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Peter: All about Japanese Society. Top 5 things you need to know about Japanese society. Welcome back to japanesepod101.com. I'm Peter.
Natsuko: And I'm Natsuko.
Peter: In this lesson, we're going to tell you more about life in Japan.
Natsuko: There are so many aspects to Japanese society; it’s hard to know where to begin.
Peter: Well, since the title of this lesson is “top five things you need to know about Japanese society”, we've picked five topics. One, Japan's major cities and city life.
Natsuko: Mhm.
Peter: Two.
Natsuko: Family life in Japan.
Peter: Three, Japan’s work culture and industry.
Natsuko: Four, politics.
Peter: And five, general trends.
Natsuko: So we're all set then.
Peter: All set to go. So, Natsuko-san, why don’t we start with.
Natsuko: City life.
Peter: Alright, now I live in the city, Natsuko-san?
Natsuko: Yes, me too. So let’s talk about the city that we live in.
Peter: The one and only: Tokyo. As we say in English, Tokyo.
Natsuko: Tokyo, or Tokyo, is Japan’s capital and is the largest city in Japan.
In Japan there are forty-seven prefectures and Tokyo is actually one of them.
Peter: There are an estimated twelve point eight million people living in this city of Tokyo.
Natsuko: More than twelve million.
Peter: That’s a pretty big number.
Natsuko: Yes.
Peter: And it actually explains why Tokyo is so crowded almost everywhere we go.
Natsuko: Yes, but actually Tokyo has lots of different districts that each have their own personality, one of them is Shinjuku which might be the most well known. I've heard that Shinjuku station is the busiest station in the world, something like two million people pass through it each day.
Peter: It’s actually a hub so I don’t know Natsuko-san, off the top of my head over twenty railroad lines run through Shinjuku.
Natsuko: I don’t know, probably more.
Peter: So it all converges on Shinjuku and it’s really something.
Natsuko: Also in Tokyo you have Ginza, a really high end area and Ueno, which is famous with its famous zoo and museums and Akihabara, known for its discount electronics stores.
Peter: maybe one of the most famous places in the world for electronics.
Natsuko: Yes, so there’s something for everyone in Tokyo.
Peter: I think it’s impossible to get bored in Tokyo.
Natsuko: Mhmm.
Peter: There’s just so much going on.
Natsuko: Yes, then in contrast to Tokyo we have
Kyoto, or Kyoto, which is famous for its traditional atmosphere.
Peter: Kyoto is about 500 km away, which is about, Natsuko-san, about 310 miles away from Tokyo.
Natsuko: I think so, and it takes about two hours and half by shinkansen, which is the bullet train and many tourists visit Kyoto to visit the temples and shrines.
Peter: It’s located to the southwest of Tokyo and especially in the spring and fall it’s really crowded.
Natsuko: It is.
Peter: In the spring of course you have.
Natsuko: Cherry blossoms.
Peter: And in the fall.
Natsuko: The autumn leaves changing colors.
Peter: Which is extremely beautiful.
Natsuko: Beautiful, amazing, I really recommend visiting Kyoto, especially if you like to experience the more traditional side of Japan.
Peter: Another major city is.
Natsuko: Osaka.
Peter: And it’s not that far from Kyoto right.
Natsuko: It’s about forty kilometers away.
Peter: Which is about twenty-five miles.
Natsuko: Wow you're really good at numbers. The people in Osaka have a reputation for being really friendly and having a good sense of humor, a lot of Japanese comedians come from Osaka actually.
Peter: I really enjoy the Kansai region, you have not just Kyoto, Osaka but you have Kobe
Natsuko: Yes.
Peter: So you have these extremely big cities that are each unique in their own way in such a close area
Natsuko: Yes, ok now let’s talk a bit about family life in Japanese society
Peter: There are a few interesting things to note, one is that you wont see as many big families in Japan compared to other countries these days.
Natsuko: Yeah maybe that’s true, usually a small number of kids and only children are not that uncommon.
Peter: So families themselves tend to stay pretty small but at the same time you often have multiple generations living together so inside the house it can be pretty busy.
Natsuko: True, although in the larger cities there is a trend toward nuclear families with only the parents and children.
Peter: Also something that is kind of surprising is how long children live with their parents, Natsuko-san, well into their adult years is that correct.
Natsuko: Yes.
Peter: And sometimes even until they are married.
Natsuko: Mhm.
Peter: That’s quite a big difference I think.
Natsuko: Oh, really?
Peter: In the us there will come a time when most parents will say ok you’ve been here long enough, its time for you to get out and live on your own.
Natsuko: Ahh.
Peter: I can’t really imagine any Japanese parents saying that.
Natsuko: Also you can say that you know living alone in Japan especially in Tokyo is very expensive, so young people usually cant afford the cost, so that’s one side. And speaking of marriage, more and more people are waiting until they get older to get married. It’s a fast growing trend.
Peter: In the past, it was kind of an unwritten rule that you should be married by the time you were 25, for women.
Natsuko: Mhm.
Peter: Or else it’s too late.
Natsuko: Well some people still think like that. However, things are really changing, especially in the big cities.
Peter: Why is that?
Natsuko: Well, there a lot of different factors that contribute to it. People are less willing to settle and maybe they're getting choosier about their partner.
Peter: Picky picky.
Natsuko: A lot of young women these days value their careers, and in some cases getting married will hinder advancements in their career. So, I think that there are a lot of factors
Peter: But it looks like the parents will still encourage their children to marry once they reach a certain age.
Natsuko: You're right, some parents might even have a matchmaking service help with the search for a partner
Peter: Natsuko-san I think we should probably put in a disclaimer, again a lot of these trends aren’t unique to Japan.
Natsuko: Oh, right.
Peter: You know, matchmaking and things like this.
Natsuko: Mhm.
Peter: However, what I think the Japanese have that’s a little unique is this systematic or kind of group thinking.
Natsuko: Yes, right
Peter: So, when we say service, there’s actually a company.
Natsuko: Mhm.
Peter: Or many companies.
Natsuko: Many companies yes.
Peter: That will help you find this.
Natsuko: Mhm.
Peter: So when we touch on this thing its not that we're saying they're unique but it’s just that they're a common part of Japanese culture.
Natsuko: Yes.
Peter: Now the issue with delayed marriage is a bit problematic; and that’s because in Japan there’s currently a falling birth rate.
Natsuko: Yes this is a huge problem actually, less and less children are being born each year.
Peter: And it’s gotten so bad that if this trend continues, Japan’s population will start to shrink in a few years.
Natsuko: So the government is trying to reverse this trend for the sake of Japan’s future, although I can’t say the result is appearing… yet.
Peter: Okay let’s shift to Japan’s economy and work culture. Everyone knows that Japan has a lot of strong industries.
Natsuko: Mhm.
Peter: Such as.
Natsuko: Motor vehicles.
Peter: Electronics.
Natsuko: Transportation equipment.
Peter: Chemicals and there’s really so much more.
Natsuko: Yes.
Peter: And in addition to these strong industries a lot of it comes from the work culture, Natsuko-san can you tell us about the work culture.
Natsuko: Yes for one thing, Japanese work culture used to have a pretty rigid hierarchy system.
Peter: Right, and while not just limited to work, its almost magnified in the work place.
Natsuko: There’s a clear distinction between juniors and seniors, you call like senpai and kohai
Peter: Senpai is the senior.
Natsuko: Yes.
Peter: Kohai is the junior.
Natsuko: yes, and subordinates have to address their seniors formally and show respect.
Peter: and they don’t get paid very well since they are at the bottom of the ladder.
Natsuko: mmm they have to wait until they get older. So I think this may be one of the reasons more and more young people are choosing not to get full time jobs.
Peter: Not to get full time jobs?
Natsuko: Mm-hmm.
Peter: Then what do they do?
Natsuko: Instead they work multiple jobs, these people are called furita.
they prefer this system because they can basically choose their own schedule and take time off when they feel like it.
Peter: If you get a full time job, you might have a job for life, and that’s why they prefer this freedom.
Natsuko: Yes, well, that used to be common, the life-long employment system, meaning that you stay with the same company until you retire. But lately, more and more people are changing jobs mid-career, so I think that system is slowly disappearing.
Peter: I think with the current economy there’s really no guarantees.
Natsuko: Right, so let’s go into politics for a moment. Peter we don’t have a president in Japan right? Instead we have…
Peter: …the prime minister.
Natsuko: Right.
Peter: But Japan also has an emperor.
Natsuko: Yes, and that’s a good point, Japan does have an emperor, but he doesn’t hold any political power, the imperial family is mostly out of tradition.
Peter: So it’s mostly a symbol.
Natsuko: Exactly.
Peter: And the political party system is different from that of the US, and Japanese politics are very very interesting. The liberal democratic party has dominated Japanese politics for the entire post world war two period.
Natsuko: Yes, the ruling party, liberal democratic party, is known as Jiyu Minshuto in Japanese, and it has held power for over fifty years.
Peter: Natsuko-san, how old do people have to be to vote in Japan anyway.
Natsuko: Twenty is the age that people can vote.
Peter: So that doesn’t change much from other countries.
Natsuko: I think so.
Peter: Finally let’s talk about general trends in Japan.
Natsuko: There are some generational trends that I want to talk about, as Peter said before Japanese society is changing quickly in a lot of ways.
Peter: So a lot of people probably aren’t doing things their grandparents or even parents did before them.
Natsuko: Yes, like the life-long employment system, the older generations are really loyal to the company they work for.
Peter: Extremely loyal, they’ll work a lot of overtime, which mostly is unpaid.
Natsuko: Mmm.
Peter: And this is for the good of the company.
Natsuko: But ultimately for yourself because the company was taking care of your life.
Peter: Natsuko-san, arigato gozaimasu. Thank you very much, that is exactly the mindset that many Japanese people had when they did this lifelong system.
Natsuko: Mhm…
Peter: And a lot of people continued to have, however the younger generation doesn’t really seem to have this mindset.
Natsuko: Yes I think attitudes are changing.
Peter: These days it doesn’t seem like changing jobs is really a big deal anymore.
Natsuko: No.
Peter: If there’s something that a young person isn’t satisfied with, they’ll find a new company to work for.
Natsuko: Yeah you might be able to say that they have more of their own interests in mind.
Peter: Going back to the marriage trends we talked about earlier.
Natsuko: Yes they're waiting longer and longer to get married and have children, partly because they have their own interests in mind.
Peter: And there’s some extremely interesting things taking place here because it may be that the older generation sees this as being a bit selfish.
Natsuko: Mmm maybe.
Peter: But it’s going to be interesting to watch how this develops because this young generation is going to be taking over.
Natsuko: Yes, so that was our glimpse into the Japan of today.
Peter: We hope you’ve learned a lot, we certainly covered a lot of information.
Natsuko: Yes.
Peter: See you next time.
Natsuko: Ja mata ne!