Japan - from Asahi to Zen
Traditional terms, and a pop culture glossary through the eyes of a raw gaijin.
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Earthquakes,   Edo,   Edo Period,   Ekiben,   Ema,   Emperor,   English,   Enjo Kosai,   Enka,   Enkai,   Era Names,   Eta,   Exam Wars

90,000 people died in the Kanto earthquake of 1923, and another 6,427 in the Greater Kobe Earthquake of 1995.    Japanese vernacular lists the four great dangers as follows:
"Earthquakes, thunder, fire, fathers"
Of those four great dangers, Earthquakes are the worst! :-)

Even with the highest building standards in the world and the best "forcasting", Earthquakes are still the number one fear in Japan.

To survive an earthquake, you might like to remember some of the following:

  • Don't rush outside, where many people are killed by falling masonry.
  • Stay away from windows, and close the curtains to contain shattering glass.
  • Open the doors, as they often get jammed later, preventing your exit.
  • Get under a solid object - like a sturdy table or ground-floor doorway.
  • When things have calmed down, get out and head to a local park or open area.
That being said, most earthquakes are either too small to be felt, or just large enough to be fun.    Earthquakes are very rarely fatal in Japan.

The old name for Tokyo City.

In a country which is 60% mountainous, flat land suitable for farming is of paramount importance.    The Kanto Area which surrounds Edo / Tokyo is the largest flat plain in all of Japan, and so it had a huge economic importance, as well as being centrally located.    The capital was moved to Edo / Tokyo in 1868, when Japan opened itself to modernisation, and broke with the past.    Moving the capital to Tokyo was seen as a way to escape that past, which was embodied in the ancient capital of Kyoto.

Edo Period (1603 - 1868)
An era of peace and also of isolation from the rest of the world, the latter the policy of the ruling Tokugawa family which provided fifteen generations of shoguns or military dictators.

See Also:    Dates,   Historical Periods

The railway station (eki) equivalent of a standard bento, but with the price doubled and the taste removed.

See Also:    Bread,   Onigiri

Small wodden boards found at shrines, on which people write their wishes or thanks.

Sometimes at the touristy temples you see English and other-language messages, but usually you should write in Kanji when possible.

Many Japanese don't really believe in God, or follow Buddha, or Shinto or anything else very much, but that doesn't stop thousands of mothers putting up Ema for their children when Exam Wars come around!

The Emperor
akihito Once the ruler and God of Japan, now a mere figurehead, merely the "symbol of the state and of the unity of the people" according to the US-dictated constitution.

The current Emperor is the 125th emperor since Jinmu was first enthroned in 660BC.    The one family has held the Imperial Throne for 2,600 years.

However, for much of Japanese history, the Emperor ruled in name only, and at one stage the Imperial Houshold was so impovrished that the Emperor was forced to go around signing autographs for money!    The Shoguns left the Emperor improvished, but the Court continued to be a thorn in their side, until finally, in the Meiji Restoration, real financial and political power was returned to the Emperor.

Despite the frequent lack of political power though, the Emperor has always had a religious significnce, in the native religion Shinto    Indeed it's interesting to note the the word for "Government" is the same as the word for "Religious Affairs" in Japanese.

Also, note that the dead Emperors are referred to not by their own names, but by the names of the eras in which they lived.    For example, Hirohito (pictured here) is properly referred to as the Showa Emperor.

See Also: Dates,   Historical Periods,   Shogun

A language the Japanese have learned not to speak.

Japanese kids learn English for six years in school, plus whatever additional language they pick up through college.    You might think that this results in a rather high level of fluency in English, but sadly it does not.    There are a couple of reasons for this:

  1. The examination system, and hence the school system, tends to emphasise syntax, grammatical perfection, reading, writing and to a certain extent, listening.    It doesn't however place very much importance on speaking.    The result is that many young Japanese people have excellent exam-english, but when it comes to actually speaking English, they've little or no practice.
  2. Another thing inhibiting communication, is the Japanese desire for perfection, and the avoidance of mistakes.    My advice when talking to a Japanese person in English, is that you give them lots of time to work the sentence out in their head, until they're sure they have it right.    Try counting to twenty whilst waiting for a response.
  3. Finally, you have to remember that sometimes Japanese people are a llittle bit nervous around foreigners.    Gaijin are difficult to deal with, and many people just can't really handle it.

See Also:    Exam Wars,   Gaijin,   JET,   Juku,   University

Enjo Kosai
Subsidised Dating

A euphemism for a form of teenage prostitution.    Teenage schoolgirls are taken out, wined and dined, paid hansomely and in return they "date" older Japanese Salarymen.    The Salarymen get what they want, for a price that's agreed upon up-front, and many single salarymen consider it a good bargain.    Plus it allows them to get their hands on the much sought after "sailor girls". (teens in teasing school unifroms).

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

The Soul Music of the Japanese.

Enka is a blend of Western scales with Japanese sensibilities.    Enka songs are usually singing the blues; saying goodbye to a love lost forever, or drowning your sorrows over a bottle of warm sake.    Songs are sung using the crying melody technique, and they're designed to pluck at your heartstrings.

Hibari Misora was the queen of them all, and is still popular after her death.     Her record label have a couple of greatest hits CDs out, if you'd like to get into Enka.    Interestingly for a Japanese idol, she was of mixed Japanese-Korean descent.

See Also:    Shamisen

A company party, or office night out.

An Enkai resembles a Western night out in the same way that a garden sprinkler resembles Niagra Falls!    The Japanese have a reputation for being formal and straight-laced at work, but the office night out is when they let their hair down and really come out of their shells.    The tradition is that you eat and drink your fill, gobble down as much sake as possible, and behave anyway you like.    Conversely though, to protect all involved, there's a tradition that what happens at the Enkai, stays at the Enkai, and doesn't effect relationships in work the next day.

Unfortunately it can also be pretty expensive if you end up going to a lot of them.    To quote a haiku from the pages of 'Hokkaido Highway Blues':

At the school enkai,
You'll laugh and you'll cry,
Kiss ichi man en goodbye.
See Also:    BonEnkai,   Izakaya

Exam Wars
If you study on four hours sleep, you can pass.
On five, you will fail.

Or so it used to be said.    Competition for university places was fierce beyond anything experienced in the West, and the university entrance exams were all important.    So important in fact that it could often be a bit of a bumpy ride on Tokyo's trains around the time that the results were published.    These days, when someone jumps in front of a train, their family become responsible for the costs incurred, and so this form of self-slaughter has died down a little.

Also, there's less need to fight the Exam War, since Japan's lifetime employment system is breaking down, and your entire future is no longer determined by which university you get into.    Plus, thanks to the changing demographic, the graying of Japan, there's less and less competition for university places.

See Also:    Juku,   University

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