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Alice Gordenker

Alice Gordenker writes the “So, What the Heck is That?” column, providing in-depth, carefully researched explanations of the things foreigners find so puzzling about Japan. Her work has been modified as a textbook for Japanese university students called “Surprising Japan” (Shohakusha, 2012).

For Alice Gordenker's latest contributions to The Japan Times, see below:

Amputee women in Japan proudly step forward

Feb 6, 2015

Amputee women in Japan proudly step forward

Japan isn’t the easiest place to live for people with disabilities. Buildings and transportation aren’t always accessible; people are apt to regard disabilities as shameful; and a societal tendency to turn away from anything unpleasant makes it difficult to effect change. Nevertheless change is ...

Coffee-cup placement

| Jan 16, 2015

Coffee-cup placement

Dear Alice, Can you tell me why the heck coffee in Japan is so often served with the cup turned the “wrong” way on the saucer, which is to say with the handle on the left? This forces the right-handed customer to turn the ...

Face masks

| Nov 21, 2014

Face masks

Dear Alice, What the heck is the deal with people in Japan wearing surgical masks? Where I come from (Canada), only doctors, dentists and other health professionals wear masks, and only on the job. You never see anyone out in public wearing a face ...

The Yamatane Museum presents a brilliant show

Oct 9, 2014

The Yamatane Museum presents a brilliant show

Gold and silver have long been used in Japanese painting for their decorative value, on works ranging from intimate handscrolls to large-scale screens. But as the current exhibition at the Yamatane Museum of Art makes amply clear, in the last century or so tradition ...

Blood types

| Sep 19, 2014

Blood types

Dear Alice, Can you please explain why the heck Japanese are so interested in my blood type? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a normal social situation and someone asks if I’m type O or whatever. I don’t mind so ...

The bright sparks of photography

Aug 14, 2014

The bright sparks of photography

Photography, because it is both familiar and accessible, is an excellent medium for young people to use for self-expression. With this as a guiding principle, the Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts (K*MoPA) in Yamanashi Prefecture has sought since its founding in 1995 to contribute ...

Organ donation

| Jul 18, 2014

Organ donation

Dear Alice, I’m looking at my Japanese driver’s license and wondering if the form on the back has anything to do with organ donation. Years ago, I registered in the United States to be an organ donor, which was a simple matter of checking ...

Shocking baths of Japan

| May 19, 2014

Shocking baths of Japan

Dear Alice, On my first trip to Japan, my host took me to an up-market hot-springs resort on the island of Awajishima. There I was introduced to a small tiled “box” within the large soaking tub. I noticed there were small panels along the ...