Saturday, October 31, 2009

Will Miss #67 - wagashi

Traditional Japanese sweets, wagashi, come in many shapes, sizes, flavors and colors. One of my favorites are the types that are covered in soft mochi (pounded rice cake) and have a sweet, soft filling. The mochi itself is rather bland and forms a chewy wrapper for the stuff inside. The texture and flavor combination is quite unique, and I really enjoy it.

I'll miss access to fresh wagashi-style sweets.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Won't Miss #67 - the nationality guessing game

A lot of foreign folks complain about being asked if they are American, but the truth is that as an actual American, I'm often asked if I'm something else. Most often, I'm asked if I'm British, followed by Canadian, and on one rare occasion, French. Occasionally, I am asked if I'm American, but the number of times is surprisingly low.

I won't miss the way that perfect strangers think they can guess my nationality by my looks or the way they think it's okay to just walk up and ask me if I am from a particular country.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Will Miss #66 - kiddie caravans

It is not the least bit uncommon to see large groups of young kids being escorted en masse around the neighborhood. Sometimes they all have the same backpack. Sometimes the same type of hat, and sometimes the same clothes. This sort of orderly mass movement of youngsters is something I never witnessed back home and the way in which they are dressed to identify them as a part of the group is something I will always associate with Japan.

I'll miss seeing the kiddy caravans walking about the neighborhood.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Won't Miss #66 - Japanese pizza

Japanese pizza is so famously bad that I hardly feel the need to explain this. It's not that the toppings, like mayonnaise, corn, tuna, and various fish parts that resemble alien beings, are freaky and weird, though that is a part of it. It's simply that it's so exceptionally rare to get a pizza which is made well from top to bottom. The crusts are usually poor quality and the cheese is rarely good (or even real). The sauce is never anything to write home about. With exceptionally "blah" pizza basics, you can't expect anything good even if you grow to enjoy the esoteric toppings (which I haven''t).

I won't miss Japanese pizza, not for a second.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Will Miss #65 - cheap, excellent internet access

When I first came to Japan, it was quite a bit behind the curve on internet access. It was a few years behind American on basic dial-up and ISDN. At some point in time, Japan went into high gear on getting the infrastructure in place and now access is faster, cheaper, and better than in the United States. Upgrades also appear to come along more often and be of a greater order of magnitude.

I'm going to miss my cheap, high speed, largely reliable internet connection.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Won't Miss #65 - little or no public seating

For a city where people rely mainly on walking to get where they're going, Tokyo has very few public benches or places to sit down for a short while and take a load off. When I first moved here, there was the occasional, rare bench, but all of them were removed at some point. Now, you're lucky to find some architectural element that you can rest on for awhile. In fact, some areas are specifically designed to make sitting down uncomfortable to discourage people from resting on them.

I won't miss the absence of places to rest your tired feet in a city that tends to require a lot of lost shoe leather to get around.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Will Miss #64 - Western celebrity's Japanese

There's something deliciously satisfying about listening to Jessica Simpson saying, "konnichiwa, Jessica Simpson desu" and "say goodbye to your nikibi" while hawking expensive pimple cream to the Japanese. When a foreign celebrity does a commercial in Japan, they often gargle out a word or two in Japanese. You can tell very little time was spent getting them to learn the words, though some are worse than others in their pronunciation.

I'll miss the amusement I get from hearing celebrities uttering out a few carefully rehearsed and often awkward words in Japanese for commercials.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Won't Miss #64 - working Christmas day

Every year I've spent in Japan, I've known that Christmas day won't be a national holiday and that my husband and I will be working. It shouldn't be a big deal, especially at my age, but it always makes me a little melancholy to find myself working as if it were just another day on December 25. It's not that I'm a Christian and it's a holy day to me, but rather having a lifetime of experiences that have shaped the notion that this is a very special day when everyone is home together celebrating.

I won't miss having to work on Christmas day.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Will Miss #63 - plastic food

When I first arrived in Japan, the plastic food on display in front of restaurants was extremely helpful in letting me know what sort of dishes were going to be available if I went inside. Now, I can read most of the menus and cards, but the plastic food itself is still often helpful in knowing about presentation and style. The amazing thing is that most of the time, the plastic version is a fairly accurate version of the actual dishes.

I'll miss seeing the plastic food in front of restaurants.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Won't Miss #63 - no room at the inn

Though it isn't nearly as obvious or omnipresent as it once was, many landlords still do not welcome foreigners. When we first arrived about two decades ago, there were signs in real estate agencies (who in Japan arrange for rental contracts) saying, "no foreigners, no pets, and no prostitutes." These days, there aren't as many signs, but the best rental deals (especially cheap places) are often off-limits to foreigners. More often than not, the places that welcome foreigners are those which offer the types of accommodation most Japanese people would not accept like large, shared housing with relatively high rent for the space provided or simply small, expensive places that are less attractive to the Japanese.

I won't miss knowing that if I moved, I'd almost certainly have to deal with a lot of discrimination and have limited options.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Will Miss #62 - mega foods

Big, obscene amounts of food are sold all over the world, and I'm sure that upon returning to America, I'll see even more of it than I see in Japan. Seeing a mega-food item in America feels grotesque and wasteful. Seeing it in Japan is amusing because most of the people are fairly petite and it's funny to consider them tucking into one of the monstrosities you occasionally see on offer.

I'll miss the sense that people who look like they'd be hard-pressed to eat much at all are buying gigantic food concoctions when I see ads for new mega-foods.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Won't Miss #62 - limited lunch meat selection

Sandwiches aren't a big part of food culture in Japan, but people do eat them if you believe that convenience store food is purchased and ingested. Also, markets carry lunch meat, but only in very limited varieties. You can find ham almost anywhere, and occasionally various types of salami, but things like turkey, chicken, etc. are nowhere to be found in sandwich-ready form. The main problem for me is that most of the lunch meat you can get is very, very fatty.

I won't miss having so few options when it comes to lunch meat, and especially having no access to lean meat.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Will Miss #61 - "go home kids" music

Everyday around 5:00 pm, some unknown and unseen force in my neighborhood plays a little tune. I've been told that this music is played at that point in time to remind kids who are outside playing to go home. I will always associate this daily public music with life in Japan. The first month that I stayed with my boyfriend (now husband) in Tokyo, I heard this music everyday while he was at work and I waited for him in his apartment. It somehow became linked to my missing him and now it always makes me remember how I felt at that time.

I'll miss the sense of benevolent paternalism and strange sense of melancholy that hearing this music always brings to mind.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Won't Miss #61 - aggressive bike bell ringers

About 90% of people on bicycles are generally not too obnoxious, but there is a minority which feels that the sidewalk belongs to them and aggressively ring their bells from a mile away in a vain attempt to clear the path ahead. They do this so they can barrel down the street without stopping. Some older men actually ring their bells constantly with a few seconds between each ring as they head down the street. They are the worst because they do this whether someone is in their way or not.

I won't miss these people who lay on the bicycle bell because they feel the roads and sidewalks belong to them and everyone should be making way for them at all times.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Will Miss #60 - food that looks like (other) Japanese food

When I was in the U.S., I saw food that was meant to look like other things, but often it was designed for kids or, if it was designed for adults, it was pretty cheesy or tacky. In Japan, there is a plethora of highly-detailed and relatively sophisticated food that resembles other types of food. For instance, trays of chocolates that resemble trays of sushi or candy designed to look like a bento.

I'll miss these well-designed and clever food items designed to look like other kinds of Japanese food.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Won't Miss #60 - heat that never quits

high temperatures are on top, lows on the bottom, and the current in the upper right

Every summer, I read all of the advice about how to survive the heat without an air conditioner, and laugh. Things like opening your windows at night to cool your home down and closing them and curtains during the day to keep the heat out only works if you actually experience a cool down at night. In Tokyo in summer, the nights don't even approach being cool. With "lows" in the high 70's and highs in the high 80's, it's a constant state of hot.

I won't miss dealing with the heat that never quits for months on end.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Will Miss #59 - kimono wearers

You don't often see women wearing kimono around Tokyo except on special holidays (like adulthood day in January) or when people are attending special events. I've been told that kimono are hot, heavy, difficult to walk in, and almost impossible to put on by yourself. Still, seeing Japanese women walk around in them is a reminder that the culture retains its exotic nature and most women look great in them.

I'll miss occasionally seeing Japanese women out and about in their kimono.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Won't Miss #59 - gaijin "experts" on Japan

Every foreigner you meet or who blogs is an expert on Japan. People who come here for a few weeks for a vacation feel they know enough to inform you about the people and the culture. People who have lived here for a few years think they have the inside scoop. I've lived here for over 20 years, and there are still new things I'm learning every week. That being said, I think it's fair to say that I know the ropes better than people who have been here less than half that time, but they don't believe or refuse to accept the things I have to say as having validity because they haven't had such experiences. You can't tell these experts anything because they're already certain they know it all.

I won't miss these misinformed and inexperienced windbags and their smug, close-minded attitudes.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Will Miss #58 - freaking out kids

Japanese kids are far more likely to stare, point, or obviously direct their attention toward foreigners. They have less control over their behavior, and frankly, a lot of their parents don't do much to break them of their bad habits. Given that kids are acting impulsively, you have several options to deal with them. You can ignore them. You can pointlessly get angry, or you can do something innocuous which 80% of the time will freak them out. I've taken to smiling, waving at them, and saying, "hello". More often than not, this will send them running away from you in the opposite direction. Sometimes they'll wave back and then run, and sometimes they'll just flee in terror.

I'll miss being able to freak kids out like this merely by being friendly.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Won't Miss #58 - pachinko

I don't play pachinko and, in theory, I don't mind if other people do so. In practice, I hate pachinko parlors. They're always garishly designed and decorated so they're a visual blight. When you walk by them, someone is usually walking in or out and you get a huge blast of obnoxious noise from the machines and lots of stale, disgusting smoke. It's like walking past an ashtray the size of a swimming pool from an olfactory viewpoint. They're also a bit seedy because they are connected to illegal gambling and most of the people wasting their days in them aren't the creme de la creme of the citizenry.

I won't miss pachinko parlors.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Will Miss #57 - computer displays in trains

On the newer trains in Tokyo, there are computerized displays showing you ads and information about where the train is going and when it's going to get there. The newest ones are essentially little T.V. screens. While I'm no fan of seeing commercials, sometimes they're entertaining, but the more important point is that running ads on these displays is less wasteful than papering the train with new sets of printed ads on a regular basis.

I'll miss these cool hi-tech displays in the trains.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Won't Miss #57 - drunkenness as an excuse

If something rude, stupid, or reckless is done under the influence of alcohol, the Japanese are likely to see being drunk as a reasonable excuse. Their culture doesn't seem to hold people as responsible for their actions if they are drunk, even though the drinker made the choice to drink and put themselves in a position to harm others either mentally or physically.

I won't miss people viewing drunkenness as a reasonable excuse for bad acts.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Will Miss #56 - surgical masks

Despite how long I've lived here, I continue to be amused by the large numbers of people wearing surgical masks. The weave on the masks is too loose to keep out most viruses and doesn't do anything to protect people from catching the flu or colds. Though it will protect cold and flu sufferers from transmitting their diseases, most people aren't aware they're sick until they're symptomatic and past the contagious stage so it's like closing the barn door after the horse is long gone. The masks do help with pollen in the hayfever season, but you see many people wear them when there's a flu scare or the weather gets cold.

I'll miss seeing people pointlessly donning surgical masks.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Won't Miss #56 - slow payers

Easily 50% of the customers who are in line in front of me at shops seem to have no idea that some sort of money will be required after the cashier has rung up their goods. Some of them stand there in deep and solemn meditation and others engage in idle chit-chat until every item has passed the scanner and then, and only then, do they open their wallets or purses to begin the long and arduous task of burrowing for errant coins. I know this sometimes happens in other countries, but not with the frequency that it seems to occur in Japan.

I won't miss the frustratingly large number of people who live in their own world and keep other people waiting for service.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Will Miss #55 - mochi

It took me awhile to warm up to the idea of mochi, but now I'm a big fan. It's not so much about the flavor as the texture, though you can add various other sauces and powders to make it more interesting on the taste front.

I'll miss having mochi whenever I'm in the mood and in a variety of ways.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Won't Miss #55 - hanko

The Japanese don't use signatures on official documents. They use a personal seal (inkan) which has been registered with the local government office called a hanko. Every time we sign official documents in Japan, someone asks us if we have a hanko. We don't, and it gets tiresome dealing with the clucking and disapproving wind sucking that results from our saying we don't have one. Yes, we could have gotten and registered a hanko, but there is a security risk. No one can steal your signature, but they can steal your seal.

I won't miss being asked about having a hanko and having to cram my signature into tiny spaces designed for the seals on various documents.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Will Miss #54 - harsh no smoking rules

When we first arrived in Japan, it was a smoker's paradise. Every restaurant had a small, ineffective no smoking area and a big smoking area. People walked on the streets smoking and puffing in your face and burning you with errant cigarettes. Now, there are far fewer smoker friendly establishments and many neighborhoods have smoking prohibitions in place on the streets.

I will miss the way in which Japan has become so much more of a non-smoker's paradise.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Won't Miss #54 - washing my trash

Part of dealing with trash in Japan involves having to process it. You have to wash out Styrofoam and plastic containers. PET bottles must be washed, have their labels and caps removed and then crushed. Cardboard milk cartons must be washed and cut so that they can be flattened. I don't mind the crushing and cutting, but I am tired of washing garbage along with my dishes, especially in light of the fact that industrial level cleaning would create far less water waste and ultimately be better for the environment than making individuals wash recyclable items.

I won't miss constantly washing my trash, especially when I have to wash dishes by hand.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Will Miss #53 - funky sculpture thing

On one of my neighborhood's backstreets, there is a tubular sculpture that has been there as long as I can remember. I'm not sure what its purpose is, but it serves several. Kids play on it by climbing it and hanging off of it. Adults (including me) comfortably sit in the dip in the loop. And, it adds visual interest to a relatively mundane area.

I'll miss this little sculpture where one would least expect to find such a thing.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Won't Miss #53 - that darn cat

Okay, I get it. Hello Kitty and all of her little pals are cute, but enough is enough. I've seen that cat everywhere for two decades now and now the only thing that comes to mind is "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream." Once an image's exposure in a culture is so saturated, it simply fails to have much of an impact anymore.

I won't miss seeing that darn cat everywhere.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Will Miss #52 - getting around by bike

While parking for any length of time is difficult, being able to get around by bike is pretty appealing because it is legal to travel on the sidewalks in most areas of Tokyo. That means you don't have to compete with cars and worry about getting run down. You get exercise while you run errands. The cost of maintaining a bike is low, and you can pay more attention to your surroundings. In fact, it's one of the best ways to explore neighborhoods in Japan without your feet killing you.

I'll miss the pleasure of getting around by bicycle.

Won't Miss #52 - bicycle parking problems

Bike rent-a-cops load illegally parked bicycles onto their truck. They'll be taken to an impound lot and people will have to pay about $30 to get them back.

For a country that is trying hard to reduce emissions, it sure is hostile to bicycle parking and therefore makes using a bike less appealing. When I first arrived in Japan, I could ride and park my bike anywhere. Now, I can't park it anywhere for more than 15 minutes without risk of having it tagged by the cops and then impounded a short while later. While there are a few paid parking spaces (100 yen/a dollar a day), most of them are far from the stations or hot spots or packed to the gills by 8:00 am.

I won't miss having to worry about having my bicycle taken away by the cops any time I use it to go anywhere because of pointless restrictions on when and where you can park.