Gaijin Smash

Oxymorons

Posted in Blog by gaijinsmashnet on February 7, 2005

I’ve been collecting Japanese oxymorons – things about this country that seem to directly contradict themselves. I’ve been here for a year and a half, and while I’ve learned the true face of Japan, there are still aspects that bug the hell out of me. I will probably never have answers to these questions. I think you have to be born Japanese to understand, but sometimes I think Japanese people don’t get it either.
1. How is it that everyone works so late, yet everything closes so early? How do people ever go to the bank, supermarket, hospital, etc.? And why do these things close so early if everyone is working so late?
I especially like the hospitals, which close at 12. 12 pm, that is. Or you can find one with “evening hours” that may close around 6 pm. Apparently, people who have jobs aren’t allowed to get sick. I have also concluded that being a doctor in Japan must be the easiest job ever. Arrive in the morning, see a few old folks, close up shop at noon, then go home. Holy shit did I ever go into the wrong profession! Show me the “Japan Exchange and Doctoring” program and I’ll be all over it like a crack fiend.


2. There are at least five ways I can think of to say, “My true feelings,” in Japanese, but Japanese people are far too indirect to ever actually tell you their true feelings.
This results in a lot of guesswork in Japanese exchanges, because apparently actually saying what you want is just shameful. But it does make the drive-thru at McDonalds an interesting experience.
Clerk: Welcome! How may I help you?
Man: Ah, today is a lovely day, isn’t it? And I’m really hungry.
Clerk: How many?
Man: Well, there are four people in my car, but my wife is kind of small and kids are too young to be ingesting so much grease.
Clerk: Right. So that’ll be one Big Mac set, one Double Cheeseburger set, and two kids meals, with one oolong tea, one Hi-C, and two Orange Juices, one without ice.
Kid: Dad, he forgot!
Man: Ah, I see. So, I was thinking about Plato the other day…
Clerk: I’m so sorry! And two Apple Pies. To go. Please drive to the window.
Note that this didn’t actually happen. But it could.
3. You will never find a trash can anywhere, but you won’t see litter either. Apparently, people just carry around their trash all day until they get to the one (yes, the one) trash can. I suspect that each prefecture gets one and only one trash can. I have yet to find the Kyoto Trashcan, but I am determined to before I leave this country.
4. Japanese people will tell you the country is cramped for space, but there sure is an abundance of golf courses.
5. This is a nation that prides itself on its almost suicidal work ethic. They work until late at night, then go in early in the morning. They work on Saturdays. Sometimes Sundays too. Even holidays. Despite all this working, they’re not actually doing much. I can say that with confidence when the guy next to me has taken his 10th cigarette break, and it’s only 11 am. Hey buddy, maybe if you laid off the menthols you could actually go home on time.
Sure, they are legitimately busy from time to time, but a great deal of time is spent making it look like they’re busy, or on tea/coffee/cigarette breaks. Yet, if someone actually skipped the cig breaks and finished his work around 4 or 5 pm and, oh my God!, left, they would be a slacker, an embarrassment to the company.
Ride any train around 8 pm, and you’ll see slews of tired and weary salarymen on their way home. Even as late as 11 pm. They catch a late dinner, maybe see the wife and kids briefly, go to sleep, wake up, and do it again.
While I’m thinking of salarymen on trains, here’s another thing I don’t understand. My friends and I will see businessmen absolutely passed out on the train. Some are exhausted from work; some have been drinking too much. But no matter what state of peaced-out they’re in, they always wake up just before the train gets to their stop.
This isn’t limited to salarymen. Anyone who is knocked out asleep on their train will somehow, magically, just wake up before they reach their stop. My friends and I are amazed. How do they do that? It must be another thing you’d have to be Japanese in order to understand.
6. It would be shameful for a Japanese person to directly complain about something to you. But they sure can comment on how big your foreign dick/boobs are.
Personally, I’d think something like, “Hey, would you mind turning your stereo down?” would be slightly less embarrassing than, “Hey, you’ve got a huge dick, huh?” but I guess this is not meant to be understood by the gaijin mind.
7. How is it that Japanese women are somewhat promiscuous, and have bad birth control habits, yet the population rate in this country is actually going down. This I really don’t understand. I suppose it’s a good thing, but what the hell?
Back in America, there are some people we can’t stop from having kids. They’re popping them out like Pez Dispensers. I used to theorize that the amount of issues a girl had was directly proportional to how fertile she was, where more issues = more fertility. So if you see a girl who is not at all well adjusted and you think she’s the last person on Earth fit to have a kid, she’s probably as fertile as the supple plains of Idaho. You may not even have to have sex with her, just wave your sperm in her general direction. That should do it.
Japanese women are not particularly well-adjusted. According to my theory, there should be babies popping out of rice cookers and zen rock gardens. And yet, they’re not. I don’t get it.
8. This country has cell phones more advanced than some of your personal computers, cameras the size of Kit Kat bars, and GPS systems in every car, yet they’ve failed to grasp the miraculous wonders that are the drying machine and centralized ventilation?
The vent thing especially kills me. The Japanese have something called a kotatsu, which is a table with a small heater underneath. You can put a large blanket over the kotatsu, so everyone can sit around it, put their legs under the blanket, and share the warmth. Well, that’s nice, right? Families spending time together and bonding around the kotatsu? You’d think, wouldn’t you? But I can guaran-damn-tee you, the only conversation around that kotatsu is, “It’s really cold today, isn’t it?” In America, sure, we’d all be in separate rooms watching our own separate TV, but at least we’d be warm. And later on, we may actually talk about what we saw on TV to the other members of our family.
9. Japanese people always seem to be in a hurry, but they’re not going anywhere important. To their jobs. Why hurry for that? To school? Again, what’s the rush? Home? Where exactly is the fire?
The rushing problem is so bad, it’s made a mockery of Japanese traffic lights. Here in Japan, green means “Go,” yellow means “Go faster,” and red means “Two more cars.” Most of the time, it’s not even close. The light’s been red for 3-4 seconds and a car will still come barreling through the intersection. The Japanese government would be so filthy rich if they installed those red light cameras at every intersection and charged about $200 a ticket.
10. The Japanese economy is apparently pretty bad right now. But I have yet to enter a house/apartment/love shack/cardboard box without a plasma/HD TV. This is an economy in shambles? What was it like when it was good? Two plasma TVs? Man, I wish I could say that kind of thing! “Well, I wanted to buy the summer home in Lexington and Sri Lanka, but with the economy the way it is now, I could only afford the Lexington one. It’s terrible. I’m thinking of applying for welfare.”
11. Come to think of it, that’s another oxymoron – everyone here has nice TVs. But the television here absolutely sucks. Save a few good shows, I’d much rather watch evolution – literally stare at a monkey and wait for it to start becoming human – than watch Japanese TV. I can promise you, the monkey would be 100x more entertaining. Even if it were dead.

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45 Responses

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  1. Rio said, on June 29, 2006 at 8:26 pm

    This is hilarious stuff. Keep ’em comming!
    I’m actually learning things!

  2. Alenka said, on June 29, 2006 at 8:41 pm

    I, too, know the joys of teaching English in the Kansai area. (Osaka, to be exact). Reading your columns has been one long string of YES, THAT’S IT EXACTLY! and OH MY GOD, SO TRUE! Keep ’em coming, you filthy gaijin. đŸ™‚

  3. Matt said, on June 29, 2006 at 10:32 pm

    One more. In Japan there are specific rules of conduct for everything from how to drink tea to how to cheer for baseball. Many many people ride bicycles to work and school. Yet, they run into each other on every corner and straight sidewalk because there is no way to predict where someone will be in 2 seconds. Also, if someone is walking in front of you, they will ALWAYS swerve to the other side as you begin to pass them. Telepathy? Innate fear of the gaijin?

  4. Anonymous said, on June 29, 2006 at 11:16 pm

    Haha yeah. I’m in Japan at the moment, and I’ve still not found my city’s trash can. Bloody annoying…

  5. Anonymous said, on June 29, 2006 at 11:16 pm

    Haha yeah. I’m in Japan at the moment, and I’ve still not found my city’s trash can. Bloody annoying…

  6. Joe said, on June 30, 2006 at 12:01 am

    So did you ever find that Kyoto garbage can?

  7. Kate Holden said, on June 30, 2006 at 12:08 am

    From my stay in Nagoya, I have found another strange one. Everybody stares at you and acts weird to you for being a gaijin, while they’re all trying their very hardest to look like you.
    For example, I’m a white English girl with reddish hair. My natural haircolour is seen widely sported by young Japanese women my age, a kind of coppery shade. So they all copy my haircolour, plus they walk around under umberellas to emulate my skincolour…why are they looking at me like I look wierd!?
    Then while the girls are all trying to be white, the guys are all trying to be black. Skinny little Japanese guys should not wear huge New York Nicks shirts and baggy pants. It makes them look like an eight year old who stole his older brother’s clothing or something.
    Another wierd one. It’s ok to wear a skirt that is roughly six inches total in length and barely covers your arse, but heaven forbid a girl wear any clothing that reveals her stomach.
    It’s rather a shame, since back home, you get all these fat girls who’s midriff nobody wants to see flaunting their wobbling beer bellies, yet in Japan, where nearly everybody is stick thin, nobody even shows a tiny bit of skin there. Are they afraid the thunder god will come down and steal their navel, like in the old Japanese legend? Strangley though, Japanese anime and games characters have their midriff on show as a matter of course!

  8. Shinkada said, on June 30, 2006 at 12:21 am

    Man, these entries just keep getting funnier and funnier. GaijinSmash was hilarious, this one was just a side-splitter. I’d say ‘keep up the good work’ but I know you’re just gradually transferring these from your old site, so… Uh… I hope the new ones are just as good?

  9. Alex said, on June 30, 2006 at 2:00 am

    With regards to number 5, every New Yorker who takes the train to work every morning knows how to sleep and wake up just as the train is pulling into their stop.

  10. Anonymous said, on June 30, 2006 at 3:37 am

    Is this a new one? I absolutely love it, and I can see much of what you wrote, although it’s just from reading and seeing it in Japanese Dramas…
    Maybe Japan is just as complicated as the Female Logic

  11. Anonymous said, on June 30, 2006 at 3:37 am

    Is this a new one? I absolutely love it, and I can see much of what you wrote, although it’s just from reading and seeing it in Japanese Dramas…
    Maybe Japan is just as complicated as the Female Logic

  12. Bryce said, on June 30, 2006 at 8:24 am

    I just recently came back from japan, and these same questions have been bugging me for a while. i remember when i was taking the train home everyday from school their would be hoards of japanese businessmen sleeping that would become wide awake at their stop. i even got harassed by some.

  13. cutepiku said, on June 30, 2006 at 11:59 am

    “While I’m thinking of salarymen on trains, here’s another thing I don’t understand. My friends and I will see businessmen absolutely passed out on the train. Some are exhausted from work; some have been drinking too much. But no matter what state of peaced-out they’re in, they always wake up just before the train gets to their stop.”
    I bet they miss their stops, and when they wake up, they freak out and leave on the stop they are on so they can take a train (and a nap) to the stop where they were suppose to be off.

  14. Che Zoso said, on June 30, 2006 at 1:00 pm

    Your writing style gets better with each update, I’m loving it. I’m captivated by Japan now, I just want to stop by and visit it, and see these oxymoron’s…too bad however I am a broke redneck. Can’t wait till the next post.

  15. Bethany said, on June 30, 2006 at 1:41 pm

    I’m not sure those are oxymorons in the strictest sense of the word, but still a great read. That’s funny stuff.

  16. Aleks said, on June 30, 2006 at 2:30 pm

    hahaha man, this is all so true! I live in Taisho, and witness what you say every day as I go to work in Namba.
    The strangest thing I see is on my way home every night. I moved into my current apt. a year ago, and they are STILL working every night on the same intersection! There are nearly 16 workers (at last count) who are “working” (well 3 actually do the work, the others wave glow sticks around or watch the guys actually doing work).
    For such “skilled” workers and innovators, they seem to have a hard time finishing an intersection.
    Makes you wonder where all the money goes….

  17. Simple said, on June 30, 2006 at 7:24 pm

    When I was in Japan recently, on a school trip, I remembered the whole trashcan thing. So I started taking pictures of all the ones I saw. I got two photos.

  18. DirtyDan said, on June 30, 2006 at 9:25 pm

    The trash cans are bad, but water fountains are even worse. As a result, the particularly thirsty among us (apparently Japanese retain water very well) positively thrived on Pocari Sweat during my university’s month-long program there. I guess that’s kind of another oxymoron then: archipelago country in which it’s almost impossible to escape the ocean, and you can’t find free water anywhere.

  19. Cookiie said, on July 1, 2006 at 8:11 am

    I’ve been in Japan for three days with my family during a, appparantly, very cheapass tourist trip. I also have found out that there were nearly any trashcans. I wonder how punks can be so nice to drag the trash along with them.
    And what about the toilet? The whole tourist group was *amazed* about the water stream that you get in your arse when they push a button that, of course had to have a funny drawing on it. I never tried it, and I don’t think I ever will.. unless I press the button accidently. I do have a picture of it though.

  20. Kin said, on July 2, 2006 at 8:10 am

    I spent a month in Tokyo a couple years ago and the whole early to work, late home thing is so true. Spend an our or two in Shinjuku around 9 pm and you’ll see hundreds of salarymen coming off the subways and into the pachinko parlors and hostess bars for another couple hours and only then go home. And then there are the serious workaholics. There was this one guys where I was working who lived 3-4 hours outside of Tokyo. He’d come in Sunday night so he could be at work a 8 am Monday morning and we’d work until whenever. He was always there when we left, no matter what time it was. 10pm, midnight, 2 am…always still there. Always in before we showed up in the morning. Turns out he stayed in one of those capsule hotels down the street. Slept there 5-6 nights a week. Insane.

  21. Graham said, on July 2, 2006 at 6:16 pm

    Yah I remember Japan last summer, walking around Roppongi with empty beer bottles and no trash can. I also distinctively remember coming back from clubs drunk at 5 am with trains packed and people sleeping and waking up right when it was their stop…good stuff keep the material coming i’ve been checking everyday to see if you got any updates.

  22. Tiare said, on July 5, 2006 at 9:59 pm

    Maybe Japanese women get a lot of abortions?

  23. Anonymous said, on July 8, 2006 at 2:22 am

    funny thing-i visited hong kong once-there was a trashcan every seven feet-but they were all empty-people just dropped thier garbage wherever-they need to team up with japan-maybe some sort of litterbug exchange!

  24. Anonymous said, on July 8, 2006 at 2:22 am

    funny thing-i visited hong kong once-there was a trashcan every seven feet-but they were all empty-people just dropped thier garbage wherever-they need to team up with japan-maybe some sort of litterbug exchange!

  25. Charles said, on July 11, 2006 at 7:41 am

    Very interesting, the whole “no” trash can thing…but no one ever mentioned about the elusive or endangered “Park Benches!” Even more of an oddity. I guess the Japanese love walking around all day without resting and why should one rest? Who needs it? To rest is for the weak!
    Another favorite of mine is usage of credit cards in this country. For a nation that is the 2nd economical powerhouse in the world….why is it that most shops won`t take them, yet every store you go into is pressuring you to sign-up for one????
    Oh, I have a question for all you “Amex” cardholders…
    ever get slighty annoyed when you purchase an item and the cashier asks you “how many times do you want to split the payment?” Hmmm….. I guess they don`t teach the staff, that usually Amex doesn`t carry-over a balance.
    And please, what do Japanese people have against 24 hour ATM’s?? Or during Golden week or New Years.

  26. 42cowsareblue said, on July 11, 2006 at 9:11 pm

    Dude, I have like a natural ability it wake up right before the train gets to my stop. I live in Texas, though. < < Women’s intuiton?

  27. Tornado said, on July 18, 2006 at 11:43 pm

    I actually have an answer for you on #7. The Japanese have no problem with abortion whatsoever. When I lived in Japan in 2000-2004, birth control pills were still really really hard to get your hands on, as doctors wouldn’t prescribe them (this changed in late ’03, just before I left). My mother sent me a year’s supply of birth control in the mail to my office address. This resulted in the package being quarantined and me going to court to explain why i needed a year’s supply of ‘an illegal substance’ (i had a really difficult time convincing my boss that said ‘illegal substance’ was bc). I wasn’t arrested or charged with anything, i just had to have a ‘really good reason’ for customs to release the pills to me. Obviously, ‘i don’t want to get pregnant’ isn’t good enough.
    So in Feb ’00 I went to see a gyno to get a script. The exchange went something like this:
    me: I don’t want to get pregnant, thus i need the pills.
    smug doctor: so what if you do get pregnant?
    me: i can’t have a baby now, and don’t want to marry my boyfriend, but I do want to have sex with him.
    smug doctor: so what’s your problem with abortion? Religion isn’t a good enough reason to get the pills. You need a really good reason for me to give you those.
    The whole time, that bastard was looking at me like i’d just asked for Oxycontin.
    I relayed this story to several of my female Japanese friends, and one girl explained to the rest that even though americans aren’t particularly religious, we use religion as an excuse to shun things we find repugnant, thus our aversion to abortion. I tried to explain that it’s not just morals but there is the emotional component and the risk of not being able to get pregnant again, etc. They laughed at me for being so foolish. “if that’s the case, why did I get pregnant yet again after my 4th abortion?” This girl was 26 years old.

  28. Tornado said, on July 19, 2006 at 10:41 pm

    I was a consumer credit analyst in Japan, i have a response here for anonymous…. the reason for the credit cards goes way back in Japanese history, when it was shameful to borrow money. Unlike america, where we take out mortgages and pile up debt, the Japanese hold cash and borrow from friends. This is one of the root causes of Japan’s ongoing stagflation and deflationary spiral.
    http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=351809
    The Japanese are weird, and their approach to business is very different. The credit card market has only just begun to see the growth and saturation levels one would expect in the world’s second largest economy, but big businesses, the majority of which are still managed by the older generation refuse to pay the transaction charges credit card companies demand even if it means consumers can make larger purchases. ‘They will make the purchase when they have the cash, so why should i pay this transaction charge?’ is the general thought.
    The other issue he brings up is the multiple charges. Yes, Amex will not let you carry a balance, and the ingenius method Japanese megastores have come up with to get around this is the ‘multiple charge’. Instead of paying all at once, the store will charge your card Y60,000 each month for the next 2 months, or Y40,000 per month for the next 3 months. So your card doesn’t carry the balance- the store does.
    That’s the same reason they offer you in-store cards- if you were to make the same purchase with the in-store card, YOU carry the balance AND pay interest to said megastore. Most Japanese people (and foreigners) don’t know the difference.

  29. takkun said, on July 21, 2006 at 1:07 pm

    No. 9 seems to happen in Puerto Rico a lot too. Particularly the traffic lights thing. I usually wait like a second or 2 when a green light comes up expecting a car to go through a red light. Driving can be pretty scary.

  30. Paul said, on August 3, 2006 at 6:57 am

    Concerning oxymoron number seven: Yes, it´s true that Japan has an extremely high abortion rate. Statistically, every japanese woman has an abortion once in her lifetime. In some hospitals you even get cheaper abortions when you are a student or do the abortion together with your friends. Abortion rates are about six times higher than in the U.S.

  31. DyobolikaL said, on August 19, 2006 at 11:59 pm

    HDTVs and their economy is bad..=/

  32. grammer dude said, on August 28, 2006 at 10:21 pm

    check your grammer!
    “it were dead”

  33. annekat said, on September 10, 2006 at 6:25 pm

    “Even if it were dead” IS proper grammar. “Even if it WAS dead,” is NOT, so-called grammar dude. It’s the subjunctive tense of “to be.” I don’t normally criticize grammar on the interwebs, but you tried to correct him, when he was already correct and you were not. (Or should I say, “you was not”?)
    Btw, learn to spell grammar!

  34. locoboy said, on September 23, 2006 at 10:11 am

    Though I was born, grew up and still live in this coutry, I definately agree with you. Even I am a Japanese, I also don’t understand most of the stuff you described here. Oxymoron cracked me up big time.

  35. DArKWiNDNiNJa said, on September 29, 2006 at 6:51 pm

    Hmmmm, i guess im leaving a post to explain one of these oxymorons afore mentioned. im taking JAPN101 this semester and one of my 4 teachers told our class that its considered bad manners to eat and walk at the same time. They actually have a term for it but i forgot what it was. This might explain why there would be no garbage cans on the street. (this is my only non-native japanese teacher, but i believe her because she lived there for a long time).

  36. h8GWB said, on November 14, 2006 at 3:51 am

    The second paragraph to #5 is the best explaination I’ve come across yet to why Sony can drop the ball so many times (soo, soo many) and still persist as the biggest electronics/entertainment company in the world.
    And yes, that was a SonyBash attack, with extra luck critcal hit for multi damage.

  37. Jonathan K said, on December 2, 2006 at 5:16 pm

    I don’t know any of the rest, but I can tell you that the waking up just in time to get off the train is not something you have to be Japanese for.
    All you have to be is a light sleeper with a good internal clock.
    I’m Danish and now living in the UK.
    Back when I lived in Odense (DK) I was commuting on train regularly to Copenhagen, and it didn’t take me more than a few weeks before I could wake up in the train less than one minute before she would announce on the speakers “Next stop: Odense”.
    With time it got more precise, and in the end I woke up consistently ~5 sec before the announcement =)

  38. kcariad said, on April 24, 2007 at 8:11 pm

    I have an answer for the trashcan phenomenon. I asked my uncle the same thing when I went there for spring break and it turns out that there are no trashcans to prevent terrorists putting bombs inside them.

  39. Anonymous said, on August 4, 2007 at 12:31 am

    About the train thing in number five, I’ve done that here in Chicago. Gotten on the train, fallen asleep, and woken up right before train reaches my stop. I’ve seen other people do it here, too, so I don’t think it’s something incredibly uncommon.

  40. Anonymous said, on August 4, 2007 at 12:31 am

    About the train thing in number five, I’ve done that here in Chicago. Gotten on the train, fallen asleep, and woken up right before train reaches my stop. I’ve seen other people do it here, too, so I don’t think it’s something incredibly uncommon.

  41. Desya said, on August 18, 2007 at 12:14 am

    And I thought it was just us…
    The trash can thing and sleeping-on-the-train have stumped me and my friends so bad, we’ve had brainstorming sessions. Coming up with things from simple “routine” to strategically placed alarm systems to “crazy japan magic”. I’ve seen a girl fall into a sleep so deep she was lolling and practicaly drooling on the poor man next to her, only to notice she was up and out the door at the next stop, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. How?! That’s super crazy japan magic at it’s best.
    We’ve asked a japanese friend about the lack of trash cans and all she could come up with was that they “aren’t good looking so they’re not in the open”. The open?! How about existing at all? Even in japanese homes they are mysteriously placed!
    (And of course my host family had a 40 or so inch plasma screen…)

  42. Anonymous said, on September 4, 2007 at 9:07 am

    The trashcan/terrorist thing is right on, at least for the trains – apparently there were lots of trashcans in the Tokyo metro before the Sarin attack in 1995.

  43. Anonymous said, on September 4, 2007 at 9:07 am

    The trashcan/terrorist thing is right on, at least for the trains – apparently there were lots of trashcans in the Tokyo metro before the Sarin attack in 1995.

  44. pong said, on September 17, 2007 at 12:41 am

    About the trash can thing, i think the reason you don’t see them anywhere is because the japanese don’t need to use them much. From what i gather, the Japanese find it rude and offensive to eat in public (as in out on the streets) so basically no garbage will be generated.

  45. justine said, on September 19, 2007 at 2:17 am

    hahaha i’ve had that garbage can problem in other places too. but isn’t it funny that we need garbage cans so much? i mean because there are garbage cans, there is garbage right? moreso than the garbage can can hold sometimes. in a way its kind of a practical manouver, less places to put garbage, less garbage to put in it. interesting concept.


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