Understanding Japan (2): Structured mentality

January 15, 2017

By Eddy Montilla.


An old axiom says: “We do what we think”. But if you are not entirely convinced of it, you can confirm it by watching some enormous Japan’s steel structures: They are safe, hermetic and framed like… the way people think in that country.

     The common use and selection of a word over others in a region is not something done at random or on a whim, but this selection represents the way of being and thinking of the people who live there. If you travel to Japan, frequent words that you will hear are “omou” (think), “yotei” (plan), “shinpai” (worried) y “anzen” (safe). These words can give us a clue about the basis on which Japanese personality is forged and established: Japanese people can only find peace of mind when all things are under control (I mean, everything is well planned and safe). Therefore, if possible, their activities should leave no room for improvisation. Let’s see an example:

     In Japan, the beginning of a new year is not in January, but in spring, when the fiscal and schools year really begin and new employees will make their “debut”. During this time, you can go to any ceremony and the person in charge of delivering the introductory speech will make quickly reference to the end of the winter, and above all, the arrival of the spring and well known Japanese cherry blossoms. In that regard, everything, every word is planned throughout to a point that you will find books to write speeches for all occasions: funerals, weddings, etc.


     This kind of fixed and schematic mentality is instilled into Japanese people at early age until it becomes a feature of their personality and something very common. As a result of this, things should be inside a foreseeable frame. If something is out of it, anxiety and some kind of sense of unease will be haunting them, sometimes with terrible consequences. So, they will be working, as many hours as necessary until the unexpected and new situation turns into an old one, that is, something that can be handle according to the “handbook” they have for each case.

     Compared to other ways of thinking, the Japanese mentality provides one of the best chances for success thanks to its constant emphasis on planning, security and logical answers for problems. In fact, it has been the key that has kept Japan for so many years with a solid economic growth despite its situation after the Second World War.

     The other side of the coin, however, does not seem to be so good. Trying to keep everything under absolute “control”, trying to find perfection everywhere has created “uncontrollable” levels of stress that have pushed more than 30000 people every year to commit suicide for decades. If Tanaka, to cite an example, forgets the keys to open the place where a party will be held and Kawauchi forgets the drinking glasses, because of the delay that this situation creates, even though it has not started yet, the party will be considered a failure. And the most important thing: Since Japanese people do not forgive as quickly as they say “gomennasai” (ごめんなさい=I am sorry), Tanaka and Kawauchi will face tough times. Without any intention of falling into stereotypes, in the same situation, but with different people in a Latin American country, the party had probably started right there: in front of the closed door. Someone who, by the way, was not the person in charge of the drinking glasses would have gone to the house of a supposed friend near the place to get them and… at the end, everybody would have gone home joking about the problems they had to start the party, laughing and saying that they enjoyed the party a lot. This story can teach us that flexibility during contingencies is as important as planning.

     Japanese mentality shies away from uncertain situations. However, uncertainty might also be a “friend” when it comes to inventions. Note that most of greatest inventions that have changed the world have not come from Japan, but from USA, England, France, Italy and other European countries. Japan has improved them, as it has done with cars, bullet trains, etc.

     Finally, we can conclude that if some aspects that characterized the way of thinking and acting in other cultures, like a good dose of humor, flexibility and certain amount of drive in the face of the unknown is added to the Japanese mentality, we could have found an incredible method of thinking that can solve not only many of your personal problems, but can help to have a better world too.

Copyright 2017 littlethingsforall.wordpress.com. All rights are reserved.


Curiosities: What thing is different for the pilots in the plane and it is prohibited to share?

May 23, 2016

By Eddy Montilla.


Food. Pilots do not have the same food and they are not allowed to share it either. Besides, they cannot taste the food of another pilot. The reason is to make sure that at least one pilot can be in good condition to fly the plane in case of food poisoning.

Copyright 2016 littlethingsforall.wordpress.com. All rights are reserved.

Curiosities: Where is the world’s largest salt flat?

May 5, 2015

By Eddy Montilla.

Salar de Uyuni

Salar de Uyuni, with its more than 10,580 square kilometers, is the world’s largest salt flat and it is located in Potosi, in southwest Bolivia. No one knows for sure how much salt makes up Salar de Uyuni, but it is estimated at 10 billion tons of salt.

Salar de Uyuni is one of the most incredible natural wonders in the world. It is the flattest place on Earth to a point that scientist use it to calibrate satellite sensors. One of the most surreal landscapes can be seen there, especially during the raining season (from December to March) when water turns Salar de Uyuni into a shallow salt lake (a couple of inches) that perfectly mirrors the sky. This enormous salt flat becomes what must be the world’s biggest mirror. The mirror image of the clouds and sky extend as far as you can see, creating an exotic backdrop for photographers and an invisible horizon where there is nothing to distinguish earth from the heavens.

     Since everything here is salt, you can also find a hotel made, of course, of salt.


     Several thousand years ago, different lakes covered the plateau there. Around 15,000 years ago, Minchin Lake covered most of the area where Salar de Uyuni is, but the water from the lake had evaporated significantly leaving deposits of different chemical elements and minerals that over several thousand years made the salt crust that we can see today. The crust is comprised of 11 layers which vary in thickness. In many areas, the salt crusts are more than 10 meters thick.

     Salt is extracted from Salar of Uyuni. However, the greatest threat to the environment is lithium, a metal used in batteries for mobile phones, computers, etc. It is said that this area contains from 50 to 70% of the world’s lithium reserves, so nobody knows if men will destroy one more time Mother Nature.

Copyright 2015 littlethings4all.wordpress.com. All rights reserved.

Japanese tea ceremony: Sugoi dayo!

July 19, 2013

By Eddy Montilla

In some countries in South America, people drink tea using the same container, as a symbol of friendship. In Europe, a cup of tea is a social event. In Japan, however, tea embraces all these ideas and more… It means culture, art and tradition.

     History: The date when this drink was introduced into Japan from China seems to differ considerably from one expert to another, from a website to another. As an attempt to reach a consensus, we will say that it happened between the late 8th century and the early 9th century. Since then, Japanese people stamped their own style on the tea ceremony and it is one of the must-see events for those who love Japanese culture. Sadou, the Japanese tea ceremony, is thought to be held for the first time in the fifteenth century (there are also many different opinions on this subject.). At first, tea was a luxury product available in small amounts to priests and noblemen as a medicinal beverage. With the passage of time, its influence and taste reached the farthest corner of the country and today it can be savored in any house in Japan.

     First steps: It’s no accident that “Sadou” means tea ceremony: It is indeed a great ceremony with ritualized forms of making and serving tea where you have to follow certain order. Everything begins with a stone basin located in the garden. There, people who are going to participate in the tea ceremony wash their hands and face in order to purify themselves. After that, they will enter a room specially designed for this purpose. Once inside, participants will “sit properly” (seiza), the traditional formal way of sitting in that country.


     The tea room: Inside the room where the tea ceremony is celebrated, you will find a sacred place that is called “tokonoma”, sometimes decorated with a flower arrangement. It also has a hanging scroll with a painting or a work of calligraphy, which changes according to the season. In general, it is a way to express people’s desire to have a happy life and live in harmony with nature.


     The ceremony: The Japanese tea ceremony centers on the preparation, serving, and drinking of green tea.


     The water that will be used to prepare the tea will be heated by the teacher in an iron pot.


     After that, she mixes the hot water and powdered green tea (matcha) using a tea whisk (shasen), a tool carved out of bamboo.


      Then, she whisks the ingredients until the green tea has a thick froth with many tiny bubbles on the surface, a good sign that you have gotten a rich and delicious beverage.


     The teacher will use a special tea bowl to serve the tea to the participants and she will put it on the Japanese traditional floor (tatami). Green tea is served without sugar, and, for many foreigners, it is a little bitter. This problem is solved thanks to some sweets that participants have to eat before drinking tea. They will help to find a better taste when drinking green tea, above all, if this is your first time. Sweets served during the ceremony are usually a reflection of the season. For example, in the picture below, some sweets look like umbrellas to symbolize rain since from early June to mid-July for most of the country it is rainy season.


     Once the guests eat some sweets, they have to lift the tea bowl, look at the flower or any other thing drawn on the bowl and then turn the tea cup twice, clockwise, and enjoy it!


     Benefits and virtues of green tea are well known: Thanks to its antioxidant properties, green tea could prevent certain forms of cancer. It also protects against heart disease and helps burn fat, etc. In Japan, there are a lot of places where you can see or participate in the tea ceremony. By knowing the culture of a country, you can know better it people. For those who have the opportunity to be a guest in a tea ceremony in Japan, I recommend them not to miss it! You will not be disappointed.

Copyright 2013 littlethings4all.wordpress.com. All rights reserved.

Cherry blossoms in Japan: Kirei dayo!!

May 2, 2013

By Eddy Montilla


In Japan, when the cherry blossoms begin to bloom, people know that the coldest part of winter came to an end and they can foresee the arrival of spring.

      In autumn, all leaves fall from the cherry trees, and before they become green again, they are covered completely in pale pink flowers, which create a beautiful piece of scenery because of the contrast of the blue in the sky, the green in other trees and the pink in the cherry blossoms. At night, it is very impressive to see cherry blossoms when they are dimly lit.

     But cherry blossoms are something more than beauty. They are a distinguishing feature in the Japanese culture. Japan’s fiscal and school year begin in April. Recent graduates begin their first job in this month too. During this period, speeches and ceremonies usually make references to the cherry blossoms.


     The cherry trees are in full blossom for few days only. Then, their flowers will fall and people will have to wait till next year to appreciate them again. This mixture of fleetingness and beauty is well understood by Japanese people who usually pack the places where the cherry trees are to celebrate “hanami” (hana=flower and mi=see), a party in which people eat and drink.

     Cherry trees abound in parks and schools. Some of them date back from hundreds to more than 1000 years, like the Miharu-Takizakura cherry tree, a national treasure located in Miharu, Fukushima. You can see cherry blossoms almost everywhere in Japan in April and May, but if you like the best of the best, Hirosaki castle in Aomori prefecture with its over 2,500 trees, the Miharu-Takizakura cherry tree (one of only three of its kind in the country, dating back more than 1,000 years) and Hanamiyama park in Fukushima prefecture and Yoshinoyama (more than 30,000 trees) in Nara prefecture will be your favorite places. If you are in Japan in these months, don’t lose the opportunity to see them because life passes (sometimes without our noticing it) as quickly as the cherry blossoms.

Copyright 2013 by littlethings4all.wordpress.com. All rights reserved.

Making friends in Japan: Dekiru kana?

April 21, 2013

Por Eddy Montilla

The other day, some foreigners were talking about how difficult was for them to make Japanese friends here. Rather than language barriers, they said that Japanese people are laconic, are not usually in a very convivial mood and the worst expression was that they live under a cloak of hypocrisy. Since my table was near theirs, I heard their conversation and was thinking about it. In my opinion, these guys were getting things out of proportion. Making friends in Japan may take more time than other places, but it is not as difficult as the Labors of Hercules either. So, today I want to share with you some tips that can help you to make friends in Japan.


     Don’t look at Japanese people through the window of your own culture: This is the biggest problem when foreigners come to Japan: They want Japanese people to think and behave the same way as they do. But, shouldn’t be the opposite idea since the visitors are they?

     Forget about a chance encounter or coffee shops to make friends: The broad smile and friendly greetings (“Irashaimase!”= Welcome) you receive at a coffee shop are illusions of friendship. You can visit the same place for years, but once you leave this place, if you bump into an employee in the street, don’t expect greetings or something similar. He or she will most probably never talk to you or in order to avoid eye contact, this employee could look at other side.

     Forget about co-workers or bars too: In a bar, you can chat for a while or find a person for a date, perhaps, but not a friend. As for co-workers, it is hard to have them as friends because when they go out to “socialize”, they spend all night talking about problems at office or venting their anger or frustration.

     Clubs and groups are the key:
Japanese people cling to group mentality. Most things are done in groups in Japan, so they feel more at ease when they are among people who share THE SAME likes or ideas. So, a gym, school or club where you go regularly can be better places to find a Japanese friend, in my opinion.

     Finally, remember that the idea of friendship Japanese people have could be different from yours or your country. In Latin America, for example, a friend is not only a person to chat and have a good laugh, but a shoulder for you to cry on or a person who will get you off the hook by lending you money if you are in economic problems, which is difficult to believe in Japan. What I am trying to say is that you should not expect barbecue parties, frequent visits to his or her house, etc. Friendships here turn around a dinner at a restaurant or gift exchange. However, a friend is a friend in any circumstance, and that’s why I wish you the best trying to make a Japanese friend.

Copyright 2013 by littlethings4all.wordpress.com. All rights reserved.