Living in Japan, we soon get used to being asked the same questions over and over again. While it can be frustrating to answer these questions repeatedly, they show that the speaker is interested in us and our culture.
Here’s a quick guide to making the most of these questions and turning them into conversation starters.
Why did you come to Japan?
While it can be tempting to simply shrug your shoulders and mutter なんとなく (Just because), it is worth remembering that Japanese people generally don’t travel as much as Western people.
With these in mind, you may want to talk about how studying Japanese is the key to learning more about whatever aspect of Japanese culture you are into.
Can you use chopsticks?
Of all the questions that drive foreign people crazy, the question about chopsticks is definitely one of the more maddening. It is tempting to answer simply うん。使(つか)います or brag about your proficiency in chopsticks.
On the other hand, one of the things I like to do is point out that most Japanese people don’t use chopsticks correctly themselves! Researchers at Mejiro University used an equation to work out the ‘correct’ way of holding chopsticks and discovered that a few as 30% of Japanese people were using the correct form.
Are you married?
While marriage is a simple yes or no answer. There is a lot of fun to be had by expanding the topic. You could ask whether they think long-distance relationships work, talk to them about Valentine’s Dayバレンタインデー, check if they believe the perfect man/lady exists, or discover what their type is.
Can you eat ~?
In my adopted hometown of Osaka, the locals are crazy about their food. One of the first questions that inevitably comes up in any conversation is about what kind of food foreign people can eat. The most common questions are invariably about the foods that are unique to Japan. Expect to be asked a dozen times about whether you can stomach natto, brown meat of crabs, horse meat, Tako yaki .
It is worth remembering that not all Japanese people like all of Japan’s cuisine. It can be fun to remind the person asking the question that a recent study about natto preferences in Japan showed that many Japanese people were happy to check the ‘I hate it, it’s not even a real food!’ box when asked about the gooey, fermented bean snack.
What’s your blood type?
When I first came to Japan, I remember being baffled by this question. However, in Japan it is considered an important matter as blood type is believed to correlate strongly with personality. This can even be taken to ridiculous extremes as Japanese coined the term ブラッドタイプ・ハラスメント (ブラハラ）Blood Type Harassment for someone who is discriminated against because of their blood type!
As I only dimly remember my own blood type, I usually change the subject to some of the ways that people predict our personalities in the West. Many Japanese people are surprised to discover that many people believe that many believe our star sign is connected to our personality.
It can often be surprising to hear that the Babylonian horoscope used in the West is divided into month instead of years like the Asian one.