Japan - from Asahi to Zen
Traditional terms, and a pop culture glossary through the eyes of a raw gaijin.
Glosary Index            Mail Me            Home

A   B   C   D   E   F   G   H   I   J   K   L   M   N   O   P   Q   R   S   T   U   V   W   X   Y   Z  

H,   Hachiko,   Haiku,   Haji,   Hanami,   Hanamichi,   Hanko,   Hashi,   Hashi-Oki,   Hello Kitty,   Hentai,   Hikikomori,   Hinin,   Hinomaru,   Hiragana,   Historical Periods,   Honne to Tatemae,   Hundred Yen Stores,   Husbands,   Hyaku En

hachiko whilst still alive The most famous dog, and the most famous meeting place in all of Tokyo.

Every morning a little puppy dog named Hachiko faithfully followed his master to Shibuya subway station.    In the evening he would be back there, ready to greet his master after work.

One day however, his master died whilst in work.    Hachiko waited for his master for nine years, but was not to be reuinted with him until he too died, and was buried alongside his long-dead owner.

hachiko statue The locals were so moved by the loyalty of Hachiko that they had a bronze statue cast and erected it outside Shibuya station.    It was melted down during WWII, but was quickly replaced, and it still stands waiting outside the station today.   

The statue is now the most famous meeting place in Tokyo, and is often crowded with peope waiting to rendevous there.    On the other hand, if you've a hankering to see Hachiko himself, pop along to the science museum, where his stuffed skin awaits your viewing (dis)pleasure.

See Also:    Little Girl Wearing Red Shoes,   Traffic Light Song

Gnerally thought of as a seventeen-syllable verse, arranged in three lines of five, seven and five syllables.

However, often, the lines can be arranged differently, and the entire poem need only be "approximately" seventeen syllables in length.    More important than the strict count of syllables is that each Haiku should evoke a particular season (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter or New Year's Season).    This is done using certain evocative words and phrases, which to a Japanese person would clearly indicate a season, but which to a Westerner might appear meaningless.    For example, which season do you think a reference to the 'full moon' would indicate?

Also, equally important is that each Haiku should have a "cutting word", but this is largely lost in Haiku translation, or so I am told.

Here's an example, in the original English:

hot bath water
cold on the breastless side
spring thunder

by Ogino Yoko

See Also:    Arts,   Matsuo Basho,   Waka

Shame.    Said to be the core of the Japanese mentality, along with the preservation of Wa and the maintainence of a "public face".

In the West, the absolute moral standard which informs people's behaviour is a sense of what is right and what is wrong.    It's an internal moral compass which points to correct behavioiur.    In Japan, action is more often motivated by a fear of public shame, rather than intenal morality.   

This is an overstatement, and an over-simplification maybe, but there's a lot of truth in this statement.    Many Gaijin find it to be frustratingly true in fact.

See Also:    Honne to Tatemae,   Wa

hanami flower viewing "Flower-viewing".

Most commonly associated with Spring outings to admire the Cherry Blossom.    In fact the TV News and Weather reports carry a special item on exactly when and where the Cherry Blossom viewing will be best!    You know the usual, isobars, prevailing winds, relative humidity, cherry vlossom viewing, sunburn index etc. etc.

Hanamichi (flowerpath)
In Kabuki, this is the narrow extension running from the left of the main stage to the back of the auditorium, along which actors make their entrances and exits.    A temporary hanamichi is occassionally erected on the opposite side.

See Also:    Kabuki

no rest Chopstick rests.

Hashi-oki are the usually ceramic and very often cutely-designed chopstick rests used throughout japan.    The idea is that when you need to place your chopsticks back on the table, you don't want the chopstick-tip to be in contact with the 'dirty' table.    Hence the chopstick rest.

Two little tips for foreigners:

  1. Practise using these hashi-oki.    You should be able to put down and pick up your chopsticks in a smooth (3-step) process.    Or risk looking like a gaijin. ;-)
  2. When you're in an izakaya, where they don't necessarily offer you a choopstick rest, you can make your own!    Simply take the paper casing that your disposable chopsticks came in, and tie a little knot in it - instant hashi-oki!

See Also:    Chopsticks,   Garbage

Hello Kitty
Hello Kitty A pretty litte kitty acting as the face of a vast merchandising empire.    The Japanese economy may be moribund, but the Japanese craving for cute characters is alive and well, and Hello Kitty is the leading example.

hello kitty goes too far Kitty's white fur and red ribbon adorn approximately 12,000 new products a year!    Kitty was born in Lodon with she still lives with her twin sister Mimi.    And if you think that's taking things far too seriously, get a load of this tatoo.

See Also:    Doraemon

Hentai ( H )

Hentai, often shortened to "H" (pronounced HeyChee), is a catch-all term referring to anything gnerally considered perverted.

There are too many examples of common Hentai activities to mention, but I'll try to list a few.

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

Hikikomori   Social Withdrawal

"Hikikomori" can be loosely translated as "social withdrawal", and is the term used to describe a type of neurosis from which it is estimated up to a million Japanese suffer.

Sitting in the room Sometimes, for reasons that no one can fully understand or explain, a Japanese person will just suddenly cut themselves off from the outside world.    They lock themselves in their rooms and refuse to come out.    Their parents then take over responsibility for their lives, feeding and clothing them, in the hope that, one day, the hikikomori sufferer might decide to leave the room!

Most hikikomori sufferers are male, often the eldest son. Often they are schoolchildren who, apparently, can no longer face the stress of going to school, the pressures to conform and to excel.

There are many theories regarding the origins and causes of the hikikomori:    Some commentators refer to the glorification and nobility of solitude stretching back to traditional Japanese music, prose and poetry.   Others point to the more recent, "isolationist" history of Japan.   Could Japan be a country of isolationists?    Personally, I find this theory rather tenuous.

One of Japan's leading Hikikomori specalists, Dr. Tamaki Sato points to the co-dependent symbiotic relationship between Japanese mothers and their sons, and suggests that this may be responsible.   Is this just another aspect of Nihon Jinro.  Jews, Italians and the Irish are all famous for having exceedingly close mother-son relationships - yet Hikikomori is by-and-large a Japanese phenomenon.

Another theory, advanced by Ryu Murakami in an essay entitled, "Japan's Lost Generation," suggests that Japan's worship at the alter of high-technology may in some way be responsible: "Japanese society is caught in a paradox: it is concerned with the increase of socially withdrawn kids, while at the same time it applauds gizmos like the new Sony PlayStation, which comes equipped with an Internet terminal and a DVD player. Technology like that has made it possible to produce animated movies and graphics, as well as conduct commercial transactions, without ever stepping out of the house. It inevitably fixes people in their individual space. In this information society, none of us can be free from being somewhat socially withdrawn."

Whatever their origins, and whatever causes such behaviour, one thing is certain - the Hikikomori sufferers aren't going anywhere.

See Also:    Exam Wars,   Juku,   Nihon Jinro

"Ordinary Syllabic Script"

This is the phonetic script used for writing Japanese, in combination with, or in the place of the more complicated Kanji characters.

Hiragana is a syllabary, rather than an alphabet as we would understand the term.    Each character is a simplification of a Kanji with the same sound.

This means that there are more initial characters to be learnt; one for each syllable in the language.    So for example, instead of konwing the letters 'k' and 't' and putting them together with the vowels 'a' and 'u' to make ka, ta, ku, tu, instead, each of these four syllables has a unique, independent character in the hiragana system.    It seems prety badly designed that ka, ku, ki, ke, and ko all have completely different characters for example.    At least it is consistent though, unlike the pronunciation of english letters in the latin alphabet.

Hiragana was originally known as onnade, or 'women's hand', and was largely used by women, whilst men used Kanji or Katakana.    This bias still lingers on today, where Hiragana are sometimes used to make words appear more feminine, or when it is used in comic books for little girls.

Hiragana is the first form of writing taught in schools here.

Hiragana are also sometimes written above or alongside kanji to indicate pronunciation, especially if the pronunication is obscure or non-standard. Hiragana used in this way are known as furigana or rubi.

See Also:    Writing

Historical Periods
Throughout Japanese history there has only ever been one royal family.    As such, there is only one dynasty, and so Japanese history cannot be divided along dynastic lines like Chinese history.    Instead Japanese history is divided into a number of preiods, corresponding to major shifts of power or culture.

Jomon 10,000 - 300 BC
Yayoi 300 BC - 300 AD
Yamato 300 - 710
Nara 710 - 794
Early Heian 794 - 857
Late Heian, or, Fujiwara      858 - 1185
Kamakura 1185 - 1336
Nambokucho 1336 - 1392
Muromachi 1392 - 1573
Sengoku-jidai 1574 - 1615
Edo / Tokugawa 1615 - 1867
Meiji 1868 - 1912
Taisho 1912 - 1926
Showa 1926 - 1989
Heisei 1989 - present

Honne to Tatemae
Honest Feelings and Official Stance

Probably the single biggest problem facing the Gaijin trying to live in a Japanese culture.    Unlike their Western counterparts, the Japanese value the preservation of Wa more than a sense of self-expression, and so they often conceal their real feelings behind an official stance.

The history, geography and agriculture of Japan meant that a large number of people had to live and work very closely with one another.    If everyone was to get along it was necessary to conceal honest feelings which might offend others, and instead express your views in terms of the offical stance within the group.

Many foreigners distrust the Japanese, because they always lie.    That's not true of course, but it is true that lies, or omissions of truth, aren't necessarily seen as bad if they help to avoid Haji.    Even knowing the reasons behind it, at times, it still can be ... an interesting challenge.

See Also:    Haji,   Wa

Hundred Yen Stores ( Hyaku En )
The Japanese equivalent of a "Dollar Store" or "Pound Shop" - everything in them costs 100 yen.

The range of stuff you can get in these places is astounding.    500g of Pasta, a padded bra, potted plants, micrometer callipers, microwave trays, 5 coat-hangers, Hello Kitty merchandise, salt'n'pepper, dumbells, neckties, disgusting beer, minature loudspeakers, you name it, they've got it - the list is virtually endless.

If you're a Gaijin setting up home in Japan, these places are your best friend.    Japan is ridiculously expensive, yes... but these 100 Yen stores are your salvation.    Just be careful what you buy in there.    I've often gone into one intending to grab some pot noodles and come out wondering where my 1,000 yen has gone.

A   B   C   D   E   F   G   H   I   J   K   L   M   N   O   P   Q   R   S   T   U   V   W   X   Y   Z  

Top Of Page Glossary Index Melmoth's Home Page