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.

http://www.youtube.com/user/TheJapanChannelDcom

Wishing you lots of entertainment and laughter,

Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

Realistic voice within a lot of nonsense reported about Japan


Roppongi Tokyo Tower character One reason on why I had started years ago this blog is that I was missing on the Internet actual, facts based information about Japan, furthermore reliable business related comments about Japan. Sadly more and more “journalists” or even so-called Japan specialists focus more on finding eye-catching articles than actually consider to gain local experience or at least research properly about Japanese culture. Through a Japan focused group on LinkedIn I was introduced to the article below. This article is for me a highlight, especially considering the crap – sorry my language – that was published around the world in last few weeks.
I highly recommend you to take the time to learn about the real Japan, when the article below is a great source.

Sex myths without substance: Mislabelling Japan or if you have problems with accessing just use this link:
http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/sex-myths-without-substance-mislabelling-japan-8911325.html#!

I hope you enjoy as much as I did the article by Beckie Smith.

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)

Tokyo in Timelapse: wonderful video


Although in general I do not intend to fill up this blog with video examples, but from time to time I have to make exemptions. Through Twitter I was introduced to the video with the link below. Holger Mette has created this wonderful timelapse video of Tokyo and Yokohama. Not only the pictures, the movement of the scenes, but as well the connection with the music let me repeat it over and over again. I hope you enjoy this video as much as I do.

Holger Metter (his website): A man with a great eye for the essence of Tokyo.

Wonderful video showing the part of Tokyo I fell in love with: Tokyo in Timelapse

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

Harajuku doesn’t disappoint!


From time to time I am forcing myself to stay open-minded and expose myself to an environment, which I usually don’t experience every day. Last weekend I went to Harajuku to find out what is popular now with young people. The goal was to explore and observe the trendy scene in Harajuku. But while being there why not check out Meji-Shrine at the same time. When I was moving towards Meiji-Shrine I was lucky to walk behind two younger women as pictured below – most likely university students – who gave me most likely a very good example of the challenges young Japanese are facing nowadays. They discussed why they have chosen to come on a Sunday morning to the shrine to pray: Insecurity about the future and hope for guidance.

“I wish someone could tell me what I should do with my future. It is so difficult to see what I can really do.”
“I know what you mean! I don’t know what I am good at. How should I be able to decide what to do in my future, when I don’t know myself?”
“Why is there no one who tells me what to do? How can I know what to do with my future if no one tells me what to do. I wish I knew a person who would know me and decide for me for my future.”
“Yes, that would be so great to have someone like this who would decide for me! I really would like that.”
“I really don’t know what I am good at.”
“Me, too. Let’s go to this shrine and then maybe we get lucky and someone will show us what we should do with our future.”

I had to force myself to stay quiet, because it seemed to me that these two women with their perceived insecurity were willing to throw away their self-determination for their lives. Yes, making big life decisions is not easy, but I strongly believe having doubts can never be a reason to give away your own power. I guess I can only pray that they find their strength to take their lives in their own hands.

Reminding myself that the goal of the day is observe and keeping an open mind without any judgements I headed towards the shrine. For sure it was a great idea to go visit on the weekend, because most likely you can see someone having their wedding ceremony at the shrine. I was lucky to see three couples, when I enjoyed observing an international couple.

Moving on next to the creative hot spot of Tokyo, I was curious what I will be finding this time in Harajuku. Although some fashion critics in Japan already consider Harajuku to become a tourist trap, arguing that most have already moved away to Omotesandoo and Shibuya, I still enjoy Harajuku as the place where unique Japanese creativity exists. Where else can you find such a creative mix and match of many styles?
Within the last 10 years it seems that Harajuku got its spot on the global map. Considering the nationalities that I have seen and heard during my explorations this fashion spot seems rather popular for Malaysian, Thai, Taiwanese, Singapore, Chinese, Italian, German and Spanish tourists.

For sure Harajuku is still the place to be for many teenagers from Tokyo and afar to get their fan goods from their favorite idols. One example of the typical “idol goods” store is as below.

While this kind of stores made me curious, on the other hand coming across a store for AKB48 caught my full attention. Finally I can get a better idea, who is actually their fan base. I was expecting to see many “Otaku” flocking to this store. I had honestly no desire to go into the store and see or even get some AKB48 goods, because I am solely interested to check out who is actually their customer base. I would have never guessed right, because most customer entering or leaving the store were young women and families with kids. For sure I was off on who favors AKB48 and have learned my lesson that observations of the real market is truly necessary to keep an open mind.

Observing the flow of people at Takeshita-doori, after a while I had noticed a younger guy wearing a cute flowery dress with tights (yes, correct I am talking about male person!). Hmmm, this is Harajuku so I should keep an open mind, because I might be completely unaware of the newest fashion trends. Moreover, didn’t I hear about the more female oriented young Japanese males in the media? This is just an example that the society might have some interesting outliers, but not worthwhile for me to think much about it. Just stay with the flow and observe…
What another one? This time although he was wearing glasses, I could tell he was in his late 40’s. I started to wonder whether I am really in Harajuku and not in the “Otaku scene” of Akihabara, but clearly I was in Harajuku. Let’s change my observation spot and let’s see what is going to happen. While heading to a different location I came across two older guys again, this time in pink stockings and rather thick layer of make up. To be honest with you after I had come across 10 guys roughly in the age range of early 20’s to late 40’s I stopped counting. They were not in a group, plus I had spotted them in totally different locations.
While I can understand that younger guys might have some desire to explore gender issues, I have to say I was struggling to understand older men, who dressed up as young girls. I needed a mental break from observing all those unique men and why not visit McDonald.
Guess what, I came across two guys again.

So far I believed I am rather open-minded in my daily life, but I guess that my recent visit to Harajuku showed, that I am still rather old-fashioned. I assume the examples that I came across are not typical examples on where Japanese men are heading. Or do I need to get used to the idea that Japanese men might be soon competing with me for the same clothes?

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

What is the priciest purchase you have kept secret from your family?


From time to time I come across stories in the media or hear Japanese talk about purchases they have been hiding from their family. Personally I perceive this as a very interesting behavior, because I have never done it myself nor can I understand the need for it. I am responsible to bring in enough income so that I can cover my expenses now and in the future, while my hubby has to deal with the same responsibility. I can only assume it has to do with the Japanese approach of keeping the family finances usually controlled by the wife (husband turns over his salary to the wife to take care of the family finance). At our home we have no gender based financial responsiblity and we both have to live up to the same standard.
Coming back to the secret purchases: In a recent Nikkei Shimbun article they had questioned 618 Japanese (half female, half male) about the amount of the priciest purchase kept secret from their family.

Have never kept my purchases as a secret to my family: 23%
Priciest purchase kept secret (less than JPY 10,000): 19%
Priciest purchase kept secret (JPY 10,001 – 50,000): 25%
Priciest purchase kept secret (JPY 50,001 – 100,000): 13%
Priciest purchase kept secret (JPY 100,001 – 300,000): 10%
Priciest purchase kept secret (more than JPY 300,001): 10%

I am happy to see that about one quarter has a similar approach to financial honesty at home, but at the same time shocked that even 10% are able to keep a purchase amount hidden in the value of more than JPY 300,001. I guess it must be some antiques or jewelry or what else can you imagine to keep hidden or undervalued in the face of your family? I am curious to hear your assumption.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

How important is it to obey rules in Japan?


Yes, the picture on the side is shaky and not very clear, partially because it was early morning for me when I took the picture, plus this man riding on the subway is just one example of a more and more common sight in Tokyo. There is no need nor importance to actually recognize the shown salary man.
Officially on the line shown in the picture the seats in the car at the back of the train are reserved solely for women from 07:30 to 09:40 in the morning and then after 22:30 in the evening again. The goal is to have a safer environment on trains, so that women are protected from chikan (痴漢, or チカン), simply because groping is still quite common in Japan in packed trains. Let me point out the man depicted on the train has no connection with the topic of groping, contrary he is just an example of a Japanese, who has become less strict about following given rules.
Another example is the increase of the illegal parking in the streets, although stricter rules have been in place the last few years and police in combination with private companies try to track down all the parking offenders, I have not seen much of a change. Potentially main streets have become less crowded on the side, but the picture below shows a typical back street of Tokyo full of illegally parked cars.

I wonder whether the issue is really about breaking a law, but more about trying to make the best out of their own lives. If the other train compartments are too crowded, why not sneak into a women’s car? If you cannot find a quiet spot to park your car for a while so you can sleep, why not doing it in a back street? Moving one step further to a bigger topic: Olympus and Woodford. Where there actually rules broken or simply managers tried their best to keep a company alive with their perceived most suitable approach? While you might have read a lot of other articles, take your time to review the excellent article by Sophie Knight, when talking to Chris Berthelsen, because unlike other articles the Japanese business culture is taken into consideration.

http://thekishicut.com/2012/01/09/was-woodford-tripped-up-by-cultural-misunderstandings/

The more I know and have learned about Japan, now after 10 years I begin to wonder what is more important: Stability and harmony in life and do whatever it takes for the larger share of the company/society to protect it, or follow what is perceived as the “right” rules, even if it negatively affects some innocent bystanders? Is it correct to save hundreds of jobs to keep the economy going even though the law might not be followed properly? Where do you draw the line in a society that has extensive experience in working grey zones. I must say a part of me appreciates life in Japan without the strict Western black and white – right and wrong – approach, but there are times when I get lost in the grey.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)