X is for XS (excess) Stuff: Part One

Well, you probably saw this one coming. There just isn’t a lot of X words in the first place, and X is a non-existent letter in the Japanese language. Unless we’re counting the practice of adding the letter onto the end of things to make it sound cool.

So what ‘X’ will be from now on is a round-up of little points that are too small to warrant their own posts, but interesting enough to be given a shout out. Some of these you might already know but who knows, maybe I can get at least a couple of “Oh really?”s out of you. So on the very first XS:

  • The Japanese language has different words for older brother/sister (‘oniisan’ or ‘oneesan’) and younger brother/sister (‘otouto’ and ‘imouto’). Even for twins this counts: the person born first gets the word for the older sibling, and the younger sibling gets the other. Even if they are separated by mere seconds.
Kind defeats the whole idea of ‘twins’, really.
  • Japan has historically had a law that meant citizens had a ‘Right to Sunshine’. While this law has been difficult to track in recent years, there’s no doubt it’s had an impact on modern Japan. Houses will advertise if an apartment is south-facing (and therefore facing the sun) and houses are frequently topped with strangely slopped rooftops so as to not deprive the house behind of sunshine.
  • In Japanese schools, it is perfectly acceptable for students to enter the staff room, so long as they knock, state their name and their class at the door first.
  • Old Japanese housing structure allowed walls to be slid around and moved to the point that you could effectively open out the whole floor into one big room. This kind of practice still informs modern buildings, with many offices having easily collapsible walls to make larger meeting rooms.
  • Trains park so precisely on the platforms that they actually mark the points where the doors will be. Accurate parking of the train on the platform is one of the many skills that Japanese train drivers must master.
  • Speaking of trains, they are widely referred to travelling in two broad directions: ‘nobori densha’; which are trains travelling up (in) to Tokyo, and ‘kudari densha’; trains travelling down (out) from Tokyo. It is said that Kyoto locals sometimes refer to their own city in the same way, adding to the image of Kyoto-folk being a bit snobbish.
“The only way is UP!  BABAYYYY!!!”
  • On the subject of Kyoto, the meaning of the name is literally ‘Capital City’, as it was Japan’s capital city for about 1000 years. Tokyo is literally ‘East Capital’ because of it’s geographical direction relative to Kyoto. Tokyo is a relatively new upstart, having been the capital since only 1868 (though it existed prior to this, known as Edo).
  • High-rise buildings are designed to move and sway in the event of an earthquake, so as to absorb the shock. Videos of buildings swaying in the big earthquake of 2011 were actually doing exactly what they were designed to do.
  • Yukata (Japanese bathrobes and traditional summer-ware) need to have the left flap folded over the rightflap. The other way around is how the deceased are dressed.
  • In the 60s and 70s, it was wildly popular for girls to be named so the last syllable was ‘-ko’, which in kanji for is 子, meaning ‘child’. This has led to their being a whole generation of women now their 50s called Asako, Hanako, Akiko, Sachiko and so on. Some women even changed their names to get in on the trend.

That’s all for this time on XS!  Until the next time!



  1. Do you think the “right to sunshine” has some roots in ancient worship of the sun goddess? The national flag has the image of the rising sun so I’m thinking that deep down there is this desire to awaken each morning to the presence of the deity enshrined at Ise.

    • Hi EmilyAnn!

      It’s very possible! It does seem like one of those laws that passed from unspoken rule to basic right imperceptibly, so the age of such a rule is a big clue towards that.
      I think the reason why it persists to this day is because my Japanese people are keen of drying their clothes and futons outside, and having a south-facing apartment that isn’t hindered by another building is a big selling point because of that.

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