One of the first things taught in anthropology classes is that presents exchanged in a given society hardly ever come for free. When someone gives another person something, that always entails some sort of obligation. Acts of giving and receiving are hence highly sensitive ...
For Peter Backhaus's latest contributions to The Japan Times, see below:
In the beginning there was the word. More precisely, the prefix. When the Heisei Era officially started, on Jan. 8, 1989, Japan's economy was still merrily bubbling along. That must have been one reason for the popularity of 超 (chō, hyper-). The prefix itself ...
The world is full of smells. Good smells and bad smells, pleasant and unpleasant smells, fragrant and pungent smells. Though the nose is not our most reliable advisor in perception — eyesight is far more important, as is well known — smells clearly have ...
Japanese words you'd think should be written in katakana will sometimes show up in hiragana. There's a cultural reason behind these rare switches.
It's no news that Japanese writing is a complex affair. Apart from the sheer number of characters — 48 each for the hiragana and katakana syllabaries plus an almost open-ended number of kanji — there are also various rules about when to use what.
Everything in life has a negative side to it. This nasty fact has also left its mark on Japanese, in the form of negative prefixes that will turn just everything into its opposite.
What's in a first name? In Japan, you'll find insights into societal change.
How many Japanese surnames are there anyway? It's a tricky question, because the total depends on how you decide to count them.
The word "tokoro" can be used to pin down a place in space, time or in a more abstract sense.
To be or not to be? What Hamlet did not know (and likely didn't care about too much at the time) is that Japanese ways of "being" make a categorical difference between animate and inanimate objects.