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Posts Tagged ‘culture’

This week is a very welcome week off whilst the University entrance exams are undertaken by scores of terrified looking High School students from all over Nagoya. I was unfortunate enough to be walking the wrong way back to the dormitory on Monday afternoon just after 5pm faced with a stream of about 500 students, some talking and laughing, others looking petrified from fear. Unlike the UK, you take an entrance exam directly with the university; it is said to be the most stressful part of Japanese childrens lives. After you get into your chosen university the work is relatively easy, you have free time, you can wear what you want, you can dye your hair etc and jobs are won on the university you go/went to rather than your degree, so getting into the right place is pretty much the most important thing. To pass these exams, kids got to after-school “cram-schools” from the end of school till 9-10pm most evenings during the week!

Anyway, we get the week off which is fantastic as I have time to recover from all that party planning! Luckily everything went perfectly the other night; people liked our goody bags (5000 yen vouchers redeemable at a local hairdressers, free food/drinks vouchers, chocolates, hair wax, shampoo etc) the red carpet, the prizes – concert tickets, hair straighteners, clothes etc – and everyone said how professional it was. Judging from everybody’s photos on Facebook, it looks like everybody had a good time! People are already asking when the next one is… Between George and I we know most of Nagoya so we are thinking of making it bigger – maybe 300 people!

We even made enough profit to pay for a thankyou slap-up meal at Outback Steakhouse for our closest friends who helped with the party preparations – currently still full of delicious ribs!! That place is a saving grace – although I still can’t believe that the finest fillet steak comes chopped up in little chunks just because Japanese people can’t use knives and forks! And whilst fish/eggs/horse meat/everything comes raw in Japan, steak comes medium rare even if you ask for it to be still moo-ing. Still I’m not going to complain, as where else can I get such decadent Gaijin Fodder?

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As a Japanologist (hah!) I get asked a lot of questions by friends and family about Japanese life and culture, ranging from relatively simple topics to the obscure. However the question I get asked more often than anything else is “Why do Japanese people always make the V-sign in photographs?”. One cousin even enquired as to whether it is some kind of Churchill-envy. Today I will put this great mystery to rest for those of you who have always wondered.

Most people think that it has something to do with being a symbol of peace/victory, but in actual fact it is a rather old fashioned dating device. Over 100 years ago it was used as a secret signal to members of the opposite sex who could be considered partners for marriage. Since a face-to-face conversation with a stranger in the street would be far too forward, a simple flash of the signal would show interest in that person and allow for arrangements to be made for private discussions, inevitably leading to marriage. Since then, with the invention of the camera and demise of arranged marriages single people use it as a pose in photographs to indicate their single status. Whilst this might seem embarrassing, it means singletons can more successfully pick and choose prospective partners from looking at friends’ photographs. If you see a cute guy/girl making the sign in your friends’ photograph then arrangements can be made for a not-quite-so-blind blind-date. So, be careful about making the V-sign when having your photograph taken in Japan!

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