Japan for the Uninvited

Japanese culture from a bemused foreign perspective

Nagurareya, the human punchbag

Had a rough day? Head down to the Kabukicho district of Tokyo, where Nagurareya, the human punchbag, is more than happy to take a beating. A big hit on the streets of Shinjuku, the 37-year-old ex-boxer charges passers-by ¥1000 for one minute of uninterrupted fist exercise, during which he will ...

Aribai-ya (Alibi shops)

It doesn't really matter what you're doing, as long as no one finds out. In many parts of the world, this attitude is abhorred. In others, it prevails beneath the surface. In Japan, there's a whole industry dedicated to it. Alibi services ("alibi-ya" or "aribai-ya") do exactly what you'd expect - ...

‘Ore-ore’ sagi (‘It’s me’ scams)

A: Hello? B: It's me! A: Takeshi? Is that you? What's wrong with your voice? B: I've got a cold. Listen, I need a really big favour... "Ore Ore" sagi ("It's me!" scams) are a well known confidence trick in Japan. A fraudster calls a house. If the voice on the end of the phone ...

Nanpa (Girl hunting)

Nampa, nanpa, or girl hunting, is Japan's most visible courtship ritual. Although it also takes place online and via telephone clubs, the most famous form of nampa is "suto-nan" (street nampa). Every weekend, across urban Japan, young men ("nanpashi") hang around busy streets or shopping arcades, trying to pick up ...

Compa parties (Group dating)

Group dating, “compa” or “gokon”, is an interesting solution to the difficulty many Japanese people have in finding a partner. Group dating isn’t uncommon in other countries, but compa is unique for being so ritualised. Generally, a single guy and girl who know each other organise the compa in advance, ...

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, ...

Sokaiya

External appearances are crucial in Japan, especially in business. Private issues are kept private, but Japanese companies must present a public image of harmony and control. Public embarrassment must be avoided, at all costs... The sokaiya are racketeer groups who blackmail large companies. By threatening to disrupt shareholders' meetings, and cause ...

Otaku

The term "otaku", literally meaning "your house", is used to describe Japan's legion of obsessive young men. Comparable to "geek" in English, the word carries mostly negative connotations of social ineptitude, unkemptness and lack of popularity. The otaku image was dealt a serious blow in 1989, when 26-year-old Tsutomu Miyazaki raped, ...

Karoshi (Death from overwork)

Increasingly, healthy-looking salarymen drop dead from unexpected heart attacks or strokes. This is known as "karoshi", and it's generally attributed to the unrelenting stress of their jobs. The first case of karoshi was reported in 1969, when a married 29-year-old man died of a stroke, while working as a shipping clerk ...

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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