Thursday, February 16, 2012

Things worth mentioning

This post is a collection of few interesting things in Japan. It is not about cultural differences as that is too vast a topic to be covered in one post ! This one is just about a few things that are done differently or not as per the common norm in other countries, primarily the west.

  1. Japanese language : To begin with, Japanese is a language which is not very easy to pick up. The extensive use of phonics, the distinction of polite and formal speech just add up to the difficult. But learning to speak the language is comparatively easier than learning to read and write. To complicate matters, the language makes use of 3 scripts-  Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji. Hiragana and Katakana are phonetic alphabets and are collectively called Kana, There  are no such things as consonants and vowels in Kana. Hiragana is used for words of Japanese origin, while words of foreign origin are always written in Katakana. Katakana is almost never used for words of Japanese origin words while Hiragana may sometimes be used (generally written in smaller script on top) with Katakana for foreign origin words only so that younger children can read it. Kanji is derived from Chinese characters and most Japanese words and names of Japanese people, places and family names are almost always written in Kanji and sometimes accompanied by Hiragana, for ease of understanding. Currently 2136 kanji characters are in use , but not all Japanese know all the characters. The Chinese reading and Japanese reading of the Kanji characters differs a lot. Sometimes Roman alphabets, known as Romaji are also used. To complicate matters, learning just one of these scripts is not sufficient to survive in Japan. Most writings are in a combination of 2 or more of these scripts. Kanji is extensively used in writing and knowing just Hiragana and Katakana may not help much, though it is definitely better to know atleast these two easy scripts.

  1. Continuing from the previous point, an interesting fact is that books and newspapers are usually printed from back to front, like inArabic and Hebrew books and are written from top to bottom and not right to left like in Arabic-Hebrew. Normally when Hiragana and Katakana are used primarily with limited use of Kanji, the books or matter is written from front to back and left to right, like English.

  1. Addresses : Interestingly, Addresses in Japan are written beginning with the Postal code and ending with the name of the addressee. Goes like this : 
                     Postal/Zip code
                     Name of Prefecture
                     House/Building Number
                     Name of Addressee 
        This is also the pattern used in South Korea and somehow this makes more
        sense to me than the regular pattern used in most other countries.

  1. Signatures: As hard as it may be to believe, there is hardly any use of signatures in Japan. Every Japanese adult has a “Hanko” a personal seal which is essential and acts as a signature. The “Hanko” is registered with the local municipality and any change for whatsoever reason requires registering it with the municipality. Foreigners are not required to carry a Hanko, but it is preferred as most offices/hotels or businesses will ask for it. While the Japanese usually have their Hanko crafted artistically or simplistically in Kanji or the other Japanese scripts, a simple English script Hanko is sufficient for foreigners.

  1. Eras: Japanese years are always mentioned in Eras based on the reign of the Emperor. The current year in use is H24, which stands for Heisei 24, meaning this is the 24th year of Emperor Akihito’s reign, the Heisei era. I have written a separate post on this long ago, so am not going into the details this time.

  1. Age: In Japan, the age of a person is calculated based on the period during which they were born. The period begins from April 2nd of a calendar year and ends on April 1 of the following calendar year. The calendar year or actual birth date has little to do with age and age is always connected which period one was born in.

  1. Usage of credit cards: Japan is one and probably the only developed country where people don’t hold too many credit cards. That is because almost any kind of business is done in cash transactions. People carry large amounts of cash in their wallets and may not even own a credit card. Online shopping is also done on “Cash on Delivery” terms. The delivery company “Takkyubin” personnel collects the cash from the addressee on behalf of the seller.
  1. Garbage segregation: While recycle and reuse is clearly the most eco-friendly        initiative in the current world scenario, probably no other country takes it as             seriously as Japan. No one segregates garbage as meticulously as  they do here in Japan.   
    9. Week : In Japan, Sunday is the end of the week and Monday is the beginning of the 
        week. In a country known for its workaholism, makes sense that the first working  
        day of the week is the beginning of the week.   

While these are only a few common differences that I have mentioned, the larger differences are mostly the cultural differences.        

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