I am learning some things about Japanese culture

Discussion in 'Countryside Families' started by Grandmotherbear, Jan 16, 2007.

  1. Grandmotherbear

    Grandmotherbear Well-Known Member Supporter

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    One of my NY resolutions was to learn more about Japanese culture, since we discovered that we are sorta "Otaku"s (Japanese for any sort of geek- but a true Otaku carries it to such an extreme they lack social skills)

    Todays lessons are about the inner and outer self.
    The outer self is polite and self effacing. There is a distinction between outer and inner selves such that many Japanese wear surgical masks when out side (We found a silk Hello Kitty mask for about $30) The mask is removed when entering a house or school. Shoes are removed and slippers put on. Many people gargle when entering the house.

    Yesterdays lessons was about the bathroom. A traditional Japanese bath is a small deep tub. One soaps and rinses outside the tub and then soaks in very hot water. To get soap in the bath tub is considered very bad manners. There are public bathhouses since some rooms or apartments don't have bathrooms. You can purchase toiletries and rent towels from the attendants.

    VERY IMPORTANT- there are seperate BATHROOM slippers to wear to the bathroom. In a private house they kept right outside the bathroom. If the bathroom slippers are missing it means the bathroom is occupied. Traditional Japanese toilets are a slit that one squats over. One faces the toilet in Japan, one doesn't turn one's back on it as one does in the West.

    The Japanese view someone who forgets to take off their bathroom slippers and wears them out into the rest of the house with horrified amusement. Somewhat worse then us regarding walking out of a restroom with our skirt tucked up in our waistband and our bloomers showing.

    Saturday I was camping.

    Thursday lesson involved Japanese appliances. Two washing machine manufacturers are Sanyo and Haier. I get their products mixed up. One has produced a washer that has a no-water cycle. Lightly soiled or non wettable items are cleansed by being tumbled and ozonated (no reports on deletorius respiratory effects from the ozone) The other has produced a combo washer/dryer/air conditioner. Where Western dryers heat their dry air, this combo supercools and dehumidifies the air. Supposedly in one hour it can lower ambient room temps from 30C to 25 C. If I remeber my conversions, that would be about 88F to 77F?

    I just figured inquiring minds would want to know!!
     
  2. chickenmommy

    chickenmommy nosey, but disinterested Supporter

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    Well, that was interesting. Will you continue to include us in your lessons? I sure enjoyed it. Maybe you will be able to find out why most of their food is beige?
     

  3. AngieM2

    AngieM2 Big Front Porch advocate

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    Thank you for this interesting, post, It's quite refreshing to read. Please continue.

    Angie
     
  4. donsgal

    donsgal Nohoa Homestead

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    I am told also about Japanese culture that it is considered very bad manners to blow your nose in public. (Yikes, with my allergies, I would be considered a social parriah). Also, public displays of affection such as hugs, kisses or walking with your arms around your bf/gf is considered rude.

    Another thing I have read in magazines is that it is considered offensive to say no if someone asks you a question (especially if it is a question where a NO would be offensive), such as "Is it warm enough for you?" Even if you are freezing your patootie off, a Japanese person would never say NO. Instead something NICE would be said to give the person asking the question the necesssary information...Something like..."Is it warm enough for you" Answer: Oh, do not worry about such things, I am told that sleeping in a cold room is good for you" Or "Thank you very much. The part of the country where I live is much warmer".

    I once guided a tour to Branson from Japan and nobody - no matter WHAT - ever said NO when asked a question even when it was OBVIOUS to everybody that the answer should have been no. Aren't different cultures interesting?

    donsgal
     
  5. frazzlehead

    frazzlehead AppleJackCreek Supporter

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    I went to Japan on a youth exchange just after high school. It was a fascinating, life changing experience for me. I highly recommend it to anyone who has the opportunity to send their kid!

    One of the most interesting things for me was the opportunity to see what it was like to be completely illiterate - I couldn't even figure out which bathroom to use, because the lady-in-the-skirt wasn't on the door, it was a kanji symbol and I didn't recognize it (yup, I went in the wrong one a couple of times). I couldn't read street signs, newspapers, nothing. At least prices were written in numbers I could recognize! (I always had someone with me to translate, but it was still quite the experience.)

    I met little kids who had never before seen a white person - I am very very white, and at the time was very very blonde as well ... some of them were afraid and hid behind their mom, others came up to me and wanted to touch my hair. Come to think of it, I suspect just about everyone wanted to touch my hair - some were just polite enough not to do it. :)

    Other Japanese cultural trivia: long ago, Japanese society was matriarchal. Clearly this has changed, but it was that way at one time. When you go to a temple, you will see strips of paper tied to the trees, or sometimes little wooden boards hung up: you write your prayer on the paper or board and hang it up, it's sort of like lighting candles in a Catholic church ... you leave your prayer there and the gods will take note. There are little boards and pieces of paper at several temples in Japan with my name on them, all with one wish: I pray that I can come back to Japan someday. :)

    Maybe someday, I have learned so much about Japanese culture (I studied it in University, for some of my options courses) that I know I'd appreciate it all even more than I did at sixteen.
     
  6. tchan

    tchan Well-Known Member

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    My daughter is being stationed this year in Japan. I am excited for her as she has been fascinated by the culture all her life. After 18 months in Iraq, she finally gets to come and get reaquainted with her 2 year old DD and then they will be spending the next 3 years in Japan. She is an interrogator for the Army and was sent to the DLI to learn Korean. Now she gets to learn the language that she has always wanted to learn. I can't wait to get her emails on how different life is there. She is planning on living off base so that her and her daughter can be exposed to more culture.
     
  7. cast iron

    cast iron Well-Known Member

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    Great thread! I think it is great that you are learning about other cultures, this kind of thing always fascinated me as well.

    I used to travel to Japan for business and would stay for about 2 weeks at a time. Random thoughts on their country/culture that have stayed with me over the years.

    - As you mentioned they are big on taking baths, very seldom will they take showers (even if one is available, say in a hotel or somewhere). The bathing time is very important to them. I've had Japanese business associates excuse themselves from the nights social get togethers because, "it was bath time".

    - Most of the hotels we stayed at had the western style toilets, but a number of the other places of business we went to only had the Japanese toilets. I really disliked using the Japanese toilets. At least the high speed trains had both options. When you enter the restroom, go to the left for Japanese toilets and to the right for western toilet.

    - The Japanese people work like madmen. They put in ridicously long hours at the office (or trade). There is huge emphasis on hierarchy in the business world, constant drive and cultural pressure to make it to the top, or be a, "top company man" as they like to put it. There is tremendous pressure to get "face time". Face time means exposure to your boss, or your boss sees you putting in the most work hours. Because of "face-time" workers would never, ever, leave the office before their boss did at night.

    The image of the Japanese business man is forever etched in my brain - riding the jambed packed subway, Incredibly hot and humid, 9 o'clock at night, subway makes a stop and I see Japanese business man get on, suit, tie, briefcase. He takes up a position holding onto one of the poles, locks his wrist through the loop and proceeds to go to sleep while leaning on the pole, still holding his briefcase in the other hand.

    This man looked dead dog tired, and he was sweating profusely (like everyone else), the sweat completely soaking his shirt as he skillfully, subconsously balanced himself to the motions of the subway while sleeping standing up on the way home from work. He was just like all the other Japanese businessmen trying to get a nap in while holding onto that pole.

    - I never could warm up to the concept of eating a fish while it was still alive. The folks we did business with the most over there loved the raw fish, the eyeballs were some kind of delicacy with these folks. My Japanese business friends loved to order a raw fish dinner that would show up to the table with the fish still alive a little. They would almost always have the fish propped up in a U shap on the plate with a stick through the head of the fish (holding it up off the plate) and a stick through the tail of the fish holding it up off the plate. Only the middle of the fish actually rested on the plate.

    Once the plate was on the table, the Japanese took great joy in taking their glass of wine and pouring it on the fish to make it convulse on the plate during its last seconds of life. Then they would cut the fish up and pass it around for each person to take a piece. The eyeballs were served separately to those who had the stomach to eat them. And my wife wonders why I'm not a big fan of Japanese food. :)

    - When drinking beer (from a glass) in a restaurant or other establishment, you would lay the beer bottle down on its side on the table when it was empty. This was the universal signal for the waiter to bring another beer. This would ensure that you would never run out of beer as you would lay the bottle down right after you emptied it into your glass. A few seconds later another bottle of beer would show up.

    - Because there are so many people crowded into such a small part of the country folks tend to stand real close to one another. My first trip there, this was kind of annoying for me as they would be in my "personal space". First time I got on an elevator at the hotel I was the only one in the huge elevator, so I stood near one of the side walls.

    Elevator stops at the next floor where a Japanese women got on and proceeds to stand right up behind me. This really made me feel awkward so I moved clear across the elevator to the other sidewall. Much to my dismay she followed me over and stood right up behind me again. Next floor two Japanese men get on, and guess where they stood? Yep, right up behind the women that was standing behind me.
     
  8. Faustus

    Faustus Übernerd

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    I just got back from living in Japan for two years and teaching in the public school system over there. If anyone has any questions, I'd be happy to answer them as well as I can. Japanese culture definitely comes from a slightly different place than Western culture does, in many respects. Unfortunately, a lot of the more finicky things that people hear about the culture have been heavily exaggerated. Like this one:

    I heard this about a million times before I left. I was paranoid about it, actually. OMG, don't blow your nose! Whatever you do, don't blow your nose! Then I actually got there and started looking around, and it happens all the time, and no one really seems to care at all. They hand out tissues on streetcorners as promotional items, in fact, so if anything, the assumption is that you'd use them to blow your nose (or as toilet paper, since public restrooms sometimes don't provide it). And considering that some of my fellow teachers would spend their free time in the staff room happily trimming their nails (!), no one was likely to freak out over blowing your nose. I was living near Kobe- could be different elsewhere, I suppose.

    Either that or, if you're asking for something like, "Is it possible for me to take vacation time on XYZ date," you'll get teeth sucking and, "Mmm... maybe that is a little difficult...." This is code for, "No freakin' way!" but if you don't know better, you might not realize. Of course, for yes, you get, "Maybe that is okay," so it's not like they'll give you a firm answer on that, either. Heh. I've gotten much better at mincing my words since living there.

    This is so true. How efficiently you work is seen as way less important than how often you are physically present at work and appearing to be working (even if you're just futzing around). Used to drive me nuts- I would have no classes, no planning, no nothing, school was over for the day, but you have to sit there and look busy, because that's how everyone knows you're a good employee.

    Heh. Let's enjoying squatty potty!

    The bath thing is true- I miss onsen, public hot baths that are run off of hot springs. Best invention the Japanese ever had, IMHO. But you have to get naked with other people (same gender) to use them, so I don't really see them taking off in the U.S. It's a shame, too, because they're great.
     
  9. Grandmotherbear

    Grandmotherbear Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Wow! I knew this board had answers to most questions- I didn't know that so many board members had been exposed to japanese culture! I'm enjoying reading everyone's experiences. I hope to go visit Japan some day (Grandfatherbear is not a great traveler, maybe I'll get a board buddy to go with me!) :)
     
  10. nehimama

    nehimama An Ozark Engineer Supporter

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    Ooooh! Fascinating thread, fascinating observations, and fascinating topic!

    I was stationed in Japan from 1991 - 1998, which is when I finally retired from the AF. I could NOT comprehend the mindset of those who had no desire to go off the base. The base was like a little American city plunked down in the suburbs of Tokyo. I spent as much time off base as possible, job and studies permitting. I had already spent most of my life in American cities! I wanted to / needed to experience Japan.

    I studied the language intensively; reading, speaking AND writing. This served to ease my travels around the country. Many train stations have the station names in Kanji and western characters, but further out in the countryside, the signs were only in Kanji. One time I got lost while driving, and wound up on the top of a mountain. EVERYTHING was Kanji only. Very fortunately, I knew just enough of the language to ask for directions, and eventually found my way home.

    There was a GREAT section of town in Tokyo, known as the "kitchen district" (Kappabashi). Nine blocks of stores selling nothing but kitchen/food/restaurant related items. I visited that district so frequently that I often led tours there for American friends and even Japanese friends who had never been there.

    "personal space" does not hold the same meaning in Japan as it does for us. The small country is so crowded, and strict adherence to polite manners keeps the society running more smoothly. I have seen, and been a pushee, when the white-gloved station workers literally push people into already crowded trains at rush hour, so that more will fit in ! ! ! Talk about sardines in a can!

    The public baths were WONDERFUL. I checked them out all over the country. I'd convinced many a friend or family member to accompany me, explaining that you usually are only embarrassed for about 5 minutes, then you truly begin to enjoy the baths. So relaxing and refreshing!

    Let's hear from more who have experiences or the desire to have experiences in Japan!

    NeHi



    The temples and shrines are awesome. Literally awesome. Mount Takao and Kamakura are "must see" places to go.
     
  11. Faustus

    Faustus Übernerd

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    For temples, I'd also recommend going to Miyajima, a holy island right off the coast from Hiroshima (it's a short ferry ride to get across). There are both temples (Buddhist) and shrines (Shinto) there, and it's a really gorgeous place. Lots of untouched nature, which can be hard to find in some areas of Japan (at least in the urban sprawl between Kobe and Kyoto), sacred deer that will follow you around (and eat anything you're carrying), and really gorgeous temples. Nara is also known for its temples and tame but hungry deer. Very cool place.

    I only got to Tokyo once while I was there; it's a ways from the Kobe/Osaka area and cost around a hundred and fifty dollars by train each way. I preferred the vibe in Osaka, anyway, but that may be my Kansai prejudice coming out (Kansai is the area of Japan where Osaka and Kobe are situated- the people have a reputation for having a good sense of humor and being particularly friendly; they speak a different dialect of Japanese than in Tokyo, as well).

    Onsens are so great... I would have given an arm up for one after rugby practice last night. I can't think of a better feeling than when you come in all muddy, cold and sore from playing rugby or soccer, wash off and get into a nice, hot bath and just laze around for a couple of hours. So, so nice. Should anyone here wind up going to Japan, I can't urge you enough to ignore the inhibitions and try out the baths. It's great, and I never had anyone freaking out or staring at me- just friendly old ladies and kids striking up conversations occasionally.

    Oh, also, people there will almost always tell you that they can't speak English (which isn't entirely untrue- everyone studies it, but it's English to pass a test, not practical English, so there aren't as many English speakers around as you might expect, considering that almost everyone studies it for at least five years in school), but if you write something down in English and show it to them, there's a much higher chance of them understanding. People tend to read/write English better than they speak it over there. Not always, but often.
     
  12. painterswife

    painterswife Sock puppet reinstated Supporter

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    I had the good luck to have my father marry mystepmother when I was about 13.

    This gave me a Japanese family.

    For me the culture has been for many years now second nature. From bowing to slippers , I switch back into that mode with-out even noticing that I do when attending family events. For me it is a very special and important part of my history.


    Japan families in my experience are matriarchal. While the world on the outside see's the subservient women, it is not a realty in the inner workings of the family relationship.

    For me the most important lesson learned is the how the family takes care of it's young and old. Teamwork and loving care. Elders are revered ,not to be shuffled of in old age. no matter the hardship or hassle. It is not about your individual life , it is about the life of the family as a whole.

    I always new that when my parents were no longer able to live on their own, my sister and I would share the responsiblity bringing them into our homes, just as was done for my grandparents. The other kids would do their part by supply the extra care needed in time and effort. Grandchildren would be there to pick-up the slack.

    Jill
     
  13. unregistered5595

    unregistered5595 Guest

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    great information and posts, ~Feather
     
  14. ajaxlucy

    ajaxlucy Well-Known Member Supporter

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    I love Japanese baths and onsens (hot springs), too. Traditionally, bath time is in the evening, after you've come home from working all day. You sit on a little stool and wash yourself outside the tub, using a basin to rinse off the soap. After you're clean, you get in the very hot tub of water and soak. Close your eyes and relax. Splashing and swimming at the public baths is frowned on, even with little kids. Afterwards, you get out and get dressed in clean clothes and have dinner. Note: the bathroom is different from the toilet. Many Japanese think it's very strange and kind of horrible that we combine the two.

    In traditional families, the oldest male would bathe first, then other males in order of age. Then the females, oldest to youngest. My mother, second child out of five, was the youngest girl, and hated being the last to bathe.

    I don't know as I'd say that Japanese families are matriarchal. My grandfather (very old-fashioned) used to walk ahead of my grandmother with his hands in his pockets while she carried the luggage. I think it's more that there are clearer distinctions on who does what. The men dominate outside of the home, but the women make the decisions regarding the home, including the children. Also women manage the money. My grandfather thought paying bills and keeping track of bank balances was women's work.

    Etiquette advice my grandmother gave me included: men can sit cross-legged but women never should; when sitting on the floor, it's very rude to point the bottoms of your feet at someone; you never refill your own sake glass - wait for it to be filled for you; make sure to fill other people's sake glasses; don't ever leave your chopsticks sticking up out of your rice; don't blow your nose at the table.
     
  15. SweetSarah

    SweetSarah Well-Known Member

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    Tell me more! Tell me more! I love this stuff. :)
     
  16. painterswife

    painterswife Sock puppet reinstated Supporter

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    "I don't know as I'd say that Japanese families are matriarchal. My grandfather (very old-fashioned) used to walk ahead of my grandmother with his hands in his pockets while she carried the luggage. I think it's more that there are clearer distinctions on who does what. The men dominate outside of the home, but the women make the decisions regarding the home, including the children. Also women manage the money. My grandfather thought paying bills and keeping track of bank balances was women's work."

    I agree with this, well put. I did find that Bachan(grandmother) treated the men of the family with utmost respect in public, I did not find this to be the case in the home.
     
  17. CraftyDiva

    CraftyDiva Is anybody here?

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    Is it true the eldest son (when he marries) moves in with the parents? His mother will teach the new wife all about keeping a house, and once that is done, the DIL takes over the chores of day to day living. The MIL becomes the house expense bookkeeper.

    Also, the elderly get an allowance from the children (talk about reversal 0f roles). I love the fact that there maybe 3/4 generations living under one roof, each helping the other out.



    .
     
  18. PBPitcher

    PBPitcher Well-Known Member

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    I LOVE this thread...please keep sharing :):)
     
  19. Faustus

    Faustus Übernerd

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    I'd say that's a fair assessment of what I saw, though things are changing somewhat in Japan as more women choose to remain in the workforce even after having kids.

    There's actually an extremely high suicide rate amongst recently-retired men; they've spent their entire adult lives working for their company, putting in hours at the office or at enkai (office drinking parties) until the wee hours of the morning before going home, sleeping a few hours, then getting up and doing it again. Amongst the adults I taught, few had regular family dinners- one man said he ate dinner with his wife and daughters perhaps ten times a year. Meanwhile, the wife is taking care of and raising the kids, managing the finances and generally running the household. Husband retires, the two of them find that not only do they barely know each other after all this time, but the husband finds himself in the way of his wife's household routines. He no longer has the group identity that he had as an employee of his company (which is a huge thing in Japan- all group membership is), sinks into depression, and it spirals downward from there.

    Japan in general has some of the highest suicide rates in the world in part because of the huge amount of work- and school-related pressure, fear of humiliation and the importance of group dynamics. I saw a lot of unfortunate (and sometimes disturbing) situations in which someone who was different from the Japanese "norm" was excluded from the group, either intentionally or not, to that person's emotional and sometimes academic detriment. The huge emphasis placed on the group can work really well... for people who fit into the group. For people who don't readily fit the mold, it's extremely difficult. There are a lot of things that Japanese society has going for it (low crime and a very high literacy rate, amongst others), but seeing this time and again with my students really started to bother me after a while. It was never something I got used to.
     
  20. Lizza

    Lizza Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Wonderful thread, I am still reading everything, just wanted to say this is great timing!! The older girls and I are studying Japan right now (we homeschool). Thanks everyone!