Friday, July 31, 2009

Won't Miss #19 - lack of whole grain baked goods

When it comes to consuming whole grain baked goods in Japan, you have two choices. You can buy tiny slices (about 1/2 the size of a regular piece of bread) in 3-slice packs that cost more than 8 huge slices of white bread or you can make it yourself. Of course, making it yourself means paying a pretty penny for whole wheat flour and going to some trouble. Brown bread just isn't a priority for the Japanese baked goods market. There is beautiful white bread everywhere and lots of great European-style bakeries, but nothing for the person who wants more whole grain in their diet.

I won't miss the lack of reasonably priced, readily available whole grain bread.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Will Miss #18 - weird station art

For some reason, there is a lot of strange artwork in train and subway stations in Tokyo. Some of it is tacky. Some is strange. Some is even nice looking. And some is simply incomprehensible. There's something appealing about it even when it's utterly unlikeable because you know some artist was commissioned for the work and they know that thousands (if not millions) of people will be looking at their work.

I will miss both the artwork and the way in which this shows an appreciation for creativity and support for artists.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Won't Miss #18 - high price of fresh fruit

Japan is well-known for its monstrously over-priced gift-wrapped fruit, but even pedestrian offerings are pretty expensive. You're getting off about as cheap as possible if you can find 6 bananas for 100 yen in Tokyo. Apples are "cheap" if they can be had for 100 yen apiece. Forget about ever "wasting" your fresh fruit on such luxuries as baking a pie. It's just not worth the cost or sacrifice. Eating healthy really does cost more in Tokyo if you want fresh fruit to be a part of your regular diet.

I'm not going to miss feeling like fruit is a luxury due to its relatively high cost.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Will Miss #17 - paid transportation fees

When you work at a Japanese company, most of them will pay for your transportation fees. Usually, they will foot the bill for your train and subway pass. Sometimes, they will also pay for your bus fare (or, on rare occasions, taxis). The passes are supposed to only be used for going back and forth to work, but the truth is that there is no system to enforce this. You can use the pass to freely travel anywhere along the route from your home to your office.

I'm going to miss the company footing the bill for commuting expenses.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Won't Miss #17 -uncovered, open mouth coughers

For a country which is obsessed with wearing surgical masks when there is a flu epidemic or the cold season is at hand, there are an awful lot of people who cough without covering their mouths. Some of them seem to be determined to project as many germs as possible forward as they hack away with their mouths wide open. There isn't even an effort made to cup their hands over their mouths to stop germs from spreading omnidirectionally.

I won't miss being trapped on trains or walking behind people who can't be bothered to cover their mouths when they cough.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Will Miss #16 - clean public toilets

By and large, Japanese public toilets are quite clean. I'm not sure if this is because the people who use them don't behave like animals or if there are diligent cleaning personnel making sure things stay in pretty good shape. Mind you, there is the occasional smelly or dirty public toilet, but the majority of them are quite clean.

I'm going to miss being able to approach publicly accessible toilets without apprehension.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Won't Miss #16 - the smell of oden

Oden is a popular Japanese conglomeration of foodstuffs boiled in broth. There are plenty of people who adore it. In fact, aside from myself and my husband, I haven't met anyone who doesn't like it. In the winter, 7-11 and other convenience stores as well as open air food stalls sell this stuff. To me, it smells like someone has been boiling an old sock that has had a fish left in it for a week.

I won't miss the smell of oden wafting throughout the shops.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Will Miss #15 - weird stuff in people's windows

I grew up in the countryside in Pennsylvania. What is more, I grew up around people who didn't want to use their homes as anything but a display of their taste and maturity (or whatever version of those things suited their sensibility). Around Tokyo, I often see strange things in people's windows. One of the people in an apartment not too far from mine has a large collection of dead batteries that he or she is stacking up in the window. Another has an enormous collection of shoe boxes. The fact that people put these in front of the window may mean they have no other storage, or they want us to notice. Either way, it's always interesting.

I'll miss people unabashedly displaying weird things in their windows.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Won't Miss #15 - oppressive humidity

The humidity in Tokyo lasts for months (usually starting in May and not letting up until some time in August... if you're lucky). It's so thick, you feel like you're pushing through it when you walk. It isn't so much that I haven't experienced humid weather on occasion before, but in Tokyo it is relentless. It's there at night. It's there during the day. It's there every day. It makes modestly warm days feel oppressively stuffy and warm. There is no relief in sight aside from being in the shower (where its wet enough to make you not feel the humidity) or giving in and guiltily using the air conditioner. During the humid months, nothing wants to dry - your bath towel, your dishes, your laundry, etc.

I will not miss feeling like I live deep in a bog for several months of the year.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Will Miss #14 - (literal) global perspective shift

Every once in awhile, I'll run across something small and fairly mundane which illustrates beautifully that we're all subtly steered toward a particular mindset as a result of the environment we grow up in. Every map you see printed in a textbook or on a wall map in America shows the U.S. and Europe prominently. In Japan, the globe is shifted so that Japan is the center of view.

I'll miss these little reminders that we all grow up subtly educated in the idea that we are the center of everything.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Won't Miss #14 - maid fetishists

Women are put into service in cutesy uniforms in order to cater to the fetishes of men who get off on women in subservient roles. They often treat the men like children in order to pamper them and I find that pretty creepy.

I won't miss this sexist and fetishistic display.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Will Miss #13 - Akihabara's mega-stores

Akihabara has a big concentration of electronics mega-stores. If you want to be dazzled by arrays of computers, televisions, or anything that you plug into a wall socket, you can go there and stroll around the equivalent of mechanical porn. If you're a tech geek, it's like Mecca.

I'll miss this uber-concentrated access to all things electronic.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Won't Miss #13 - cell phone zombies

I know that people all over the world are in love with their cell phones. However, the way in which people in Tokyo believe that it is okay to stare like hypnotized zombies at their phones' display rather than look where they are going makes it troublesome to innocent bystanders. People ride their bikes and do texting. They stop dead in the middle of streets and cramped stairwells blocking traffic as they gawk and peck. These people are not only an inconvenience others, but also endanger them in such a densely populated and busy city.

I won't miss the people who are so obsessed with their phones that they behave discourteously to everyone around them.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Will Miss #12 - the kitler at the local liquor shop

There's a kitler that has been waltzing around a liquor shop not too far from our home for a very long time. The friendly people who own the shop even put up a humorous plaque showing a picture of the cat and proclaiming it the shacho (president) of the company.

I love this cat and the charm and humor that its presence brings to a normally boring business, and I will surely miss it.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Won't Miss #12 - my ghastly water heater

Older Japanese buildings were not built with hot water capability in the kitchen. This wasn't because hot water wasn't available in homes since my building is only 25 years old and Japan certainly had the plumbing for hot water heating a quarter century ago. It was because it wasn't seen as a necessity to have hot water available in the kitchen. I'm not sure if they washed dishes with cold water or if they scooped hot water from the bath tub with a basin and carried it to the kitchen, but kitchen hot water heating didn't used to be installed. In those types of older buildings, a hideous-looking box is sometimes mounted above the sink to heat water and pump it through a hose.

I won't miss this awful contraption or how it seems to develop problems or break down every few years.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Will Miss #11 - city living fantasy

There's something romantic and exciting about having nearly anything you might want a short distance from your home. The scale and scope of it all can be invigorating when you pause and take it all in. There's also a sense of being connected with humanity in a way that you wouldn't if you weren't surrounded by so many people. It's a bit like the opposite of being "one with nature".

I'll miss the romantic sense of living in a big city.

Won't Miss #11 - city living reality

The reality of living in a metropolis is that it is crowded, over-stimulating, expensive, dirty, soul-draining, and noisy. In Tokyo in particular, it seems as though every block has a new building going up or an old one coming down. Someone is always banging, drilling, or scaring up dust. There's also a lot of pollution.

I won't miss the reality of living in a concrete jungle.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Will Miss #10 - weird English T-shirts

Part of the funniness of seeing a Japanese person wearing a shirt with strange English is the underlying notion that they may not have any idea how funny or weird it is (and definitely don't care). While you see people wearing funny shirts back home, the humor is undercut to some extent by the fact that they intend to communicate their humor to you. The latter carries a hint of irony, pretense, or trying too hard, the former of entertaining obliviousness.

I'll miss seeing people wear English T-shirts with incongruously funny messages on them.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Won't Miss #10 - contempt for English teachers

If you decide you enjoy teaching in Japan and would like to continue to do such work, the members of the expatriate community will shower you with contempt and prejudice. The members of the Japanese community will underestimate your skill and tell you repeatedly that your job is "easy" because you speak English. The truth is that teaching is tiring work that requires a lot of skill to do well and that it's unfair to paint all teachers as lazy and unskilled monkeys trying to do what comes easiest.

I won't miss the arrogance and/or ignorance behind the contempt for English teachers.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Will Miss #9 - escalator etiquette

The unspoken rule on escalators is that you stand to the left so that anyone in a hurry can walk up or down on the right. You very rarely see someone clogging up the works by standing abreast. While this type of etiquette may be practiced in other countries, it is observed unwaveringly by the Japanese. Anyone who unintentionally violates the rule by not standing as far off to the left as possible when you pass by is also likely to apologize to you for the inconvenience.

I'll miss this scrupulous adherence to good escalator manners.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Won't Miss #9- crowded public transporation

Public transportation is almost always uncomfortable in a variety of ways. Because Tokyo has a high population density, taking a train or subway frequently involves standing on the train as it shakes, sways and swerves and doing so with people who look nice in their suits, but sometimes don't smell so great. Walking through the stations can also be a serious hassle as you attempt to navigate the packs of people intent on never looking where they're going.

I won't miss the tiresome nature of crowded public transportation.

Will Miss #8 - convenient public transportation

Japan has one of the best (if not the best) public transportation systems in the world. You can travel nearly anywhere using trains, subways, buses, and taxis. The trains are usually (but not always) on time, clean, and come at relatively close intervals.

I'll miss being able to grab some form of public transportation any time I need to leave my neighborhood.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Won't Miss #8 - vending machine blight

While the weird vending machines are a curiosity, the overwhelming majority of vending machines in Tokyo are an endless array of drink machines. Sure, it's kind of neat the first time you see hot soup or coffee sold in them in winter or beverages you rarely see back home sold in them. That lasts a short while and then you just see ugly, lighted refrigerators wasting energy, blocking pedestrian walking space and bike parking space and making the view cluttered and unappealing.

I won't miss seeing so many vending machines uselessly placed everywhere.

Will Miss #7 - weird vending machines

During my time in Japan, I've seen some pretty strange things sold in vending machines. From warm bread in a can to umbrellas to condoms and sex toys, you run across some very strange things which can be purchased by putting coins or bills in slots. The odd machines are fascinating.

I'll miss the strange things I occasionally find in vending machines.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Won't Miss #7 - urban ugliness

Most people who see pictures from Japan see only the good stuff, but the truth is that most neighborhoods are really ugly. Tokyo is one of the most poorly designed and aesthetically unappealing cities in the world. It's full of ugly concrete boxes for the most part. Unless you're a tourist or make an effort to hit beautiful spots in your free time, your time in Japan is mainly going to be filled with dingy, ugly streets full of cheaply constructed buildings.

I won't miss the ugly, boxy concrete jungle.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Will Miss #6 - welcome cats (maneki neko)

When I first arrived in Japan, I loved seeing the statues and figures of cats beckoning to customers to welcome them into the establishment. The statues are cute, but not painfully, annoyingly cute. The standard statue design is both impassive and oddly warm.

While I've grown so used to them that they feel mundane, I think I'll miss them when I leave.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Won't Miss #6 - overpriced imports

There are actually a lot of imports in Tokyo these days. From fabric softener to food to paper products, you can get a vast array of items from abroad. Unfortunately, most of the treats and trinkets from home are two to three times (or more) as expensive in Japan as they would be back home. I understand that importing costs more, but there is a huge mark-up on such goods, particularly when you consider that they are cheaper in their country of origin than similar products made in Japan.

I won't miss the high cost of getting stuff which reminds me of home.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Will Miss #5 - funky shop names

There are a great many shop names with nonsensical English (or katakana English) names. We're never sure if they make their mismatched choices intentionally or if it's just the whim of the owner because he likes the sound of the English. Either way, these are always good for a chuckle.

I'll miss the number of shops with funny names.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Won't Miss #5 - police harrasssment

The police in Japan have broad and vaguely defined powers. The laws are sometimes intentionally contradictory to allow the police to act in an arbitrary fashion should they choose to do so. The police routinely target foreigners for (not so) random bicycle theft and identification checks and also search the baggage (backpacks, briefcases, handbags, etc.) of both Japanese and foreign people alike at big traffic areas for knives or other weapons in an overreaction to the random stabbings which have occurred with increasing frequency in Japan. Lately, they've also been drug testing foreigners without cause.

I won't miss being at the mercy of a police force that doesn't have to respect the rights of its citizens and non-citizens.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Will Miss #4 - courier services

Courier services (aka takkyubin) in Tokyo are awesome. If one orders from Amazon Japan, it's not uncommon for orders to arrive the next day. You can also easily send anything via takkyubin by taking it to a big chain convenience store. If all of that weren't cool enough, it's also very reasonably priced.

I'm going to miss the speed, professionalism and low price of the courier services.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Won't Miss #4 - going to immigration

Going to the immigration office in Tokyo is always stressful, tiresome, and time-consuming. You have to wait at least an hour and go twice. If you're in the area which requires you to go to the main immigration office, you also have to travel into the middle of nowhere. If you're "lucky", the trip will "only" cost you three hours. What's worse, there's always a sense that you could be rejected and your life as you know it could completely fall apart because you are refused permission to remain here.

I won't miss visiting the immigration office to get my visa renewed.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Will Miss #3 - my landlord

My husband and I hit the jackpot apartment-wise when we moved to Japan. Our landlord and his wife live next door and are unfailingly polite, helpful, and do their best to accommodate our needs whenever we have a change or repair. They also respect our privacy meticulously. He speaks English quite well which has put all of our negotiations for rent contract renewal on our terms linguistically rather than his. We've lived in the same place for 20 years in large part because our landlord is so great.

I will miss having such a kind, helpful and supportive landlord.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Won't Miss #3 - rude older men

Some older men in Tokyo navigate the crowded city as if everyone except other older men must yield to them in a variety of ways. Some of them walk head-on into packed crowds and expect everyone to get out of their way, sit on trains with legs spread wide open (taking up a disproportionate amount of space), and will bang or bump intentionally and unapologetically into you in shops if you are even partially in their path because they believe they have the right of way at all times.

I won't miss the portion of the population of older men who rudely walk around as if they were entitled to have their way at all times.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Will Miss #2 - the herd mentality

When you are a part of a large group of people waiting to partake of something new or popular, it adds to the excitement and sense of triumphant acquisition when you finally achieve your goal. Walking into Krispy Kreme and buying a donut is a hum-drum event. Waiting with a lot of people who are keen to have one for an hour or more adds to the atmosphere of anticipation and novelty.

I will miss how mundane things can seem special because people will invest so much time and effort in achieving them.

Won't Miss #2 - the herd mentality

When something becomes very popular in Japan, people tend to flock to it and huge lines are the result. That means that if you are curious about something or genuinely like it, you have to wait a very long time in a line (sometimes for hours) to sample a popular food or service.

I won't miss waiting in long lines just to try something new or popular.