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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:

Nihonshu overflow

| Jul 25, 2015

Nihonshu overflow

Dear Alice, You know how when you order nihonshū (Japanese sake) in a bar or restaurant, and your server brings a glass to the table and sets it inside another vessel? And then he or she picks up a bottle of sake and pours ...

Painting women of Japan

Jun 2, 2015

Painting women of Japan

Ask an art lover to name Japanese women artists active before the 20th century, and chances are they’ll draw a blank, despite the fact that many highly accomplished women were painting in far-earlier times. Fortunately, there is now rising interest in understanding the lives ...

Change trays

| May 23, 2015

Change trays

Dear Alice, I am very curious about those small trays that are used in Japan when settling daily cash transactions. Instead of handing your payment to the clerk, or setting it on the counter by the cash register, here you are generally expected to ...

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 ...