Japan is strange, but not for the reasons you might think.

For many, when thinking about what kind of country Japan is, the first thing that usually comes to mind is that it’s not normal or that it may even be one of the craziest places on earth. After all, with all of its fetish shops, wacky cosplayers, and bizarre festivals, how could it be anything but weird? Surprisingly, however, it really isn’t — at least not in the way you might be thinking. Yeah, it has a bunch of really strange things, but what country doesn’t? Take for example the United States, like Japan it has its fair share of odd TV shows and commercials over the years, be it well-known shows like Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim or lesser-known and slightly creepy things like this ad for Little Baby’s Ice Cream in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania . When it comes to traditions we’re not much better either. Take for example the President’s yearly pardon of a turkey on Thanksgiving day or the fact that every year, we leave it to a rodent (a groundhog, to be exact) to tell us how much longer winter is going to last.
japan-no-further-description-required1
It’s not just the US, either. Whether you’re from Denmark or India, we see these things all the time on social media, meme sites, and even on our way to work or school. For some reason, though, we tend to dismiss these things as an occasional oddity, rather than focusing on them and ignoring the normalcy that is far more common. This isn’t to say that there isn’t anything overtly strange that exists here, in Japan, however. There are numerous — maybe even countless — cultural norms and customs which are completely foreign to westerners, and for those who aren’t used to them, they can be more than just confusing, but frustrating as well. Take for example the idea of tatemae; put simply, it is just the idea that one should put on a public face and avoid expressing beliefs or doing things which others may disagree with, in order to maintain harmonious, positive environment. The problem is, however, that for many Japanese people, it can be difficult to balance tatemae and the expression of one’s honne (true feelings). As a result, even when eating at a restaurant, some people may even reiterate, time-and-time again, just how delicious the food is — even if it is only average at best. In actuality, although it isn’t necessarily tatemae, more than a few Japanese people that I have met during my time here overly praise and complement everyone and everything, regardless of whether or not it is actually needed.
As a foreigner, especially one with a higher level of proficiency in Japanese, this will likely become apparent, relatively quickly. You will likely find that even being able to read simple kanji or able to say something like “konnichi wa (good afternoon),” you’ll be met with things like gasps, clapping, and a bunch of people mentioning how amazing you are and how skillful you are with Japanese — although, it’s quite difficult to believe that they are genuinely impressed and makes it difficult to tell when they truly are. Herein lies one of the biggest oddities of Japanese society: the popular misconception that foreigners simply cannot speak Japanese and that Japan is so unique that foreigners (especially westerners) cannot do or understand things in the same way they do. In fact, it isn’t rare to be asked, “Can you eat raw fish?” or have someone exclaim, “Wow! You can eat with chopsticks?!” while dining with them (as a non-Asian foreigner, that is). These questions and statements are so bizarre that it’s difficult to imagine hearing foreigners gasping and shouting out, “No way! You can use a fork?!” or asking, “Can you eat cheeseburgers?” to their Japanese friends.
Nonetheless, this rather odd way of thinking will likely change as more foreigners come to Japan and become proficient with Japanese. As for its other peculiarities, there are literally hundreds of ways in which Japan is strange. Please, feel free to share your stories and let us know how what your experiences are and what you think is strange or not about Japan!

Korean culture in Tokyo

Good evening!

As you might have noticed if you live in Japan, Korean culture has become surprisingly popular the past years. I say surprisingly because, even though political tension has remained high due to a series of comments and actions done by politicians from both countries and, if you check Japanese blogs you’ll find plethora of racist comments posted by ネット右翼 (nettouyoku), right-wing activists who act mostly online sharing their ideas against China and Korea specifically. Not so long ago, Japanese people stood up to an anti-Korean protest that took place in Shin-Okubo (a neighborhood food of Korean restaurants, specialty shops and more), as the link follows.

http://en.rocketnews24.com/2013/04/02/hundreds-of-japanese-raise-their-middle-finger-to-right-wing-anti-korean-protesters-in-tokyo/

Two years ago there was also a big protest outside the Fuji TV headquarters because of the 3 hour-long Korean drama marathon they played every afternoon.

http://www.japanprobe.com/2011/08/09/protesters-march-against-fuji-tv/

One may think that many Japanese people share these views, but actually that’s not true. Most Japanese people I’ve met here are very accepting of Koreans living here and enjoy Korean culture as well. In the case of women, many of them seem to like Korean dramas to certain extent and K-Pop singers are more famous than ever; I remember a couple of friends complaining about how fast tickets for a Korean singer’s concert got sold out! (It took less than 1 hour).


Korean boyband, BIG BANG, in a concert in Tokyo Dome Last year. Basically, if a band or singer gives a concert here, he/she is extremely popular in Japan already.
While I’m not personally a fan of any Korean bands, I really enjoy how I can get to experience some aspects of Korean culture just by living in Tokyo. I tried Korean food for the first time in the US many years ago, but I didn’t actually like it until I tried it in Japan.

A cheap Korean lunch set in Shimokitazawa

A cheap Korean lunch set in Shimokitazawa

チヂミ - buchimgae

チヂミ – buchimgae

Also, at the English Conversation Dining I work, many of our female customers have told me that, in addition to English, they are also taking or at least took Korean classes. Reportedly Korean language is easier for Japanese speakers to learn, but I’m sure they would’ve not even bothered if it weren’t for the Korean boom the country has been experiencing.

I wonder how much longer will this trend last? For the time being, I might enjoy a delicious Bibimbap with lots of spicy sauce for lunch today!