Sunday, October 17, 2010

Jolleyball and Furniture Souls: Japanese Cultural Update

For the past couple of weeks, I've been going to and loving our FIS volleyball games. We have strong young teams - we only have one senior on the girls' team and one on the boys' team - and the kids are clearly having a great time, which makes them so much fun to watch.

So how does Japanese volleyball (or "Jolleyball") differ from U.S. volleyball? Well, instead of the traditional pre- and post-game handshake, the teams bow from the back line of the court and shout something in Japanese. My Japanese isn't good enough to know what it is (I really should ask the kids) but it has a formal verb conjugation in it. "Thank you for playing," perhaps? The boys' game had the bow as well, followed by perfunctory handshaking under the net.

The boys' game was the only one I made it to the end of, because it finished by six, so I can't make a wild generalization, but that particular Japanese volleyball game ended in a hilarious frenzy of bowing, with our team and the visiting team bumping and tripping over each other as they ran around the court to bow to their own coaches, to the opposing coaches, to their own fans, to the opposing fans, and to the official, faculty spouse Matt. As Matt said after, "I didn't really expect that. Usually, they swear at me." Not quite knowing what to do after receiving these bows, our spectator side clapped. The visiting fans, being Japanese, understood better than our bench that they were supposed to stand and bow back to the players.

This might be a good time to mention that the Japanese parent bench wanted to switch spectator sides every time the volleyball teams flipped courts. This would make for a very awkward quarter break in football...

In other cultural news, last night, we went out for dinner with some staff from FICS. FICS stands for Fukuoka International Community School, and it is an English school which is related to FIS and meets in our classrooms after the FIS school day ends. We somehow ended up on the topic of buying secondhand. You may recall our bargain sofa from the used furniture store, which I am in fact sitting on right now as I type this. It is a sofa of excellence.

But secondhand purchasing is not popular in Japan. An FICS American quizzed an FICS Japanese woman and got these verdicts: (The woman in question was probably within three years of Justin and me in age, so it's not a generational thing.)

Secondhand jewelry: no, unless it was a Rolex
Secondhand car: no (Japan actually exports its used cars to India and other places, because of the weak domestic market)
Secondhand bed: no
Secondhand clothing: no
Secondhand stereo: yes
Secondhand TV: yes
Secondhand shoes: no
Secondhand couch: no

The only one of these I would say no to is shoes. Except then I just remembered that I own a pair of secondhand boots, from a few years back. Even though I wouldn't buy them again, I have to admit that I still wear them.

There is a theory that the Japanese reluctance to buy used comes from the Shinto belief that things have souls. A used object might therefore have a "used soul," or at the very least carry with it the weight of previous ownership. I always find that kind of nice: more people are nice than horrible, so I don't worry about bad juju, and the historian in me likes to think about the different hands an item might have passed through on its way to me. Interestingly, both Japanese women at the table concurred that a used object obtained from a friend was an exception to all of this. A question of provenance, I suppose.

As far as I'm concerned, it's about price. If I can get the same quality for a fraction of the price (say, my $3 jeans that retail for $30, or our $210 sofa which would have been at least $500), then I don't care about the state of my item's soul. I only make exceptions for hygiene: no used underwear, toothbrushes, or hairbrushes, please! And there must be enough Japanese people who agree with me to keep the used items stores in business, as it had a healthy crowd when Justin and I were there.


  1. At a theater production when the actors bow, does the audience bow back????? Boy that could go on forever.


  2. Secondhand bed & couch are now big no-nos in NYC, what with the bedbug epidemic sweeping the city. Do they not have that problem in Japan?

  3. No bed bugs here these days. Probably because of the popularity of futons on tatami, which are then aired out in the sun at least a time or two a week.