6 WTF Japanese Trends (You Can Blame on White Guys)

#3. The Japanese Are Obsessed With Panties (Since We Introduced Them)

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You've heard about how Japan has vending machines that sell used women's panties, right? That's actually true, and really weird. Sure, Western men do enjoy seeing a flash of women's undergarments now and then, but few would ask a naked woman to put on some underwear before she gets intimate. What the hell, Japan?

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"Awww yeah. Now put on a parka ... slowly."

How It's Our Fault:

It's important to understand that Japanese women didn't traditionally wear underwear before the 1930s or so. Then, in the late 1950s, Western culture started to pour into Japan, and with it came Western clothing styles, which included women's underwear. The Japanese historian Shoichi Inoue pinpoints this as the time when the West helpfully taught Japanese women the concept of being ashamed of their vaginas (thanks, America!) and it became standard practice to cover them up.

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"Seriously, have you seen a vagina? It's horrifying."

So why didn't the rest of the underpants-wearing world develop the same fetish for women's underwear when they were introduced? Well, when panties first came to Japan, they were an expensive commodity. After World War II, when Japan plunged into poverty, the only women who could afford to wear Western style underwear were "pan-pan girls" -- high-class hookers.

So, during the crucial first years of exposure to women's underwear, Japanese culture associated it almost exclusively with sexuality. Before too long, the Westernization of Japan brought women's underwear into the mainstream, but by the time regular women started wearing them, it was too late: Coming-of-age Japanese men had already boner-associated with them, and a cultural fetish was born.

#2. They Kill Whales Because We Told Them To

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As Greenpeace constantly reminds us, the Japanese still kill an inordinate number of whales in the name of "scientific research." And most of this research seems to center on the question of their deliciousness when paired with soy sauce. Although the rest of the world has mostly given up on whaling, due to the fact that we're running out of whales and cows don't swim very well, Japan won't let something like morality get between them and a juicy whale buffet.

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"Oooh, I'll take that one, he looks like he has some fight in him!"

How It's Our Fault:

We tend to assume that, because they're traditionally a fishing-based society, whaling is just an extension of that practice. But whale meat was never really a significant part of Japanese culture until recently. Like the rest of the world, they briefly tried to harvest whale oil on an industrial scale, but even that was Norway's bad influence. To explain this modern craze, we're going right back to World War II again (it was kind of a big deal at the time).

After the war ended, the Japanese became deeply impoverished and were on the verge of famine. It was General Douglas MacArthur, leader of American-occupied Japan, who helpfully suggested that the answer to Japan's food shortages was to take up whaling as a large-scale industry. Ever since then, whale has become a notable factor in the Japanese diet.

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"The secret ingredient is mercury."

But that doesn't explain why the Japanese remain whale-crazy after the rest of the world decided that whaling was a bad idea, does it? Well, Japan's answer to that is pretty simple: After centuries of having all these other weird traditions -- panty machines and giant monsters and penises-that-should-not-be -- pushed on them by the West, Japan is finally taking a stand against being told what to like. It's just unfortunate for the whales that Japan decided, arbitrarily, to make them the line in the sand.

#1. The Japanese Work Themselves to Death (Because We Taught Them To)

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One of the most well-established stereotypes of the Japanese is that they work too damn hard. So hard that there's an actual word in Japanese, karoshi, that specifically means a death caused by overwork. It's not an obscure concept, either: Karoshi is so common in Japan that it's recognized by insurance companies as a reason to pay out benefits. It seems so bizarre to the rest of us because we can't imagine why those crazy Japanese businessmen don't just take a personal day when they start getting heart palpitations.

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Whereas we call in sick to work if we can't find our cellphone charger.

How It's Our Fault:

That whole World War II thing basically hit the reset button on Japan's economy. Having come closer to Mad Max style nuclear apocalypse than any other nation in history, their task in the following years was to rebuild their economic system from the ground up. Luckily, in 1950, Japan's deliverance from economic ruin came in the form of an American statistician named W. Edwards Deming.

Deming came up with a unique style of company management that focused on perpetual improvement. His philosophy was that you don't just pick a standard of quality and settle for it, but constantly improve upon your own quality standard, going through a constant cycle of never being satisfied. If your employees have worked their fingers to the bone, tell them to grind those bones down to a fine powder, and after they've done that, have them go door to door selling that powder as some sort of aphrodisiac. It's known as the Deming cycle, and it's been standard practice in the Japanese workplace since Deming ran a series of lectures in 1950s Japan that were so effective that they cemented him as a folk hero in Japanese corporate culture.


Like if John Galt was played by Carl Fredricksen.

So why does Japan fall victim to this culture of office suicide while the rest of us simply flip the middle finger when our boss tells us to work overtime? First of all, thanks to Japan's unique economic situation, they were the only country to adopt Deming's teachings on a wide scale. (Why would we? We had a booming economy that was working just fine.) But perhaps more significant was the way the Deming cycle combined with ingrained Japanese tradition.

The Japanese have a deep respect for seniority, so it's extremely impolite to go home before your boss does. And your boss might just stay at the office until one in the morning because he's such a hard worker ... or because he hates his wife, or possibly just because he's got a Nintendo in his office.



S Peter Davis is the visionary behind Three Minute Philosophy. For more crazy Japanese stories, check out Eric Yosomono at Gaijinass, or just LIKE him on Facebook like all the other cool kids are doing.

Just can't get enough Japan? Then check out Bukkake of the Gods: Japan's Insane Creation Myths and 6 Japanese Subcultures That Are Insane (Even for Japan).

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