I was having trouble deciding what to write for today’s post, so I decided to ask J-List’s Facebook and Twitter users if they had any random questions about Japan I could answer here. Here’s what we ended up with.
How do the Japanese deal with air pollution and overcrowding?
Since Japan has to cram slightly less than the population of Russia into an area the size of Montana, naturally things can get quite compact, especially in cities. In Tokyo you get used to being more space-efficient, such as apartments with lofts for sleeping, or futons that can be put away when not in use. Sometimes they have to build a very tall building on a patch of land no wider than a car. Air pollution in Tokyo used to be quite bad, but a series of measures introduced by former Tokyo governor and politician-otakus-love-to-hate Shintaro Ishihara brought air quality issues under control.
Why do Japanese love cats so much?
Japanese certainly do love their pets, and it’s telling that there are more cats and dogs (23 million) than children under the age of 16 (17 million) in the country. For the record, Japanese seem to prefer keeping dogs (18% of households) to cats (14% of households), though they sure love looking at cats on the Internet.
What do Japanese think of the internment camps during WWII?
An interesting question. I’m sure that people in Ireland and Italy don’t really identify that closely with Irish- and Italian-American communities in the U.S., and it’s somewhat similar with the Japanese, who consider Japanese who emigrate to America or Hawaii to be a slightly different group from themselves. As a result, Japanese people here tend to think of the internment of 120,000 “Japanese” (60% of whom were U.S. citizens born in the U.S.) as something that happened to a different group, though a sad part of the larger war. They would consider someone like George Takei to be an American of Japanese descent rather than “Japanese,” because his life experiences and fundamental identity are different from theirs.
Why do Japanese love white skin so much?
This is a theme that’s very big with Japanese females, and any time I take a vacation with Mrs. J-List, I know she’ll spend hours hunkering in the shade rather than sunning herself by the pool. Koreans love white skin, too, and I can always tell which foreign visitors at the pool in Vegas are from South Korea because everyone (males and females) wears swimwear covering the arms, legs and head.
What is the fascination with blonde hair? Last time I was there my hair was photographed 4-5 times, though they asked permission first, thankfully.
Japanese are certainly fascinated with body features they don’t have, and my students used to pull at the golden hairs on my arms when I was a teacher. It works both ways, however. When my Japanese employee and I attended an anime convention in Atlanta, where there are a lot fewer Japanese than, say, California, were heard someone walking behind us whisper, “Oh my God, it’s an actual Japanese person.”
Tell us more about university life in Japan.
Universities in Japan are very hard to enter, and students need to study for a year or more to have a chance of passing the entrance exam for the school they want to attend. Once they safely get into university, it’s usually time for them to “play” for four years, working part-time jobs and doing club activities while they prepare to look for a job. The anime Genshiken is a very realistic look at university life in Japan.
What types of (odd) reactions do you get from the locals when you speak to them in Japanese?
Foreigners who speak Japanese aren’t rare at all in Japan, though J-List is in a small rural city, so there are fewer of us here than in, say, Tokyo. Once I was talking with an elderly proprietor of a bookstore and she suddenly stopped and said, “Oh my, it seems you aren’t Japanese.”
Do the kids in high schools really get to hang out on the roof of the school? It’s standard in anime, but is it based on fact?
It apparently depends on the school. My son said his school roof was locked except for special events. I’m sure this is to keep students from reenacting their favorite scenes from School Days.
What are your thoughts about Universal Studios Japan in Osaka?
I’ve never been there, but when the World of Harry Potter event opened, it was so popular it caused traffic jams that delayed J-List’s deliveries of “dolphin polishers,” which was not fun. They just unveiled a giant Attack on Titan head that you can pose for pictures with, so if you needed an excuse to visit, now you have one.
What are some terrible or tacky things tourists have done in Japan that you’ve heard of or witnessed?
Usually visitors to Japan are respectful, but once on YouTube I saw a guy from a Western country (wasn’t sure which) put his camera in video mode and place it on a sushi conveyor belt to record everyone in the place while they ate. It was terribly rude, and also unsanitary.
Why is Japan shaped like a banana?
I always thought it was shaped like the letter “J.”
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