Thursday, March 31, 2011

Won't Miss #304 - Japanese doctors

In Japan, doctors are held in a somewhat exalted position. Japanese people tend to listen passively to them, not ask questions, and definitely do not challenge their assertions. Because of this, many doctors in Japan have some pretty bad bedside manners and can be tyrannical. My brother-in-law, who was perhaps 30 lbs. over an ideal weight at the time, walked into a doctors office and the doctor adopted an animated and surprised stance and shouted, "obesity!" Also, the doctors here are very sloppy about what they tell patients when making a diagnosis. This is a situation which occurs when malpractice suits are rare or hard to file so doctors can act on their arrogance rather than concern themselves with trivial matters like the impact of making a big mistake. About 15 years ago, my former boss was experiencing intermittent numbness in his legs, and the doctor mumbled that it might be MS (Multiple Sclerosis) which, of course, scared the hell out of him (and ended up being untrue). I also had experiences where doctors suggested dire consequences without checking out the possibilities first or running any tests (for instance, when I had a bad back problem, I was told I might become crippled and never walk again if I didn't do what the doctor said, but he never even did so much as take an X-ray). Overall, I've found that Japanese doctors are rude, make pat and incorrect diagnoses, and do not take the time to actually listen to the patients when they talk about their symptoms.

I won't miss dealing with Japanese doctors.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Will Miss #303 - love hotels

 "Hotel Vanilla Sweet", perhaps for candy and cake lovers who need to get some loving of a different flavor.

I have never been to a love hotel, but I like the existence of them for several reasons. First of all, the names and designs are generally pretty goofy so they're good for a laugh. Second, they are meticulously clean for a place which is designed around allowing people to pay by the hour to tryst with one another. They don't carry the same connotation of beg bugs and stained sheets that similar hotels do in the U.S. Finally, their existence and presence in many areas is yet another reflection that the Japanese are not incredibly uptight about sex and sexuality. They are the answer to close quarters living in small apartments and a need to find privacy elsewhere.

I'll miss love hotels for the laughs and for what they represent about Japanese culture.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Won't Miss #303 - pointless placating steps

If you've ever called tech support and been asked a string of stupid questions before you can get to the heart of the issue, you'll have some idea about the point I'm about to make. In Japan, I've experienced a lot of situations in which I had to "make a show" or someone else had to take pointless steps before the real issue could be addressed. In my former company, there was always a problem with the temperature in early spring because my location (in a closet-like space with no circulation) was always hotter than the rest of the office (which was open and had multiple windows to open). I wanted to use the air conditioner, but the president kept turning it off. It wasn't until I gave up and sat in my cubicle with an anemic little fan in abject misery (which was interpreted as "gaman", but was really being fed up) for several days that I was allowed to use the air conditioner. It wasn't the need of the air conditioner or the facts of the situation that were wrong, but rather that I had to go through the steps of showing I was willing to "endure" before I would be granted the right not to suffer. Only after the president was placated could I be given relief even though it was clear he knew my case was valid.

In another case, my water heater had developed a problem where it kept shutting off every 10 seconds. The gas company came over and insisted that the problem was a lack of ventilation, even if we used the proscribed fan and had an open window. We knew this was not the case, but they wouldn't look any further until the landlord had someone come in and professionally clean the fan. Only after this pointless step was made would they open up the heater and find the real problem and fix it. Frankly, I'm sure they knew that wasn't the issue but this was a hoop they force customers through before they'll really fix things.

This sort of having to go through the motions when the real issue is known and should be addressed immediately is something I experience much more often in Japan than back home (as I never dealt with it back home), and I very much won't miss it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Will Miss #302 - spiritual use of incense

Back home, incense was associated with people who smoked pot. Anyone who used incense was viewed with suspicion or mocked as some sort of bizarre New Age hippy type. In Japan, incense is used at shrines as part of spiritual practices. One of my students brought me back an incense burner and sticks as a gift from her travels to an Asian country. I think I wouldn't have been given such a gift back home because of the druggie overtones.

I like the smell of incense, and this favorable association with its use and I'll miss it.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Won't Miss #302 - denial of free downloads

My sister bought a Barnes & Noble "Nook" eBook reader last year and told me that one could get a lot of free books from them and read them either on one's PC, Mac, or iPad even without a Nook. Since my husband recently bought an iPad specifically to read eBooks, we were happy to hear this. Unfortunately, when he tried to download the Nook reader for iPad, the door was shut on his doing so because of his location. This wasn't the first time and I'm sure it won't be the last time that we've been told, "it's free, but you can't have it, and that's only because you're in Japan."

I won't miss being denied access to free software and downloads simply because of my location.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Will Miss #301 - the old clock shop

There's a very large old clock shop in my neighborhood with a slightly gruff, but sufficiently polite old gent in charge. The shop is this odd mixture of old and new world with it's happy anime character clocks on sale and its 30 (or more) -year old chairs in front of a long counter. The fellow who runs the shop sits in the back watching T.V. behind piles of old clock and watch parts. He's so atypically Japanese yet competent at providing service that it feels much more "human" dealing with him (as opposed to the robotic service with fixed greetings and bows). Seeing the chaos he works in reminds me of my grandfather, who used to fix watches as his hobby. I also just like the feel of this particular store with its rough edges, 60's chairs, and ashtrays. The old guy can also replace a watch battery for us fast and easy for a reasonable price.

I'll miss seeing and patronizing this shop when I leave Japan.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Won't Miss #301 - stingy drink service

Have you ever researched the cost of a fountain drink to a business? In some places, it costs mere pennies for enough syrup to make a few hundred glasses of Coke. While I'm sure that this is slightly more expensive in Japan (as many things are), it's not greatly more expensive, yet free refills are almost unheard of in most parts. Costco Japan's food court is a rare exception to the rule. I'm actually not too terribly fussed about the lack of free refills as I'm not really the type of person who needs to down a liter of soda with a meal. However, I am annoyed at a different sort of petty stinginess in Japan and that's the partially filled glass. What is worse, if you ask for a drink without ice,  you will get a proportionally reduced amount of liquid in your glass. If it is 80% full with ice, you'll get it 60% full without ice.

This sort of pettiness flies in the face of the idea of "good customer service" (which goes beyond a bow and polite words, much as many think that's all it is about), and I won't miss it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Will Miss #300 - tonkatsu

There is a type of cuisine in Japan called "yoshoku", which is influenced by Western cooking practices and was developed during the Meiji restoration in the 1800's in Japan. At that time, the emperor ended Japan's isolation and incorporated aspects of Western culture into Japanese life. One of the many results of that is tonkatsu, or pork cutlet. It is a piece of pork (or sometimes chicken) which is breaded and fried, served with cabbage, rice, and often miso soup. It is served with a unique sauce which is slightly sweet and spicy. The entire meal is a wonderful combination of Japanese and Western food that is easy for Western palates to accept.

Though I tried tonkatsu in America (prepared at a Japanese restaurant), I found if very inadequate next to what I've had in Japan, and I'm going to miss it.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Won't Miss #300 - born in a barn

I have no pictures of people being born or barns, so the best I could come up with is this pachinko place with the door hanging open in winter (hence the coats on the players).

There are some curious habits that Japanese service people have which I find troublesome. While it's good that I only need some sort of repair, installation or service in my apartment about once or twice a year, when it does happen, there is a curious sort of apprehension about how to handle the front door. The service people inevitably have to go in and out several times to their vehicle for tools, and they seem reluctant to close the door at all for the duration of the visit. In winter, freezing air streams in and my precious heat streams out. In summer, hot air and hungry mosquitoes float in and expensively generated cold air flows out. As my mother used to say, "close the damn door, were you born in a barn?"

I won't miss this tendency on the part of service people to leave the door open for the entire duration of a service call.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

My quake experience (cross-posted)

During the quake, people in Shinjuku leave their office buildings and stand in the street for fear of their buildings falling down with them still inside. (Click any picture for a larger version.)

Note: I wasn't going to write this, but I feel it's something that is worth putting out there. If I still wrote for my personal blogs, I'd put this there. As it is, I'm placing this here as a bookmark. I'm cross-posting this on both of my main blogs. My apologies to those for whom it is not of interest. I'll be back to normal posts as usual on Monday.

About 6 years ago, I had just finished work on a Saturday afternoon and walked to the local subway station. As I stood on the platform, I felt a strange and somewhat intense shuddering under my feet. I didn't recognize it at the time, but it was a pretty strong earthquake that would leave me stranded in Kudanshita for three hours as the metro was checked for quake-related problems. Up until March 11, 2011, that was the worst quake I'd experienced in Japan and, being underground and therefore less shaken up, I didn't even immediately recognize what it was.

Everyone knows by now that the quake didn't do excessive damage to Tokyo. In the face of the horrendous tsunami damage in northeastern Japan, even talking about how it was in the big city seems disrespectful as it would feel as if one is elevating trivial suffering by the act of bothering to mention it. That being said, the experience is no less terrifying as you live it for not having suffered horrific consequences. As it is happening, you do not know when or how it will end. You only know fear.

I've talked to a lot of Japanese folks who are Tokyo bred and born, and all of them have said that they've lived through a lot of quakes, but this was the first time they were actually afraid. Many of them felt that this was "the big one" that everyone loves to say has been "overdue" for quite some time. All of them were worried that the buildings they were in would come down around them. Most of them dived under their desks or got out of their office buildings and into the clear. The fact that the buildings didn't fall down is a testimonial to how prepared Tokyo was for a strong quake, not an indication that this wasn't a serious amount of shaking with the potential for great damage.

When the quake hit, I was at home on a day in which I had no scheduled freelance work. I was doing what I often do with long stretches of free time; I was getting in some serious cooking for the next several days when I'd be greatly more active. I'd made 8 chocolate muffins and put them aside for cooling before removing them from their tins and was waiting for a loaf of whole wheat bread to finish in the bread machine. I was also thinking about getting down to business on my blogs and replenishing my post buffers.

The quake is talked about as if it were just one big shake that scared the bejeezus out of us and then pieces were picked up and those in Tokyo wiped their brows and felt relieved, but it wasn't quite like that. It started as a pretty low level quake, the sort which doesn't tend to alarm those who are old hands at living in Tokyo. It continued on and built up more and more over what felt like as long as a minute. That is an incredibly long time when the room is shaking hard. When the intensity started to ramp up, I did what I always do when a quake starts to feel strong, I walked to the front door, opened it, and stood in the doorway. Door frames are strong architecturally, and mine is not near any potential falling glass. Being there half in and half out of the apartment also provides me with two options to quickly act upon. I can either duck in or run out into the street.

The neighbor/landlord's house had a huge and heavy Japanese lawn ornament out front which toppled and shattered during the quake.

Since I grew up in Pennsylvania, where there are no earthquakes, I tend to react a little faster than most of the Tokyo natives. I stood there in the doorway watching my neighbor and landlady fussing with her laundry on the second floor balcony of their house. As the quake continued to grow in intensity, she scurried back into the house. Unlike most people who experienced this quake, I wasn't attending as much to what was happening inside my home because I was looking outside for indications that it was growing more serious. There's a metal roof which is part of a walkway above us for the second floor of our two-story building and I listened to it rattle. I watched the tree in front of the neighbors house start to whip and sway along with the power cables strung near it. I wondered if the cables might snap from the force.

When you watch a quake on T.V., you don't realize that it's an all-encompassing sensory experience, not merely objects moving about. It's palpable as well as visual and auditory. I felt the force of it move through my body. In fact, I put my hand against the opposite side of the door frame as I leaned against one side so that I could feel the movement more than see it. The extent to which the shock waves caused by the energy being expended in a quake can be felt is a much better indication of how powerful it is than watching objects, which have varying centers of gravity and mass, move. Feeling the movement of the framework of my apartment made it crystal clear how powerful the quake was. I could also feel it through the solid cement floor of the genkan (sunken entryway for shoes in Japanese homes).

After the quake, I walked into my apartment and typed a message on FaceBook about there just having been a huge quake in Tokyo. My hands were shaking so much that I had problems typing the words. In retrospect, after sending the message, I typed something about how it was "huge" by my standards, but others may feel it wasn't such a big deal. I wondered if I was being a big baby and overreacting.

Soon after sending that message, a strong aftershock hit and I stood in the doorway again. It didn't feel much smaller than the first prolonged tremor, and it also lasted a very long time, at least when you measure time by how terrified you are as it passes. By now, I was more attentive to what was happening all around me. I watched my refrigerator shake hard in its place, and was glad that the heaviest object in my home was wedged in so tight that it wouldn't probably fall even if the force was strong enough to take down the whole building. I wondered if my tray of chocolate muffins was going to fall from where it was sitting. I watched the neighbors laundry and house, and the tree and cables again. I looked up at the sky, which was beautiful, clear and blue, and thought about how this gorgeous day was carrying on in such opposition to what I was experiencing.

After the first aftershock, I worried about my husband's disposition. He works in a medium-sized (6 story) building in the business district of Shinjuku. He is on the 4th floor. I didn't think anything would have happened during the first quake because I think most buildings can take  quake abuse in Tokyo, but I wondered if the extended nature of the tremors might not be something all buildings could withstand. I did feel that he was probably safer than me since taller buildings are built to deal with quakes better than shorter ones, but he is the most valuable person in the world to me and I couldn't help but worry.

After the second round of shaking, I went outside to see what my neighbors were doing. In part, I wondered if this was as scary and atypical to those well-experienced in quakes as it was to me. If odd things were going on with them, then it was as "bad" as I felt it was. The old couple next to our apartment building had moved a stool out in front of their home and were sitting in the alley. Down the street, I could see other people standing in the road. I heard sirens going off. At that point, it was hard to know how others had weathered the storm from looking around the immediate area. It turned out that most, but not all people in Tokyo were okay, though an old meeting hall collapsed on the heads of school kids and their families in Kudanshita (killing 5 people) and fires were starting and soon to rage in Adachi-ku because of ruptured gas lines. 

Not too long after the second aftershock, another strong and prolonged one came and I was back in the doorway again. This time when I looked up at the sky, I saw a huge dark cloud rolling in. With this repeated strong shaking, and that change in the sky, I had a thought which I discovered was shared with one of my students. As we both saw that change in the sky and endured repeated hard shakes, we both wondered if this was the apocalypse. The sense of foreboding at this point was hard to ignore. After the third round, I wondered when and if it was ever going to stop, and I was worried that if Japan was shaking to pieces that my husband and I would each die alone and how the thought was unbearable. I became genuinely afraid that he may be harmed, or that I might be and he would be left alone and devastated.

Around this time, I turned on the television and this was when I started to see real time coverage of the post-quake effects. A live video feed showed  the tidal wave wash over parts of Iwate and carry away cars, sweep boats inland, and flood houses. Seeing this happen, all I could think was that I hoped that those people had time to get out, but I was pretty sure that there was no way that everyone would have managed. Watching footage of horrors as they have occurred in the past is different than watching it happen live. The sense of powerlessness in the face of nature doing what it does is very profound, and the intensity with which you empathize with the people is greatly ramped up. Those people aren't dead. Their fate is not a matter of history. They are about to die or dying and you're incapable of doing anything but watch it happen. Honestly, it felt almost like the most obscene form of rubber-necking. I don't think humans with their consciousness, intellect and particular nervous systems were meant to watch such things from a distance so great that they cannot do a single thing to help.

Long lines formed in front of pay phones just after the quake since cell service was unreliable.

From this point on, my main thoughts were with my husband, and I was sincerely concerned that the shaking was going to just keep happening. Fortunately, he was able to leave his office and connect with his iPad to the internet at the McDonald's next to his office and e-mailed me that he was okay, and thanks to my posts on FaceBook, he knew I was okay as well. Soon after that, he managed to call me from a pay phone. One of the things that I hope is taken away from this experience is that NTT (Nippon Telephone and Telegraph) should stop taking down all of the land line and pay phones. After the quake, the cell phones were all jammed up, but the land lines worked. Long lines formed in front of the scant number of remaining phones as people tried to reach loved ones to see if they had come through unscathed. It is somewhat ironic to me that my husband and I, who have been repeatedly warned that we "need" a cell phone in case of an emergency, were able to communicate because we kept our land line rather than switched to a cell phone.

From this point on, things started to grow increasingly confused. My husband contacted me via Skype (again, on his iPad) to say he was leaving work and walking home from Shinjuku. As we were ironing out the details, I was shocked by the fact that the doorbell rang. I expected no one and couldn't imagine an errant newspaper salesman or Jehovah's Witness would show up at such a time. It turned out that it was my brother-in-law, who also lives and works in Tokyo. He just happened to ride his scooter to work that day and stopped by on the way home to check and see if his brother and I were okay. He also had left work because of the quake and said he felt bad abandoning his coworkers who had no way home, but he couldn't contact his wife and needed to get home to let her know he was okay. He showed me pictures of the chaos at his college which made it clear that I was luckier than most. In our apartment, only three vases fell down and a few boxes of crackers and other food fell from a kitchen shelf. Books and DVDs were dislodged and moved around, but didn't fall out. Being on the first floor has some benefits, and not being shaken so hard in a quake is one of them.

The foot traffic crowding the streets and headed in the opposite direction that I was going in made me feel like there was a mass exodus and I was going the wrong way.

I walked halfway to Shinjuku to meet up with my husband and did so against a tide going from the business and shopping districts toward the residential areas. Everyone was stranded and had to choose between staying in their offices until transportation resumed or finding an alternate way home. The buses were mobbed as the subways and trains were shut down. Lines for cabs were ridiculously long, but even if you could cram onto a bus or get a cab, the streets were blocked such that it'd take hours to get home. Most people could walk home in the time it would take a vehicle to reach.

A bus that was so crowded that only one more man could be crammed in at this particular stop.

The transportation issues have lasted for over a week, but were acute on the day of the quake. The subway didn't run at all until around 1:00 am, and the trains much later than that. It was very clear that, though relying on public transportation is great for the environment, there are serious issues when there is a natural disaster. Several of my acquaintances slept in their offices, a few had companies that got them a hotel room, and several walked home despite requiring 4 or 5 hours to do so. My husband and I have not moved from our aging apartment in part because it is only a 90-minute walk from his office. We had even talked before about what we would do if the day of "the big one" came. If we were out of communication, he would walk to me and I was to stay put knowing he was on his way. Since we could talk, I met him around halfway between our home and his work with great relief. The 40 or so minutes that I walked to meet him were the most oblivious time of my life. I just wanted to see him and the time flew as I walked down the street. Before I knew it, I'd walked by two subway stations and was nearing the third when we finally saw each other. It does pay to be relatively fit in Tokyo at times like this.

Since then, nothing has been "normal". No, we are not buried under tons of tsunami-induced rubble or digging our loved ones out of debris. For that, I am eternally grateful. I can't tell you how many times I've looked at pictures of quake devastation and thought of how lucky I am not to be in the shoes of one of those poor people. They are cold, hungry, and, in many cases, have lost everything. Some of them find loved ones and hold the hands of their still buried bodies as cameras coldly record what should be their private despair and grief and hold it out for the world to witness. In the face of their misery and devastation, I feel lucky that my worries are confined to having our income slashed by 30% this month because of canceled appointments and wondering if we're going to be able to locate toilet paper or milk when these things run out. It could have been so much worse.

Since this happened, I've grown much more panicky with any small quake. I wasn't sanguine before, but it's much scarier now. Because the big one started small and grew progressively larger, my heart starts racing with every aftershock. I wonder where it's going to go. I also have made bread and muffins twice since the quake (I bake a lot) and each time I've felt like this activity is related to quakes. Placing the trays of muffins aside to cool or seeing them sitting there makes me think of that quake and how I felt for the duration. I'm sure that eventually these associations will weaken and I'll stop thinking every little tremor is going to become a really big one, but for now, that fear is still with me as I'm sure it remains with many others.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Will Miss #299 - shinise

Koganei Imo, a type of bean cake which is the product of a shop with 5 generations of expertise behind it. It's by far my favorite bean cake in Japan.

Shinise (老舗) are long-established restaurants or shops in Japan that usually have generations of expertise behind them. Such shops often present unique fare that can't be had anywhere else. They have developed a technique, formula or recipe which can only be experienced via their particular business. The sense that tradition for the product or service goes back in Japanese history is strong, and gives you a real feel of "old Japan" even when you're standing in the modern world.

I'll miss shinise, and the experience that patronizing such establishments brings.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Won't Miss #299 - missing sisters

Part of my freelance work is doing English telephone testing. One of the questions I ask in order to elicit as much speaking as possible from my subjects is, "tell me about your family." In 90% of cases, if someone has a sister who is already married, they won't even mention her existence unless I specifically ask "do you have a sister?" In the other 10% of cases, they'll say, "I have a sister, but she's already married," in a manner which makes me feel that she is no longer a concern for the family (or a burden that has been dispensed with). My discomfort from this is very ethnocentric, and the omission of a married sister relates to the way in which a "family" is defined in Japan. When a person marries, they are either added to their spouses family registry or their spouse is added to theirs. It's as if their blood tie is abolished by marriage and it's generally (but not always) the case that women are added to their husband's families.

I won't miss the way sisters are regarded as if they are no longer a part of the family after they marry.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Will Miss #298 - Nakano Broadway

The creepy entrance to one of the many "Mandrake" shops on the Nakano broadway. This one specializes in antique collectibles.

I'm not that big into "tourist spots" in Japan, but there are areas which I think are interesting to visit on occasion. I'm not such a great fan of the "classic" spots like Kyoto or Mt. Fuji because I think they aren't "real Japan" anymore than the Grand Canyon is "real America", but I do like areas which have a strange spin of their own. I especially like them if they aren't too far afield from where I reside and if they display unique character. One of those spots is the Nakano Broadway area. It's an odd mixture of the young and hip with the old and traditional. Walking around there, you see a myriad of shops selling strange items for collectors and geeks (otaku) as well as old folks at repair shops and fortune tellers. It's a great cross-section of what appeals to people of all sorts in Japan.

The Nakano Broadway area is a curious mix of what's new and weird with what's old and curious and its all packed into a space that you can walk through without wasting and entire day or wearing out your shoe leather, and I'll miss it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Situation Now in Tokyo

I'm not inclined to make posts about the earthquake, tsunami, or the nuclear situation because I'm not an authority on such matters, but I have been asked about what is really happening and have found that there is a massive amount of misinformation spreading in the West regarding how bad it is. One bit of grim irony is that those of us who are potentially in more immediate danger as we are within a few hundred miles of the reactors are spending more time reassuring people who are across the ocean than they are supporting us.

First of all, Tokyo is relatively safe at this time in regards to radiation exposure. There is more radiation than normal in the atmosphere, but as things currently stand, you would almost certainly receive more radiation from actually getting on a plane and flying home than you would by remaining in Tokyo. Radiation exposure is something that occurs in our lives all of the time but we never question it because it isn't occurring within the framework of a crisis. I've read that radiation levels at one point today in Tokyo were 100x "normal", but that if you go to a hot spring (onsen) and sit in the bath, you're receiving 200x the normal level of radiation from that experience.

So, looking at the information that is being spread isn't enough. You also have to view it in context. We get radiation by flying on planes, getting medical treatment, or scans at the airport. Normal radiation levels are very low so discussing how much greater the levels are without looking at total radiation exposure numbers is misleading and potentially inflammatory. One of the things which is very useful is not to simply read the news, but to access sources which will provide you with context.

One of my major sources, aside from the Japanese news, is to follow TimeOutTokyo on Twitter. There are also several other people on Twitter who are  not alarmist and are providing good contextual information. They include: gakuranman and martynwilliams. There are others who are tweeting good information, but these three are my major sources. They're all working very hard to be level, legible, and to do proper research such that whatever information comes out can be properly understood.

I strongly encourage people not to trust Western news sources like CNN or the Huffington Post. These sources are alarmist, inflammatory, and focusing intensely on only the worst situations and the worst case scenarios. Obviously, there has been devastation in some areas, largely from tsunami, and there is great danger in the area near the reactors in Fukushima, but those areas have been evacuated. The people who are at great risk right now are the 50 TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) employees who are remaining at the reactors trying to get the situation under control. These are the people who are risking their lives and all of the panic being displayed by people who are too far away to be meaningfully affected strikes me as disrespectful to these men (who I greatly fear may die from doing their job in the service of saving others).

If you are an ocean apart, there is virtually no chance you're going to be adversely affected by the crisis in Japan. Snopes has actually put up an article refuting some of the wild rumors about the radiation traveling over the Pacific. People who are on the West Coast of the U.S. who are buying Potassium Iodide tablets or considering evacuating are showing a level of paranoia and panic which is absurd.

All of this being said, I am not an expert on anything regarding these issues, but I have digested information as it has been offered and have been the beneficiary of good efforts on the part of rational people who labor despite the stress we all feel to keep calm and be mature and logical. I can also tell you that I lived in western Pennsylvania during the Three Mile Island crisis in 1979 there and that the distance I lived from there was slightly closer (about 10 miles/16 km.) than the distance I currently am from the Fukushima reactors. Obviously, the circumstances are not exactly the same, but they have similarities. I have suffered no ill effects from whatever exposure occurred at that time and I've had 32 years for something to develop. I think that, unless something catastrophic occurs, there is little chance that those of us far from the reactors will suffer from the limited exposure we're experiencing.

The truth of the matter is that those outside of the most tsunami devastated areas and who are not close to the reactors are currently not in danger of anything besides our own fear and panic consuming us. Right now, that really is "the enemy" (to reference a cliche). That being said, I'm stressed daily because my life is currently far from normal. Though my blog posts continue to go up as usual, that is only because I post from a buffer of posts written at least a week ago on the snack blog and from a two-month buffer on the 1000 Things blog. This is actually the first post I have composed since the quake. The other posts are just going up on schedule from work I did before the crisis.

Frankly, at the moment, we're all dealing with stressful but non-lethal consequences. My husband hasn't worked since the quake and I've lost a week's worth of freelance work. If we don't work, we don't get paid. There have been aftershocks going on, some quite strong, and there have been  other earthquakes with different epicenters (two in the last 16 hours). Under normal circumstances, these would be troubling, but we're all dealing with a sort of post-traumatic stress because the big earthquake started slow and built up over a long time so even small quakes bring back the fear that another very bad experience may be coming. Beyond that, and I plan to post about this on Friday, people are hoarding and panic-buying so there are constant reminders that we're in a state of fear and crisis when one ventures out to any shop. Public transportation is slowly returning to normal service levels, but still disrupted. Every time there is a strong aftershock or a new quake, I worry that normality is being pushed further away. So, I am stressed, but safe.

In no way am I fishing for sympathy about my circumstances as I think compared to people who have really suffered (and there have been many who lost homes, were injured, lost family, and endured far greater trauma), what I'm dealing with is trivial. I mention these things in order to provide context for the following request: I beg my readers not to send me e-mail or comment on other posts trying to "refute" what I say or point out other news sources that offer alternative views. There is too much information out there and much of it is bad and I do not have the energy to deal with all of it. I'm making this post because I've essentially been asked enough times to say something that I've decided that I will. I don't want to get into pointless debates with people about anything I have asserted here because I'm not in a place emotionally to tolerate it. I have to focus all of my energy on dealing with everything that keeps coming my way and hand-holding family and friends who mean well but are constantly being spooked by misinformation broadcast abroad.

I'm closing comments on this post on the snack blog (which usually has open commenting), but please don't interpret that as a snub of my kind readers who have shown such concern for me. I sincerely appreciate the people who care about my well-being and have expressed such kind sentiments, but right now I have to close the door on possible argumentative and alarmist voices because I have enough to handle.

Update: There are also good posts on the situation on AltJapan. They are under "Should I Stay or Should I Go."

Won't Miss #298 - Japanese way of washing dishes

It's odd how it's the little things that really hit you sometimes about life in a different culture. One of my students went to Germany and said that she was really bothered because they didn't rinse the soapy water off of their dishes after cleaning them, but just put them on the rack to dry.* In Japan, the sinks are designed differently than back in the U.S. There, we had a sink with two sections and a little plug in each so you could fill each side with water. You washed the dishes in one half and put them in clean water to rinse on the other side. This allowed you to save water and was generally faster than the Japanese way in which you have to leave the water running constantly and rinse each item separately in the running water or use a basin (which is too small for any but the smallest dishes in the smallest quantities and never works for someone like me who cooks a lot). The Japanese sinks I've encountered are designed not only with one section, but also without a drain plug because landlords are afraid you're so stupid that you'll leave the water running and flood the kitchen.

This way of doing dishes is very wasteful in terms of water usage and takes longer, and I won't miss it.

*I do not know if this is true or not of all German people or if she even misunderstood what she witnessed. I merely report what she said.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Will Miss #297 - obsession with "first/new"

The Japanese have a preoccupation with whatever is "new" which I find interesting (and sometimes amusing). It likely started with their own harvests and the value they attached to sampling the first rice crop of the year, but has since expanded to encompass the "new" comestibles from other countries. Around late November, signs will start going up everywhere about the Beaujolais Nouveau being at hand. You can even buy it in convenience stores.

I'll miss this obsession with getting ones hands on everything from "new rice" to the freshly-spawned sanma (a fish, Pacific Saury) to French wine.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Won't Miss #297 - discussions become competition

Do you know what never happened to me in the U.S. when I made a critical statement about a political, social or economic situation? No one ever said that it was okay that America was like that because it was worse in Japan. Do you know what happens 90% of the time that I make a critical statement about political, social or economic issues in Japan? Someone (who has never lived in the U.S.) says it is worse in America and therefore it's not actually a problem in Japan. People in Japan can't discuss Japan without drawing in America (or another country, but usually the U.S.) as a point of reference to dismiss a salient point about a bad situation in this country. It's as if Japan's condition cannot be discussed as it applies to Japan and living in it alone rather than as part of a competition for "better" or "best" country. Discussing an issue isn't about some sort of grade school "mine is better than yours" competition. It's about exploring the issue intellectually and turning it into such does nothing to further anyone's knowledge or understanding.

I won't miss this tendency of people to undermine or dismiss the impact or severity of important issues or problems in Japan by comparing them (often inaccurately) to the U.S.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Will Miss #296 - mikan

I grew up in the rural Northeast, where fresh fruit was something that came along seasonally and with few exotic varieties. Because of this, and growing up in poverty, I rarely had experience with fresh fruit growing up and I certainly never got my hands on any oranges that weren't the cheapest and most readily available. Because of this, I grew up disliking oranges because they were bland and often stringy and a bit dry (as the older, cheaper oranges are likely to be). It wasn't until I came to Japan and started sampling mikan that I learned to like any type of orange. These small, sweet, and often quite juicy oranges bring to mind clementines, but I believe they are even sweeter. I will also always associate mikan with Japan and the celebration of New Year's as one is often placed on top of mochi as a decoration.

During the winter, mikan are available cheaply and in abundance, and I'm going to miss have such easy access to them.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Won't Miss #296 - expensive aspirin

 I offer you a picture of this promotional box of tissues given away by the makers of Bufferin because I'm not wealthy enough to buy the actual medicine.

Over the counter medicine, and things like aspirin or other self-administered painkillers, are very expensive in Japan. The last time I bought a box of Bufferin in Japan, I paid 500 yen ($6) for 16 tablets lovingly packaged individually in a blister pack. I will grant you that it's been awhile since I've bought any aspirin in Japan, though it's not because I haven't been getting headaches or pain. It's cheaper for family to ship us bottles of analgesics from back home than to buy them here. In fact, it's cheaper to ship them by air. First class. With a personal assistant to look after the bottle and give it tender massages.

I won't miss the fact that it's cheaper to go to the doctor for aspirin tablets than to buy a box yourself in a drug store.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Will Miss #295 - collectible movie tickets

Yes, it's a terrible picture... it was taken through the window of a display case at night.

Movie tickets in America are usually boring affairs. Either they are generic with text or computer print-outs. In Japan, there are boring tickets, but you can also buy pretty cool looking ones with a picture from the movie on it. They serve as a much more attractive reminder of your experiences and are much more collectible.

I'll miss these tickets, which are like having a free mini movie poster as a memento of the experience.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Won't Miss #295 - "fishing"

I continue to do freelance work for my former company and as part of this work I am asked to offer my time in line with a company's request. The company will say they want me to do a job between X and Y time with spans of up to 8 hours between those times, but they will only need two hours of my time. They will not say they want 1 hour in the morning and 1 in the afternoon. They will simply say to give them time in that broad range. About 60% of the time, I will offer a two-hour block in their requested range, say from 3:00-5:00 pm and only after the offer is made will the company reveal that they want one hour in the a.m. and one in the p.m. This sort of fishing to see what they get before asserting what they really want is rampant in Japanese business. It's maddening because it doubles (or triples) the communication time spent on reaching an agreement and wastes everyone's time. It's part of the culture of inefficiency which makes doing business with the Japanese a chore when other cultures deal with them. Often, they simply will not be straightforward with you, even when it is in their best interest and is a trivial matter such as scheduling.

I really wish that Japanese businesses would just be straightforward about what they want in the first instance rather than waiting for the first offer to magically match their true wishes, and I will not miss this tendency to do this.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Will Miss #294 - ground blessing ceremonies

The Japanese have a curious relationship with spirituality. Most of them don't believe in anything, but they still go through the motions, even when it costs them money. One of the things you find people will fork over a wad of cash for even though they don't deeply believe in a) demons or b) God, is ground blessings (jichinsai). A priest comes to a place where a new building is to be built and does his song and dance (not literally), and then gets handed a wad of money. The picture above is the little makeshift Shinto "pagoda" (my inaccurate characterization). I saw the actual ceremony (including the pay-off in which the priest was handed a special envelope), but didn't have my camera with me when I initially witnessed it.

I love the contradiction that goes along with paying for blessings that you don't really believe in, and I'll miss it.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Won't Miss #294 - tragically misguided welfare policies

I realize that the idea of welfare is controversial and many people all over the world resent paying taxes to support people who do not work, but can we all agree that the point at which people actually need that money is when they are at risk of dying of starvation if they don't get it? In Japan, the welfare system is set up such that those who work in the social services offices are obligated to cut services to a certain number of individuals each year regardless of their actual need. The promotion potential of the social workers in the offices allocating such resources are tied to severing benefits. They personally benefit from actions which remove support from people who are in dire need. The result has been that some people have starved to death in one of the world's wealthiest countries. (Note that the linked article is not the only one I have read about this issue.)

I won't miss this cold-hearted welfare policy which bases the promotion of one person on pulling the plug on the life support of others.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Will Miss #293 - soba boro

There is a type of buckwheat cookie that is unique to Japan (in my experience) which I really love. It's called "soba boro", and is a small, flower-shaped crispy treat. It is made with simple ingredients - buckwheat flour, sugar, and eggs. They aren't too sweet, taste of caramel, and have a lot of the crispy, airy nature of meringue cookies due to the large amount of eggs and sugar that are used. What is more, they are low in calories (about 11 each), and very cheap and can be found everywhere.

I'll miss having easy access to these cheap, tasty, cookies any time and nearly anywhere.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Won't Miss #293 - Japanese dish soap

One of the things about living in another country is that you find that they balance the strength of various products differently based on their consumers' preferences. In most cases in Japan (but not all), that means that things are watered down or weaker relative to the U.S. Dish soap is a good example of this. It is thinner, doesn't makes suds as well, and requires more liquid to get dishes clean relative to American brands. I always buy imported dish soap at Costco, because it ends up being much cheaper when you factor in how much gets wasted due to the anemic nature of the Japanese brands.

I won't miss Japanese dish soap.