Thursday, December 31, 2009
In Tokyo, it is relatively rare to see long rows of identical housing. This is rather different from what you sometimes see in other countries where someone has bought up and developed an area with a bunch of cookie cutter dwellings. Usually, seeing identical houses means that families have split their little plot of land and built homes side-by-side. It's a way of keeping the generations together, but also offering some independence and privacy for both parents and kids.
I'll miss seeing these pairs of matched houses and knowing that families are finding a new way to look after each other yet not step on each others toes.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
The mailboxes for this apartment building are just above this. Can you imagine the fun of reaching over this for your mail?
Handling trash in a large urban area where there is little storage space and relatively infrequent pick-up is a tricky business. It is complicated by the fact that crows in Japan will pick trash apart if the bags are left out in an uncovered state. While there are a few places with plastic or metal dumpsters outside of their buildings, they are few and far between. Most people are expected to either keep their trash in their tiny homes until the correct pick-upday, or put the garbage in one of the cheap cages you see above. Generally, these cages are smelly, messy, and awful-looking. The cages are clearly used because they are cheaper than the dumpsters and take up less space. My guess is that landlords only offer such cages in places where tenants are constantly putting trash out too early (my building does not have one as no one puts trash out early).
I won't miss these awful trash storage areas.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
In the U.S., Spam is seen as the lowest of the low among foodstuffs. It's seen as being eaten by people who lack sophistication or have damaged tongues or palates. In Japan, Spam does not carry the same stigma of being low-rent fare. In fact, it's actually pretty expensive (about $5 a can), and while the Japanese don't eat it regularly, I've yet to meet someone who doesn't like it. Every Japanese acquaintance who has gone to Hawaii that I've met has made an effort to eat Spam Musubi (and liked it).
Though I don't even like Spam, I'll miss the completely different attitude that I encounter in Japan about this much derided food product .
Monday, December 28, 2009
There's a special breed of Japanese woman who you will recognize immediately if you come across one. Such women are usually on the young side (20-30) and seem to be overflowing with positive energy. They're happy, and peppy, and bursting with the desire to please. There's a Japanese word, "genki", which covers this, but these girls are like a high octane version of "genki". Such women are fine in small doses, but even other Japanese women conclude that the whole super-duper-radioactively-charged genki women (Genkizillas?) are putting on an act because it makes the men in the office happier with them (not sexually, but as employees). Frankly, I find them exhausting and wish they'd just be themselves.
I won't miss this sort of happiness on steroids character that some women feel obliged put on.
Sunday, December 27, 2009
If you've ever seen the over the top cult movie "Reefer Madness", you might chuckle at the sort of rubes in the 40's and 50's who would buy the notion that pot smoking could have such an amazingly distorting effect on you. Well, "Reefer Madness" is in the ballpark of the thinking that most Japanese people have about pot. They believe that it is in the same league as cocaine and heroin in the pantheon of addictive and destructive drugs. As misinformation goes, this is pretty harmless to society, so it's not the sort of ignorance that has appreciable negative consequences.
I'll miss this little throwback to the 50's drug mentality, and the look of incredulity on people's faces when you try to tell them that marijuana usage is less harmful than alcohol consumption.
Saturday, December 26, 2009
A lot of people who have never lived in Japan but have only experienced it for either short or extended stays as tourists or limited business travel tell me that "Japan is wasted on (me)." They say this because I am not crazy about the aspects of Japan that they are nuts about. Those aspects vary depending on the person who I'm speaking with, but they cluck and wag their finger at me for not being obsessed with anime, manga, temples, karaoke, sushi, kimono-wearing or whatever else they are obsessed with. They don't realize that, after a long time, living in Japan is, as my friend April Marie says, "not a coffee table book." That is, the things that fascinate you in short bursts when you're here for a limited time don't remain the focal point of your attention when you live here for years.
I won't miss people telling me that Japan is "wasted on me" because I don't regard it with the same fascination as a tourist.
Friday, December 25, 2009
Toilet paper is often amusingly named (in English) in Japan. There's also usually some peculiar heartfelt message (again in English) written on the package. The words really have no meaning to the Japanese, but they rarely fail to entertain me.
I'll miss these wacky names and sayings.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
It's immensely irritating to be forcibly redirected to Japanese versions of sites that I want to read in English. Clearly, some sites have a system which checks the origin of the request and tries to second guess your desires based on location. Google is especially persistent about this. In fact, sometimes it simply refuses to let me work in English or to search for English results and constantly forces me back to a Japanese page with Japanese site searches only. The only way I can get it to work in English is by using iGoogle (and even that resets back to Japanese when cookies expire).
I won't miss having to bully my way around well-meaning sites that try to second-guess my wishes.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Japan Tobacco has a series of manner posters which you occasionally see all over Japan. They encourage people not to do a lot of the lazy things that they do in order to make their butts another person's problem. Usually, the English on the posters is correct, but the way in which the behavior is framed or written about is almost surreal.
I'll miss these simple, yet artistically engaging posters.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
I worked at a Japanese office for 12 years and one of the things which repeatedly occurred was distrust of the foreign employees. Our working space was intentionally placed right in front of the president's office so he could keep an eye on us. What was more frustrating though was that any time we made any sort of (almost always small) mistake, we would spend the next year hearing about it. That is, we would be constantly reminded not to have the same momentary lapse in memory despite not having had such a lapse previously during years of employment. When the Japanese staff made bigger and much more frequent mistakes, it was brushed off as unimportant and quickly forgotten.
I won't miss being distrusted on the job and treated as if any small mistake was an enduring character flaw simply because I am not Japanese.
Monday, December 21, 2009
In most public toilets, you'll find either a little box on the wall which will play a fake flushing sound when you press the button or controls on the toilet seat's washlet panel that does the same thing. The presence of these mechanisms is a reflection of a certain cultural shyness about making toilet-use-related noises. These devices were created and installed to stop women from wasting water by constantly flushing the toilet to cover up the splash of urine hitting the bowl or water. These devices always strike me as both quaint and ingenuous.
I'll miss seeing these devices in public toilets and thinking about the sort of shyness they represent.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Japanese people have a way of trying to push you to do what they want without actually asking you to do what they want. They do it by not responding or by continuously reasserting the same "problem" until you offer the solution that they want. For instance, if someone wants to reschedule an appointment for a specific day, but you can't give them the time they want and offer alternatives, they will not address the other choices and simply keep saying what is preferable. The other thing that they do is say nothing at all when you ask a question which won't give them a chance to offer the answer they want.
I won't miss this frustrating way of refusing to take "no" for an answer.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
Most Tokyo apartments have metal shutters on either side of the large glass sliding doors that lead onto their balconies or verandas. They flank either side and slide horizontally. These shutters are called "amado" and they serve several purposes. One is that they can be used for security. When you slide them in front of the door, you can latch them together in the middle. It'd be impossible for anyone to break through them without a huge racket and even bigger muscle power. The shutters also block out light so you won't be awakened by the sun at 4:00 am. Finally, they're a guarantee of privacy from peeping toms.
I'll miss this smooth and elegant solution to several problems.
Friday, December 18, 2009
By law, foreigners have to carry their alien registration cards with them at all times in Japan and present the card if any official requests that one to do so. If you don't carry it with you, you are subject to a possible $2000 (200,000 yen) fine and being taken into the police station for interrogation. The latter has a very high chance of happening, the former, I'm not so sure about, but that is the law. I've been told true stories of people who were approached by the police and asked to present their cards while stepping out in their robes to take out the trash or check their mail. The worst part is that the police don't want to allow you to simply go get the card and show it. They want someone to bring it to you, even if it's just a few dozen feet away.
I won't miss having to make sure I have my gaijin card on me when I place a foot outside my door.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
My early years in Japan were spent immersed in sumo. I watched it every night on the Sumo Digest, on weekends on NHK (Japanese public television), visited a sumo training stable, and watched it in the flesh about a half dozen times at the national stadium in Ryogoku (Ryogoku Kokugikan). It's the only sport in the world that I really understand thoroughly.
Even though I'm no longer a rabid fan, I enjoy its presence in the culture and will miss it when I leave.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
I can't tell you how many times I've read comments by foreigners who claim Japanese people are honest and don't commit crimes. In particular, there is a myth that they (by and large) do not steal. I've read people say that all the theft in Japan is carried out by Asian immigrants, particularly the Chinese residents. What is more, Japanese people often repeat this myth. Not only has there been an increase in shoplifting by Japanese people who are perfectly capable of paying for the goods they're taking (they have lots of money on them), but there are indications all around that Japanese people are not exactly paragons of virtue. For instance, the toilet paper at the local Seiyu supermarket has the characters for the store stamped on the top of it to dissuade people from pilfering it.
I won't miss the absurd myth that Japanese people are immune from the temptation to steal by virtue of their culture or blood.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Mont blanc is a dessert made with sweetened chestnut paste. The origin is not clearly known, but either some place in Japan gets credit or a place in France. Whatever the origin, I never saw mont blanc in the United States and don't expect to find it easily there when I return. In Japan, mont blanc is sold almost everywhere, from 99 yen convenience stores with refrigerator cases to supermarkets to classy patisseries.
It has become one of my favorite desserts and I'm going to miss being able to have one whenever I want (or possibly even at all).
Monday, December 14, 2009
The milk in Japan tastes weird. It could be that I grew up surrounded by people who had cows and sold fresh milk. I'm guessing that even the milk that we bought in markets wasn't very old and didn't travel far. That being said, my husband didn't grow up in farm country and he thinks Japanese milk tastes odd as well. I think it has something to do with the pasteurization or homogenization process, or how milk is heat-treated for extended shelf life. At any rate, the milk here has never tasted "good" to me, and the low fat milk tastes like rehydrated powdered milk.
I won't miss the taste of Japanese milk.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
I occasionally buy a packet of nutritional supplements which has "Ca and VD" on the front of it. The "VD" isn't venereal disease, but vitamin D, but the initials always bring syphilis and gonorrhea to mind. There are a lot of cases where the Japanese use of initials is completely innocent, but comes across very differently to me. One of the most common ones is "K.Y." You see it on shirts and mentioned in ads and signs. For us, "KY" brings to mind a certain brand of lubricant which is frequently used in various sex acts. Seeing a sign that says "I (heart) KY" brings about a sly smile. (K.Y., incidentally, means kakkoi (cool) and yasui (cheap) in Japan.)
I'll miss the innocent use of initials which carries a more salacious sense back home.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
In some Japanese apartments, there is this strange type of wall covering. It's like a mix of tiny crushed chips of some building material. It looks okay when it's new, but as time goes by, some serious problems develop. One of those problems is related to the fact that you cannot clean this stuff. The best you can do is run a vacuum cleaner over it because water will simply destroy it and make it fall off. You also can't paint over it or cover it in anyway since it's made up of jagged little shards.
The biggest problem is that in the hot, humid environment in Tokyo, mold develops on the walls behind furniture (above, the scene behind my washing machine). The mold dies and turns black when the weather turns cold. Eventually, the wall coating also starts to flake off from the wet/warm and cold/dry cycling and you have an ugly, dirty, bare wall. The only thing that can be done about this is replacing the covering, and that only happens after you move out. This happens to nearly everyone in these types of places within a span of about 5 years.
I won't miss this awful wall coating and the way in which it can't be covered, cleaned, or painted.
Friday, December 11, 2009
My husband and I have a wildly successful marriage. We're happier being with each other than anyone else and are content to stay home and share each others company. What does this have to do with Japan? I'm convinced that some part of the success of our marriage is rooted in the isolation of living as a foreign couple here (we're both American). We're free of the mitigating factors which can cause turmoil and difficulty in a relationship like in-laws or friendship conflicts.
I will miss the protective cocoon that our relationship has grown strong in and the lack of complications that come from having few demands from outside forces on our relationship.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
While I love the fact that our toilet is in a separate room from our bath (and I love the bath, as I said in the previous post), I hate the little water closet that the toilet is in. It's extremely small. In fact, it's smaller than a standard coat closet back home. It's about the width of two toilets and there's no window so it's airless. There is a fan, but it doesn't really help much for airing the room out. Cleaning it, especially behind it, is extremely difficult because it's so cramped. In the summer, it's also stiflingly hot. There's also no sink and you have to wash your hands using the water pipe that fills up the tank. In the winter, the water is freezing cold.
I won't miss this tiny, cramped water closet.
I love our Japanese bath, even though it's looking a bit worse for wear and the tile is a pain to clean. I don't like it for it's biggest feature, the Japanese tub. There are two types of baths in Japan. One is a "unit bath" which has a toilet in the same room as a Western style tub. The other is the type with a super deep, but very short tub. A tall person has to sit with knees bent and a really tall person may have to put knees to chest. The thing I like about the bath is that the external area is very large. Two, even three people could shower together comfortably in the space. It's not that I'm advocating group showers or anything, but rather that it's just really comfortable to shower in.
I'll miss our roomy Japanese bath.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
This is a topic which you will almost certainly hear a foreign person complain about after they've spent a short time in Japan. Men in particular seem to be put out by it, but it's an issue for everyone. When you purchase something in Japan, most of the time you are given your receipt and then your change is dumped on top of the receipt. Since you already have your wallet in your other hand, this method makes it very hard to handle your money and sometimes results in dropping it. For contrast, I'll tell you that, in the U.S., the receipt is usually put in the bag with whatever you buy so that you don't have to handle both it and your change.
I won't miss this awkward method of change handling.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
The flip-side to the previous post about continuous commercials is that you can watch a lot of television programs commercial-free without a break and you can record them without interruptions. In fact, when science fiction shows like Star Trek are ran, they advertise the fact that it is without commercials and good for recording. This is pretty cool when you hate commercials and are watching in real time and don't have the option to scan through them.
I'll miss being able to watch T.V. without frequent commercial interruption.
On Japanese cable television, programs often end between 40 and 50 minutes past the hour for hour-long shows and 20 minutes past the hour for half-hour-long shows. We are then treated to 10 or 15 minutes of nothing but commercials or promotional ads for other programs. I like to watch T.V. while I exercise to alleviate the boredom of walking or pedaling in place, but this long sequence of commercials means that I have to time my exercise to start and end before I hit the long stretch of nothing.
I won't miss the extremely long spans of commercials.
I'm not a fan of Lipton tea, with one huge exception. I absolutely love the pre-made milk tea that they sell in cartoons in Japan. It's rich, fatty, perfectly floral with a slight edge of coconut. It's one of the most decadent beverages I've ever had without ice cream in it. It's a perfect blend and not too sweet. I'm certain that whatever tea that is sold in cartons back home is not going to capture the taste of this Japanese blend.
I'll miss being able to just walk 5 minutes to a shop and pick up a carton of this tasty beverage.
Monday, December 7, 2009
Want to provoke a fight with random foreign men in Japan who are interested in or in a relationship with a Japanese woman? Bring up the topic of Charisma men and you'd get a good shot at it. Charisma men are essentially average (or below average) foreign males who want to be rock stars despite lacking any particular talent, looks, or personality. Basically, these are men who capitalize on cultural differences to mask their overwhelming ordinariness or sub-average characters. That's not to say that all or even a majority of foreign males in Japan are charisma men, but those who are will be utterly threatened by the fact that the term exists and react with irrational hostility, particularly toward foreign females. It's hard when you're convinced you're a whale of a guy and someone points out that you're actually just a guppy who looks more impressive because you're currently in a small pond of goldfish who think you're special merely because you're not like the other goldfish they're used to.
I won't miss the charisma men and all of the psychological crap that comes along with associating with them.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
When we first arrived in Japan, we never saw much in the way of public displays of affection (PDAs). In fact, we got yelled at on a train by a random middle-aged Japanese guy for our own slightly amorous behavior. Things have slowly been changing and now we sometimes see Japanese couples walking hand-in-hand. Generally speaking, Japanese culture still frowns on this sort of thing, so I always feel that the couples who engage in PDAs care more about each other than social conformity.
I'll miss seeing PDAs in a culture where they constitute somewhat rebellious behavior.
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Japanese sinks, counters, and the gas tables which sit on them seem to be designed with much shorter people in mind. My husband is of the opinion that they are designed only with the height of Japanese women in mind rather than the average height of both men and women. I'm not a particularly tall woman, but the sink is easily 6 inches too low for comfortably washing dishes without lower back strain from slouching.
I won't miss having to sit on a stool in front of the sink to wash dishes because the space has been designed for someone much shorter than I.
Friday, December 4, 2009
Despite having lived in Japan for about two decades, I'm still amused by some of the differences in body language (aside from the overuse of the peace sign in pictures). When an American points at himself, he will point at his chest. When a Japanese person points at herself, she will point at her nose. Additionally, when I count on my fingers for others to see, I start with a closed hand and raise each finger. Japanese people start with an open hand and draw each finger down toward their palms.
I'll miss these little differences in how we express ourselves with gestures and body language.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
In Japan, certain types of commercials are illegal including overt political ads. That means that politicians have to find other ways to get their messages out. One of those ways is to drive around having their messages blare from loudspeakers. Similarly, right-wing extremists drive around loudly playing their messages. These trucks drive slowly so that more of their message is heard and the noise pollution is extremely irritating.
I won't miss the all too frequent appearance of these types of sound trucks.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
During one of my private lessons, the student noticed that there was a spider crawling down the wall not too far from her. She didn't freak out, but rather said, "oh you're lucky". I asked her why and she said that seeing a spider at night was lucky, but then she said maybe it was lucky in the morning. All cultures have their superstitions, but I've always enjoyed experiencing new ones in real life situations like the one I previously detailed. Sure, I could read about them, but that is sterile and not very memorable.
I'll miss learning about Japanese superstitions from the people who live here.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
A lot of people swear by the comfort of a futon, but I'm the sort who is more likely to swear at a futon. During my first visit to Japan, I spent a month in my then boyfriend's apartment sleeping on a futon and it was not a pleasure. Sure, I could manage, but I wouldn't call sleeping on a mat full of cotton batting comfortable. They're also a pain in the ass to maintain as they have to be beaten and aired out regularly or they get (more) lumpy and infested with dust mites from the tatami they lie on. The main reason that futon became so popular in Japan was that it was bedding that could be hidden away. These days, the majority of Japanese people who have the space for a bed use beds and not futon. I also bought a bed and am happy to have done so.
I won't miss futons.