Monday, May 31, 2010

Will Miss #178 - pale is good

I'm fair-skinned, and red-haired. That means that I have three states - white, freckled, and lobster. There is no such thing as brown or tanned skin for the likes of me. Back home, that means my complexion is likened to such lovely things as beached whales, dead bodies, and geeks who live in their parents' basement. In Japan, white skin is seen as more appealing than that which has been nicely sun-toasted. I never received a compliment on my skin back home because Americans believe that tans are healthier and more attractive. I've been complimented by nearly every Japanese woman who has gotten to know me well.

While I believe that all healthy skin of any shade is beautiful, I will miss my tone being perceived as desirable rather than unappealing.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Won't Miss #178 - English graffiti

Almost all of the graffiti that you see in Tokyo is in English. It's very rare to see any Japanese characters at all. I believe there are several reasons for this. One possibility is that they feel more freedom to express themselves in a foreign language. Another possibility is that the vandals are either intentionally or unconsciously trying to distance themselves from their actions (which are criminal in Japan) or trying to mislead people into thinking a foreigner is doing these things. The chances that a foreigner is actually creating the graffiti are close to zero.

Whatever the cause, I don't like the fact that a criminal act, albeit a petty one, is linked to a language other than the one the criminal speaks as a native as I think it draws an unfair connection between crime and foreigners in the minds of the Japanese.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Will Miss #177 - chicken breast with skin

Japanese people eat chicken skin. When I say that, I don't mean they just eat the skin when they cook chicken. You can buy grilled chicken skin in some bars and restaurants (nothing but skin). You can also buy packs of skin at some butcher shops. For me, I'm not a fan of eating the skin, but I do prefer that it is on my chicken breasts because if you cook this cut without the skin, it's very easy to dry it out. Also, my husband does like eat it when it's cooked nice and crispy (it's also good for collagen when you slow cook most of the fat out). Most American chicken breasts are sold without the skin because American consumers are more concerned with the calories in the skin than its utility when cooking or flavor and texture.

I'll have to learn a different way of preparing chicken breast (which is my favorite and frequently consumed cut of meat), and I'll miss the flavor and texture improvements that you get with cooking chicken breast which still has its skin on.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Won't Miss #177 - ground beef and pork mix

A poster at MOS Burger fast food restaurants that advertises the fact that their burgers are a pork and beef mixture, which appeals more to Japanese tastes than 100% beef burgers (which Western burger chains sell).

My husband likes beef. Personally, I'm not a fan of it, but I cook the occasional hamburger or ground beef-based recipe for him. The thing is that most (but not all) of the ground meat in Japan which isn't chicken is not 100% ground beef. It's a pork and beef mix so people like my husband who like to have a medium rare hamburger can't make one with this meat without risking trichinosis. In fact, he said that, in retrospect, he was probably eating partially raw pork during his first year in Japan (when he was alone and couldn't read Japanese) because he didn't know the ground meat sold at most markets is a pork/beef blend.

I won't miss having to cook to the demands for pork when I'm handling a beef recipe.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Will Miss #176 - ginkgo trees

Trees are not something that are necessarily abundant in Tokyo, but I live in a ward which has a tree as its icon and that has lined the main street near my home with ginkgo trees. In the autumn, they shed uniformly golden leaves that beautifully blanket the sidewalks at night, and that vanish the next morning when shopkeepers scramble to clear them away. In summer and spring, they add much needed green to the largely gray and boxy visuals of my neighborhood.

I will always associate ginkgo trees with living in Japan and will miss them.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Won't Miss #176 - Japanese book stores

I used to love going into book stores back home and perusing the shelves for something of interest, but the experience just isn't the same in Japan. I'm not a fluent reader of Japanese, and even if I were better at it, I wouldn't be reading Japanese books for pleasure as I don't need an added dose of linguistic challenge with my reading time. Reading is something that I do when I have precious free time, and I don't want it to feel like language study. I want it to effortlessly inform or entertain me.

Book stores in Japan are probably one of the biggest reminders that this isn't a culture that is oriented toward the likes of me, and I won't miss going into them.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Will Miss #175 - unabashed appreciation of food

One day while I was working in my office, the president's daughter, who had been coerced into working by her parents, was sitting at her desk eating a "Queenie Muffin". As she ate it, she made the equivalent of, "mmmm, mmmm" sounds. She wasn't ashamed to let it be known that it was really good and that she enjoyed food. In fact, most Japanese people aren't afraid to show their appreciation for tasty food, even if that food may be seen as unhealthy. Back home, we're embarrassed about loving food for the taste experience. We either profess to eat better than we do because we're ashamed of loving fatty or sugary food or try to cover up our discomfort by calling ourselves things like "chocoholics". This is particularly true of women, but I've never known a Japanese woman to deny a love of sweets or chips or display regret or self-censure about regularly consuming them.

Maybe the small portions in Japan have encouraged a culture where people enjoy every bite because there are fewer of them or perhaps being a culture of thin people makes them less self-conscious about their unabashed enjoyment of food. Whatever it is, I'm going to miss this healthy appreciation for the pleasures of food.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Won't Miss #175 - shopping carts for kids

In the U.S., there are big shopping carts and you can seat your kids in a section of the cart. There were no carts which are small and specifically designed for kids to push around and load purchases into when I lived in the U.S. In Japan, at least a third of the supermarkets I frequent have the equivalent of a cart which is pushed around or primarily designed for the kid to drive (often alone). Some of them are miniature versions of a normal cart and others are specialized in other ways. The problem with putting a cart in the hands of a little kid is that they have no concern for where they are going or standing. They just want to zip around the store pushing the thing everywhere, and their parents usually exercise minimal restraint (and attention) while this is occurring.

While I'm trying to shop, these kiddie carts block my way constantly and the kids are reckless and I won't miss having to negotiate around them.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Will Miss #174 - local straw goods shop

On the corner leading to the street that comes to my apartment, there's a little shop that sells items made from straw. Mostly, these include brooms, but there are also woven items like baskets. This shop is run by a little old man who was ancient when I arrived 20 years ago, and seems to be little older now. Every time I approach my apartment, I see this little shop, and I wonder how the old man can possibly make a living from this, and I marvel at his dedication to maintaining this tiny little business. I also have a strong sense of how "Japanese" the presence of the shop is. That is not only in terms of the types of wares, but also in the fact that there are hundreds, possibly thousands, of these types of little shops ran by old people that see little or no business yet remain standing for years and years. These businesses are something I'll always associate with life in Tokyo.

I'll miss the little old man's straw goods shop, and what it reminds me about Japan.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Won't Miss #174 - expensive glasses and contacts

My brother-in-law (also an American) has lived in Japan for just a bit longer than my husband and I. In fact, he came here for the first time when he was 19 (in 1983) and has lived here on and off since then. When he needs new eyeglasses, he gets a prescription in Japan and then sends it home for his father to get the glasses from the U.S. (using his father's face to fit them). This is because eyeglasses (and contact lenses) are usually much more expensive here than they are back home.

I won't miss paying between 30% and 300% more for glasses and contact lenses in Japan.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Will Miss #173 - Yakult drinks and ladies

I've not been a big follower of Yakult beverages, but I've seen the ladies on their bikes since I arrived. There's something quaint about the way these women on bicycles visit offices to peddle their wares. Also, though I'm not a huge fan of the drink, I find it pleasant enough and the fact that it's almost certainly a quick, easy and convenient way to ingest probiotics when you think you might need some better digestion is rather cool.

I'll miss seeing the Yakult ladies peddling around my neighborhood on their bikes.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Won't Miss #173 - watching crap TV because it's in English

Yes, I watched the horror of Bridget Jones 2 just because it was what was on in English.

Sometimes you're sitting at home having a bad day, feeling sick, or just generally lethargic. You don't feel like tangling with anything that taxes your limited mental resources and you turn on the T.V. for a little passive entertainment. The last thing you want to do is try to tangle with a foreign language so you start flipping the channels to find something, anything, that is aired in English that will allow you to sit there slack-jawed and be vaguely occupied. Part of the problem with living in Japan is that the English-language options aren't vast so you find yourself watching absolute crap on T.V. just because it's in English.

I won't miss embarrassing myself by watching garbage T.V. just because it is what is on in English.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Will Miss #172 - access for the blind

What Japan lacks in services for the handicapped (Won't Miss #167), it makes up for in accommodation of the blind. Since I first arrived in Japan, I have noticed that there are bumpy yellow dots at stopping points at crosswalks and on train platforms so the blind can feel where to stand. I've also noticed that braille is used in many places. What is more, Japanese money is designed to be easy for blind people to use. There are little bumps on paper money and each bill is a slightly different size. Coins are also varied in size and some have holes and others are solid.

My mother is blind, and I appreciate seeing the attention put into making life easier for the blind.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Won't Miss #172 - love/hate relationship with Korea

A local shop sells calendars featuring Korean idols.

Japan has had a long history of difficulties with Korea and the level of pettiness that is sometimes displayed in the media as a result of their troubled international relationship is often painful. The Japanese media criticize tiny things like the "uncivilized way" Koreans mix all of the ingredients of a dish into the rice so that all of the components can't be tasted individually. They also refuse to incorporate Korea's influence on their history into their textbooks because the idea that Japanese culture may have derived from anything Korean is anathema to them. At the same time, Korean dramas and idols are popular in Japan. The fantasy Korea has become rather hot, while the real relationship remains cold and childishly competitive.

I won't miss seeing this destructive relationship between Japan and Korea.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Will Miss #171 - love of "Downy"

One of my students is always happy when she comes to her private tutoring session in my apartment just after I have done laundry. The reasons she likes this is that I happen to use Downy fabric softener (as it is cheap in gigantic bottles at Costco). She loves the smell of Downy, and she's not alone. An import shop not too far from my apartment has a huge sections up front of nothing but fabric softeners that includes scent samples.

Japanese women are curiously gaga over Downy, and I'm going to miss this odd preoccupation with something so thoroughly mundane.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Won't Miss #171 - Japanese sugar wafers

Sugar wafers were one of my favorite treats back home. I rarely indulged in them, but when I did, I savored the experience. In Japan, wafers are sold nearly everywhere, and they all taste like pretty much nothing. The wafers themselves are usually fine, but the filling is slippery, soft, fatty goo with no flavor. This is because the Japanese don't like things as sweet as Westerners, but also because wafer makers appear to think it's okay to skimp on things like vanilla, cocoa, and any other flavorings. If I'm going to eat sugar wafers, I'll always buy the expensive European imports.

I won't miss these bland, lifeless wafer.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Will Miss #170 - "the advocate"

For those who can't read Japanese, the shop's name is "Don Quixote". I place the picture here tongue in cheek.

Most English speakers know the saying, "necessity is the mother of invention". This saying generally applies to technology, but it also applies to social changes. With only 2% of Japan's population being foreign, Japan has not had much in the way of necessity when it comes to the rights or treatment of non-Japanese. In fact, it is my profound belief that most Japanese people have so little experience in dealing with foreigners on a macro level (as opposed to a micro, or personal, temporary level) that they don't even know they are practicing discriminatory behavior in many cases when they do it. What they need, is time, education, and awareness, and now is a good time to start that process with Japan's native population shrinking steadily due to a low birth rate (less than 1.5% per couple) and the prospect of more immigrants. To that end, I think that Arudou Debito, who is often reviled by the foreign community and seen as Quixotic in the issues he pursues, is the first person to step up to the plate. I think assuming that position, whether all of his stances and conclusions are ones that I personally support 100%, is something of great value not only to the foreign community, but to the Japanese as well considering that they will certainly face a more varied ethnic mix in their population as time goes by.

I'll miss Arudou Debito, referred to disdainfully by foreigners who hold him in contempt as "the advocate", and the fight he fights for those foreigners who do and don't appreciate him and those Japanese who aren't yet aware that they need his efforts to help them more smoothly pave the road ahead.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Won't Miss #170 - being refused service

There are several bicycle repair shops in my immediate area, and every time I walk past one of them, I feel just a little irritated. The reason for this is that my husband and I were refused service at this shop. While the "no gaijins allowed" situation isn't as bad as it used to be, it still happens. The main difference between now and 10-20 years ago is that the printed signs in windows telling foreigners they aren't welcome are less common, but that doesn't stop people from simply telling you to go away because they don't want you as a customer. This has happened to me several times, and it has also happened to my friends. I rarely patronize services outside of my small sphere of known places anymore because I'd rather just deal with the foreigner friendly people I know than the potentially foreigner hostile ones I don't.

I won't miss being refused service because I'm a foreigner.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Will Miss #169 - Tyrant Habanero

Snack maker Tohato produces a line of very hot and spicy snacks featuring a mascot who looks like the spawn of an evil jack-o-lantern and a chili pepper. The original Tyrant Habanero (pictured above) product is potato-based salted snack rings with a red powder that gets hotter and hotter as you tunnel to the bottom of the bag. Since then, more tasty, spicy-hot products under the same line have been released. I don't eat these too terribly often because the pleasantness of them going into one end is somewhat undermined by the inevitable unpleasantness involved with the journey out the other end.

Nonetheless, I love this line of burning salted snacks for its serving size, texture, imaginative spin-offs, and the endorphin rush I get when my mouth is on fire, and I'll miss it.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Won't Miss #169 - not wanting to leave the house

I used to think that this particular problem was something only I suffered from because I'm a highly sensitive person who gets overstimulated easily, but I have read on quite a few personal blogs that other women in Japan feel the same way. That feeling is one of not wanting to leave your house because you just aren't in the mood to be the center of unwanted attention. It's not any one act by one person, but just the overall attention and scrutiny that you can't escape as a foreign woman in Japan, and I do believe this happens much more to foreign women than men. Women aren't viewed as being as potentially threatening toward people who direct their attention toward them, and all women are generally viewed as being lower status than men so it's okay to treat women with less respect (and poorer manners) in the eyes of many Japanese people. Also, I think women in general do not welcome even positive attention from strangers as men might because they feel more vulnerable.

I won't miss the feeling that I don't want to leave my home today because I'm not in the right frame of mind to put up with being scrutinized as a foreign woman in Japan.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Will Miss #168 - ladies shaving

During my first few years in Japan, one of my coworkers told me something which surprised me. She told me that there were special disposable razors sold in Japanese stores for women, and I told her that that was no surprise as such razors are sold in the U.S. for women as well. That was no shock. The surprise was that these razors were for women to shave their faces. She told me that she'd learned from her female Japanese friends that Japanese women shave many areas on their faces including their foreheads. Western women try to hide the fact that they practice hair removal on their faces because it is seen as masculine behavior to remove facial hair and a topic of tittering jokes in popular entertainment.

I'll miss the fact that Japanese people have this mature attitude toward the fact that women also have facial hair as reflected in the open services related to removal of such hair.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Won't Miss #168 - a lack of seedless grapes

Japan is a country that has growers making square watermelons because the natural shape isn't convenient enough, yet they do not seem to have embraced seedless grapes. I'm not a big baby about preparing fruit when it comes to seed removal and peeling, but grapes with seeds are a huge pain because you're constantly spitting out little nasty seed parts and they're gross if you accidentally bite into one. Also, I like good, firm, not so sweet green grapes, but the only place I can get them are as imports at Costco (which is too far away to frequent). I don't understand why the shops rarely carry seedless grapes, and never carry the green ones when they carry other produce imports from all over the world.

I won't miss having to spit out seeds every time I indulge in expensive Japanese grapes.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Will Miss #167 - Japanese architectural elements

Some people who haven't been to Japan seem to believe that it's all soaring skyscrapers, avant garde buildings, neon and large television displays, temples, and quaint little Japanese homes. The truth is that it's about 80% (or more) beige or gray boxes with no aesthetic appeal whatsoever (at least in Tokyo) because most of the old houses which were built in a Japanese style have been torn down. New houses tend to be built for utility. Still, the occasional home has some Japanese architectural element and they're all the more special for being relatively rare.

I'll miss seeing these little jewels among the seas of boring, boxy homes.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Won't Miss #167 - poor accomodation of the handicapped

Often I will see people in wheelchairs parked outside of shops uncomfortably waiting for something or other. What I have discovered is that, because the shops are narrow and won't accommodate their chairs, they either have to have someone go into the shop and buy something for them, or ask the shopkeepers themselves to bring out what they want. There's a man who lives close to me who lost his legs and he goes to the local 99 yen shop to buy food. To accomplish this, he has to ask the clerk to bring things out and show him them so he can decide what to buy. What is more, many of the public transportation facilities are not designed for people who can't climb copious numbers of stairs; the older subway stations in particular are bad for both the elderly and handicapped.

I won't miss this lack of accommodation of people with disabilities in light of the fact that Japan has the wealth and capability to put the necessary technology and structures in place to help them.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Will Miss #166 - exposure to European culture

Japanese people like to say that their country is an "international" one. My former boss and I used to scoff at this notion since there is so frequently a lack of understanding of other cultures, particularly in terms of the broader psychology of the people of other lands. In some sense, Japan is still very insular and not very international. In another sense, and I mean in terms of its consumption and display of cultural artifacts from all over the world, it has far more cultural integration than many other places. You're much more likely to find European movies, food, and pop cultural icons in Japan than you are in the U.S.

I have seen and learned more about European culture from incidental aspects of living in Japan than I ever saw in the United States, and I'm going to miss this type of broad and frequent exposure to other cultures.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Won't Miss #166 - bound and decapitated trees

One of the things which happens as a result of people living practically on top of each other in Tokyo is that the nature on their respective properties has to be kept in line. I know that trees are cut down, pruned, and managed everywhere in the world, but the level at which they are brutalized into submission in Tokyo sometimes makes me cringe as it so often exceeds what I grew up with in terms of foliage maintenance.

I understand why it is done, but it just feels wrong when I see someone removing half a tree or binding it nearly up to it's crown in order to keep it from growing branches that may obscure the view of a building or spread onto communal or a neighbor's property.

I won't miss seeing these seriously bullied bits of nature, particularly in a culture which boasts frequently about how much it values and respects nature.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Will Miss #165 - Tirol candies

Since starting my Japanese snack reviews blog, I've formed an ambivalent relationship with Tirol candies. I love their concept, which is very small, affordable bits of candy with collectible wrappers that they provide a gallery of on their web site. I also love some of the flavors, but I think that their variety packs of non-premium candies are often pretty crappy and they have a bad habit of putting one interesting flavor in with a bunch of boring ones to make you buy a whole bunch to get one you want.

All ambivalence aside, I'll miss sampling these unique candies, seeing the various wrapper designs they come up with, and being grateful for their small portions and low price.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Won't Miss #165 - stacked bike parking

When I first saw the type of bicycle parking in the picture above, I thought it was an ingenious way of allowing more bikes to park in a limited space. After I had to start using that type of parking, I felt rather less impressed. Sure, this is a space efficient method, but it's a pain to use. I'm not a puny woman, but I'm not particularly strong and I have some back issues. Hauling the bikes onto and off of the rack is not a trivial matter, and it's exacerbated by the fact that the racks are often poorly maintained and get jammed or won't move smoothly.

I won't miss the time, effort, and bruises that I get from using this type of stacked parking for bicycles.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Will Miss #164 - the mundane becomes special

Recently, a cake shop near my house put up a display which included one of those hollow chocolate Easter bunnies that I used to receive every year in my Easter basket as a child. I was momentarily mesmerized by the unexpected appearance of this slice of culture from home as I hadn't seen one of these in 20 years. The most mundane aspects of life back home, things that you see everywhere and are relegated to bargain bins in cheap shops, are rendered special by their scarcity in Japan. I once had a coworker who said that seeing the first appearance of Dr. Pepper in a vending machine in Japan brought a tear to her eye because it was a fond memory of something she enjoyed on a regular basis back home.

You view such things differently and the scarcity of such Western cultural artifacts frame even the spawn of mass production in a favorable manner, and I'll miss that perspective.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Won't Miss #164 - Horumon

In the past few years, horumon (ホルモン), or beef and pork offal (that's the stuff we throw away like guts and organs), restaurants have been popping up in more places in Japan. I'm guessing that part of the reason for this has been the sagging economy, but this cuisine has been around for a long time. I realize that there is nothing necessarily wrong with eating these things, and it's actually a good way to avoid waste, but my meat-based food tastes are too ethnocentric to find value in this type of eating.

Just seeing these restaurants (and there's one about 2 minutes from my apartment) gives me a queasy feeling, and I won't miss them.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Will Miss #163 - extended family concept

In the U.S., there is a negative stereotype associated with being an adult child who lives with his parents. In Japan, that's simply the norm for many people. The family here isn't parents and children. It's often parents, children, and grandparents. This concept means that elderly parents are cared for by their kids until such time as their medical needs exceed the families ability to care for them. During the years when grandchildren are growing up, the grandparents often act as extra caregivers and babysitters. It lessens the burden on parents during the hardest years of child-rearing. I realize that living with in-laws is hard at times, but the very idea that family will remain together changes the way in which people approach their relationships and makes them emphasize getting along and understanding one another as well as possible.

I think this concept is more humane and natural than the Western concept which is based on the earliest possible independence and later isolation in life, and I'll miss it.