Japan for the Uninvited

Japanese culture from a bemused foreign perspective

Yobai (Night crawling)

Until quite recently in rural Japan, yobai, or “night crawling” would have been an introduction to sex for many young people. While a young woman slept, a silent intruder would creep into her room, slide behind her and make his intentions known. If she consented, they would have discrete ...

Maneki neko (Lucky cats)

Maneki neko ("Beckoning" or "Welcoming" cats) are ceramic sculptures often found in the windows of restaurants and shops. To many Westerners, the cats appear to be waving, but they are actually beckoning customers into the shop (Japanese body langauge for "come here" has the palm facing out, rather than in). Different ...

Suicide

The Japanese suicide rate is relatively high, and many Westerners see Japan as closely linked to suicide. Japanese culture traditionally glorifies the act - its history and literature is full of honourable and glorious suicides, especially "harakiri" and "seppuku" (ritual disembowelment). The modern equivalent is "inseki jisatsu", or suicide to alleviate guilt, ...

Ninja

Ninja (or "shinobi") were spies and assassins, highly-trained in ninjutsu ("the art of stealth"). Most ninjas lived in secretive and carefully-guarded ninja villages ("shinobi no sato") and were hired by the powerful elite for bodyguarding, espionage and assassinations. They followed a code of honour called the ninpo. The most important rule was ...

Kendo

Kendo ("the way of the sword") is the art of Japanese fencing. Its concept is "to discipline the human character through the application of the principles of the katana". In feudal Japan, the country was ripped apart by conflict between its most powerful provinces. Demand for warriors increased, and many schools ...

Karate

Karate is the world's most famous martial art, but it's actually a relatively new one. It's a hybrid of traditional Okinawan martial art and Chinese techniques introduced by visiting sailors and merchants. It focuses on clean striking techniques. When karate came to Japan from Okinawa in 1922, the exotic sport faced ...

Go

The board game Go was invented in China, supposedly by an Emperor who wished to train his son in discipline, concentration, and balance. These qualities of the game have made it extremely popular in Japan, where its concepts and strategies have also been applied to business and daily life. The game ...

North Korean kidnappings

In the 70s and 80s, North Korea kidnapped around 70 Japanese people. The communist state needed Japanese language and culture teachers for its spies. Some abductees were killed soon after, and their identities adopted by North Korean agents. Until recently, North Korea denied these abductions, and the issue was considered a ...

Junichiro Koizumi

Junichiro Koizumi was elected Prime Minister of Japan in April 2001. Nicknamed "Lionheart", he was chosen for his dynamism and ambition. An outspoken campaigner for economic reform, it was hoped he would drag Japan out of its economic slump. After this honeymoon period, Koizumi's popularity waned. Rather than delivering the painful ...

Burakumin (Japan’s unclean caste)

The word burakumin ("People of the Hamlet") refers to Japan's traditional "unclean" caste, also known as "Eta" ("abundant pollution") and "Hinin" ("non-human"). During the Tokugawa Period, they were forced to live in separate villages and perform society's dirty jobs, including grave digging, butchery, executions, and making tatami floor mats. 2% of Japanese ...

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