Understanding Japan Through Viral Videos

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Why Do Japanese People Wear Face Masks?

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Sick Masks in Japan Explained ★ ONLY in JAPAN #04

One of the things that surprises many Japanese on their first trip to America is that nobody here (except maybe doctors) wears face masks. And one of the things that surprises many Americans on their first trip to Japan, as you can see in the video above, is that so many people where face masks.

Though the video explains Japanese people wear the face masks “defensively,” to avoid catching someone else’s cold, they also wear them to avoid giving others their cold. It is considered very polite and much in line with Japan’s group ethic to not willingly spread your cold around, hence the mask. There are of course people who are just plain rude and sneezy, and so a defensive posture is also necessary.

But masks are not limited to winter cold season, as suggested in the video. Masks are worn during spring and falls allergy seasons, during late summer cold season and pretty much year-round whenever you feel a scratchy throat. Restaurant workers and food vendors of all kinds also wear masks so they don’t pollute your food, and construction workers wear them to screen out dust.

And, for the record, doctors and nurses in Japan can also be found wearing face masks!

Are All Young Japanese Women Pigeon-Toed?

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Pigeon-Toed Girls in Japan!

It is hard not to notice that young Japanese girls and women walk with their toes turned in, pigeon-toed. While the narrator of the video seems less than 100 percent sure if this is some sort of nationwide genetic anomaly or just something cute, we know better: it is meant to be cute.

While every society has its own definitions of beauty, few if any can beat Japan on cute. A woman in a kimono may be beautiful, but for a young lady in street clothes, if she had to choose, she’ll go with cute every time.

No one is quite sure how pigeon-toedness came to be considered cute, the same as no one can say why flashing the peace sign is considered cute, or why extended incisor teeth on young women is considered cute (check out your favorite idol, though straight teeth are becoming more and more popular under western influences.) You gotta just go with it; it’s their country after all, and they get to set the standards.

The proof that walking pigeon-toed is all cute and zero biology is obvious: unless they are imitating an
older sister, little girls in Japan walk normally. The pigeon-toed thing starts to appear in junior high, not uncoincidentally just about the time puberty kicks in, gears up through high school and peaks in college and early days of work, right about the time many women will get married.

Then it stops. You’ll just never see a middle-aged woman walking with her toes turned in. Yech, that’d look about as cute as someone’s older mom in America dressed as a cheerleader.

What Is This Japanese Man Making, and Why?

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Japan Fake Cabbage

OK, if you watched the video through to the end, you answered the first question: the man created an amazingly realistic model of… a cabbage. Fair enough, but why?

Smaller Japanese restaurants, as well as restaurants catering to families, all have amazingly realistic models of the food they offer on display, outside the shop, much like some American restaurants will display their menus. All those Japanese restaurants displaying all those models need someone to create the display items, hence our video.

And because the displays are meant to entice patrons to step inside to order, it is very important that the models look realistic; nobody is going to have their mouth start watering over some gross plastic thing that looks like a child’s toy, right?

There are a few oddities to look for. Perhaps the most famous is the fork suspended in mid-air by strands of spaghetti. It kind of looks like an invisible hand is holding the fork, twirling up a mouthful. Have a look:

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Image Source: Lh4

There are only about a dozen companies in Japan that make the highest-quality food models (called sampuru in Japanese, from the English word sample.) The most intricate models can costs hundreds of dollars, and a restaurant with a wide menu will spend tens of thousands of dollars on a full set. Because custom-made models are so expensive, restaurants will often change their own food preparation to match the models, rather than order something unique to be crafted.

As you might imagine in Japan, there is a hard-core group of sampuru collectors, but overall the models are sold exclusively to the restaurant trade. Cheap knock-offs can be found in department stores to bring home as souvenirs, though.

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Image Source: Yusuke Japan

If you want to at least see the real stuff for sale, get directions to Kappabashi-dori in Tokyo, located between Ueno and Asakusa. There is a similar street in Osaka, called Doguyasuji, located in Namba.

Here are some more of Japan’s master food model makers at work:

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Making japanese food samples

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