Hello again from Japan. I’ve made the 6760 miles (10,879 km) hop from Baltimore to Japan, and have slipped into my “Japan mode” once again. As always, going from one side of the world to the other brings with it some head spinning, no matter how many times I do it, and I spend a few surreal hours re-adjusting to my new surroundings. I wasn’t the only one to return to Japan yesterday — my kids also arrived at the airport, having flown by themselves for the first time. We’d sent them to the U.S. so they could be immersed in English, and as usual, they soaked up an amazing amount. To celebrate being back together as a family, we went out to eat at our favorite ramen restaurant.
Japan has one of the lowest birth rates among developed countries, with just 1.38 children born per woman, compared with 2.08, 1.66, 1.37 and 1.26 for the U.S., England, Germany and Spain. The difference between Japan and other countries is that Japan is an island nation with a very low level of immigration to pick up the slack, which is causing depopulation at an alarming rate. And now it’s looking like Japan’s population is going to peak, either this year or next, at around 127.74 million, before starting a long decline as more people die than are born each year. Since fixing the problems of a low birth rate are beyond the capabilities of any government, Japan needs to do something about opening its doors to foreigners who want to come here to work and build lives, as I have done, if its wants to keep vitality in its society. It’s a difficult question, both politically and socially, but it must be faced sooner or later. At Otakon, there was a booth sponsored by the Japanese government with a banner that read Yokoso! Japan (“Welcome to Japan”), trying to get the fans at the show to consider taking a trip to Japan to see its many beautiful sights. I think they need to go a step further, and start encouraging people to consider making a permanent move here.
The science of Japanese car names is always interesting to study. Above all, car names must sound kakko ii (cool, stylish), and since nothing sounds cooler to the Japanese ear than English, most cars here get their names from English words — like Honda Life and Subaru Legend, or Nissan’s Sunny and March. But many other names come from slightly altered English, so that they cause the same emotional response while remaining unique. Words like Corolla or Tercel or Sylphy or Premacy sound like English, but car companies can still “own” the original names. In recent years, Japanese car companies have started mining Spanish as a source for car names, resulting in cars like Daihatsu’s little van Vamos (I love that name), Nissan’s El Grand, Toyota’s Carina and Familia, and Mitsubishi’s Diamante and Viento, and the oddly named Pajero (which means something strange in Spanish). Japanese cars must never, ever have Japanese names, since that would be kakko warui (un-cool, bad style) — Japanese are always amused to learn that the Suzuki Jiminy was sold as Suzuki Samurai in the U.S. However, there are some cars whose names started out as Japanese words before being “English-ified.” Toyota Camry, for example, gets its name from “kanmuri,” which means crown in Japanese — which is funny, since Toyota sells a higher-priced sedan here called Toyota Crown, and in the past as sold the Toyota Corona, which means crown in Spanish.