How Asians and Westerners Think Differently

I have sometimes postulated that if I ever get to heaven, I risk being bored to death by the lack of bad news.

Can you imagine picking up the papers every day and finding nothing but positive articles? No crime, no political disputes, not even a hint of salacious gossip. Your favourite team wins every game and there are no celebrity deaths to mourn.

In the modern era, newspapers are struggling to retain readers but at least they have no shortage of issues to write about. Bad news thrives online: Twitter is bursting with accounts of human conflict.

A good argument

But is my fascination with bad news and a passion for a good argument partly down to my own culture? Would it be different if I was Asian?

A Japanese friend told me recently that the concept of a lively discussion does not exist in Japan because of the emphasis on group harmony.

I have also heard it said that combative, rhetorical forms of argument are extremely rare in China.

“Most of the time Chinese people are quiet and they don’t talk about politics. They might talk about it the dinner table but they don’t talk about it in public,” observed the artist Badiucao, in an interview with the Financial Times this week.

My research on this topic turned up an intriguing book called The Geography of Thought written by Richard E. Nisbett, an American who has tried to work out why Asians and Westerners think differently.

“East Asians live in an interdependent world, in which the self is part of a larger whole. Westerners live in a world in which the self is a unitary free agent,” suggested Nisbett.

Turning to the topic of argument and debate, he observed: “Westerners have faith in the rhetoric of argumentation, whereas Asians avoid controversy and debate. Easterners are highly attuned to the feelings of others and strive for interpersonal harmony.”

School problems

These generalisations may help to explain why some East Asian students find it difficult to adapt to Western education systems. It’s not their lack of confidence in English which necessarily holds them back – although that can be a factor – but they are unaccustomed to the way argument and counterargument are seen as central to the learning process.

Nisbett claims it is not unusual for American professors to give bad grades to Asian students, not because they are lazy or slow but because they have not grasped the rhetorical style.

I recently led a course for a group of students from China. The British and Western professors who taught them were sometimes frustrated by the lack of lively question and answer sessions at the end of their talks. I have heard similar remarks by teachers in Japan.

Heavenly lessons

I don’t know if heaven contains classrooms in which we can extend our learning. I hope that it does and that our teachers will come from every age and nation.

We could study art from Leonardo di Vinci and go on to learn science from the geniuses of future generations. I expect the teachers will have the patience of saints and essay deadlines will be extended indefinitely.

But I also hope that among those learners there will be those who challenge what they are told, or even deliberately start an argument.

When the rebels do cause conflict, it will give the angelic scribes a topic to put in the heavenly journal. I shall read it with interest.

North Korean fighters march on the Budokan

A group of North Korean fighters are planning to throw their opponents to the ground in Japan’s most iconic sports venue, the Nippon Budokan.

The athletes have applied to take part in the World Judo Championship later this year.

The Budokan, which is hosting the event, was built specifically for martial arts tournaments, although it has also been used as a venue by many pop and rock stars including The Beatles, Bob Dylan and Deep Purple.

Entry opportunity

The Japan Times explains that North Koreans are usually forbidden from entering the country but they have used a loophole that allows them in to take part in sports tournaments.

The North Koreans use international sporting outings for propaganda purposes and they were delighted to be the centre of media attention at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

For some traditionalists, the Budokan and the sport of judo are almost sacred symbols of Japan’s heritage, so it will be bewildering to watch the North Koreans unfurl their flag at the world judo event.

Japan does not recognize North Korea as a sovereign state and there are no diplomatic relations between the nations.

Tough line

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been consistently tough on the North Koreans, in contrast to the more friendly approach of Donald Trump and the South Korean president, Moon Jae-In, who have both met several times with their leader Kim Jong-Un.

Mr Abe’s critics complain that he is a hardliner who cannot see the value of compromise.

However, other people think Mr Abe has avoided a political trap.

No concessions

The Oxford University Professor Rana Mitter wrote in the Sunday Times that “Kim Jong Un has seduced the presidents of America, China and South Korea into following his overall agenda without giving any real concession so far.”

Professor Mitter said that the North Korean leader is not insane but he is “one of the most rational if ruthless leaders of any dictatorship today.”

There will be another striking sports event in Tokyo next year when a team made up of judo athletes from both North and South Korea will compete jointly in the 2020 Olympics.

This will leave spectators in the strange position of watching an ally of Japan and its principle enemy join forces in a martial arts battle.

Strained relations

Although South Korea is an ally of Japan, their relationship is strained at the moment. Shinzo Abe declined to meet President Moon face-to-face at the recent G20 summit in Osaka.

He is irked at suggestions that Japanese firms should compensate the victims of forced labour from the period of Japan’s occupation of the Korean peninsula during the last century.

But despite these disagreements, Japan and South Korea remain crucially important to each other. They are prosperous democracies and are anxious about the trade war between China and the United States.

When it comes to North Korea, both would like to see complete denuclearisation, although they have different views on how to achieve this.

However, North Korea is led by a man who – as Professor Mitter put it in is piece for the Sunday Times – “has the power to turn East Asia into a wasteland with his conventional and nuclear arsenal.”

Better then to confront the country in the judo hall than on the battlefield.

The gulf between Japan and Russia is widening

Japan and Russia lie so close together geographically that there’s even been discussions about building a bridge between them.

A rail bridge to join Cape Crillon on the Russian island of Sakhalin to Cape Soya at the northern tip of the Japanese island of Hokkaido would stretch about 30 miles. There are many longer bridges elsewhere in Japan.

However, there is an enormous political gulf between Russia and Japan and it is getting wider. President Vladimir Putin made this plain in an interview before he travelled to Osaka for the G20 summit last week, when he declared that “liberalism is obsolete.”

“Liberalism is obsolete” – Vladimir Putin

He told the Financial Times that liberal ideology has “outlived its purpose” and praised the rise of populism in Europe and America, saying that ideas like multiculturalism are “no longer tenable.”

Liberalism and democracy

Many articles in the press contrasted the Russian approach with “western liberal values.” For example, the BBC said that liberalism “has underpinned Western democracies for decades.”

The British Prime Minister Theresa May lashed out at what she called Russia’s “irresponsible and despicable behaviour” and her likely successor Boris Johnson said that the Russian president was “totally wrong; our values – freedom and democracy, the rule of law and free speech – those things are imperishable and they will succeed.”

As host of the G20 meeting in Osaka, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was carefully not to clash with Mr Putin publicly. Instead he spoke of his desire for a “peace deal” with Russia.

One of his dreams is that Russia will one day return to Japan some of the islands which were occupied by the Soviet Union at the end of World War Two.

Danger Zone

They form part of a chain of islands which are known as the Northern Territories and a few years ago this was the preferred location for the friendship bridge. However, it has now become one of the most dangerous regions in East Asia.

The Russians have been carrying out missile tests, which Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kano has called “unacceptable.”

Nevertheless, many Japanese businesses still work with the Russians. The Nikkei Asian Review reports that companies cooperate in the energy and medical sectors and engage in joint activities such as tourism, waste disposal and vegetable farming.

None of that matters much to the Japanese economy. What is far more significant is the liberal economic values which underpin Japan’s society.

The Liberal Democratic Party of Japan, which Mr Abe leads, states clearly on its website that it is a liberal political party which advocates democracy and basic human rights and “strives to make positive contributions to world peace and prosperity of mankind.”

Party politics

Rival parties – such as the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Democratic Party for the People – have different policies but share similar ideas about the importance of parliamentary democracy.

According to an opinion piece in the Financial Times which responded to the Putin interview, countries with liberal market-based democracies generally enjoy high standards of living, driven by a “dynamism” which generates prosperity.

The Financial Times is owned by the Japanese business newspaper Nikkei, so it seems to be stating a view which is widely held in Japanese business and political circles.

There are some notable dissenters, such as the Japanese Communist Party. But even if it uses a political process based on elections to get its voice heard.

And even though many people say they are tired of Mr Abe and the LDP, it is a party which nearly always wins elections – a sign that liberalism is far from obsolete in Japan, even though Russia and China advocate rival systems of government.


Shinzo Abe’s Iranian headache

The price of oil has shot up since an attack on a Japanese tanker called the Kokuka Courageous.

The Americans claim that Iranian forces planted a mine on the ship when it was it was passing through a narrow strait in the Arabian Gulf.

A ship from Norway was also attacked.

This was a huge shock because at the time, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in Tehran, trying to calm down tensions been Iran and the US.

Threat of conflict

That clearly did not work, as a few days later the Iranians shot down an unarmed US drone – nearly provoking a missile strike in revenge.

The US is increasing its troop presence in the region and there has even been talk of war.

Japan is one of a number of Asian countries with close economic ties to Iran, even though the two nations have nothing in common politically.

The US has been trying to prevent other countries from buying any oil from Iran through sanctions and this has caused a major blow to the Iranian economy.

Amrita Sen from Energy Aspects told the BBC: “Exports of oil from Iran have almost ground to zero except for a few thousand barrels being smuggled into Syria. Previously Iran used to sell a lot of oil to Japan, China, Korea, India and Turkey but since this spring, the Americans have clamped down on their sales to other markets.”

Leaders targeted

President Trump has now extended the sanctions to target high ranking individuals.

“The supreme leader of Iran is one who ultimately is responsible for the hostile conduct of the regime. His office oversees the regime’s most brutal instruments, including the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps,” he told reporters in the Oval Office.

President Rouhani said the sanctions targeting Ayatollah Khamenei were “outrageous and idiotic”.

The BBC reported that in a televised address, he said: “The US wants to confiscate the leader’s property. The leader owns a Hoseyniyyeh [prayer venue] and a simple house. Our leaders are not like the leaders of other countries who have billions of money on foreign accounts that you could appropriate.”

Diplomat’s denial

The Iranians have also been trying to smooth things over in Tokyo. The Japan Times covered a press conference by the Iranian ambassador who flatly denied that his country had attacked the Japanese tanker.

Rahmani Movahed praised Mr Abe’s visit to Tehran, saying that Japan can play a major role in promoting peace and stability in the Persian Gulf.

“We consider Prime Minister Abe’s visit as a success,” he said.

That’s not a view shared by any of the mainstream media in Japan who see the situation as a mess.

Mr Abe will no doubt be hoping that President Trump stays friendly with Japan but doesn’t lash out at Iran in a way which causes instability in the region or threatens Japan’s supply of energy.

Japanese business focuses on the world’s plastic problem

We can expect an awful lot of rubbish when the world’s leaders descend on Osaka at the end of this month.

Thousands of diplomats, journalists and officials will gather alongside VIPs, including China’s president Xi Jinping and America’s leader Donald Trump.

The crowds will guzzle gallons of bottled water and munch their way through tons of convenience food, which typically in Japan, comes wrapped in many layers of plastic. In fact, Japan is second only to the US in the amount of plastic packaging used per person.

Toss it out

Faced with such a mountain of waste, some countries might just toss the mess into a landfill sight and try to forget about it.

But clean and tidy Japan offers a much smarter solution: only 1.2% of Japanese waste goes to landfill these days, 20 percent is recycled and much of the rest is burned in powerful incinerators.

Nevertheless, plastic does cause problems. For example, the sacred deer which tourists encounter in the ancient city of Nara are being poisoned by plastic bags. And inevitably, some plastic waste seeps into the oceans, threatening the ecosystem upon which Japan’s fishing industry depends.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has stated clearly that plastic waste is a crucial issue at the G20 summit. “As the chair of the meeting, we will exercise leadership to solve the matter,” he said.

Raging fire

So what can Japan do to help? One option is to offer other countries the powerful furnaces which it uses to burn waste at temperatures of up to 850 degrees.

I learn from the Washington Post that around 58 percent of Japan’s discarded plastic ends up being sent for what is called “thermal recycling” – incinerated to produce heat and electricity.

It’s a better response than abandoning the rubbish on stinking trash heaps, like those which fester in the slums of big cities in Pakistan and the Philippines.

But burning waste is not ideal, as it releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.

Business solution

Japanese businesses which can offer better ways to tackle the problem have the enthusiastic support of national and local government.

They also have the backing of thoughtful citizens who meticulously separate their household waste into piles of different materials and don’t wish to see it all hurled into the fire.

These social factors create the perfect environment to invest in finding a more sustainable solution.

Sogo shosha

The incinerators are expensive to install and maintain. However, Japanese exporters, especially the big sogo shosha trading companies, are skilled at securing foreign customers.

Government agencies provide the export guarantees which smooth their overseas business.

It’s a pattern which works well in developing countries, where Japanese equipment such as cooling fans find a thriving customer base.

However, as the G20 conference will acknowledge, the scale of the problem is enormous. And while the world keeps producing millions of tons of single use plastic which is wasteful abandoned, the solutions offer by Japan or anyone else do little more than scratch the surface.

Melania’s the real enemy in the battle over shoes

A group of frustrated women from Japan have won worldwide support for their campaign against the pressure to wear high heeled shoes to work.

They have submitted a petition to the Japanese government, asking for relief from the uncomfortable footwear.

The petition gained more than 26,000 signatures and the issue has struck a chord with women from many other countries, who claim they’re also under similar pressure at work.

Kicking off

For example, Summer Brennan wrote a piece in the Guardian titled: “Listen to Japan’s women: high heels need kicking out of the workplace.”

And Holly Thomas wrote an article for CNN entitled: “I don’t wear high heels for anyone but me. Got that, boss?”

The domestic Japanese media have given the campaign a name: KuToo.

That has a strong echo of the MeToo campaign which highlights harassment in the workplace. KuToo is a play on two Japanese words; kutsu, meaning shoes, and kutsuu, meaning pain.

The whole thing started with an idea from Yumi Ishikawa, who like me is a freelance writer. I admire her success in getting so much media attention.

Legal footing

But the story is not quite what it seems, especially in the way it’s been interpreted by the international press.

There is no law in Japan decreeing that women should wear high heels to work.

They do so because they are following a strong social convention. To break the habit might create disapproval but it won’t land you in prison. In most professional situations, dress customs are quite strong in Japan but they are never legally enforced.

The Japanese government does not decide what people wear, so petitioning the government over the issue of shoes is a gesture designed to grab attention, rather than a meaningful political campaign.

I therefore felt rather sorry for Japan’s Health and Labour Minister Takumi Nemoto when he was put on the spot on this topic during a parliamentary committee meeting.

According to Kyodo news, he said that: “It is socially accepted as something that falls within the realm of being occupationally necessary and appropriate.”

That seems to me to be a carefully worded response to a trap question.

However, the press decided to present poor Mr Nemoto the enemy to Ms Ishikawa. Many stories appeared with his picture, stating that the government was fighting back against the KuToo campaign. Blame was laid at the feet of male politicians such as Mr Nemoto.

First Lady

However, another more powerful enemy of the sensible shoe brigade has also been making headlines.

When America’s First Lady Melania Trump stepped off a helicopter in Tokyo during her recent trip to Japan she wore a pair of ostentatious and expensive high heels.

Her outfit was photographed and analysed.

I found a wonderful description of the shoes on Footwear News.

“For footwear, the first lady went with soaring navy Christian Louboutin’s Agneska pumps. The shoes boast an almond toe, low vamp and curvy counter that shows off the sides of the foot, with a mid-heel and a pointed silhouette. The brand describes the shoes as “sensual, steeped in 1970s allure.” Set on a 4-inch heels, they retail for $695 on”

If the First Lady uses high heels to emphasise her status and power, other women will be tempted to try them on for size, too – even if the kutsu feel a bit kutsuu.

And I doubt that Mrs Trump will worry about the KuToo petition next time she’s looking through her wardrobe, trying to decide what outfit to wear to impress the world.

Japan has flattered Trump but Xi gets the red carpet next

Donald Trump loves to be flattered, so he must have been delighted with the abject pandering he received on his recent visits to Japan and the United Kingdom.

The Japanese were the first to roll out the red carpet. President Trump enjoyed a round of golf with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a trip to see the Sumo wrestlers and a meeting with Emperor Naruhito.

Japan’s business elite gave him an especially warm welcome and he flattered them in return. According to the Nikkei, he called them “the greatest business leaders in the world.”

Mr Trump has a special place in his heart for Masayoshi Son – the boss of SoftBank – whom he received with a warm embrace.

Mr Trump urged Mr Son and the other business leaders to increase their investment in the United States.

Divided loyalties

However, Softbank and the other companies also have extensive business interests in China, so that leaves them mixed loyalties. Even if they are inclined to be pro-American, they don’t want to upset the Chinese and are therefore concerned about Mr Trump’s burgeoning trade war with China.

China’s President Xi Jinping will travel to Tokyo later this month and the Japanese will warmly welcome him, just as they have welcomed President Trump.

The Times newspaper noted in an editorial: “It would not be wise of Mr Abe to goad Mr Trump on further against China, even though the temptation is to try to use this as a way of glossing over Japan’s own difficulties with trade imbalances with the United States. A trade war on a global scale would be disastrous and Japan would not be immune.”

Royal welcome

In London, Mr Trump met business leaders at a breakfast hosted by Prime Minister Theresa May and the Queen’s son, the Duke of York.

Mr Trump offered a free trade deal between Britain and the US following the Brexit and claimed it would more than replace what Britain might lose from its loss of trade with Europe.

The Director of the British Chamber of Commerce Adam Marshall was not convinced.

He told the BBC: “Trade with the US trade accounts for about 15 percent of the UK’s total world trade and European trade is about three times that size. So British business are quite clear that they can already trade quite successfully with the US but they’re really worried about their trade with Europe.”

The US view

In America itself, Mr Trump seems to have maintained the support of many leading business figures, despite his disruptive approach.

James Lewis from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington told the BBC “people like the tax cuts and they like parts of the trade war, as well as the general direction of the economy. Most American companies think they are doing pretty well, despite all the irritations and the disturbances.”

A strong US economy – as well as a stable security alliance – are crucially important to both Japan and the United Kingdom.

For now, their leaders have decided that flattering Donald Trump furthers those goals, so they put on a big smile, sometimes through gritted teeth.

When he flies home though, there’s time to reflect that both countries’ relationships with the United States are significantly unbalanced politically and under Trump, somewhat precarious.

On the ball with manga soccer hero Captain Tsubasa

This week I had an encounter with one of Japan’s best known illustrators of manga books, Yōichi Takahashi.

He’s the author of a highly successful manga about soccer called Captain Tsubasa.

Mr Takahashi started drawing the character in 1981 and it has gone on to sell more than seven million copies, as well as being turned into a hugely popular television series, which appeals across the generations in Japan.

It is even a hit in China – something of a surprise, given the rivalry between the countries in many fields, including the football pitch.

On the ball

“I wanted to tell a story about a boy who has great ambition and achieves his goals,” Mr Takahashi says of his manga’s hero, Tsubasa Ozora. “Soccer is a team sport but the rules are quite flexible so that allows for a certain freedom of expression,” he says.

The pictures portray the boy in athletic poses as he plays passionate football. The manga helped spread the popularity of the sport in Japan, leading to the formation of the J-League in 1992.

Captain Tsubasa has been published in French, Spanish and Italian. The French player Zinedine Zidane – who now plays at Real Madrid – claims that as a boy, he was inspired to play football because of the comic.

Rather surprisingly, though, the manga has not been published in English yet – although you can buy a quite cool T-shirt showing its hero!

Hope in Syria

An Arabic version of the manga was recently distributed to children living in refugee camps in Syria, as part of an effort to lift their spirits.

“The situation in Syria is terrible – so terrible that I think it stops kids from dreaming. But it’s their dreams that one day will make Syria good again,” says Obada Kassoumah, who translated the manga into Arabic.

“I wish I could just give them a little bit of hope and make them believe that yes, they can have dreams,” Mr Obada told the BBC.

Wings of desire

But why is the boy called Tsubasa?

“In Japanese tsubasa means wings – so it’s a way to show children they can grown their own wings and chase their dreams,” explains Mr Takahashi.

In the many years since he started drawing the series, he has sometimes considered bringing it to a close and moving onto other projects. “But then Captain Tsubasa comes to me in my dreams and asks me if I can give him another chance to let him play again. How can I let him down when he makes such a request?” he laughs.

British Museum

Yōichi Takahashi was speaking at the British Museum, which is currently showing the largest exhibition of manga ever held outside Japan.

The pictures include a number of works by Takahashi, as well as drawings by many other illustrators, alongside the older works of art which inspired them.

As I mentioned in my blog last week, stepping into the British Museum to see the pictures enables one to appreciate them in a deep way and to share one’s pleasure with others.

The Citi exhibition Manga will run from 23 May to 26 August 2019 in the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery at the British Museum.


Pictures run riot as manga enters the British Museum

The largest exhibition of manga ever held outside of Japan opened in London this week.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to the preview.

A huge room inside the British Museum holds a striking collection of around 160 pictures, as well as videos, statues, books – and even a place you can dress up in a manga costume and have your picture taken.

The British Museum’s Director Hartwig Fischer said it offers an opportunity to see a “new dimension” of Japan.

Thought provoking

“We give our visitors a lot to look at and a lot to think about,” said Mr Fischer.

He went on to explain that the museum has been collecting manga almost since the genre started and even commissioned an artist called Hoshino Yukinobu to draw a book called Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure.

Mr Fischer said: “Manga tells stories which are relevant and address questions which matter to us all. It also looks at aspects of life which are challenging. In this exhibition, we tried to celebrate the intimate aspects of manga as well as acknowledge its global power and presence.”

The exhibition includes examples of some of the most popular manga series in Japan, including pictures by famous artists such as Tezuka Osamu (Astro Boy and Princess Knight), Akatsuka Fujio (Eel Dog), Toriyama Akira (Dragon Ball).

Ghost story

For me, it was a spooky little painting by the great 19th-century Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai which truly made me shiver.

It shows a ghost about to take revenge on the wife who killed him by raising the mosquito net which protects her from insects as she sleeps. It’s a gruesome picture of a particularly quiet form of murder!

Fertile ground

The exhibition’s curator Nicole Rousmaniere says Hokusai’s ghost picture is an example of the fertile ground from which manga grew.

Another example is a huge theatre curtain created in 1880 by the painter Kawanabe Kyōsai, featuring actors in the form of demons and ghosts, blurring the worlds of fantasy and reality.

It’s a very delicate treasure and Waseda University, which owns it, has decided this will be the last time it will travel outside Japan.

Love stories

A lot of contemporary manga looks at relationships, especially romance. One interesting example in the museum is called My Brother’s Husband described by one reviewer as “an unprecedented and heartbreaking look at the state of a largely still-closeted Japanese gay culture.”

The Exhibition’s curator Nicole Rousmaniere says: “Manga can sometimes tell the stories of people whose stories are not usually told.”

She also believes that the emotional power of manga is important. “It can help relieve pain and has a cathartic quality,” she says.

Skilful hands

Most of the time, readers of manga books flick through the pictures so quickly I wonder if they actually notice them. But looking at the exhibition, I realise the great artistic skill involved in making these works.

Stepping into a museum to see the pictures enables one to appreciate them in a deep way and to share one’s joy with other visitors.

The Citi exhibition Manga will run from 23 May to 26 August 2019 in the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery at the British Museum.

Sea monster ice cream deserves good table manners

Why is it seen as rude to eat snacks, such as barbequed squid, while walking around?

Well, for the polite Japanese, walking and eating at the same time is “a big no no” according to the writer Mercedes Hutton, who’s done a nice article on this topic in this week’s South China Morning Post.

Mercedes claims that visitors to Japan are causing offence through our rude behaviour with food.

Our problem is that we apparently try to do two things at once – eating and walking – and this grieves our hosts, in places such as Kyoto’s Nishiki Market and Senso-ji, in Tokyo.

Mindful eating

According to Mercedes, we foreigners are plainly not following the principle of “Ikkai ichi dousa”, which essentially means “ do one thing at a time”.

She writes: “This is a fundamental tenet of Japanese philosophy that promotes the dedication of particular attention to each aspect of our lives. Whether strolling along Takeshita-dori, in Harajuku, or savouring a Hokkaido soft-serve ice cream, every activity benefits from being singularly focused upon; do both at once and neither can be enjoyed to their full potential.”

While I am all in favour of mindful eating, I wonder what the social rules are when it comes to barbecue squid.

Monster vs ice cream

This treat, known in Japanese as ikayaki, is often sold at outdoor festivals, especially in the summer.

It’s served on a stick so it looks like a cross between an ice cream and a sea monster.

Although it’s very chewy, it tastes delicious. But it’s almost impossible to eat politely and cleanly with chopsticks – or even a knife and fork.

That means scoffing it down while standing up – perhaps while enjoying fireworks or watching a spooky dance aimed at entertaining ghosts, known as obon.

No one has ever given me instructions on how to eat barbequed squid, so I assume that the etiquette is this: it’s OK to eat it standing up but not while moving around. Stay in one place and throw the stick away afterwards – and probably aim to clean one’s face as soon as possible!

Too polite

Mercedes notes in her piece that the Japanese probably won’t tell you this advice for fear of causing offence.

She concludes that this suggests “Japan has a problem with politeness.”

A more direct approach, she feels, would help avoid the simmering resentment caused by our bad table manners.

She suggests we follow the locals’ lead and hang onto our waste until it can be properly disposed of.

She says: “Doing so not only saves face for the long-suffering Japanese, it also helps to give tourists a better rep at attractions on the verge of being overwhelmed by visitors (masticating or otherwise), which can only be a good thing.”