Friday, April 30, 2010

Won't Miss #163 - Japanese artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners in Japan are expensive, usually not zero calorie, and are not as sweet as those back home. In part, I'm sure this is because the market for such things is not as large in Japan as it is in the West and tastes don't run toward as much sweetness as we want in the U.S. That being said, I personally use such sweeteners in my coffee and tea because I'd rather not bath my teeth in sugar to take the bitterness out of my beverages. I find the cost rather ridiculous, particularly since I need to use more of it for the same sweetness level as I'd get from American sweeteners.

I won't miss the high cost, poor selection, and weak potency of Japanese artificial sweeteners.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Will Miss #162 - tanuki

While it may seem that I like tanuki ("raccoon dogs") statues being present in Japan because it tickles my inner tittering juvenile nature, that's not actually the case. I like these statues because their presence says something about the Japanese people. It says that they aren't so hung up on seeing genitalia that they would nix the idea of putting a representation of an animal with a giant scrotum on their lawns. It's an indication that they aren't as prudish, childish or self-conscious as some other cultures which would have such a thing removed as an obscenity.

It says something about a certain type of maturity, and I'll miss that.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Won't Miss #162 - Japanese toilets

In this bathroom diagram from a train station, the solid toilets are Japanese-style and the ones with a hollow center are Western-style.

It probably surprises everyone that it has taken me 323 posts to get to the subject of Japanese toilets. They are often talked about (and reviled) by newcomers to Japan. What many neophytes don't know, but will soon realize, is that the Japanese also dislike squatting over these porcelain troughs in the floor to do their business. If there's a public restroom with a mix of Japanese and Western potties, the Western ones almost always fill up first. No one likes risking peeing on their shoes (or worse) or standing in the mess when those who used it previously missed the mark. The reason they persist despite the obvious preferences is obsessive concerns about cleanliness (having your bum touch the seat another bum has touched) and the fact that the Japanese toilets are easier to clean than the Western-style ones.

I won't miss Japanese-style toilets.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Will Miss #161 - beautiful, abundant, cheap tea sets

Because Japan is a country with a long history of tea-related culture, you can get teapots and tea sets nearly anywhere. In fact, you can buy some decent pots at 100 yen shops. Second-hand stores often have very nice sets of pots with cups or just cups that are obviously new (wrapped in their original paper and boxes). One near my home appears to have an endless supplier of them and it takes some self-control not to buy more than I need just to have some of the more unique ones as souvenirs. I got the set above from a freebie pile in front of a neighbor's house (and yes, it's also brand new).

If you're a fan of tea, you can get some very unique and beautiful pieces for nothing or practically nothing, and I'll miss that.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Won't Miss #161 - converting the calendar

That's right. It's March 1, and the year is 22.

The Japanese use both the Gregorian calendar years that Western folks use and their own system based on the number of years that the current emperor has been in power. The current emperor's calendar is referred to with "Heisei". This year is Heisei 22. Any time one does business with the government, and in some cases fills out various forms for other purposes, one has to use the Japanese system. Since it is used so infrequently, it's easy to lose track of the Japanese year and troublesome converting back and forth.

I won't miss having to convert the year to the emperor-based calendar system.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Will Miss #160 - Doutor

There are a lot of coffee shop chains in Tokyo including Starbucks and Starbucks wannabes. Before the Seattle coffee invasion, there was Doutor. Frankly, I've rarely had their coffee (and thought it was just "okay" when I did have it), but I love their freshly made, somewhat elegant, warm and not gut-busting sandwiches. They used to have a chicken bagel sandwich which had a soft, toasted bagel and white meat chicken with cucumber, lettuce and mayonnaise that was only about 260 calories. Now, they have relatively modest and tasty roast chicken calzone (241 calories!) which I'll indulge in on those rare days when I'm not up to making my own lunch. On those occasions when I have wanted a sandwich which was more than crust-less white bread with mayo-filled goo squirted into it (aka, the usual Japanese sandwiches), I've always gone to Doutor.*

I'll miss Doutor and its nice sandwiches.

*Note that I realize Subway has decent sandwiches, though the bread is nicer at Doutor, but there's no Subway in my area.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Won't Miss #160 - peeping Toms

I can't speak for everywhere in Japan, but Tokyo has issues with "peepers" or "peeping Toms". Women have to be very careful to keep their curtains drawn if they don't want some pervert to find a vantage point and watch them. I'm not sure why this is relatively common in Japan, but I suspect it has to do with a variety of social and (pop) cultural factors. Japanese men are notoriously "shy" about approaching women as compared to Western men and there is often a presentation of creepy, pervy behavior in manga, anime, television, and movies which inspires men with such inclinations to act out on their urges to peep. Peeping is second to groping as a past-time for Japan's "chikan" or perverts, and since it's far less likely to get them caught, they're likely to indulge when given an opportunity.

I won't miss these creepy men or hearing my unfortunate female acquaintances tell me about their experiences with them.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Will Miss #159 - easily scaring off solicitors

Newspaper salespeople are a scourge in Tokyo. They frequently come to the door and sometimes aggressively try to convince people to buy subscriptions. I've been told by my Japanese acquaintances that sometimes the salespeople get angry and rude if they are turned down. Some even bang on the door, try to grab the door and yank it open, and one apparently tossed something angrily at a door. Being a foreigner though, I can scare off 95% of solicitors by simply speaking English. Newspaper salespeople in particular tend to simply walk away without another word once I say "yes?" in answer to the doorbell's ring.

I'll miss being able to spook unwanted visitors merely by speaking a few words in my native tongue.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Won't Miss #159 - mail order limitations

One of the most frustrating things about living in Japan (or abroad in general) is that you can't order many items from the U.S. and have them shipped abroad. This is often so for computer and electronic items as well as software, but also clothing, packaged food items, and kitchenware. The electronics and sundry household items are limited because allowing goods sold more cheaply in the U.S. to be sent to Japan would undermine sales in domestic venues. The software, however, makes no sense. I want to buy it in English rather than Japanese. The chances that a Japanese person would choose English software that is cheaper over Japanese version which are more expensive are quite low, yet software cannot be shipped to Japan.

I won't miss the limitations on mail ordering certain types of items from Japan.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Will Miss #158 - easy acess to service centers

My husband and I bought a Nikon camera from Amazon in the U.S. (because it's cheaper than Japan) and had it shipped to his parents in California. My husband picked it up when he visited them. Shortly after getting back to Japan, the camera broke and we were able to take it directly to a Nikon service center about 10 minutes from us by subway. And we got to repeat that about a week later when it broke again. :-p One of the great things about living in Japan is that the service centers are often easy to access, particularly in major cities. You don't have to ship your broken electronics items off by post (at your expense) and get them back months later. You can drop them off, talk to someone who sees you as a customer rather than a name on a box with a broken item, and get your repaired item back in a week or so.

I'll miss having this fast access to the manufacturers and service centers for electronic items.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Won't Miss #158 - loud gulping in drink commercials

Some time ago, I can't recall when, Japanese beverage manufacturers decided that the experience of sucking down a can of beer would be more appealing to consumers if they showed someone with their head thrown back pouring the contents directly down their throat (bypassing that pesky tongue and taste buds) while playing a loud exaggerated swallowing noise. I hate that sound effect with the flaming passion of a hundred suns. It seems to be saying that noisy food and drink consumption is supposed to be something I find appealing. I'd no more enjoy listening to monstrously loud gulping noises than someone loudly chewing their food. Every time I have the misfortune of seeing one of those commercials, I scramble for the remote so I can mute before it reaches the inevitable conclusion.

I won't miss these commercials with these gross sound effects.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Will Miss #157 - doll festival displays

March 3 is the doll festival in Japan. During this festival, parents with daughters set up a (sometimes elaborate) display of dolls representing a royal court. Businesses also put up large or small displays as a way of promoting their goods or simply as a way of being a festive part of the season. The dolls are often beautiful and some are unique representations (like favorite pop culture characters in the role of the royal house members such as "Hello Kitty"). Some of the displays are huge and impressive.

While I'm not interested in dolls in general and would never buy or collect them, I do like seeing these displays around the end of February and early March and I'll miss seeing them.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Won't Miss #157 - gaijin ignoring gaijin

I wrote an article for Tokyo Journal at one point about a phenomenon which every foreigner ("gaijin") will experience sooner or later (likely sooner) when visiting Japan. If you see another foreigner on the street and smile, wave, say hello, or nod, at least 30% of the time, if not more, the other foreigner will ignore you. This happens for a variety of reasons which I spent 800 words saying in my article, but let's just say that people have their issues. A woman with a baby in a stroller who sees another woman with a baby may smile or make a comment because they both share the status and experience of "mother" and neither sees it as inappropriate, but God forbid one foreigner smile or say "hi" to another while waiting at the crosswalk for the light to change in recognition of their shared status.

I won't miss dealing with people who believe small acts of kindness or common courtesy that recognize their shared status as foreigners in this land are burdensome.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Will Miss #156 - bodily function free talk

In one of my earliest experiences in Japan, a student told me that she was not feeling well because she had had "loose bowls" (meaning "bowels", or diarrhea). I was surprised to hear her tell someone who was, but mere moments ago, a total stranger, that she was spending a lot of time in the toilet. It turns out that Japanese people are not squeamish about such things. I'm freely told about menstrual cycles and cramps as well as bathroom-related issues on a regular basis, and sometimes on a first meeting.

While I don't necessarily hunger to hear this type of information, I find the frank and matter of fact way in which these things are dealt with very mature, and I'll miss it.

(Note that this free discussion of bodily functions is curiously juxtapositioned with the squeamishness about being overheard in the toilet.)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Won't Miss #156 - Japanese deodorant

Body chemistry does differ based on your biological history, and many Japanese people either do not use deodorant or don't need it. My husband is not Japanese (or of Asian descent) and he also does not need deodorant, so some Europeans also do not require it. Some people are just lucky, but not me...and not some Japanese people who really need it but seem clueless. One of the things I learned quickly is that the market for deodorant is too small for a lot of variety or low prices. You can buy tiny sticks or small cans of spray for high prices. Easily, deodorant in Japan is twice the price for half the quantity that I can buy back home, and it's not always easy to find. I've bought deodorant through import services since coming to Japan to avoid paying $5-$8 for a small amount.

I won't miss having to either fork out a lot of money or special order something as mundane as deodorant.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Will Miss #155 - Cozy Corner

While many Japanese cakes are pretty and lack taste, I do like Cozy Corner. It's not that all of their sweets are fabulous (though many are excellent), but rather that they offer a lot of variety in one place and many tiny little cakes, pies or puddings (as well as larger ones) that allow you to sample a wide variety of treats without buying or eating too much. Cozy Corner boxes are one of those things that you see at a Japanese office when someone gives a lavish gift and everyone is always happy to see their white and red design. Of course, it also helps that they always have a few varieties of Mont Blanc on offer. I'd encourage anyone who comes to Japan to stop by one of their chains and pick up a selection of interesting little bites.

I'll miss these little stores and the experimentation they encourage you to do.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Won't Miss #155 - Invasive Paternalism

Japan has a much more paternalistic culture than most Western countries. Sometimes, this is beneficial, but sometimes it is a step too far and violates privacy. For instance, many countries are having problems with obesity and Japan is no exception, though their problem is not nearly as severe as that in Western countries. In Japan, one of the current "solutions" to the problem is to have companies measure the waist size of their employees and those who exceed a certain number are sent to a doctor for weight loss counseling.* While I think that weight loss counseling is good, I think the humiliation and invasion of privacy that comes with measuring people's waists in the office is going too far.

I won't miss these types of invasive paternalism and the way they function to bully people into conforming to certain standards.

*It is important to note that the waist measurements are relatively arbitrary and do not take into account height or general body type, only gender. Muscular or tall people can be classified as overweight under this system.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Will Miss #154 - Nejinu Souvenir Shops

There is a chain of souvenir stores called Nejinu (ねじぬ) that is one of the nicest places to get souvenirs which are not cheesy or tacky. Unlike the junk they offer foreigners in places like Omotesando, the items in Nejinu are for Japanese people. They include figures for the Chinese zodiac animals, clay dishes, paper lanterns, furoshiki (clothes used to wrap packages and carry box lunches), fans, gift wrap, paper boxes, and various traditional figures like daruma dolls and maneki neko. Most of the items are tasteful and attractive. When I send items home, I often buy them at Nejinu.

I'll miss being able to peruse and shop at this nice little shop.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Won't Miss #154 - pay phone space hogs

This post was hard to name because the idea is hard to convey. Let me start by saying there are relatively few pay phones left in Tokyo at all, and I need every precious one since I don't have a cell phone. This is not the thing I have an issue with. Technology marches on and it's not Japan's fault that I refuse to join the parade. The problem is many people who have cell phones seem to think that the best place to park and make a call is at or on the few remaining pay phones. There's nothing more frustrating than needing to use the phone only to find some jerk yammering into his cell right in front of it and refusing to budge (often leaning on it or putting some of his personal items on it). I think they do it because they believe a space for phones is an okay area to bark loudly into the phone, but I can't say for sure why it happens.

I won't miss these people who take control of a device they don't need for no compelling reason.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Will Miss #153 - adult pajama costumes

On holidays and at festivals (and sometimes during sales at shops), I see people wearing a particular type of adult pajama costume. The one in the picture above is Stitch from Lilo and Stitch, but I've seen people wearing dragons, eggplants, and other weird things. I imagine there is some company in Japan that makes this particular kind of costume which resembles a baby's sleeper. I don't know if they were designed for people to sleep in or to look silly in when promoting things in public, but it's always amusing when I see someone out wearing one.

I'll miss seeing grown-ups in clothes that look like they were made for a baby.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Won't Miss #153 - sparse Mexican food

There are a lot of great places to eat in Tokyo, but Mexican food is sadly under-represented in the selection of ethnic food. You can get tacos which have been altered to suit Japanese tastes (for the most part) occasionally. Sometimes what are called "tacos" can be a pretty scary business. One of the last I sampled was some sort of freakish meat paste with ketchup-like sauce, cabbage, and a slice of tomato. There are a couple of good places, notably one in Shinjuku and another in Hiroo, but you have to look pretty hard and kiss a lot of frogs before you find that prince of a place for Mexican food.

I won't miss the scarcity of good Mexican food.

Will Miss #152 - ample Indian restaurants

In the rural area I grew up in, there were no Indian restaurants at all. We had psuedo-Italian places in abundance, a Chinese place, a bit of Mexican food, and some home-style American fare. Until I came to Tokyo, I never had Indian food, but since coming to Japan, I've found I really love it. Now, there are Indian restaurants within a stone's throw of my apartment. There is an abundance of them and the food is always prepared by native Indian chefs.

It's always a treat and I'll miss having such easy access to authentic Indian cuisine.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Won't Miss #152 - karaoke

When I was in elementary school, our teacher forced us to sing for a grade. This was always an exercise in torment and humiliation for me. Singing is not something I can do well, nor is it something that I attach a sense of joy to. Karaoke is often the cap on work-related social evenings which include "drinking parties" (nomi-kai) and you're seen as an anti-social party pooper for constantly turning down invitations. Most Japanese people, because karaoke is a rich part of their modern culture, can't understand the sort of dread a person like me might feel at the prospect of singing for fun.

I won't miss the idea that I should be going along to sing for pleasure with everyone else.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Will Miss #151 - Japanese rice

I have spent most of my time in Japan being rather indifferent to rice in general, but over the past 4 years or so, I've grown to really like it's sticky quality and how well it goes with certain foods. I've also learned to cook it pretty well (and without a rice cooker, which I do not own). As a standalone side dish, it seems better than other types of rice.

While I don't eat it at every meal, or even necessarily every week, I do like it and I'll miss the easy access and relatively cheap price of Japanese rice.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Won't Miss #151 - Japanese crows

A crow uses the water meant for purification rituals near an altar to get a drink.

There are crows pretty much everywhere, but the Japanese crows are a special breed in many ways. First of all, they are huge. Second, they are not shy about being around humans. In fact, they attack people. There are sometimes videos on television that show crows swooping in and using their huge beaks to jab people in the head. One of my students told me she was on the roof of her building hanging her laundry and one attacked her. Also, the crows are clever. Trash has to have big nets placed on it or they will tear apart even the most secure bags. I've also heard that they learned how to unscrew milk bottles awhile back. The crows I saw back home as a child weren't nearly as big and tended not to go near people or their living spaces.

I won't miss these large and intimidating birds.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Will Miss #150 - different movie names

One of the more interesting aspects of life in Japan is seeing how Western movies have had their names changed to make their themes more clearly understood. More often than not, the name change is pretty straightforward like "Ratatouille" was changed to "Remy's Restaurant". Sometimes, they're a little less direct and strip the nuances from the title like "As Good As It Gets" becomes "A Romance Novel Writer".

I'll miss seeing the changes made to movie titles for the Japanese audience and trying to work out what the rationale was behind them.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Won't Miss #150 - one correct answer

One of my students took an ethics course at an American college and she told me that she really hated the class. The reason she hated it was that the class required a person to think through all sides of an issue and choose a particular viewpoint. She said she was uncomfortable with this because she liked the answers to be concrete and for there to be one "right" reply that she could offer. This was nowhere near the first time that I'd been told this during my time in Japan, not by a long shot. This mindset occurs because the Japanese education system emphasizes that there is one right answer for every question and no alternate opinions are necessary or welcome. It is a way of discouraging differences among individuals and dissent when dealing with authority figures.

I won't miss the thinking bred by this "one correct answer for every question" nor the narrow perspective it leads people to have.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Will Miss #149 - cheap cable

My cable television provider's local office.

Cable television in Japan varies in price, but the longer your building has cable, the cheaper it becomes. My monthly rate is now 2600 yen ($28) a month. I've heard various rates from friends and family in various areas in the U.S. and that price is quite cheap compared to what they pay. It's especially good for an urban area. Mind you, if your building has been newly hooked up, the rates might be around 3600 yen ($39), but it's rather nice to know that the prices will drop, and not because service gets worse (it actually has gotten better with more channels being added in). It gets cheaper because once the cable company gets back some of their investment in hooking up a building, they cut the price.

I'll miss getting such cheap cable television service.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Won't Miss #149 - limited job options

People who read and speak Japanese well will tell you that the sky is the limit when it comes to jobs in Japan, but that is simply not so. The truth is that there are two problems with being a foreigner and seeking certain job opportunities. First of all, most Japanese businesses that offer conventional jobs only hire foreigners when there is a concrete incentive to do so. They won't hire you if a Japanese person could be hired to do the job just as well for the same rate of pay. Foreigners tend to get hired for jobs which require multiple languages, are lower paying (such as restaurant jobs), or for which there are not enough qualified Japanese candidates available. Second, unless you are married to a Japanese person or have been granted permanent residence, you cannot take just any job as the law says that a foreigner can only receive a work visa for a job that requires their particular special skills. In other words, by law (a law which may be ignored by some employers who redefine job requirements to hire foreigners), you can't do a job if a Japanese person could be hired to do it.

I won't miss feeling that my job options are always going to be limited by something other than my skills or capability to do the work.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Will Miss #148 - yukata

In the summer, Japanese people sometimes wear a light robe made of cotton. It's often worn to festivals, but people also wear them casually. They're comfortable and quite cheap. You can buy them for nearly every size person from children to somewhat hefty adults. Sumo wrestlers can be seen wearing them around Ryogoku, where the national stadium is located.

I'll miss seeing and having access to these light, attractive, summer robes.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Won't Miss #148 - bad and expensive bagels

Japanese bakers seem to believe that a bagel is simply a type of bread shaped like a doughnut. Most bagels in Tokyo suffer from a variety of problems including being too dense, too dry, or too fluffy. It's very, very rare to find an authentic, chewy bagel. What is more, even the bad bagels are relatively expensive. Getting a properly made bagel is something you have to research and travel far afield to do.

I won't miss the pricey and poor quality bagels.