There's an interesting article in the Japan Times about the challenges facing Japanese farmers; namely the pickiness of consumers. Apparently "irregular" vegetables, which are either shaped oddly or are too big or small, are bought for lower prices or not at all. One anecdote tells of a farmer who had to resignedly throw out boxes of his broccoli crop because they were too big.
I'm back, after a brief hiatus where I learned how to speak Russian (and subsequently lost it in a poker game), here today to talk about manners in Japan.
After spending ten ("juu") days in Japan ("Nippon"), it's safe to say I became an expert ("expertashiwaru") on Japanese manners. If you learn nothing else from this blog, know this -- the Japanese like to bow. A lot. Pass a friend on the street? Bow. Cashier hand you your change after buying violent comic book porn? Bow. Someone just bow to you? Bow. I was very happy with this system, as I've been bowing all my life. You see, when I was a young little Tiembi, I didn't talk much. No high-fives, no boistrous greetings to friends...I prefered a subtle, silent nod. Imagine my surprise when I discovered there was an entire country out there mainly known for their subtle, silent nodding!
Okay, okay...not all bowing is subtle. Different situations call for different degrees of bowing, it seems. I noticed three distinct levels of bowing. When a cashier handed me my change, I'd fire off a Level 1 nod -- quick nod, barely any neck movement. If I was introduced to someone new, I went for a Level 2 nod -- bowing a little deeper, but nothing crazy or flamboyant...I just threw a little more neck into it. I never got to utilize a Level 3 nod, which is where you bend at the waist, bow deep, and probably close your eyes. I figure bowing at such a degree is reserved for receiving a college diploma or beating the original Mega Man without dying once.
But enough about bowing. We all know the Japanese like bowing. In regards to manners in Japan, what surprised me were the little things I take for granted here. Like sneezing. While on a train, the woman next to me sneezed; my brain must've been on autopilot, because I turned to her and said "bless you," despite not even knowing if she spoke English. Apparently, she didn't. She looked at me for a moment, then apparently got embarassed and quickly turned away. Hoping to clear up the matter, I turned to the beloved blogger, Mr. Blue Shoe, and asked how to say "bless you" in Japanese.
"They don't say that here."
"Then, what do they say?"
"Oh...well, maybe I'll start the trend here."
As of this posting, blessing sneezers has not caught on in Japan. Yet.
I also noticed a lack in male chivarly. Though my experiences were limited, I saw nary a door opened for a lady. In fact, walking into a grocery store, I held the door open so that the woman behind me could walk in, and it was like she could not bow enough to express her gratitude. I think if I helped carry her groceries to her car, I could've gotten a marriage proposal out of it. And speaking of carrying...while in a Costco (a wholesale warehouse that, yes, exists in Japan too), I saw a woman carrying two items -- a giant can of coffee, and a roughly seven month old fetus in her womb. Her husband? He was walking a few steps ahead, staring at the aisles, with his hands in his pockets.
That's not to say all Japanese men are inconsiderate bouchedags. Certainly we have our fair share here in America. But, sad to say, enough of these incidents occured that I couldn't help but take notice. For a society that has roughly 418 ways to apologize (133 of which don't require words), I was surprised that the notion of male chivalry never caught on. It's no wonder the Japanese women seem to adore us Western boys. Let that be a lesson. If you go to Japan, hold a few doors, carry a few bags, and the ladies will be bowing out of the palm of your hand.
The other day I attended my high school's annual band concert. Throughout the school year and even during vacation, band members can be heard after school practicing all around the school grounds. And they practice hard. I'm talking hours a day, every day, for months. These concerts are the culmination of their efforts. Unfortunately, I was only able to stick around for the first half of the performance, but I liked what I heard. Here is a clip of their first piece, and my favorite of what I stuck around for. It's a selection of pieces from the movie "Kiki's Delivery Service," which I've never seen but have heard good things about.
Via Japan Probe. This commercial gave me a good laugh.
Well, Silver Week has begun. That is, we're now at the start of a 5-day weekend. I have to teach on Thursday, but have taken Friday off, which means only one day of work in the next 9 days. I expect to do some blogging, but please forgive me if I slow down slightly - I may be running or lazing around quite a bit, as well.
I've noticed that in Japan the genders tend to be somewhat segregated. Guys and girls don't seem to hang out in mixed company as friends in the same way or with the same frequency as in the States. They don't tend to mix unless romantically involved or thrown together circumstantially (a circle, club, organization, etc.). Of course I'm generalizing, but the difference from back home is noticeable.
The symbol of Nara, the old capital, deer (or 鹿) can be found throughout Japan. In Shinto, deer were thought to be the messengers of the gods. Graceful and swift, these elegant creatures...nah, I can't do it. My experiences in Japan have soured me on the species. Screw deer.
Today I went for a hike in Kyoto with a group of outdoor/hiking enthuthiasts called the Ramblers. It's a Kansai-based group that organizes monthly hikes and is open to everyone. Today about 50 people showed up, which I'm told is a little smaller than usual. I was struck by the fact that of the Japanese I talked to (there were some foreigners, too), most of them seemed almost fluent or at least at a conversational level of proficiency with English. Random experiences like these make me skeptical whenever I hear someone voice the opinion that Japanese are not good at foreign languages. Based on my personal experiences, I would beg to differ.
Or rather, take that, McDonalds.
Ok, so they're not technically bees, but still - this guy rocks. I thought this video appropriate considering the amount of space I've given bees and hornets lately. Watch to the end - the hives are of ridiculous size!
Well, despite all the forces of the universe working against me, I made it back to Japan last night. I won't go into all my grievances, but let's just say I'm never going to voluntarily fly United again.
A couple weeks ago I mentioned that an unwanted guest had moved in next to my washing machine. I checked out the hole this morning and didn't see anything inside, so I'm hoping the boric acid did the trick. If it turns out that she was just out getting breakfast and is still residing with me, I'll keep you aware of whatever further measures I need to take.