Friday, September 30, 2011

Will Miss #371 - vinegar drinking

What's for dessert? Vinegar, of course!

Of course, when I say I'll miss drinking vinegar, I don't mean me personally, but the fact that the Japanese do it. And it's not that "only" they do it, because apparently folk medicine worldwide claims vinegar will cure everything that ails you. It's more the pervasiveness of vinegar for drinking and how it is more fully integrated into the culture and mindset as something people just do. While I'm sure there are raw foodies, hippies, and those who think modern medicine leaves something to be desired who stir a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar into a glass of water everyday and knock it back in Western countries, they're not having new products styled to suit their desire to ingest a little extra vinegar nor entire boutiques dedicated to vinegar beverages.

I'll miss the infusion of this (somewhat dubious) habit in Japanese culture.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Won't Miss #371 - methodical scanners

Yeah, I'm talking about this guy (among others). Learn how to use the equipment fellow!

I haven't lived in the U.S. for a long time, so this may be a problem there as well, but it's something I never experienced there. When I go to markets in Japan, at least 30% of the time when I am buying more than one of the same item, the cashier will scan the same item through again and again rather than scan it once and use the multiply function of the register. I've had slacktacular clerks methodically run eight bottles of the same beverage through at a snail's pace rather than press a few buttons and do it more efficiently. This behavior occurs regardless of how long the line behind me is and drives me crazy. If it was uncommon, I'd write it off to slow-witted or poorly trained employees, but it happens far too often to believe that. Also, this is hardly a country where employees aren't properly trained. If anything, they are over-trained and instructed in how to do their work down to the last detail.

I won't miss this tendency among clerks to choose ease over expediency when checking me out at stores.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Will Miss #370 - monster goya vines

At this stage of the year, the vines are about 4 stories high, and they're not finished yet.

Goya is a vegetable that is often translated to mean "bitter gourd". It looks like a big cucumber with a bad skin disease and is famous for being a part of Okinawan cuisine. Some Japanese folks swear by it and others detest it. It's one of those polarizing things, but mainly, I notice it in the summer when the local government office grows monster goya vines up the side of its building. With post-quake energy conservation (setsuden), it was recommended that many people follow their lead because the vines have the potential to cool buildings by a few degrees. In my area, this massive vine growing project has been going on for years and is part of the rhythm of life in Japan for me.

Seeing the progression of these vines from seedlings in tubs to multi-story wonders to browning debris every year is a reminder of the cycle, resiliency, and power of nature, and how the Japanese can be so particular in how they harness it, and I'll miss it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Won't Miss #370 - being told what is "Japanese"

I'm going to blow your mind, and very likely piss you off when I say that Japanese people do not know Japanese culture by virtue of being born in Japan. Don't believe me? Next time the Golden Week holidays roll around, ask your friends what each day celebrates and how it is observed. Or, ask them what a mikoshi is/does. Being of a culture is not the same as being educated in it and sometimes it's frustrating to have people lecture me when they clearly don't have a clue. For instance, an Japanese gent of 77 asked me if I like Japanese food. I told him that I like it, but not all of it. In particular, I won't eat uncooked meat or fish (as I was raised to feel it was dangerous to even consume slightly rare food and it nauseates me). He said, 'then you don't like Japanese food because sushi and sashimi are the core of Japanese cuisine'. To this, I say that if you're going to reduce an entire country's cuisine to one or two dishes, then I don't like any country's cuisine, especially America's which supposedly revolves around beef and potatoes (the former which I never eat and the latter which I rarely eat). Besides, sushi originally was salted and fermented fish, not what the Japanese eat today, and it is defined by the inclusion of vinegar and rice, not raw fish parts. The bottom line is that you have to be interested enough and attentive enough to what is going on to really understand any culture, including your own. It's not enough to exist in it and sleepwalk through it without ever applying some mental energy to research and thinking things through.

I won't miss being told what's what in Japan by people who feel that they know everything merely by birthright.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Will Miss #369 - simpler living

The Japan Times newspaper used to run a series of columns by an American writer named Don Maloney which was compiled into a book called  "Japan: It's Not All Raw Fish." In one of his articles, Maloney talks about the inconvenience of life in Tokyo and how much more cumbersome it is than life in the U.S. A reader wrote to Maloney and talked about how he and his wife cope just fine with the high prices of food by growing their own vegetables and work around the problems of hanging clothes out to dry during the rainy season by setting up a rack inside (among other things). Maloney said that letters such as that one help him get more money for expenses from his company because they validate how much harder life is in Japan than back home.

Our perceptions of hardship are defined by the average lifestyle of everyone in our immediate area and culture-wide norms. This is one of the reasons why someone who complains about the price of their car repair isn't mollified by the idea that people are starving in other parts of the world and that should make their problems appear less dire in comparison. One of the things about life in Japan is that you live a more basic lifestyle on many levels. When Americans first get here, like Mr. Maloney, it seems like a big step down to go from complex and easy living to the simpler. more difficult life in Japan, but it does put you in touch with your humanity and the necessities of life. It also reminds you of how reliant one can become on technology (cars, dryers, central heating) and how it makes you feel removed from the costs and realities of maintaining a high lifestyle.

I'll miss the simpler living in Japan as a norm, and the way it brings about a greater sense of peace and perspective through the extra effort.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Won't Miss #369 - facial hair prejudice

Okay, this guy definitely isn't helping the image of facial hair, but give him a break. This picture was taken at a summer festival, not at the office. You'd all look less than ready for Wall Street in 93 degree heat and high humidity at a crowded public gathering.

When my husband came to Japan in 1989 seeking a job, his brother, who also lives in Japan, recommended that he shave off his beard. In fact, my brother-in-law for many years would remove his facial hair when applying for jobs because many Japanese companies view it as dirty, untidy, or lazy to sport facial growth. They tolerate beards and mustaches more from foreigners, but there is always a risk that you will lose a small edge in a competition for a job unless you are clean shaven. Personally, I find beards very becoming and they are, after all, the default state of a male face.

I won't miss the prejudice against male facial hair and the way in which it means you see very few men with beards in Japan.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Will Miss #366 - "trash cops" (the good)

As I've said before, dealing with garbage in Japan is complex. It's so complicated that many Japanese folks get it wrong, too. There are different rules for different neighborhoods and some subtler rules come into play about washing garbage. You can't, for instance, put out a can of food that has expired. You have to empty the food and wash the can. It's easy for people who have busy lives to make mistakes, and when they make them, the trash collection agents won't carry away the improperly handled trash. They just leave it there with a sticker. In some areas, one of the residents will take it upon themselves to fix the mistakes others make with their trash. In the picture above, a woman wearing plastic gloves is sorting other people's improperly organized trash so that it will all be taken away rather than left behind. I like how Japanese people will do this sort of dirty work for the benefit of the community for no pay or overt expressions of gratitude. No one asks them to do it and it certainly isn't their job to clean up other people's messes.

This behavior shows a sense of looking out for the greater good rather than simply saying, "not my problem," and ignoring it, and I'll miss that.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Won't Miss #366 - trash cops (the bad)

A (rather nice-looking) sign created by and placed in a trash collection area by a self-appointed "trash cop" reminding everyone that today's trash collection is over. This is to let them know not to put out more trash bags until the next collection day.

Some people are vigilant about making sure the trash on the curb of their block is properly done and that doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing. However, some people aren't content to fix the problem quietly or wait for others to handle their mistakes. They find out where trash sorting mistakes are made and decide it's their job to harass whoever they believe has made the mistake through garbage-based-sleuthing. These garbage Nazis can be so oppressive that they have actually driven people out of their apartments with their consistent badgering. What is more, many of them are proud of being such angry jerks about something as minor as trash.

I won't miss people who have so little in their lives and get off on bullying others so much that they paw through their trash looking for mistakes and who made them.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Will Miss #365 - capsule machines

Things may have changed since I was living back home, but most of the capsule (or bubble) machines that sold little plastic balls with an item inside were designed for kids. Not only that, but the stuff you got in them was pretty crappy and tended to hold ones attention for about 15 minutes then end up mashed into the carpet of your parents' car when you returned home. In Japan, there are plenty of capsule machines for kids, but there are vast numbers quite clearly designed to cater to the tastes of adults.

They sell very peculiar items which cater to esoteric tastes in these capsule machines, and I'll miss them.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Won't Miss #365 - wiring money home

As I've mentioned before, Japanese banks have paltry interest rates on savings accounts. In fact, I'm surprised most people don't hide their money in old bento boxes and bury it in the back yard. That probably has more to do with the fact that so few people have actual backyards than it being considered a lesser option than putting it in the bank. Since I'd prefer to lose as little of my money to inflation as possible, I'd like to make a little interest on my savings. The only way to do that is to wire it back home. This is a big pain in the patootie. First of all, you have to fill out a bunch of forms in Japanese, which isn't so terrible but they appear to require quite a bit of after-faffing in which a polite clerk will take the documents and hand them off to someone who will frown over them and a computer screen for approximately 22 minutes. You can then hand them about $75 in fees and transfer your funds at an exchange rate which is at least one yen worse than the actual rate and wait for the cash to reach your account back home. Oh yes, you also have to tell them why you're sending it home and if they don't like your reason (and suspect money laundering), they're going to go tell the police on you and it'll be "fun" hijinks for all.

I won't miss the hassle, cost, and sense that my privacy is being unnecessarily invaded (in a minimal manner) when I wire money home.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Will Miss #364 - emotional control emphasis

Sumo wrestlers are famed for the stoicism. Tournament winners will stand sweating and tired in front of an interviewer staring straight ahead and grunting minimal answers. They rarely smile or show any overt happiness, even when they are elated at their victory. This is an extreme example of emotional control, and few average Japanese folks have such a tight reign on their feelings. That being said, the cultural emphasis in Japan is on keeping your emotions under control. It is said in Japan that only children cannot control their feelings in front of others and people are socialized not to burden others with their extreme reactions. That does not mean that everyone succeeds, not by a long shot, but it does mean that there is a fair amount less hostility or extreme emotional behavior on the whole. In America, people often think they are being "brave" and showing they don't fear censure or social rejection by getting in someone's face. Showing your angry feelings in an overt way doesn't make you a rebel who is indifferent to society's rules. It makes you an inconsiderate asshole.

Most people in Japan are capable of keeping their emotional control in difficult situations and I'll miss that.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Won't Miss #364 - Benevolent Prejudice

One of my students is a lovely older lady who is friendly, fun to talk to, and frequently gives me gifts. She's a delightful person who makes mundane stories sound interesting and makes an effort to carry on a conversation, unlike some students who sit there like a lump and expect the teacher to interrogate them into improving their English while they grudgingly utter short replies. She's a very nice person and I like her a lot, but she also acts toward me with prejudice (as in "preconceived notion"). She tells me she wants to be my friend, because I am a foreigner. Now, to frame this in a way which others can more readily empathize with, I suggest you imagine a white person telling a black person that she wants to be friends because the other person is black. Benign prejudice is rampant in Japan, and most foreigners dismiss it by saying "no harm, no foul", but it underscores and supports malignant prejudice by perpetuating the notions about outsiders which prop up the latter. That is, that foreigners can be known merely by their foreignness, and that their nature can be prejudged, categorized, and understood based on a set of (often) erroneous assumptions. Sometimes those assumptions create a situation in which people reject you out of hand, and sometimes it makes them like you for no reason.

I won't miss benevolent prejudice because it makes it much harder to be friends with people I feel friendly toward because I know they value me for reasons that have nothing to do with me as an individual (and often for reasons that are purely imaginary).

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Will Miss #363 - realizing where I am

Most of the time, I go about my business in life like everyone else. This is often a part of the sleepwalking through life that we all do as we perform routine behaviors. When you first come in Japan, the "oh wow" factor tends to dominate as the novelty of all the little differences make you think normal things are awesome because they are 10% different and have Japanese writing all over them. For most people who aren't raging Japanophiles, this wears off sooner or later (generally sooner) and your awesome loaf of bread with the dumb message about "for your happy bakery life" and the cute anime-style mascot is something that fails to impress you and is just another item in your shopping basket.

Occasionally, I'm walking around Tokyo and something about it will strike me in just the right way. Usually, it's the glittering of the metropolis during a pensive moment. At those times, I remember that I was born in a rural Western Pennsylvania town with fewer 2000 people, few jobs, lots of farms, and little else, and now I live in one of the most glamorous and interesting places in the world. I realize where I've come from and where I am and how that says something about just how far I've come. I'll miss those moments of grand realization, which I can't imagine having in any other city in the world the way I have them here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Won't Miss #363 - dead stoppers

These two decided the best place to stop and mess with their cell phone messages was dead in the middle of the sidewalk. The angle makes it look bigger than it is. Trust me when I say that when they dead stopped in front of me that it was more than irritating going around them.

On New Year's Eve of 2010, I was heading into a Kinokuniya supermarket located in the basement of a building. I was making my way the only way one could, via a narrow escalator behind a long line of other people. When I say, "narrow", I mean that it was only wide enough for a single individual to stand on. It wasn't one of these deals where half of it is used for those taking the ride down and the other half could walk down the unoccupied half. It was one-person-wide. The upper-middle-aged specimen riding down in front of me decided that it would be in her best interest when she reached the bottom to simply stand there. She took a half-step off and dead-stopped. Now, I'm being carried forward by a motorized stairway and have nowhere to go but right into her back. I literally have no choice but to pile onto her or nudge her out of the way and try and get around her. I push her with the force of the escalator and she gets angry with me for having the audacity to do so. I'm not sure what she expected me to do. Was I supposed to turn around and start clambering over the people on the escalator behind me as it continued to move them steadily down?

People in Tokyo seem to think it's okay to dead stop just about anywhere and any time they please with absolutely no awareness of how their actions make it difficult or impossible for others to pass by, and I won't miss it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Will Miss #362 - super cheap book scanning service

Our service of choice, and the image I pinched from their web site. They have really served us well.

My husband and I have accumulated a lot of books since coming to Japan, and everyone knows how infamously small Japanese apartments are. My husband has a large collection of books that he cannot replace without going to great expense (special ordered from a limited run publisher that feels digital copies should cost just as much as print versions). In The U.S, there are a lot of book scanning services, but they charge about $12-15 per 250-page-book. In Japan, there are quite a few such services that charge a mere 100 yen ($1.20) per 350-page-book. The price is amazing, and depending on the agency, the service is as well. I've read that this is because the Japanese use an automatized process which originated in Korea which allows for fast work. All I care about is the fact that our large stash of books has been reduced to digital form for a very low price.

I'll miss the ability to get a book scanned for less than it takes to buy a bottle of soda.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Random Thoughts: Gilligan's Island

When you live in Japan, people make an assumption about why you are here. More often than not, they fill the gap in their knowledge with their own motivation or ones that they are familiar with based on what others have said or they have read. Some people come here because they love aspects of Japanese culture, especially manga, anime, or pop culture. Others follow a dream of knowing this "exotic" culture better after falling love with it from afar. Yet others have a Japanese friend or romantic partner that sparked their interest in this country and they followed them here. Only a very few people know why I'm here, and I'm pretty sure none of my readers know. However, the fact that I approach life in Japan with a very different attitude than most people may be better understood if I explain how I got here.

I will start by saying that I had zero interest in Japan when I first came here. That's right. ZERO. In 1987, I had a penpal from California who I fell in love with. He and I exchanged cassette tapes with each of us talking to one another rather than writing letters. We started off speaking for about 45 minutes to an hour on 60-minutes tapes, and moved up to marathons which had us cramming several 90-minute tapes into packages. We talked a lot and knew each other better than most people know one another face-to-face. When all you have is talk, you explore every facet of conversation and information about each other.

My penpal's charm was so beguiling that I fell for him when I listened to the second tape that he sent me, but I was not going to risk putting my feelings out there. To make a long story (a very long one) short, about 6 months later, he admitted he felt the same way about me and we decided we wanted to be together in the flesh. Unfortunately, his admission (on July 18th) came after signing a contract to spend a year teaching in Japan starting in August. He had just graduated from university and the job looked appealing so he took it, and we were facing a forced year apart in different countries rather than simply on opposite coasts (I was in Pennsylvania) because he had to honor this commitment.

My penpal-boyfriend, who I'd never looked in the eye but was madly in love with, flew off to Japan and we burdened the postal service with package after package with tapes and care packages. I sent him food and reading material from home. He sent me amazing Japanese collectibles pertaining to my favorite rock group. And we both ached to actually be together.

Though I was quite poor and not making a lot of money at my first job at a halfway house for mentally ill people (taking advantage of my degree in psychology), I saved enough money to arrange to come to Japan and finally meet him in March 1988. The only reason I came here was to meet him. Japan was just the place he was living in and where I had to go to finally see him. I'm sure that many can imagine how many butterflies I had associated with this experience. What is more, people around me were constantly warning me about how dangerous what I was doing was going to be. I wasn't just coming to meet someone I'd never met face-to-face but had a relationship with, but I was going to be staying in the same tiny Japanese apartment with him for an entire month.

At this point, some of my readers might be anticipating a story of disastrous first meeting and painful disappointment. That wasn't what happened. It was the greatest month of my entire life, a honeymoon  filled with joy and every expectation about what my boyfriend was like exceeded. He was brilliant. We got along wonderfully and had perfect chemistry emotionally and physically. It was a dream that was so incredible that I sometimes couldn't believe I'd actually lived it. And, yes, I later married that man and have been incredibly happy with him since that time.

Japan was incidental, not my great passion. When my future husband finished his contract and returned to his home in California, I joined him and we lived there for 10 months. We did not exactly flourish in that setting and based on how things went for him in Japan, we both decided to come back together for a five-year plan. The idea was to pay off our student loans and to save $50,000 in that time frame. Japan was an interesting place to be, but it was more a place to work. I had no idea at that time what living here was going to mean psychologically and only knew superficially about the culture, but I had that month of heaven to draw on as a lure to return. Also, my husband flew to Japan alone after our wedding and secured a job for himself so we were already halfway there.

The original plan of 5 years and $50,000 fell by the wayside as we both grew comfortable with the lifestyle and circumstances. We decided to stay as long as it felt "right" rather than place arbitrary limits on our time here. I cannot and will not go into the fluctuations in priorities, feelings, and situations which lead to us being here far longer than originally planned (about 23 years). I would need to write an entire book to talk about it all or to start a new blog that I'd have to work at for years to tell the entire tale, but suffice it to say that life is more complex than short talks of "reasons" can convey. We haven't just "lived in Japan" during all of this time, but we have also lived a full, rich life which has been satisfying on multiple levels. Being in Japan played a role in that, but it wasn't the end-all and be-all of it. If you think living in Japan is supposed to only be about Japan, then you're missing out on a fuller sense of what it means to exist and be a human being.

Japan is where I happen to live, but it's not necessarily why I live here. It's not that it isn't an interesting place to live in many, many ways, but I'm not "in love" with it as many people are. I ended up here because I was in love with someone who happened to be here and happened to think it was a good idea to come back. This means my perspective is not altered by a need to frame it in a particular manner (positively or negatively). Japan ended up being a place where I could experience a great deal of personal growth and a gold mine for someone who is interested in psychology. It has been the opportunity of a lifetime in that way, but there are fascinating opportunities to explore psychology everywhere.

Being in Japan for me has been like that fateful journey on the S.S. Minnow piloted by the Skipper and his first mate Gilligan. They bargained for a three-hour tour, but ended up on an island living a very different existence than they expected for a much longer time. I planned on staying here for 5 years, but it ended up being more than I expected and was harder to leave than one might anticipate. I like living here, and am very happy with my life, but I didn't come here out of abject adoration of Japan and it's not why I remain here. I stay here because it continues to offer unique personal learning and growth opportunities. I'll be going when I think I've tapped that potential, and that's what I'd be doing no matter where I was living.

I'm opening up comments on this post (only) because I want to allow people to share their reasons for coming to Japan if they would like. Please keep in mind, when commenting, why I generally don't allow comments, and please keep comments on this topic rather than comment on other posts.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Won't Miss #362 - "my hobby is sleeping"

While talking with my sister and one of my friends in America, I asked, "do people ever say that their hobby is sleeping back home?" Both of them were taken aback at my even asking such a question as it seemed like a fundamentally incongruous thing for anyone to assert. My inability to distinguish the weird things I sometimes hear in Japan from the weird things people say back home spurred this query because I wanted confirmation that asserting that ones hobby is "sleeping" is a pretty dumb thing to say. People say it to me all of the time here, and by "all the time", I mean with irritating frequency and not in the least bit in the realm of "rare", and it's not because they confuse the meaning of the word "hobby". Part of teaching is that you ask about hobbies in order to strike up a conversation about something in which the student has an interest. When someone says, my hobby is sleeping, I have to gently remind them that hobbies are not necessary behaviors like eating, sleeping or going to the bathroom, but things we choose to do to expand the scope of our existence. They already know this, however.

I hate it when people say, "my hobby is sleeping," because it sends the conversation to a dead end and it's frankly a pretty dumb, cop-out answer and I won't miss it.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Will Miss #361 - Japanese strikers and protesters

In Japan, the unions are exceptionally weak and tend to cooperate fully with most companies. Most of the time, the union reps get together and quietly talk about what the company is willing to do and just do it. They rarely push hard. When they do strike, it is an almost comically mild event in which a small group of people quietly parade down a street in a complete and orderly manner bearing banners. Protests, with some recent exceptions related to anti-nuclear rallies, are conducted in a similar restrained fashion. The entire experience is tantamount to writing a complaint letter saying, "I'm terribly sorry to inconvenience you with my concerns and you may feel free to ignore them entirely, but I must humbly voice them in the quietest and least strident manner I can possibly manage."

There is something uniquely Japanese about these sedate, polite, and completely cooperative efforts to "protest", and I will miss it.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Blogger Weirdnesses

Just a head's up about some Blogger issues that are affecting my posting schedules. I queue my posts to go up for at least a week ahead, but since Blogger changed their interface, the scheduling has become unpredictable. The main problem is that sometimes it schedules on West coast of the United States time and sometimes it schedules on Japan time. It will do this randomly so sometimes posts that are originally scheduled a few days apart will show up on the same day. This is very frustrating as I like to do one post a day from Monday to Friday.

Suffice it to say, five posts a week will be going up and I'm attempting to just accept that sometimes I may actually be posting Sunday to Thursday rather than Monday to Friday by putting posts 24 hours apart no matter what rather than trying to second-guess Bloggers scheduling system and set different posting hours. Hopefully, this sort of swapping between time zones will stop at some point, but for now, I'm just going to try and post at 8:00 am on the dates which appear from Monday to Friday on the little scheduling calendar and let the chips fall where they may.

Thanks for your patience, and for reading!

P.S. This is incidental, and mainly applies to me, but Blogger also changed the rules for what characters are permitted in labeling so I had to change my labels from "won't miss" to "will not miss" because they don't allow apostrophes in the labels anymore. That means that the total number of "won't miss" posts won't add up to 500 when I reach my goal of 1000 (500 good points and 500 bad points essentially), but rather there will have to be two labels totaling up to 500. :-p

Won't Miss #361 - rudeness (qualified)

Shhh. Listen carefully. Do you hear that rustling that sounds like fabric rubbing over fabric? That's the sound of dozens of Japanophiles', apologists', and assorted foreigners' underpants wadding up at the title of this post. They won't even read it before dashing off indignant e-mail messages about how Japanese people are less rude than most Westerners (and especially most 'merkans). Those who do read it are likely to demonstrate profound reading comprehension shortcomings, but for the rest of you, those with open minds, good comprehension skills and sufficient attention spans to actually read what I mean rather than infer, I will explain.

I'll start by saying overt rudeness in Japan is rarer than in some other cultures, especially America and China, and therein lies the issue. If the cultural norm is that people are rude to one another, people treating you discourteously is something that you can shrug off. You know that it's not directed at you specifically, but rather just a part of usual life in that culture. When rudeness is very atypical, you feel very personally targeted by that behavior. It's not just another part of life, but an overt attempt to single you out for bad treatment. The context and frequency very much matter in how you feel about how you are treated.

I won't miss how much more being treated rudely stings in Japan because it feels more like a personal attack.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Will Miss #360 - "happy basuday to you"

I don't have a picture of someone singing at a birthday party, but this is the tart I had for my 47th birthday this year. It was fatty and delicious, and the picture is the best I can do for something which is birthday-related.

Japanese folks celebrate their birthdays generally with a visit to a restaurant for what they call a "party", but is actually a nice get-together with friends. At such get-togethers, what you usually see is a happy group of Japanese folks in a Japanese restaurant in Japan who will at one point or another sing "happy birthday". Entirely in English. Only in English. The Japanese don't have their own celebratory song and haven't translated the one we all know so well into their own language.

There is something awesome about the fact that an all-Japanese gathering is celebrated with an entirely English song in a country which struggles so long and hard to learn the language and I'll miss that.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Won't Miss #360 - bags that need a seat

On all public transport around the world, I'm sure there are people who plant their bags onto an adjoining seat until someone comes along and needs to occupy that space. I don't mind if people do this on a relatively empty train, not that there are many "relatively empty" trains in Tokyo most of the time. However, there are people who flop their bag onto the next seat and as the train fills up, either refuse to move it or act as though you're ejecting a precious child overcome by exhaustion from a needed place to rest. They give you a dirty look and make a sound that clearly indicates disgust if you indicate (by hopefully hovering over the empty seat) that you'd like to trade places with their luggage.

I don't know if this is the result of "I don't want a foreigner to sit next to me and grudgingly will permit it" or if it is "I'm a selfish git who has no consideration for others" thing, but I won't miss people acting as though I'm seriously putting them out by expecting them to surrender a seat being occupied by an object.