Saturday, July 31, 2010

Won't Miss #210 - Japanese laundry soap powder

This may be an issue for me mainly because I have always lived in Tokyo, but I have never had good experiences with Japanese laundry powder. There are several problems that I have with it. The first is that it doesn't dissolve in the cold water that you have no choice but to wash with. The second is that it always draws damp before I can use even a small box up. Invariably, I am left with large, rock-like clumps that are even harder to dissolve than the powder and I just have to toss the rest out. Third, for a small quantity, it's a little expensive (particularly considering that about 1/4 of it is wasted). I converted to imported liquid laundry soap and never looked back, but occasionally still get free boxes or samples as part of various promotions.

Perhaps there is some special technique for dissolving it or a way of storage for Japanese laundry soap powder (or my washing machine is somehow not up to an important task), but I won't miss the hassles associated with using it.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Will Miss #209 - koi

Koi have to be some of the luckiest fish in the world. They're essentially "pet" fish which are freaking huge. If you go to parks or places where they are kept, you find that they are very aggressive because they have no fear of humans. They'll often come to the surface of the water in droves seeking food. As someone who grew up with a father who fished and never experienced what might be seen as "friendly" fish and who only knew skittish ones that didn't want to be caught and eaten, it's quite a novel experience, especially when I see the ones that resemble giant goldfish.

I'll miss these domesticated carp.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Won't Miss #209 - friendship issues

There are a lot of problems with being a foreigner and trying to make friends (as opposed to friendly acquaintances) with Japanese people. The primary problem is that you are always seen as an outsider, and always will be one. Japanese society isn't one which has been based on the integration of various cultures nor does the culture typically embrace diversity (not even amongst themselves). Many Japanese people seek your company for a variety of reasons including the novelty of associating with a foreigner and the potential for free English practice. Forming a friendship with you which is like the bonds they share with their native-born friends is rarely one of those reasons. There are also cultural differences standing in the way. Japanese communication and in particular their willingness to be vulnerable emotionally (and therefore promote deeper intimacy) is very different from that of people in other cultures. It's not impossible to form deep, meaningful bonds with Japanese friends, but it is an order of magnitude more difficult due to cultural differences and perceptions of who you are (and aren't) as a foreigner.

I won't miss the difficulty in making meaningful, deep friendships.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Will Miss #208 - healthy portion sizes

This picture is supposed to be ironic in light of the contents of this post. I thought I'd better make that clear for the humor-impaired.

When I say "healthy", I don't mean "big", but rather the right size for a person to consume and maintain a healthy body weight. Like many foreigners who first arrive in Japan, I thought that the portion sizes were puny for the cost and was critical of them because I felt they represented poor value. What I have discovered is that these sizes are actually much closer to what one should eat to stay at a healthy body weight. In the U.S., we used to have a restaurant culture which gave us large portions so we could take home leftovers and enjoy one more experience with the restaurant's food. Now, we just overfeed ourselves on huge portions and think this is normal. There has been a domino effect to this in that people scale everything up, including food prepared at home, in accord with the cultural norms in regards to portion sizes. Being in Japan has really helped me learn to eat less because the portion sizes here have acclimated me to a different serving size.

I'll miss getting closer to the "right" amount of food when eating out rather than being continuously overfed.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Won't Miss #208 - finding bras that fit

This item should come as no surprise to most people. Given that Japanese women are petite, and not known worldwide for their ample bosoms, it's easy to imagine that getting the right size bra if you are a foreign woman of ample endowment can be difficult. For the record, the average cup size in Japan is "B" and the largest size that is generally available is 90 cm. (35.4 in.). The average in England, as a point of comparison, is "D". That's not to say that there are no Japanese women with a jumbo endowment, but the foundation garment market largely caters to averages, not to people who are a few deviations away from the majority. While it is probably not absolutely impossible to locate a proper bra for a foreign woman who is a "D" cup or "better", it's not exactly trivial. You also have the issue of staff who are a bit strange about dealing with you and your big Western breasts. Frankly, I just order my bras from Land's End in the U.S. because it's so much easier and less hassle. That being said, I'd much rather have the chance to make sure the fit is good because a poorly fitted bra is a recipe for back and shoulder pain.

I won't miss finding it difficult or nearly impossible to get a bra that fits.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Will Miss #207 - onigiri

When I first started living in Japan, I was confused and squeamish about a lot of the food. One of the few things I could grab and eat "safely" on the run was onigiri or "rice balls". My favorite was the tuna, which was blessedly familiar in composition with a dab of tuna and mayonnaise in its center. Taken by itself, rice can be relatively bland, but onigiri often spice up the mix with various add ins, a seaweed wrapper, or a filling.

I'll miss the easy access to and wide variety of onigiri.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Won't Miss #207 - umbrella thieves

Long, plastic sleeves for wet umbrellas are offered next to the stand. 

Umbrellas are everywhere in Tokyo. People frequently forget them on trains and in the holders outside of shops. You can also buy cheap plastic ones for 300-500 yen ($3.22-$5.37) if you are caught unprepared for a downpour. Every year the Tokyo Metro has a sale of unclaimed items that are left on trains and umbrellas make up a large portion of that sale. You'd think that with all of those umbrellas on hand, and the low price of cheap replacements, people wouldn't need to steal them. Nonetheless, I have had my umbrellas stolen on numerous occasions both by strangers and coworkers. When I left one in the stand at work "just in case" it rained, invariably a coworker would just take mine (and sometimes not bring it back at all) and leave me high and so-not-dry. I have gone into convenience stores and markets and left my umbrella in the stand outside to drain and found it has been pilfered when I leave the store and go to retrieve it. If you've ever wondered why (wasteful) plastic sleeves (to holster wet umbrellas) are placed next to umbrella stands, it's because some people refuse to leave their brollies in the stand for fear of them being stolen and the shops don't want the water from them dripping all over the floor in the store. The very presence of these sleeves is an indication that such theft is pervasive enough to require an alternative to leaving your umbrella outside where anyone can steal it.

I won't miss this petty umbrella theft.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Will Miss #206 - every street an adventure

I've lived in the same neighborhood for 20 years, but there are still streets that I've never gone down. While sometimes there's nothing to see when you head off in a particular direction, most of the time there is something you might never have imagined. Sometimes you find beautiful old houses. Sometimes peculiar little restaurants or shops. Sometimes you just find some odd architectural or structural situation that you marvel at or unexpected art. I can't say that every street has its own character or personality, but most of them have some sort of surprise.

I'll miss exploring my neighborhood, and the interesting little things that I find after all this time.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Won't Miss #206 - troublesome water heating

A selection of shower water heaters. Note the plethora of knobs and dials.

One thing which I find a cumbersome and irritating chore day-in and day-out  is having to fuss with the mechanism in my shower for getting the water to come out hot. Even though I have a new water heater and not some antique system, I still have to go through a process every night where I turn a crank about 10 times while holding down a big, plastic button that I have to twist to a certain setting. Doing this while crouching, naked, and cold is the worst part, especially when it doesn't work on the first attempt and takes twice as long to get going. Wait, no, the worst part is that in the summer water is too hot even on the lowest setting as water comes out of the tap so warm that minimal heating is too much (and no heating leaves the water too cold).

I won't miss the cumbersome and troublesome water heating method that I've been using in Japan.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Will Miss #205 - Buddhas

I like Buddha statues, even though I'm not a real Buddhist (though I embrace at least some principles of Buddhism). There are Buddha figures and statues everywhere in Japan, each in different poses and styles, and they all give me a sense of peace or happiness. In the U.S., it's a largely Christian culture, but their symbolism is all about pain and suffering. I grew up with pictures of Jesus nailed to a cross, or images of crosses which I knew were an instrument of suffering and death.

I'm much more spiritually inspired by Buddha images that show meditation, contemplation, peacefulness, or laughter, and I'm going to miss seeing them in so many places.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Won't Miss #205 - NTT's badgering

My husband and I have used NTT's (Nippon Telephone and Telegraph - the equivalent of AT&T in the U.S.) services since we initially arrived in Japan. We started paying about $550 for a land line, because NTT had a monopoly and anyone who wanted a line had to put down a huge deposit. We then bought their ISDN service, then ADSL, then upgraded ADSL. As of late, NTT has been badgering us to upgrade to their fiber-optic "hikari fiber" service. Up until the past few years, we had a pretty good relationship with NTT, but they've been in overdrive about their fiber-optic services. People have been coming to our door and bothering us, sometimes several times a week. I have gotten phone calls from people again and again. The worst part is that I've told the callers that they need to send me more detailed information and that I'll seriously consider the upgrade, and then they never send it. And then someone else calls me and we start all over again with a new crop of people badgering me and my asking for information and never getting it. 

I'm sick and tired of NTT's aggressive sales tactics and inability to follow up with information and I won't miss it.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Will Miss #204 - Unamerican American things

There are a lot of products in Japan which have the prefix "American" which are nothing at all like what is sold in America. For instance, a weird batter-dipped hot dog (resembling a corn dog, but not really the same thing) is sold as an "American dog" and there are Tabasco-flavored chips sold as "American Potato Chips." One of the most pervasive ones is "American coffee", which is rather watered-down coffee that is too weak. Japanese people don't seem to realize that the things marketed in their culture as "American" are not the same preparations as those actually sold in America.

I often get a kick out of what the Japanese believe is American, and the types of products that are incorrectly assigned the "American" label.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Won't Miss #204 - willful (and pointless) littering

I realize that littering happens everywhere. Of course, in the U.S., this sort of thing carries heavy fines. It supposedly does in Japan, too, but the police don't enforce the law on this point. When I was back home, hucking your trash onto the street would cost you $300 if you were seen. The Japanese are no exception to being litter bugs. As I have said before, they are not as clean as people think. Someone is just always cleaning up after everyone else. The one thing which I have witnessed time and again (as have others) is willful littering. That is when people have the option to throw trash into a bin, but choose to throw it on the ground. Most recently, a young man went into a convenience store, bought something and walked outside where he proceeded to crumple his receipt up and toss it to the ground. He not only ignored the trash can right behind him, but the little cups that are in front of the cash register in that shop where you can put your receipt if you don't want it. After tossing his trash into the street, he went back into the store.

I don't understand the people who seem to willfully bypass every opportunity to throw trash into a proper place so they can litter and I won't miss it.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Will Miss #203 - golden week

Carp streamers are hung in anticipation of "boy's day" or "children's day".

Back home, we have our longest holiday seasons in the autumn (Thanksgiving) and winter (Christmas and New Year's). There are random days off here and there in spring, but no long holidays when everyone gets to take several days off. In Japan, "Golden Week" starts in the last week of April and continues into the first week of May. It's a string of national holidays ending on May 5 with "boy's day" or "children's day". It's one of the best times of the year to take a vacation, and I'm happy to be able to spend this period of time with my husband.

I'll miss having this string of national holidays in the spring to enjoy.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Won't Miss #203 - working weekends

 I know a lot of people feel that English teachers are the career bottom feeders of Japan, but the truth is that I'm much more satisfied teaching English than I ever was in my 12 years as an office-dwelling wage slave pushing around papers and staring at a computer screen. There is, however, one drawback to being a teacher and that is the necessity of working on weekends. Most people who study English are students or employed. That means that they can really only take lessons comfortably on weekends so you have to meet the needs of their schedules. While I generally don't mind working on weekends, I sometimes feel out of sync with the rest of the world who are at play while I'm at work.

I won't miss working on weekends.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Will Miss #202 - Amazon Japan

I have never lived in a major city in the United States, and have only lived in a major city in Japan. I cannot speak for the speed of service of Amazon outside of Tokyo (or in U.S. cities), but I can say that, in my experience, they are incredibly impressive. When I order an item, it's common for it to arrive in under 24 hours. In Japan, many mail order businesses have a warehouse distribution system that is set up to make sure that items reach their destination quickly. Instead of storing items in centralized proprietary warehouses, they are placed in storage at multiple locations and managed by courier services so that those services can pluck the inventory from the nearest warehouse and send it on its way.

I will miss the excellent service when ordering from Amazon Japan.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Won't Miss #202 - "Irasshaimase"

The sign on the step in red says "irasshaimase".

Japan is plagued by noise pollution, and the custom of shouting "irasshaimase" (essentially 'welcome') every time a customer walks into an establishment only makes it worse. At our favorite yakitori place, dining pleasure is constantly undermined by the loud choruses of "irasshaimase" every time a customer walks in the door. It's not even one person saying it one time. Every single employee from the cooks to the waitresses to the bus people have to shout it out so each patron yields up to 6 loud shouts of greeting. As part of the service culture in Japan, people are constantly saying this and when employees aren't saying it, automated recorders are blurting it out.

These welcoming greetings are perfunctory, and simply add to the overall cacophony, and I won't miss them.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Will Miss #201 - blood type personality theories

Books about blood type on sale at a 100-yen shop.

One of the more curious aspects of Japanese culture is that they've concocted a way of "predicting" personality based on blood type. They believe that certain traits come along with certain types, and that various types are better matrimonial matches than others. I have always believed that this is the consequence of having a culture where people look roughly similar to one another. Western cultures assign character traits based on hair color or other physical aspects, but the Japanese have to go further than skin deep for their superstitions and horoscope-style character theories.

I always get a kick out of discussing these theories with Japanese folks, and I'll miss hearing about them.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Won't Miss #201 - lack of central air/heating

A small space heater which uses gas and has an open flame. This was the type of space heater we used for well over a decade. It was great for heating a space rapidly, but a little dangerous. The cost is $194 U.S.

I know that foreign folks are renowned for whining about the lack of central air conditioning and heating in many parts of Japan. People who criticize these complaints think that the Japanese are saving energy by not heating up their entire homes, but that only works if they aren't heating their homes using other methods and if inefficient space heating methods aren't being employed. Given the lack of insulation, and the inefficient energy consumption of space heaters, kotatsu, and heated carpets, I'm not sure that not employing central heating is really doing the planet any favors. Well-implemented central air and heating and good insulation would almost certainly be less wasteful energy-wise than current space-heating methods in Japan.

I won't miss seeing my breath in the kitchen in winter and sweating myself stupid in summer because only one room in my apartment has heating and air conditioning.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Will Miss #200 - Okashi no Machioka

After you've lived in Japan for awhile, all of the big things tend to fade into the background and it's the little daily things that bring you the most pleasure. Since I write a Japanese snack review blog, finding someplace like Okashi no Machioka has brought me a wealth of pleasure. It is a chain of snack shops which carries a rich variety of snack foods from sembei to cookies to hard candies to chocolate bars (and beyond). About once a week, I'll pop into one of the two branches of this store that are located in my neighborhood and peruse their current stock. Sometimes I'll find a known treat for an irresistible price and sometimes I'll find some new delight that I'll happily review.

I'll really miss Okashi no Machioka's shops.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Won't Miss #200 - lack of cultural sensitivity

The flip-side of the previous post about a lack of political correctness is that there is also a lack of cultural sensitivity in Japan. The same attributes which stop Japanese people from overreacting and applying hysterical political correctness to certain words or issues fuels their lack of understanding about what can be seen as or is an offensive portrayal of people from other cultures. Stereotypical views of foreign people that reflect ridiculous accents, big noses, hairy faces, bushy Afros, and thick lips can be seen in costumes sold in Japan, product packaging designs, and advertising. The grossly stereotyped versions of foreigners in Japan which I see in the present day are the equivalent of the buck-toothed, bespectacled, yellow-skinned cartoons of the Japanese from around the time of World War II. We are sensitive to showing them in such an offensive manner, but they are clueless about how offensive their portrayals of us are. Attempts to draw the attention of persons in authority have met with defensive reactions which are the equivalent of, 'these images aren't for foreign people to see, but are for we Japanese.'

I won't miss this lack of sensitivity about the portrayal of other people and cultures.

Will Miss #199 - lack of political correctness

Political correctness would stop an American manufacturer from naming a product "Oriental Fruits Assort."

This is a tricky topic because I don't really mind the idea of political correctness (PC) in the service of a minority group's feelings, particularly in the many cases where there is a good reason for such sensitivity. For instance, I think Native Americans shouldn't be called "Indians" because that name was applied to them as the result of an error on the part of Europeans who thought they'd landed in India. That being said, sometimes the oversensitivity that Western people have in their attempts to be PC hamstrings all reasonable conversation. You can't talk about anything in Japan "in general" with many foreigners because they get uncomfortable with the idea of doing so as they view it as bordering on bigotry (or talking in stereotypes). The Japanese themselves, however, don't have the notion of being politically correct about themselves or anyone else (though they do have notions of civility and good manners which keep overt prejudicial talk in check). You can compare and discuss cultures "in general" until the cows come home with them and they won't squirm in PC-induced discomfort. They know that you're not talking about one person, or them in particular, and aren't so insecure that they want to abandon the topic.

The Japanese aren't so mortified of saying something that might offend someone that they won't talk in a reasoned manner about a cross-cultural topic, and I'm going to miss that.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Won't Miss #199 - unsuitable makeup colors

Most of the makeup in Japan, unsurprisingly, is sold for women who have very dark brown eyes, black hair (brows, eyelashes), and a certain skin tone. When you have red hair, blue eyes, and a very pale skin tone, most of the make-up isn't going to flatter your coloring. Most of the mascara and eye liner is, of course, black which is really too dark for me.

I won't miss finding that the vast majority of the make-up does not suit my coloring.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Will Miss #198 - Japanese movie posters

One of my husband's and my most prized possessions from our stay in Japan is a Monty Python and the Holy Grail Japanese movie poster. Perhaps we're giant dorks, but the movie posters having Japanese writing on them just makes them cooler to us. Of course, the poster designs are also different from those back home in many cases. We've got a collection of movie posters that we have bought since coming here which are our favorite mementos. You can buy such posters for a modest sum in most theaters when you see a movie, and some rental shops give away DVD promotional posters for free, so they're not hard to get.

I'll miss easy (and cheap) access to these cool posters.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Won't Miss #198 - stock blockers

Aisles in shops in Tokyo are narrow, as I've mentioned before. One of the things that seems to happen often when I'm shopping is that an employee (or several employees) will largely or completely block the aisle while you're trying to shop. This happens nearly every day. I can understand that they have a job to do, but more often than not, they won't move when you need to get by or they leave boxes or carts full of goods standing in the aisle for long periods of time taking up whatever space they aren't personally occupying. Incidentally, I'm not implying that employees in America are generally better at getting out of the way (as I don't remember after so many years in Japan if they move when blocking or not), but rather that it isn't as much of an issue because the aisles are much, much wider.

Despite its generally good service, employees don't seem to have the common sense to move when they are blocking customers and I won't miss this.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Will Miss #197 - cultural story exchanges

English language schools ("eikaiwa") and foreigners working in them get a bad rap among the foreign community in Japan, but I can say without hesitation that they are the best cultural exchange environments around. A big part of the reason for this is that foreigners who are studying Japanese tend to want to speak mundane Japanese for practice outside of the eikaiwa, and those who work in an office no longer find the environment appropriate for certain types of conversations. Another reason is that the point of eikaiwa lessons is to get students to talk as much as possible, and a lot of territory gets covered to keep the topics fresh, so you find yourself talking about a broad diversity of themes. I learn more about Japanese culture, both past and present, from teaching English than I ever did while working in a Japanese company. One of the things that I frequently hear about are the old stories that form the backbone of the shared cultural experience in Japan. The stories we know from our childhood are different, and it's interesting to see some marker of our stories (like the Lady Godiva icon on Godiva chocolate shops) in Japan and to explain the underlying meaning to Japanese people as well as to have them tell their culturally shared stories.

Sharing these types of stories is a big part of appreciating the charm of each particular culture, and it goes some way toward understanding the values instilled in people from childhood. I will miss that.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Won't Miss #197 - condoms that are too small

There is an effort among some foreign women married to Japanese men to dispel what they believe is the "myth" that Japanese men have smaller penises than foreign men based on their (statistically insignificant) personal experiences. I have no interest in myths, but I do know some facts. The fact of the matter is that penis size in a given population relates not to the size of the men, but the size of the women. No doubt, this is part of the cleverness of evolution. If it didn't fit, the DNA didn't get passed on. If the average size of the women is smaller, the penis size of the men is smaller. You can reach your own conclusions based on the size of Japanese women and you can debate to your heart's content as to whether size even matters. Personally, it's of no consequence to me (since I'm married to an American) except when it comes to the size of the available condoms in Japan. Japanese condoms are too tight for many foreign men because they are sized for the average Japanese penis. Sure, they can stretch enough to do the job, but they're not comfortable and don't feel right.

I won't miss having to deal with the hassle of buying imported condoms because the Japanese ones are too small.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Will Miss #196 - a ritual for everything

One of my students is an older gentleman who pays me in cash at the end of the lesson. There is a certain awkwardness associated with handing money over to someone with whom you have a teacher/student relationship because of the atmosphere of friendliness and cordiality in what is essentially a business relationship. The Japanese have a way of addressing this and many other potentially awkward situations by having a ritual that people can follow. There is a special envelope for giving money. The money is placed in the envelope and handed over in a particular way. This is the way such things are done and everyone expects things to be done this way so there is no embarrassment or strangeness to the experience. The same goes for how business cards are handled, bowing is done, and gifts are offered and accepted.

I like the way in which there are little rituals for certain types of interactions so that everyone knows what to do and how to do it so that there is less risk of embarrassment, and I'll miss that.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Won't Miss #196 - no English Subtitles

If you see a movie like "Avatar" or "Lord of the Rings", there are made-up languages used during certain points of the movie. Even though the movie is in English, there is no way to understand fictional languages without subtitles (unless you're a big geek and speak fluent Elvish). Even if you read Japanese fast enough or well enough, it is disruptive to your enjoyment of the movie to be torn out of the story and have to start puzzling out the Japanese. Any non-native Japanese (or person not raised bilingually) who says he can comfortably read and internalize movie dialog in Japanese as effortlessly and naturally as his native tongue is probably trying to fool someone (including himself). Our thought processes, especially when we're already thinking and listening in our native language, tend not to flawlessly shift gears to another language unless we were raised in a multilingual environment.

I won't miss not knowing exactly what is going on when watching a movie with a made-up language.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Will Miss #195 - housewives being valued

In the U.S., women who stay at home and are either housewives or stay at home mothers have to fight a battle to be appreciated. They're often seen as lazy, bon-bon-eating slackers who lounge about the house all day and mooch off of their employed husbands. I realize that is an exaggeration, but I would wager that most American women feel a need to justify their choice not to work. In Japan, the role of a woman who stays home and supports the family through her homemaking efforts is still valued by society on the whole. In fact, many men still prefer that their wives do not work, especially after they have children.

While I don't think that the choice of a woman working or not should be in the hands of men, I'm gratified that Japanese society understands that there is value in the work housewives do, and that their role is not useless simply because they aren't paid for their work, and I'll miss that.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Won't Miss #195 - platinum jewelry

A sign about platinum jewelry.

Among my married students, I have never seen one wear a ring made of gold. Every married person I've ever met in Japan has a platinum wedding band. In fact, Japan buys 85% of the world's platinum jewelry. Considering that they have less than 2% of the world's population, that's some pretty impressive conspicuous consumption. I've never gotten a straight answer as to why they prefer platinum to gold (white or yellow) or silver, but I would wager that it has something to do with its rarity. In essence, I think it's about status and having something which is rare rather than simply the color or luster of the metal.

I won't miss seeing the preoccupation with platinum and the underlying materialism and status seeking which motivate its popularity.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Will Miss #194 - bontan ame

One thing that tends to happen as you get older is that you prefer things that aren't so sweet when you indulge in treats. We often hear that Japanese candies aren't as sweet as American ones, and, speaking very generally, that is true (though it isn't always true by a long shot). One of the candies which I've discovered here that nicely replaces sweet American candies like Sunkist Fruit Gems is bontan ame. It's a soft, citrus-based, jelly-like candy with an edible wrapper. There's nothing quite like it back home either in terms of texture or taste.

I've consumed many boxes of these and I'll definitely miss this unique and tasty candy.