I’ll never forget the moment. In my first year of SDSU, my family got a Japanese homestay student who stayed at our house for a month. It was a great way to share a little bit of the USA with someone from Japan and vice-versa, and I heartily recommend taking homestay students to everyone who has the opportunity. We were eating some rice that our student had prepared, and I needed someplace to put the chopsticks I was fumbling with, so I did what seemed natural to me and jammed them into my bowl of rice, straight up. Our homestay student looked shocked and told me, “Only dead people do that.” This was my initiation into the many-faceted world of Japanese faux pas, the complex list of things you’re not supposed to do. Many of these customs, such as not sticking chopsticks in rice, not handing food to another person chopstick-to-chopstick, and not sleeping with your head pointing towards north, are related to Buddhist funerals. Some other famous social goofs that foreigners are known for include include walking into homes without taking shoes off, confusing words like ippai and oppai (meaning “a lot” and “boobs,” respectively) when speaking to prospective in-laws, and throwing up on the Prime Minister of Japan.
The Japanese are a very orderly people, and they like to organize their world into tidy little lists they call “rankings” (rankingu). The other day I caught an interesting show on TV entitled “100 People the Japanese Like – Genius Version,” which introduced the top 100 visionaries, innovators and thinkers in history, as chosen by an online poll. In addition to international figures who are very dear to the Japanese, the forefathers of the Meiji Restoration and a few Emperors from ancient China, many on the list of the most respected geniuses were soldiers who fought during Japan’s “Country at War” period. Here are some of the more interesting entries:
33. Walt Disney (founder of Tokyo Disneyland — just kidding)
31. Soseki Natsume (the most famous Japanese writer of the 19th century)
24. Akira Kurosawa (renowned filmmaker)
18. William Shakespere (famous for tormenting Japanese students of English)
14. Charlie Chaplain (he made several visits to Japan and is very popular here)
13. Ryoma Sakamoto (freedom fighter against the Shogunate, also famous for popularizing Western boots in Japan)
11. Tezuka Osamu (creator of Astro Boy and of anime and manga as we know it)
10. The Wright Brothers (first aviators)
9. Amadeus Mozart (decomposing composer)
8. Nobunaga Oda (the first of three successful unifiers of modern Japan)
5. Hideo Noguchi (researcher who helped isolate yellow fever, later died of yellow fever)
4. Shokatsu Komei (legendary figure from China’s history, famous for making Chinese manju bread with meat inside, now sold at 7-11)
3. Thomas Edison (inventor and shrewd businessman, created the electric chair to make his competition look bad)
2. Leonardo da Vinci (Michelangelo wasn’t too happy about this)
1. Albert Einstein (who also loved Japan during his several month visit — he even had a favorite bento restaurant in Nihonbashi, Tokyo)
Here’s a short from the show, the piece on Edison.
And if you want to read the whole list in Japanese, go to this page.
As with the rest of the world, the Internet has profoundly changed Japan, allowing people to communicate in many new ways. Adoption of fast broadband has helped — even J-List has a speedy hikari fiber (fiber-optic) connection despite being surrounded on all sides by rice fields in our rural city. As the existence of the Net causes changes in society, advertisers change too, and the latest trend in TV commercials is to end a segment with a visual of a keyword being typed into a search engine. At the end of a commercial for a home builder the keyword “reliable homes” is shown being searched for, and Mitsui Mitsubishi Bank claimed the keyword “a roof over your head” using this method. McDonald’s scored big with an ad campaign asking “Does Donald ever speak?” (his name is Donald here) and suggesting that viewers search for Donald no uwasa (“the latest gossip about Donald”) in web browsers, which led to an interactive TV commercial online. Suggesting that viewers do a Yahoo or Google search on a certain keyword isn’t only done in TV commercials, but is showing up in radio and print ads, too. Apparently getting the customer to take an action helps put them in a certain frame of mind for making a purchase, and I’ll bet advertisers measure spikes in keyword searches to gauge which advertisements are proving effecting for them. I think we should test this theory, though. Everyone, search for Domo-kun on J-List right now!