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Aug 15, 2008

Ten Profound Truths about the Japanese culture

Can one visit a country for a week or two and then claim any level of understanding its culture? Not really; it always annoys me when people make deep comments about the two countries I really know well – Russian and the U.S. – after doing the touristy things. So, to be fair, my brief visit to Japan taught me nothing about the Japanese culture or way of life. But the doing the superficial observations is such fun! So, let me embrace my shallowness, and talk about the small things.
  1. The Japanese have a thing about their toilets. First, there are a lot of them, unlike in major US or Russian cities. They are all free. Most toilets in decent places have seat warmers; some also have built-in bidets, which will wash and spray your bottom at a push of a button. Wasteful? Not at all. Like Europeans, the Japanese figure that if you wash only the certain parts of your body often and on demand, you're less likely to take many showers a day and conserve water. However, besides the luxurious warm toilets, they also have the squat toilets, if you prefer that. The trick is to figure out in which direction to sit on those, because they are located with your side to the door.
  2. You need a small towel with you at all times to wipe off the sweat from your face and neck. That and a hand fan are pretty much a necessity. You can get away with napkins, but you need to go to Starbucks to get napkins, because the Japanese has a prejudice against paper napkins, and you won't get them at most places, even where you buy ice cream.
  3. The Japanese overwhelmingly don't speak English, despite having studied it in school and college. Language instruction sucks everywhere, in case you're wondering. When you have no reason to learn a language, no school will help you do that.
  4. Everything costs about twice as much as you expect, which is a function of the weak dollar. However, fruits cost about ten times of what you expect. Why in such a warm and rich country do they have a shortage of fruit? I have no idea.
  5. Everything is about half of the American size: cars, fire trucks, benches, seats, meal portions. Overweight Japanese are a true rarity.
  6. Sushi in Kyoto on Shijo street, next to the river are to die for. That is the sushi heaven. Whatever you do, don't eat the sea urchin roe in the raw; it will make you puke. However, the rest of the food is delicious, not spicy, and looks quite healthy.
  7. My wife Svetlana thinks that the Japanese are the best people on Earth, and everyone else is a troglodyte in comparison. Of course, this is because she is an artist, and Japanese really do have a great sense of style, balance, and color. It is evident even for me, not a great designer. She claims that even a Japanese janitor or landscaper is a true artist, judging from the way they arrange and adorn little things. She says the subdued color schemes they use are unparalleled, maybe with Italy coming as close second. Japan is virtually kitsch-free. America is drowning in kitsch, Russia is the kitsch empire.
  8. The Japanese don't only drive, but also walk on the left. It is hard, but important to remember, or else you will run into people all the time.
  9. Japanese nod a lot; or rather, these are short bows. And they bow a lot, even when they say "No." They also say thank you and thank you very much and thank you oh so very-very much all the time, especially when they try to sell you something. However, they don't try to sell very hard, and their store clerks are not nearly as annoying as the American ones, and not nearly as rude as the Russian ones. All shops are air-conditioned (remember the sweat towel) which makes shopping there an enjoyable experience, except for the item #5. I am otherwise extremely annoyed and bored by shopping. But if it is 100 degrees with 100% humidity outside, that cute little Japanese shirt looks rather interesting.
  10. The Japanese are a lot like us.
These are the ten most profound truths about Japan I could produce.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:59 AM

    Japan has very limited space, so they must import much of their agriculture.