About 80% of Japan thinks that there should not be an Olympics in 2021. During that low supporting environment, “Yoshiro Mori, an 83-year-old former prime minister (総理大臣sori daijin) with a record of insensitive (無神経なmushinkeina) and sexist pronouncements, had tried to justify the lack of women at a senior level in the Japanese Olympic Committee by saying women talk too much at meetings and make them run on too long. The following day, he apologized (謝るayamaru) but showed no apparent remorse (後悔koukai) and said he had no intention of resigning (辞任するjininsuru).” (Washington Post 2/11/2021)
The whole incident shows curious vocabularies that are rooted deep in Japanese society and culture. Let’s move away from the obvious gender inequality issue itself this time.
On February 3, 2021, Mori said that female directors on the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games were弁えている. 弁える(wakimaeru) is considered a virtue in Japanese society. So what does that mean? In English, the closest would be “know one’s place.” It does not entirely sound positive in English, does it? When asked by a journalist during his apology press conference on February 4 if he meant women had to refrain from speaking, Mori got very angry, declaring that the journalist was just trying to make his article interesting. In Twitter, people tweet with the hashtag わきまえない女– a woman who does not know her place – to show that women should not be silenced.
Mori’s press conference on February 4 was to apologize for the sexist comments he made. However, the conference is referred to as a 逆ギレ会見 (kaiken, press conference). 逆ギレis a noun form of a very popular Japanese term – 逆ギレする (gyakugiresuru). It means one that is in the place to apologize starts getting angry instead.
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One of the great misconceptions I had upon moving to Japan was that its children were perfectly self-disciplined from birth. I pictured tiny automatons, listening to their parents with respect, quietly following all the rules with innate obedience and precision.
From our early trips on the trains, this certainly seemed to be the case. Children younger than my two-year-old son sat in silence and stillness on the plush train seats, whereas my child treated the captive audience of the car as his own private performance arena: dancing, jumping, doling out charming smiles to the indulgent passengers who (thankfully) never truly seemed to mind his antics. While I whispered urgent reprimands, the Japanese mothers seemed to radiate calm serenity, their children seated beside them in well-behaved glory.
My son wasn’t behaving badly, exactly. There was simply an obvious cultural difference in how he was expected to behave and what his Japanese peers were taught. I began to wonder: how exactly are Japanese families disciplining their children? How are they eliciting such perfect behavior in the first place?
Managing “Ma no Nisai” (The Terrible Two’s)
I wasn’t the only American mother asking myself this question. Finding a misbehaving Japanese toddler became something of a game with other international mom friends whenever we took our children to parks and museums. If we caught sight of Japanese toddlers having an elusive tantrum in public, we would sigh to ourselves in relief. It wasn’t just our children. It was everyone’s. Yet the Japanese parents seemed not to intervene at all. The child would sit on the ground, crying and screaming at the playground or park, and the parents seemed relatively unconcerned.
In the US, 2020 is called the year of Karen. According to Wiki, “Karen is a pejorative term for women seeming to be entitled or demanding beyond the scope of what is normal. “ A bit different from “Karen” is the Japanese 自粛警察or jishuku keisatsu. Jishuku keisatsu means “police who monitor if people are practicing self-imposed restraints.” As a matter of fact, 自粛警察 was one of the most popular words in 2020.
On January 7, 2021, Japan declared (宣言するsengensuru) a state of emergency (非常事態hijojitai) in Tokyo and three surrounding prefectures for the second time. However, the declaration relies mostly on voluntary (自発的な jihatutekina) compliance (従うことshitagaukoto) as the past national experience had led the nation into war. So the government can only suggest strongly not to do this or that. Some take this as orders (命令meirei), while others take it as strong suggestions. The latter (後者 kousha) goes out for a drink or two or three. While some people in the former (前者 zensha) become 自粛警察 trying to control the latter group with their own sense of justice (正義 seigi).
自粛警察 use posts and letters to threaten (脅すodosu) some business owners anonymously as seen in the video news here.
For the Japanese, rules (規則ルール kisoku, ru-ru) are not grey but black and white. It cotradicts (矛盾するmujunsuru) their importance of ambiguity (曖昧さ aimaisa) to avoid (避けるsakeru) conflicts (対立tairitsu) and uncomfortable feelings. Rules are clear. Rules make it easy to live because you do not have to think. But you lose the ability to think. Here is an interesting case when considering what rules mean to the Japanese.
The most recent declaration of a state of emergency in January in Tokyo requested restaurants to stop serving alcoholic beverages by 7 pm, and to close by 8 pm …continue reading
From the relatable to the amoo-sing, there’re idioms for Japanese language learners of all skill levels.
Based on the lunar calendar and a 12-year cycle, the Chinese zodiac plays an important role in multiple Asian countries. Rather than interpreting constellations, like the Western horoscope, the Chinese zodiac prescribes attributes to each year in its cycle that cover a wide range of topics, such as one’s personality and life events. Japan celebrates the start of the new year on January 1, when it also gets a head start on the upcoming Chinese zodiac animal. With celebrations for the Lunar New Year now underway across Asian countries and communities, it’s the Year of the Ox all over, so to celebrate we’re introducing five Japanese idiomatic expressions which feature the stubborn but dependable ox (or cow, since the Japanese language uses the same word for both of them).
1. Gyuuin bashoku — drink like an ox, eat like a horse
Ever ate way more than you needed to just because you can? Like how an ox drinks water and how a horse demolishes a pile of hay, this saying is the perfect way to summarize that you’re eating past your stomach’s limit. If your waistband suddenly feels a little too tight and you want to use this phrase, simply attach the verb shita (“did”) to declare “gyuuin bashoku shita” and revel in all the gluttonous glory.
The World Federation of the Deaf is pleased to continue to provide updated information regarding countries that have legally recognised their national sign languages. This infographic shows which UN Member States have explicit legislation that clearly recognises the language as a distinct language for all deaf people in that country. Many other countries have laws which implicitly or partially recognise their national sign language(s) by way of interpreting or education for deaf children. These laws are not included here.
Given how filled Japanese entertainment media is with stories of idyllic teenage romances, you’d be forgiven for assuming that love is in the air whenever class is in session. The irony, though, is that it’s not uncommon for Japanese schools to have rules specifically prohibiting their students from having any sort of romantic life, under the logic that they should be focused on their studies and school-sanctioned extracurricular activities.
To clarify, these aren’t just rules against students making out in the band room after class or holding hands in the hall. Schools with no-romance rules place full bans on students dating, including their time off-campus.
Of course, young love has never been all that interested in the decrees of adult authority, and some students at no-romance schools develop feelings for one another anyway and date in secret. Sometimes, though, they get found out, which is what happened with two third-year students at Horikoshi High School, a private school in Tokyo’s Nakano Ward, in the fall of 2019.
A teacher learned of their relationship in late November, which the pair admitted to after questioning. Horikoshi’s student handbook expressly prohibits students from dating, and so the school’s principal advised the girl, and presumably the boy as well, to “voluntarily withdraw” from the school.
The highest authority in the school advising a student to voluntarily drop out sounds an awful lot like threatening them with expulsion, and the even more negative stigma that goes along with it. So the girl dropped out, even though at that point she was only a few months away from graduation (Japanese high school lasts three years).
However, the time since has done nothing to bring her around to the Horikoshi’s way …continue reading
Most of the time, living in Japan is an incredible and rewarding adventure. But there are also the occasional road bumps that make life here more challenging than if you were in your home country. Yet oftentimes, when going through those you’ll find that you’re not alone — someone else has experienced the same obstacles and has come up with the amazing idea to put together a solution to your problem — in a website form.
Here are six websites that are game-changers for many foreigners living in Japan — including many on the Savvy Tokyo team!
In the western world, we take for granted how customizable our diet is — gluten intolerances, nut allergies, lactose aversions and religious dietary restrictions aren’t even given a second thought.
In food-worshipping Japan, however, it’s a whole different story. It isn’t too difficult to avoid eating red meat, especially given the country’s love for seafood and eggs, but if you have serious dietary concerns, the culinary world of Japan is a little more of a minefield. For those with particular food restrictions who still want to maintain a healthy social life, Happy Cow is a godsend. Founded in 1999, the site was built to help vegetarian and vegan travelers find available options for eating out and buy vegan products. With a database that covers 183 countries (including Japan, of course), in the past 18 years the site has become one of the most vital go-to resources for vegans and vegetarians alike. You can search by cities, find the deets for vegan and vegetarian restaurants near you, see reviews and photos — and even note some useful Japanese phrases for ordering your food!
It is even more than making the meal look appetizing. It is a religion, it is an art, and it is a science, with a huge industry of tools and how-to books surrounding it. In Japan, it’s all about presentation. This demands creative skills, talent, dedication, commitment and—most importantly—time.
My friend Keiko, a Japanese housewife and mother of two, used to get up an hour early every day to prepare a bento for her kids. Another Japanese lady confessed to me that she spent 30 minutes create the perfect bento box for her son. She did this every day for 12 years.
Over the past few years an unofficial competition has sprung up among mothers to equip their kids with the most unique, creative (and of course nutritiously-balanced) lunch boxes. In great demand are the so-called “kyaraben” (character bentos) that contain exquisite food art that looks like cartoon characters, animals or even scenes from movies. In the beginning, fun bentos were intended to encourage a wider range of eating habits among children, but now it has evolved to the point where national contests are being held.
“Before starting to eat their lunch, children showcase their boxes to their friends,” Keiko tells me. “If my kids fail to bring a nice lunch box, the other children might give them a hard time.” Seriously? Kids run the risk of getting bullied because their lunch does not look beautiful? This is a hard concept for me to comprehend, but it is echoed by several other parents.
Luckily, Japanese supermarkets and department stores have caught onto this trend and developed various tools to help save parents time when preparing the all-important lunch box. Armed with these and …continue reading