One interesting aspect of Japan is that it’s one of the most pro-American countries on the planet, with most people having a positive view of the U.S., occasional Okinawa-related disputes notwithstanding. When I was teaching ESL, I encountered many students who said they liked America because it was “free,” unlike Japan’s more restrictive society, though most of them would probably have trouble specifying exactly what this meant. Maybe they meant having fewer social constrictions, like the Los Angeles-based Japanese friend of my wife who always says whatever she’s thinking no matter what, because “that’s what Americans do.” Japanese are usually favorable to American brands, viewing them as kakko ii (cool, good style), which allows companies like Jack Daniels and Harley-Davidson and Costco to win many loyal customers here. Costco’s Japan stores are complete clones of their U.S. versions, right down to English stop signs, American Standard toilets and “USDA approved” banners in the meat department. I sometimes forget which country I’m in when I shop.
One of the great things about running J-List is, I get to work alongside Japanese people who are polite and hardworking. Still, they sometimes do things that can seem odd. Humility is important in Japanese society, and it’s not uncommon for a Japanese person to disagree with you, perhaps vociferously, when you try to pay them a compliment. The Japanese are familiar with the concept of “flipping the bird” (it’s become a meme on Pivix), but in daily life Japanese will often point at things in books using their middle fingers in a way that would seem rude if done in the U.S. Finally, Japanese have a pathological need to make the “peace” sign whenever someone brings out a camera. While this sign is associated with Winston Churchill’s “V for victory,” the current popularity can be traced to a 1972 Konica ad in which actor Inoue Jun made the gesture in a TV advertisement.
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