This one is relatively boring, as most of the islands are sufficiently tiny that it is a similar level of pedantry to saying Britain is made up of over a thousand. Then again, Japan identifies very strongly as an island nation, more so than Britain in this day and age, and is very proud of its archipelago. Some of these tiny islands could start a war* – the latest instalment in the volatile territorial disputes between China and Japan over islands that are barely more than rocks (the possibility of oil reserves notwithstanding) has seen Japan introduce its territorial claims to the school syllabus, while one toy shop owner in Hong Kong has taken the quainter approach of putting slogans about China’s claim to the islands on toy guns.
(*This won’t happen any time soon, if at all – the hyperactive media coverage of the whole thing is regularly even worse in the cultural empathy stakes)
Really? In a country that has invented heated toilet seats and built-in control panels that regulate temperature, discretion-providing sound options, height adjustments and jet-sprays (not kidding – and pressing the wrong button can be alarming), can cleanliness really be a bonus?
It turns out this was a bit of craze started by some enterprising fortune-tellers in 2007, who published books like ‘Cleaning the toilet to attract luck’. Superstitions, many with religious origins, can seem unbelievably prevalent in Japan today, but I think they are adhered to with a remarkable balance of sincerity (because they are traditions, often communal, and enjoyable* if you suspend your cynicism) and pragmatism (because taking something seriously in the moment is often kept separate from any real expectation that life will fundamentally alter because of a superstition or tradition). I’ve always found it rather admirable.
(*I’m not sure how far this theory extends to cleaning your toilet, to be fair)
The Japanese lifestyle has been famously healthy for decades, with consistently some of the highest life-expectancy rates in the world. It is far from surprising that the government plays a hand, with laws targeting health gaols that are motivated partly by the need to keep healthcare provision costs down. Initiatives often have a social feel to them – below is some footage of workers fulfilling their quota of pre-shift exercise (with helpful English commentary!)
The law here is less directly punitive that it sounds, but still fairly troubling. If your waist measurement passes a certain point you are required to consult with a doctor, you may be given incentives like gym memberships, and if you fail to get yourself back within the boundaries it will be your employer who pays fines. That last point may be faintly sinister if it encourages employers to intimidate their employees into getting thinner. The whole notion also seems to miss the point. Five minutes in a Japanese city is enough to bombard you with far more evidence of a body-image obsession than you’re ever likely to want. The more out-there bits of Japanese pop culture that register on Western radar tend to grow out of movements to reject conformity, but they don’t escape the pressures of image. Encourage healthiness? Sure. Create extra pressure to conform? Definitely not necessary.
This one is the only truth I’ve actually studied in any detail. Japan has a ludicrously high adoption rate, and sadly it is largely down to wanting men to run the family business. The days of formally arranged marriages are largely gone, but if you are the daughter of a son-less family, you are likely to be under fairly intense pressure to find an eligible young man with good business credentials. Once you’ve married him, he can take on your family name and be formally adopted into the family, with the idea that one day he will inherit the business in the family’s name. In this instance, retaining your family name as a married woman is hardly a triumph for enlightened liberalism. Job prospects for women are improving slowly, but family structures are collapsing faster, and the obvious bias towards men suggested by a trend like this makes question how substantial improvements for women really are.
An interesting sub-phenomenon of Japan’s odd adoption trends concerned tax. Splitting inheritance among multiple heirs reduces inheritance tax rates, so families would effectively employ people who they’d adopt and name as heirs. For a fee, they would receive their inheritance and pass it on untaxed. The government was forced to place a cap on the number of adopted children that could be named as heirs per family.
This is the one that stumped me, a perfect storm of cultural preconceptions – ‘Japan is ultra-modern and full of robots’ meshing beautifully with ‘Japanese bureaucracy can be a little hard to fathom’ (this phrasing is straining my ability to be diplomatic – it can an often be a nonsensical nightmare). I rejected the notion that it could be true, simply because it ticked my prejudicial boxes too perfectly.
The details are entertainingly logical. As Japanese firms began hiring fewer workers thanks to incorporating robots into production, unions began losing money with fewer workers to unionise. So now firms have to pay the unions fees for every robot they ‘employ’ to compensate this loss of income. Given it isn’t feasible to provide long-term compensation to all past and future workers who lose their jobs to robots, I find the sheer cheek of the unions to get compensation for themselves quite brilliant. Might as well get something out of it – the robots are here to stay: