What’s the best way to dry an umbrella? Open it up, of course. Even though I have lived in Japan for over 20 years, to be honest, I am still a bit unnerved by the opening of an umbrella indoors, which is common practice here. Is it just me?
Coming to work on a rainy day I will find the corridors filled with open umbrellas resting quietly in front of each professor’s office. And then arriving home I find the same scene played out in the entrance of my house, where my three children will have opened up their umbrellas leaving me no place to take off my shoes (as is custom in Japan, as you know). I suppose my discomfort with this practice stems from my cultural upbringing. Other things like walking under a ladder or breaking a mirror that we commonly call “superstition” are equally taboo to me.
In Japanese, superstition is often translated as meishin 迷信 (literally, “straying belief”) or zokushin 俗信 (“common belief”), the former having a stronger negative connotation than the latter. In place of the word “superstition,” which denotes a degree of bias or prejudice, I prefer to use the words “folk belief.” I was taught early on by Professor Suzuki Iwayumi (religious folklorist) that any individual’s religious beliefs were always a problem of the heart (kokoro no mondai 心の問題).
Having studied Japan’s religious beliefs and culture, I have been able to reflect on my own beliefs and conceptions: looking out has allowed me to see within. In this blog, I would like to introduce various Japanese cultural phenomenon in order to effect a greater understanding of the world around us.