What are those Tentacles for?
December 5, 2003 5:55 AM   Subscribe

The Japanese SAQ provides some much-needed and often fascinating answers for seldom-asked questions about Japanese culture like, "Why do those porcelain Tanuki statues outside of restaurants have such outrageously large testicles?"
posted by MrBaliHai (23 comments total)
Contrasts nicely with the Japanese FAQ

via memepool
posted by ae4rv at 6:28 AM on December 5, 2003

Yum! MOS Burger! Great link, MrBalihai!
posted by shoepal at 6:30 AM on December 5, 2003

Thanks for the interesting link! Eased the boredom for about half an hour!
posted by derbs at 6:40 AM on December 5, 2003

Yeah, I wasted quite a bit of time on this site yesterday, too. But this question wasn't quite answered to my satisfaction:
Q.  How come Japanese people slurp Japanese and Chinese noodles but not spaghetti?

They didn't address the spaghetti issue.

BTW, I still remember, years ago, in Japan, someone saying to me (play this back in your mind in a Japanese accent for best effect): "I think it is most admirable how you are able to eat noodles without slurping." Heh.
posted by kozad at 6:51 AM on December 5, 2003

via memepool

As was the Japanese SAQ. I generally don't attribute posts that come from high-traffic sites like Memepool since a) a lot of people here already visit them on a regular basis, and b) I don't think they really need, or care about, referrals from another high-traffic site like MetaFilter. Ymmv, naturally

I lived in Tokyo back in the mid-Eighties and knew the answers to some of these questions already. There was a wonderful series of small, illustrated books put out by the Japan Ministry of Culture that went into great detail on various aspects of life and society in Japan. I can't remember what they were called off the top of my head, but I still have them stashed away somewhere at home.
posted by MrBaliHai at 7:16 AM on December 5, 2003

Wow, that explains my good fortune as of late.
posted by Keyser Soze at 8:08 AM on December 5, 2003

They didn't address the spaghetti issue.

Well, they sort of did, by implication: the reason they slurp Asian noodles is that they're meant to be eaten piping hot, so maybe they figure they can let the spaghetti cool off a little. This is the one that annoyed me:

Q.  What do Japanese People wear underneath their Kimonos?
A.   Most people don't wear western style underwear because its lines show through the fabric.  For more information, click here to be taken to the Kimono FAQ at Asahi Japan Collectibles, an electronic retailer--Go to their homepage, click on 'Kimono and Obi' at the top, and then click on the Kimono FAQ for an interesting lesson in how to put on a Kimono.

In the first place, why make us go to some other FAQ? Why not just answer the damn question? In the second place, the kimono FAQ doesn't answer the question either -- it just shows you some accessories!

In these two, they answered the specific questions but left out a piece of information that would have tied the whole thing together:

Q.  I have long wondered why Japan is called 'Japan' in English.
A. The word Japan probably comes from Portuguese or Dutch.  Sailors, traders and missionaries from Portugal were the first westerners to visit Japan and they were already calling the country 'Zipangu' or "Jipangu" because they  had heard the country called 'Jihpenkuo' in northern China.  Another theory is that the word comes from the Dutch word "Japan", which is taken from "Yatpun", the name for Japan which is used in southern China. ... 

Q.  What is the difference between Japan's two names, "Nippon" and "Nihon"?
A.  "Nihon" and "Nippon" are just different pronunciations of the same word, which means "the place from which the sun rises".  The name was given to the country by the famous Prince Shotoku in the early seventh century.

Yes, but Jihpen(kuo), Yatpun, and Nihon/Nippon are all the same word, written with the same characters: sun + origin. The Middle Chinese nzyet-pwun(-kwuk) 'sun-origin(-country), land of the rising sun' is the source of all these forms; see the American Heritage Dictionary entry for the details.

Oh, and great post!
posted by languagehat at 8:08 AM on December 5, 2003

languagehat: "ni hon" also means "two bottles", my japanese cow-orkers liked to pun around with that down at the local robotayaki after work.
posted by MrBaliHai at 8:53 AM on December 5, 2003

Very interesting, MrBaliHai - and it did indeed answer some questions I was aching to ask. Thanks.

languagehat: I think "harigato" also comes from the Portuguese ("obrigado"), as well as the words for button and bread. At least that's what we're proudly taught when we're little tykes, jawing away at our first tempura.

I don't think the passionate love affair between Japan and Portugal has ever been dealt with in English. For some time now, I've been meaning to post something about a favourite writer of mine, Wenceslau de Moraes, who effectively became Japanese and was almost solely responsible for the continuing vogue here for all things Japanese. It's reciprocal, too. Probably has a lot to do with fresh fish! Problem is, I know nearly nothing about Japan. I've never visited but, to be honest, it's the only country in the world I know little about which I'm genuinely interested in.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 8:54 AM on December 5, 2003

Finally! The mystery of the shop cat revealed... i've been looking for that one for years!

I once heard once that there were several dozens different styles of walking in Japan...anyone got the 411?
posted by DenOfSizer at 9:41 AM on December 5, 2003

That explains the racoon in this ad. Thanks!
posted by homunculus at 9:59 AM on December 5, 2003

[this is good]

The Japan SAQ page is just one part of the mighty Quirky Japan empire.
posted by plep at 11:04 AM on December 5, 2003

Japanese Culture in the News.
posted by Blue Stone at 11:48 AM on December 5, 2003

I can't believe Pocari Sweat wasn't covered. It's right up there with Calpis and Asahi Beer Water in the Things I Wouldn't Touch But Would Buy Just To Show People They Really Exist.
posted by tommasz at 11:48 AM on December 5, 2003

POCARI SWEAT is enjoyed in countries in Southeast Asia and around the world. Water quality varies by country, but POCARI SWEAT is the same everywhere.

posted by letitrain at 12:41 PM on December 5, 2003

I haven't had the beer water, but Pocari Sweat and Calpis are great, especially Calpis. It's kind of like cream soda, only with a yogurty flavor. Sounds terrible, but it's actually quite delicious. Sometimes you can find it in the US... though over here it's usually sold under the "Calpico" brand, thus removing the bovine-pee connotations. Try the peach flavor, if you can find it.
posted by vorfeed at 1:38 PM on December 5, 2003

MiguelCardoso: Supposedly arigatou comes from a native Japanese word (arigatai) rather than the Portugese. But you're right on about the bread and buttons, as well as tempura. Here's a list of Japanese words that come from Portugese. As a Japanese language student, I've always found the idea of very old loanwords interesting. Kind of puts a bit of perspective on the "loanwords are ruining the language" argument - many words that are considered very Japanese today came from another country to begin with!

Another related issue that's always been of interest to me is gikun, where some existing Japanese words were spelled using Chinese characters (kanji) chosen only for their meaning; and ateji, where existing words were spelled using kanji chosen only for their pronunciation. Some of the former are rather poetic, like ??, "sea moon", for jellyfish.
posted by vorfeed at 2:27 PM on December 5, 2003

blargh, I've fallen prey to the dreaded ??. Oh well, you can see the characters here, they're the first entry. The second entry for "jellyfish" is gikun, too, and the characters mean "water mother". whee, fun with language!
posted by vorfeed at 2:32 PM on December 5, 2003

Just to emphasize vorfeed's point about arigato: "The word 'arigatai' existed in Japanese long before the Japanese ever encountered Portuguese. It can be found in some of the earliest Japanese literature." (From his first link) So let's put that rumor to rest.
posted by languagehat at 3:13 PM on December 5, 2003

Q. What is the difference between Japan's two names, "Nippon" and "Nihon"?
A. "Nihon" and "Nippon" are just different pronunciations of the same word, which means "the place from which the sun rises". The name was given to the country by the famous Prince Shotoku in the early seventh century.

I did a summer internship in Tokyo once, and a Japanese co-worker told me that "nippon" is a more nationalistic form of "nihon". So, in general usage, "nihon" is used, but if the context calls for harking back to tradition or appealing to patriotism, then "nippon" is preferred.

Hence, if you go to sports games where team Japan is playing team USA or any foreign country, the Japanese fans will do the high-pitched, scarily-synchronized chant-and-clap: "Nip-pon!" cha cha cha "Nip-pon!" cha cha cha.
posted by shortfuse at 5:01 PM on December 5, 2003

There was a wonderful series of small, illustrated books...that went into great detail on various aspects of life and society in Japan

Ah, found them. They're called Japan In Your Pocket, and they're published by the Japan Travel Bureau.
posted by MrBaliHai at 6:45 PM on December 5, 2003

[ Kore wa ii desu! ]
posted by elphTeq at 8:45 PM on December 5, 2003

posted by hama7 at 8:43 AM on December 7, 2003

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