Why is there a Harris tweed boom in Japan?

I first heard of this through the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan magazine, and finally came across it myself last week in my local Aeon supermarket, of all places, where Harris tweed was brightfully decorating some manbags which were twice the price of the other choices.

Upon doing some research, this hand-spun wool from the Outer Hebrides of Scotland seems to be going through a bit of a boom in general, but virtually every article on the topic mentions that Japan has suddenly become the number one market. What I can’t find is any ideas about why. Could it be related to the Japanese love of expensive Scotch whiskey or, more recently, expensive Scottish beer? Any theories or further info, anyone?


Where did wasabi peas come from?

Went back to the UK for the first time in 2 years a couple of weeks ago, and the snack “wasabi peas” was everywhere. It’s no means that common in Japan – how did it become so popular back home??

Why do the Japanese want to see eight countries in six days?

It’s certainly not just the Japanese, with Brazilians and Koreans being just two nationalities who do exactly the same thing. Here are my possible explanations for the nationality I know best, anyway:

– They do tourism in Japan exactly the same way, e.g. every famous thing in Kyoto in half a day, probably mainly for the same reasons

– Although the speed wasn’t possible, traditional pilgrimages like the 88 shrines in Shikoku had a very similar list ticking approach. Series of landscape Ukiyo-e also seem to take a similar sightseeing by numbers approach

– Japanese holidays are short (two weeks a year, of which they usually only take one to save inconveniencing their colleagues) and they expect to make the most of them

– Things were even more extreme until the 70s, when currency restrictions basically restricted foreign travel to business trips

– They plan absolutely everything before they go, and it’s difficult to plan “Wander around and sit in a café” for Day Four

– The knowledge of each place is limited

– Japanese and world geography is taught this way, with each place being represented by one thing, one dish etc

– If they don’t see the famous stuff, people back home will want to know why. In the same way, if you go to see anything different, there’s the chance that your colleagues will label you as an eccentric individualist. In other words, it makes conversing when you get back a whole lot easier

– Ditto with photos- if you can just show yourself in front of the Eiffel Tower, you can quickly get the conversation out of the way

Like I said, other nationalities do exactly the same thing despite having totally different cultures, so it could just be as simple as never knowing if/ when you’ll have the chance to go again. After all, I’ve never known a “five Asian countries in seven days” tour, though it would certainly be possible

Why do Japanese teachers not have the discipline problems of teachers in Britain or America?

At the worst high schools, some of the classes can actually look and sound more out of control, for some of the same reasons that most of them don’t:
-Lower standards set for general levels of noise, everyone finishing at the same time, listening to every word the teacher says etc means less reasons for teachers and students to clash
– Clear (some would say repetitive) classroom routines
– Alternating quite free and easy periods and very controlled ones
– Stronger peer pressure- usually to behave, but in the worst classes the opposite
– Going at the speed of the slowest students
– Putting one to one time sorting out problems with students ahead of retaining the attention of the rest of the class
– Fewer social problems such as broken families, chronic unemployment etc. outside class

– Consistent teaching methods and discipline methods from class to class and school to school

– Being allowed to totally let off steam when they are free, including almost complete freedom to fight!

– Patience from the teachers, mainly due to an understanding that discipline comes from socialization rather than from classroom techniques

Why do the Japanese still bow?

Bowing seems to be a universal human gesture, as by making yourself lower than the person you are bowing to and making yourself vulnerable to attack by lowering your head and not looking at them you show respect in an unmistakable way. Similar gestures exist in other animals. However, in most European societies bowing has almost died out, remaining only for kings and queens and possibly from servants to masters, and I think these vestiges give a clue to why it still exists in Japan more generally.

Politeness in Japan is fundamentally different from politeness in modern Britain, to take an example of another country that is famous for its manners. For example, in a shop in the UK the shopkeeper and customer will say please and thank you an approximately equal number of times, and the body language and tone of voice will also convey the illusion that both sides are equal. In Japan, the customer is king, and the king will often show that with a lack of the bowing, polite language, avoiding eye contact etc that the server will use, and in a convenience store will often not say a word during the whole interaction. The language and body language of interactions with bosses, sempai etc. often work the same way. Therefore, politeness in Japan is still a way of showing distinctions in status between people, whereas most politeness in the UK is now to pretend that those differences don’t exist.

More on bowing (not including my theory!) on the Wikipedia page here, including the interesting theory that the “scraping” in “bowing and scraping” comes from the foot moving backwards in a Elizabethan bow.

Why is Bulgarian yoghurt so famous in Japan?

One of my students was guessing that Meiji Foods or another Japanese manufacturer picked the name for one of their yoghurts from a random encyclopedia entry and everyone else just copied it. I’m sure real Bulgarian yoghurt is great, it being in the right part of the world, but in the UK the yoghurt from neighbouring Greece and Turkey are much more famous.
This is a question I’ve long wondered about, but has come up again after the inevitable “now yoghurt isn’t the most famous thing from Bulgaria” comment in today’s Japan Times after the victory of Kotooshu in the sumo

What is it with Japanese guys and their obsession with panchira (a glimpse of a girl’s white panties)?

“…it is an art form. Similiar to bullfighting in Spain.” Read the rest of this entry »

Why are the Japanese still obsessed with Beaujolais Nouveau?

There is a tradition of seasonal drinks and marketing. The light taste also suits the palate of Japanese who are not used to red wine and the Japanese habit of/ recent trend for cooling red wine. Because of these elements and a continuing belief that good quality wine must be French, the producers turn their full marketing power on the Japanese market and reinforce the trend.

Why would anyone buy a Tokyo Walker-style entertainment mag that just has endless pictures of restaurants and doesn’t tell you which ones are any good?

Me and a student of mine were pondering on this for ages and then came up with the same answer at the same time- it’s mainly used as a conversation starter, e.g. for a new couple or colleagues groping their way towards a friendship nervously discussing where they should go away for a weekend trip. This realisation of how difficult the Japanese find conversation (even more than the British- see “Watching the English” for details), has been the biggest of all naruhodo moments for me. It explains the popularity of hostess bars, food that keeps your hands busy like yakiniku and okonomiyaki, akachochin mama san bars, karaoke, the endless talk about food and the weather, getting naked with your colleagues in a bath where it’s too hot to speak, limiting discussion of your holiday to the exchange of souvenirs, etc etc etc

How have small shops managed to survive in Japan?

Just like in Italy, small business owners are, due to their number, organisation and support of the ruling party for most of the last 50 years, a politically influential group that is well protected by its politician friends. If I’m right about this one, the same must be true in France- any France experts want to support me or put me right? Not sure if the profusion of small shops in Japan that give the place atmosphere and a personal touch but keep prices high is an argument for or against free markets- maybe an argument for a happy medium between Italy and the UK?? Actually, who could argue against anywhere that was a happy medium between Italy and the UK in almost anything??

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