Friday, October 29, 2010
Back home in rural Pennsylvania, we used to leave our front door unlocked all of the time because crime was so rare. When salespeople or strangers on formal business came to our house, they would knock and after we replied, they would stand behind the door and announce themselves. We (the owners of the domicile) would then open the door and let them in. In Tokyo, there is a rather disturbing habit among strangers who are either offering a service or trying to sell something when they come to your door. They ring the bell, I answer by saying "yes?", and the first thing they do is grab the door handle and try to open the door themselves. When they discover it is locked, they yank a bit harder a second time then give up and only then tell you who they are and what they are doing at your place. Note that this does not always happen, but it happens often enough to encourage me to keep the door locked at all times.
I find the notion that a stranger thinks it's okay to let himself in as soon as he knows I'm home rather disturbing and I won't miss it.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
One Day Shop Fuji renting the space to a music seller who has many CDs for 10 yen (11 cents) each.
When I was a child, my grandmother used to take us to auctions where copious quantities of new and varied items were sold for cheap. There was something really cool about the unpredictable nature of the types of items that are sold. I never knew what was going to be on offer. On the main shopping street in my neighborhood, there are two or three rental spaces which come close to this same sort of sense. Various businesses rent the space and sell many different things. I've seen dental implements, snacks, kitchen wares, clothes, CDs, jewely, and computers among others. I never know what they're going to offer, but it's always an interesting surprise. Sometimes, a peddler will just offer a potpourri of items of interest.
I'll miss the surprises, and the bargains from these one day sales.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
My issues with Softbank are two-fold (at the moment). First, if you sign a contract with them and you are not Japanese, you must provide two forms of official identification such as your alien registration card, passport, or government issue health insurance card. If you are Japanese, you only need to provide one piece of official identification or two very flimsy pieces (like student I.D. and credit card). This is discrimination, pure and simple. I don't know why they require foreigners to give two types of official I.D., but the only reason I can think of is that they think we're criminals carrying one well-constructed fake. The second problem I have with Softbank is that they won't answer some questions when you stand right in their shops face-to-face (speaking Japanese). My husband had a question about connecting to their Wi-fi via iPad and they told him they wouldn't answer his question in their cavernous shop which was at that moment utterly devoid of customers.* They said he had to call a number on a brochure. This is pathetic customer service.
I won't miss Softbank's policies or "service".
*Note: He asked in Japanese, so it wasn't a language issue.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Back home, people are generally comfortable with the idea of going to war and of their armed force's going abroad and taking part in aggressive activities. The Japanese have a culture which is very strongly based on pacifism. Most Japanese people place peace above many other interests. It's one of the reasons Japan is always paying off terrorists who kidnap their representatives and media personnel abroad. This pacifism was pushed on them after their defeat in World war II, but it has since become integrated with the cultural mindset.
While I realize that pacifism is not a perfect philosophy, I'd rather be surrounded by people who think first of peace rather than aggression, and I'll miss that.
Monday, October 25, 2010
Early on in my stay in Japan, I would see packages of "onion rings" like the type you see above. Unfortunately, they did not have a little cartoon on them so I was in for a rude awakening. I realize that there are some people who love squid, but it's like chewing on an eraser to me. Seeing these battered squid rings always brings about an initial positive conditioned response which is always followed by a sense of letdown.
I won't miss squid, where I least expect it and even where I most expect it.
Friday, October 22, 2010
One of the joys of living in Japan is that there are a plethora of traditional sweets shops that offer fresh treats made daily and in great variety. Very early in my time in Japan, I became a fan of white bean cakes, and often enjoy the unique offerings of manju or other traditional treats that are available at such shops. They are not only fresh, but each shop has its own special selection.
I'll miss these traditional Japanese sweets shops.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Sometimes I wake up really early and can't go back to sleep. No big deal, right? It happens to everyone. Well, when you live in an apartment which is the total size of most Western living rooms and separated by doors which are the equivalent of cardboard when it comes to sound insulation, you can't do anything for fear of waking the other inhabitants of your home and forcing them to face the same sleep deprivation you are dreading. Hungry? Can't make breakfast. Want some much needed caffeine? Can't make coffee or tea. Want to get dressed and go for an early walk? Can't get clothes out of the dresser (or open and close the front door). Television? No way! I can't even turn on the light because it can seep through the cracks in the doors and possibly wake my husband up. Sometimes I just sit at my computer listening to the clock tick until my husband wakes up thinking about how I'll be glad when he does so that I can actually do something other than focus on how crappy I feel in my sleep-deprive state.
I won't miss having to be still and quiet when I wake up earlier than my husband because my apartment is the size of a shoebox and has walls with the insulation properties of a matzo.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Click to see a larger version.
I have a peculiar fascination with the types of housing brochures that litter my mailbox. At least once a week, I get a large flyer advertising condominiums in my area. I'm fascinated by them for a variety of reasons. First of all, I like to see the sizes and relative prices. Second, I like to see how they conceptualize the spaces and lay them out. Third, I'm amused by the sterile, minimalist furnished spaces they show which you know no one will live like. I think I find these so interesting because of the small spaces and outrageous prices. Many Japanese folks live in spaces the size of a college dorm room, and these condos reflect a culture which is accustomed to making do with far less space.
I realize this is a strange thing to miss, but I do enjoy looking at these and will miss them.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
This bread makes gorgeous and decadent toast. Each slice is as thick as two regular slices, perhaps thicker. Coffee shops often use this sort of bread for toast and coffee breakfast sets. I never eat it.
Sometimes, things that are good in every way are not necessarily good for you. One of those things is Japanese bread. If I were to come as a tourist and dine on buttered toast and coffee for breakfast for a week, I'd be gratified at the delights of Japanese bread. Living here for a year or more is another issue entirely. Japanese bread is like cake. It's light, white, and fluffy. It's also generally cut to fairly fat sizes unless you track down skinny 8-cut bread. The main problem is that it's very fattening. An average slice is about 150 calories, and that's for an fairly normal cut slice (thinner than that shown above). There's also the fact that it's like a cushy pillow that easily flattens out. It's only good for the most lightweight sandwiches. This suits the Japanese habit of putting blobs of mayo with small amounts of egg or tuna in between two delicate (and crust-less) pieces, but it doesn't hold up to a nice pile of lettuce, tomato, cheese, and a slice or two of lunch meat.
I won't miss the tasty, but fattening Japanese bread.
Monday, October 18, 2010
A few buttons on a huge automated ordering machine. These are for curry and curry toppings.
Japan has long been famous for its technological innovations. Some day, I'm sure that they will be able to do away with people altogether in the service industry. Given that the birthrate is a bit under 1.4, they'll probably need to do this. For now though, they do the best they can to put technology into the mix and that includes these machines that are used to streamline the ordering process at some restaurants. Instead of troubling yourself with paying a cashier, you buy a ticket from a machine outside first, give the ticket to the person in the shop (not yet a robot, but soon, I'm sure), and they serve you the grub you want without any dirty money exchanging hands.
I'm sure these types of machines are in some other places in the world, but the dazzling array of buttons on the Japanese ones and the fact that they are common occurrences always impresses me, and I'll miss seeing them.
Friday, October 15, 2010
One of the things you'll find out rapidly in Japan if you ride a bicycle is that other people have no respect whatsoever for your bike. Besides filling your basket with their empty beverage cans, used tissues, and onigiri wrappers (something I dealt with on a daily basis when I parked at the station for work), they will also do whatever it takes to cram into what limited bike parking space is available. If they have to smash the hell out of your basket until it is a misshapen piece of metal, they will do it. If they have to knock the spokes loose cramming in their kickstand, they will do it. What is more, if they are shoving their bike in and set off a domino effect which knocks down other bikes, they will not pick them up if no one else is there to witness it happen.
I won't miss the abuse my bike gets put through by selfish people who have no respect for the property of others.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
The amado are behind Batman's motorcycle.
I'm written before about the virtues of amado, metal shutters that slide across your windows and lock in the center, and how I like how they provide multiple benefits. I wrote that post in the winter and forgot about the bad side to them and that is that they often very loudly screech when opened and closed. Apparently, part of the maintenance fee I pay for my apartment can't be squandered on a little oil for the shutters. The reason I didn't think of it in the winter is that my windows are closed and I had forgotten how grating they are when my 5 neighbors (who appear to open and close them every single day) move theirs. Personally, I only open or close mine when there is a reason (about 4x a year). One of my neighbors goes to bed at around 7:00 pm and gets up at about 5:00 am and during the brief periods when it is temperate enough in Tokyo to leave the windows open, the loud sound of what appears to be metal on metal wakes me in the early morning hours and disturbs my students during their evening lessons.
I won't miss the painful fingernails-on-a-blackboard noise of amado being opened and closed.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
The sign behind the cups on the left tells people they are welcome to take these things.
I'm not sure if this is something which is common all over Japan (or Tokyo) or if it just happens in my neighborhood, but I often see people putting out free items with a sign encouraging anyone who wants them to take the objects on offer. More often than not, it's dishes, but sometimes it is pieces of furniture, clothing, or even novel objects like Japanese dolls. I'm particularly lucky because one of the most generous people is about a minute from my apartment. I rarely take things from them, but I think it's a nice thing to do. It's neighborly and reduces waste.
I'll miss these neighborhood freebies, which are not only useful, but have uniquely Japanese items.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
My landlord uses my maintenance fee to paint the metal guard leading to my building a fetching shade of battleship gray once every 3 or 4 years. Yeah, that costs about $1600 a year (which is what they get from our entire building in maintenance fees).
Maintenance fees for rented spaces are not uncommon in many countries and there is no reason why Japan should be any different. However, maintenance fees here are different. For one thing, such fees back home are used to maintain community areas and shared amenities. In plain English, it means that if your building has a lobby or a pool, all of the tenants contribute to the cost of upkeep. In Japan, my problem with the fees are two-fold. First of all, apartments are advertised as having a certain monthly cost, but the fees are not included in the advertised price and every apartment has such fees. Essentially, you'll always be paying a bit more each month than you are told. Second, fees are applied whether or not you have any sort of amenities or common areas. I pay 2000 yen ($22) a month for access to a cement walkway that leads to my apartment and a flimsy metal mail box which hasn't been changed or cleaned for 20 years. In theory, my landlord uses the money to make sure any common spaces or amenities I access are well-tended, but there's nothing to tend. In Tokyo, this is quite common since space is so expensive. It's essentially a way of getting more money from tenants and nothing more.
I won't miss paying a maintenance fee when there's nothing to maintain.
Monday, October 11, 2010
If you think Japanese food is healthy, then you don't know the guilty pleasures of Curry House Cocoichibanya. One of my favorite ways to eat myself into a carb stupor is to get a cheese curry bento with pari pari chicken (grilled crispy skin chicken) and garlic. The basic bentos are so huge though that I can only eat half. That's okay because then I can re-stupify the next day on the leftovers. You can also order "half" sizes, but then you can't relive the pleasure the next day. You can order a basic bento and then pile on any amount of toppings (paying a fee for each) and choose whatever heat level you want. I usually go for "8" out of a top hotness level of "10". Japanese curry has a unique flavor, and this particular shop's sauce is pork-based and very savory.
It's delicious and far from nutritious, and I'll miss it.
Friday, October 8, 2010
One of my students had foreign guests visit her family and they went to an onsen. The foreign couple refused to take part with her family when visiting the hot springs even though it was all women in one pool and all men in a completely separate one. My student couldn't understand their squeamishness, and asked me why they wouldn't join them. I told her that we have a lot of shame in connection to the naked body and its imperfections, even when revealing it to people of the same gender. The Japanese don't seem to hold bodies to the same impossible standards that Americans do, and have a more relaxed and balanced notion of what a body should look like.
I will miss the lack of shame most Japanese people feel about the human body and their lack of self-consciousness about revealing their (quite natural and usual) imperfections to perfect strangers of the same gender.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
Signs like this one telling people not to leave their dog's feces all over the place are abundant in residential areas in Tokyo. There wouldn't be a need for these signs to be plastered everywhere if people weren't leaving poop behind when walking their dogs.
There's a back street near my home which I always take to go shopping for groceries as it leads to a wonderful shopping area not too far from my apartment. The street is often traveled by pedestrians, but not in great numbers, and particularly not at night. It's also very popular for people to walk their dogs along when they need to "go walkies". Though there are rules (possibly even laws) in Japan about picking up after your dog, people who take their dogs out to do their business on this street frequently do not clean up if no one is around. It's so bad that every single day when I walk down the street, it smells like dog crap and there are piles of it in various parts of the street (which is for pedestrians only, not an area for traffic). This is despite the fact that people who live in those areas are cleaning up the street in front of their homes everyday. That means there's a fresh layer of crap being left behind on a regular basis.
I won't miss seeing and smelling the results of people who willfully and blatantly ignore the rules or laws about cleaning up after their dogs simply because no one is there to see them do it.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Before coming to Japan, I was not a fan of fresh oranges, though I did like orange-flavored foods. Most of them didn't seem to have much taste, and I didn't like the texture. Since coming to Japan, I've found that there are some much more flavorful options on the orange front. One of those options is dekopon (marketed as "sumo citrus" in the U.S.), a variety of orange with a protruding navel that is aged to develop the sugars. It's more intensely flavorful and sweeter than common Western varieties such as navel oranges.
I'll miss easy access to dekopon.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
If you walk up to a dog that has never seen you before and look it straight in the eyes while holding your hand above its head to pat it, there is a decent chance the dog will bite you. All animals find staring to be an act of aggression and challenge. It makes them angry. Humans, being animals, are no different. One of the consequences of being stared at all the time is that you become increasingly defensive (or outright hostile) after repeated exposure to this sort of behavior. And one of the consequences of living in Japan as a foreigner is that you get stared at a lot.
I won't miss getting my hackles up after an outing where I'm subjected to more slack-jawed gawking than usual (and the "usual" is pretty high).
Monday, October 4, 2010
One of the character qualities that Japanese culture encourages and builds into it citizens is something called "gaman". It can mean slightly different things, but it essentially means to practice tolerance in the face of hardship rather than to complain, act out, or be confrontational. The manner in which this manifests in life here is that (the vast majority of) people tend to be patient with small problems rather than make an issue of them, and they will put up with considerable difficulties rather than walk away or quit. It's one of those things that many foreign folks don't notice right away, but often they benefit from it. You may do a myriad of things that annoy your neighbors, but many of them may choose to simply "endure" the difficulty rather than complain. Many foreigners also fail to practice "gaman" themselves and alienate Japanese people who feel that no reasonable person would complain about the trivialities that foreign folks do.
I will miss the culture of "gaman" and the way in which it encourages patience and cooperation rather than petty complaining and confrontation.
Friday, October 1, 2010
My husband got a pair of Birkenstocks that had been worn twice by their previous owner via Freecycle in Tokyo. We had been having problems finding a new pair in his size (and he doesn't have big feet!) and were delighted when a pair that were big enough showed up in the Freecycle mailing list. My friend Shawn had a bit of an "ick" response to the idea that we'd accept second-hand shoes, even ones that clearly were worn less than a handful of times and were stored in their original box for quite some time (allowing any cooties to die of old age). If second-hand Birkies worn by one person freak you out, then you may want to avoid Japan. In some restaurants, hotels, inns, and other popular tourist attractions, you are required to remove your shoes and put on slippers worn by other people... worn by hundreds of other people, some just minutes before you put them on.
The idea of sharing slippers with vast numbers of people is something I won't miss.