Why doesn’t Japan produce more geothermal energy?

I’ve been wondering this for a while. With its many volcanoes and hot springs, Japan clearly has the ability to produce electricity from heat underground. It also has some big companies that make the hardware. However, Japan only gets 0.3% of its energy from geothermal sources, making up just 5% of the world’s total and being about the same as the tiny population of Iceland use.

A student of mine works for a Japanese company building a new geothermal plant in Indonesia, and she claimed that the main impediment in Japan is that most good sites are in national parks. An article on the topic on the Economist website mentions that but puts more emphasis on resistance from onsen hot springs owners who are worried that all their hot water might be drained away. While they are a surprisingly powerful lobby in Japan, I think it’s much more likely to be the influence of the power companies, who for some reason have resisted any pressure to produce renewable energy and have had the political clout to make sure no pressure is put on them (the same main reason for nuclear accidents etc).


Why don’t people (often) eat koi?

There are obvious reasons for not eating a $5000 prize fish, but there are plenty of koi in the wild. Apparently they have lots of bones and taste crap, but that’s true of plenty of fish and a good recipe can make up for anything. I therefore think there might be another reason.

Koi tend to live in slow moving or stagnant water, so I wonder if they particularly accumulate diseases, pollution and/ or parasites. There’s a story that eating the koi from “Abraham’s Pond” in Sanliurfa in Eastern Turkey makes you go blind and while that is unlikely to literally be true, such culinary taboos tend to be based on some kind of health risk (as, apparently, with pork in Arabia).

Why are the Japanese getting more nationalistic?

A recent survey covered in the Japan Times had the seemingly contradictory results of young Japanese becoming more nationalistic and more young Japanese being unhappy with their lives (in Japan). I think there could well be a link between that unhappiness and nationalism. A recent BBC radio programme said that there is a link between depression and religious fanaticism in a way that there isn’t with experiencing prejudice and deprivation that most people seem to expect in the history of people joining ISIS etc. I very much expect the same is true of people searching for some certainty and purpose in their life through nationalism. In some ways they are both rational responses to the increasingly crappy world that we are living in…

I really do think that unhappiness is probably the biggest cause, but other possibly relevant factors include:

  • More nationalistic education, as left-wing teachers have less and less influence in schools, and the LDP are less and less interested in consensus and middle ways
  • More generally, the 60s leftwingers are fading out without another substantial generation of opposition to the ruling consensus having come along to replace them
  • Education spending even less time on opening students’ minds and getting them to think for themselves as it becomes even more focused on exams (despite many predictions and plans suggesting Japanese education was heading in the opposite direction)
  • More news and opinions coming from the internet, where the influence of the always most vocal rightwingers is even more obvious than when it comes to the protests, forcing the cancelling of events etc that they already dominate (in contrast to the many countries where those things are mainly left wing tactics)
  • Attacks on the vaguely liberal leanings of NHK and Asahi Shimbun meaning that they lose their influence
  • A reaction against globalization
  • Encouragement of nationalism by politicians who want to distract people from issues like increasing inequality
  • A reaction to the similar swings in South Korea and China, especially when that turns into anti-Japanese feelings

Explanations of Japanese company names updated

About half changed in the last week or so:

Japanese company names explained

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”…

Why is Frozen so popular in Japan?

It’s of course been popular all over the world, but nowhere else has it been the top film for 10 weeks, and in fact without the overwhelming success in Japan it probably wouldn’t have been the record breaker it has been. It can’t be the Disney Princess effect, because that isn’t half as popular here as it is back home in the UK.

Here are some possible reasons why the Japanese have really got into Ana to Yuki no Joo (Anna and the Snow Queen, as it’s called in Japan), in order of probable importance and with the only explanation I’ve been able to find online top:

1. Disney really got the dubbed version right

This is Disney’s own explanation for the success, and I definitely think it’s a big factor – especially making sure that the singers sing a lot less “X Factor” than the American ones do.

2. The songs are great for karaoke

The singalong version of the movie came later to Japanese cinemas than elsewhere, but I’m sure the actual karaoke boxes must have been ringing to the tune of Do you Wanna Make a Snowman etc.

3. Disney have been on a roll in Japan

Although not this much, Tangled (called Rapunzel in Japan) and Wreck it Ralph (called Sugar Rush) were also big hits here. Even the pretty rubbish Monsters University did surprisingly well here.

4. Japanese anime films haven’t been doing so well

… leaving a gap in the market.

5. The songs work well in other languages

Apparently some people doubted whether these quite musically musical songs would be popular with the kids, but it seems that show tunes sure do at least translate into Japanese well.

6. The characters are quite anime-looking

I haven’t done any measuring, but even before I heard how successful this film was in Japan I’d agreed with my daughter that their eyes were bigger than any Disney cartoons we’d seen before.

7. The story seems to be more well-known in Japan than it is back home

When we saw it on the plane (in English), my daughter turned to me after about ten minutes and said “This is Ana to Yuki no Joo”, having no idea that was the actual title of it in Japanese. Apparently she’d come across the original story at nursery school long before the Disney cartoon came out. My (Japanese) wife had never heard of it though, the same as me, so don’t know how generally true that is, hence it’s place here near the bottom of the list above only…

8. The Japanese like animation with more complex stories

I’ve read Frozen being described this way, but it’s no Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi in Japanese), so this theory goes bottom of the list…

Did I get any of those in the wrong order or just totally wrong. Any theories of your own? Comments below please.

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.

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