Japan - from Asahi to Zen
Traditional terms, and a pop culture glossary through the eyes of a raw gaijin.
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Bad Years,   Bakufu,   Banzai,   Barcode   Basho,   Basho Matsuo,   Baths,   Beckham, David,   Bento,   Bicycle,   Bijutsu,   Black,   Bloodtype,   Blowfish,   Bonenkai,   Bonsai,   Bosozoku,   Brazil,   Bread,   Bukkake,   Bullfighting,   Bunraku,   Burakumin,   Bushido,   Business Cards,   Buto

"10,000 years".    The Japanese equivalent to punching the air and shouting "oh yeah!".    You say this three times at the end of an Enkai or shout it when you get to the peak of a mountain.   


comb over hair    The Japanese equivalent to what we'd call "The Combover".

See Also:    Christmas Cake

A Sumo tournament.

Basho Matsuo
The father of Haiku Poetry.

Although he didn't actually invent the poetic form of Haiku, Basho is regarded as being the first to really perfect it.    Many regard Basho's poems and writing as being the perfect embodiement of Wabi and Sabi.   

He travelled extensively for many years throughout Japan, much of which was inhospitable and even hostile, and his work The Narrow Road To The Deep North is considered the perfect combination of prose and poetry.   

His best-known haiku is perhaps the following:

Breaking the silence
Of an ancient pond,
A frog jumped into water -
A deep resonance.

Admirers of Basho see that the simplest things contain the most truth, and that this poem is highly symbolic without pretending to be so.    On the surface, the poem describes and action of the frog and its after-effects - a perfect example of objectivity.    However, those who meditate on the poem find that the action described is not merely an extenal one.    As Basho himself said, "your poetry issues of its own accord when you and the object have become one".

Well, that's pretty high-brow stuff, but for me, my favourite Basho haiku has got to be the following:

Traveller's heart
Never settled long in one place
Like a portable fire

See Also:    Haiku,   Sabi,   Wabi,   Zen

Beckham, David
England's Ambassador to Japan.

Lunch Boxes

a typical bento box Bento boxes are pre-prepared lunches (or indeed evening meals in a pinch), which are sold in every convenience store in Japan.    Usually they will consist of a box divided into several sections, containing perhaps, noodles, rice, pickles, meat or fish, and maybe a little fruit.

Head into the convenience stores around closing (whatever that means for a 24-hour store) to pick up heavily discounted bento - they have to be sold before the following day.    Almost all stores also have a microwave so that you can heat the bento in the shop.

See Also:    Onigiri

A fashion accessory used to transport yourself, a friend, and four brim-full designer shopping bags, whilst holding up an umbrella, and chatting on your mobile phone.

See Also: Subway

A dirty, disreputable, disgusting colour.    As in the phrase "Black Man".

See Also:    Ainu,   Burakumin,   Gaijin,   Korean

"What's your bloodtype?"    Now there's a chat-up line I bet you haven't heard too often!

In the West we often ask people their star sign, and jokingly think that we can tell something about their personality from their sign.   So a Leo is courageous, a Taurean is stubborn etc...
In Japan, they follow the Chinese Zodiac so that's not really an option, since everyone born in the same year has the same sign.

Even if you don't believe in star-signs, there are still some other superstitious folk-knowledge ways to understand someone's personality.    Hair colour, for example.    Do Blondes really have more fun?    Are redheads really hotheaded?    Again, unfortunately, the Japanese almost all have black hair, so this technique won't work either.

So instead the Japanese think they can tell something about your personality from your Bloodtype.    Is bloodtype really any worse than hairtype or zodiac sign?    Well, one disadvantage is that there are only 4 bloodgroups, and so only four types of people in Japan?    I knew they valued conformity, but I had no idea they'd take it to this extreme. ;-)    But then again, I'm a short-tempered type-A, who doesn't get on with polite type-Bs, so what would I know?

The end-of-year office party (Enkai).

Christmas isn't a big thing here, so there's no concept of the office Christmas party.    Instead, around the same time, big traditional companies hold Bonenkai, or End of Year Parties.    Generally a company will treat its workers to free food and drink, with lots of spot prizes like free DVD players or trips to Disneyland.

The slowest form of sculpture in the world.

a bonsai tree Minature potted plants and trees cultivated as an artform and popular hobby amongst older Japanese people.    Often a minature pine is used, although a range of minature trees are available.    This artform requires considerable expertise to perform correctly, and the living "art" is unique in that it can be handed down through the family generations.

Boso Zoku ( Wild Speed Tribe )
a frightening bosozoku The Japanese equivalent to Hell's Angels.

Groups of young men who don't believe in putting mufflers on the motorbikes..    The locals seem pretty intimidated by them tearing up the neighbourhood, but most Gaijin have a hard time taking them seriously.    To the average foreigner, the idea of a Japanese kid being a Hell's Angel is pretty laughable.

Japan has an intimate relationship with several South American countries, most especially with Brazil, but also with Peru and Bolivia.

A former Persident of Peru was ethnically Japanese, and there are towns named Okinawa I, II and III in the Bolivian jungle for example.    However, the largest concentration of ethnic Japanese are to be found in Brazil.    They are enthnically Japanese, but culturally, they are latinos.    Some try to return to Japan to take advantage of greater educational and employment opportunities, but they find it very hard to fit in - a laid-back latino mind, trapped in a Japanese society - often it just doesn't work out.   

If you'd like a greater insight into Japanese-Latino subculture, but can't afford the trip to South America, you might wanna check out the movie "Kamikaze Taxi".

See Also:    Gaijin

A food eaten by western people.

You can get bread in Japan, but I've seen sliced pan consisting of just four slices.    Who the hell buys that in the supermarket?    Also, because it isn't a food for the masses, bread tends to be pretty pricey here.    On the other hand, there are lots of bakeries doing nice french rolls and pastries, so if you've got a sweet tooth then maybe that's the place to head.

See Also:    Onigiri,   Rice

Ejaculating over a woman's body, and then watching in delight as she plays with your semen.

In the Judeo-Chistian Tradition, women who cheated on their husbands were tied up and stoned.    In Old Japan, a similar practice developed.    A cheating woman would be tied up to a stake, and then the men of the village would gather around and come all over her naked body.

In modern Japan, this has developed into a popular hobby and apparently-pleasurable sexual activity.    The woman performs oral sex until the man ejaculates, and then the real fun begins.    The woman spits the semen out of her mouth, or wipes it off her face, as the case may be, and the starts playing with it.    She can rub it over her body, or into her hair, mix it in a glass of champagne, or make a cocktail with semen from other men etc. etc.

Of all the fetish activities in Japan, this seems to be the most popular.

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

Unlike the Spanish and Portugese, bullfighting as practised in Korea and Japan consists solely of bull-on-bull action.    Highly recommended for those who thought that European bullfighting wasn't disgusting enough.    Although in fairness to the Asians, this particular form of bullfight was something imported from the first Dutch trade mimssions.

puppet and master The popular theatre of puppets that developed simultaneously with Kabuki, influencing it greatly.

The puppets are controlled by men dressed all in black, and such is the intensity of the performances, that these puppet masters become all but invisible to the audience.

See Also:    Arts

'People of the Hamlet'

This is the euphemistic term for the minority group, occupying the lowest level of the traditional social system.   

The group's origins are not clear, but in the Edo period they took work nobody else wanted; executions, leather work, handling of dead bodies, butchering, tanning etc.    These tasks surrounding death and the dead were taboo under both Buddhism and Shinto.    So the burakumin were thought to be an "unclean" substratum of Japanese society.

During the Tokugawa Period, such people were required to live in special buraku (hamlets) and, according to one legal case, they were said to be "worth 1/7 of an ordinary person."

Although the class was officially abolished in 1871 under the Emancipation Act of the Meiji Period, in reality, not much changed for the people once known as Eta (abundant pollution) or Hinin (non-human).    The descendants of these people are often refused jobs and accommodation, and many of them are caught in a vicious cycle of poverty reinforced by discrimination.    There are even reports of families conducting background checks on potential in-laws to make sure they aren't about to become part of the burakumin through marraige.

Today they account for about 2% for the population.

See Also:    Ainu,   Black,   Gaijin,   Korean

The Way Of The Warrior

The code of ethics supposedly followed by the Samurai in Old Japan.    It's often compared to the code of Chivalry developed by European knights around the same time, and in the same social circumstances - a feudal society, where landlords controlled their domains based on the strength and loyalty of the warriors sworn to their cause.    However, the idea of helping the weak, or fighting for a woman's favours is definately not a part of Bushido, and Samurai would not understand this at all.    Generally speaking Bushido more closely resembles the ethics of a Homeric hero than a chivalrous knight.

See Also:    Daimyo,   Ronin,   Shogun

Business Cards    ( meishi )
random card Business cards are an absolutely indispensible part of commercial life in Japan.    Everyone has a card, and everyone seems to exchange them with almost everyone they meet.

When you get one in a meeting (and, no, it'll never be just one!), the proper response is to take it, two-handed, look at it for a while, read all of the information on it, and carefully store it away for later.    Never write anything on someone else's business card.

Traditionally cards have been pretty standard, although the higher-level execs had cards reminiscent of American Psycho, but these days there are a variety of card styles.    Sometimes Print Club photos are even used to enhance a card!

See Also:    Salaryman

Sometimes written, "butoh".    This is the highly expensive contemporary performance art of Japan.

See Also:    Arts

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