Customs of Japan

When you come to Japan and go drinking with Japanese people, some of them will say, “Let’s start with beer!” and then you’ll all give a toast. If you want to behave like the Japanese, you'll need to pour for other people, even when you are not a host or a hostess. This is a kind of Japanese tradition, and how Japanese people communicate each other while drinking.
The legal drinking age is twenty years old here. When there are unmarried young women, you should look after their glasses carefully, because a woman can’t pour for herself. If an unmarried young woman pours for herself, it is said that she will not be able to get married. So a woman has to wait until someone notices her glass. If a woman wants to be poured, she pours for someone, and then the person will notice her empty glass and pour for her.
Is this too much of a bother? Perhaps, but if you are a man, I think this could be a good excuse to speak to a young woman who you like. Good luck!

Thank you!

P.S.  If you have questions about my post or Japanese customs, don't hesitate to ask.

Columbine, thanks!


Kakusan's Comment

This is Kakusan's response to my last post.

Kakusan(UK) : Hi Yurisan!

I found your observation very interesting. I grew up in the UK in a very multicultural background, and I think I can understand the reasons behind this premise that ethnic diversity is beneficial. So I have put together a few of my own thoughts on the matter below.

My grandmother came from Ireland. You may have heard of the Irish Potato Famine. This was a terrible time of starvation and poverty in Irish history, during which around a million people died and a similar number left the country in order to survive. What caused this was, in part, what we call a monoculture. This is when a farmer, or a whole agricultural sector, becomes dependent upon one variety of crop for survival. It is typified by enormous plantations of one type of crop, stretching as far as the eye can see. The problem is that, if there is one parasite or pest to which this crop is susceptible and this pest happens upon one of these plantations, then the entire sector will fall at once. This will result in mass poverty and starvation, precisely as in the Irish Potato Famine where Irish farmers became overly dependent upon the potato. One way to avoid this is to grow different strains of a crop, or different crops entirely, such that one avoids "putting all one's eggs in one basket". In this way, when a parasite comes along, it will only destroy those sectors of the crops that are susceptible, and the farmers will still have a proportion of their produce left to rely upon. Thus famine will be prevented. Of course in the case of the Potato Famine, there were many other historical factors that induced the dependence upon potatoes, but when one has the choice it is certainly preferable not to rely upon a single variety of crops.

In genetics, too, we see that if we have two specimens that are weak due to high homozygosity, but they are highly heterozygous with respect to one another, so to speak, their offspring will be much stronger, larger and healthier. This has been confirmed by observations in both plants and animals, and even in humans, for example in Sickle-Cell Anaemia. (Heterozygot Advantage) This is commonly called hybrid vigour or heterosis. The simplest examples of the converse of this are things like the health problems found in historically in-bred families of the European aristocracy. Here, it is clear that there is strength in diversity.

The proposal is that a parallel can be drawn with human culture. There is strength in ethnic diversity.

In a society, when a new difficulty arises, there may not be an effective launching-point into dealing with that difficulty contained within all cultures. In other words, some groups may be culturally better equipped to deal with, say, social revolution, war or poverty, than others. However, if one society comprises many cultures rather than just one, then it is much more likely that the society as a whole will be able to find within itself those cultural resources with which to equip itself against the new difficulty. In this way, we can learn from those who are different from us how best to cope with unfamiliar situations. Thus, we can pool the experience of millennia of life on this planet, rather than excluding ourselves from one sector or another of that information, and so be better equipped to deal with life.

In my personal experience, I grew up around other children, particularly at secondary school, who came from different backgrounds or were second or even first generation immigrants. It was fascinating for me to discover different perspectives in my peers, and most importantly this experience enabled me to be objectively critical of my own pre-conceived notions. This stimulus was already around me as I grew up and began to formulate my own way of thinking. One can read about other cultures ad infinitum, but there is no replacement for this personal experience. Moreover, one finds that, when children are exposed to variety in this way, even if there is bigotry in the parents, very often the children will be much more tolerant of different cultures, backgrounds and points of view. In turn this eventually leads to a more peaceful society.

People will always find reasons to hate one another. Whether they be religion, culture or skin colour, we must not allow this to contaminate those purported reasons themselves. I believe that there is strength in cultural diversity, and great potential both for personal growth by exposure to it and for development of society by implementing it.

I understand what you are saying about "reading between the lines" and hearing what is left unsaid. However, when we have to learn how to do this with a new group of people with different mores, we leave our "comfort zone" and both exercise a new area of our brain and learn something about ourselves which could not have otherwise been revealed.

I also think I have some idea as to why the Japanese may be cautious about multiculturalism. Obviously there is the long-term history of the "Bamboo Curtain", but also in more recent history Japanese people were not always welcome in western cultures such as North America, despite the U.S. cultural bombardment of Japan in the post-war relationship. I understand also that in the late 19th and early 20th century Japan was keen to demonstrate her ability to maintain an empire to rival any European colonial power, and that sentiments like this led to Japan's involvement in WWI on the side of the Allies, but ultimately in WWII on the side of the Axis powers, which obviously led to the final conclusion. So, to take a very broad, overall message from history, one could get the impression that Japanese interactions with the "outside" have had a tremendously unfortunate negative tendency. Having said that, of course, the post-war period has seen unimaginable growth and prosperity through international trade and very selective adoption of certain features of foreign cultures. This really is a dramatic reversal in my eyes (although I do not wish at all to downplay the effect of the admirable Japanese work ethic and many other excellent native cultural features), and in some sense suggests that Japan is much more multicultural on the level of ideas, although clearly not on the level of individuals actually living in Japan, than one might think. In this sense, it seems to me, and correct me if I'm wrong, that Japan has benefited from an exclusive kind of "multiculturalism of ideas" in a way that few other nations can claim to have done.

So, what do you think Yurisan? I hope I have been able to explain a little where this position is coming from and how I think it relates to "the Japanese way" of looking at multiculturalism, so to speak, without rambling on too much!


How I was astonished recently.

One of the Japanese TV stations broadcasted a Harvard University course in philosophy from April to June. The title was Justice with Michael Sandel (a heated class in Harvard).They talked about how to determine what is morally correct behaviour, and this program was very interesting.
However, what astonished me most in the lecture was when the professor spoke as follows, (This was said when they were talking who should enter Harvard. );

The common good is served, is advanced, if there is a racially and ethnically diverse student body. Everyone benefits.

He said this as if it was common sense. This was the premise upon which their discussion was based. I was really shocked.

Is this global standard?

I’m sure that most Japanese people would not understand or agree with the Idea.

I don’t know about any great professors, but common Japanese prefer a non-diverse society; so Japan absorbs few immigrants.

Japanese people generally prefer not to say every word that comes into their head, and those listening are supposed to understand what the speaker has left unsaid. Many Japanese people aren’t used to spelling everthing out in detail. This is possible only when people have the same values and cultures.

I know that other countries have many immigrants and I have thought that you just like it. I didn’t imagine anyone thought that a diverse culture benefited everyone.

I think Japanese people can’t speak English fluently without overcoming this cultural difference.

On the other hand, learners of Japanese should also know that Japanese culture is quite different from what you might expect.

Thank you!

Koir, Kakusan, thanks a lot!


Binbohgami - The God of Poverty

Binboh means poverty and kami(gami is from kami) means god. It is considered that people who are possessed by binbohgami fall into poverty. There used to be some events held for the god, but most of them are fading away.

When I was a kid, I was told that sharpening both sides of a pencil attracts binbohgami.

Nowadays, if a company which you just joined went bankrupt suddenly (not from your actions), and this situation was repeated on several occasions, you would be called binbohgami as a joke.

There is a twin god of binbohgami which is called fukunokami. This god is considered to bring good luck.

And there is another god called yakubyohgami. This god brings plague.

Frankly speaking, I don’t understand why monotheistic religion can have only one god because Japan has many gods here. The Japanese word kami is usually translated as god, but kami might be somehow different in concept from your god.

Thank you.