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How well do you really know Japan?

by Roger Pulvers

Well, dear reader, it’s time for our annual How Well Do You Know Japan? quiz.

Before we start, however, it behooves me to tell you that last year’s results were alarmingly disastrous. Many Japanese who took the test failed most miserably. One ex-prime minister could proudly name the top 10 Elvis Presley hits in order of sales, but failed to recognize the haiku as a Japanese literary form. (“Do you mean hockey?” he scribbled at the bottom of his test paper.) Another ex-prime minister (hint: the most recent one) answered the question, “Does Japan have a national pension system?” with “Not that I know of.” So, I am taking the radical step of banning ex-prime ministers from taking this test. They only drag the total score down.

Otherwise, this quiz, like last year’s, is open to Japanese and non-Japanese alike. However, I am sorry to say that last year’s Japanese respondents scored lower than non-Japanese. (No, “Takeshi Sato of Nagoya, San Francisco and, most recently, Honolulu,” Gen. Douglas MacArthur was not called “Big Mac” by the Emperor.) Therefore, I advise all Japanese people taking this year’s test of knowledge on Japan to ring their foreign friends and get a little help.

Question 1: Who is the governor of Tokyo?

(a) Arnold “The Terminator” Schwarznegger

(b) Shintaro “The Discriminator” Ishihara

(c) Homer Simpson

(Remember: Only one answer can be correct.)

Question 2: The Japanese term for “use-by date” for foodstuffs is shomi kigen. Which of these currently-on-the-shelves shomi kigen would you choose first?

(a) Jan. 1, the 12th year of the Kamakura Period

(b) Dec. 31, Meiji 32

(c) May 4, Showa 58

Question 3 (another one on Japanese cuisine):

What are Japanese beef croquettes made of?

(a) Only the highest-quality ground pork

(b) Only the highest-quality ground chicken

(c) Whatever

Question 4:

(Here’s one to test the linguistic skills of you aspiring translators out there.)

What is the correct translation of Japan Tobacco’s current slogan, “anata ni, motto, deraito”?

(a) More cancer to ya

(b) More strokes to ya

(c) More lying to ya

Question 5:

Why did the Ministry of Defense official cross the street?

(a) Because there was a golf course on the other side

(b) Because there was a defense contractor and a caddy on the other side

(c) It wasn’t the official who crossed the street, it was his secretary

(d) All of the above

Well, how are you doing?

If your answer to the last question was (d) (All of the above), you get double points. If you non-Japanese are doing well, I suggest that you apply for permanent residency. Tell the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications that you passed Counterpoint’s How Well Do You Know Japan? test with flying colors. If you are Japanese and you are bombing out on this test, perhaps you should move to San Francisco or Honolulu and start learning something about your country.

Okinawans hiding in caves

Now here’s one for you history buffs.

Question 6: What advice did officers in the Imperial Japanese Army give to Okinawans who were hiding in caves when American troops landed on the island in 1945?

(Please match one of the answers below with the official Japanese government version of events.)

(a) Put a little American flag outside the cave entrance and whistle Dixie

(b)Send a leader out offering Okinawa as a future base for American troops, night clubs and fast-food chains

(c) Join hands and sing Japanese traditional songs to fool the Americans into thinking you are a folk-music ensemble

Question 7: Why is the conviction rate of accused felons so high in Japan (actually over 99 percent)?

(a) Because the definition of “criminal” is: “Any person whom the police arrest”

(b) Because the Japanese are so considerate that even innocent people confess to crimes in order to bolster police morale

(c) Because most health and welfare services in prisons are superior to those on the outside, making arrest a big incentive to society’s less fortunate

Question 8: When will there be a change of government in Japan?

(a) Never

(b) When the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (in power for more than 50 years) runs out of sons and grandsons of former politicians to fill their shoes

(c) After China becomes a democracy and forces Japan to have a real two-party system

Finally, a real tough one. If you get this right, you can count yourself up there with the old “Japan hands.” (Hint: All three answers can be correct.)

Question 9:

Why are Japanese foreign ministers so slow to react to crises that occur in the world?

(a) Because their policy statements are written in Washington, and have to be sent to Tokyo and translated from English

(b) Because foreign ministers change so often they naturally don’t have enough time to become familiar with the global situation

(c) Because it is traditional Japanese courtesy to wait to see how others are reacting before you take action yourself

I hope that you all scored 9 out of 9 in this year’s quiz. Most quizzes merely test how good you are at taking them. Not so with this annual How Well Do You Know Japan? challenge, which instead tests your true knowledge of Japanese reality.

In fact, I am happy to report that the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications has decided to give the Counterpoint test to every individual returning to Japan after a trip overseas. The test will be conducted at the port of entry between the fingerprinting, the instant tax audit and the free facial offered to consenting females.

If you are a foreigner and pass the test, the fingerprinting and the audit (and smile during the facial), you will be allowed back into the country. If you are Japanese, however, and don’t pass the test, you will be welcomed home with extra bonus credits added to your nonexistent state pension fund. Some people may see this as discrimination. But actually, there is a profound reason for it. As one senior government official whispered to me: “You foreigners know much more about Japan than we Japanese do, and that’s the way we want to keep it.”