New Japanese trend: Ad-sponsored notepaper!

Posted on October 09, 2008 | evankirby

One of our staff members also teaches at a local university, and was surprised this week to receive a student’s homework assignment that looked like this:

Ad-sponsored paper

It’s notepaper with ads! The bottom 5th of each page has an ad for a local business, targeted at university students’ wants: karaoke bars, Internet cafes, cheap Internet providers, clothes, and so on. The student said that people were handing this out in front of the university, similar to the tissues that are often handed out at train stations.
It’s ingenious, in a way – there really is no place that advertising can’t reach!

More strange Japanese customs

Posted on July 05, 2008 | evankirby

Strange Japanese customs 2

At long last, a follow-up to our year-old post on strange Japanese customs. To recap, we put a blank sheet of paper on the wall and asked students to write any strange customs or cultural things they noticed in Japan on that paper. Last year we gave you numbers 1 to 20. This year, numbers 21 to 46:

21: Japanese gear shift! (We don’t know exactly what the student was surprised about – are they very different from those in other countries? Almost all cars in Japan are automatic, but also allow manual switching.)
22: Traditional Japanese bath (You are expected to wash your body before you get in the bath, and everyone shares the same water.)
23: Japan is the #1 importer of reggae. (It’s true that reggae, and hip-hop, are very popular in Japan – there are always posters and fliers around the downtown area for concerts.)
24: Girls stopping dead in their tracks to yell かわいい! (“kawaii”, or “cute”)
25: Overly complicated toilets (Many Western-style toilets in Japan include heated seats with temperature control, adjustable bidet functions, sound effects, and more.)
26: Customs has a mascot. (Sometimes it seems like almost all companies and offices have a cute cartoon mascot – even the tax office puts little animals on their documents…)
27: Everyone assumes I’m American. (Japanese people do have an unfortunate tendency to ask foreigners “Are you American?” This can be very annoying for non-US people.)
28: Bus drivers turn off the bus during red lights. (This is most likely to help reduce pollution. There is a fairly large campaign called “Stop the idling”.)
29: and my friend told me there’s a sign on the bus saying that the exhaust is good for the environment!
30: People saying えええええええええええええええ (“eeeeeeeeeeeeee”, an expression of surprise. Usually said with a rising intonation).
31: Public buses have no priority over other cars, and no separate lanes.
32: No napkins even in good restaurants. (Although, to be fair, they do give you a wet towel instead.)
33: I went to a Japanese party and they were separated into 先輩 (“senpai”, senior) and 後輩 (“kouhai”, junior).
34: Bike riders wear gloves to protect themselves from the sun, but no helmets!
35: Why do so many people hand out packets of tissues but it is rude to blow your nose in public?
36: Hand basin on top of toilet cistern. (This is often considered a case of good design – the clean water going into the toilet cistern can be used to wash your hands after using the toilet.)
37: Little flashing lights on kerbs and junctions at night.
38: Riding bikes with high heels.
39: Look! There’s another 外人 (“gaijin”, foreigner)! (Yes, foreigners are still somewhat rare in Fukuoka, but the number is increasing all the time!)
40: No laughing in the movie theater. (This might be because subtitles aren’t as funny as the original movie, but in general Japanese people are pretty quiet at movies – even scary ones.)
41: Swatting flies by clapping your hands.
42: Girls shave their arms and eyebrows as well as their legs.
43: There’s two settings on the toilet handle, 小 (“shou”, small) and 大 (“dai”, big).
44: The public transport system – it works!
45: There are billions of vending machines!
46: My host father took off his pants after dinner because he was too hot! (We’ve seen this in several places, actually, including teachers at a high school unzipping their pants when hot.)

Useful info for students 2: Great hot springs!

Posted on November 03, 2007 | evankirby

Yu no hana

One of the most relaxing things you can do in Japan is take a dip in an 温泉 (onsen, hot spring). And luckily, there's a great one just 5 minutes' walk from the school!
天神ゆの華 (Tenjin yu no hana) is a natural hot spring, meaning that water is piped up from 500 meters underground. They have a helpful info board outside with some details about the water:

Yu no hana info board

So, the natural 温度 (ondo, water temperature) is 30.6 degrees Celsius. (It is of course heated for the baths.) Next is the 湧出量 (yuushutsuryou, discharge amount), 毎分750リットル (maifun 750 rittoru, 750 liters per minute). Finally the ph (or in Japanese, ペーハー) is 6.6.
Notice the little picture down in the bottom right there. Bonus points if you can guess what it means. That's right, no tattoos!

This onsen costs just 700 yen each time, and offers a huge variety of baths, as well as sauna, steam room, and more. If you don't have your own towel, you can rent or buy one there, for 150 yen. Usually, people bring one small towel (to take into the onsen), and one larger one (to dry yourself off afterwards).

Anyway, the procedure for the onsen is a little complex, and it's easy to make a mistake the first time you go, so we've compiled a little guide to make things easier for you. Unfortunately, they wouldn't let us take any photos from inside the onsen, so in the absence of us sneaking a hidden camera inside, it's all words from here on in, plus a few photos stolen from their website. It might be a good idea to print this out when you go!

Parental speed dating in Fukuoka

Posted on February 22, 2007 | evankirby

We caught a strange segment on the local TV news recently about a new trend in dating: parents attending group "dating" sessions for their unmarried kids. Basically, parents who are worried that their (adult) child won't be able to find a partner can attend meetings of other similar parents. Each parent brings a profile of their child, with photographs. Parents then talk to other parents to try to find someone who might be a good match. It goes without saying, but the children themselves are, of course, not present...

Parental dating
A father is bowing to the parents of another child. As the subtitles show, he is saying 年齢はいっしょ (nenrei ha issho, or "They're the same age (therefore, possibly a match)").

交渉成立!身上書と写真を交換 (koushou seiritsu! Shinjousho to shashin o koukan. ("Negotiations complete! Parents exchange profiles and photographs.")

Why is this important? Well, take a look at the next graph:

Population graph

This is a graph of Japan's population. As we learned previously, 億 (oku) means one hundred million. So, the population of Japan in 2005 was 127,800,000. And by 2055, that is expected to drop by almost 40 million, or 30%, to 89,983,000! So, looks like Japan needs all the babies it can get... As this insanely useful site mentions, the average age of women at first marriage in Japan is almost 27, and for men, 30. But more importantly, the total fertility rate is only 1.3 children per woman, one of the lowest in the world. While the Japanese welfare minister Yanagisawa's recent remarks on women were badly thought out and spoken, we understand his alarm about the problem itself.

No tattoos in the onsen in Japan!

Posted on February 21, 2007 | evankirby

No tattoos

Many onsen (public baths) in Japan have very strict rules about tattoos: nobody with a tattoo is allowed in. The picture above is from the onsen we often take students to, close to the school. The text above the evocative picture says 入れ墨禁止 (irezumi kinshi, or tattoos forbidden).

Tattoos forbidden in onsen
This picture was the only English text visible in the entrance of an onsen!

The original reason for this ban was to keep out ヤクザ (yakuza), or members of other 暴力団体 (violence groups). However, this obviously doesn't apply to most foreigners. While onsen employees obviously don't perform full-body checks before letting people in, there is still a chance that you would be asked to leave if another patron complained about your tattoo. In one case, a young, red-haired English girl we know was thrown out of an onsen because of a small tattoo on her lower back, despite her obviously not being a member of a violence group. If you have tattoos and you're coming to Japan, you may have to apply a band-aid before you go for a bath...

Cellphones, is there anything you can't do?

Posted on December 11, 2006 | evankirby

A member of our staff purchased life insurance recently, and the salesperson came to the school to finalize the contract. After the staff member filled out the paper application, the salesperson pulled out her cellphone, opened a special program, and started registering the application information with the central office using that tiny keypad. It took about 5 minutes in total (including more than a few do-overs from fumbled fingers...).
We were surprised that someone would use a cellphone for something like this, where a laptop would seem to be much more suitable, but it seems that for a fleet of roving salespeople who mostly work part-time, the cellphone is the perfect tool, as everyone carries it with them anyway. Even so, we don't look forward to the day when people ask us to teach Japanese by cellphone...

The strange customs of Japan - student collection

Posted on October 03, 2006 | evankirby

Strange Japanese customs
We put a blank piece of paper up on the wall in the student area at school, for students to write the weird cultural things they noticed about Japan. Well, they've built up a nice number already, so it's time to paste them onto the Internet for everyone to see!

Clicking the picture above will take you to a larger version on our photo gallery, but if you'd rather read neat machine-typed text, here's the list (with comments as necessary):

1. Special slippers just for the toilet.
2. Shop staff who follow you out of the store and bow to you as you walk away.
3. The streets aren't named, just occasionally the intersections! (Even taxi drivers have problems finding their way around!)
4. No paper towels anywhere, and some restrooms don't even have soap!
5. Women-only wagons on the train.
6. In most department stores, it is forbidden to drink or eat.
7. Store staff shout "irasshaimase!" even when nobody is around. (いらっしゃいませ! is the equivalent of the English word "welcome!", and traditionally in Japan store staff say it to customers entering a store. However, they also shout it at random intervals too, for some reason.)
8. EXPENSIVE PUBLIC TRANSPORT! (Yes, Fukuoka is quite bad for this, although recently 100-yen tickets on the bus and subway have been increasing.)
9. Where are the trashcans??? (For a very clean country, there are extremely few trashcans around. Part of this is that people don't eat on the streets, of course...)
10. "Condoms" for wet umbrellas... (In most larger stores, a dispenser by the door gives out umbrella-shaped bags to make sure your umbrella doesn't drip everywhere.)
11. Where is all the litter, since there are no trashcans??? (Somebody found a theme, I think.)
12. People in clothing stores insist you take your shoes off before fitting, and want you to put your shirt over your current one...
13. Timed parking meters for bicycles ... Funny! (Fukuoka ranked number one in Japan for the number of abandoned bicycles a few years ago, so there is now a big effort to improve bicycle parking in the city center. The main thrust of this is installing parking meters, at 100 yen a time.
14. Filling out questionnaires after a punk show. (Doesn't sound very punk...)
15. Wiping of dog after it eats, pees or poos.
16. Sales person made us stay for tea, cookie, and then kneeled for my $ (¥).
17. All the plastic food displayed in the windows of restaurants.
18. Women are doing their make-up while riding a bike, or shaving eyebrows on the train.
19.Actually, the friendliness of shop staff, waiters, etc. Try to find this in Europe or the US.
20. Women in beautiful high heeled shoes but actually dragging them with every step, totally taking away the effect.

Calling people in Japan by their titles, not names

Posted on September 24, 2006 | evankirby

Continuing the theme of social standing, another interesting facet of Japanese society is how people are called only by their title even when away from work or even after quitting their job!
For example, each office in a company generally has one 課長 (kachou, section chief). When subordinate staff talk to or about him, they will call him 課長, instead of his name. This is generally true even if they meet for drinks after work, or some other relaxed setting. And a 校長先生 (kouchou sensei, school principal) will always be called 校長先生, long after he quits the job to tend to his flowers.

Foreigners working as English teachers in Japan experience this sometimes, when people who they’ve never taught refer to them directly as 先生 (sensei, teacher). Women who are obviously married (whether because of wedding ring, or just attitude) will often be called 奥さん (okusan, literally "wife"), almost the Japanese equivalent of “madam”, by shop staff and salesmen. Other people in a store will be called お客様 (okyakusama, customer) to their faces, as in 「お客様、こちらの窓口でお願いします。」 (“Okyakusama, kochira no madoguchi de onegai shimasu”, “Sir/Madam, I’ll help you at this window").

It can often seem somewhat cold to a native English speaker to call a person by their job title rather than name, especially after you’ve become friends with them. But in Japan, it’s what’s expected of you. The good thing is, it means you don’t have to remember everybody’s name, as long as you can remember their title!

Social standing and language in Japan

Posted on September 21, 2006 | evankirby

In Japan, it’s very important to know a person’s social standing, as it affects the language you use when you talk to that person. This is why Japanese people often ask how old someone is when they first meet, especially if the two people are quite close in age – until they know who is older and who is younger, they don’t know what form of Keigo they should use, so it’s hard to carry on a conversation!

This social structure is extremely rigid, and begat the very formalized 先輩 (senpai, senior) and 後輩 (kouhai, junior) relationships. Senpai-kouhai relationships can perhaps be seen best in sports. In high school baseball teams, for instance, the 1st-year students must do everything for the 3rd-year students, including getting them drinks and snacks, cleaning up after games or practice, and washing uniforms. This is done regardless of baseball ability. When the 1st years themselves become 3rd years, they of course expect the same thing of the new 1st years. This relationship is perhaps not so rare, as it is also seen in British public schools, among other places. However, in Japan this relationship will continue as long as the two people know each other. Even long after high school graduation, the former 1st year will always be considered kouhai by his senior/senpai. And he will defer to his senpai accordingly, often even calling the person “Senpai” in daily life.

GenkiJACS' first "goukon"

Posted on April 16, 2006 | evankirby


Today's topic is the "goukon" (or gokon, or gookon), a modern-traditional Japanese dating party. "Goukon" is short for "Gouryuu Konpa". Gouryuu means to come together, or merge. Konpa is Japanese-English ("wasei eigo") for Companion Party.
Basically, a goukon is a slightly formalized way for young people to meet possible partners outside of their standard circle of friends. Usually, there are two "hosts", one female and one male. Each one invites a number of friends of the same sex as them. Generally, only the two hosts know each other in advance - everybody else is meeting for the first time.