Japan

Forest bathing stress away

National Geographic answers the question: what is forest bathing? The term emerged in Japan in the 1980s as a physiological and psychological exercise called shinrin-yoku. It can mean “forest bathing” or “taking in the forest atmosphere”. The purpose was to offer an ecological antidote to tech-boom burnout and to inspire residents to reconnect with the country’s forests.

The Japanese quickly embraced this form of ecotherapy. In the 1990s, researchers began studying the physiological benefits of forest bathing, providing the science to support the idea that time spent surrounded by nature is good for us. The concept at the heart of shinrin-yoku is not new. Many cultures around the world have long recognized the importance of the natural world to human health.

Visuals: Mr. Abe and gun violence

The killing of the Japanese ex-prime minister, Shinzo Abe, shocked the whole world. Even though some of the people in Japan did not agree with his policies, the ex-prime minister’s murder is a sad event for the entire nation. 

The murder is shocking because it happened in Japan, where deaths from guns are very rare. It is also uncommon to hear about politicians being killed in developed countries. 

Please, have a look at the graphs below and discuss them with your teacher. 

 

Salmon sushi is Norwegian

Look at the menu of any sushi shop in Japan and you will almost certainly see salmon: fatty, tender and bright orange. But salmon is actually a relatively new addition to the sushi menu.

Behind salmon’s rise to popularity is the Norwegian marketing campaign: Project Japan. In the 1970s, Norway began commercial salmon farming but, with decreasing seafood consumption at home, salmon was soon filling industrial freezers. Japan, meanwhile, had been overfishing its waters, and with Japanese fishermen told to remain within their exclusive economic zones by the United Nations, Japan began opening up its once nearly self-sufficient seafood industry to foreign suppliers.

Leading across cultures

Cultural differences in leadership styles often cause unexpected misunderstandings. Americans, for example, tend to consider themselves egalitarian and think of the Japanese as hierarchical. But American leadership can be confusing. Though American bosses are outwardly egalitarian—asking subordinates to use first names and to speak up in meetings—they can be extremely top-down in the way they make decisions.

I find that it’s common for people from different countries to grapple with mutual incomprehension. In this case, it is usually because managers fail to distinguish between two important dimensions of leadership culture.

Millenium-old mochi shop in Japan

In the year 794, Naomi Hasegawa's family started Ichiwa, a mochi shop, next to the Imamiya Shrine in Kyoto to feed pilgrims who had traveled to pray for pandemic relief. Over a millenium later, the shop still sells mochi to people struggling with a pandemic. How has it survived so long, through pandemics, wars, natural disasters, and the rise and fall of empires? By putting tradition and stability over profit and growth. 

The emphasis at Ichiwa is not growth. Profit is not the point. The point is to do one thing, and do it well. They focus on serving people and passing on the business to the next generation. Although it's not a dynamic business model, it obviously works. Known as shinise, these old businesses are a source of pride for Japanese.

Japan introduces a 4-day work week

According to the Japan Times, the Japanese government plans to encourage firms to allow their employees to choose to work four days a week instead of five, aiming to improve the balance between work and life for people who have family care responsibilities.

The coronavirus pandemic has helped the idea of a four-day workweek gain traction as the health crisis has caused people to spend more time at home.

Experts are divided, however, on whether the new initiative, intended to address challenges posed by Japan’s labor shortage, will be widely accepted. Labor and management are both voicing concerns about possible unwanted outcomes.

For employers, while people working four days a week may become more motivated, this may not improve their productivity enough to compensate for the lost workday. An expected advantage is helping people with family care responsibilities avoid the need to quit their jobs.

Visuals: Life expectancy in Japan

The life expectancy of people in Japan has been increasing for the past 65 years. Life expectancy means the prediction of how long people are expected to live. There are many reasons for the increase in life expectancy, such as better food, cleaner water and improved medicine.

Please have a look at the chart below and discuss what you see with your teacher.

The surprising origins of sushi

The South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong-based news organization, reports that according to Nobu Hong Kong Executive Sushi Chef Kazunari Araki, sushi is not originally Japanese.

The combination of rice and fish, he explains, originated in the 3rd century along the Mekong River in Southeast Asia. After the fish were cleaned and gutted, they were covered in a salt and rice mixture in buckets for several months to preserve the meat. Before eating the fish, the rice was discarded because it was too salty to consume.

By the 12th century, this method of fermenting fish had travelled from the Mekong River to China, and then on to Japan, where it was called narezushi. However, in the 16th century, in the Edo period, Araki says, vinegar replaced salt in the preservation process, which was a major step forward in the development of sushi. It also gave birth to the name sushi—which translates to “vinegared rice.”

The decline of the yakuza

The Guardian reports that more than a decade of police crackdowns on major gangs and economic uncertainty are making it harder for the yakuza to tempt young men with promises of easy money.

For the first time since records began in 2006, 51% of regular yakuza members are aged 50 or over, according to a new report by the national police agency. Less than 15% are under 40, and those over 70 account for just over 10% of total membership.

Stricter laws, including those targeting businesses with links to gangs that had once operated with near-impunity, have made a life of crime increasingly unappealing. Yakuza members are forbidden from opening bank accounts, obtaining a credit card, taking out insurance policies or even signing a contract for a mobile phone.

What is courtesy?

What are manners? What is courtesy? Before reading this post, try to define them. If you can't, don't worry—just read on.

When it comes to Japan, manners are often remarked upon with awe and wonder by visitors to Japan, but you seldom hear a word about Japanese courtesy.

One might define manners as the obvious, polite social behaviour in a society. So then courtesy is in one's attitude. It's the unspoken expectation that we will respect the needs and rights of others in our day-to-day lives.

While formal manners are admirable, if a person does not also practice those important, daily compromises, manners are next to worthless. One can imagine a well-mannered boss requesting his employees work far longer than necessary. Or a well-mannered person waiting in line for the train and ignoring those who want to squeeze past him on the platform.