Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Will Miss #359 - Adores

There are a lot of big gaming centers in Japan. Some of the more common ones are Taito, Sega, and Namco. The one that my husband and I frequently seek out is Adores. One of the reasons for this is that they are the only one that frequently stocks debu neko prizes, but another is that they simply are one of the most helpful and willing to set you up for a win or to get a particular prize. If you want a prize that is too far in the back to reach or buried under other prizes, they'll move things around for you. The staff is quite attentive and if they see you win a big prize, they'll often be on hand waiting with an appropriate size bag. I've seen them watch struggling gamers and intervene without a request for help. They also have great bathrooms when you're in need.

I'll miss the experience of gaming at Adores, which is usually friendly, solicitous, clean, and has the most appealing prizes from my personal viewpoint.

Won't Miss #359 - "you can't/won't understand..."

One of the things Japanese people say to me when they're about to tell me about some cultural concept which they are aware is dissimilar in Western culture is "you can't/won't understand, but we Japanese (do whatever)." I know that this is offered up without any sort of negative connotations, but it is an immensely condescending thing to say. This is their way of saying, "as an outsider, you can't possibly understand this very Japanese way of thinking." It assumes that I am so ethnocentric that I can't wrap my head around a concept outside of my upbringing, or that the Japanese manner of thinking is so special and incredibly unique that I could never understand. Most recently, an older gent was telling me about how he met his wife and he started with "you won't understand... but it was an arranged marriage." Oddly enough, I am able to understand the fact that marriage used to be more of a business arrangement in order to connect two families rather than something based on feelings. To see the flip-side of this, imagine how it'd sound if I said to a Japanese person, "you won't understand this, but my husband and I married each other because we were (and still are) madly in love and practical issues like his family background, income, etc. were of no concern whatsoever." Sometimes people will simply cop out entirely and say, "you won't understand," and refuse to go any further.

I won't miss being told I can't possibly understand some Japanese cultural concept before I even have a chance to express my understanding or opinion of the topic.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Will Miss #358 - "mata haris"

I associate the name "Mata Hari" with spies, who generally don't want to be recognized for who they are. For that reason, I call women in Japan who are so fearful of sun exposure that they cover nearly every inch of exposed flesh by this name. The first time I saw such a woman, I thought that the desire for "creamy white skin" in Japan gives celebrities an ideal manner in which to disguise themselves should they want to remain anonymous, but I see them in the most mundane places and doubt that fame has anything to do with it.

These women take all of the means by which Japanese women try to avoid sun exposure and pile them on into one ridiculous get-up, and I'll miss seeing them go to such extremes.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Won't Miss #358 - handwritten Japanese

Mostly, it's the stuff on the left near the bottom that trips me up.

When I teach, I use a white board to write notes or words for students and I always print. I have quite good handwriting, but if some letters are not nearly perfectly formed (especially "r", which without a prominent hook will be seen as an oddly squashed "v" for some reason), my students frown and look confused at what has been written. For Japanese folks, handwritten English, despite being a fairly simple set of 26 letters with relatively few complex shapes, can be very hard to read. And, let's not even go there when it comes to cursive, which many people cannot read at all. I know how they feel. I can read Japanese which has been produced by a machine, but hand-written Japanese can sometimes be nearly impossible to decipher with all of the personalized spacing, loops and styles.

I won't miss trying to decipher handwritten Japanese.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Will Miss #357 - yuzu koshou

There are a lot of flavors in Japan which I think have the potential to be gangbusters back home if someone would just introduce them in the right fashion. One of those is kinako (toasted soy flour) when used as a flavoring on rice crackers, baked goods, or candy. Another is yuzu koshou, a type of citrus and vinegar blend which uses a Japanese fruit (yuzu) that looks like a lemon but tastes like a hybrid of various citrus fruits including lemon, grapefruit and orange. In fact, I can't imagine why it hasn't hit a market that enjoys piquant and hot sauces. One of my greatest pleasures is to mix a little yuzu koshoo with mayonnaise and spread that on a bun for my chicken burger or to put dashes of it on pizza or pasta. It's hot, but it's the sort of heat with a deep and satisfying flavor profile rather than just an increasingly intense burning.

I'll miss yuzu koshou both as a condiment I can buy easily and as an addition to various savory snacks I can buy.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Won't Miss #357 - living in material limbo

Blue Shoe writes about his experiences with a Korg keyboard and having problems shipping it back home. Though he eventually found a way, the cost was almost the same as that of the keyboard itself. I've lived in Japan for a long time, but I have never sought permanent residence because I have always known this is not a "forever" gig. I know one day I will pack it all up and go home. That means that whatever "all" is, it's got to fit in a box and not be too terribly heavy. There are things I don't buy because of this and I always live with an eye toward leaving.

I won't miss living life as if I were in transition and having to pass up on things that I might like to have in my life because I know they will be too expensive or difficult to take home.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Won't Miss #356 - a lack of charitable spirit

Tags near the cash register at Seiyu supermarket that you can toss in your basket and 100 yen ($1.24) and the money will be given to victims of the tsunami following the Great Tohoku Earthquake. These have been around for months and I have never seen one person toss one in their basket.

This is a tricky topic because people often confuse "charity" with "foreign aid". Note that Japan gives a lot of international aid per capita, though like most countries, that aid is "attached" and a form of corporate welfare*. In fact, they used to give more than nearly any other country, but have been eclipsed by the U.S. and China because of their long economic decline. That being said, as individuals, Japanese people do not elect to personally give money to charity much at all. The coin boxes to fund dogs for the blind are never full and usually you only see one yen coins in them. When I ask people about whether they have ever donated money to a charity, they say "no", and that they don't trust where the money is going or how it will be used. Despite knowing the money goes directly to a needy individual, they also never give money to the homeless. Compared to Western countries, individual Japanese are not a charitable lot and have a flimsy excuse for being tight with their purse strings.

I won't miss this lack of a charitable spirit, particularly when it comes to helping those in need in their own country.

*Most countries, including Japan, give foreign aid with strings attached which means building contracts are made with domestic companies such that tax money tagged as "aid" is essentially going to businesses back home. The countries receiving aid get new infrastructure and structures, but it's mainly done to rev up profits for corporations back home on the tax payers' dime. Even though Japan seems to have less "attached" aid than some countries, there are back door ways to add strings and claim they're not there. Very little "aid" is about helping other countries. It's mostly about benefiting the country offering it one way or another. How do I know this? One of my students worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a negotiator who goes abroad and tries to "win" the right to give money to countries in need (yes, they compete for who gets to give the money) and explained how it works to me. 

Will Miss #356 - the empty room

Yes, I was creepy and took a shot of someone's empty room through a window. To be fair to me and my quasi-peeping tom tendencies, this was an unoccupied room rather than one someone was actually living in. The things I do to get shots for my blogs...

There is a long-standing cultural habit in Japan of keeping one Japanese-style (tatami mat, low furniture, minimalist styling) room in their homes. This room usually has a tokonoma or special alcove which may include an altar for prayers related to ancestors or bits of art. Note that these rooms are not in apartments or condos, but only in houses. That being said, Japanese homes aren't exactly cavernous and huge. Sacrificing a room to this is puzzling, especially when other rooms are often piled high with junk and crammed to the gills while this one space remains pristine.

I'll miss the contradiction that is inherent in keeping one room impressively empty and clear while piling up other spaces with the debris of daily living.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Will Miss #355 - Japanese "soft cream"

A lot of people talk out their asses about Japan. When I say that, I mean they assert something and offer a reason (often that elevates the Japanese people or cultural aspects above Western ones) which they have no real insight, understanding or evidence of. One of the things which consistently irks me is that people will say something about Japan is "better" when they have no evidence that the Japanese version is appreciably different from those in their home country. Well, I can tell you why Japanese soft cream is different than American soft serve ice cream. Through my work, I've had access to people who work at the corporate headquarters of various food and restaurant businesses including McDonald's Japan. I was told that the soft serve ice cream  in Japan is formulated to be creamier and less sweet because this suits Japanese tastes (which run toward a desire for more fat and less sugar). This lends it a sense of richness without cloying sweetness that overwhelms the flavors of the soft serve. So, when I say that Japanese soft serve (aka "soft cream") is different, I'm not just asserting something without a basis in fact.

I'll miss the richer, creamier soft serve ice cream in Japan.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Won't Miss #355 - TP paranoia

Going through the earthquake on March 11, 2011 and its aftermath is something I wouldn't have chosen to do, but it taught me some new things about Japan and the way the Japanese people operate. Some of those things were good and some not so good. Among the things I learned was that, when crisis hits, the Japanese go for the toilet paper. This wasn't the first time in Japan's recent history that people went bananas for something with which to wipe their behinds and hoarded it at the expense of others, and I'm pretty sure that it won't be the last. Because of the nuttiness about toilet paper which has occurred, I'm finding myself driven to stock up as soon as I open the last 12-pack. I wasn't like this before I found out what Japanese consumers do when they are in a state of crisis (and I'm not the only one who was changed in this manner). I don't like to live in a state of paranoia like this, but I really don't relish the alternative should I be caught short. I'd encourage anyone who tends to wait to stock up on essentials until they are nearly out to reconsider if you live in Japan. The supply line will be fixed, but people who lose their heads aren't so quickly righted and, at least this time, the hoarding didn't stop for at least 5 weeks.

I won't miss the paranoia I feel that if I don't keep ample toilet tissue stock around, I'll be stuck looking for leaves to wipe my behind with.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Will Miss #354 - no April Fool's pranking

This isn't a joke, but I wish it was because it's just sad otherwise.

I have a sense of humor. Really, I do. However, I dislike April Fool's Day with the passion of a million burning suns. It's not that I can't take a joke, but that puerile pranks aren't funny and I don't like spending an entire day having to second guess whether or not people are telling the truth. Frankly, I just think the whole point of April Fool's Day is for people to impress themselves with their own cleverness, and very few actually succeed in revealing anything except the fact that they have nothing better to do than think up ways to "fool" people who are thinking about more important things.

In Japan, they don't observe April Fool's Day, and I will so very much miss the fact that I don't have to keep metaphorically looking over my shoulder on April 1.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Random Thoughts: Relativity Theory

Sometimes I have thoughts about living in another culture which I'd like to incorporate into blog posts here, but due to the format I have chosen, I can't really flesh them out effectively in any brief individual post. Rather than simply keep them to myself, or worse, forget about them entirely, I've decided to occasionally make a "random thoughts" post. This will be the 1000 Things equivalent to my "Variety Friday" posts on my other blog. This will in no way be a regular feature, but such posts may crop up from time to time, and reveal my naturally verbose nature. I hope they are of interest.

Recently, I was having a discussion with a student about stereotypes and whether or not they tended to reflect reality to some extent. Because she has been to France several times, I chose to ask her about the oft-cited stereotype of the rude and arrogant French person. Note that I am not endorsing this as anything other than a concept that exists in some minds. I've never been to France and am not sure I've ever even met a French person, so I'm in no position to evaluate the veracity of such a statement. She, however, was. My student said that in her experience, French folks didn't seem particularly rude, but also that they didn't seem especially helpful. She didn't really embrace the stereotype, but she didn't entirely reject it as ridiculous.

As we discussed this topic, one thing became clear to me which I have been aware of superficially for quite some time, and that is how all experiences are filtered through ones own culture based on a variety of factors. My student is a born and raised Tokyoite, and as such, she is accustomed to the cool, detached demeanor of many people here. People are mechanically polite in most service positions, but rarely authentically warm or overtly helpful. They rarely chat to strangers on trains and infrequently engage in chitchat at the check-out register. If a stranger attempts to strike up a conversation, most Tokyoites become uncomfortable to varying degrees depending on the circumstances. This is the norm in this particular area, but it is not the same in other parts of Japan. This isn't especially surprising because people who reside in big cities (all over the world) often respond to the overstimulation of city life by being reserved and detached. It's a way of coping with the stress on their nervous systems, not a choice to disconnect from other people. It's absolutely unconscious for most people.

When my student goes abroad, she is going to react to behavior from the perspective of someone with this sort of lifelong experience. French folks who are not especially helpful are not going to strike her as rude because their behavior isn't far from what she has experienced everyday of her life in Tokyo. For me, as someone who grew up in a rural Pennsylvania town in which people would stop to help a stranger with a broken down car, or go out of their way to strike up a convivial conversation with customers at shops, the cool nature may seem like overt rudeness. To me, they would seem to be deliberately holding back their friendliness from me, because I would see that as the norm. What they are truly doing is something that no one, save the involved party, can ever be certain of.

The bottom line is that no one, no one, can view life from a perspective other than their own. You can't objectify human behavior perfectly because you have to gauge things like rudeness, politeness, friendliness, etc. from a baseline and everyone will set that baseline according to primarily personal cultural norms and to a lesser extent broader cultural ones. If you think that you can set a "proper" baseline that everyone should reasonably work from, then you're not only ethnocentric, but arrogant as you demonstrate the belief that your notions of such things are "correct" and others are not. People in your own culture may not even agree on such norms, let alone those outside of it.

One of the reasons why I labor so hard (and rather pointlessly, it seems, based on some of the e-mail I get) to say that this blog is subjective is that I have been aware of this for such a long time. One of the reasons I tell people there is no one "truth" about Japan is that I am aware of the way in which cultural relativity affects responses to life abroad. Certainly, there are objective measures which can be used to suggest certain things, but the conclusions to be reached are dubious in most cases. For instance, is saying, "welcome" a good indicator of friendliness? The frequency of issuing a greeting is something which can be objectively measured, but in cultures in which people are trained and absolutely required to say "welcome", such as in Japan, is it an indication of friendliness or merely rote repetition of a phrase they must utter based on the rules of their employer? In Japan, it's absolutely the latter. So, even when you can establish objective criteria, how such results are to be interpreted and what they say is hard to determine, particularly without a strong cultural context.

From the discussion I had with my student, I found a good example of how our background and expectations affect our perceptions of a new environment. Some may argue with me that we can distill all behaviors into some sort of "average" from which we measure deviations and reach quantifiable results about cultural characteristics. It would be possible to derive some sort of scale on which to measure things, but how meaningful would such a scale be? A bunch of sociologists, psychologists, and anthropologists could create a consensus about such matters and pat themselves on the back, but the results wouldn't mean anything to the average traveler who would still be measuring the positive or negative sense of an experience from subjective criteria. Such a scale would be meaningless in any circle outside of academic ones. In the end, I think it's best just to accept that we are all going to see the world a little differently, and stop expecting to do otherwise, and what's more, stop telling others that they are "wrong" because they respond differently.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Won't Miss #354 - (almost always) being at a disadvantage

My brother-in-law, who is also American and lives in Japan, recently bought a house in Japan. He had an experience which illustrated the point I'm about to make all too well and that is that foreigners always operate at a disadvantage when conducting business in Japan. Even if you speak Japanese well and have a native along with you to clarify and digest information, there is always wiggle room for the Japanese businesses to place the blame for any "misunderstanding" on you or to simply cheat you and say it was a communication problem. This is part of what motivates foreigners to break out the gaijin smash. When you are treated as if everything is your fault because you couldn't possibly be comprehending the language properly because of your foreignness, you have limited options. You can bend over and take it, or you can become aggressive.

I won't miss feeling like I'm always at a disadvantage when doing business.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Will Miss #353 - self-restraint (en masse)

A poster asking people to conserve energy in the summer of 2011 due to the shortfall of energy resulting from the Fukushima nuclear power plant crisis. 

During the cherry blossom viewing season in Tokyo after the Great Tohoku Earthquake on March 11, 2011, the Japanese government asked people who were accustomed to drinking and partying hard (and noisily) to use restraint. They weren't going to provide portable toilets or large trash receptacles because this costs money and requires personnel which were better funneled into disaster clean up and aid. I can't imagine that such a request would be made in other countries with the expectation that people would en masse voluntarily set their interests aside, particularly in light of the fact that a lot of people might truly need a rip-roaring drunkfest to blow off steam. However, the Japanese did show restraint merely because they were asked to. No police had to watch them like hawks. No threats of fines had to be issued. They just did it. This is part of what the Japanese call "jishuku" which refers to self-restraint.

I wouldn't vouch for the ability of any particular individual to control himself or herself, but, on the whole, the Japanese can show unusual self-control that reflects the selflessness that they are so often credited with.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Won't Miss #353 - being a leaning post

My former boss used to complain on a regular basis about something which happened to him every time when the train was crowded to sardine levels. That would mean this happened to him everyday during rush hour. Fortunately for me, it happens less often than that, but it still happens. When the train was extremely crowded, the people around him would simply stand without holding a strap and lean into him. They made little or no effort to support their own body weight when the train turned and just allowed their full weight to rest on him. This is one of the lazy and irritating things that happens on trains in Tokyo. The other thing that happens is that people who sit next to you will simply keel over and sleep on you.

I won't miss being a resting post for people who are inconsiderate, lazy, and rude.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Will Miss #352 - the "bottle keep" system

 In Japan (and possibly other Asian countries), bars offer something called "bottle keep" in which a customer buys a bottle of booze, drink some of it, and then store the rest at the bar. This is done to allow people to drink from the same bottle repeatedly without having to finish it off at once. In bars where this is done, you see shelves or racks of bottles with tags attached to them to keep who owns what straight.

As I've said before, I don't drink alcohol so this isn't a service that I personally can take advantage of. However, there is something about the community spirit that underlies this, not to mention the trust that is shown by the customers in allowing the bottles to be stored in the bar which I find really heartening, and I'll miss what this custom says about Japanese people and culture.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Won't Miss #352 - "it's Japanese", when it's not

Debu neko may be Japanese, but calicos are not.

In the original Star Trek, the character of Chekov sometimes asserted that something was invented in Russia when it was not. As far as Chekov was concerned, all good things originated in Russia. The Japanese have something in common with that fictional character. They think that a lot of things are Japanese when they are not. My first introduction to this was when I was talking about calico cats during my first year in Japan. I was told by multiple people that they are a uniquely Japanese cat. I was told that cats with that number of mixed colors only existed in Japan. When I broke the news to them that I had a calico back home, and that such cats weren't rare there, I was given blank looks as if I was talking crazy talk.* Of course, the most infamous of these assertions is that Japan is the only country that has four distinct seasons.

This is not the only thing that Japanese people believe they invented or was originated in Japan, and I won't miss this tendency to lay claim to invention, unique origin, or culture which smells of arrogance and demonstrates ignorance.

*Note that calico cats are not a breed but a genetic roll of the dice. They are not unique to any particular country.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Will Miss #351 - WYSIWYG at restaurants

Click this small image for a bigger view of a lunch menu.

In America, there are two kinds of menus for the most part. There are those that display extremely unrealistic styled shots of food and those that have no pictures at all. The former is to make food look more appealing than it really is and the latter to avoid customer complaints (or even lawsuits) when people don't get what is shown in the picture. In restaurants in Japan, 99% of the time, the menus are "what you see is what you get" (WYSIWYG). This is a testimonial to the ability of the service folks in Japan to offer consistent and appetizing presentation.

It's awesome knowing that what I'm going to be served is what I expect and that no one is trying to trick me into thinking otherwise or hide the truth.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Won't Miss #351 - paltry (or no) raises

The economic situation in Japan has been going downhill for quite some time. That doesn't mean companies don't make money, but rather that Japan hasn't been growing economically on the whole. However, even before the downturn became so dire, raises were very pathetic at most companies. It's not unusual for people to get raises of as little as a few thousand yen (about $24) or no raise at all, even when a company is profitable. Whether or not you're getting a raise has nothing to do with job performance or evaluation. It has to do with perceptions of whether or not you require one based on your age, gender, position, and marital status as well as how well the company has been doing economically. As a married women in a subordinate position at my former office, the president simply decided I didn't need much in the way of raises whereas a married male coworker doing the same job got a substantial raise. We both had exactly the same responsibilities, and I did more work than him and had significantly more useful and refined skills (computer-based) and could do more varied work. The male coworker got a 10,000 yen raise and I got 1,000 yen, because the president concluded he needed it to support his wife (but no kids). Never mind that his wife worked full-time and my husband didn't. It was all about what the president imagined the situation to be, not our value as workers or actual circumstances.

I won't miss the way in which raises are determined nor how tiny they tend to be.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Will MIss #350 - natural food dyes

Lunch meat in Japan is its own brand of "scary".

Many foods in Japan have common preservatives and chemicals added to them just like back home, but one thing the Japanese are careful about is food dyes. Unless a food is imported, it's quite rare to find a food that has had its color altered with chemical dyes. Most of the time, natural coloring extracted from carrots, potatoes, annatto, turmeric, paprika, etc. are used. Even the lunch meat that looks like it's a radioactive pink that is pictured with this post was made that bizarre color with beet juice.

I'll miss not seeing things like red #40 listed on my food purchases.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Won't Miss #350 - puny mark-downs

One thing which consistently amazes me is how small sales and markdowns are on items in Tokyo. I've seen prices marked as little as 2%, even on food items which clearly are nearing their expiration. Convenience stores often have the most absurdly low price reductions, such as 10 yen off of something which costs 200 yen or more. Mind you, I do occasionally see bigger markdowns (especially on clothes, which I don't buy anyway), but it is far rarer than seeing some ridiculously marginal markdown.

I won't miss the sales and markdowns which are so small as to be nearly meaningless.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Will Miss #349 - taiyaki/imagawayaki

If you walk around nearly any city in Japan for a little while, you're bound to come across someone with fish-shaped molds pouring what looks like pancake batter into them. After a short while, a generous dollop of red bean jam or custard will be added to the center and two molds will be combined to sandwich the filling between the two fishy halves. The outer portion of this treat is like a pancake or soft waffle and the filling is soft, warm, sweet and rich.

The fish-shaped version is taiyaki and the round version (which isn't really different except in size and shape) is imagawayaki and they are delicious right off the griddle, and I'll miss being able to have them fresh and warm.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Won't Miss #349 - jishin yoi (earthquake sickness)

Though I grew up in western Pennsylvania, where there are no earthquakes, I did experience the earth shuddering on a regular basis. My family lived near coal and strip mining operations. The use of explosives a safe, but palpable, distance away commonly shook our house. Also, we lived a very short distance from a dirt road that huge trucks roared down, causing objects in the living room to rattle on their end tables. Despite my experience with this type of thing, it does not compare to earthquakes because of the unpredictability of the intensity and duration. After a strong quake, people can experience what the Japanese call "jishin (earthquake) yoi (drunkenness)." This is when you think the room is moving but it is not. After the March 11, 2011 quake, reportedly 75% of people suffered from it. I personally felt it for weeks afterward.

I won't miss feeling like the room is moving even when it's not.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Will Miss #348 - being told I'm beautiful

I look absolutely nothing like this woman, but I think she's supposed to be actually beautiful.

I've read on some blogs and forums that a lot of the women who marry foreign men are actually considered relatively mundane or unattractive in Japanese culture. I've also been spontaneously told by Japanese men and women (even at the ripe old age of 46) that I am "beautiful". My sense about both of these situations is that beauty is culturally very relative and what is exotic and lovely in the eyes of one culture is quite "average" (or less) in another. I have no illusions about my appearance. I'm neither a great beauty nor someone who causes people to avert their eyes. I know that it is the relative rarity of my blue eyes and my blondish red hair as well as the value placed on my pale clear skin that is eliciting the compliments, not any measure of my true physical impressiveness.

Everyone likes to be told that they are attractive, and I'm certain it's something that I'll only be hearing from my husband (which I value greatly) after I return home. I'll miss being told I'm beautiful, even when I'm not especially so.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Won't Miss #348 - Japanese keyboards

 Click to see details of a touch typists bad dream.

If you don't know what is wrong with Japanese keyboards, then you are obviously not a touch typist and I bid you good day, sir. People who have to look at the keyboard to hunt and peck their way through a lengthy diatribe won't understand how frustrating it is to have extra keys on the right side of the board and on the bottom row messing up your ability to type 90 words per minute (which is how fast I can type).

I won't miss Japanese keyboards and how the layout differences slow down my typing by introducing errors and forcing me to learn a new "reach" to touch type properly.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Will Miss #347 - UFO Catchers

A UFO Catcher prize bag from a Sega game shop. 

I can't believe I'm writing this post. Not a year ago, UFO Catchers (claw crane games) were something I wanted nothing to do with because I thought they were scams and you had to put a ton of money into them with little chance of getting a price. Some time around the end of 2010, my husband gave one a shot to win me a debu neko (fatty cat) and he found out that, while it requires skill, the machines aren't rigged to make it impossible or very costly to win. In fact, he won 3 prizes for 500 yen (6 tries). Buying the same prizes from Rakuten would have cost 1800 yen. Since then, he's been enjoying the games and we've learned a lot both about the games and the way the business operates in Japan. Most of the game shops want you to win. They really want you to win. They'll move things around to help you or put the prize you want in a better position if you try a few times and fail. At one game shop, the owner stood behind us and moved the prize every time my husband missed in an attempt to help us (which actually made it worse, but I appreciated the motivation).

I'll miss the UFO Catchers and how the experience at the game shops is so uniquely Japanese in the way in which staff will help you most of the time.