Why is it okay to nod off in Japan?

In class, in meetings, and in trains (fairly often on strangers’ shoulders) and for most of a daytime bus or plane ride, it seems nodding off is the most natural of all Japanese reactions.

According to a recent edition of the BBC radio programme The Why Factor, cultures can be divided into three by how they sleep, with the two who don’t keep it all for the night being divided into siesta cultures (like Spain) and nap cultures (like, as they mentioned, Japan).

I think there are also both more random and deeper reasons.

As an example of the former, the main reason that napping in class is okay in Japan is that schools rarely stream by level and so there are students in the lesson for whom the teacher’s best possible hopes is that they sleep quietly rather than read manga, play with their mobile phones or get actually disruptive. Parents usually don’t mind either, because the useful study is done in cram schools in the evening. And when it comes to university, it’s almost impossible to fail and club activities are seen as incredibly important, so nodding off is only natural.

In a similar way, Japanese companies often tell people to come to meetings for no reason at all, and sleeping is considered a rational way of dealing with that – as well as a healthy sign that you are working yourself to death as you should.

For reasons like this, people simply get into a habit of sleeping, and that habit sticks. I do believe there are deeper reasons, though.

The main one is that there is no pressure to have internal motivation to keep yourself going, so if the social pressure is off, why not sleep? More specifically, that ridiculous pressure in the UK (or just London?) to rush around in your free time to tell everyone on Monday how cool and productive your weekend was doesn’t really exist – hence the “How was your weekend?” “I slept and cleaned my room” conversations that are the bane of Eikaiwa teachers.

Why don’t sakura trees have cherries?

We do call it “cherry blossom” in English, after all…

From the Wikipedia cherry blossom page:

“A cherry blossom is the flower of any of several trees of genus Prunus, particularly the Japanese Cherry, Prunus serrulata, which is sometimes called sakura after the Japanese (桜 or 櫻; さくら). Many of the varieties that have been cultivated for ornamental use do not produce fruit. Edible cherries generally come from cultivars of the related species Prunus avium and Prunus cerasus.”

This forum also explains that some ornamental cherries do produce (small and crappy) fruit, but that might be a disadvantage because the fruit both makes a mess and attracts birds which make more mess. Someone also adds that there are ornamental versions of other fruit trees (such as ornamental pear trees) that similar things are true for.


Why are Fuji apples so expensive?

According to the BBC radio programme From Our Own Correspondent, it’s because the Japanese climate is actually totally unsuitable for growing apples and so each apple has to be wrapped in cellophane while they grow on the tree.


Why are there men with red sticks everywhere in Japan?

A man indicating to me that I shouldn’t jump over a fence into a deep hole in the pavement never fails to irritate me, and I know I’m not alone in that reaction. According to the BBC radio programme From Our Own Correspondent, there is an actual regulation that imposes a certain number of such people on every construction project, presumably just to keep unemployment down – and I always try to remind myself of that to keep the annoyance down…


Why is Japanese cedar pollen allergy such as problem?

I knew it was a man-made problem, but didn’t know the details until I read The Economist this week. After WWII the sugi trees were planted to provide material to rebuild houses, but after import tariffs fell it became too unprofitable to even be worth cutting the trees down. It’s not just the sheer number of trees that is responsible, though – as they grow higher, each tree emits more and more pollen every year.

Why do Japanese editions of CDs have extra tracks?

The law was changed so that music retailers could import CDs themselves, so the local record companies added the extra tracks so that they could still try to sell the horribly overpriced editions of CDs (which even now cost at least 30% more than imported versions). That this makes them something that music obsessives in other countries like the teenaged me will pay double or triple the price for is just an added bonus for them…