Why do the Japanese call sake ‘nihonshu’?

My memory is probably exaggerating, but the way I remember it I arrived in Japan only knowing the words “sake” and “sayonara”, only to find that the Japanese rarely use either in the way I had expected. Still, that’s not as bad as believing my French teacher when he told use that “baiser” means kiss…

“Sake” in fact has two meanings, being the normal way to refer to all alcoholic drinks as well as the famous Japanese rice wine in particular, and is more often used with the former meaning. There is also the only very slightly differently pronounced “sake” that means “salmon”…

To avoid possible misunderstandings, the clearer expression “nihonshu” (“Japanese alcohol” or perhaps “Japanese spirits”) is therefore more often used when talking about Japanese rice wine, though there is also the word “atsukan” for “nihonshu” served hot.

Why do Japanese high school baseball players have buzz cuts?

If you see a buzz cut in Japan, it’s almost certainly means someone on a baseball team. I’d always assumed it was to inculcate a monk-like spirit of dedication to the cause, especially given its name in Japanese – “bouzu” or “monk cut”. This weekend’s Wall Street Journal takes in one step further:

“High-school players often sport buzz-cut hairstyles to minimize individuality”

Seems like that is going a bit far to me, but given the militaristic discipline (and sometimes bullying) of such teams, I suppose it is possible.

This question possibly also answers another one – why other Japanese don’t often go for a quick shearing all over (my own very British haircut choice).

Why do the Japanese jump level crossings?

I see a shocking amount of this on my walk to work, and I say that as someone who is regularly ticked off by policemen for being the only person crossing the street at a red light. So, why are the Japanese, famous for happily waiting for the green man on completely deserted streets, perhaps more likely to rush across the train tracks – and that despite the motion sensor buzzing at them for doing so and the regular news stories of people being killed on train tracks?

First of all, this is yet another example of how the Japanese are not, as some assume, “law abiding”, they simply follow what the majority does, also seen at the few streets where people do regularly run across when the red man is showing, a whole stream of people following each other up the wrong side of the station stairs, etc etc. More importantly with level crossings, this is a perfectly rational reaction to the typical safety overkill by Japanese organisations (and the people who work for them). Perhaps as a reaction to people jumping them, the level crossing gates close long before they need to, but this of course makes people more likely rather than less likely to continue ignoring what they say. In the worst cases, gates are only open for a few seconds after ten or fifteen minutes closed, adding up to only five minutes or so per hour. Better to ignore such an arbitrarily decided closing of the gates than be late for work or to meet a client.

Knowing people’s reactions, trains also tend to travel slowly over such busy level crossings, making it even safer for people to cut under closed barriers, and hence goes on the merry dance of counterproductive Japanese safety overkill. At times it’s almost as bad as my own country’s “health and safety culture”…