On a pitch black early November evening on the balcony of our apartment in central Tokyo I had a conversation like this with my wife. (She was out on the balcony in the chilly night air bringing in the day’s dried laundry.)
“Psss!! Pssss! Come here! Quick! Come here!”
“What is it?”
“Look at that.”
“That! Those blinking lights over there!”
“Yeah. It’s an airplane.”
“It’s moving too slow for an airplane.”
“That’s because it’s flying away from us, plus it’s a long way away. It only looks like it’s flying slowly.”
“Don’t you think it’s a UFO?”
“I know what it is. It’s an airplane, or a helicopter. Besides, I don’t think UFOs flash red and white navigation lights like that.”
“Yes, they do. Look!! There’s another one over there! And another! There are three of them!!”
“Look, they’re circling. They’re helicopters.”
“Listen. I don’t hear any sound. That’s strange.”
“That’s because they are so far away. Look, that is west. The American Air Force base at Tachikawa City is way over there.”
UFOs are very popular in Japan. Even more so in China. Like in Ireland where many educated people might be prone to believe in leprechauns, many intelligent people here are quick to profess belief in UFOs, and ghosts, and other supernatural things.
Well, first of all, I must say that professing belief in something says nothing at all about the content or nature of one’s belief. I mean, a person could say that he/she“believes” in UFOs without actually saying anything at all about what they believe about them. I find that that is usually the way it is with the topic of God in common American discourse. In America - maybe in Canada, too - people might ask “Do you believe in God?” when in fact what they really mean to ask, I think, is “What do you believe about God?” because, of course, there is no one who does not believe in God when you get right down to it.
But, secondly, it must be added that in Japanese “UFO” (pronounced “youfo,” as if it was a word by itself rather than an abbreviation) invariably means a flying saucer space ship navigated by intelligent extra terrestrials visiting the Earth for what amount to terrifying purposes. I think that is unfortunate - but also comical - because it limits the conversation so much. In English, a UFO is any object, in flight, that is not identified. That gives us a much greater scope for speculation and conversation on the matter in English.