Having lots of questions in regard to Japan?

Omiyage from Tokyo There are aspects of the Japanese culture or society that had and will continue to puzzle foreigners. I came across a youtube channel that addresses in a very honest, curious, non judging way about several aspects like why there is such a mix and match of buildings in Japanese cities or how come Japanese like to take pictures with the peace sign. While there is a lot of not noteworthy material in regard to Japan presented on the Internet, I have to say I am impressed with The Japan Channel Dcom. When you have time, check out the videos to the topics of your interest. I can only recommend it.


Wishing you lots of entertainment and laughter,

Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

What kind of plant would you like to grow?

200 Japanese kids in the age range of 10 to 14 years had been asked on a recent survey of the Nikkei Shimbun about what kind of plant they would like to grow on their own. I believe this questionnaire originates from a Japanese school habit, when the students are asked as a part the summer holiday homework to take care of a certain plant. Although Hydrangea as shown on the side becomes very popular in Japan during early summer – especially rainy season – the choices made by the children seem very interesting to me.
Number one was strawberry, which was for me very surprising, because I had assumed the children would be trying to let something grow that is in season in Summer. Looking at the product offerings in the stores, the high season for strawberries in Japan is in the winter (vinyl house farming). On the other hand, potentially, because strawberries are not found in the stores in summer, the desire to plant some of their own makes sense. The ranking follows as below:

1. Strawberry
2. Rice
3. Tomato
4. Corn
5. Cucumber
6. Water melon
7. Muscat melon
8. Grape
9. Potato
10. Clementine

I do not know what your favorite might be, but if I had a chance now I would love to have some “tororo” or “nagaimo” (Japanese yam: lit. long yam, 長芋) on my own. Unlike any yams that I had known, this yam when grated creates some sticky, slimy foam like mash. In case this made you curious for some recipe or pictures, don’t hesitate to have a look at the janechannel. I love this yam so much, if I had to be born again as a plant I believe I want to become a Japanese yam 😉

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

So what is an average Japanese junior high school girl like?

My policy is that from time to time I check out a topic or an area of Japan that I am not exposed to in my daily life. This approach has for me the advantages that I am forced to keep an open mind, become familiar with a topic I have had possibly no interest at all, plus learn more what is going on with the Japanese economy, society or learn potentially about a new trend.
A popular magazine for Junior high school girls was my focus this time. A recent issue of Pichilemon magazine (ピチレモン) showed the results of the response of 1000 junior high school girls being questioned about their daily habits. The results of this poll was then considered to represent the average female Japanese student: 155cm in height with 44.4 kg weight and having medium long hair.
To make the picture perfect with the school uniform – definitely a part of Japan, plus furthermore a crucial part of confidence of a high school student – let me announce the average the skirt ends 7.5 cm above the knee.
A junior high school girl gets up typical at 6:40, after having slept for an average of 7.2 hours. Apart from the time spent at school, 69 minutes are used for homework, 147 minutes spent watching TV, plus an additional 93 minutes are allocated for online activities. Although it might be surprising how little time is spent for homework, I have to say I did not expect that more time is spent for TV than the Internet. Then finally after a long day at 23:20 the average junior high school girl goes to bed.
For sure I had the wrong image, because a high number of 99% of junior high school girls enjoy going to school. Roughly it takes about 17 minutes for these girls to go to school.
Junior high school girls have an average of 4.4 close friends. As it should be expected nowadays, 80% of the students seem to have a boyfriend. For 89% of the girls their boyfriend has roughly the same age, when 10% have an older partner. Plus guess what, 80% have already kissed a guy. Looking out into the future, these junior high school girls expect to get married at 24.8 years old, which reflects an age just out of university with potentially some basic job exposure.
Apart from these social aspects, the most exciting food is bread/patisserie, curry rice or then sweets.
How were your teen years? In my case I had no school uniform, at least double the time spent on homework, little TV and no Internet. Most of the free time was used up chatting with other girls, drawing and reading. I had not been “lucky” enough to have a boyfriend with 15, so the kissing part came later too. To be honest, I had no idea about the age I might get married. It was somewhen in the future, but no clear image about it. At that time it was more important for me to make sure that I am ready and notice if the fairy tale price passes by…

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

My recommendation for a hot summer day in Tokyo

Although summer has just started in Tokyo, due to all the power saving I am already longing very badly for cooler, more comfortable temperature. Last week I spent an afternoon in my neighborhood visiting the Aquarium in Shinagawa. No matter how you think about animals being cached up, I have to say I truly enjoyed the afternoon. For sure the cooler temperatures inside and around the outside pools was such a nice break from the heat. Furthermore, you can do a good deed in regard to other sufferers of the Tohoku Earthquake: Inhabitants of many zoos and aquariums.
Honestly I did not spend much thought so far about the consequences for all the damaged zoos and aquariums in the affected areas. Lifelines like electricity, water and distribution of food and materials had been interrupted due to the earthquake. Some animals died due to the sudden shifts in temperature or environment and in some cases the animals had to be transported as quickly as possible to other sites.
Thinking back to my childhood, I truly loved to go to the zoo, because it was a place where I could admire the animals I truly care about. Taking it a step further, I am sure the children now in the affected areas in the north of Japan must enjoy to have an opportunity to see animals in their local zoos as well. Don’t forget to support the Japanese zoos!

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤)

So where would you like to go to study?

Do you remember where you wanted to go to study as a child? Was it abroad or within your country of birth? As a child I wanted to go very badly to Galapagos, because I had read about an amazing environment with tame animals, but then later as a teenager with the 80s music I shifted my focus to London, simply because I saw it then as the center of the planet. A recent research by Nikkei Shimbun showed for me surprising results, when 200 school children in the age range 11-16 were asked, where they would like to study abroad.

1. United States of America
2. Australia
3. Great Britain, Canada
5. France
6. I don’t want to study abroad
7. Italy
8. Switzerland
9. Germany
10. New Zealand

Solely 37 kids were not interested to study abroad, which is a much lower figure than I had expected. In the media commonly the young generation is described as less interested to go abroad than previous generations. Furthermore I was completely surprised to find Switzerland on the list. I would have never guessed it, but I am wondering at the same time, which language these kids would like to learn: German (with a distinctive pronunciation differing from “proper German German”, or maybe even Swiss German?), French (with its own special twists), Italian (could be possible, but why then not Italy?) or then Romansch (who from outside of Switzerland would bother to learn this archaic language?). I guess I will never know.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤)

TV Tokyo too: New consumer behavior in Japan as a boom?

While doing shopping today at the local supermarket, I was surprised to find a TV crew there. Being curious what their intention is I found them soon targeting young mothers for an interview. It seemed to me the goal was to report how purchasing behavior has changed since the earthquake. Apart from the question whether they are shopping now for different products, the example of yoghurt and the limitations previously during the organized blackouts came up.
Looking at the local news online I start to find more and more the word of the “new Japan”, especially in regard to consumer behavior. Along the same lines I came across a very suitable index that explains the changes in the Japanese consumer behavior: The JWT anxiety index. While so far my observations of Japanese consumers were not based on market research data, but personal observations, the JWT anxiety index shows what I had sensed in the supermarkets so far. How comfortable and safe you feel, directly influences the purchasing behavior. An excellent explanation can be found on the JWT anxiety index website, on why anxiety matters so much in regard to economy

“Economic concerns exist in the context of other fears and insecurities—centered around terrorism, military hostilities, natural disasters, product safety, health care, epidemics and so on—that are driven in part by a 24-7 media environment in which bad news spreads fast and repeats endlessly. With tens of millions of consumers seeking guidance and assurance, marketers need to understand the total picture in each market.
When consumers are anxious—whether about their health or safety or their finances—they tend to exert more control over areas of their lives that are within their control, whether that means using more coupons at the supermarket or assuming greater management of their health care. Often, control applies to brand and product choices. This means brands must understand their consumers’ anxieties and address them proactively.”

As long as 92% of Japanese are nervous or anxious, it makes so much sense that the rules that had applied in the past for Japanese consumers do not apply now. While the Lehman shock must have created some concerns as well, I personally believe the consequences of the disaster causes deeper effects in the society. If I were a truly, truly wise person I would make a guess on when Japan returns back to the ways like before. All what I can sense now is that changes are still ongoing and the new Japan has not emerged yet.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤)

Japan is moving slowly, slowly towards international child-custody agreement

I still remember how shocked I was, when I realized for the first time after living here, that Japan had not joined 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. I had naively assumed that Japan as a developed country – even a member of G7 – had set a high priority on children’s rights. I had never in my dreams considered Japan as a safe haven for child abductions. So what is the big deal about The Hague Convention? It is an international pact that sets procedures for resolving child custody cases in failed international marriages. Japan does not have to follow these international rules so far, therefore chances are that after a divorce non-Japanese cannot see their children, if their Japanese spouses takes them to Japan from the country where the family had been living.
According to The Wallstreet Journal chief government spokesman Yukio Edano said today that the Cabinet is expected to formally draft a bill this Friday that could ultimately clear the way for Japan to sign the 1980 treaty. Japan has faced renewed pressure from the United States, Canada and some European nations (i.e. France, UK, Switzerland) on why not to join the international pact. I cannot understand why Japan prefers to “cleanwash” their own citizens, while leaving the foreign parent with no legal means to win back custody or visitation rights once the former spouse takes the child or children to Japan. Furthermore Japan sees no problems when actual foreign court orders are broken, divorced Japanese spouses will be safe in Japan, even when parents had kidnapped the kids to bring them back to Japan without the approval of the previous spouse. In simple words: Japanese courts do not recognize the legitimacy of child custody contracts of other countries!
From what I could find on the internet presently there are about 100 active cases involving some 140 children in U.S.-Japan custody battles and 38 cases in the UK. One can now argue that there are not many cases and all is just based a difference of culture. In Japan the custody is typically granted to one parent: Most often the mother. It is still difficult for me to comprehend that it is not unusual for children to stop seeing their fathers after their parents divorce. Some voices say that joining The Hague Convention would put Japanese parents and their children at risk, because they had fled abusive relationships. Therefore the Democratic Party of Japan’s panel requests the government to ensure that those parents who had kidnapped their children would not have to face criminal charges, and that the domestic definition of child abuse will be employed when such acts are brought into question. Leaving the criminal charges aside, I cannot truly say that Japan takes child abuse seriously. Simply have a look at the figures: In 2008 there were 42,664 cases of child abuse, 2009 an increased number of 44,210 cases of child abuse. Even based on new laws that were meant to give welfare workers more power to apply for warrants in child abuse cases. As a consequence the actual numbers of warrants: two warrants in 2008 and in 2009 only one warrant was asked for. I can only hope for the best for everyone involved.
According to Mainichi Shimbun the plan is to have Japan join the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction during a regular Diet session next year. I wish I could express my feeling of helplessness.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤)