Japan for the Uninvited

Japanese culture from a bemused foreign perspective

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 ...

Tetsuya Komuro

Tetsuya Komuro (aka TK) - songwriter, producer, and talent scout extraordinaire - has revolutionised the Japanese music industry. A precocious talent, Komuro started studying violin at the age of 3. In 1986, he formed a popular rock group, TM Network, with university friends, but found more success producing and writing songs ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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