmas food.

No Japanese person I’ve mentioned it to has even heard of it, but this is available in almost every import food shop and probably more than any other British food bar biscuits, including this week the import food section of Aeon supermarket, not somewhere with a large expat customer base. I only use it with fish and chips, and I don’t know anyone who cooks fish and chips at home. What is it doing there??

If you are also looking for British food, may I recommend my other blog Tips for Brits in Tokyo?

Why do some Japanese use universities like parks?

I’m not at all sure about this, but I’ve been working in universities quite a lot in the last two years and it seems to me that a small but substantial minority of the people coming through the gates are people with no connection to the university just having a stroll, including people doing so with small kids. Don’t remember that from my own university times, though that was very long ago and I was probably too busy being drunk and/ or pretentious to notice stuff like that anyway…

Why do many tachinomiya have chairs?

They are almost always tall chairs or stools, which I guess makes it almost like you are standing in that way that the name 立飲屋 (standing drinking place) would make you imagine. However, I’ve decided that I was taking the name of the place too literally when this question first popped into my head.

In Japan the forms of informal/ friendly eating and drinking places are very important, and standing up is one of the most important ways of making the experience intimate and casual. I’ve therefore come to the provisional conclusion that “tachi…” has now half lost its literal meaning in those circumstances and instead represents the lack of formality in such places.

Why do Japanese not sit next to foreigners on trains?

It’s probably not even a majority of people, but it’s very common in Tokyo that the only empty seat on a train is next to a foreigner, and you’ll quite often see someone heading rapidly towards the last seat only to realise that it is next to a foreigner and so remain standing instead. It’s very unlikely that everyone has just one reason, so here is every possibility that I could think of:

– They think that something the foreigner will do, e.g. speak to them in English or take up too much space, might inconvenience them

– The foreigner is making less space available, e.g. through having a puffy coat

– They think they might inconvenience the foreigner, e.g. they’ve heard that foreigners need more personal space

– They think other people on the train might wonder why they chose to sit next to the foreigner

– They are worried that something they do, e.g. fall asleep or fart, might get a negative reaction

– Like ryokan staff automatically reaching for the large yukata for a Japanese-sized foreigner (e.g. me) who is approaching the desk, they assume that foreigners are all larger and so there won’t be enough space

– It’s one particular group of foreigners, e.g. middle-aged men or youths, that they avoid, perhaps even the same group that they would avoid in general (i.e. also if that person was Japanese)

– They want to study English and will be embarrassed to do so next to a foreigner

– They know nothing will happen bad really but the stress of thinking it might make it easier just to stand, e.g. so they can concentrate on whatever they are reading

If anything I think this is becoming more prevalent, so it might be that more people have had or seen “bad” experiences with foreigners such as starting conversations, or taking offence at being slept on. My favourite theory, though, is a general fear of what the other Japanese on the train might think.

Why did the Japanese go to Brazil?

… home of the largest population of Japanese outside Japan.

The main answer is that unlike most other places, the Brazilians let the Japanese in:

“At first, Brazilian farmers used African slave labour in the coffee plantations, but in 1850, the slave traffic was abolished in Brazil. To solve the labour shortage, the Brazilian elite decided to attract European immigrants to work in the coffee plantations. The government and farmers offered to pay European immigrants’ passage. The plan encouraged millions of Europeans, most of them Italians, to migrate to Brazil. However, once in Brazil, the immigrants received very low salaries and worked in poor conditions, similar to the conditions faced by the black slaves: long working hours and frequent ill-treatment by their bosses. Because of this, in 1902, Italy enacted Decree Prinetti, prohibiting subsidized immigration to Brazil.

The end of feudalism in Japan generated great poverty in the rural population, so many Japanese began to emigrate in search of better living conditions. In 1907, the Brazilian and the Japanese governments signed a treaty permitting Japanese migration to Brazil.

Japanese immigrants began arriving in 1908, as a result of the decrease in the Italian immigration to Brazil and a new labour shortage on the coffee plantations.

In the 1930s Japanese industrialisation had significantly boosted the population. However prospects for Japanese people to immigrate to other countries were limited. The US had banned non-white immigration, on the basis that they would not integrate into society; these laws were specifically targeting the Japanese. At the same time in Australia the White Australia Policy prevented the immigration of non-whites to Australia.”

From an absolutely fascinating page on Wikipedia here:

Japanese Brazilians