Recently someone asked a question about converting between Japanese and Western calendar dates. Tsuyoshi Ito suggested it was inappropriate because it was not language related (ref: this question). I disagree because it is uniquely related to Japanese culture and mastery of the language.

IMO there are many more things in store just like this. More people will be attracted to JLU specifically because these "not in a textbook" questions can be asked. If we restrict ourselves to becoming a grammar/vocab Q&A site it will lead to a very swift death.

We already know how important context is in comprehending Japanese. So many "different" ways to do things, and many that do not fall within the boundaries of grammar or vocab questions.

Certainly we should restrict things too far from the center, but how about this as an addendum to the FAQ? "Cultural questions on matters unique to Japan and important for understanding the language are acceptable" ?

Is this appropriate for Japanese Language & Usage?

Update: Time to build a consensus!

Please check this answer below: Should uniquely cultural questions be acceptable?

and give your vote on whether it constitutes an acceptable consensus answer to this question (if not, please explain why).

For more info, see: Building our FAQ!


9 Answers 9


thanks for answering this one.

Firstly, I agree we shouldn't be comparing Pocky flavours or AKB40 song titles on JLU (please see my other site for this http://www/~im-kidding).

As for the suspect question, though it could have been worded better, @Lukman was asking for help with a particular aspect of language acquisition. S/he wanted to know if there was a poem or song Japanese speakers use to learn the years.

Would a similar question about shortcuts for learning/organising verb conjugations be struck down as quickly? I don't think so. The linguists would be falling over themselves to answer that one because it's within their area of interest.

I think our current FAQ description is still too vague: "[JLU] is for students, teachers, and linguists wanting to discuss the finer points of the Japanese language."

I'm not sure if many of you have come from the original Stackoverflow site (programming QA site), but its scope is quite wide and inclusive, also encompassing "matters that are unique to the programming profession".

Similarly, I believe JLU should cover "matters unique to the context of the Japanese language".

@ItoTsuyoshi, your answers and command of English as a non-native are amazing, however I suspect you don't have a great deal in common with the average Japanese learner. Certainly Japanese dates can be expressed in English, but the date system is most relevant to Japanese speakers (and perhaps some Asian Studies students).

We were quick to jump on the date question, but we could've been improved it rather than closing it. That information would definitely be helpful to future students of Japanese and is a lot more relevant than Pocky (hi @Dave!)

I hope JLU does not become an ivory tower for linguists alone.

I cast one vote for both widening and better defining our scope. Acceptable posts should also include questions closely related to the context of Japanese the language.

We will do well to remember that language is for the user.

  • 1
    +1 and you raise a good point in regards to the Stackoverflow site. Generally if you don't find something interesting it is either tagged for discussion or moderator attention on meta and then ignored. Just because you don't think a MUMPS question is interesting or relevant doesn't mean that someone else will not.
    – user51
    Jun 21, 2011 at 12:15
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    If you compare with Stack Overflow, I never visit the top page of Stack Overflow because it is full of questions which are uninteresting to me. I only visit specific tags. Do we want the same thing here? We may, but it is not clear to me whether the current design of Stack Overflow is the right one or not. Jun 21, 2011 at 13:07
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    I'm not sure this comment adds any clarity to the discussion. I see you're a engineer, if you are a seasoned SO user too, you could offer a considered opinion on the pros and cons. I know there are cons, but I don't want JLU to be too narrowly focused, or it won't last long.
    – crunchyt
    Jun 21, 2011 at 14:08
  • @crunchyt @Tsuyoshi Stack Overflow isn't a good comparison because it has significantly more volume than all of the other SE sites combined. Just a quick look at the SE site page shows SO gets 3.8k questions a day. The second most active site Super User only gets ~150 a day. A better comparison for what this would be like is one of the other SE sites (maybe the English site?).
    – Troyen
    Jun 21, 2011 at 18:09
  • @troyen: interesting suggestion. I checked out the English FAQ and it's certainly more developed. Here are the main points: "Usage, word choice, and grammar -- Etymology (history of words’ development) -- Dialect differences -- Pronunciation (phonetics and phonology, dialectology) -- Spelling and punctuation -- Problems encountered by people learning English"
    – crunchyt
    Jun 22, 2011 at 0:54
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    I think Japanese dates fall under the category of "problems encountered by people learning" Japanese. It's not binding on JLU but it is helpful to know a similar yet more developed SX site includes it.
    – crunchyt
    Jun 22, 2011 at 0:56
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    @crunchyt Originally I tossed out English off the top of my head, having rarely been there but knowing it was a language site. And then I saw this question there today. I bet there are more people like that author on the other SE sites, and I wonder if they know about this place. (And as an exercise, would that question have been on topic on this site?)
    – Troyen
    Jun 22, 2011 at 7:10
  • @Troyen - I'm willing to bet that the question would have been closed as off-topic here (it's not about the Japanese language) while at the same time they are saying it's off topic over on the English language site as well. I'd say it's better as an English question as it is asking about a classification of words as opposed to a translation but if it gets shut down over there it appears to be unwelcome on the Stack Exchange network as it stands now.
    – user51
    Jun 22, 2011 at 20:09
  • @Troyen - originally I wanted to say "yeah it would pass". But after thinking about it, it wouldn't pass! I can understand why the English SX site doesn't want every other language discussed there. However I wonder if JLU's identity would be best expressed as a "forum about Japanese Lanaguage & Usage 'for English speakers'"? That is the only way an interesting question like the one you found would be acceptable. On the other hand, I think some would like JLU to become an academic resource. However JLU is not Wikipedia, so I don't think that's where our true appeal and utility lie.
    – crunchyt
    Jun 23, 2011 at 2:47
  • @crunchyt We've had a few questions similar to that one here on the site that were upvoted and answered, so worded correctly I think it might pass here. I actually singled out the author because it looks like a Japanese native trying to learn more about English, so perhaps something else on this site might appeal to him. That also got me thinking that there are probably other Japanese speakers or students on stackexchange sites that may not have heard of this site yet. I certainly don't know what all of the SE sites are.
    – Troyen
    Jun 23, 2011 at 2:54
  • I thought JL&U specifically covered translation between Japanese to and from any other language in their scope. I don't know if EL&U has the equivalent in their scope. Jun 27, 2011 at 3:18

Time to Build a Consensus: please vote here

In the spirit of ultimately turning this question into a entry for new users, I have converted the question to a CW and will now try to sum up the consensus if I can:

@Ento has reasonably well summed it up, I believe, with:

Rule 1. Is the question about the Japanese language & usage
        or about the Japanese culture?
  1.a. language & usage => on topic
  1.b. culture/doubtful => proceed to rule 2.

Rule 2. Is it relevant to learning and using the Japanese language?
  2.a. yes => on topic
  2.b. no => off topic

While I love decision trees as much as the next computer science guy, I don't think that should be the format of our final answer to random JLU users seeking help.

How about a one-sentence formulation like:

Questions about Japanese culture do not belong on JLU, unless they touch on an aspect of the Japanese language or its usage, or are directly relevant to learning and using the Japanese language.

Does this sentence properly represent the consensus on this question and can I, in good conscience, edit this whole question to feature it prominently as the answer? Please speak up now or hold your peace!

Vote this up or down to indicate your agreement (and please justify your downvotes so we can work toward a better consensus). Keep in mind that this is about building consensus, no longer about what your personal opinion is. Your vote should reflect whether the above answer correctly reflect the consensus...

Note: I am personally not crazy about even allowing "relevant to learning", as it sounds a little too much like encouraging questions about resources and external links to learning tools (which we have defined as a no-no). But that seems the consensus... Am I right?

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    @dave- Suggest we propose the rule in the positive. The negative exhortation above doesn't quite scream "all people welcome here!" :D Rather it sounds like we're trying to keep the riff raff out. Remember, we need them -- and we might even be them! Also proving "direct relevance" seems high standard of proof. I suggest "closely related" or "intimately related" instead. There will always be judgment calls, but hopefully this prevents making JLU only for the grammar boffins. What do you think?
    – crunchyt
    Jul 1, 2011 at 15:41
  • Sorry, I'm not quite sure how to "vote" in this sense...does actually hitting the up arrow mean I am in favor of the proposal? Jan 20, 2012 at 5:28
  • @silvermaple: yes. On meta, votes mean slightly different things: generally, you use them to express agreement or disagreement with proposals or suggested solutions.
    – Dave
    Jan 20, 2012 at 8:46
  • @Dave, oh ok, good to know :) Jan 20, 2012 at 15:13

Since this thread is getting quite long, I'll first try to give a summary of the discussion, then throw in some personal opinions. Corrections welcome.

Firstly, I think all parties have more or less agreed upon the following decision tree about allowed questions:

Rule 1. Is the question about the Japanese language & usage
        or about the Japanese culture?
  1.a. language & usage => on topic
  1.b. culture/doubtful => proceed to rule 2.

Rule 2. Is it relevant to learning and using the Japanese language?
  2.a. yes => on topic
  2.b. no => off topic

Note: Questions categorized as 1.a. can still be off-topic, like pure translation questions. I'm omitting that branch since it's not relevant here.

There are some finer points left though:

  • Q1. How do we know if a question is relevant to the mastery of the language?

  • Q2. Is it beneficial to our community to allow such questions?

Here in begins my personal thoughts about the last two points.

Q1. How do we know if a question is relevant to the mastery of the language?

I suggest some rule of thumbs:

  • If the subject matter can/should be found in a general dictionary

Words included in general dictionaries are used by ordinary people in everyday situations. Understanding the meaning and usage of those words is crucial to communicating in the language.

  • If the question explains how relevant it is

Let's be trustful of the OP. If she is having a problem with something, she definitely is, and suggestions for possible improvement should come first before closing it off.

Q2. Is it beneficial to our community to allow such questions?

This one really stems from the question: Who is our target audience? Once our audience is defined, we can decide if allowing/disallowing "uniquely cultural questions" will result in a better user experience. Better user experience leads to more users, or at least less users leaving. Without users, our community will not survive.

Since our current site definition includes "students", I believe cultural questions relevant to learning Japanese are beneficial to our community.


Gregorian calendar year to Japanese era name, and vice versa could be off-topic as being purely cultural but books that teach the Japanese language do indeed have to deal with dates and the calendar system. Even phrasebooks. You have to know the era name and you have to know their kanji if you want to read or write them. And you have to know which Western years they map to.

Then again, this could be a mnemonics question which could well be on topic since mnemonics are spcifically learning aids and there exist many mnemonics in learning many aspects of many languages.


(my) short answer: no.

I am the first one to advocate some leniency on questions that may be only loosely language-related, but are close-enough and interesting. I agree that it is important to keep a reasonably open-mind and encourage participation... It is obvious that one cannot discuss language without frequent digressions into cultural items and history. I completely welcome these.

However, turning JLU into a generalist "Japanese culture" forum isn't the answer. There are already enough language-related questions out there to keep everybody busy for a few lives, "cultural" questions at large, are just beyond even listing and, if allowed here, would quickly drown the language part. I cannot speak for others, but my favourite thing about JLU as it is, is the extremely high level of both answers and questions, by which I do not necessarily mean that all questions are advanced topics, but they are generally relevant and interesting.

The question you referenced is not even a great example, as it was practically impossible to answer usefully (and Lukman acknowledged that it should have been a CW) and had absolutely no connection whatsoever with the language (possible mnemonics aside, using Japanese-era dates is merely a matter of 1st grade arithmetics). Obvious problem with amending the FAQ to explicitly allow non-language questions is that there is no controlling where it goes next.

To me, having to sift through 100s of questions about how many pocky flavours exist in Japan, or discussing the meaning of some anime fad, in order to get to a handful of relevant language questions, would entirely defeat the purpose of JLU.

On the other hand: I am all in favour of a separate "Japanese Culture" SE site. I believe something like that is already under discussion...

  • there is a Culture SE sight that is in the defination/comittment phase. area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/17087/culture-exchange We should probably point those types of questions there so that that site can also get off the ground. Was there a different japanese specific site you were talking about dave? Jun 20, 2011 at 3:21
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    @Mark: no, nothing too specific. Just loosely remembered hearing people discussing such, but didn't look more closely. It very well might have been what you just linked to. Thanks for the info. That being said, a site covering "all cultural aspects from all cultures"... err... good luck with that.
    – Dave
    Jun 20, 2011 at 4:37
  • i think a japanese specific one couldn't get past the define phase and was abandoned. Jun 20, 2011 at 4:56
  • @Mark: that's surprising, as there is generally no shortage of (admittedly somewhat superficial) interest in Japanese culture on the internet. Not that I think I would be all that interested in actively contributing to such a site, but I would expect it to take off with no problem.
    – Dave
    Jun 20, 2011 at 5:01
  • Case in point: no one closed out this question on "how to learn something" japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/726/… I think closely related cultural questions are jst as worthy (especially since you can't be fluent in Japanese without also comprehending the date system!)
    – crunchyt
    Jun 21, 2011 at 14:09

It Depends

My response is a bit of a cop-out, this doesn't strike me as something you can give a definitive answer to and to be honest, the Japanese dates question might be a bit of a bad example because there is a unique set of language questions (i.e. how they relate to Georgian dates) that can be relevant as part of the language.

That said though, I agree with @Dave in that this should become a Japanese culture site, but there a wide range of language based questions (i.e. slang terms) that toe the line between language and culture in that you need to understand the culture to understand what the term means. Thus, in those cases, a good answer would also explain how the term came about and not just what it means.


@Ito-san, I am constantly amazed at how much better your non-native English is than my native English - kudos! You do lack a certain touch of simpatico in your writing however.

To answer your query above: if this were an English language site, the rhymes/songs @Lukman was looking for would not have been out of place (imo). As it turns out there was no linguistic device for reducing this problem into a more manageable task.

As of right now, this discussion is addressing the JLU FAQ and it's mandate. Frankly, it needs further development (again imo). I can't help think we are already making this site "just for the linguists". Let's just say I want to head that one off at the pass, we should be more inclusive and less exclusive.

Developing a lasting policy requires more than slavishly applying formulae. Hence I think it benecificial we move beyond @Lukman's question and address the FAQ.

Tell me, would the community be better served if we opened another question for this in meta?

Thank you for caring.


As other people say, a question does not become on-topic just because it is related to the Japanese culture. Although the Japanese language is closely related to the Japanese culture, the website is specifically about the Japanese language and not about everything related to the Japanese culture. I guess that everyone agrees up to here.

So in the case of this specific question, the real problem is: Is a question about the Japanese calendar a question about the Japanese culture or about the Japanese language? I think that it is a question about the Japanese culture because there is nothing wrong with using the Japanese calendar in English as long as the people talking about them understand the meaning. This is why I voted to close the question as off topic.

Added: Usage of a language cannot be separated from a culture, and many questions already deal with the Japanese culture in this sense. There is nothing wrong about it. However, “How to remember the conversion between Gregorian calendar years and Japanese calendar years” is not about the language, period. You seem to be claiming that this question is about the intersection of the Japanese culture and the Japanese language, but I fail to see why.

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    @Ito: This question is not about @Lukman's specific question, it's about whether or not strongly relevant cultural questions are valid on JLU. Respectfully, I think this is one area where your language expertise doesn't help your judgement. You don't know what it's like to be a beginner in Japanese - you're native. I'm not saying this disqualifies you from having a valid opinion (it doesn't), but I believe you are underestimating the importance of cultural context.
    – crunchyt
    Jun 21, 2011 at 12:58
  • If we move beyond the @Lukman's question (it doesn't need to be re-opened), do we think there is a place for questions closely related to the context of Japanese? +1 this comment if you do.
    – crunchyt
    Jun 21, 2011 at 13:02
  • Added from above: @Ito, interestingly no one closed out this question on "how do I learn ..." japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/726/… @Lukman's was the same if you consider understanding a "Japan only" date system necessary for being fluent (which I admittedly do).
    – crunchyt
    Jun 21, 2011 at 14:11
  • @crunchyt: I cannot follow your logic. Okurigana is a feature of the Japanese language. Japanese era names are not a feature of the Japanese language. They are both asking about how to remember something, but the “something” is completely different. Jun 21, 2011 at 14:59
  • @Rob: My point is that the reason why one cannot read the Heisei date on a receipt is not because the receipt is written in Japanese. Jun 21, 2011 at 19:25
  • @Rob: Who said that “平成24年6月21日” is not in Japanese? What I am saying again and again is that even if you understand Japanese, “平成24年6月21日” just becomes “June 21 in the 24th year of the Heisei era.” You still have to know which year the Heisei era starts to understand that it means June 21, 2012 in the Gregorian calendar. This is not about the Japanese language. You do not have to agree with me, but please stop asking the same thing while misunderstanding my claim. Jun 21, 2011 at 20:12
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    @Ito: To communicate in Japanese this is critical. I never would have learned the Japanese date system if I hadn't sought to master the Japanese language. Can you see this from a non-native's perspective? JLU is an English language forum. If you just want to document the Japanese language without considering the needs of non natives, perhaps you'd be more at home on chiebukuro? It's great to have your skills to call upon, really, but JLU is for learners.
    – crunchyt
    Jun 22, 2011 at 0:46
  • @crunchyt: Not sure what to say. Are you happy insulting me? Jun 22, 2011 at 2:27
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    @Ito: Insulting you is farthest from my mind. I'm appealing to you on behalf of less advanced users. I admit we do seem to be at loggerheads. :) My understanding is you want a strict interpretation and I want a less strict one. My reason is as stated - namely it will increase our appeal & utility. I think the world is big enough for both our opinions. I'm pushing the point because a strict interpretation is inherently limiting. Do you feel our FAQ is well developed already? Have you seen the English SX FAQ as a point of comparison? (see my comment above) Please tell me what you think?
    – crunchyt
    Jun 22, 2011 at 6:36
  • @crunchyt: Hmm. (1) “If you just want to document the Japanese language without considering the needs of non natives, perhaps you'd be more at home on chiebukuro?” I am angry at this comment of yours for several reasons. Jun 22, 2011 at 21:14
  • (2) I agree that it is the matter of how general the scope should be. Honestly speaking, I do not think that “it will increase our appeal & utility” is a very convincing reason. (Probably that makes you call me elitist.) I have difficulty drawing a border between this question about Japanese years and the questions like “where can I find anime in Japanese?” I imagine that many people are interested in the latter question, and therefore allowing the questions like it will definitely increase our appeal and utility, but I think that we agree that this is not the right place for it. Jun 22, 2011 at 21:17
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    @Ito: I think your reasoning abilities are amazing, however this is more a question of standing in someone else's shoes. I apologise if I upset you. I feel that your line of reasoning has been unintentionally insensitive to the needs of other (current or future) community members. WRT the anime example, I agree it is a frivolous subject. However, whilst I can imagine being called fluent without knowledge of anime, I cannot say the same for Japanese dates.
    – crunchyt
    Jun 23, 2011 at 2:31
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    ... this forum is about Japanese Language "and Usage". I feel you are wholeheartedly embracing the former, but not so much the latter. We can agree to disagree, but let us not assume everyone is exactly like us. It's a big wide world after all. BTW, keep up the great work, I am actually a fan :D
    – crunchyt
    Jun 23, 2011 at 2:33

There are a lot of questions I get asked or statements made that border on being rude or just plain ignorant. I'd like to know the proper way to let these people know that their questions/statements are either rude or ignorant.

The ones I hear all the time are: 日本語が上手ですね。 Japanese must be difficult for you. How come you can use chopsticks?

The first one I just ignore, the 2nd one I say no, it's time consuming but not difficult and the last one I tell them because I've been using them for 20 years because there are a lot of Asian restaurants in the USA. I've had a few teenagers ask me why I knew about Pikachu, so I asked them how come you know about Mickey Mouse, or Stitch since they're not Japanese but American?

It would be nice to have a forum to compare questions like these and what would be a good response to their questions.

  • 1
    That, I feel, is already on topic. We're not saying that culture questions can't be asked, but they must also relate somehow to the language. Your question could easily be phrased to be a language question (i.e. "Are there set phrases to dismiss insults?" etc.).
    – Amanda S
    Jun 26, 2011 at 16:24

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