Monday, 22 February 2010

Road Rules in Japan

One in three jobs in Japan is directly or indirectly related to the automobile industry in Japan. Now that the Global Financial Crisis has truly collided with Japan that figure might have changed, but still it indicates just how important the car is to Japan.

Before I go any further I should point out that I am a non-driver. When I tell Japanese people that ‘I can`t drive’, they looked at me all confused. They think I must mean that at present I don`t have a car. When I explain that I simply never learned to drive they look at me as if I`m some sort of care in the community case. This just goes to highlight how fundamental to the average Japanese person`s existence a car is. It seems everyone has a car. Most families have at least two cars. If they are rich they have two cars the size of tanks. If they are middle class then the husband has a juggernaut and the wife has a strange looking little box shaped car with a high roof. On top of that it appears that nobody in Japan can read a map so everyone has a satellite navigation system in their car. Furthermore, it appears that many cannot bear to be parted from the idiot box, so they have a T.V as well in their car.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

The Word "Gaijin" and What Gaijin Think About It.


Below is a thread that nicely got going on Facebook all about a Japanese teacher that refuses to use the word "gaikokujin" to refer to "foreigners". Anyway, the background is all in there. I apologise for the personal abuse, that was me.

Hey guys, thought I would get your opinion on something that came up recently. Feel free to ignore this message!

Anyway, recently Satomi has had a bit of a debate with one of the teachers at her school about the words 'gaijin' and 'gaikokojin'. The teacher refuses to use 'gaikokojin' when referring to foreigners but won't explain herself. Satomi thinks that using 'gaijin' is really rude for a teacher (especially since this woman is a Japanese teacher whose students are all foreigners). She wants to know your opinions about the use of these words. Do you have any? Please feel free to send me a direct message if you don't want to share with others.

My personal opinion is that if an 'educated' person consciously decides to use the term 'gaijin' then they are being disrespectful and that they know it.


All Japanese know that the word Gaijin is the impolite word. She is definitely being disrespectful!


you're spot on, educated or not. tell her she should be more thankful to the foreigners she teaches for giving her a job. A nice heaping helping of whoop-ass would do her some good.


I don't think that there is any impoliteness in the words themselves. It depends more on how they use it and on if you decide to take offense when someone uses the word. I call myself gaijin all the time and if someone else calls me a gaijin then that's ok. A problem may arise however, if the person refers to you as gaijin as a replacement for your name in a derogatory tone.

I'd be interested to here this teacher's reasoning though.


ps, David Aldwinckle is an ass-hat and should be ignored.


She is holding the position as a professional teacher so whatever her preference is to refer to foreigners is should be set aside for the sake of professionalism in the classroom. Some Japanese people may occassionally use the word "Jap" to refer to themselves, but we certainly wouldn`t use that word in the classroom. Perhaps she needs a course on politcal politeness.


I don't care if someone calls me gaijin unless they are being obviously malicious. It's hard to believe she is unaware that "gaijin" is recognized as a derogatory term and if she refuses to explain herself then I can only see that as wrong because if there is no malicious intent then why not say what you're on about.


Who the fuck is David Perrywinckle?


That woman should explain herself. As far as me and Mako can see her using gaijin is just lazy. It's another example of them modifying words, shortening things to the point where it no longer resembles the original. It should start with 外国の人 which would be the most formal, then going to 外国人 then 外人. She might not be trying to be rude on purpose but she at least needs to justify her position.


The interesting thing about this whole debate is that foreigners are trying to use their ideas of language to pigeon-hole a word that Japanese people use. It's like putting square pegs into round holes. In Japanese there isn't such a strong stigma attached to derogatory language. In Japanese language there are levels of politeness but no real words that BY THEMSELVES are derogatory. Just because a word is polite doesn't mean that there must be an equally unpolite word like we have in English. English speakers by historical nature are artists with profanity whereas in Japan the absence of language means way more.

The entire field of language pragmatics exists because of this very kind of problem. When you start translating language word for word you're just gonna end up with a mess of culturally actuated bruised egos.


Far more interesting than this apologist academic spiel is that no Japanese person has commented on this thread, and this brother of Clarke drinks at the totally gay tap room and watches dumb videos by %&$!!!.


Just to give a little background about how this came up.

Satomi is doing a Japanese language teacher training program right now in X. .Her and several of her classmates are dating or are married to foreigners. The teacher in question used the term 'gaijin' so many times, and in such a way that those students in the class with some kind of connection to foreigners began to feel uncomfortable with the way the teacher was using the term. At the end of one of their second lesson one of the students complained to the administration that she felt the teacher was being disrespectful by speaking like that. The next class, the teacher didn't mention the word once... until the last few minutes when she told the students that their homework was to look up the words 'racist' and 'gaijin' in the dictionary. She hasn't explained why she prefers to use one phrase over the other... which Satomi thought was rather strange. That's why she wanted to know all of our opinions about the use of the word...


Thanks TT, I was wondering when the personal attacks for no apparent reason would start. Thumbs up!

btw, I don't drink at the taproom and %&$!!! is my student.


Well, should be an interesting homework assignment for the students to find the Japanese translation for "racist" I imagine it would be just as hard as finding a Japanese word for "sexual harassment". In anycase I imagine things will all be solved once the students present the teacher with the definition of `racist` and the teacher can learn that it encompasses using non PC terms regardless of her intent or opinion of the use of the word. As Ray explained earlier the order in which foreigners should be refered to should apply especially considering the situation (professional teacher teaching in a classroom environment). However she decides to conduct herself outside of work his her personal choice. I can`t even imagine if teachers in Canada were aloud to use loose terms to refer to foreigners living in Canada. There would be a riot.


I don't think anyone here was saying that the term Gaijin is derogatory. I myself said it was recognized as derogatory and that is where all the reactions are coming from. The teacher's behavior after the complaint is evidence that she is aware of the effect of this word.


who the fuck is %&$!!! ?


No, no, no Dango, your ruining it for everyone. Don`t you see this is a chance for all of us to argue and say all those things we`ve all wanted to say to each other, break up year long friendships, and then make facebook groups against each other. Man!!! Why do you always have to be damn diplomatic?!! Yeah, there... I said it. And....sometimes you are just unbiased. How the hell is anyone supposed to argue with you, huh?! Huh?! Let`s have it out!!

No Japanese have been invited to make a comment on this thread hence the lack of Japanese participation.

I think in this case the teacher is using the word a little too much and probably doesn't realize that what she is doing is being quite offensive. If she does realize and it is intended, then she is being xenophobic rather than racist. Xenophobia, like most dicrimination is a representation of fear or pissedoffness. On the flip-side she may know quite a lot of gaijin who say they are gaijin and may think she is being cool by using it a lot.. who knows. A lot of us here in Japan enjoy our gaijin status and the privileges and/or lack of responsibilities it brings, if we abuse this we deserve what we get.

I don't mind being referred to as gaijin and would refer to myself as a gaijin, as I think most of us would do. However, if the word is used too often and is sneered at me, I will take offence and confront the person. Unless they are right wing or Yakuza. The interesting thing is that in Japan, any non-japanese are referred to as gaijin which if anything is lazy and uncreative. Surely they could be a little more personal about it. In the UK we are a lot better at offending people from other countries and have a long list of specific monikers we use to refer to dodgy foreigners.

Perhaps the teacher has met some bad gaijin who have made her anti-gaijin. Unfortunately a lot of gaijin in Japan don't behave themselves particularly well and let the side down so I think the Japanese should create a new insult especially for those people. How about ウアンカーズ?


Thanks for the kind words Bella. Let's start a facebook group.


Hey BK!  Thanks for your comment.  I've actually sent the same message to quite a few of my Japanese friends in a different thread but haven't got any replies.

It seems what it all comes down to is intent (which unfortunately is a rather difficult thing to assess).  To me the interesting thing is that the way it was being used in the classroom was making some of the students uncomfortable and this speak volumes about her intent (at least perceived).

Maybe there should be terms that are more specific... I recently had a rather interesting 'debate' with someone over the use of the word Paki who stated that since he wasn't a racist it was ok for him to use the word.  Undeniably, the historic use of the word is derogatory.  Using the term Jap is quite similar I think.  Unfortunately, I have no idea about the use in the past regarding 'gaijin'.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Food in Japan

Writing about Japanese food is one of the dullest subjects imaginable to me. Since I have to listen to interminable comments about food and restaurants in poor English as part of my job, I've come to dislike the whole subject. So in this blog I'm not going to enumerate all the Japanese dishes that I either love or hate. Instead I'm going to attempt to analyze the sociological concept of food in Japan.

We all talk about food we like and probably take a certain amount of pride in our signature dishes. Many also get a nationalistic thrill when they hear their country's cuisine getting glowing reviews. I think this is the case with the Japanese. Unlike much of Asia they don't use chilies in their cooking. One might be tempted to call it bland. They prefer adjectives that come out badly in translation such as 'salty' and 'oily'. The Japanese are happy as larry when they hear foreigners mention that they like sushi and sashimi. Sushi along with cars seems to be Japan's greatest cultural export. For many Japanese their cuisine along with the fact that they have 4 seasons and cherry trees seems to be at the heart of their national identity. They are removed from the Asian continent by the Japanese sea and they don't exactly view themselves as Asian, just as the Brits don't feel comfortable being European. Having non-spicy food is a key point in their desire to define themselves as other than Asian.

This is of course fictional because much of Japanese culture is borrowed originally from their much older neighbour, China. Chopsticks, rice wine, green tea, Buddhism, kimonos and kanji are all cultural imports. They value the group over the individual as does China. Confucianism with its emphasis on social harmony and everyone knowing their place in society is deeply embedded in the Japanese psyche. And lastly, the Chinese like the Japanese traditionally prefer to eat while drinking alcohol; unlike, for example, in the UK where people have their dinner at home prior to going to the pub for a few pints.

Food in Japan is one entry point into the thorny subject of relations between men and women. Japan is without doubt still a very patriarchal society. In Japan it is a man’s world. The stereotypes largely hold good in Japan: men have political power, they go to work to earn money and women stay at home raise the kids and do the house work. (A growing number have part-time jobs to supplement the household income, but the man is still the main bread-winner.) During the several years that I have lived in a Japanese household I have not once seen my Japanese father-in-law cook a meal, nor I have I seen him wash a plate. Not even a glass. The most he will do is put his beer cans by the sink (he can't crush them up and put them in the correct bin). He gets up so early in the morning that his wife (whom he scarily calls ‘mother’) isn't around to cook him breakfast so he just foregoes the meal. Recently because he has to take medicine he has broken this habit and now microwaves some soupy rice. The man is very old school. His dignity is upheld by how he works incredibly long hours to bring home the bacon. His greatest joy is the evening meal. He lingers over his soft over-boiled food. He pours soy sauce on nearly everything and refuses to eat anything with even a hint of spice. During the hour or so it takes for him to eat he dominates the TV controller. We are all subjected to dull shows about fishing, going to hot baths and eating noodles. The only programs with any type of story he will tolerate are samurai dramas.

I don’t believe my household is unique in any of this. Instead I think this is all very representative of Japan and the rubric of eating in Japan. It is to reinforce the inequalities between men and women. The man asserts his right to be served and be acknowledged as the alpha member of the family.

The Japanese take this trend to its logical conclusion in the practice of Nyotaimori – eating sushi off a naked woman. In this instance the sushi chef is more than likely a man (it is a profession after all) but the naked plate is always a young woman. It is impossible to think how you could objectify a woman more than by making her into a plate. A woman is passive and there for men's delight and delectation. Business man can with impunity treat a woman as an object and ogle her nudity. They can legally do a lot more in the many legal brothels in Japan.
As far as women go, they get their revenge by spending some of the monthly housekeeping money on 3 or 4 lunches in restaurants with their friends while the husbands are working. If you go to nearly any reasonably priced restaurant in Japan at lunch time, especially fake Italian places and places with unlimited soft drinks on the menu, you will find the clientele are mostly women. They chat for hours, eat sweet things and thoroughly enjoy gossiping. And for me the oddest thing is their inability to eat with their mouths shut. Men do it as well, but women are the worst for being unable to pause in their flow of speech to finish masticating and swallow. Instead they will put a hand over their mouth as they chomp and chat. And that makes it all right. This was a shock to me when I first witnessed it. In other things the Japanese have exquisite manners. When it comes to food, however, it is fine to make lots of noise slurping your noodles and hot coffee. It is no faux pas to eat with your mouth open. Sometimes I feel like Gulliver after he returns from his journeys and decides to live with the horse in the stables because he finds humans crass and revolting. I’m sure some of my habits such as smoking other people find offensive, but that doesn’t change my dislike for going to restaurants in Japan. They stuff their gobs and look like Marlon Brando in the Godfather. They make constant noise. They show the world the food half chewed in their mouths. I try to be a cultural relativist but some things I just think are wrong. Would you justify female circumcision because some tribes still do it in Africa?
And that brings me to my final point. Japan is very much like every other country I’ve been to in their approach to ‘foreign’ food. They completely change it to suit their tastes. So Chinese food in Japan has the chili peppers eliminated. They seem to be inordinately fond of adding potato starch to Chinese cuisine so every dish has a shiny appearance. Italian food – pasta and pizzas – comes with seaweed; and that great Indian dish called ‘curry’ has been transformed into the blandest thick brown slop imaginable. It is strangely enough a dish which many Japanese claim to make superlatively. This I find mystifying because the main ‘curry’ ingredient is a curry cube that everyone buys from a supermarket. Pankun the performing TV chimp could make a Japanese curry rice dish and it would taste exactly the same as anyone else’s.
So next time you catch yourself spouting off about how good Japanese food is think  about how food reinforces patriarchal society, think about how uncouth the Japanese are in eating it and think about how they are co-opting the cuisine of your country.

Monday, 1 February 2010

White Goat Toilet Paper Making Machine

This is just so daft you think it must be a spoof. But, no, I think they are for real. It is a machine waiting to go into commercial production. And it won an award!

Estimated cost is $100,000. Such a massive amount that you would personally have to get through a lot of toilet paper to justify buying one. At treecycle recycled you can get 96 rolls of eco-friendly loo paper for $72.50. That's $0.75 a roll. The monster machine called the 'White Goat' makes a roll for $0.60. However, the machine takes hours to make a roll and must consume a lot of electricity which must surely negate the potential $0.15 saving.

On top of that the toilet paper shown on the video looks so thin that it might disintegrate before it gives you a satisfactory wipe.

And finally, where did they get the name from? White Goat? Are goats known for their high standards of anal hygiene? Do people subconsciously want to wipe their arses with a white goat? Is there a masturbatory (randy as an old goat) subtext going on? Perhaps they could install white goats in public high schools and then kids could shred their exercise books to make useful wank cleaning material. After all they don't provide paper towels in school lavs.

And anyway make what you will of the White Goat toilet paper making machine. For me it typifies a certain brand of insane entrepreneuralism which sums up Japan - let's take something incredibly simple and make a machine that can automate the process that seems really modern, eco and cool and sell it to our foolish population. They might, however, have missed the boat. Companies are firing not hiring, and certainly don't have $100,000 knocking around for a toilet paper making machine. Besides it takes up the same amount of space as a toilet would. They also missed a crucial function. They forgot to allow the user to accessorize the made toilet paper. Surely your own hello kitty toilet paper would be the envy of all your friends?

My idea. Why not get workers to bring in all their old newspapers and make them use that to finish off their washroom doings. The newspapers could be encouraged to use non-run ink so employee behinds would not be left with any press smudges.