In the meantime, some puzzling assertions

…were made by some of my students the other day during a lesson. I haven’t really posted that much about my job, since I guess there’s rather a lot of “students say the funniest things!” going around the internets regarding Japanese students: I would love to be able to read Japanese well enough to know if there’s a similar “eigo no sensei say the funniest things!” meme surfacing on the Jpnz student blogs (I suspect so).

Still, I intend to post someday about what I do, which is teach business English to salarymen, and how it is actually a pretty surprising and rewarding job at times. Not least because my students are often times not quite what one might expect from the outside, given the stereotypical view of salarymen working for a traditional large Japanese IT company. Usually, I’m pretty surprised in a positive way by just how motivated they are to learn English, and not just in an economic, business sense either. I’ve also been challenged quite regularly on the way I see things from a western perspective: a discussion with two students on capitalism, trade unions and the Japanese models of business hierarchies (what I would call paternalism) was quite enlightening.

Anyway, despite all this, I’m still confronted sometimes with the surreal cultural gaps between my culture and some of my students’. I recently started teaching an executive class, which basically means that the students in this case are the heads of departments within the company, and as such are a bit older than my other students – from mid-forties up to late fifties. From the first lesson, they seemed a bit more outspoken and relaxed, and as such, the lessons are quite back-and-forth. We were talking about some differences between the UK and Japan, and the diet thing came up. “Japan and the UK are both islands,” said one of my students, “but the Japanese eat way more fish.” He asked me why I thought this was so. I don’t really know the answer, but I suggested it had something to do with various historical and geographical factors – the fact that there are different types of fish in the sea around Japan, the fact that Japan’s landscape terrain includes lots of not-very-hospitable-to-grazing-cattle mountains, and plenty of easy access to sea-fishing, the settling patterns of the population in more coastal regions, the lack of indiginous cattle and so on. At this point I asked the other students what they thought the reasons were.

“Well, it’s a lot more simple than that…” said one guy. “Japanese people have longer intestines. In fact, their intestines are twice as long as the intestines of foreigners.” It appeared this was a bit of a consensus in the class. I told them that I didn’t think that was true. I think the guy who said it was a little surprised that I didn’t believe him. “How do you know this is true?” I asked. “Who says so?” One of the other students was laughing. “Japanese medical knowledge says it is true.” Hmm. Well, we had a brief discussion about this (another student then introduced a theory which was basically, from what I could tell, an evolutionary theory that all people are descended from either “hunting tribes” or “farming tribes” and that ALL Japanese people are descended from “farming tribes”) but it was getting a bit off topic so we continued with the lesson.

I was pretty curious about the origin of this belief in different intestines; I’d heard about it as a rumour, as being something said to foreigners, but never actually had it outlined to me clearly by a Japanese person before. Of course, the questions that always get asked about whether foreigners can use chopsticks or eat raw squid or whatever: well, maybe the motivation behind these questions is a belief that foreigners are innately (physiologically) different or maybe the questions are just about different cultures and expectations. But as to the possibility that genetically, we have different intestines: just, well, hmmm that sounds implausible to me. I mean, is that even possible? That genetics could influence intestinal length to such an extent? Or is this just an example of nihonjinron – which is quite the cultural phenomenon itself? I tried googling about it, but all I got were other westerners as puzzled as I am as to where this belief comes from…

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6 responses to “In the meantime, some puzzling assertions

  1. I tried googling it too and only found the same… http://ccmarshall.blogspot.com/2006/07/questions-and-intestines.html did you see this one? What a strange thing…

  2. Sazzle, I love that you also spent time googling the intestines question. I wasted many fruitless minutes, actually about an hour. (I am so sad.)Also, S asked his work colleague who insisted it was true and was quite gobmacked when he said some westerners had never heard of it.
    All my research on the web seems to point to one culprit: Japanese Agriculture minister Tsutomu Hata in the 1980s made a speech about the intestines of the Japanese being too long to digest foreign beef (at the time there was some kerfuffle over American beef imports and trade restrictions). So the rumour, or theory, was apparently politically motivated. Now, the ‘scientific’ basis for this belief has become an endless circular referral to other experts’ citations, the kernel of actual truth having been totally obscured as far as i can see. I reckon the continued promotion of this belief is due, these days, to the rice/products & other Japanese food industry, health/diet claims based on intestinal length apparently being issued from there…

  3. Oh yeah – and also, there was apparently a wikipedia article on THIS VERY TOPIC which has mysteriously been…removed. New World Order!

  4. Hi Brain,

    About the discussion at Thinking Girl’s:

    The comment that Thinking Girl didn’t approve wasn’t a reply to your response to me yet (though that will come soon!, along with responses to several other good questions you have asked me), but a satirical response to one of Tyler D’s posts where he suggests mentioned Andrea Dworkin’s books as a feminist pickup line. Evidently, Thinking Girl does not share my sense of humor 😉

    I left another post explaining my post, and discussing the “respecting women” issue. That post still hasn’t been approved.

    I dunno… I’m not sure how long my welcome will last over there. The dialogue has been set up in such a way that it is very polarized: you are either for PUAs, or against them. I’m trying to carve out a middle ground, but I’m not sure it will be acknowledged. Eventually, I too may be classified as the enemy. I am there in good faith, though I have to self-censor or tone down some of my opinions (because Thinking Girl and Scarred say they don’t want to hear any support for PUAs), and avoid discussing my own experiences (because Thinking Girl only seems to be interested in women’s experiences, not men’s, unless they confirm women’s experiences). But Thinking Girl can run her blog however she likes, and I’m not interested in getting in a fight with her.

    Although your opinions on PUAs are probably closer to Thinking Girl’s than to mine, you don’t display the polarizing attitude of her and (especially) Scarred, and you seem to be more interested in understanding where PUAs are coming from than they are, and that is an attitude that I admire and respect.

  5. Hugh,
    I hope to read your response to my comment when you have time to post it over there. I’m interested, yes, in your viewpoint, especially in light of what I had to say regarding dominance and submission and your standpoint as a self-identified submissive man.
    That said, I don’t necessarily agree with the way you have framed and summarised the discussion here. I read the original responses back in Febuary there, and started contributing then, and maybe we have different viewpoints as a result of that – but I don’t think it’s fair to attribute polarisation (in a negative sense) to just TG or Scarred. I mean, TG’s commenting policy is explicitly pro-feminist, and Scarred has made it clear in her comments why she doesn’t want to respond there to PUAs. That said, it’s not up to them that the responses have seemed so gendered – if men want to post from a critical perspective they’re welcome to do so. It hasn’t played out, in the main, that way but that is because so many of the apparently neutral commenters were there to obfuscate rather than further the discussion in the beginning. I mean, that’s a problem with a lot of threads, not just that one…
    I get what you are saying re: trying to carve out a middle ground, but I’m not so sure that the thread at TGs is an appropriate place to do that. I see that the thread there is a place for feminist and other critique against the ideology we’re discussing. Maybe you think that isn’t the best or most fair discussion possible, but y’know, it’s one of the only places/spaces I see it happening at all. I mean, there ARE plenty of other fora for more positive views and experiences of PUA. And TG’s thread is happening in bas-relief to that. I’m not sure what you mean by self-censoring or toning down, and I certainly don’t agree that only women’s experiences are welcomed. If men post their experiences, and those experiences are positive reviews of PUA, then surely on a feminist blog one would expect there to be some criticism of that. I don’t think you can classify that as ‘not interested’ however, just because the interest is critical. Maybe that isn’t what you meant, but you’ll have to explain to me further, because I’m a bit confused as to why you said that!
    Further, the very fact that you want to carve out a middle ground suggests that you do see some positive things in the seduction community. The problem is, I have no doubt that the community itself considers many aspects to be beneficial to themselves. Now from what I have read you are largely coming from the POV of that: weighing up the pros and cons as far as it effects those who choose to become involved WITH the community – how far the promised benefits actually materialise, whether the methods work, whether the ideology encourages misogyny in its players and so on. All of this is fair debate and definitely worth questioning and examining, yes. But surely you can see that in a discussion that is coming from a critical outside stance on that community that the question of the effects OF the players ON their ‘targets’ is equally if not more important? That is Scarred’s main question and she has been very open about it on the thread. I would be interested in your response to that (or if you like, post a link to where you have already discussed it). Also – as far as me being MORE interested in ‘where PUAs are coming from’ … didn’t you read Scarred’s posts on the psychological aspects? I mean, if you disagree with the understanding, then OK, you’re free to discuss that, but to claim that other commenters aren’t interested in this is a bit disingenuous I think…

  6. the intestine stuff is all nihonjinron yes. it is a bit dumb. i was told japanese have special taste buds and that is why they like fish. japan has four seasons etc . ..
    here is an article with much debate about this general sort of thing
    http://www.pliink.com/mt/marxy/archives/000274.html

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