22 More Subtle Differences Between Japan and America

This is the second in my series of posts listing the subtle differences between Japan and the United States that I have been noticing.  If you haven't seen the first post, you can find it by clicking here.
  1. If someone in Japan is counting to ten using their fingers, when the time comes for them to use that other hand (6 and higher) they don't show their hand side by side like they do back in the US.  Instead, they display the smaller amount of fingers in front of the larger. Difference between 7 using your fingers in the USA versus Japan.
  2. There are still smoking and non-smoking sections in most restaurants.
  3. There also still cigarette vending machines, however they require a special card that you can apply for from a convenience store after verifying your age and filling out some forms.
  4. Although much less common, beer is also sold in vending machines (I've only seen this is Tokyo).  The ones I've seen did not require any sort of I.D. card.
  5. Nothing is said when someone sneezes, you just go on about your business.
  6. There's no such thing as male or female bicycle shapes.  Mountain bikes will typically have the male configuration, with the bar from handles to seat (crossbar or top tube) going parallel to the ground, and the normal commuting bike's bar dips down towards the ground.  Also, everyone usually has at least one basket on their bike.  I have two, front and back.
  7. Every two years you have to get your car inspected and pay a tax, called "shaken".  The inspection insures that your not driving an vehicle that's unsafe for yourself or others and meets emissions standards.  The shaken increases every single time you get your car inspected.  Because of this there are very few old cars on the road, the shaken just gets too high and it makes more sense to just purchase a new car.  I've been told that because of this there's a very healthy used Japanese car market in Australia and New Zealand (if only because you know that the cars were very well taken care of).
  8. In 2007 the Japanese postal system was privatized.  Also, you can open a savings account with the post office (this started before the privatization).  The bank part of the Japan Post operates separately from the mail handling part, as such it has different staff and different operating hours.
  9. We all know that the currency in Japan is the Yen and its symbol is ¥, right?  Well here in Japan it's actually referred to as "En" and its symbol is . The ¥ symbol is not uncommon, usually international chains will display that symbol, but you'll most often see 円.
  10. Similarly, the name for Japan itself is actually "Nippon" or "Nihon."  I'm not entirely sure why one is said over another, but in Fuji everyone calls it Nihon and banknotes say Nippon.
  11. Months don't have names, they are simply numbered.  January is "ichigatsu," literally meaning "month one", October is "jugatsu" (month 10), etc.
  12. The mullet is making a comeback.
  13. There is no turning at red lights at any time.  Not even if there is no traffic and you're making a left-hand turn (which would be a right-hand turn in the states).
  14. You have to stop at a railroad crossing as if it were a stop sign.
  15. Stop signs are triangular.

    A triangular Japanese stop sign

  16. Unicycles have a pretty strong presence at Elementary schools.  I've even seen a mother teaching her daughter how to ride one in my neighborhood.
  17. Trains don't suck and they go everywhere.
  18. Envelopes are vertical.

    Envelopes in Japan are vertical instead of horizontal.

  19. In the US when someone lets you into traffic, the standard "thank you" gesture is just a bit of a wave.  Here you flash your hazard lights after they let you in.
  20. Reading is very, very popular in Japan, even with teenagers. I regularly see lines out the door at my junior high school's library with kids returning piles of 6 or more books.  When I was in middle school, getting kids to read during silent reading time seemed like an unwinnable battle for the teachers.
  21. I've heard that it's actually against the law to sell new books at a discout, which is why the used book market here is extremely huge.
  22. Kick stands on bikes are a little different, and much more stable because of it.

    A Japanese kickstand

If you have been to Japan, or live here, feel free to e-mail any differences you've noticed, kramersemail@gmail.com

22 Common Questions I Get From Students, and 5 Weird Ones

When I first met with the teachers I would end up working alongside at a Board of Education meeting a week prior to my starting they showed me the lesson they wanted me to teach.  At the end of the lesson they had left space for the students to ask me questions, because apparently they had a lot.  I found this be only be partly true, a handful of kids had a lot of questions, the rest seemed too shy to say anything, but luckily those outspoken kids would often act as representatives and ask even more.
Also, as the kids have gotten more comfortable with me, I've been getting a lot more questions in the hallways and during lunch.  Which is a great way to get them to improve their English outside of class.
I always seem to get a wide variety of questions, but there are always good handful that I'm always asked.  So here's a collection of those.
  1. How old are you? 23 years old
  2. How tall are you? 185 cm
  3. Do you like Michael Jackson? Yes, I do
  4. What's your favorite color? Since I'm not 12 years old, I don't really have a favorite color, so I tend to go with green since I can use the chalkboard as an example.
  5. Have you been to Disneyland? I try to explain to them that haven't, but I've been to Disney World, and I tell them that there are 2 Disney parks in America and I show them where they both are.
  6. Who's your favorite singer? Sometimes I'll say Michael Jackson, other times I'll say the popular Japanese boy band "Arashi" and the kids go crazy.  I've never heard a single Arashi song.
  7. Favorite cartoon/anime? I'll often say One Piece (a really popular, long running show about pirates) and the kids go crazy.
  8. Favorite movie? Most of them have never heard of Back to the Future, so I'll say Totoro or some other wildly popular Studio Ghibli cartoon that all the kids know.
  9. Favorite comic? Comic books are extremely popular here in Japan, and people of all ages read them, so not too unusual of a question.  I try to stick with something they know, so I again say "One Piece" or maybe Batman.
  10. Do you like Japan? Yes, I do.
  11. What's your favorite place in Japan? Fuji! Sure, it's a lie, but Fuji isn't half bad and I've barely been anywhere else.
  12. Favorite food/Japanese food? Rice, Okonomoyaki and Ramen.  Showing the tiniest knowledge of Japanese food or culture blows any Japanese person's mind.  Telling them that rice is one of my favorite foods blows there minds because it's so banal to them (and the rest of the world).
  13. Do you have a car? No, I don't.
  14. What food do you not like? Avacados.  Which gets a surprised reaction just like it does back home.
  15. What sports do you like? Hockey (exclusively called "Ice Hockey" in Japan) and Football (the Japanese call American Football "Amefto").
  16. What are your hobbies? I like traveling.
  17. Favorite animal? Whales, bears or something else that I've recently showed them a flashcard of.
  18. Shoe size? 27cm
  19. Where in Japan do you live? Fuji, because some of them think it's a possibility that I commute from Tokyo or Kyoto.
  20. How long have you been in Japan? I got this question the most during the first few classes I ever taught, so the question was often 3 or 4 weeks, which was mind blowing to even the teacher I was assisting.
  21. When's your birthday?
  22. Are you married? No, I'm not.

During every Q & A session I have during class, there always seems to be one odd question out of left field that I wasn't expecting.  It usually starts with the "Japanese Teacher of English" scratching their head, trying to figure out the translation.  Here are some of my favorite of these questions.

  1. Are you Christian Born Again?
  2. Is your hair natural?
  3. What's your favorite type of history book?
  4. Favorite flag?
  5. What's your favorite type of woman?

17 Subtle Difference Between Japan and America

In Japan there are a lot of obvious differences that most people know about without even being to the country: they speak Japanese, they drive on the left side of the road, they don't use the Roman alphabet, etc.  This is the first in what I plan on being a series of posts about the more subtle differences that I have been slowly discovering during my year here.

  1. Most bathrooms do not have any means to dry your hands.  The vast majority of Japanese people carry around a handkerchief that they will use in this situation.  I'm not sure if they all carry it because of this, or two wipe off sweat in the summer months.
  2. Walking around with your hands in your pockets is considered bad manners.  But, it seems to be alright in cold, windy weather.
  3. When you beckon someone to come towards you, you do so with your palm facing down, instead of facing up.  Doing so with your palm facing up I'm told is used for animals.
  4. You do not point at someone with only your index finger pointed straight at them, you gesture towards them with an open hand.  Using just your index finger is rude.
  5. Teachers and administrative staff in public schools rotate to different schools every 3-4 years.  This is done to help iron out problem schools.  Japanese teachers actually find it weird that teachers in the west typically stay with the same school for most of their careers.
  6. In school, students brush their teeth after lunch.
  7. You can get change for a ¥10,000 bill (~$100) pretty much anywhere.  You can go to the convenience store, buy a Kit-Kat Bar, pay with a ¥10,000 note and they won't bat an eye.  It's magnificent.
  8. Most all gas stations are full service.  Also, they rarely have convenience store attached to them.
  9. Man-hole covers tend to be very elaborately designed and painted.
  10. In a restaurant after the host seats you and the waiter/waitress takes your drink order they aren't going to come around in a few minutes to see if you are ready to order.  They will leave you be until you are ready, at which point you call out "summimasen!" (excuse me).  Pretty often there will be a button on the table that you can use to call the waiting staff instead of calling out.
  11. Instead of a √ being used for correct, a O is used.
  12. If you buy something from the convenience store that is supposed to be microwaved, the staff will ask if you'd like them to do if while they ring you up.  The Mini-Stop chain of convenience stores also have a seating area where you can eat what you buy.
  13. There is typically no such thing as central air or hear in Japan.  AC units are wall/window mounted and pump out air to just the one room.
  14. There is no air conditioning in schools.  The only place in any of my schools that have AC units are the faculty rooms, but I have yet to see any of them ever turned on.
  15. If you have an electric stove top range, you can only use pots and pans designed to be used on that system.  The same goes for gas.  Pots and pans usually say whether they are for electric or not (denoted by an "IH").
  16. Japanese pens tend to be finer than Western pens because of the intricate characters they have to write.  Also, they rarely ever smudge since they write from right to left, which is a God-send for my left-handedness.An addition via Facebook from Jason Smith "Pencil lead (2H, 3H, 5H, etc.) and paper thickness (in mm) used in public schools are different in different parts of the country, depending on the average humidity and rainfall. A pencil & paper set typically used in Tokyo will smudge, smear, or wrinkle easier in Okinawa because the climate is different."
  17. When the Japanese sign for something they don't use pens, they use a custom made stamp with their name in it, called a "hanko."  They actually have to be registered with the government and can cost around $500 to get one made (so I'm told, but I've seen them sold at the ¥100 store).

If you have any of your own you can e-mail them to kramersemail@gmail.com, I'd love to add them to the next post.