Japan - from Asahi to Zen
Traditional terms, and a pop culture glossary through the eyes of a raw gaijin.
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Adams, Will,   Aibo,   Aikido,   Ainu,   "Aka i Kutsu",   AMPO,   Anime,   Appearance,   Aragoto,   Aribi-ya,   Arigato,   Arts,   Asahi,   Asahi Building,   Ashide,   AV

Adams, Will
Will Adams was the first Englishman at the Shogun's court.

He was a poor-born sailor who, after various misadventures, set sail with a Dutch fleet on a mission to cicumnavigate the globe and open up some new trade routes - especially with what was rumoured to be the rich, but closed, land of Japan.    After several delays, desertions and disasters, one forlorn ship limped into Tokyo Harbour - Will Adams was one of the only survivors.

Up until this point, Japan's knowledge of Europe came solely from the Portugese and their Jesuit missionaries, who told the Shogun only what they wanted him to know.    Will Adams was a Protestant and soon came to supplant and surpass the Roman Catholics at court, acting not for the Dutch, or even the English, but largly just as an honest advisor on science, navigation, shiipbuilding and European affairs.    The English sought to use Adams to gain a foothold for their factory in Japan, but the head of the East India Company's mission there disliked Adams, and the factory failed.

Adams became a lordling in Japan, accepted as the equal of a Samurai.    Eventually he acquired a new wife, servants and estates near Tokyo and lived in unimaginable wealth and splendour, compared to his old tenament in England.

aibo with ball Aibo is the latest and greatest in a series of Robopets, which began only a few years ago with the first wave of Tamagotchis.

Aibo, from Sony, is a robot dog, a tamagotchi made flesh.    You can train it, talk to it, command it, play with it, and watch it wander about your apartment, while you wonder where all your money has gone....

Aibo is a toy only for the seriously rich, for the moment. :)

aikido throw "The Way of the Harmonious Spirit"

A form of self-defence performed without weapons, and containing few if any offensive moves.    Sounds nice in theory, but whilst it teaches you how to dodge and upset large swinging bar-room-brawl punches, it seems a little less useful against an opponent who actually knows how to hit you.    Still, a martial art for pacifists, it is a nice idea!

See Also:    Martial Arts

An Ainu Man The first people to come to the islands of Japan.    The native inhabitants, displaced by the invading people we now call the Japanese.

The Ainu were the first settlers in Japan, possibly orginating in Siberia or Central Asia, and are a much more caucasian people than the now-dominant Japanese.    They possessed their own animist religion, hauntingly beautiful music, and a language totally unrelated to Japanese.

An Ainu Woman However the Ainu were considered savages by the Japanese and were gradually pushed off their lands throughout the main island, until they were forced to retreat to the wilderness of Hokkaido.    Eventually, in an attempt to fend off a perceived Russian invasion, Hokkaido was also colonised by pioneer farmers, and the Ainu were further marginalised.    Much of their culture was destroyed, their forests cut down, new Japanese diseases decimating their people.

Ainu Boys It is estimated that there are approximately 25,000 of Ainu or mixed Ainu-Japanese descent living in Japan today.    The Japanese government is now taking some steps to protect what is left of their culture, although much of this consists of recreation rather than restoration and preservation.

See Also: Burakumin,   Black,   Chishima,   Gaijin,   Korean,   Regions

The America-Japan Joint-Security Treaty

Signed in 1951, this treaty guarantees that the USA will act to defend Japan from military attack.    It has been a highly-controversial treaty, especially as it relates to the inability of the Japanese to have their own security policy, and the imposition of tens of thousands of US troops on Japanese soil.  This is especially the case in Okinawa where a majority of the US bases are located, and where the population resent the 'dangerous' presence of US GIs.

The periodic renewal of the AMPO treaty has been an occossion for civil unrest in Japan, and pressure from the public, led by the okinawans, continues to mount against the continuation of this treaty, which essentially turns Japan into a military protectorate of the USA.

See Also:    Defense Forces,   Okinawa,   World War II

ninja graphic Animated movies.

The cinematic version of Manga.    Unsurprisingly Japan's command of advanced technology is brought to bear on a whole range of Anime Movies, for all ages.    Hugely popular with young Japanese, Anime is starting to find a place in the West too.


Joking aside, appearance really is very important here.    Things must look good, whether they are good or not.    Products are packaged in multiple layers beyond belief, to ensure clean presentation, despite the garbage that results.

People are expected to be well groomed at all times, be this the salayman and office lady in the corporation, or, the gyaru, bozo soku and chinpira in the urban subcultures.    What can definately be said, is that when the Japanese decide on a style, they don't adopt it by half measures.

A few quick points to gaijin working in Japanese companies:

  • Guys:   A suit and tie will get you respect.    However much you may dislike the idea, it's just the way it is.    Also, beards are acceptable, but keep them trimmed.
  • Girls:  Remember, you may be bowing a lot - it might be a good idea to practice this in a mirror at home first.    Japanese people do not show cleavage in their offices!    If you really want to fit in though, try wearing 10 times as much make-up as you would at home.
  • Also, white shirts and blouses are preferred, since coloured ones were / are seen as leisure wear.    Just be careful to wear a good quality shirt, or have a t-shirt on underneath, showing even a hint of the location of a nipple is a no-no.
  • Finally, shower and bathe as often as you can.    Japanese and Gaijin smell different.    We have different body types, and eat different foods etc.    Unfortunately neither tends to smell good to the other, and sadly, we seem to smell worse to them then they smell to us.    Shower!

And I don't advocate this necessarily, but you'll know you fit right in when you start thinking that Western hetrosexual men should wear a little make-up.

In Kabuki this is the masculine "rough style" of acting associated with the Ichikawa Danjuro line of actors and typified by exaggerated movement, makeup, costume and diction.

Those who sell Alibis.

What?    Well, you're an unhappily married Salaryman, attempting to conduct an affair behind your wife's back. You want to fool your wife into thinking that you're working hard, when you're really off with your mistress, and the Aribi-ya are here to help you.

There are radio stations which will broadcast "background noise" when you phone your wife - she hears the sounds of an airport, when you are really phoning from a Love Hotel. Or if you're "away on a business trip", there are gift shops selling suitable gifts from farflung places, so that you can "bring back" a gift for the wife when you "come home from your business trip". :-0

See Also:    Omiyage

The Japanese term for "Thank you".

However, in Old Japan, one might have said "ka ta ji ke nai", meaning the same thing.    This latter phrase would still be understood but would be regarded as ridiculous now.    So when did these phrases change, and what caused "arigato" to replace the old expression?    The Portugese traders and missionaries arrived, and parts of their language seeped into the local language.

"obrigado" is the Portugese for "thank you" / "arigato".

See Also:    Dialects,   Language

The amazing world of Japanese Art is far to complex for me to understand.    So instead, here's a bluffer's guide.    What you have basically got to remember is the fundamental distinction between:
Meaning "Fine Arts" - Art For Arts Sake etc. and
Meaning "Decrotive Arts" - art with a purpose.    Designs on Kimonos etc.
After that, just nod your head and smile pleasantly at the array of confusing terms.    Remember that whatever the artform, be it composing poems or arranging flowers, what the artist is probably aiming at are the evocation of Sabi and Wabi, through the technique of Yugen.    Let those three concepts be your guide through the worlds of Japanese Art, and you shouldn't go too far wrong.

See Also:    Ashide,   Bunraku,   Cha no yu,   Gardens,   Haiku,   Ikebana,   Kabuki,   Kyogen,   No,   Sabi,   Sumi-e,   Ukiyo-e,   Wabi,   Yugen

Asahi is the "gimmie a beer" beer of Japan.

collection of asahi beer cans It's the standard larger beer you're probably going to get served whether you want it or not.    That being said, it's not all that bad.    It comes in a few varities - grey, blue and red cans representing classic extra-dry and super-dry brews.    In reality of course there's very little difference and which one you choose doesn:t really matter.

The name in Kanji is pretty nice though: Asahi means "morning glory".    I'm not sure what they're trying to imply with that, but there you go.

See Also:    Izakaya,   Sake,   Shochu,   Suntory,   Yebisu ,    Asahi Building

Asahi Building
The Asahi Building One of the landmarks of central downtown Tokyo.

Most of the high-rise architecture of high-rise Tokyo is designed to look official, important, intimidating and most of all, corporate.    The Asahi Building, on the other hand, injects a touch of humour into the Tokyo skyline, as befits a beer company I guess!    The windows are tinted yellow, apart from the top few floors, where the windows appear white.    Now, what product does that remind you of.... ?

See Also:    Asahi

This is a neat little technique in the arts, and it refes to the practice of hiding words in pictures.

Traditionally Japanese paintings have come complete with a little poem or a few lines of Kanji to complete the picture.    However indecipherable the old-style Kanji might be, at least it is visible.

Ashide takes the practice one step further, by actually hiding the kanji characters in the brushstrokes of the picture itself.    Happy Hunting!

See Also:    Arts,   Sabi,   Sumi-e,   Ukiyo-e,   Wabi,   Yugen

AV   ( Adult Video )
AV, or Adult Video, is the Japanese term for video pornography.    Associated terms, such as "AV Star", meaning a "porn star" also arise.

See Also:    Bukkake,   Cosplay,   Enjo Kosai,   Girl Hunter,   GRO,   Hentai,   Kogal,   Naked Sushi,   Salaryman(6),   Soaplands,   Underwear

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