Back to Contents of Issue: February 2001

The one thing Japanese young and old alike just can't stand? People talking loudly on the train. So can it.

blowfish Saline solution. With all that miso and shoyu et al, let alone the handfuls of white stuff the sumo wrestlers fling about the straw ring with abandon, you would think that Japan is awash with salt. Actually, its rate of self sufficiency is a dismal 15 percent. (The US, by contrast, is 87 percent self sufficient.) Year-round conditions of high humidity, it seems, keep salt water from crystallizing, so Japan must import almost 8 million tons of the stuff. And I always thought oil supplies were this country's biggest worry.

Out of it. The authoritative Kojien dictionary defines the term dasai as "a slang word meaning rustic or unrefined." The closest English equivalent would probably be "tacky" or "out of it." To cite one of the more amusing examples of usage, sophisticated Tokyoites sometimes ridicule people from neighboring Saitama Prefecture by referring to that prefecture as "dasai-tama." Anyway, the Hakuhodo Institute of Life and Living quizzed some 354 adults about what they regarded as being dasai. Not having a cell phone was considered dasai by 54.8 percent of the respondents; not having a personal computer, 77.9; being old, 25.6 (bad sign for a graying population); and eating at a revolving sushi restaurant, 55.6. Perhaps out of modesty, 71.9 percent of those questioned voiced the opinion that a majority of their fellow Japanese were dasai.

Old Kentucky Home. Repairs and improvements on the Japanese abode, referred to as reform, run an average of ¥2,271,000, according to a survey by Daiwa House. More than half, ¥1.21 million, goes to the exterior. The other rooms getting attention, in descending order based on outlays for refurbishing, were kitchen, bath, living room, guest room, dining room, children's room(s), toilet, lavatory, and last as well as least, the bedroom. People laid out an average of ¥238,000 for the room where they uh, lay out their futon.

Hum that tune. Hey, what's the name of that song? You know, the one that goes, "Da, da, da, da-da-da-da da da!" The theme music from Bonanza? Eine Kleine Nachtmusic? The Roto-Rooter commercial? Doesn't help that I am slightly tone deaf and have garlic on my breath, does it? Last October, the Technical Research Union at Tsukuba Academic Town announced new software that will search out a tune after you hum a few notes of its melody into a microphone. The software arranges changes in the hum's pitch into scales, which it displays on the screen. These are then matched to patterns of all the songs in an extensive music database.

Who you calling shameless? When the Nikkei Industrial Consumer Research Institute asked young Japanese what sort of things they gave little concern, 72.5 percent said people eating while walking down the street did not bother them in the least. And 62.7 percent said they might even be guilty of doing the same activity. Fast food, as the name implies, need not be eaten in a stationary position. Other actions unlikely to perturb a Japanese kid are playing musical instruments on the street (so said by 74.4 percent of those asked); piercing of the nose or lips (47.7 percent); eating aboard public transportation (40.9 percent); wearing garments that reveal underwear (38.2 percent); and hugging and smooching in public (32.9 percent). On the other hand, speaking in a loud voice on the train was held in disdain by all but 11.7 percent, probably because it awakens sleepers.

Drive it till it drops. Presently households in 39 of Japan's 47 prefectures have an average of more than one motor vehicle. Toyama Prefecture leads the nation, with 1.64 cars per family. (It also has the largest houses to park them next to.) Data from the Transportation Ministry notes that one result of the extended recession, however, is that people are keeping their cars longer than ever. From an average of 9.2 years in 1996, the figure for average ownership jumped to 9.6 years in 1999.

Poll potpourri. Salaried female office workers in Tokyo spent an average of ¥5,449 a month for health-related goods and services during 2000, down sharply from ¥10,972 in 1996. For Osaka office ladies, the decline was less precipitous: they still spent ¥8,260 a month, down from ¥11,006 in 1996. Even though it was made compulsory, 24 percent of drivers with kids say they still don't use child seats.

The walls have eyes. Whose picture is a young, single Japanese male most likely to have posted on his bedroom wall? Er, Betty Grable? Ai Iijima? An autographed shot of Godzilla? Film maker Konica asked around and discovered that the most frequently given answer, 30.4 percent, said pin-up group photos of their friends. Second, with 23.2 percent, was shots of the love of his life. Third, with 16.1 percent, was a picture posing together with his lady love. For single girls, group photos with friends accounted for an overwhelming 57 percent. And while 26.9 percent had pictures together with boyfriends, photos of their one-and-only by himself were posted by a paltry 7.8 percent. Go figure.

Wee Willie Winkie, crawls through the town. The research arm of educational book publisher Bennese Corp. discovered that 44.3 percent of kids in the 1 to 3 age group stay up past 10. That's up by 9.8 percentage points over the previous questionnaire of five years ago. And get this -- parents of 24.2 percent even let their kodomo stay up past 11. The survey also determined that 13.9 percent are out of the house before 7:30, up by 8.7 percent over 1995. Why, if this is allowed to continue, the nation's babysitters will have to start working double shifts.

The rising cost of yaketty-yak. According to the Management and Coordination Agency, over the past five years average telephone use charges in Japan have roughly doubled. The figure for users under age 30 has surpassed ¥8,000 per month, with a 2.2-fold for males and 1.9-fold rise for females over this period. Five years ago, the average monthly outlay for all groups was only ¥4,895. Blame the Internet, among other things.

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