Not only does the Japanese to English translations often confuse Westerners in Japan (see photo above), but also the lack of predictability in behaviour of Japanese people can be a bit perplexing. Here are some examples:
- The Japanese are ridiculously particular about not eating the peel of fruits – for example, in addition to apples and pears they also peel grapes. Yet they eat prawns with the shell on!
- During a typhoon, taxi drivers drive back home to seek shelter, but the trains run as normal.
- During a typhoon, university students and teaching staff are sent home for safety, yet support staff will have to stay at work (the same goes for 7-Eleven staff – practically nothing seems to be a good enough reason for convenience store staff not to work their shifts!)
- Japanese society is extremely health and safety conscious, there are signs everywhere alerting people to potential dangers (like sliding train doors trapping children’s fingers or closing elevator doors catching people’s rucksacks) yet Japanese people and the governing bodies are happy for people to eat (a) Fugu, i.e. puffer fish, whose body contains one of the most lethal substances known to man and (b) mochi (sticky rise dough) which is not poisonous but extremely sticky resulting in a large number of people annually getting into some sticky situations with mochi sticking to their airways (sometimes so much so that the person suffocates).
- Many Japanese people are very careful and particular about money and aspire to buy their own flat (condominium) even though they know that they will only lose money on the flat. The reason for the low chance of making money with property in Japan is that frequent earthquakes damage the structure of buildings, building regulations for earthquakes are frequently being updated and Japanese society generally prefers new rather than old. Thus, if you are careful about spending money, why not just live in rented accommodation?
- In many families, the wife is the head of the household and for example holds the purse strings (including control of their husband’s pay cheque), yet it’s not unheard of that they give their husband an allowance for the upkeep of his lover.
- Japanese people rarely cry in highly emotional situations publicly, yet important politicians and CEOs bellow like 4-year-olds on prime time TV when they’ve made a mistake.
- People are considerate and wear a surgical masks when ill so that they won’t spread their germs to their friends, colleagues or co-commuters, yet many Japanese women do not wash their hands after using the toilet (maybe men don’t either, but I haven’t had the opportunity to observe this behaviour in men’s toilets).
- Many Japanese students who want to go to a good university study extremely hard during their (Junior) High school (i.e. secondary school and sixth form). However, many of them stop studying when they go to university, as it is not the grade or the degree so much, but the status of your university that will guarantee your attractiveness to the job market.
- This is not what an individual would find confusing, but what British train operators and government’s Department for Transport are likely to find confusing: The Japanese have one of the best functioning train systems in the world with their flagship ‘bullet trains’ and practically flawless local trains operations, yet they are now building an even better train system, Maglev, and are investing a lot of money in it, e.g. one stretch from Tokyo to Nagoya (approx. 290km) will cost £67 billion. As a comparison, here’s the latest on South-East England’s trains from today’s BBC news.
I’m sure there is a lap full of other confusing inconsistencies that I’ve haven’t noticed (or have noticed but inconsistently took note of!), so if you have noticed any, feel free to share those in the comments.