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So many small things Japan should be proud of

by Amy Chavez

The new Tokyo Skytree has enjoyed immense popularity and is being credited for giving Japanese people hope for the future. Yes, having with the tallest tower (634 meters) and the second tallest structure in the world, we are all filled with a renewed sense of confirmation that — taller is better!

But is it? What of the maxims “Small is beautiful,” “Less is more,” and “Good things come in small packages?” After all, Japan is a self-professed “small island nation” (chiisana shimaguni) and is the home of capsule hotels, petite women and tiny four-wheel drive vehicles. It’s a land where model Gundam figures rein supreme.

While the Tokyo Skytree is commanding all the attention for being the tallest tower in the world, let’s not forget some of the littler things Japan should be proud of:

1. The shortest escalator in the world: According to the Guinness Book of World Records (and we should believe Guinness because they make BEER!), Japan boasts an inordinately short escalator. A five-second ride, the escalator at Okadaya Mores shopping mall in Kawasaki has a vertical rise of just 83 cm (about five steps).

2. The smallest number of teen births in the industrialized world: According to the World Health Organization, Japan has just five births for every 1,000 girls aged 15-19 years old, the smallest number in the industrialized world. Compare this to 40 teen births per 1,000 in the U.S. (figures for 2005-2010).

3. Fewest profanities: Of all the languages of the world, Japanese is one of the cleanest, sporting very few profanities. I can’t discuss the profanities that do exist in a newspaper column, but I can tell you that the word ‘shimatta’ means “sh-t,” “damn,” and other far worse expletives. There is no f-word used by the general populace either. With all the controversy over foul language in English movies, TV and other media, isn’t a clean language admirable?

4. The country with the least chance of getting hit by a bullet: According to an article by Max Fisher in “The Atlantic,” you’re least likely to get hit by a bullet in Japan. The article states that “Japan has as few as two gun-related homicides a year.”

5. The healthiest diet with the daintiest portions in the world: If you’ve ever had an o-bento lunch you know what I mean — mini-morsels in diminutive portions. The biggest section of an o-bento is the main section: rice. The “salad” section typically has one cherry tomato, one leaf of lettuce, and just enough shredded cabbage for a newborn baby mouse to nest in.

Another section of the o-bento will have a couple pieces of sashimi with a bit of wasabi and a dab of soy sauce. Another section may contain a side of seaweed wrapped and tied, which shares real estate with one slice of cutely carved carrot and a piece of neon pink fish cake.

An extra section will hold nine beans. The bonus section will have one shrimp and a blob of mayonnaise. The extra bonus section has a small sausage the size of your pinky finger. As an afterthought, they might include a sour plum.

Thankfully, there is a dessert section: one grape, one half slice of orange, and a sprig of parsley. Now you know why the Japanese are so slim: You fill up on aesthetics rather than bulk. And apparently, it helps you live longer. As Jiroemon Kimura, who is 115 and the oldest-ever man in the world, says, “Eat light to live long.”

6. The flight of shortest duration: The flight from Kita-Daito Airport to Minami-Daito Airport, between two tiny islands in Okinawa, is the shortest regular flight route, and is offered by Japan Transocean Air (operated by Ryukyu Air Commuter). The distance is a mere 12 km. The flight is scheduled once a day. How long does the flight take? Three minutes.

7. The shortest poem in the world: Japanese poet Raboku Ohashi (1890-1933) holds the record for the world’s shortest poem. With just four Japanese letters, this haiku “Hi e yamu” means “Sick with the sun” (translation by Donald Keene).

8. World’s smallest capacitor: Electronics maker Murata Manufacturing Co, is No. 1 in the world in ceramic capacitors, which store electric energy and are inserted into gadgets such as smartphones, digital cameras, laptops, medical equipment and even hybrid cars. Smaller capacitors mean smaller devices and longer battery life. How small is the world’s smallest capacitor? To be exact, 0.25 mm x 0.125 mm, or, as miniscule as the period at the end of this sentence.

9. The world’s thinnest latex condom: There’s a world record for that?! Yep. The Okamoto 003, made by Okamoto Industries Inc., is 0.038 mm thin.

10. The world’s smallest toilet: This infinitesimally small toilet was designed by Kaito Takahashi of SII Nanotechnology. It is, believe it or not, a nano-toilet. This makes sense if you are looking for solutions to problems of the future that no one else has considered. Imagine if you will, a nano-medical context in which nano-robots take part in drug delivery to certain parts of the body. Think about it: How are those robots going to excrete their number ones and twos? Via nano-toilets we send them with, of course! No more clogged arteries.

11. The briefest festival: In June and October of every year, over 100 people take part in the Enrei Onodachi Memorial Festival in Okaya, Nagano Prefecture, a festival that lasts a mere five seconds. You wouldn’t want to arrive late. Although the festival has been known to take from 20-30 seconds, even so, it is the shortest festival in Japan. What exactly do the participants do during those precious few seconds? They bow, of course. The ceremony commemorates the revered visits of Emperor Meiji in June 1880 and Emperor Showa in October 1947 to a mountain top. But it’s hard to know if they actually perform the festival or not, since it would take only five seconds to cancel it.

12. The smallest doors in the world: Although the Japanese are beginning to increase the height of doorways in houses, lengthen standard futon, and adjust for more legroom in cars to accommodate a population that is growing in height, don’t think small doorways are going to become extinct in Japan any time soon. Nijiriguchi, the doors into traditional Japanese tea houses, are purposefully built to be around 65 cm x 60 cm, requiring guests to crawl into the tea room.

The purpose of the tiny entrance is to accentuate the crossing over of a symbolic barrier — from the chaotic outside world into the serene, inside world of the tea room. And if you’re a samurai warrior, you’ll have to take your sword off to fit in.

Follow Amy Chavez on Twitter @JapanLite.