Tag Archives: culture

Only-in-America

10 Dec

I’ve lived in Japan for most of my life now, and I have only been back to visit America a few times. In fact, my most recent visit there was over ten years ago ( Click here to read about the reverse-culture-shock I experienced on that trip.)

I was thinking about some things that seem normal to most Americans…but are actually unique to America and kinda odd to people who don’t live there.

1. Flags everywhere / “Pledge of Allegiance”
Every country flies their national colors. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But the American flag is flown everywhere, everyday in the U.S. Even car dealerships and in school classrooms.
Speaking of school classrooms, American children stand with their hand on their heart, facing the flag in the classroom, and recite and pledge of allegiance to the U.S. flag.
A bit like North Korea.

pledge

2. “Sales tax” –
By this I mean, the price shown on the products in stores in America is the pre-sales tax price.
To be honest though, it was the same way in Japan when I first arrived here. At that time, sales tax here was 3% and the after-tax price wasn’t listed on the price-tags. (Just before I came to Japan, there was no sales tax here at all!)
But in 1997, the law was changed that all stores in Japan must show the after-tax price on their products (the sales tax went up to 5% that year too. (Currently, it’s 8%)).

3. “Toilet stalls” –
When people from other countries visit America, the public restrooms are quite a culture shock! The doors are too small! It’s disturbing when you’re using a public toilet but don’t feel like you have privacy.

public-bathroom

4. “Tipping” –
There is no tipping in Japan. When I visited America, I was never sure who to tip or how much! I had to check my guidebook. Waitresses, taxi drivers, hotel staff, bartenders, et al. It felt like, no matter how mediocre the service, I had to tip everyone! And after tips were factored in, the cost for many things in America were actually higher than in Japan.

5. “Guns” –
Besides the police and military, there are virtually no gun owners in Japan.
All of the gun-related violence in America that is reported in the news is sad and shocking.

6. “Alcohol rules” –
In America, beer can’t be enjoyed outdoors in public. And there are hours (and even certain days) that stores don’t sell alcohol.
Why?

There are beer vending machines in Japan.

I’m not putting America down.
I’m just pointing out some peculiarities about the culture of the country of my birth. Every country has them…and sometimes it takes stepping outside the country and experiencing a different culture to see them.

What are some unique cultural peculiarities about America, Japan or any other country that you’ve noticed?

Book review & giveaway 3: Ukiyo-e; The Art of the Japanese Print

10 Sep

I have reviewed some books from Tuttle Publishing (One about Japanese Architecture and another was a Japanese language study tool) and they gave a free copy of each book to random visitors to my blog.

Now, Tuttle Publishing has given me two more books to review on my blog here…and, once again, they will be giving (gave) one free copy of each book to a random visitor of my blog!

The next book that I will be reviewing is titled “Ukiyo-e: The Art of the Japanese Print” by Frederick Harris.

ukiyoe

The details of the book giveaway will be at the end of this review.

The author, Mr. Harris, is an expert on ukiyoe. He has been living in Tokyo for over fifty years and has an art studio here.

This book will appeal to anyone who’s interested in traditional Japanese culture (even if you don’t know about Japanese woodblock prints), interested in ukiyoe (whether you don’t know much about the art or you’re very knowledgeable on the subject), or interested in art in general.

As for me, I’m interested in ukiyoe (I’ve written a few “ukiyoe-related” posts, including this one).

I especially like ukiyoe pictures of Japanese monsters. So, I was a bit disappointed that this book doesn’t have more information and photos of this particular type of ukiyoe.
But, I guess that’s to be expected since woodblock paintings of monsters aren’t nearly as popular as other subjects.

That’s a minor issue anyways, because this is an excellent and comprehensive book.

It is a large, hardcover book full of beautiful photos of all types and styles of ukiyoe prints. It also explains the meaning of the details in the artwork. The hairstyles, types of kimono worn, etc all have meanings!
The book also explains the incredible work and effort that is required to make a ukiyoe painting.
As well as, how to care for a print if you decide to start your own collection.

It’s a wonderful book.

I must mention one thing that could potentially make you rethink adding this book to your collection:
It contains one 10-page chapter of very explicit ukiyoe prints.

Just like artists in any culture or era, many ukiyoe artist often freelanced to earn a living.
They would often design posters and flyers to be used as advertisements for upcoming kabuki shows or sumo matches, as well as do private portraits…and sometimes p○rn0gr@phy (intentionally misspelled by me to avoid attracting spam).

To tell the truth, I was a bit taken aback by the inclusion of this chapter. I knew this type of ukiyoe existed, but I’ve never seen them included in a ukiyoe book or exhibit.

Because these photos are included, I don’t recommend this book where children would access it…such as a school art class and such. But, for adults who don’t mind explicit artwork, I do recommend this book.

Outside of that one chapter, the rest of the photos are the more “common” ukiyoe subjects: geisha, sumo, kabuki, nature, etc.

Ukiyo-e: The Art of the Japanese Print” can be purchased through Amazon here.

As I mentioned above though, the publisher has kindly agreed to give (given) away one free copy of this book to a random visitor to my blog!

To enter the drawing for a chance to win the free book, simply submit the following form by Saturday, 2014 September 27th:

***** Updated September 28th, 2014 *****

This special promo ended on 2014 September 27th. One random winner was selected and contacted directly by Tuttle Publishers (via email) with the details about the free book.

Thank you to all who entered, but only the winner was contacted.
*****

Japanese tips for visiting America

21 Feb
America and Japan are quite different.  There are many books and websites that give advice to Americans who plan to visit Japan.
And, of course, there are similar books and websites for Japanese who plan to visit America.
Actually, even though I’m an American, I’ve been living in Japan for most of my life now and I have only visited America a few times.  Before the most recent visit (in 2004), I bought one of these books for Japanese visiting America!  I wasn’t sure who to tip or how much I should give, I had never rented a car in America before then, etc.
Anyways, the website MentalFloss has translated some advice Japanese people have written on various websites for their fellow Japanese planning to visit the U.S.
Here are ten of their tips:

1. There is a thing called “Dinner Plates.” And what goes on them is a mighty disappointment.

In Japan, each person eating gets as many individual dishes as needed for the meal. Sometimes more than 10 dishes per person are used. In America, there is a method where a large bowl or dish is placed in the middle of the table, and you take as much as you like from there, and put it on a big dish said to be a “dinner plate.”

In Japan, meals at home are for eating, because your stomach is vacant. At an American’s dinner, there is food, decorations on the table and tableware, and music to produce a fun atmosphere. It is a time for maintaining rich human relationships. Therefore, the meal is as long as 40 minutes. In addition, often the decorative tableware has been handed down mother to daughter, two generations, three generations. In addition, there are even more valuable dishes used for Christmas and Thanksgiving.

American food is flat to the taste, indifferent in the subtle difference of taste. There is no such thing there as a little “secret ingredient.” Sugar, salt, pepper, oils, and routine spices are used for family meals. There is no such thing as purely U.S. cuisine, except the hamburger, which isn’t made at home so much. There is almost nothing special to eat based on the different seasons of the year. Basically, they like sweet, high fat, high calories things.

2. Beware Rough Areas Where the Clothes Demand Attention

In Japan, hip hop clothes are considered stylish. But in the United States, it is wise to avoid them, as you might be mistaken for a member of a street gang.

The entire United States does not have good security, unfortunately. However, the difference between a place with good regional security and a “rough area” is clear. People walk less, there is a lot of graffiti, windows and doors are strictly fitted with bars. And young people are dressed in hip hop clothes that say “I want you to pay attention to me!”

3. But You’ll be Pleasantly Surprised by American Traffic Patterns.

Manners with cars in America are really damn good. Japanese people should be embarrassed when they look at how good car manners are in America. You must wait whenever you cross an intersection for the traffic light. People don’t get pushy to go first. Except for some people, everyone keeps exactly to the speed limit. America is a car society, but their damn good manners are not limited to cars.

4. Nobody is impressed by how much you can drink. In fact, shame on you.

In the U.S., they do not have a sense of superiority if they are able to drink a large amount. Rather, if you drink a lot, there is a sense that you cannot manage yourself. There is something close to contempt toward someone who must drink a lot to be drunk. To drink alcohol habitually is to have alcoholism. Alcoholics are weak people mentally, to be one means you have spanned the label of social outcasts that can’t self-manage.

Non-smokers are more important than smokers in the US. Smokers capture the concept that they are not able to control themselves, and are the owners of weak character.

5. They Have Free Time All Week Long!

In America, whether you are a student, working person, or housewife, you carefully make room for leisure time, weekdays and weekends. Most people are ensured free time, always. During the week they use it for walking, jogging, bicycling, tennis, racquetball, bowling, watching movies, reading, and volunteering. On the weekend, they enjoy even more freedom, and take liberal arts courses and have sporting leisures.

In Japan we believe that there is no free time during the weekday. Only the weekend. We spend the weekend watching TV, hanging around home, working, studying, and shopping, or listening to music.

6. Knowing how to use sarcasm is a must to communicate with an American.

If you put your bent middle and index fingers of both hands in the air, you are making finger quotation marks. It means you do not believe what you are saying. You can also say, “or so called.”

7. They tend to horse laugh, even the women. It’s how they show they’re honest.

In Japan, when a woman laughs, she places her hand so it does not show her mouth. It is disgraceful to laugh by loudly opening the mouth. Adult males do not laugh much. There is the saying, “Man, do not laugh so much that you show your teeth.”

In America, when men or women laugh, they do not turn away. They face front, open the mouth, and laugh in a loud voice. This is because in America if you muffle your laugh or turn away while laughing, you give the impression that you are talking about a secret or name-calling. It is nasty.

8. You won’t be getting your groceries anytime soon, so checkout lines are a great place to make friends.

Cashiers are slow. Abysmally slow compared to Japan. I get frustrated when I’m in a hurry. Americans wait leisurely even if you’re in the special checkout for buying just a little something. I thought Americans were going to be quite impatient, but in reality they are extremely laid back. I thought about what I should do with my time while waiting in the grocery matrix, and began to speak at length with other guests.

9. Their vending machines are ridiculously limited and dishonest.

Vending machines in the United States just give carbonated beverages. Coke particularly. If you try to buy the juice from a vending machine when you’re thirsty, it’s just all carbonate. I pressed the button and thought it would be a nice orange juice, but carbonate came out. I love carbonated, but there are times when it will make you sick indeed.

10. But darn it all, they’re so weirdly optimistic you just can’t stay irritated at them.

In Japan, there is great fear of failure and mistakes in front of other people. It is better to do nothing and avoid being criticized than to taste the humiliation of failure. As a result, there are things we wanted to do, but did not, and often regret.

In America, you can make mistakes, fail, and it doesn’t matter. It is a fundamental feeling that to sometimes be incorrect is natural. In addition, rather than thinking about mistakes and failures, American’s have curiosity and say, “Let’s try anyway!”

New Years Meal

1 Jan

In Japan, New Years means a big traditional meal with relatives!

image

toshikoshi-soba

31 Dec

It’s now New Year’s Eve. New Year’s is Japan’s biggest holiday.
There are many customs and decorations in Japan at this time of year.

I’ll introduce one to you:
年越しそば (Toshikoshi-soba).

toshikoshisoba

Toshi-koshi-soba are noodles that are eaten on New Year’s Eve.

It is said to bring good luck for the coming year if the last thing you ate on New Year’s Eve was this dish.

よいお年を! (Have a happy new year!)

Cultural Heritage

29 Oct

UNESCO has listed 和食 (Japanese cuisine) as one of the world’s integeral cultural treasures.

Some countries have one or two of their national dishes listed as such … but the list of countries whose entire cuisine is listed is very short!

Along with Japan, I believe there is only France, Mexico, Italy  and Turkey.

I love Japanese, Mexican and Italian food best!

Culture differences between the U.S. and Japan

11 Oct

There are many cultural differences between Japan and America. Too many to list.

And, to tell the truth, although I was born and raised in America…I have spent just about my entire adult life in Japan—so I have become more used to Japanese culture than American.

What is considered “normal” behavior here in Japan just seems like the usual “common sense” way to act…and, honestly, sometimes the standard “normal” behavior in America seems unusual or “quirky”.

Most of the cultural differences that I’m thinking of aren’t real important…just the different ways of doing things in different countries and cultures.

For example…

– When people talk in America, they are usually quite direct and to the point. Often stating their opinion on a given subject quite brazenly.

But that’s generally impolite in Japan. Here, rather than directly stating an opinion—especially a conflicting one—a person’s feelings are usually expressed more indirectly.

In Japan, people are expected to be subtle and “read between the lines”.

Americans typically deal with facts and opinions. Those are important in Japan…but not as much as people’s feelings.
For example, an American person might be joining some Japanese friends for dinner. The plans were made to go to a certain restaurant that everyone likes. On the way there they pass another restaurant and the American might comment that he likes that other restaurant a lot.
The comment was meant as nothing but “small conversation”…but the Japanese people would quite likely change the plans and go to that other restaurant because the American (in the Japanese people’s minds) was strongly wishing to eat there.

Japanese people wouldn’t make such a comment…even in passing.

– When American people meet someone new, they can quickly call that person “a friend“…and the friendship can end just as abruptly.
It can take years before a Japanese person calls someone a “friend”…but once a friendship is made, it lasts a lifetime.

The above mentioned differences are just some things that make Japan and America unique. One way isn’t better or worse than the other. I live in Japan, so I’m used to the “Japanese way”…but if I still lived in America, I’d still be used to America’s culture, of course.

But here are some Japanese cultural traits that I think America could learn from:

Respect for others. At work, when called to the boss’s office, people in Japan will wait at the door until invited in…and certainly wouldn’t sit down until told to.
Similarly, when riding in car or taxi with superiors, people here will wait until told where to sit.

Also, Japanese people never wear shoes into a home or certain restaurants. And definitely wouldn’t put their feet or shoes (even brand new ones) on a table.

In addition, when Japanese people leave a restaurant, movie theater, ball park, etc., they clean up after themselves. They don’t leave a mess and expect others to clean up after them.

Another example…people in Japan aren’t judged by their jobs. No one “talks down to” another person because their job isn’t glamorous or well-paying.

Recycling. In Japan, recycling and caring about the environment has become important to many people. I haven’t lived in America for a while now, so I’m not sure—maybe this is similar in America.

Health care. In Japan, nearly everyone has either private or government health insurance. And health insurance here pays 70% of all medical or dental bills…including ambulance rides and pre-existing conditions.

Tipping. There is no tipping in Japan. And yet, the service in stores, restaurants, barber shops, hotels, taxis, etc. is said to be the best in the world.

Safety. Japan has one of the lowest crime rates in the industrialized world.

Punctuality. Everyone and everything is on time. TV and radio shows in Japan are scheduled to start at times such 6:54…and that’s exactly when it will start!
The trains and subways are also just as punctual.
People in Japan show up for work and meetings early. Very seldom, and usually with good reason, is someone ever late here.

Clean. This goes along with “respect”. Japan has very little litter or graffiti– even in major cities such as Tokyo. People here carry their garbage with them until they either find a public garbage can or they return home.

Those are some of the reasons that I love living in Japan. And I think that America and other countries could benefit from incorporating them into their cultures.

But there are also some parts of America’s culture that I think Japan could learn from:

Ambulances. In Japan, ambulances are government-owned and often take too long to bring patients to hospitals. There have been cases of people dieing in ambulances who could’ve probably been saved if they’d arrived at the hospital sooner.

Japanese 救急車 (ambulance)

In America, ambulance services are by private companies. The competition makes them all have fast response times.

School tuition. In Japan, high schools and colleges, even public ones, have expensive tuitions that must be paid by the parents. They are few student loans (which therefore are difficult to get) and no student financial grants.
American colleges have many more financial aid plans for students than in Japan.