I INTERPRET LONDON

ロンドン在住の通訳者平松里英のブログ

Category: [ENGLISH] (page 1 of 2)

Japan and Nomyunikeishon (nommunication)

I can’t drink. Is it a problem, to blend in the society in Japan?

Hello there.

My name is Rié (<a href=”https://twitter.com/rielondon” target=”_blank”><i class=”fa fa-twitter”></i>rielondon</a>)- I’m a Japanese interpreter based in London.

My step-son is studying Japanese at university and every now and again asks me questions. Interesting questions, as they have never occurred to me…!

Today, I am going to try and answer one of his friends’ questions.

Here we go…

My friend doesn’t drink because of an allergy (not sure to what) and he wondered if for him to get along socially in Japan, whether the sort of ‘social/drinking culture ‘ meant he’d be left out?

Nomenai? – No.  It shouldn’t be much of a problem.

If your friend is out for a big night, and everybody else is drinking hard, others may not understand straight away as to WHY your friend isn’t drinking with them.

Some may need more explanation than others before they get it, and others may read too much into it, wondering whether it is an excuse and that he actually doesn’t like hanging out with them.

I’m only kidding! Don’t worry.

Seriously, if he wants to make sure his friends have understood and know that he wants to be friends with them, then he can prepare a simple enough story.

Story that is true to describe that happened to him in the past, or to others people he knows. I’m sure they would appreciate his honesty.

Perhaps, it is  helpful if he helped them whether it is the drink and drink only that he can’t take or that he actually doesn’t like the drinking atomosphere either.

Nomenai! In terms of friendship building,

…or other sort of ‘ship’ building he is trying to nurture, Nommucation (combination of words between ‘nomu’ 飲む or 呑む= to drink in Japanese and English word loaned ‘communication’) becomes more important once in professional life, I’d imagine.

If and when he works in Japan, and one day he is invited for a drink, a casual ‘after 5’ (or after 8pm, I don’t know) for example, then even if he can’t drink he should still come along — if he wants to.

He doesn’t have to drink alcohol. He can drink 0% alcohol beer instead! It wouldn’t be so noticeable that he actually is not consuming alcohol, as long as he is there with them, having a good time together.

Nomenai!! If your friend happens to dislike alcohol flavour altogether,

…then it’s a different story.

But don’t you worry.

I’m only saying this because there is a better idea.

Have you heard of an illness called ‘gout’?

If you haven’t heard before, you can look it up easily. It is called Tsuuhuu (Tsuufuu) 痛風(つうふう)in Japanese.

He could tell them he suffers from gout, or if he is too young to have that problem he could say his father (a white lie!) does and therefore he needs to be careful as well or something along the line.

And — don’t forget to add the most important part as follows:

Nevertheless, he loves hanging out (with his friends), and he can even suggest where to go and what to do, if he feels up for it.

I hope above helps 😉

What’s your Japanese culture-related experience?

 

Photo: http://nomenai.blue/column/

Kelly McGonigal “How to make stress your friend” ケリー・マグゴニガ ル:ストレスと友だちになるには


※日本語字幕はYouTube画面の右上のタテに点が3つ並んでいるアイコンをクリックし、「CC」を「オン」にしてください。

Stress is synonymous to anxiety. Should it? And is it? Does it have to be that way?

It’s funny and interesting – I was saying to my daughter yesterday that the word stress originally didn’t mean a negative thing. It wasn’t portrayed as our enemy.
Over the years, repeatedly chanting that it’s our enemy it’s now perceived an enemy but that’s too simple…!

H. Selye says “Man should not try to avoid stress any more than he would shun food, love or exercise.” (ストレスを避けてはいけません。それは食べ物や愛、

運動を避けるようなものです。)

I am no expert on stress management. There are plenty of times I struggle, with things I cannot change but somehow having to cope with and to find solutions to – whether I like it or not.

As I think back I’ve realised there was a valuable change in my idea on stress.

I realise I’ve learned to put things in perspective in most of the time, all the more. I’ve been a realist, for many years, to the level that sometimes I make people think I could do with a bit of ‘hoping’. I am not a pessimist. I see myself as “expect the best, while preparing for the worst.”

So, being realistic doesn’t mean I am negative. To me, realism is a proactive attitude – brainstorming, breaking down into small chunks, put into time scope – organising and implementing them with realistic approach.

One of the things that having kids taught me was to give up (= forgive) and that most of the things that happen in life, what life throws at you – it’s the end of the world, and there is not much point in sweating over it or grieving over it. And, say, it was the end of the world, so what’s the point in worrying about it anyway?

Easier said than done. True. Stress is not a bad thing, like money alone is not bad nor good, it is about what we do with it, how we look at it, right? So in this sense, it’s similar.

Long time ago but I read somewhere that gravity is a kind of stress and without gravity we quickly lose our muscle strength. I think it was about our physical strength in space. In other words, we need gravity to maintain our strength, we need the stress called gravity to keep up our physical strength.

Do we, usually, consciously think about gravity as a stress…?  We usually don’t think about it, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t make it go away, but our perception towards gravity is often different from that towards stress in general, isn’t it?

There was another fact that helped change my perspective. I could take as much calcium through supplement as I like for bones, for example, however, without stress on the bones (exercise), most of it would just be lost in our body wastes… In other words, it needs at least some amount of stress to build bones.

My perception towards stress changed from something to fear to something natural and not a killer. Knowing and feeling stress doesn’t kill us, makes all the difference, according to Kelly. It is liberating and reassuring isn’t it?

Assignment in Sheffield

I had a business assignment of two days, first day in London and then the second day in Sheffield.  The subject matter was “telematics” – have you all heard of telematics and been familiar with it?

It was all cutting edge, and both the talk and concepts were quite ‘edgy’  err – that was how I felt at the beginning, sorry! The agency told me it was an assignment from their regular client, a very major business consulting firm, and the purpose was – they said – market research.  

Later on, I received a few slide decks, and realised it was quite different from what I had imagined.  At a glance it looked pretty IT centric.  I can do engineering and IT unless it is uber complicated but I am not from scientific background.  

Science had been my second favourite subject in schools (schools!!) so I suppose I could say I am at least not science or maths phobic, but still, I am not someone who can confidently say yeah, that is my absolute strength.

Besides, ‘telematics’ involves quite an in-depth degree of computer science, algorithms, maths, analytics (yes, it is correctly spelt. It’s not analysis, it’s analytics) etc. I wish I was given a lecture about this field beforehand, even immediately before the commencement of the assignment! 

That’s how I felt at the beginning, but you’ll be surprised that our comprehension, our reformulating skills and anticipating skills come in play to rescue! You’d be such a quick learner. I felt I became an expert by the time the assignment finished. 

Of course, I couldn’t be the mathematician and actually do the maths but at least I had understood the concept and what was playing behind the scene. It is just that we are always wiser when it’s over. Yes, that is always the case, it’s a pity, isn’t it?

Having said that, this doesn’t always apply to every interpreter, I know. Some people are better at understanding certain things than others and others are better at understanding other things than some people. Likewise, some people are quicker to understand new things or different things, where others take longer.

When it comes to interpreters, I think this agility – should I say – is one of the abilities called for.  It is one of the ‘knack’ which determines success or survival in profession. 

Also, because it is a knack only so much can be taught, I mean it can’t be taught, really, but you could nurture the intuition through day to day efforts like be interested in what’s going on in the field and to have good enough level of general knowledge by doing well enough when you were in schools in those subjects.

This may sound a little contradictory and it is good to have a speciality, it can be a differentiator for you, but at the same time it is better and safer to be a generalist. When I talk about generalist, I am not talking about an ordinary generalist. 

We somehow need to train ourselves to be the generalist who can turn the general knowledge to the level of expertise in an instant – ideally – as it is called for.  Often enough, it can be a tall order.  

Imagine, if someone hired an interpreter who is not trained for court settings, and the interpreter heard ‘my learned friend’ they will not have a clue what that is.  They’ll be wondering “whose friend? what are they talking about?” 

I mean even an experienced interpreter or conference interpreter could make such mistakes.  A lot of people in general, when they hear ‘witness’ they immediately associate with ‘eye witness’ in legal terms.

When I interpret, I try to envisage a picture from what I heard. I actively listen to the speech and envision something, like a mind map, and that is the decoded message. Then I try to describe the picture or map in the target language. 

Obviously ‘normal’ listening doesn’t involve this much engagement, because it is passive listening, and that is normal, that is what everyone does, except interpreters.

In other words, if I couldn’t envisage a picture, I couldn’t interpret. I hear there is another type of interpreter who interprets without envisioning. I can’t quite grasp how they manage to do that but in my case I need to be able to see the logic and to imagine the structure to interpret.

It is like drawing a picture or map in mind.  By listening to the speech, draw route map, people’s names and product names would appear flashing like stations, and links indicate interchanges or junctions in the storyline, and then figures (numbers) will appear like the platforms or time of arrival or departure…

Now you can see how important to have this map or picture in mind for the interpreter.  Also, information such as where it has been stressed in a speech, emphasised by the tone of voice, little pause, eye contact, repetition etc.

They will be noted in our mind with * or ! and bold or CAPITALISED like a message that says “attention for engineering works.”  These non-verbal information or message will be incorporated, reflected into our rendering in the target language.  

If the speech is extremely poorly organised, then it is not organised I suppose however, having parallel routes emerging from no where which happens all the time, then we lose the track of logic, the track of speech.  

Also when the speaker is reading up the script and there is no feeling in the speech, the speaker doesn’t mean it because they’re just reading up the text and not feeling the message… 

On the other hand, when the speech is delivered like they mean it, when it is structured and spoken in a manner that is not too fast nor too slow, nor fragmented – these things make our job a lot easier. You know the phrase, don’t you? – “every little helps.”


So it is again a recurrent theme, nevertheless, it is dangerous when end users or in fact any stakeholders involved in the assignments misunderstand.  They’re probably simply lacking understanding the truth, and / or lacking appreciation of our profession, either way, they are risking their business outcome.

What’s happening in the ‘black box’ (in the head of interpreters) is a lot more complex and profound than simply being a conduit. Sometimes end clients say “madam interpreter, just translate word for word” or they certainly believe “it only takes a few languages to speak and anyone can interpret.”  

By the way, I had booked train in advance, so my return train to London was fixed.  It was cheaper, a fraction of the price of the open ticket.  However, had it rained a lot that day all day, my return train was cancelled (grrr).  I thought I wouldn’t be able to come home.  

This is rather a peripheral element, but certainly worth taking into account as an aspect of our profession. We are free agents, meaning we are on the move all the time. We work in one place today, and another the next day.

I managed to go further up north, to Doncaster, and then took an alternative train with a different train company.  Although many people disapprove of train services in the UK, and I am no exception (sorry!), when it comes to this kind of flexibility, I’m thinking Japan might not be as ‘understanding’ or ‘flexible’ as this.  That said, trains in Japan are punctual- hence far more reliable. Ah, thank you!

No mic, no documents, no complaints? For appearance sake!!

A friend of mine went to a concert of her favourite band the other day and she told me how fantastic it was.  As she told me her experience there, I started to think about our job – interpreter – in terms of a singer, from a singer or concert’s point of view.  I thought of many questions, such as

“Can you imagine a concert with no microphone?”
“Can you imagine a singer not knowing what to sing?”
“Can you imagine she wasn’t given the music or lyrics, either prior to the gig or even on the spot?”
“What if she was supposed to sing as she reads the lyrics as well as the music?”
“And she was expected to sing beautifully in such condition?”

I imagine, in most of the cases No would be the answer to all above questions. You simply wouldn’t expect anything like that in a concert, would you?
Interpreters are different from singers, but shouldn’t we all be respected equally? I mean above kind of things, equivalent things, happen to us frequently. Something of the sort one way or another all the time.

You go to the venue for an interpreting assignment and discover there is no microphone in a conference room where there will be around 100 attendees and also several interpreters sitting beside them.  If no microphone is what you discover almost as soon as the conference starts…  What would it make you think? Or what would this tell you about the assignment?

Let me summarise how it all started – don’t forget it is one of the typical situations in our line of work.  One day, I received a call from an agency.  I never worked with them before, by the way, and they asked me if I could take on a conference assignment in 10 days.  The field was technology, and it was a large internal conference of a very large media corporation.  I had some qualification and experience in media field, so I told them I can make myself available but on one condition.  I emailed them describing the condition, I clearly stated that I need ALL the slide decks and hand outs from ALL the people presenting and/or giving speeches BEFOREHAND.  If they fail to meet the condition, I could not accept the job and would cancel.

The agency responded they agreed and sent me the agenda for the event.  A few days passed, I sent follow-up email to the agency – no progress. A week before the event, I tried sending a reminder to them – no progress.  Every day after that I sent slightly more assertive email to them, I restated that I will have to withdraw.

They couldn’t provide any documents except the simple agenda but they couldn’t afford to be cancelled so they tried to come up with alternative solution. They asked one of the assigned interpreters who had worked for the same assignment for the past several years to meet with me.  So, we met up, the fellow interpreter told me about the end client and how it is usually.  It was helpful, in terms of comfort, but it couldn’t be too informative because the conference agenda is totally different each year.

The first discovery about the assignment was a negative sign signifying ‘bad organisation’ often goes hand in hand with ‘lack of understanding’ of our profession and ‘lack of appreciation’ as if it’s the cream on top.  Soon, we discovered there had been another Japanese interpreter that was booked but through a different route, and as far as they were concerned, it was a double booking, unnecessary cost.  The assignment was for 8-9 hours of chuchotage (whispering) each day, it was only practical and sensible to book two interpreters for each language combination but – no – they had had a number of global size conference every year, but they insisted on having only one interpreter for each language combination.  The agency told me no matter how many times they tried to convince their client that there should be two interpreters, they just wouldn’t listen, as if quality didn’t matter after all.  

I often hear that educating clients is pretty much part of our job.  Like many fellow interpreters, I suffer from and get frustrated with lack of knowledge, lack of understanding we find in our (end) clients.  It is true that they are who ultimately suffer from the consequence, however, it may not be as critical to them as it seems to us, interpreting professionals.  It seems to me as if there are different (hidden) agenda in having interpreters there for them.

What they care the most sometimes seems as if it is to say that they provided interpreters for the attendees, they at least respected the importance of the language being available and they provided that, so they can’t be blamed or held liable later on that “but I didn’t understand the language (and it is a discrimination)” – yes, I am saying it seems as if our presence was used as a risk hedge.

Lack of appreciation is a problem I often face.  I’d like to think the Japanese (language) interpreter is the only one that exceptionally suffers from this, because I see many (end) clients or users who say things which shows how little they understand and how little respect they have towards our profession.  This tendency is not only prevalent among Anglophones but also Japanese speakers too.
Be it in Japan or in the UK, client with English almost non-existent or even fluent in English – surprisingly – it doesn’t make much difference when it comes to lack of appreciation in other words a lot of them seem to think it only takes to speak a few languages to do interpreting and it is a soon-be-obsolete occupation anyway…!?

There is another issue, this is rather a very critical issue for corporations, much more relevant to companies than to ourselves in terms of impact should it be infringed, and that is confidentiality.  I think it is fair to say they actually don’t want to need interpreters.  A lot of people feel bringing in interpreters is costing money to elongate their meetings.  In this kind of people’s minds, it is something to avoid if they could.  They don’t want to have to have interpreters, but they cannot take the risk to be held liable but their unspoken message is “Japanese participants, learn English!”  If that could be the case, then the penny drops, our quality of performance didn’t really matter, as long as they made the language available ostensibly.

At the end of the day, it’s not a matter of life and death like surgical operation done on themselves. Nor a matter that the performance could determine their course of life, it doesn’t affect their individual life like in a law suit – it usually doesn’t threaten their career if interpreters fail.  They would quite happily blame us for any problems or complaints in communication.  Is there a way to turn the tables?

11 Things You Thought You Knew about Japan – 2 of 2

土足厳禁genkan_shoes

In the last blog post, I introduced the first half of this article.  I mentioned Japanese Curry, Climates & Local Foods, the National Flower, Population and the Language in Japan.  This week, I am going to continue by starting with the 6th item.  For the previous part, please read 1 of 2 for “11 Things You Thought You Knew about Japan.”

6. Taking off shoes

When you go to someone’s house you are expected to take off your shoes.  I believe quite a lot of people know this already.  But did you know you’re supposed to turn the shoes heels against the edge of the Genkan – Japanese entry area of the house? Your shoes should be facing the exit.

When you’ve done that, you can proceed to the rest of the house.  The reason for doing so is for efficiency, as well as manners, to keep the shoes tidy and in the direction of going out that you don’t have to look for your pair being all over the place even when there are many shoes.

However, there is an exceptional occasion.  Mind you this might be trivia so not every Japanese person knows this.  If you’re going to a house on an occasion like funeral or a wake, don’t flip your shoes against the edge of the entry area of the house.  Some people say the spirit of the deceased will follow you as they see your shoes being ready to leave efficiently and quickly from the occasion.

At the funeral it is common that you’ll be handed a sachet of salt.  When you go home, before entering your house, sprinkle the salt over your shoulders and be conscious to leave the funeral or wake behind and not to bring it into your house.

7. Bathing

When you’re going to the bath you mean you’re going to clean.  In Japan, this is not the case.  Bath is more than a place to clean yourself.  In fact, don’t wash yourself IN the bathtub.  Wash lightly and discretely before going in to the bathtub.

There is an area next to it where you can wash yourself with removable shower head, a stool where you can sit in front of a mirror to wash your face, head and what have you.

Bath water in the tub is usually shared typically among family members and even with guests if they have them.

It is manners to keep the water reasonably clean by picking up hairs and other stuff before you leave the room.  For guests, it is courteous to ask them to take the first turn to take a bath while the water is fresh.  A lot of times, small children get in the bath together with their parent and it is a time and a place to communicate.

8. Tattoos

Tattoos might be perceived as fashion or personal statement, but in Japan it means something different. To be exact, it is practical to distinguish in two categories: 1. Traditional Irezumi and 2. Tattoos.  The second one is more of a recent thing, a fashionable style with Western influence.  For convenience, please allow me to distinguish them by calling them differently in this article.

The traditional stuff — Irezumi — is deeply associated with Yakuza, Japanese mafia, and it is seen and considered antisocial.  Nowadays, a lot of (young) people have ‘tattoos’ for fashion than representing their tribal association with Yakuza.  However, both Irezumi and Tattoos are received negatively and it can be a problem if you love Japanese public bath because tattoos are usually banned.

I love public baths, especially Onsen (hot springs/spa).  So, I will never risk that by putting tattoos on my body.  Why they’re banned?  That’s a good question, actually.  I hear it is because Irezumi/tattoos intimidate other customers and scare them away.  But I know for a fact there is also sanitary and clinical reasons especially when tattoos are new, and the public bath owners do not want to be liable or involved in such troubles either.  Let alone they don’t want to be associated with negative image it conveys.

9. Tea

When we say tea in Japan, it can mean from Green Tea, Brown Tea, Red Tea (normal tea in England) to all other sorts.  Green tea, for example, is appropriate for many occasions, but the major misunderstanding is how to make it.  Unlike other kinds of tea, green tea requires a more delicate approach to savour it to the full extent.  I’m sure there are other ways but this is what I do with green tea.

First, it is important to know how to store it.  I store green tea leaves/bags in the freezer, not in a cupboard at room temperature.  Because the leaves go yellow we call it ‘leaves catches a cold’ and basically the flavour is long gone by the time it gets to this stage.  You don’t want that.

Now, let’s make tea with fresh green tea leaves.  Please note, don’t use boiling hot water, because it’d be too hot.  Instead, bring it to boil but wait till the water temperature is around 70 degree centigrade.  And then quietly pour into the pot with tea leaves.

How would you know the water is cool enough but I don’t want to use a thermometer?  Mix cold water!  Don’t tell this to tea ceremony gurus, they might not like it.  Hard water is not ideal for green tea anyway, don’t be a perfectionist – be practical.  This is just a quick solution but it helps.

Boiling water is 100 degree centigrade.  If you put cold water up to 1/3 of the pot first and then add boiling water up to the full level you will get around 70 degree centigrade, wouldn’t you?  Calculate by how cold the cold water you are using is.  Brew for a couple of minutes and it’s ready to serve.

Brown tea, called Houji-cha or O-ban-cha, is very easy to drink after a meal.  It is mild but not sweet.  It is one of the first drinks given to even babies, of course it will be lukewarm or at room temperature when given to them.

In summer, barley tea — Mugi-cha — is made and stored in the fridge in many households.  For the past decades, Oolong tea has become also popular.  Oolong tea is made from tea leaves but barley is not.  Barley tea is caffeine free and it contains a lot of minerals.  It is healthy and particularly nice chilled to drink after a hot and long summer day.

Here’s one of my school time memories.  Children take barley tea frozen in their flask to school to drink after PE or other sports activities.  The frozen tea will thaw while they are busy attending lessons, and when there are allowed to take a break, they dash to their flasks.  It is such a rewarding moment.  Tea is slowly thawing but is still perfectly cool and chilled.  Kids love it when they come back from playing sports outside all day. (They’re not allowed to drink beer yet… lol)

10. New Year and Chinese New Year

It is known that many Asian countries celebrate Chinese New Year.  However, it’s less known that it is not really celebrated in Japan.  In Japan, New Year is 1 January.  We used to celebrate Chinese New Year, until it was changed to 1 January according to Gregorian calendar during the Meji restoration.

New Year is called お正月 Oshogatsu or 正月 Shogatsu in Japanese, and it does not just mean the first day of the year but the first MONTH of the year.  The second character of 正月(Shogatsu) –so月 –means ‘ month.’  This character means the Moon.  It is the first character for Monday 月曜日 for obvious reasons.  This character is pronounced either gatsu or tsuki, as it changes its reading depending on the context.

11. Christmas and Valentine’s Day

“Do they know it’s Christmas Time At all?” –  Ohh yes, we do.  We do celebrate both Christmas and Valentine’s Day, but we just do it ‘slightly’ (?) differently.  How different is it?  For example, Christmas is definitely the most important national holiday in Christian countries, but in Japan t is not a holiday.

Having said that, a great many people enjoy it as a very joyous, festive season.  The streets, buildings, shops and some houses are decorated with lights – this part is quite similar to the West.  However, one BIG difference I would say, or even odd (?) difference might be, we don’t eat turkey.

We BUY a substitute from somewhere.  This somewhere is – KFC – Kentucky Fried Chicken.  If you get to spend Yuletide in Japan, you’ll probably see KFC adverts on TV all the time. It is absolutely one of the biggest campaign season for them.   They’ll be sending out messages “Speaking of Christmas, it’s KFC. Let’s have KFC for Christmas.”

I might have been living in the West for too long.  I can’t spend Christmas without Christmas Dinner.   I even miss Pumpkin Pie on Thanks Giving where I don’t even live in the states!!  There is another reason why Turkey or Goose are not common in Japan.  It is not because they don’t like them.  It is because not many houses have an oven – That’s why!

Valentine’s Day in Japan is interpreted even more differently.  The original meaning was, not quite lost in translation, but construed differently.  Besides, I’m not sure if people know the actual meaning of the day.  I really think any average Japanese person probably has never thought about it.  There is no doubt they will not think of the martyrdom of the Saint Valentine, before thinking of chocolate.

But why chocolate?  There are several theories.  Whatever the truth is, definitely it is the day you will see enough chocolate to even put off a choc-freak.  St Valentine’s Day is, for girls, they ‘have-to-buy-chocolate’ day, and for boys it is the ‘have-to-receive-chocolate-or-you’re-a-sad-individual’ day.

St. Valentine’s defiance in performing marriages in secret for young lovers, somehow turned into the day that ‘even’ girls are allowed to make confession of love to boys.  Where it would be considered daring otherwise.  They are ‘allowed’ to be proactive for the day.  They’re encouraged to give chocolate to the men they fancy.

This may be a serious day for teenage girls and boys, but in general, it is more of a custom.

Some people argue it was because of Morozoff, one of the major confectionery & cake companies in Japan, who introduced St. Valentine’s Day to the country, and that other confectionery companies followed to promote their sales.

Be it true or not, and whether I like the idea or not, chocolate for St. Valentine’s Day and that it is always that girls have to buy for boys has not changed for a long time.

For more information on St Valentine’s Day in Japan, see Giri Choco (obligatory chocolate) and other variations of chocolate giving.

Written by Rie

(2/2)

11 Things You Thought You Knew about Japan – 1 of 2

Mt. Fuji View

This week, I’d like to share with you 11 things that people think they know about Japan.   

Hang on a minute – What about Japanese people?  What do they think they know about the UK? 

I think it is not overstating for me to say that tens of thousands of people in Japan don’t know much about the UK.  

For example, when I lived in Northern Ireland, a few Japanese friends of mine asked me questions like:

“what language do they speak, can you understand them and make yourself understood alright?”

“Are there polar bears?”

– It shows how much, or how little, we know about each other. 

Likewise, I think it is fair to say that the majority of British people know little about Japan.

It’s been over 20 years since I saw Mr Duff, a English teacher on British Affairs from England.  

He said to his students that he expected all Japanese people to look like Samurai, wearing Kimono, when he first came to Japan (quite a few years ago then, but still).  

He was proven wrong soon after his plane landed and got his feet off the steps – dove into this big city in the Far East called Tokyo.

“C’mon, it’s been over 300 years since those feudal time ended.  You’ve got to be kidding!

I thought.  I was one of his students, and at that time, I couldn’t get my head around why on earth he should think that.  

I thought:

“surely, he’s seen footage on TV of modern era, everyone wears Western style clothes!?  

And, everyone must have known about the huge economic development in Japan over the past 40 years, if anything.  

Where did he get this idea from??”

Over 10 years later, after I graduated from the university and moved to London.

It was only then that I gradually started to understand where his stereotypes might have come from.  

In London, the buildings have not changed too much in the past 50 years for example, compared to the way Japan’s cities have changed.  

They have changed so much that I wouldn’t be surprised if you couldn’t recognise it as the same country if someone showed you a picture 50 years ago and another of now.


 1.      Japanese Curry

Have you ever been to a Japanese restaurant and ordered Chicken Katsu Curry?  

Did you wonder why curry in Japanese restaurant as Japanese menu??  

Besides their curry looks nothing like Indian curry – where does it come from? 

Well, you’re not the only one – I wondered about that myself…!

Curry in Japan or FROM Japan is believed to have been introduced to the country via British Navy in the Meiji era (late 19th century).  

The Imperial Japanese Navy adopted it from them.  

At that time it was considered to be Western cuisine for that reason, and has been loved by the whole population ever since.  

The ‘authentic’ or original Indian style curry is differentiated from what’s called ‘curry (ka-ray)’ in Japan.  

It is usually called “Indo Karee,” but it doesn’t change the fact that both have been popular in Japan, although Indian style curry is seen as relatively ‘new’ in Japan. 

The curry which came via the English Navy has developed and evolved in its own way, such as almost every household has their own recipe and way of making it.  

There are such a wide range of curry and curry-inspired menu available in many restaurants in Japan – which proves its popularity in the country. 

The interesting thing is, it is said that “curry is not much affected in economy down turns or recessions” as it becomes all the more popular because it is most affordable as well as tasty.


2.     Climates & Local Foods 

No, it is not tropical all over, and yes, in summer, you can easily encounter scorching heat.  
Japan is an island nation – an archipelago extending wide east and west, and north and south as well.  

The northern part of the country generally has cooler summers and colder winter, whilst the southern part of the country has relatively warmer summer and milder winter.  
It does get a lot hotter than in the UK or many other European countries, nevertheless, it does get cold in winter and can get colder than in Europe. 

In certain areas, especially big cities with concentrated population and architectures, summer heat waves can be serious.  
Thousands of people were rushed to hospital and some deaths were reported last summer.  
In winter, lately there have been Heavy Snow Warnings and hundreds of injuries. 

None the less, spring and autumn are beautiful.  
The climate tends to be mild, and seasonal food, flowers and even specific insects such as fireflies and bell crickets (!) play an essential role in the harmony. 


 3.     National Flower of Japan?


This was the question Mr Duff asked us in the class, and it was so embarrassing that I could never forget – none of us in the class could answer!  
The truth is we don’t have an official one.  
A lot of people in Japan and overseas identify Sakura (cherry blossoms) and perhaps Kiku (chrysanthemum) as our national flower(s), though.


4.     Population in Japan


It is about 125 Million at the moment, which is approximately twice as large as that of Britain and a half of the United States.  
Although having said that, due to the well-known dwindling birth rates, combined with a rapidly ageing population, the population peak of 128 million has been declining.  
On the contrary, pets outnumber children and pet industry is a fast growing industry in the country.  
There are special patisseries and salons for pets; birthday parties held for the pets with their ‘friends’ that are similar to the ones held for children
in Western countries and also there are pet-friendly luxurious accommodations and restaurants.  
This industry has been developing and diversifying.  
It is said that the biggest reason for the country’s dwindling birth rate is less sex as men fear failure and rejection by women.


5.     Japanese Language


Isn’t it a minor language because it is only spoken in Japan?

False: Japanese language is the 9th largest language by the number of speakers who uses it as their mother tongue in the world, and the 4th most used language on the internet. 

There are approximately 125 million mother tongue speakers.  It is called Kokugo (= national language) in Japanese.  
Some people assume Japanese is similar to Chinese, but it is not.  
The word order is completely different to start with.  
In fact, some people argue that Japanese language is a language isolate, whereas there are people counter argue that it belongs to the Altaic language family.

Chinese characters in Japanese language, on the other hand, were ‘imported’ in Heian period (794 till 12th century), and in terms of vocabulary and phonology,
it had a significant influence in Japanese language development.  
Those vocabulary was initially loan words (foreign words) like Katakana, one of the three kinds of major syllabary used in the language, which is usually used to transliterate foreign words. 

Thank you for reading through down here, we’ve managed to cover 5 out of 11 that I promised at the beginning.  
I will continue, next week, by starting with “Festivals & Events in Japan” – see you have a great week ahead, everyone!!

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