A difference in a fundamental way of thinking threatens to tear Japan apart at the seams.

There is a cultural war brewing in this great nation. Although not a secret, it has gone largely unspoken for years — perhaps in the hope that it will just blow over. But a new survey by J-Town shows that Japan is divided like never before between red and blue prefectures.

Of course as we all well know, “blue prefectures” are those who use blue-colored gas cans whereas “red prefectures” are those who use red-colored gas cans. The results were gathered by J-Town when they asked over 1,000 people across the country “What color is a kerosene polytank?”

“Polytank” is the Japanese word for plastic “polyethylene tanks” which are a modern derivative of the metal “jerrycans” created by German soldiers during WWII to carry extra supplies of fuel.

▼ Jerrycans got their name for the term “Jerry,” used for German soldiers


According to the chart posted above, the usage of blue cans is almost exclusively in western Japan, whereas people in eastern Japan identify with red cans. While it might look like the majority favors blue by land area, when factoring the population densities of each area, red polytanks are in the minds of 60 percent of Japanese people, nearly doubling the 33.3 percent who put their kerosene in blue containers.

▼ Other surveys have led to similar results.

Alarming news to be sure, but in an effort to help bridge this ideological rift, we must first try to understand how it got to be this way.

Various sources online seem to suggest that people in eastern Japan think red is the ideal color because it conveys the sense of danger that the flammable contents possess.

On the other hand, the prevailing theory is that people in the west — often characterized by the traditional merchant culture of Osaka and Kobe — chose blue simply because it is cheaper to produce and thus can be sold at a more competitive price. Having lived in Osaka quite a while myself, I can attest that the spendthrift stereotype of its people is not entirely unfounded, but still this theory seems very fishy.

Slapping on a fake mustache and monocle, I went undercover as a potential buyer of polyethylene to the websites of various wholesalers of “masterbatch,” which is the name given to the coloring additives to plastics. Everywhere I went, the color seemed to have nothing to do with the price which instead hinged more on the pigment’s ability to evenly dye the plastic.

That doesn’t completely rule out the “cheap blue plastic” theory, however. It’s still possible that this is a lingering relic of bygone days of manufacturing, or perhaps some masterbatch dealer in Japan was looking to offload a surplus or blue… possibly due to a lull in Doraemon merchandise production.

▼ That cat’s been around a while and even
it can’t keep the same pace forever.

Kyosuke Yoshimatsu of the website Miteco attempted to understand this peculiar trend as well. Yoshimatsu is stationed in Shizuoka Prefecture which falls along the demarcation line defined by a 2013 TV show to be National Highway 19. It is here, on the front line, where the battle for people’s minds is currently being waged.

In this nexus of the nation you can find both blue and red polytanks side-by-side, although the ratio of each can vary widely from store to store. Here, some manufacturers are also trying to defuse the situation by offering a rainbow of colors to choose from.

Unsatisfied with the “cheap west” urban legend too, Yoshimatsu decided to go straight to the source and ask the makers of polytanks what the deal was. However, when pressed to explain they had little more insight other than blue sells well in the west and red sells well in the east. As for the reason, they simply said, “We don’t really know.”

And so, with the mystery of why western Japan uses blue kerosene containers unsolved, the prospects of finding mutual understanding are bleak. This means that we currently stand on the brink of a full-scale civil war over the matter.

▼ Some still hold out hope that a compromise can be reached.

In this case despite being outnumbered, should push come to shove, blue Japan luckily has an ideological ally in the USA which also uses blue containers for kerosene. There, industry standards dictate that gasoline be kept in red tanks and kerosene in blue so that the two don’t get confused. This isn’t a problem in Japan though, because it’s illegal to keep gasoline in any plastic container here.

It is sure to be a bloody and prolonged battle, but necessary in the long run so that the nation can truly come together as one and begin to tackle the more serious issues, like the proper nickname for McDonald’s or which side of the escalator is for standing.

Source: J-Town, Miteco, Touzai-Bunka, Matome Naver
Top image: Photo AC