Monday, August 31, 2009

Will Miss #35 - being a "millionaire"

There's something really cool about saying you made "millions" last year. In America, chances are I'll never be able to talk about making a million anything (unless it's pennies). In Japan, even relatively modestly paid people gross around 2.5-3 million yen a year.

I'll miss the psychological satisfaction of being a "millionaire" of some sort, even when it doesn't really mean all that much in real world wealth.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Won't Miss #35 - not having a proper oven

People who live in houses often have proper ovens, but it's relatively rare for rental apartments to have them. In fact, you are lucky if you actually get a built-in gas table and don't have to provide your own (we provided our own). Our oven is a dual-purpose microwave/oven which works pretty well, but it is very small. You can make a relatively small chicken in it and one square cookie sheet which will hold about average 9 cookies, but forget about cooking a big bird or baking two sheets of cookies at once.

I won't miss the limitations on my cooking imposed by not having a proper oven.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Will Miss #34 - Japanese political advertisments

Japanese political advertisements are often a source of amusement for both my husband and I. Someone, somewhere who designs a portion of these things believes that horribly staged, ridiculous poses convey the notion that one should elect these people to positions of power.

I'll miss these funny political posters.

Won't Miss #34 - Japanese politicians

All politics can be boring, frustrating and tedious, but Japanese politics seems worse. Part of the reason for this is that the politicians commit crimes and engage in cronyism and nepotism quite egregiously, but they continue to get re-elected. They also say the stupidest things like women are "baby machines". This can be attributed in part to voter apathy, but the truth is that I think most Japanese people feel politicians are all birds of a feather and that they are powerless to find a candidate who can change anything.

I won't miss Japanese politicians or politics.

(This post coincidentally came up near the election, but was written long before the election date was known!)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Will Miss #33 - weird KitKat flavors

Everyone knows about Japanese KitKats. Entire blogs and import businesses are set up around them. Frankly, I've sampled more than 50 varieties and more of them are "meh" than fabulous, but that's not really the point. The point is the variety and waiting to see if you are going to be shocked, appalled, or pleasantly surprised.

I'll miss all of the strange KitKats and the frequency with which they're released.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Won't Miss #33 - pet bottles, everywhere

Someone told the population in Tokyo that putting old PET bottles full of water around their property would stop cats from wandering onto their property and urinating. I think that cats are supposed to be put off by seeing their own reflection in the bottles. Because of this, you see rows of plastic bottles on walls, around property lines, and surrounding gardens. It looks stupid and ugly, and I sincerely doubt that it is effective.

I won't miss seeing organized garbage all over the place in a vain attempt to keep away cats.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Will Miss #32 - such clean people, the truth

In light of the previous post, one might wonder how urban areas stay so clean when people throw litter around. The truth is that someone is always cleaning up after everyone else. In particular, shopkeepers and janitorial staff for large buildings are sweeping, picking up, and keeping areas nice and clean on a regular basis. While many Japanese people don't respect the cleanliness of other people's spaces, they do preoccupy themselves with the appearance of their own spaces. As long as someone has enough respect for his business or home to keep it clean, the disrespectful and callous littering of others never has a chance to build up into a huge mess.

I'll miss this industrious cleaning and the results it brings.

Won't Miss #32 - such clean people, the lie

Both Japanese and non-Japanese alike remark on how clean Japan's big cities are, and this is true. Generally speaking, Tokyo is remarkably clean. The lie comes in when people attribute this cleanliness to some innate quality of the Japanese people. This is simply not true. I've seen more overt littering in Tokyo than I ever saw when I lived in America. Drink cans are left on the sidewalk, garbage is stuffed into the baskets of bicycles parked along the sidewalk, and people toss used tissues, plastic bags and receipts from convenience stores to the ground when there isn't a handy trash receptacle. In fact, the lack of public trash bins (aside from those in front of convenience stores) is part of what encourages the willy-nilly tossing of trash around. The lie is that Japanese people are clean in general.

I won't miss the repetition of this myth flying in the face of the reality I witness first hand.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Will Miss #31 - wooden boxes you drink out of

I don't drink alcohol of any sort, but I love the fact that the Japanese have a culture where they drink sake out of a wooden box. It's just a very cool idea and adds a certain earthiness to the imbibing. I'd love to buy a bunch of these boxes before returning and use them to plant stuff in. Well, I'd love it if every plant I ever tried to grow didn't die.

I'll miss those neat boxes that they drink out of and seeing them as a part of free sake offers on New Year's day.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Won't Miss #31 - culture of victim-hood

In Japan, the part of World War II that they talk about to the near exclusion of all else is the part where atomic bombs were dropped on them. The children aren't taught the full history of the war and Japan's role in the war as a brutal occupier of other Asian countries, an ally of the Axis powers, or as an aggressor toward the United States is very rarely (if ever) discussed. In essence, Japan almost always sees itself only as a victim of the war and ignores all else. While clearly the atomic bombs were terrible things, this doesn't erase the fact that Japan had a hand in some of the worst atrocities of the war and that they allied themselves with a culture led by a man with genocide as a goal.

I won't miss the pervasive culture of victim-hood and the willful ignorance of the complexity and complete history of the events which led to the dropping of the atomic bombs.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Will Miss #30 - saying anything in public

After you spend awhile in a country where the vast majority of people don't understand what you're saying, you start to lose the public speaking self-censorship that was second nature back home. You swear anywhere, anytime. You talk about your body's more disgusting output in ways you might not normally. And, you sometimes remark on the bad behavior or odors of people around you in a manner which you'd refrain from if you knew it might cause an altercation if they understood

I'll miss being able to freely express whatever I want, however I want.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Won't Miss #30 - Japanese cheese

There are two kinds of Japanese cheese. There is the real and the very expensive sort sold in tiny packages for insane prices, and there is processed cheese. Processed cheese, far and away, dominates the marketplace and real cheese is generally available only as cheddar, Gouda or mozzarella. For every dainty pack of real cheddar, there are at least 3 types of plastic-wrapped slices. The processed cheese isn't bad, but it isn't great.

I won't miss the sea of processed cheese and limited varieties and great expense of real cheese.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Brief Off-Topic Post

Some of the readers from my former personal blog mentioned that they would miss my recipes, so I thought I would mention that I will be posting new recipes on a blog I share with my friend called "Carl's Kitchen". I won't be posting regularly because I don't come up with new recipes that often, but if you want to see what's cooking in the flower's house, you can subscribe to Carl's Kitchen.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled programming. Thanks for reading!

Will Miss #29 - statues of the colonel

For reasons I've never been clear on, there are plastic or plaster statues of Colonel Saunders in front of nearly every KFC in Japan. During certain holidays, they put costumes on him (Santa, traditional Japanese garb). There's something both a little creepy and cool about this welcoming mannequin.

I'll miss the weirdness of seeing the Colonel immortalized in cheap materials and in high gloss paint.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Won't Miss #29 - "Japan Has 4 Seasons"

Guess the season being shown in the picture above. It'll be tough since Tokyo looks like this 2/3 of the year.*

One of the earliest assertions about Japan's uniqueness that Japanese people will make when you talk to them about their country is that "Japan has 4 seasons." For some reason, most of them think their country is the only one in the world that experiences an appreciably different weather pattern in each season. This is ludicrous enough, but what makes it sillier is that not everywhere in Japan actually experiences 4 distinctly different seasons. Tokyo's 4 seasons appear to be fall, summer, rainy season, and cherry blossom viewing season, but that's not what Japanese people mean by "Japan has 4 seasons."

I won't miss hearing this statement being asserted again and again.

*It's winter.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Will Miss #28 - copyright infringement

The copyright laws are different in Japan so you find that the ludicrously long duration on some copyrights by big businesses (*cough*Disney*cough*) in America are not an issue here. Also, Japan isn't as litigious as the U.S. so relatively small acts of infringement tend not to get copyright lawyers' undies wadded up into such big bunches. Knowing that big business can't buy the political influence to gut fair use somewhere in the world is gratifying on a certain level.

I'll miss seeing things that give me a sense that someone somewhere is sticking it to the man in a small way, and the man just can't be bothered to do anything about it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Won't Miss #28 - aggressive drivers

I once had a student write in his homework that cars were the "kings" of the road so pedestrians had better yield to them. By law in Japan, pedestrians have the right of way, but you wouldn't know it by the behavior of most drivers. When the pedestrian lights change to "walk", drivers are flooring it over the crosswalk for quite some time. Cars also zoom out of super narrow side streets with no visibility without pause at the area where the sidewalk intersects with the street when the safe thing to do is ease up to the sidewalk, check for pedestrians and creep forward. Generally speaking, cars can be incredibly aggressive and dangerous in Tokyo.

I won't miss drivers who feel that they can force their way through even when they don't have the right of way.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Will Miss #27 - 100 yen shops

I try to avoid 100 yen shops in Japan, but not because there is anything wrong with them. I try to avoid them so I won't buy all of the cheap, cool stuff tucked away inside. They have vast sections of office supplies, cheap interior decor items, garden supplies, home improvement items, and much more. Some of them also sell food. I know there are dollar stores back in America, but they don't tend to have the same type of items as the Japanese shops do.

I'll miss browsing the 100 yen shops, and picking up the occasional bargain.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Won't Miss #27 - being stared at

I realize that Japanese people can't help but look at people who are appreciably different from themselves, and I don't begrudge them a quick glance. However, a lot of people will just stare long and hard at me as if they are viewing me from behind a one-way mirror where I can't see them, but they can see me. Even staring right back at them won't dissuade them from their gawking.

I definitely won't miss being treated like a dumb animal in a zoo exhibit.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Will Miss #26 - humorous misspellings

I've seen pictures of plenty of misspelled signs in America, but they don't carry the same charm as those in Japan. In America, it's just sad that people aren't educated enough to spell basic words properly. In Japan, it's smile-worthy in the same way that a child misspeaking a word can be. It's an innocent error based on language differences rather than a product of ignorance and laziness.

I'll miss the humor and charm of the misspelled words in Japan.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Won't Miss #26 - idols

There seems to be a never-ending supply of cookie-cutter idols in the manufactured "star" business. I know the same occurs all around the world, but the Japanese ones are less polished than those I've had the misfortune to catch a glimpse of from other countries. When you see them dance on T.V., they look like they're fighting some sort of rhythm impairment disorder. They also all look pretty much the same and sing quite similarly. They are like milk in that they seem to reach their expiration date rapidly and require a fresh replacement after a short time.

I won't miss the Japanese idols and the culture surrounding them.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Will Miss #25 - Japanese postal service

I've had one epically stupid experience with the Japanese postal service and hundreds of relatively mundane good experiences. The main ward post office is open late at night and on weekends so you can send and receive items after work with ease. The Japanese postal service also is extremely reliable. My husband and I have sent literally hundreds of packages and letters to and from Japan and not one has ever been lost. What is more, Japan Post still offers seamail service so heavy items can be sent more economically by boat (while America has discontinued its surface rate service).

I'll miss the reliability, extended hours, and service of the Japanese postal service.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Won't Miss #25 - mailbox junkmail bombing

In America, it's illegal for people to walk up to your mailbox and just cram advertising in it. This is the reason why restaurants in big cities hang menus on your door handle rather than cram them in the mailbox. In Japan, anyone can cram anything they like into your mailbox. If you go away on vacation for a week, you're likely to return to a box that is bursting at the seams with advertising of all types.

I won't miss having to weed out the crap from my mailbox everyday or sorting through it all to find my real mail.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Will Miss #24 - public pajama wearers

Japanese people on rare occasions go out in public in their pajamas. The first time I saw this was a young man and his girlfriend wearing their pajamas to a convenience store around 11:00 pm. I guess that they wanted a snack and didn't feel like going to the trouble of changing. I've also seen it on occasion in other circumstances, and I always get a kick out of their willingness to put themselves out there in a relatively vulnerable (and atypical) state of dress.

I'll miss the sense of amusement I feel when I occasionally see someone out in public in pajamas.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Won't Miss #24 - bigoted taxis

Though it is rarer in hard economic times, some taxi drivers in Tokyo will not pick up foreign passengers. This happens more frequently later in the evening or when there is high demand for taxis. They have excuses that range from the rational to the ridiculous, but if any such excuse were offered in a Western country, it'd be labeled for what it is.

I won't miss this overtly bigoted behavior on the part of taxi drivers.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Will Miss #23 - relationship with my students

My students are all nice people who come to my apartment and share their lives. English teachers don't just teach English. They also act as counselors and confidantes. You aren't exactly friends with your students, but you are often privy to the same level of information intimacy as a friend might be. For Japanese people, their English teachers are an information dead end and they can tell you things they can't tell other Japanese.

There's also a huge element of learning about Japanese culture through my interactions with my students that goes beyond the superficial things like holidays, rituals, and routines. The thought processes of Japanese people on a daily basis take shape and become clear.

I'll miss the meaningful communication with Japanese people that comes to me via my relationship with my students.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Won't Miss #23 - people shouting outside of shops

All too often, people stand outside of shops in Japan shouting about the products sold inside. More often than not, they tell you the same thing over and over and over again. They also often relay information which is amply demonstrated by signs or obvious visual cues. This cacophony just makes being near the store for any length of time an annoying experience. They often drive me away from the stores they hope to lure me into.

I won't miss the aural clutter of people yelling the same thing again and again outside of stores.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Will Miss #22 - station shopping malls

In most train stations, there are shopping areas of varying sizes. If you're lucky, a transfer which involves walking a long distance will include a plethora of interesting places to peek into. While I rarely stop and shop, it's still cool to see what sort of places surround you. Sometimes there are odd little places that will take you by surprise and sometimes there are mundane places which are more interesting than usual because of some quirk in the display style, naming, etc.

I'll miss the shopping areas like this and the interesting shops.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Won't Miss #22 - pretty, but bland pastries

There are a lot of impressive looking pastries being sold in Japan. They're like beautiful little trinkets, but a lot of them are pretty flavorless. I'm told time and again by Japanese people that they like subtle flavors, and I think the cake shops reflect this preference. I'm not just talking about a lack of sugar, but also a lack of strong chocolate, strawberry, coffee, etc. flavors in cakes.

I won't miss the gorgeous cakes which usually let me down in the flavor department (and cost a fair amount).

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Will Miss #21 - not carrying a purse

I haven't carried a purse since my first year in Japan. Very quickly you realize that you have two choices. You can carry an endless parade of shopping bags which dig into your fingers over the long haul (and there are lots of long hauls in Tokyo) or you can just wear a backpack everywhere and mule your stuff around more comfortably. While most Japanese people favor fashionable shopping bags and totes, most foreigners opt for the comfort of the backpack. Because of this, I haven't needed to trouble myself with a handbag for the last two decades.

I'll miss not having to mess about with a purse.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Won't Miss #21 - roaches

Perhaps I was lucky in my pre-Japan life, but I never lived with roaches in the U.S. In Tokyo, no matter what I do, I see a roach or two each summer and they always show up at the worst time. For instance, one slowly crawled across my wall during a private English lesson. Others crawl across the kitchen wall at 3:00 am so that seeing one and hunting it down and killing it creates a huge sleep-stopping adrenaline rush.

I won't miss dealing with these scurrying unwanted guests.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Will Miss #20 - Danish bread

(that's my husband, who takes most of the pictures for this blog, reflected in the glass)

About a 4 minute bike ride from our apartment, there's a small German bakery. They make a little round bread which is swirled with butter and just enough honey to make it lightly sweet. They call it "Danish bread" and it's incredible when it's warm and fresh. The texture is fluffy, but also flaky. I don't imagine that I'm going to have a bakery within walking or biking distance when I go back to America, and I also doubt they'll have something which is so good without being a sugar bomb.

I'm going to miss the little bakery's proximity and Danish bread.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Won't Miss #20 - wedding extortion

The wedding industry is a beast almost everywhere that it exists as a money-making enterprise, but the Japanese have added an extra layer of pain to it. "Guests" are expected to pay for a party they didn't choose to throw, but are often obliged to attend. Relatively young, single, fully employed people are expected to fork over 30,000 yen (about $300 USD) for the privilege of attending the reception. Older people and relatives are expected to hand over even more. Most people don't even attend the actual wedding.

I won't miss the fact that guests are expected to pay for other people's wedding parties.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Will Miss #19 - New Year's being a true holiday

Back home, I never felt much at all about New Year's. It just seemed like a lame excuse to party, get drunk, and make resolutions that you knew you weren't going to keep. It was a second-rate holiday after days like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Halloween. While I've never been hugely enthusiastic about New Year's in Japan, I do enjoy that it is a real holiday here and tend to investigate the goings on about the neighborhood. The atmosphere feels special.

I think I'll miss the fact that New Year's is a proper holiday.