Why do the Japanese sell health foods by colour?

Today I saw an advert for a diet food including ‘five blacks’ (itsutsu no kuro) and there are plenty of juices boasting how many purple things are in them. Although generalising the health properties of foods by colour is certainly not unique to Japan, it seems to be more common and more discussed than I remember back home.

I wonder if it all started with the more traditional health drink of ao jiru (green juice- or literally blue juice – made from various green leaves including kale) and spread from there colour by colour in a typical Japanese process of innovations through variations.

Why do so many Japanese books consist of interviews and lectures?

I’ve never read and rarely seen a book-length interview with someone or transcribed lecture in English, but in Japan it seems like about 30% of the non-fiction section are exactly those two things. I’d long assumed it was just because of the “churn them out fast and cheap” philosopy of Japanese publishers, similar to the reason why reality television has taken over British TV. Still think that’s true, but there may well be another reason.

According to a student of mine and what I’ve read elsewhere, spoken and written Japanese are quite different from each other, more like spoken and written German or Greek than the comparatively similar spoken and written English. A consequence of this that I hadn’t thought about is many Japanese people going for books which are as close to spoken English as they can get, hence interviews and lectures. Probably even more true amongst the tired commuters who are a main market.

Might also help explain the popularity of comics amongst adults, of course.

Why do only expats have foreign nannys in Japan?

I’d been wondering this one for a while, because it’s fairly common to see foreign kids with a southeast Asian nanny, but I thought it was visa restrictions that was stopping Japanese parents doing the same:

“Only diplomats and foreigners admitted as highly skilled professionals can currently sponsor visas for housekeepers from abroad”

Japan Times, 21 May 2014

Why is it called “Japanese” encephalitis?

“Although named Japanese encephalitis, because it was isolated in Japan in 1935, this form of the condition is much more common in parts of Asia outside Japan”

Although it’s somewhat more common to the south and west and in rural areas “in Tokyo the last fatality was reported in 1969 and no infections have been recorded since 1990”. So – not much more danger than of getting Spanish flu in Spain…

Quotes from the May edition of the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan magazine.

Why is Asian bread so sweet?

This question still pops into my head when I bite into a sausage roll with sweet and milky bread surrounding it. When I first moved to Japan it was an almost daily question – one that expanded in geographical reach when I went back to Thailand on holiday and suddenly remembered having the exact same reaction to almost exactly the same kind of bread when I lived there in the late 90s.

And it was in a book on Thai popular culture that I found the answer. The bread was brought to Asia by the Portuguese back in the late 16th century when they dominated the area. One reason for it then remaining popular was probably what I first thought was the reason, the general lack of a clear black and white distinction between savoury and sweet in Asian cultures (and one could argue a dislike of Western-style black and white distinctions more generally).

Older answer to this here.

Why do the Japanese pronounce English like katakana?

As well as the obvious reasons (the many consonant sounds which can exist without vowels after them in English but only with vowels in Japanese, use of katakana in teaching English in Japanese schools and language learning materials), it’s recently occurred to me that some of my students are adding the katakana vowel sounds to give themselves thinking time.

I first noticed that some were using a long and intrusive sound even when there is usually a short and almost imperceptible sound in Japanese in situations like final k and final sh. A couple of weeks later I worked out that it was exactly those students who needed time to think of what they were going to say, translate in their heads etc who were adding the most intrusive extra vowel sounds to their English.

Why does Kunitachi city have the kanji of ‘kokuritsu’ (national)?

I’ve spent years passing and then working in this place in the west of Tokyo on the Chuo line, fairly often wondering “National what?” and “Why just the adjective?” I even walked the length of the quite impressive avenue that leads from the station to see if it leads to anything of national importance, but it just fades away.

Turns out the name is simply a combination of the first kanji of Kokubunji (国 from 国分寺) and Tachikawa (立 from 立川) because it was a new town  halfway between those two places, and it being the same kanji as national (国立) is just coincidence.

Thanks to the kanji column in Japan Times for this one.