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One site I visit from time to time is Quora, a place to ask questions and get answers on various topics, some of which are whimsical but others quite interesting to read. Questions about Japan are rather common, so I thought I’d do another “question and answer” post by answering some of the questions about Japan I saw on that site. So are some random Quora Japan questions answered!

What aspects of Japanese culture are hard for Westerners to understand?

Tough question, I’ve actually lived in Japan too long to answer this. I’d say that it’d be quite hard for a tourist or new visitor to get into the “social wavelength” of the country right away. Even things like how to bow to express apology might be hard to get right without getting used to the country for a while.

Is the “politeness” in Japan actually fake?

Not at all. While some forms of politeness are really kata — a word that means shape, mold or the poses used in martial arts, but in this case refers to social constructs that people “click” subconsciously — the Japanese really are the most polite people on Earth. When I speak Japanese, I’ve got a totally separate personality that’s much more considerate of others’ than my English-speaking self.

Are Japanese people impressed by a foreigner who can speak Japanese?

The goal of every student of nihongo is to get to the point where Japanese will stop complimenting you on your language skills and just talk to you normally. While I was at this point for 20 years or so, recently the number of foreign tourists has increased to more than 20 million per year, which causes Japanese people to suddenly start complimenting me again, for some reason.

Is there a ‘linguistic purism’ movement in Japan?

I’d say no. The Japanese language is always under influence by various forces, most recently English and technology. It’s a given that, as a person gets older, he’ll understand less about what young people are talking about.

Are there any black Japanese?

Certainly. 2015 Miss Japan Ariana Miyamoto and Olympic sprinter Aska Cambridge are doing great things on the International stage.

How dangerous are the Yakuza?

Not dangerous at all, unless you’re unlucky enough be picked at random by an atari-ya, professional fraudsters who get into auto accidents on purpose so they can extort damages from the hapless victim. I was once asked by a soft-spoken yakuza who frequented the same public bath as me to teach English to his kids, though I declined. (It would have made for a pretty interesting blog post.) It’s generally considered a good idea to keep at least one friend who’s “connected” to the yakuza, just in case you have a problem that can only be solved behind the scenes.

Is it true Japanese often don’t own computers?

Although we tend to think of Japan as a technical powerhouse, it can also be an extremely low-tech place, where virtually no one has a favorite Unix distro. My wife was put in charge of the PTA because of her amazing computer skills (meaning she knew Excel). Most Japanese get by with smartphones these days.

What are three things foreigners in Japan should do?

  1. Avoid being excessively loud in public. Learn to quietly watch others for social cues.
  2. Bring gifts. In a lot of situations bring a slightly formal gift for people you will be meeting can make a good impression.
  3. The golden rule in Japan is “don’t cause meiwaku (inconvenience) to others.” Avoiding annoying those around you is the most important rule to follow.

What’s the most embarrassing faux pas you’ve committed?

I bought some pretty flowers for my wife, only to be told I’d chosen flowers made for placing on family graves. She couldn’t stop laughing.

Thanks for reading these random Quora Japan questions!

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