Thursday, September 30, 2010

Will Miss #238 - fans

You can buy fans anywhere in the world, but Japan is the (unofficial) home of fans and they are closely associated with the culture. Who hasn't seen the image of the beautiful Japanese woman holding a fan in front of her? Every summer, a wide variety of attractive, cheap, and free fans are available. You find plastic ones featuring ads being given away on the streets for advertising as well as special promotional ones being offered at festivals and shops. You can buy many different kinds at 100 yen shops, or visit some of the better souvenir shops and buy more elaborate ones. In the summer, they are a compact and ecologically sound way to cool yourself down, and they are just plain nice to display if you are of a mind to do so. They also make nifty souvenirs for folks back home.

I'll miss the abundant Japanese fans.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Won't Miss #238 - eating at my desk

This is an old picture, but I'm too lazy to take a new one. However, that is pretty much the desk I still have and eat at. :-p

I have grown accustomed to many of the shortcomings of living in a very small space and I'm at peace with most of them. That being said, our apartment is too small for a dining table. When I was younger, that didn't trouble me much, but as I've gotten older and started to cook more and more, I've longed for the ability to eat a proper meal at a table big enough for both place settings and serving dishes. It wouldn't even have to be a big table, but the one I have (which folds and is stored unless I need it for teaching) isn't big enough for even two people to sit with a dinner plate only.

Now that I'm a grown-up, I'd like to not eat my meals like a college kid in a dorm and I won't miss this lack of space for a proper dining room table.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Will Miss #237 - no line jumpers

One of the major complaints that I hear when friends travel in other parts of Asia is that people don't line up when it is necessary to wait your turn for something. In China in particular, it's a free-for-all and can be quite disconcerting and aggravating in a crowded situation, but even in the U.S., you see some pretty selfish and bad behavior while waiting in line. The Japanese are masters at the art of lining up. They don't try to jump ahead, patiently wait for the person in front of them to move on, and don't get frustrated or act up even in the longest lines.

I'll miss the civilized, polite and orderly way that people line up in Japan.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Won't Miss #237 - "inscrutable culture"

There is a notion that Japanese cultural concepts (and the underlying psychology) are too sophisticated for outsiders to comprehend, so most Japanese people won't even try to explain certain ideas to curious foreign folks. Frankly, I can tell you this is a crock. Many Japanese people can't explain Japanese cultural concepts for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with the inability of interested gaijin to comprehend them. First, they often don't understand those concepts very well themselves beyond the knowledge of the terms and a shallow definition of them.* Second, the vast majority of the time, they lack the cross-cultural perspective to frame information in a manner which makes it comprehensible. Third, they subscribe so completely to the myth that foreigners are incapable of understanding their culture that they won't even try. The Japanese used to be called "inscrutable" in the past before it was considered racist to do so, but the truth is that some Japanese people actually prefer to be seen that way because it makes them feel their culture is elevated above others.

This attitude is patronizing, and I'm certainly not going to miss it.

*A good example of this is the term "wabi sabi". Most Japanese people know the words, but don't really have a deep connection to the meaning. They only know that some actions, like cherry blossom viewing and watching fall leaves, are expressions of this aesthetic.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Will Miss #236 - daruma dolls

Daruma dolls show up all over the place in Japan and even in Western countries when they want to show some sort of Japanese decor. In fact, I remember seeing one in the attic apartment set used for the American T.V. comedy "Third Rock From the Sun." Some people may know they are Japanese, but not know what they are used for. I don't like daruma for their design, but rather for the concept behind them. When start a goal, you paint in one eye of the doll, and when you complete the goal, you paint in the other. I like the concrete and stylish nature of how the dolls work. There's something gratifying about seeing someone display a one-eyed doll and knowing they are working toward a goal. I also think it must be a good reminder of what you are working on, and imagine that painting in that eye must be a moment of great satisfaction for those who use the dolls to motivate them in achieving their goals.

I'll miss seeing daruma dolls.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Won't Miss #236 - pedestrian overpasses

 A typical overpass, one of hundreds, on Ome Kaido Avenue.

I live near a large major street which is the fastest way for emergency vehicles to reach destinations between my home and other major mini-cities inside of Tokyo. Without access to this street, it is virtually impossible for emergency vehicles to get where they need to go. This long and important street is peppered liberally across its entire length with old pedestrian overpasses. They are there because putting up too many traffic lights and crosswalks would slow the speed of vehicles along this particular street. In an earthquake-prone country, this is incredibly bad planning. If there were a major earthquake, these overpasses would crumble and completely block the ability of ambulances, fire trucks, or other emergency people to get around without maneuvering a maze of tiny side streets.

I won't miss these overpasses, and how I can't help but think what they might represent should I be in Tokyo during a big earthquake.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Quick Mention: This blog was reviewed

Just a quick mention that this blog was reviewed at the Japan Blog Review. It's an interesting site that will introduce those interested in Japan blogs to more of the same so you might want to give it a look.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

Will Miss #235 - Japanese pottery

My husband and I don't give each other gifts for holidays anymore, but early on in our stay in Japan, we still did. One of my earliest requests was some hand-made Japanese pottery. In particular, I wanted some cups with traditional glazing and designs. There's something about the natural look and feel of this type of pottery which is comforting. It makes me feel like I'm consuming food or beverages from something closer to the earth and humanity. It's a much more meaningful feeling using such implements than something which clearly came off of a factory assembly line.

I'll miss this type of Japanese pottery.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Won't Miss #235 - "do you speak Japanese?"

Some questions when asked have nothing but bad intentions behind them, and this is one of them. Note that there are only two types of people who ask me this question. One is students in language lessons who are supposed to only deal with me in English and my Japanese language ability has nothing to do with them (as I'm not going to speak Japanese to them regardless). The others are native-English-speaking foreigners who want to judge me based on what they believe my abilities "should" be. Foreigners in particular like to use other foreigners to size up their linguistic skills so they can feel superior (or decide if they are inferior). This question is a bit like someone asking another person's weight. It's none of their business and is only asked as a way of judging you.

I won't miss being asked about my Japanese language capability.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Will Miss #234 - the passive nature of Japanese people

Japanese people are generally pretty passive and tolerant. This is because their culture values emotional control and stoicism far more than many Western cultures and they have a culture which values "gaman" or "enduring suffering" rather than fighting back. They view the inability of foreign people to control their emotions or withhold their opinions in circumstances when expressing them might cause other parties emotional disturbance to be immature. From the Japanese perspective, only children lack the ability to hold their tongues and tempers. Because of this, you rarely find Japanese people becoming confrontational or stirring up an altercation over a minor difficulty or difference of opinion.

There is a calmness and a maturity to this passive nature, and I will miss it.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Won't Miss #234 - reluctance to express oneself

The Japanese are often reluctant to express themselves because their culture does not reward varying opinions. A lot of Japanese people will not have a debate or even a discussion with you about a topic of interest because they do not want to risk offending or upsetting you with a different opinion. In fact, many Japanese people will simply shake their head "yes" when you assert some viewpoint even when they don't agree with you at all. This reluctance to express their opinions makes it hard to get to know them on a deeper level and often makes conversations that go beyond the trivial difficult. Japanese people are often closed off and self-contained unless you are a very long-term, deeply trusted friend or unless they are drunk off their asses. Even then, they may not reveal their true opinions.

I won't miss this reluctance on the part of the majority of people to express their true feelings and opinions.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Will Miss #233 - takarakuji

 A window which sells Japanese lottery tickets.

"Takarakuji" is the Japanese version of the lottery. Let me say that I do not buy lottery tickets or gamble. To me, it's simply tossing ones money out the window because the odds are so low that you'll win as much as you spend, let alone more. That being said, I always get a kick out of the way the Japanese lottery works because the prizes really aren't that big, especially when you factor in the cost of something like buying a piece of land in one of the big cities. Back home, people win more money than they should be able to spend in a lifetime (then manage to spend it anyway) when the really big lotteries hit. There is the potential in winning to transform the remainder of your life. In Japan, the total cash prize pool is huge, but tends to be spread out among many more winners with top prizes being in the $2,000,000 range and many more smaller prizes being offered.

There's something very egalitarian and socialist about the way in which a huge pie is divided into more and smaller pieces when it comes to the lottery in Japan, and I'll miss that.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Won't Miss #233 - men first

When I ask my female students who have traveled abroad what they have liked about visiting a Western country, every one of them says that they like the "ladies first" mentality of the people in those countries. A lot of foreigners believe this to mean things like opening doors for women, pulling out chairs for them in restaurants, etc. There is no history of chivalry in Japan so it isn't integrated into their culture. While I'm certain that these types of courtesies are included in what my students perceive, it is much more than that. In Japan, most of the country operates from a perspective of "men first". What Japanese women perceive as "ladies first" also includes common courtesy based on a perception of equality among all people regardless of gender in Western countries. Since Japanese women are so accustomed to being second class, they see being treated equally as an elevation.

I won't miss living in a culture where men come first simply by virtue of possessing a penis.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Will Miss #232 - valuing cultural pursuits

A sign offering piano and electone organ lessons.

The prevailing attitude in the U.S. when it comes to education is that it should be in the service of earning money. In particular, people believe that you should spend your time pursuing only those things which will advance your career. This is one of the reasons that people hold liberal arts degree holders in contempt and have a higher regard for people who study engineering or harder sciences. In Japan, this sort of thinking is not nearly as prevalent. In fact, people study language, piano, etc. for the sake of self-improvement and out of mere interest. They don't have to have an application in mind to motivate them to study. I'm not sure why this is the case in Japan. It could be that the culture has deeper roots and a longer history of things like tea ceremony and flower arranging so they see inherent value in cultural pursuits. It could simply be that they have different underlying values which don't place money-making above all else.

Whatever the reason, I will miss the way in which Japanese people study and learn things for the sake of overall self-improvement or to diversify their interests rather than as a means to a particular end.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Won't Miss #232 - low sofas

For reasons I'm sure that I can only guess at, the sofas in Japan seem to be built for munchkins. I'm not talking about the kind of furniture which has  you sitting essentially on the floor with a back support (of which there is plenty in Japan), but about Western-style sofas and sometimes cushy chairs that are just about 4-6 inches too low to be comfortable to sit on (because there is increased knee stress). They make you feel like something isn't quite right and are harder to haul your tired carcass off of. This might be because Japanese have shorter legs, tend to be shorter in general, or that they find the height just fine compared to sitting flat on the floor.

I won't miss sofas and easy chairs that are too low for comfort.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Posting Frequency Changes

As of the today, this blog will be going from a posting schedule in which at least one post is made everyday to a weekday schedule. New posts will only be made from Monday to Friday. The reasons for this are personal, and not of great interest to my readers but the gist of it is that I've been writing 14 posts (or more) per week on average for several blogs (mainly this one and my Snack Reviews blog) for over a year and I need to devote some of that time to other pursuits. In particular, I need to do more language study and prepare to re-take the GRE (I took it over 20 years ago, and my old scores are no longer valid).

Since readership drops off on weekends anyway, and most people just "catch up" on Mondays, this shouldn't have much of an impact on most readers except they'll have a bit less to read. However, I apologize to anyone who is disappointed about this change. I wish I had more time and energy to keep up the current schedule, but life can get in the way sometimes.

Thanks to everyone who follows this blog. I really appreciate it and it keeps me going!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Will Miss #231 - tachiyomi

One of the most fascinating things I witnessed early in my stay in Japan was large groups of people, particularly men, who stood in book shops and convenience stores and just read the magazines or books. The shop owners never sweated this, despite the fact that many people read entire magazines, books, or comic books (manga) and didn't make a purchase. The publications would sometimes become thumbed through enough that they could not be sold. Sometimes a "sample" was put in front to accommodate people who stood and read (called "tachiyomi" in Japanese). This type of acceptance and patience with the status quo is one of those distinctly Japanese things that is unlikely to be found back home.

I will miss this unprofitable tolerance on the part of shopkeepers, which I assume they do in order to build goodwill with customers.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Won't Miss #231 - poor rain etiquette

I think this is a "Tokyo thing". It might also be a "treatment of females thing", or even a thing that is related to being a foreigner. I don't know all of the variables, but for quite some time I've noticed that people act incredibly selfishly when it rains. I realize most Japanese people react to rain as if they were composed of sugar and might melt away entirely should the drops touch them, but some things gain one very little at the expense of others in the battle to keep dry. Most often, I notice that when there is a puddle on one side of the sidewalk and a cyclist is coming in the opposite direction, the cyclist will change sides to avoid the puddle and force me (as a pedestrian) to either walk through the puddle, stop entirely and risk getting hit by the oncoming bike, or play chicken and hope I win. The cyclist will not get wet feet by going through a puddle, but I will, yet they force me into the water over 80% of the time. Something that happens less often occurs when I'm caught out in an unexpected downpour without my umbrella. If I'm walking exposed to the full force of the rain and someone else has an umbrella, there is a good chance that the other party will walk under any sheltered area (like a shop's awning) despite having an umbrella and force me to walk full on into the rain or stand dead in the way. Again, they will do this regardless of "right of way".

I won't miss this petty and selfish behavior on the narrow sidewalks of Tokyo when it rains.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Will Miss #230 - traditional healing

In the West, people tend to view any sort of healing which is non-scientific or medical in nature as useless. The Japanese embrace a variety of healing methods including acupuncture, acupressure, and herbal medicine. Many of my students partake of these types of healing to help them deal with stress or chronic pain. Many have told me that it helps them with things like back, neck, and shoulder pain as well as moderate illnesses like stomachaches or headaches and fatigue. Japanese people don't scoff at each other or think people who choose traditional healing are stupid or gullible.

The Japanese, by and large, are open-minded about possibilities outside of modern medicine, and I'll miss that.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Won't Miss #230 - Japanese cemetaries

As I mentioned in the previous post, I grew up around a cemetery and I have had an interest in grave markers as a result. The designs of the stones, the words written upon them, and the epitaphs always told me something about the people and how they felt. Some of the graves even told me something about how the people looked as photos were included as part of the stone design. Burial markers are cultural and historical goldmines, as archaeologists have long known. They tell you something about psychology and about the emotions of the people who laid their loved ones to rest. The sizes of the stones, the choice of design or inclusion of a particular bit of statuary was fascinating to me. Sometimes, you had a profound sense of the person who died and the people who buried them and felt a connection to them. In Japan, however, the customs are rather different. They don't have individual grave stones and generally little in the way of personalized design. There's a family plot marker in which they place long sticks with names on them.

I mean absolutely no disrespect to Japanese burial traditions, but as someone who has an interest in experiencing something humanistic from burial markers, there usually isn't much of a story being told or much about the people to learn in the stoic nature of Japanese cemeteries.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Will Miss #229 - cremation as the law

A Japanese grave upon which someone has left an Ultraman figure, perhaps in memory of a child who has died.

I grew up in a house that was about a 15 minute walk through the woods from a cemetery. When I was a kid, my cousins, sister, and I used to tromp through the woods and wind up in that cemetery where we'd run around and look at the stones to see what they looked like and said. Sometimes, adults who were visiting graves would get angry with us because we stood on the ground in front of the stones and they felt it was disrespectful to trample on top of the area where the corpse was laid to rest. Of course, we meant no harm. Growing up with frequent exposure to this type of experience made me wonder even at a young age why we put full bodies in the ground to rot like meat. Even before I came to Japan, I felt that cremation made a lot more sense, particularly if ones belief system embraces the idea that the spirit leaves the body at death (which most Christians do). I like the fact that it is the law to cremate bodies in Japan for a variety of reasons. It means less space is taken up by burial, and the entire unpleasant notion of decaying flesh is not an issue. It also pretty  much means Tokyo will never be attacked by zombies.*

I'll miss the fact that cremation is the default way of handling those who have passed away.

*This is a joke. You'd think this would be obvious, but then you don't get my e-mail.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Won't Miss #229 - expensive, unpleasant water

Water in Tokyo is pretty expensive. In fact, it's sufficiently expensive that some Japanese people use their old bathwater to do laundry. My water bills recently went up 20% for no reason that I could work out, so I've taken to trying to save water by turning the shower water on and off when I can in order to cut back on water use. Of course, I usually do this in the summer when it's warm anyway for environmental reasons, but it's something I do now in the cooler months as well because I don't want to pay more than I already do for water. It doesn't make for the most comfortable shower when it'd cold given the poor insulation and cold tile in my bath area. It's not like the water is even "good". Sure, it's safe, but it really does stink like Chlorine, especially when it's hot. Nearly everyone has to filter water to make it less unpleasant to drink or simply drink bottled water.

Perhaps I'm spoiled having grown up with free water, and drinking clear, fresh, clean spring water, but I won't miss the expensive, highly chemically-influenced water in Tokyo.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Will Miss #228 - plethora of chestnut-based foods

I grew up around chestnuts, but we rarely ate them except perhaps around Christmas. In Japan, chestnuts are everywhere. You can buy them in foil packs or freshly roasted to snack onr or garnish food. They are used to make rice dishes, traditional sweets like manju, and more Western-style cakes. They are also often mixed with beans or made into a paste for fillings, and, of course, used in sweets like chocolate and mont blanc. There's nothing I love more than sampling these foods.

I love the bountiful variety of Japanese chestnut-based foods and I'm going to miss them.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Won't Miss #228 - gaijin monkeys

While I have an intense dislike for the fact that many people view foreigners who teach as little more than gaijin monkeys, I have to acknowledge that some people do act like said monkeys. A "gaijin monkey" is a foreigner who puts on an act to entertain Japanese people. Such people often treat Japanese people as if they were children who needed to be energetically amused at all times. This includes (but is not limited to) saying the same ingratiating or goofy phrases (often repeatedly), being loud, making faces, or gesticulating wildly. Unfortunately, you do see this among people who are teachers because they are conditioned during their initial teaching experiences to do this when it elicits smiles and laughter. Some students like it, and some really don't, but enough act amused by it to keep monkeys doing their shtick. Working next to one of these people is grating and embarrassing, and they frequently never learn to be professional or to actually teach since it's easier to keep up the monkey persona than to learn to do the job. What is worse, Japanese people start to think that any foreigner who isn't jumping on the table and making an ass of himself is unhappy about interacting with them and they believe that this gaijin monkey behavior is the norm in the person's native culture.

I won't miss the gaijin monkeys.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Will Miss #227 - free tissues

If you're walking down the street in Tokyo, there's a pretty good chance someone will stick their hand out and offer you a packet of free tissues. One of the ways in which advertisers get people to actually take their ads is to place them on the back of pocket-size tissues. There are foreign folks who say they never buy their own tissues, and others who say they get so many of these free packets that they don't even need to buy toilet paper.*

If I've got to be advertised to, it's good to get something with utility out of the deal, and I'll miss these free packets of tissues.

*Note that it is not advisable to use these as toilet paper. I've been told that tissues are not the same as toilet paper and that they will gum up the works and leave you with the potential for a disgusting mess.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Won't Miss #227 - bosozoku

Our apartment is about a 30-second walk from a major road and a traffic light is just a few more seconds from the intersection of our little street and that road. At night, sometimes after midnight, and when our windows are open because of the heat, we will hear the ebb and flow of traffic as it zooms down the street and becomes suddenly silent when the light is red. Occasionally, rather than silence accompanying the halt of traffic, we will hear the noisy revving of engines following by the roar of mufflers when the light turns green and traffic suddenly moves again. These are the bosozoku, young idiots who do what they can to annoy others around them, but (generally) remain within the confines of the law.

They do a lot more to annoy other people, particularly drivers who they weave around in traffic, but mainly they are a major source of unwelcome noise pollution to me and I won't miss them.