steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Three Triangulations and a Takeaway

My friend Tomoko runs half-marathons. When she runs them in Japan, the spectators will encourage her by shouting, "Keep it up!", "You can do it!" and the like. When she ran in Honolulu, though, she was surprised to hear the spectators shouting "Good job!" While one set of spectators exhorted her to finish what she had started, the other congratulated her on having tried in the first place.

Does this reflect a deep cultural difference between Japan and USA? And if so, on which side of the line would the British fall? I've never spectated at a marathon (I can think of few things less interesting if one didn't know anyone personally, except perhaps watching a cycle race), but I find it hard to imagine Brits shouting "Good job!" On the other hand, "You can do it!" seems only marginally more plausible. A sprinkle of polite applause is what you'd get if all the people were like me, but the ability to ululate enthusiastically is now commonplace among younger folk, so perhaps that's what marathon runners are used to hearing here.

In America, "Happy Halloween!" appears to be a common greeting (at this time of year, at least), and it has been taken up in Japan too, to judge by this video of the celebrations at Shibuya crossing. To my ears, though, it seems an oxymoron. Halloween might be enjoyable in a ghoulish way, but happy? It just doesn't sit right.

While American-style trick-or-treating has been well established in this country for a while now (I met my first trick-or-treater in York in 1984), it's interesting that we've not adopted the same dress customs. Ghosts, witches, and other scary stuff, sure - but not superheroes, not cross-dressing, not cartoon characters. Again, we've filtered out anything that makes Halloween "fun" rather than at least nominally scary. (The Japanese, as you can see, have followed the American route here.)

Tomoko tells me that in Japan it's common to ask someone "How old do you think I am?" or "How old do I look?" I told her that in my opinion this was a question with no answer safe from giving offence, and therefore should never be asked - except possibly by the kind of very old person who sees longevity as their proudest achievement and will generally answer themselves before anyone else has a chance. It does seem odd to me that a culture rivalling my own in terms of giving a wide berth to potential causes of offence should find this question unproblematic: I think it can only mean that the Japanese are just less hung up about age than most Westerners, and that this is seen as a safe, neutral topic, like the weather.

On Whiteladies Rd on Saturday lunchtime there's a stall that combines two of my favourite things: Japanese food and puns. It's called "She Sells Sushi". And she does. I bought half a dozen takoyaki, topped generously with katsu sauce, mayonnaise, seaweed sprinkles and bonito flakes. What charmed me most was that this was all served in a disused egg box.


Now isn't that a dainty dish to set before a king? (They were yummy, too.)
Tags: nippon notes, real life

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