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 [learn] I never expected... Last updated 
14 Apr 1999 

chuui - warning
I am not an expert on Japanese culture. I conducted no scientific surveys. I am a fallible human being wearing American-tinted glasses. Please forgive me if I make a statement which doesn't seem 100% sensitive. The text that follows is meant to be somewhat entertaining, not profound.

I never expected... so much pornography and things of that sort  
Every country's not like America (surprise!). People have different rules about what is and what is not decent, wrong, sick, acceptable, and strange.

Since the Japanese do not get their morals from a Christian background, they have different ideas about such things. Their actions are guided by their society, which dictates that they fulfill obligations and maintain harmony. Their actions are also guided by Buddhism in many cases, which says things such as: eliminate desire, become egoless, re-evaluate your perceptions, preserve life, be kind (this is so greatly simplified; trying to fit Buddhism into one sentence is difficult).

So, there's nothing in that list I just made that says anything about "don't buy pornography from Lawson Station." You could make the argument that Buddhism says that you should eliminate desire, but... it doesn't seem that most people make that argument in Japan!

There is pornography (what we consider pornography, that is) EVERYWHERE in Japan. If you walk into any bookstore or magazine store, there it is. Five inches away from the children's books. If you walk into a video store, there it is. Five inches away from the children's videos. If you walk into any 24-hour convenience store (like Lawson Station or 7-Eleven), it's always there. Right next to the children's magazines. If you walk around town, you're bound to find a vending machine that sells pornographic magazines and videos. Yes, a vending machine. Right next to the road. There are even pornographic gifts in many gift shops when you visit a castle or tourist spot. When I stayed in a tube hotel in Hiroshima, there was not only free pornographic magazines for your reading pleasure, there was the free porn channel on the TV in your tube.

So, needless to say, I was surprised. Quite surprised. What's even more surprising is this: all pornography in Japan is censored. Meaning, there's some sort of fuzzy blob or blurry area blocking the most... umm... explicit part of the picture. Always. So, it's more available than pornography in America, but it's also more censored. Weird, no?

In addition to pornography, there are the "nighttime entertainment districts" of big cities. Now, prostitution is technically illegal in Japan. Technically. But, the authorities are willing to allow it, as long as they can control it. So, they say, "Yes, you can do your prostitution, just keep it on this certain block, one block away from where the main street is. And keep the graphic stuff inside the buildings."

Ok, I'm from a small town. And after the small town I went to a college buffered on one side by a 5-million acre forest on the other by a giant lake. So... I'm not used to big cities. I'm certainly not used to seeing prostitutes. So, this was a new sight for me. Walking down the street, having groups of beautiful women try to hand me coupons for "1/2 price!" and beckoning me to come inside. Definitely a new experience for this small towner!

So you can see why this appears on my "I never expected..." list.

I never expected... such a lax attitude toward alcohol  
Yes, the Japanese sell alcohol in vending machines out in the open. They give you free beer samples when you go to the store. They sell it in convenience stores, grocery stores, and bars. Legally, you need to be 20 years old to buy alcohol or cigarettes in Japan. But if you are old enough to drink, it's handled in such a casual way.

Alcohol doesn't conjure up the same thoughts in people's heads in Japan as it does in America. In America, the word conjures up images like "addict, problem, wife beater, bum, drunk" and that sort of thing. Alcohol is looked down upon in America. A necessary evil. Remember prohibition? Yeah, that worked really well.

In Japan it's different (surprise!). You can talk about alcohol. In class. Your teachers talk about alcohol. Your teachers go to the bar with you (I'm talking JCMU, here). You can have parties with all your friends and drink without causing a problem. You can drink in the JCMU lobby of the dorm!

In Japan, you go out to the bar with your coworkers or friends to talk to them, to build a closer relationship with them, to increase the harmony of the group.

I guess people just have more self control in Japan. The Japanese are usually pretty reserved physically; the picture of a drunk Japanese person starting a fist fight does not exist in my imagination. The same with JCMU students -- some may get drunk, but they dare not cause any problems, because the repercussions would be large. Shaming your group (JCMU) by destroying the harmony of society is not taken lightly.

I never expected... music CD rental  
Yes, there are copyright laws in Japan. There are also devices called MiniDiscs (MDs for short), which are about 200 times as popular in Japan as they are in America. They let you record 74 minutes of music onto a disc smaller than a 3.5" floppy. The sound quality rivals a CD, and the players are extremely portable.

In light of this information, I cannot figure out why there is such a thing as CD rental!

In America, there's video rental. There are two reasons why companies are not worried about you renting a video to circumvent buying it (by copying it). The first is that most people do not have two VCRs side by side to do the job. The second (and better) reason is that they put a copy-protection system on VHS tapes so that if you copy them, the color and brightness will come out all "messed up."

But in Japan, people all have CD players and MD players. And there is no system that prevents you from copying CD music onto an MD. So, you can rent CDs for a dollar or two (they do cost $30 to buy), bring them home, copy the songs with perfect clarity onto an MD, and then take the CD back to the rental place. This baffles me. If you're not allowed to copy the songs without owning them, WHY are there CD rental places?!

I never expected... our words instead of theirs  
The Japanese already had a word for apple. They already had a word for tuna. They already had a word for milk. They already had a word for rice. These words were, respectively: ringo, hamachi, gyuunyuu, gohan. They use these words still today. But they also use our words! If you buy apple juice, there's a good chance it will be called "appuru juusu" (spelled with the Japanese katakana alphabet, which is used to write foreign words). If you buy something with tuna in it, there's a good chance you'll see "tsuna" on the package. I mean, the Japanese were catching and eating tuna before they even knew English existed! Why are they using our word? If you buy milk, it'll sometimes say gyuunyuu (gyuu being the character for cow, and nyuu meaning milk), but a lot of times it'll say "miruku." And rice, for pete's sake. The Japanese have been cooking rice WELL before they knew English existed. They called it "gohan", which means "honorable meal." But if you go to a restaurant and order something with rice, do you know what you sometimes ask for? "raisu!"

I never expected... that public urination was something people would do  
Japanese men will urinate in public. That is, if they have to go, they just duck down an alley or stand next to a wall, and empty their bladder. It doesn't matter if you can see them or not. It doesn't matter if 100 people can see them. They'll still do it. I've seen people urinating on bushes in the middle of a courtyard filled with people. Someone told me once that a busload of people stopped at Lawson Station, and all the men climbed out, lined up and relieved themselves next to Lawson Station!

I've also seen people pull their car over, grab their kid (about 6 years of age), pull down his pants, and hold him over the ground while he urinates -- in plain view of everyone driving by -- 200 feet from a public bathroom.

Why? First of all, let's think about the traditional Japanese toilet. There really isn't one. It's just a hole in the ground. What's the big difference if you use the ground in an out of the way spot, or use a hole in the ground designated "toilet"? Not much. What's another reason? I was told it has to do with "uchi" and "soto" (see the section on talking to strangers). The land they're using isn't part of anyone's uchi -- it's just public land. So you're not offending anyone by using it for urination. How about another? Remember that nudity in Japan isn't quite the same as in America (see the section on getting naked). Getting naked in front of others doesn't really bother anyone in Japan all that much.

Although, I have to admit I'm still surprised when I see some guy urinating onto the side of the biggest bank in town as I walk by it. Call me crazy, I guess.

I never expected... wrapped pre-jellied bread  
The Japanese REALLY take the phrase "pre-prepared food" to its maximum. At Lawson Station, you can buy preboiled eggs, complete freeze-dried meals, bread with a hot-dog and cheese baked into the center of it, and tuna fish sandwiches with the crusts already cut off. If you buy a lunch (obento), you can get it microwaved before you walk out the door. Inside the lunch there's a little bottle with about 2 ml of soy sauce in it. There's also chopsticks, a toothpick, and sometimes a little packet of spices to sprinkle onto the food.

If you go to AL Plaza (the biggest grocery store nearest to JCMU), you can find even crazier stuff. I've seen waffles, singly-wrapped, complete with a little single-use butter-and-syrup squeeze thingy. I've seen a single egg salad sandwich wrapped in plastic (like at a factory, we're not talking by the local store) -- with the crusts cut off, of course.

You can get all kinds of stuff freeze-dried. There's the stuff we're used to like coffee and tea, but also vegetables, noodles, rice, and lots of other stuff.

BUT the thing that takes the cake is... a single slice of pre-jellied bread, wrapped in plastic. This picture actually shows a slice of bread with maple syrup and margarine. 100 yen (about 84 cents).

I personally think it's odd that Japan, the country famous for eating fish as fresh and as natural as it can possibly get, is also the country that packages things that you can make fresher yourself in 5 seconds...

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