Why Tokyo Is Like Disneyland

By Asian American in Tokyo | December 25, 2008

2 of my favorite places in the world are Tokyo and Disneyland. At first these 2 places may seem very different, one being one of the world's largest cities and the other being a theme park, but there are surprisingly many similarities between the two. Let's make a list and see what we come up with:


Topics: Places | 2 Comments »

Why Foreigners Love Japan

By Asian American in Tokyo | October 13, 2008

I think this photo sums up this post's subject matter quite well.

Okay, so not all foreigners love Japan. I was just being dramatic with the headline. Still, there is a lot of evidence supporting the fact that there are a ton of Japanophiles out there in Internet-land. Check out the following hit stats from Google as of this writing:

  1. Japan (711,000,000)
  2. Anime (380,000,000)
  3. Iraq (258,000,000)
  4. Manga (162,000,000)
  5. Ninja (114,000,000)
  6. Britney Spears (84,700,000)
  7. Pokemon (80,700,000)
  8. China (80,400,000)
  9. Sushi (60,900,000)
  10. Paris Hilton (64,800,000)
  11. Samurai (55,800,000)
  12. Michael Jackson (41,500,000)
  13. Jpop (29,900,000)
  14. Gundam (24,400,000)
  15. Ramen (18,700,000)
  16. Geisha (18,200,000)
  17. Enka (10,000,000)
  18. Macross (6,790,000)
  19. Doraemon (5,180,000)
  20. Shinjuku (4,720,000)
  21. Sashimi (4,250,000)
  22. Ayumi Hamasaki (4,020,000)
  23. Akihabara (3,230,000)
  24. Dorama (1,790,000)
  25. Kamen Rider (1,540,000)
  26. Shibuya (1,060,000)
  27. Kimura Takuya (232,000)

First, apologies for the American-bias to this list, but it's what I know. Of course, you can use Google to compare the numbers to whatever is most interesting to you. Can you believe those numbers for Anime and Manga? Given all the fuss with China due to their economic rise and recent hosting of the Olympics, I am shocked that the numbers for "anime" are almost 5 times greater. Otaku rule the Internet, apparently.

To generalize, in my experience the love for Japan mainly comes from the increased awareness of "things Japanese" because of the country's economic boom in the 1980s. Many young people at that time, myself included, fell in love with the country's pop culture, technology (including videogames), women and extended that to the country's culture, food, language, and history.

What is your "why I love Japan" story?

Topics: Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

Red Light "Stop", Blue Light "Go"?

By Asian American in Tokyo | June 17, 2008

What color is the light in traffic signal below?

In the US, it’s “green”. In Japan, it’s “blue”, or as the Japanese say, “ao”. Yes, it’s true. Here’s the story. In modern Japanese, there is a word for “green” (“midori”), however this is a relatively new term that has only been used since the Heian Period. Even after “midori” came into use, green was still thought of as a shade of “ao” instead of an independent color. According to Wikipedia, educational materials only distinguished between green and blue after World War II. In current times, the word “ao” is still used to describe certain items (such as vegetables, traffic lights) that are actually green. Japanese people also use the English word “green” at times. The word “ao” can also mean “youth”.


Just learned of some additional color perception differences! While Americans think the sun is yellow, Japanese kids will always color drawings of the sun in red (like the Japanese flag). Also, in Japan the moon is yellow while in the US people feel it is white.

Topics: Culture, Language | 4 Comments »

Escalator Etiquette: Kanto vs. Kansai

By Asian American in Tokyo | June 10, 2008

Japan is known for proper etiquette and you can find evidence of “proper behavior” everywhere. Perhaps one area less noticed by visiting foreigners is escalator etiquette. In Japan, every time you ride an escalator, people who are just standing/riding stay to one side to ensure a clear lane for others (who may be in a hurry) to pass. You’d think this is simply common courtesy, but it doesn’t happen in most countries since most people invariably choose a different side to stand on creating a zig zag obstacle course for the walkers most of the time. Japan is so crowded, yet the system somehow works as everyone stands on the same side no matter what. The Japanese create maximum pedestrian transportation efficiency in one of the most densely populated places on Earth by using social pressure to maintain “wa” (the Japanese word for “harmony”) in a homogenous society. Check it out.

This is certainly an amazing societal feat in an of itself, but here’s where it gets really interesting. In the Kanto area (where Tokyo is located), everyone stands to the left and walkers pass on the right. In the Kansai area (where Osaka is located), everyone stands to the right and walkers pass to the left. Legend has it that in Tokyo, samurai preferred to stay on the left so they could draw their swords easily, whereas in Osaka merchants preferred to be on the right to protect their belongings carried in the right hand. I don’t know if there’s any truth to that since I doubt swords were used much since escalators were placed into use, but that’s the theory I’ve heard. Most Japanese people I’ve asked simply say “I don’t know, that’s the way it is”.

Tokyo Osaka

Anyone out there know why this is?

Oh, one more thing. Next time you’re at Narita take a few minutes to watch human behavior on the escalator. Because it’s an airport and many people from different cultures are passing through, escalator culture clashes occur resulting in chaos and irritated Japanese. Yet, none of the foreigners seem to notice. Be sure to check it out and smile knowingly to yourself.

Topics: Culture, Gaijin Tip, Places | 11 Comments »

North Isn’t Always Up

By Asian American in Tokyo | June 10, 2008

Here’s something interesting that you won’t notice unless you spend enough time in Japan getting lost (inevitable, particularly in Tokyo). As an American, I’m used to all maps being oriented with North being up. If you check the maps on walls in Japan, such as those at subway stations or shopping centers, you’ll notice that the layout isn’t always oriented with North pointing up.

At first this is really frustrating because you assume North is up without checking and spend a lot of time trying to understand why your mental image doesn’t match what you see around you and on the map itself. After a few episodes of this, you finally realize what the problem is and notice that the N arrow seems to be facing an arbitrarily-chosen position each time. But, believe it or not, there is method to the madness and it turns out to make perfect sense. In many ways, it’s better than having North always oriented upwards.

Simply put, when you are looking at a wall-mounted map in Japan, the “up” direction is the direction you are facing as you look at the map on the wall. So, you don’t even need to think about North, or any of the other cardinal directions. Looking at the map, “up” is forward (in front of you) and “left” is left, “right” is right, and “down” is behind you. Simply locate the “you are here” arrow on the map and everything just makes sense without a compass. The arrow always points up since that is the direction you’re facing while looking at the map, and a horizontal red line usually is present to represent the wall on which the map is mounted. I’ve included some examples below.

Now if they would just tell tourists this upon arrival at Narita, hours of frustrated tourist time would be saved. Leave your compass at home. You won’t need it in Japan.

Topics: Culture, Gaijin Tip | 8 Comments »

Drinkable Ice Cream

By Asian American in Tokyo | March 11, 2008

Although not technically a Japanese product (these are made by Lotte, a Korean company), you can find “Coolish” products in all Japanese convenience stores. You twist off the cap and squeeze the ice cream through the nozzle into your mouth. It’s kind of similar to how a toothpaste tube works, using a vacuum packed metallic package – you end up with a flat tube when the contents are gone (see the last photo below). They come in various flavors including vanilla, chocolate, green tea, strawberry and grapefruit. Upon first impression, this is all very neat and unique, until you realize that drinkable ice cream is really just a milkshake. Even so, I find the packaging convenient when I’m on the run on a hot summer Tokyo day.

Topics: Food | 5 Comments »

Why Do Japanese Serve Small Food Portions?

By Asian American in Tokyo | September 3, 2007

I've seen this question posed around the Internet without good answers. I've seen things like "that's all you need", "asians are smaller", "Americans eat too much", etc. Here's my take. In Japan, it's rude to leave food behind as it is seen as wasteful and unappreciative. There is also no such thing as a "doggie bag" so you don't even ask if you can take the leftovers home. Because of this, everyone finishes their entire meal, down to the last rice grain. To preserve "wa", or "harmony", the restaurants serve small portions so nobody will be stressed and have a difficult time finishing their meal. If you want more, you can always order more. Anyway, that's just my thinking. Anyone out there have a definitive answer?

Topics: Culture, Food | 10 Comments »

A Robot That Sells Food

By Asian American in Tokyo | June 14, 2007

Robots that sell food are all over Japan. This is a vending machine that sells meals. At many small, cheap restaurants (especially curry and ramen shops) you select and purchase your food using a vending machine which dispenses meal tickets. Simply give your meal tickets to the staff, and you’re all set! The restaurant staff members don’t have to handle unsanitary cash and sanitary food at the same time, and payment is handled worry-free.

Topics: Culture, Food, Technology | 1 Comment »

Pokemon Plane

By Asian American in Tokyo | June 4, 2007

ANA’s pokemon-themed planes are fairly well-known these days, but just in case you haven’t seen them I’ve posted some pics below. As you can see, there are several with different designs. The interior sports pokemon decor as well, but not as intense as the exterior. Flight attendants (called “cabin attendants” in Japan but that’s a subject for a different post) hand out pokemon goodie bags and snacks. Even the Japanese adults seem to enjoy themselves. Maybe it’s like how we Americans think of Disneyland – a happy place where we can all be kids again.

Check out Pikachu on the winglet surfing on the edge of the atmosphere. Let’s see Hello Kitty top that.

Topics: Culture, Fashion, Technology | 3 Comments »

Crooked Teeth = Cute?

By Asian American in Tokyo | May 30, 2007

In Japan, the "double-tooth" look caused by the front canines overlapping is considered cute in children and young women. The Japanese call it "yaeba" which means "double tooth". Many people wonder why Japanese models (like the one below) are proudly displaying their crooked pearly whites in photos – now you know.

Topics: Culture, Fashion | 13 Comments »

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