Expiration dates

expiration date on a cake packageIt is funny how much those tiny little things that you never really consciously notice can make you go “huh?” when they are out of place somehow. For me, one of those tiny and irrelevant things are expiration dates every time I go shopping: “What, the 13th still?”

It appears that dates here are written in Year – Month – Day order, reversed to what is normal in Europe. It is weird: I have been here so often and never really noticed that! Thinking about it however, it’s logical: Japanese is traditionally written from right to left, in top-down columns rather than in rows. Although some modern publications are written in Western style lines from left to right, plenty of books and also manga are written in the traditional way still, and you start reading at the “wrong end” of those books which does feel weird somehow. At least it seems to be easy to figure out which way a Japanese text is written, as the columns are usually well spaced, and the hiragana and katakana entries are a giveaway..

Personal anecdote, vaguely related: You can do the top-down writing in Chinese as well of course, and there, as each character occupies the same space, it’s not so obvious as to whether something is written horizontally or vertically. I once stood in front of a large reproduction of some old Chinese text and asked a Chinese colleague of mine who was with me at the time: “But, how do you know?” to which he smartly replied: “Well, it either makes sense or it doesn’t.”
Okay, at least I can be sure that my departure from academia has not created an Einstein-shaped hole in science…

In any case and back to the dates, I have not yet made the mental switch to look for the important part of them at the end instead of in the beginning. I guess I’ll be going “huh?” for quite a while still…

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