Oct 29

Isn’t Japan Supposed to be Polite?

Posted by Benjamin Martin, a 5th year JET in Okinawa, publisher of the blog MoreThingsJapanese.com and author of the YA fantasy novel Samurai Awakening (Tuttle).

For those of you who don’t know, I spent my first three years in Japan living on Kitadaito Island. Kitadaito is a small island 320km east of the mainland of Okinawa. While I was there, I experienced the close community of rural Japan, and started writing. A bit over a year ago, I moved to Kumejima which his far larger. Since this is my last year with the JET Programme, I decided to visit Kitadaito during their annual Daitogusai Festival. While I still stayed in contact with many people from Kitadaito, and even saw them occasionally on the mainland, it was the first time I had really seen everyone in over a year.

A year might not seem like a long time to you, but in Japan things can change a lot. Teachers, doctors, and other civil servants often change jobs every few years. On Kitadaito, Junior High graduates have to leave the island since there is no high school for them. So even though it had only been a year, some students and friends were gone, many students had gotten bigger or changed, and there were new people to meet.

Perhaps most surprising was the fact that I had changed too. When I came to Japan I weighed 80kg (that’s 176lbs for all you non-metric people). If you’ve read Samurai Awakening, you probably figured out I played a lot of sports while I was there, and with all the running and sports festivals, I kept in decent shape. Things change though

Back to Daito

So last month, I went back to Kitadaito for 5 days. Nearly the first thing, every single person said to me was “太った” (futotta). Now if you plug that into Google Translate, you’ll get a translation of “Fat” with alternatives of “Chubby” and “Plump.”

Why did literally at least 15 people say this to me on my first day back? Well because when I went I was about 91kg (200lbs). But aren’t Japanese people supposed to be polite? Don’t they ignore stuff so that they can live through dealing with stuffed subway cars and close quarters? Strangely enough, there’s a lot going on in that simple little phrase, and a lot of different meanings.

…Read the full article at MoreThingsJapanese.com

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