Why aren’t the Japanese good at giving up seats on trains?

I don’t think this is the main reason, but one of my students had the interesting explanation that they don’t like drawing attention to themselves, something ironically made worse by the effusive thanks (often again when they get off the train too) that you get when you do so. Something that does match with this is that people who give up seats often stand up far away from their original seat after doing so.


Why “ningen dokku”?

Kumiko Makihara has just written a typically interesting piece on Japanese regular health checks in IHT, starting with the reason for the name, which is because it is supposed to be like a shipping going into dock to be checked. Other JapanExplained type questions asked include why they are so popular and why nothing is done about the unnecessary worry and additional testing that check ups which 90% of the population fail cause.:

Exam time

Why are there no Infiniti cars in Japan?

As Toyota used to do with Lexus cars, Nissan sell most of the same Infiniti models as plain Nissans in Japan. The next questions is then why they haven’t made the change and why Toyota took so long to do so, to which I imagine the answer is that Japanese people who would buy such cars didn’t want to appear flashy by having a non-standard brand. Fund managers etc are much more happy to flash their cash nowadays, however, so I imagine it’s only a matter of time before Nissan makes the change that Toyota did.

Why doesn’t everyone have Japanese-style suspended petrol pumps?

In Japanese petrol stations the pumps come down from the roof, leaving the entire garage forecourt free. It must be safe (this is Japan we’re talking about here), so why isn’t it more popular abroad??

Photo of what I’m talking about here.

Why did the Tokugawa Japanese trade with the Chinese through the Dutch?

This interesting little nugget was also in the episode of the Radio 4 programme In Our Time that I mentioned in the last post. Apparently, the Chinese refused to trade directly without the Japanese taking on their previous tributary position of being (theoretical) vassals.

Why sakoku?

Despite one incredibly waffly professor, I learnt quite a lot from this BBC radio programme on the policy of closing Japan to (most) foreign contacts in the Edo period. One thing that it wasn’t such an unusual policy because the Chinese had attempted to do the same more than once before. They also mentioned that because Japan was self-sufficient most imports were fripperies, something frowned on in zen-inspired samurai bushido culture. The main reason, however, seems to be that unrestricted trade would have enriched the rather independent-minded Kyushu daimyo lords.

Why “university potato” (daigaku imo)?

It’s long struck me as an odd name, and finally got round to looking at the daigaku imo Wikipedia page. Alternative explanations given are:

– In the Taisho period university students in the Kanda area of Tokyo liked eating it

– In early Showa period Tokyo University students made and sold it to help support themselves

– There was a popular shop for this dish in front of the main gate of Tokyo University


Why is east of the Keihintouhoku line scummier?

In station after station on this line, if you take the East exit you’ll soon pass love hotels, dusty parks and rundown traditional shopping streets, whereas if you took the West exit and continued walking inland (and probably uphill) you’d soon find huge houses and luxury flats. It’s partly to do with that walking inland and uphill, because the other side of the tracks is low-lying mainly reclaimed land. There are and were the practical problems with flooding, mosquitoes, pollution from the factories on the bay and potentially tsunamis down there. Possibly at least as important, however, is the status of many of the places inland, especially those on hills and slopes. This is often based on a history long before they were swallowed up by Tokyo, and often one associated with the country estates of the aristocracy.

I don’t know other areas so well, but similar reasons usually explain why there is so often literally a wrong side of the tracks in Japan.



Why are Japanese lampposts etc covered in bobbly plastic?

I’m pretty sure it’s to stop billposting, but I guess it would also save you a little if you walked into a lampost (as I had to be taken into hospital for when I was 11…)

Why is this Japanese commuter train so smelly?

Are you in the western carriage of the Sobu/ Chuo local line on its way to Suidobashi? If not, is there perhaps another place you can bet similar to the Korakuen Wins betting shop in Suidobashi on your route? Seems to be the reason about 90% of the time when it happens to me…

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