Thursday, December 27, 2012

Will Miss #7 - weird vending machines (reflection)

I didn't buy any of this, but I'm guessing it feels wet. (This machine was stocked a few months after the March 11, 2011 earthquake, when people were terrified of drinking tap water but the bottled water shortage had eased off.)

Japan is known the world over for its copious and odd vending machines. The neighborhood that I lived in in Japan, Asagaya, at one point had a vending machine full of marital aids including fake vulvas. That was quite awhile back, before I had a digital camera, and I sincerely wish I'd taken a picture of it when it was around. It was absolutely on the fringe of weirdness, and that's saying something for a country that sells bread in a can and condoms in street accessible vending machines.

There are vending machines here at home, of course. They are huge monolithic and sleek drink machines as well as beat up and vandalized newspaper ones. Other than that, it's a bit of a wasteland and what little there is, is far less interesting and variable than what I saw in Tokyo. 

I truly do miss the weird vending machines, but I actually miss even the more mundane ones like the drink machines which carried a greater variety of beverages and rotated out the options much more frequently than those I have seen here. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Random Memories #20

I'm not sure why the cat is the one sweating here, or why it is on a gift tag doing so.

It may be hard for people who have been to Japan to understand just how much it has changed in a short time. Sometimes, frankly, I find it difficult to believe or accurately remember. Fortunately, my 1987-88 books of memories are there to shake the cobwebs out of ancient memories and to remind me that Christmas as it is now is not as it has always been.

I guess the joke is that the cat is afraid the mice are going to eat it. Someone is unclear on the exact relationship between mice and cats. 

For starters, during the first year I actually lived in Japan (in 1989), it was very difficult to find much of anything in the way of Christmas cards or decorations, and what I did find was expensive. The commercial potential of this Western holiday was not being tapped because it wasn't really being celebrated much at all. Students who were children during that time told me that they got one gift placed near their futon. That was the extent of things for them. There wasn't a lot of Christmas partying and the old KFC route of celebrating was not yet in the cultural mainstream (if it existed at all). 

The girl is saying something like "how terrible" as she looks in the box, as someone appears to have abandoned this cat near the trash.

In 1987, when my boyfriend and future husband and I were spending our first Christmas "together" 3000 miles apart, he sent me 5 enormous packages with a great many more presents inside of them. He couldn't find any appropriate Christmas themed tags or paper, so he bought these tiny little cards with Japanese written on them which he could not understand at all. He chose them based on the fact that I loved cats and cats were on them.

The messages my husband wrote me are blurred, because my mush is none of your business. ;-)

Now that we understand enough Japanese to know what the cards are saying, the stories and themes on some of them seem a bit strange for gifts. Perhaps they are jokes that language understanding alone will not help me "get". Perhaps it is something about Japanese sensibilities that escapes me despite my many years in the country (certainly a possibility). Or, maybe the fact that these are "present for you" cards and the illustrations and the stories they tell are utterly unrelated. The intent may be to entertain the receiver, not to necessarily convey a message.

So, the first Christmas gifts I ever got from Japan were uniquely Japanese in every conceivable way and did not even reflect the spirit of the season. They did, however, reflect a unique mentality and a time when Western culture hadn't encroached quite so deeply into Japanese culture. The lack of unique Christmas items at one point made me sad, but now, I think the memories are all the better for it. 

Happy holidays to all of my readers!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Won't Miss #506 - vanishing Christmas decorations

Last night, my husband and I were walking around a street (in California) that is known for putting up elaborate Christmas displays. When we were finished looking at the beautiful displays in front of people's homes, I remarked to my husband that I was looking forward to the holiday displays living beyond the 25th. In Tokyo, every little sign of Christmas tended to vanish by midnight on December 25th. In the U.S., at least in the past, such things tended to live on until New Year's (sometimes beyond). The way in which such things instantly disappeared in Tokyo always made me a little depressed. The holiday feeling felt as it it was washed away the minute it had lived its commercial course. Note that this was not the case with New Year's decorations. They tended to hang around for quite some time, as would be expected for a holiday that the Japanese themselves had an emotional investment in as their biggest celebration. I certainly don't "blame" them for that at all, but it did make me sad.

The way in which all vestiges of the holiday vanished by daybreak on the December 26 underscored how unimportant the holiday was for the Japanese and reminded me of my cultural isolation and I won't miss that. 

I hope all of my readers are having a happy holiday season, and that they leave their trees up until New Years. ;-)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Will Miss #505 - Sudare

I found some very old pictures of my apartment from the first 5 or so years that my husband and I lived there and noticed that we started out covering our windows with sudare, or rattan blinds. These blinds are cheap, easy to install and protect against both sun and heat. Just looking at them makes me feel a bit cooler for some reason. I'm sure that they are used in many Asian cultures, but I always associate them with "old world" Japan. That is, a time before Western drapery or blinds entered the picture and people sheltered from the sun with these durable, light, and natural coverings.

I will miss seeing sudare and the way they make me think of traditional Japanese culture. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Random Memories #19

Click this photo to load a larger version which is legible.  (You may need to open link in new tab/window and magnify to load the full size which can be read.)

People may assume that business decisions are made rationally and in the best interests of furthering ones economic interests. In my experience in Japan, they were not made so much in accord with what was logical as what was perceived to be economically feasible, what related to the "rules" of doing business in Japan, and what suited the whims of the powers that be. In my opinion, the menu that I scanned in is an example of both the first and last items.

This menu was from one of my favorite restaurants/pubs in Japan, Akiyoshi. In the late 80's, they had full color bilingual menus. This made them a doubly awesome place for foreigners to congregate at that time since it was one of the few places at which those who weren't capable of reading Japanese could order things like pig intestines and beef stomach and know just how disgusting the food they were eating really was. If you steered clear of the offal though, you could derive greatness of experience from the more palatable options. I was always a huge fan of their chicken box (tori ju) and miso soup. 

If you were to visit one of Akiyoshi's branches now, you would find that, not only are the menus only in Japanese, but there are no disposable menus like this. These days, the customer cannot walk away with a nifty souvenir such as this. There are plastic-covered menus that sit on the counter or table that you can order from, but are clearly meant to remain there for the duration.

This change in menu choices is a curious and telling one. Japan has become a much more bilingual place in the past 20 or so years. It has also seen more foreigners choose to live and work there relative to the late 80's. One of the reasons that Japan was once seen as a good place for foreigners to find work was that there were few enough of them around that it was very easy to get a good job and the pay was relatively attractive. In other words, demand for English-speaking employees exceeded supply. Now, demand does not so greatly outstrip supply so the pay has gone down, working conditions have gotten less appealing, and work is harder to come by. 

Given that there are more foreigners who could benefit from bilingual menus around now than when this menu was on offer, why would Akiyoshi discontinue offering them? It would seem that the chance to lure in foreign customers would be greater now than before. I believe the answer is pure economics. In the 80s, there was a lot of cash being thrown around by companies, often on pet projects, frivolous high profile items and property, and poorly thought out business ventures. Chances are that this menu existed because someone high up in the company wanted to put forth an image of a business which could cater to foreigners, not because they actually wanted to lure in more English-speaking business.

When I worked at a Japanese company, especially in the earlier days before the company felt the deep and long-lasting sting of economic decline, the president used to make a wide variety of idiosyncratic and wasteful spending choices. They bought vacation property which was supposedly for company employees to take their holidays at, took company trips to Hawaii, and offered lavish plastic boxes to contain their correspondence course "kit" (cassette tape, homework booklets, textbook). These choices were made instead of upgrading the publishing section from hand-made layouts with glue and rulers to digital publishing because those were options the president wanted. He did not care about upgrading the product or improving its quality. He spent money on what he cared about, not what was good for business. 

I can't say for sure if Akiyoshi made the choice to offer bilingual menus for the same idiosyncratic reasons that my company's former president made his. I can say that it would not be the least bit surprising if they did. In my experience in Japan, it was common during the bubble economy years for many companies there to make such choices for arbitrary reasons. It's why Japanese companies were going around buying expensive art and high profile properties right and left. They splashed out because of how it made them look and feel, not how it affected their bottom line. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Won't Miss #7 - urban ugliness (reflection)

When I originally posted about how ugly Tokyo generally is, someone asked where I took the picture used in that original post. They could not believe that was a typical part of the city and thought that neighborhood had to reflect some sort of older, more impoverished time period in Tokyo's history. The truth is that much of the city areas are not pretty. My picture was not a misrepresentation. All of the lovely ones showing the best parts only were the skewed view. It's as if someone made a huge bunch of cookies, decorated them all badly but one and took a picture only of the one that looked good. Sure, there are gorgeous parts of Japan, but they are eclipsed in number by the range of ugly to blah areas if you are looking at the frequency.

That being said, now that I'm back home, I'm mainly struck by the suburban and rural ugliness of where I am/have been. Things look and feel very bland to me, even when they are relatively "nice" objectively speaking. Driving along in a car, it tends to just feel like things are tedious or rundown. Even when it was ugly in Tokyo, it wasn't boring. 

It turns out that the ugliness, which was very real, is something I could forgive in exchange for the fact that there was so much of interest contained behind those grey, boxy facades. The surface now seems far less important than the substance beneath it. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Will Miss #6 - maneki neko (reflection)

When I first returned to the U.S., I was on a small island in Washington State and the only Japanese culture I saw there was overpriced botan ame and Pocky (chocolate only, of course). At that point in time, I figured I'd have to give up my Japanese snack blog for lack of food to review or spend a fortune getting things from importers or specialty shops. The view from there in terms of all things Japanese was very bleak.

After moving to northern California, many things changed. Not only are there dozens of Japanese restaurants sporting maneko neko (welcome cats), but they are sold in many shops, not the least of which is the Daiso Japan. I thought that my days of being able to see their paws beckoning me to enter were over, but they are just somewhat fewer and far between.

That being said, most of the maneki neko my husband and I see here are not as large, attractively designed, or creative as the ones we saw in Tokyo. Many of them are sad looking or just plain tacky. Still, I can't honestly say I "miss" them, since I see them pretty often even here in the U.S. I'm guessing I couldn't say that if I lived in another region, but they are hardly rare where I am living now. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Random Memories #18

One of the first things Americans are surprised at when it comes to vending machines in Japan is the fact that alcoholic beverages are available in them. The reason this is surprising is that anyone, including underage drinkers, can sneak up to one, buy some booze, and run off and get loaded. Most of these machines are within view of a store, but some of them are not. Even those that can be seen from a store aren't exactly watched with the keenness of a hawk. Most of them are "set and forget".

It was my experience that kids were introduced to alcohol by their parents slowly and few of them viewed imbibing it as taboo. Since drinking is a very strong part of Japanese culture, it is expected that children will grow up to drink alcohol, not that they will abstain nor that it would be considered virtuous to do so. In fact, consumption of alcoholic beverages is so much a part of business culture, that not being a drinker is a disadvantage and definitely makes one the nail that sticks out. So, I don't think anyone was really fretting about kids getting their drunk on as a result of these machines being present.

This machine is a 1987 machine and the main difference between it and current machines is the size and the price. The interesting thing about the price is that it seems to have gone down just a tiny bit. And when I say the "size" is different, I don't mean the cans themselves. There have always been enormous cans and bottles of beer on offer. I am talking about the size of these vending machines. This machine is bigger than most current ones. What is more, they were once much more common than than they are at present in Japan.

The reason for both the minor price reduction and the shrinking size and frequency of machines selling booze was that the law changed at some point during my stay in Japan and convenience stores and markets were allowed to carry it. With "konbini" that are open 24 hours and located on  nearly every corner in Tokyo, anyone wanting to get pie-eyed could just pick up a brew with a pack of dried squid with cheese by popping into a shop. The demand for such machines evaporated when the availability of alcoholic drinks increased. 

It's worth noting that the number of liquor stores also has shrunk, at least it seemed so to me when I was there. This is an interesting change in Japan because it was a rare case of the number of vending machines going down rather than up. The trend has been toward greater mechanization, not less. For example, for much of my 23 years in Tokyo, kiosks were small manned shops on station platforms. By the time I had gone, many of them had been replaced by large vending machines. For beer, the vending machines have been disappearing in favor of manned shops selling them. Of course, this has more to do with the fact that Japan hasn't yet mastered the art of the total self-serve supermarket or convenience store. Give them a few more years and an even more shrunken population and I'm sure they'll get there. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Won't Miss #505 - being seen as incapable

AKB48, a manufactured girl group (with over 90 members) that discards members when they get "too old". They are clearly the product of a highly sophisticated culture. If you don't appreciate them, it is only because you are to simple-minded to comprehend.

In my previous post, I mentioned that the Japanese readily forgive foreigners for their bad manners or cross-cultural ignorance. If you take a business card and cram it in your pocket instead of looking thoughtfully at it and then placing it on the table such that you can view it, they won't be offended because they figure there's no way you could know their customs in this regard. While this may come across as tolerance, that is not what is really going on. It is more often than not the case that they feel that their culture is too complex, sophisticated, and difficult for someone from a less byzantine culture to comprehend. You are not seen as merely uneducated in their ways, but incapable of knowing them. This is why simple mastery of things like basic greetings in Japanese or using chopsticks are so highly praised. By acquiring even rudimentary Japanese cultural skills, you've overcome hurdles they thought you could never begin to vault over. It's like you are seen as a child who stacks blocks together to make a rudimentary house who receives praise for his efforts. 

When it comes to cultural understanding, many Japanese people operate from an unconscious (or conscious) sense that foreigners lack the sophistication to understand their ways. They believe you are the cultural equivalent of a developmentally disabled person. I will not miss this expectation that I lacked the capability to understand and follow Japanese customs. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Will Miss #504 - being forgiven for bad manners

I haven't been to Europe, but I really would like to go some day when my collective blogging earns me more than about a dime a post. Those who have been there have told me that, when you commit a faux pas, especially in certain countries (I'm looking at you, France), that you are treated like the uncultured scum that you are believed to be. America, is, of course, no better, but what is good and bad manners is individually determined and a minor breach can result in major incidents. In Japan, at least for the Caucasians, bad manners often yield forgiveness. The Japanese don't expect outsiders to understand their customs and are quick to conclude that you aren't acting poorly out of a malicious attempt to thumb your nose at their culture, but rather that you simply do not know their ways. This forms part of the complex mosaic of attitudes which non-Japanese detect as the "shiny, happy people" mentality they experience in Japan.

All manner of rudeness on the part of foreigners, sometimes even that which is willfull, is frequently (but not always) forgiven in Japan and I miss that.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Random Memories #17

The first movie I ever saw in a theater in my life was "Snow White and the Three Stooges". Lest anyone believe that I'm old enough for a first run of that movie, let me saw that it was pretty antiquated even when I was a child. I don't recall how old I was, only that my aunt took me to it and that I had not yet started first grade.

The first movie that I saw in Japan was Wall Street, which actually was new to Japan and is a reflection of how old I am. The movie was released in the U.S. in 1987, but I saw it in 1988 because back in those days, it wasn't unusual for movies to take quite some time to make their way across the water. I'm pretty sure the delay in those days had to do with the speed with which things could be translated and subtitled, a process which I'm certain is greatly accelerated by modern technology as well as an incentive to synchronize release dates internationally so that the pirated versions aren't passed around from the earlier release in the U.S.

One of the things about tickets in Japan, at least advance ones, is that they have pictures on them. That makes them a cool souvenir and, in this case, these 1988 tickets remind me that movies used to be only 1200 yen ($14.65). Now, they retail for 1800 yen ($21.87), though back then and now, you can get 200-300 yen ($2.44-$3.66) off at some places by buying them at a discount ticket shop. 

I also found the advertising on the back, which includes an ad for an extremely expensive air conditioner (218,000 yen/2,660 dollars), rather interesting. It is described as a "powerful city air conditioner". I guess that one of those wimpy country ones would be more economical. It seems an odd thing to market on the back of a movie ticket as it seems few people who were spending their spare cash on a movie would be thinking about super expensive air conditioners. Then again, most movie theaters were very hot at that time and this was one of the reasons I rarely went to them while I was in Japan. Perhaps after cooking your way through Charlie Sheen and Michael Douglas attempting to accumulate as much wealth as possible, you'd think investing in a "city air conditioner" was a pretty good idea.

Incidentally, Wall Street was the first movie I saw in Japan and the last was Mission Impossible 4. I saw it a few days before going into the hospital to have thyroid surgery as a way of getting out and doing something relatively "different" from the usual routine before someone took a knife to my throat. I recall that the experiences were quite different. During Wall Street, there were these seats in prime locations with white covers on them which were expensive reserve seats and the theater was overheated. The theater at which I saw Mission Impossible 4 had enormous comfortable chairs  that looked like they came out of a space shuttle and pretty much there were no bad seats (there may not even have been reserve ones) and we had boring tickets printed from a machine. It was also cool enough that I could keep my sweater on, but, then again, we were in the midst of setsuden (energy conservation) and they were probably reluctant to use the heat so much in winter.

I can't say that seeing a movie these days in Japan is an enormously different experience from that in the U.S., except for the part where people aren't as obnoxious. I can say that in the late 80's, it sure felt rather different than it did back home. It felt more formal with those special reserved seats and the colorful printed tickets. I don't remember the move Wall Street at all, but I do remember the atmosphere in that theater. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Won't Miss #5 - police harassment (reflection)

One thing that I can hardly go a day without reading or hearing someone talk about is "white privilege". The idea is, and it is certainly based on certain grim realities, that white folks walk around blithely reaping benefits from their pearly skin color without even realizing it. They get hired for jobs, accepted into schools, and are the beneficiaries of at least a couple of centuries of family status and wealth as a result of not being a part of a repressed minority.

As someone who grow up well below the poverty line, received free government cheese and powdered milk, was the child of a father who dropped out of school in 9th grade and did a blue collar job that left him disabled and a mother who only finished high school and went from one miserable and degrading minimum wage job after another when she wasn't having emotional problems, I never felt very "privileged". I paid for my own university. I have worked for everything I've gotten in life. No one has ever handed me a single thing, and there have been plenty of times when they've tried to take away what little I've had.

All of that being said, there is nothing like living in Japan and knowing what it is like to not have some aspects of white privilege to pry my eyes open a little to what it really is. The police in America don't harass me like they did in Japan. That is a piece of white privilege that I lost while living in Japan. Though certainly not the only one that vanished when I stepped off the plane in Tokyo, it was one of the most obvious and shocking. I still don't miss the fact that I don't draw unwanted attention from men in blue uniforms or get detained and questioned for existing while not being Japanese. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Will Miss #5 - funky shop names (reflection)

For disco dogs. No cats allowed.

I never took much notice of the way stores were named in the U.S. until I'd spent many years in Japan (mostly Tokyo). In the suburban California area that I currently live in and the neighboring areas that I have visited, I'm shocked at the bland and generic look and feel of most of the stores. Many of them are strip malls and shopping centers with nondescript names and typefaces. I'm talking about places with just "Salon" written on them in a san serif font against a dull-looking edifice. I'm amazed that such places can attract any customers at all. I certainly am not drawn to them. It could be that I'd see a lot more color if I were living in a major city, and I did see some more interesting shops in San Francisco, but even in the outskirts of Tokyo, things seemed to have more of a life and identity than what I have been seeing here.

I knew I'd miss the chuckles I got from shop names in Japan, but I think I miss them more than I could have expected because things are much more boring here than I remembered (or than they were when I was last here).

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Random Memories #16

Click this image to load a bigger one.

 Memory is a funny thing, and most people don't realize just how peculiar it is. For instance, did you know that the emotions of an experience are electrochemically stored with the memory of an experience? You cannot unlink the feelings you felt at the time of an experience and the details of the experience itself. You can process the feelings to less powerfully hook them, but the two are always encoded in your mind together.

The way in which your brain stores the memory with the feeling is one of the reasons why sometimes you will see, smell, or hear something and have an emotional response, but not know why. That's because it's often easier to retrieve the emotional part of a memory than the details of that memory. If something makes you suddenly feel blue or happy, but you're unsure why. The inexplicable emotion is likely because of this sort of emotional recall over the details of the actual memory. With some effort, you may be able to dig down and find the story behind what elicited the emotions, but sometimes you just can't locate that particular "file".

The reason that feeling is easier to evoke than details is likely one of survival. If you feel uneasy about something and feel like running away or happy about something and feel like going toward it, it likely aided in survival. You didn't need to take the time to find the details. It was enough to act on the emotion.

One of the things about going through my big, fat memory books about Japan is that they evoke feelings as well as memories. Sometimes, I get one, but I don't get the other. This "Fujicolor" envelope, which is now empty, brings about two feelings, one good and one less so. I understood the roots of the positive one, but it took some time to dig up the latter one. The envelope itself originally contained photos that my (then boyfriend, now) husband sent me. The reason it's empty now is that the pictures are in the album, and he kept the negatives with him. I remember how thrilled I was to receive any pictures of him, and how even more excited I was to receive pictures of the two of us from the month we spent together in Tokyo.

The second feeling was one of some minor discomfort, and as I opened up the envelope and looked at the cute little drawings telling you how to take care of your prints, I slowly figured out why. One of the things that used to be the case when you had your prints developed in Japan was that you were often given a little paper album into which you could place your photos if you so pleased. That may still be the custom, but so few people develop prints these days (including me), that I don't know if that's a type of "sabisu" still given. 

What I remembered is that I associated print development and the Fuji logo with these albums, and I connected them with my time working for Nova language school. Students often brought in these flimsy paper albums full of pictures of their various trips and used them to have conversations in lessons or in the "Voice" room, a sort of lounge in which people could engage in free chat with a teacher for a very cheap price.

There are two aspects to this which were not the best memories for me. I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit that one was that I sometimes regarded the students as incredibly boring about such things. I'm sure that this was as much due to language limits and my youthful lack of patience as anything else as I believe you can make a conversational silk purse out of a sow's ear 80% of the time if you are a skilled enough teacher (and back then, I wasn't). 

It was almost certainly the memory of my lack of ability and experience as a teacher that is bringing on a slightly negative feeling. My first two years in Japan were difficult in regards to teaching because I had zero experience with the culture and the type of work and I carried that sense of feeling like I had to tell people what was what. I was guilty of being too opinionated and judging the Japanese for not having opinions as most newbies (especially Americans) can be. My time at Nova is a reminder of immaturity and a lack of competence as well as simply being worked like a dog by a disreputable company that was known for lying to and cheating its employees.

So, one little envelope brought back memories both sweet and ever so slightly bitter, but that's okay. One way to recognize personal growth is to think about who you were and compare that to who you are now. It's where the value of memories lies. It's not about reliving past glory or happiness. It's about seeing how far you've come. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Won't Miss #504 - the Yasukuni flap

Yasukuni shrine is one of the few places in Japan that openly acknowledges that Japanese actually fought in the war (as opposed to simply being unwitting victims who got nuked for reasons that continue to mystify them). It enshrines the souls of soldiers, generals, and others who took part in all aspects of the fight. Unfortunately, some of those enshrined there were determined to be war criminals by the rest of the world and that is where the flap comes in. Being enshrined there gives those whose spirits are there a "get out of hell free" card and allows them to rest in peace. The situation at Yasukuni  itself doesn't really change any present reality, nor does it necessarily deny the past. War is not a personal thing. Death is. The families of those who died deserve to feel that their ancestors' spirits rest as peacefully as the families of those on the other side. But, that's just my opinion. I don't see the actual shrine as being anything other than a place designed to heal personal wounds in the aftermath of a terrible war.*

Unfortunately, the fact that prominent politicians have (and likely will) continue to make a pilgrimage to Yasukuni on New Year's makes the situation very political rather than personal. Koreans and Chinese in particular see any Prime Minister or high ranking official who goes there as essentially thumbing his nose at Japan's Asian neighbors. Personally, I feel that it's just a way of pandering to political extremists. If it pisses off Korea and China, well, that's just gravy in the quest to get the right-wingers to rub their hands together with spiteful glee. 

I don't miss the annual brouhaha over Yasukuni, whether it be the flurry of critical comments when prominent politicians actually visit it or the "will he or won't he" articles on whether or not the visit will actually occur. I don't think it was ever intended to play the part of a villainous place, and that the intention was never to be a point of contention with Japan's former adversaries.

*I'm not interested in playing a game of "who was worse" in World War II. Comments to that effect will not be replied to because I don't think anyone knows the depth and sophistication that went into the start of the war, let alone any of the actions that followed. If you want to go fight about this with someone, this is not the right place. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Will Miss #503 - no obnoxious car lock sounds

I will admit that I didn't live in an area in Tokyo where everyone had a car. That being said, I did live next door to several people with cars as well as a stone's throw (literally) from a business which had about 8 vehicles coming and going from its lot all day. I also walked around Tokyo for hours and hours (likely thousands) and experienced many people parking their cars and presumably locking them. One thing I never experienced was the sound of a car horn or alarm loudly hooting once like an errant mechanical fart when someone automatically locked their vehicle. In the U.S., obnoxious confirmation noises as people lock their cars by remote are everywhere.

I don't know if I just didn't happen to walk by anyone with said sounds enabled, didn't notice them, if the noises on Japanese cars when remotely locking up aren't as obnoxious*, or if the Japanese just didn't lock their vehicles because they thought it was safe, but I certainly appreciate now that I didn't have to put up with this particular type of random noise pollution while living in Tokyo.

I miss the lack of obnoxious car locking sounds.

*Note that I suspect (but am not sure that) this was the case. My husband and I bought a Toyota Prius as our car upon returning to the U.S. and it does not use a loud chirp or (even worse) a horn blow. It has a much mellower relatively subdued double beeping noise. I wonder if Japanese car makers offer a more refined solution because their consumer market wouldn't put up with such jarring noises, but I have no way of knowing without more experience with Japanese cars.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Random Memories #15

Above the logo, it says, "Hamburger, Just Dom Dom!" Okay... if you insist...

Some of my memories come second-hand via my husband, but that's okay. He doesn't mind my borrowing them and sharing them with my readers. This one comes from his second day on Japanese soil, August 8, 1987. He was in Okayama, which is about 336 miles or 542 km. from Tokyo, and taking part in training for his work for a company called AMVIC (which no longer exists by that name).

My then-boyfriend sent me a tape on which he talked in a very detailed fashion about his first and second days in Japan. The richness of the detail is something beyond that which most people are going to have access to, not to mention the feeling that they were impressions delivered in real time with the freshness of perspective intact. When you read words on a page, you read them in a voice and with a feeling of your choosing. When you listen to someone else talk, it maintains all of the integrity of the moment. The tapes are truly a gift from the past.

Among the many things my future husband talked about was his experience with the food in Japan. At that time, he was a mere 23 years old and had the limited range of tastes that one would expect from someone who was out of college, male, and never really embraced the idea that food was to be consumed for anything other than pleasure. I used to kid him a lot about how we'd have to make separate meals when we married. Little did I know that this was going to end up being the reality. To this day, more often than not, we eat different food at meals other than breakfast.

One of the things he said on the tape was that he made a critical error when ordering his first meal. He and other trainees went to a restaurant and he ordered something called a "mixed sandwich". He told me that he thought it sounded "safe", and later discovered that it was the last thing he'd want to eat. Though he didn't go into detail about what it was, I know now from experience that it is a typical Japanese sandwich made with white bread (crusts removed, of course) and then different fillings added to either side of a double decker sandwich. This wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the fact that the favored contents of such sandwiches are potato salad, egg salad, tuna salad, and paper thin slices of ham with liberal amounts of mayo.

The second day, he and his cohorts went to a Japanese fast food place, called "Dom Dom" at which the options were a lot more promising. Dom Dom sounds like a S&M joint, but it's really just the umpteenth take on fast food in Japan. My research (which I would not quote in an academic paper as it tends to be on the sloppy side) revealed that it is the oldest native chain fast food establishment in Japan. It started in 1970 and the more popular and well-known Lotteria trailed it by 2 years.

Dom Dom's current menu includes teriyaki burgers as well as shrimp burgers and is closer to Mos Burger than McDonald's in its overall composition. The only item that caught my eye especially was a sweet potato pie. I never saw a Dom Dom when I was in Japan, even though they apparently have 100 locations at present. A lot of their restaurants are apparently in food courts and not in independent brick and mortar locations. They aren't available in Tokyo at any of the big ticket areas (Shibuya, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Ikebukuro, etc.).

My husband thought the burger he ordered was an average fast food burger. He ordered a "double burger", because they didn't offer a quarter pounder. Through sign language, he was able to ask them not to put mayonnaise on it and was impressed that they followed his instructions. He said, "half the time when I tell them to hold the mayo in America, I get mayonnaise."

The scans that accompany this post are of two game cards that my future husband received and included with the historic tape mentioned earlier in this post. He scratched one card, though, by his own admission, he had no idea whether he had actually won one of the immensely valuable food prizes pictured on the card.

After all of these years, we can both look back and know the answer to a long unanswered questions. Did he win? No, he did not. The card says "hazure" which lets you know that you lost. Of course, the other card continues to remain a mystery and forever will. Like an unopened gift package, it will continue to hold unfulfilled promise, which is likely a far better reward than what it would actually reveal.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Won't Miss #4 - going to immigration (reflection)

Sometimes people talk to me about having worked in Japan as if it were a simple choice that I made and that the door would always be open to me. They are not familiar with the fact that I, as an American, do not have the right to simply waltz into any country I want and work there. These are people who have never had to tangle with visas, even though they are well aware of illegal immigrants in their home country and should be able to put two and two together. I guess they operate from the conceited assumption that Occidental people are so desirable that no country could possibly turn them down when they grace said country with their presence.

The visit I made to immigration was always stressful, though it wasn't necessarily any more so in terms of the logistical and bureaucratic aspects than doing similar things at home (like getting a driver's license or registering to vote). The tension always hinged on the fact that I knew I could be refused on a whim. In America, I always know that there are rules that people must follow when considering my application and they can't say no just because they don't like my look or just have a quota of refusals to fulfill. I personally never experienced this, but I do know other (Western) applicants were often refused for no other reason than it seemed that sometimes they arbitrarily decided someone had to jump through extra hoops. Reapplication always resulted in smooth acceptance with the same paperwork.

I'm pretty sure that anyone who is dealing with immigration in any country is at the mercy of the particular sensibilities of the person processing their application, and that the experience of knowing you could be refused for no good reason was not unique to Japan. However, it was in Japan that I was in that position and I certainly do not miss that aspect of being there.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Changes in Posting

When I finished my 1000 things, I wasn't sure how I'd continue this blog in terms of posting frequency so I decided to stick with the status quo. However, after a few weeks, I've decided to decrease posting frequency to three times a week and will be posting content on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.

Of course, readers are welcome to come and check any time, but I've chosen those days because they largely alternate with my other blog, Japanese Snack Reviews. That blog has new content on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I could post on weekends, but the truth is most people aren't checking blogs out on the weekend. They use blogs as a way to fritter away the time at work or school. ;-)

The reason I've decided to do this isn't that I lack content, but rather because there are other projects I want to start working on and doing 8 posts a week between two blogs is a bit taxing. I'd like to be able to set aside the mental time, if not the actual time, to work on these other things. I'm sure my readers will understand, and I appreciate your continued interest. I'll still be here, but just a little less often than before. "See you" tomorrow!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Will Miss #4 - courier services (reflection)

When I returned to America, my husband and I lived for several months on Lopez Island in the San Juan Islands. Because we returned home with nothing more than 4 suitcases to our names, we had to start buying certain things to set up house in the U.S. One of the things I needed, for instance, was a monitor for the Mac Mini I'd carried back with me, so we did have a fair number of packages delivered to us there. I learned pretty quickly that the courier services in Japan were every bit as good as I believed them to be. Not only did they deliver more rapidly, but they also didn't just abandon packages on your doorstep where anyone could wander by and steal them. You had to sign for them in Japan so delivery could be proven. The way people just abandoned parcels in front of unoccupied houses meant that a misdelivered parcel or even a lost one would be hard to prove.

Beyond the superior speed and service of delivery, we found that courier services are much more convenient to arrange for shipping in Japan. I could be wrong about this as I have not lived in a major city in the U.S., but it seems like it's harder to locate a place to send packages from (and it's more expensive!) whereas in Tokyo, nearly every convenience store allowed you to send from their location (and there are convenience stores everywhere).

I definitely miss the courier services I experienced in Tokyo. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Won't Miss #503 - the "insult and smile"

It wasn't the least bit uncommon for Japanese people to say rude things about me to one another in Japanese. In some cases, I think they felt I could not understand and, in others, I think they didn't care if I did. It happened with such regularity that I started to take it in stride. That being said, there was another level of this behavior which did make me angry and that was when people would say something rude about me to a compatriot and then turn around and notice I was looking at her (it was always a "her") and then smile sweetly and nod at me as if exercising some sort of courtesy or kindness to the dumb foreigner.

This sort of nastiness followed by some sort of fake niceness was far worse than the casual rudeness that people indulged in at my expense and I do not miss it. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Random Memories: Guest Post by Bryan Maine

These week, I'm offering up some memories from one of my readers who has written a book about his experiences in Japan and is raising money to have it published. When Bryan offered to share his experiences via my blog, I thought it might be interesting for my readers to see a perspective other than mine, particularly since he had two very large experiences that I did not. First of all, he was in a relationship with a Japanese person. Second, he worked with children. Finally, he attended school in Japan as an exchange student.

I hope you enjoy hearing about a few of his experiences, and will be encouraging in your comments and questions for Bryan. If other readers would like to share some of their experiences as random memories, I would welcome their correspondence and discuss that possibility.

All photos and content (below) provided by Bryan Maine.

Hello,  My name is Bryan and I have had two very different experiences with Japanese schools.  I was sixteen for my first experience and took part in an exchange program.  My high school experience was identical to previous post Won't Miss #426- Japanese education system.  The classes were boring and ridged for the Japanese students which made them particularly mundane for myself, since I couldn't understand a word anyone was saying.  I could only attempt to listen for so many hours before boredom took hold and I would rest my head on my desk.  That's when the teacher came by and with a thump of his fist upon my temple smack my face against the desk reminding me to continue to pretend I knew what was going on.  Each day I couldn't wait to escape into the city where I could explore and forget about school.
My second experience was completely the opposite.  I was a Canadian university student in Tokyo for the summer with a then girlfriend and needed work.  My friend's father set up a job at a neighbour hood preschool for me within days.  I was weary, expecting to be the warden I rebelled against so strongly only years prior.  Preschool was completely different.  The children were bubbly and full of life.  I noticed if a child was crying or hurt that the teachers had no fear when  lifting the kid up and kissing the scratch on their arm to make it better.  It wasn't "inappropriate" the way it seems our western culture has made it out to be, it was providing general love and compassion to a child.  

The oddest experience was a particularly hot day that I was asked to assist with a large steal drum sitting a top cinder blocks in the centre of the play yard.  A hose was draped over the side pumping water as another teacher fanned a tiny fire beneath the barrel.  I asked what the set up was all about and they explained that since it had been an extra hot week that we were making a pool for the kids to take a dunk in.  On that note another teacher ushered out a parade of 30 small naked humans waiting for their turn, giggling.  I was shocked.  The entire 5 year old class was standing naked in the school yard and right at that moment an old woman road her bike past the gate and waved with a smile, completely unaffected by the sight.  With each dunk, the child would give a brief shiver before smiling back at their classmates to the cheers of excitement.  After the moment in the spotlight we hoisted the kid out and wrapped a towel around them on their way inside.  "Why are the kids all naked" I asked, lowering a fresh body into the makeshift hot tub.  "Because they don't have their swimsuits today" the other teacher responded matter of factly.  It wasn't odd that tiny kids were naked in sight of the public, it was odd to wonder why.  

As my time in Tokyo past the girl I was there to be with became more and more distant and as such I became very depressed.  She resented me for all the negativity of her family towards her.  Each day I arrived at the school in the morning to the joyful smiles of the kids with a level of excitement that expressed hours of anticipation.  One child in particular would run up and tug at my wrist, when I looked down he would laugh with pride that he had gotten my attention.  With a light peck on the back of my hand he turned his face up to grin at me before letting go and returning to the other children.  It was the type of appreciation and excitement I once had in my relationship.  The children of the school were the only thing that kept me sane.  they didn't judge me for being a foreigner but were constantly curious and happy.  Their joy was a reminder to me to try and hold onto mine.

Thanks to Orchid64 for letting me write on 1000 things about Japan,  it is truly an honour.  The experiences listed above are all part of my new book Grasping at Self Worth. The book expresses my experience of travelling to Tokyo with the girl I loved only to have her mother and older sister torture her because I wasn't Japanese and sacrifice my own sense of worth in an attempt to please them.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Will Miss #502 - the censorhip of adult movies

I have to confess that I did not see this particular adult film, and that it was not exactly as commonly advertised as some of the ones featuring women.

Everybody knows that pornography is censored in Japan. Everybody doesn't know that it is utterly incongruous in a country in which pornographic movies are openly advertised in heavily trafficked areas of big cities and businessmen feel free to look at dirty magazines in open view of everyone on trains. You can see women's boobs openly displayed on a new stand, or a sex act drawn in a Japanese comic book, but it's someone's job to go through every imported issue Playboy and scratch out all the hairy bits lest it contaminate the culture in some perverse way. It's also a bit strange considering the relatively liberal thinking that people hold about sex in general. Japanese porn movies similarly have the naughty bits fuzzed out, but it's perfectly legal for men to frequent "soap lands" in which women ostensibly give them baths and realistically perform sexual services.

Censorship of nudity and pornography in Japan is like Altoids mints, it is curiously strong. It is part of the way in which opposing ideas seem to harmoniously exist in the culture and display an odd irrationality that no one questions which I regard as uniquely Japanese. I miss this glaring example of unresolved cognitive dissonance.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Won't Miss #3 - rude older men (reflection)

The Japanese at the top says "men's No. 1", which seems appropriate since men are clearly #1 in Japan.

The area that I live in in California right now has a bigger than average number of Asian folks. In fact, there is a church near me which is a Japanese one that conducts services in both English and Japanese. I'm guessing this is why there is a Daiso Japan near me as well as Nijiya Japanese market, not to mention about a million Japanese restaurants. I think they are here because this is where the customer base is.

To that end, I'm much more likely to encounter Asian males and possibly Japanese ones in particular in my area. That being said, I have not run across many Japanese folks at all. The first time two guys in business suits blew by me in a shopping center and I overheard their conversation, I actually grew teary. That doesn't actually relate to the topic at hand in any concrete way, except to say that I do have some extremely sparse and limited contact with Japanese men in my current location.

So far, however, only one of these transplants has done anything like I encountered in Japan. There, men navigated the world with a sense of utter entitlement that didn't just border on rude, but overtly displayed bad behavior, repeatedly. They didn't do this because I was foreign, but because I did not possess the proper genitalia to have the right to go onto a train first or to not be cut off when they wanted to be in front, even when I was at the head of the line or the space was too narrow for a person to reasonably pass by. 

I have found that men in America do not naturally barge ahead, push me aside, take up more than their fair share of space, or assume they should be treated deferentially. In fact, people in general are more likely to yield to others regardless of gender and this sort of courtesy was rarely displayed by men in Japan. I absolutely do not miss the level of arrogance displayed by older men in Japan, and have only seen it once here when an older Japanese man rudely barged by me and walked ahead of his female companion (likely his wife) at a pace which clearly made her uncomfortable.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Will Miss #3 - my landlord (reflection)

 My husband and I never had to rent an apartment in the United States for various reasons up until recently. We had no idea what it was like to live in an apartment here until about a month ago. Apartment hunting in general is not fun in either Japan or America, and one of the reasons we stayed put in our apartment in Tokyo for 23 years was that fact, but the other was our gem of a landlord.

One thing that is important to keep in mind when assessing an experience in a foreign country is very different from doing so for a similar experience at home. Our landlord performed triple duty in Japan because he not only rented us a piece of his property, but he also translated and was a buffer for us with services that we had problems dealing with because of cultural of linguistic issues, especially earlier on in our stay there. He didn't merely take our money and fix our apartment, he actually assisted us in navigating the difficulties of life abroad.

In the U.S., the truth is that we don't need a landlord to manage our affairs in such a fashion. We can easily do such things for ourselves because we can speak, read and write the language fluently, and we know the culture (well, pretty much, we're a bit behind). The value of a particular type of relationship very much depends on context. Having an involved and helpful landlord really mattered in Tokyo for us. Here, it doesn't matter so much.

It turns out that, except for the fact that our landlord and his wife were our neighbors and generally very kind and lovely people, I don't really find myself missing the role he played... at least not yet. Right now, we live in an apartment complex which has an agent living on the premises who seems to be pretty helpful and responsive to requests much like our former landlord was. Perhaps we got lucky twice, or we haven't lived in our new place long enough to really test the waters. At this point in time, however, without the complexities of life in a foreign country, I'm finding that we're not really missing our ever-helpful landlord as I thought we might, because we don't need an ever-helpful landlord when we're not fish out of our native waters.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Won't Miss 502# - the sense that it's not real

Since coming home to America, I've had the most unsettling sense that my life in Japan was all some sort of fantasy. It's as if life there wasn't "real" in some way and that I'm picking up on "reality" now that I'm back. I don't know if other people who have lived in Japan and come back feel this way, but this sense hit me shortly after I stepped off the plane in America. It's as if I lived on the other side of the looking glass for a time and am now back in reality.

My husband recently said that we have "re-joined the real world", and that really is what coming home has felt like. I won't miss the sense that being in Japan was somehow outside of reality because I wasn't a part of the societal, social, or family structures there.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Random Memories #14

One of the popular things that all of the old fogies on Facebook enjoy doing is posting a picture of some anachronistic item and asking people if they recognize it. When I say "old fogies", I mean people who are my age, because those who are a lot older than me aren't doing the Facebook thing beyond some modest cyber-stalking of their relatives.

Phone cards came in little plastic sleeves to keep their faces from getting scratched and to keep them clean for collectors.

Seeing these things makes me wonder how long it takes for something to become an anachronism. I know that I was in Japan for a long time, but it feels strange to have items in my memory book from 1987 which are on the edge of obsolescence. What is more, it is odder that things which were fairly new technology when I first visited there are barely available or used in 2012. Phone cards were introduced in 1982, and they were sufficiently sleek, new technology in '87 that not all phones not accepted them. I distinctly remember having to hunt down phones that took cards.

Incidentally, and this is an interesting bit of history, the Japanese businesses did not decide to jump headlong into new (pre-paid card) technology because they were so forward thinking and cared about customer convenience. The truth is that switching to cards put NTT (and the subways and train lines) in a position of having to create and install a lot of new hardware. While the cards may have reduced the number of personnel who needed to maintain devices, as someone would need to remove the coins from them much as they have to do with vending machines, it's unlikely that any reduced staff expense would make up for the enormous cost of the new hardware. The reason that they started using the pre-paid phone card system in Japan was that there was a coin shortage and this was a good solution.

Back in those days, phones were different colors to help you visually recognize the modern ones from the older style ones. There were squat little pink phones that only took 10-yen coins. Pay phones in general, even the green ones that take 100-yen cards and phone cards, are disappearing in Tokyo in 2012. The pink ones are nearly extinct. I wouldn't be surprised if those who are younger than 20 have never seen one.

When I left Tokyo, there was one of those old pink babies at Yasukuni shrine and nowhere else that I visited in my last few years (and I visited a lot of places) in the capital. I guess feeding in 10-yen coins every minute (as it costs 10 yen per minute for a local call) is not something most people are willing to do. Perhaps Yasukuni still has one to accommodate the older folks who tend to go there, or no one has gotten around to troubling themselves to remove it.

Phone cards used to be collector's items and NTT sold them in vending machines outside of their offices. It was interesting to walk by and look at all of the designs. Unfortunately, I don't have shots of those huge machines with their plethora of designs, but I do recall that scenic vistas and cute animals were common.

My now-husband, then-boyfriend, had to pay an exorbitant amount of money to call me in the U.S. and he didn't have his own phone so he would buy the biggest value phone card he could afford in order to conduct a conversation of any reasonable length. The above is a receipt for a 5000 ($63) yen-card that he bought in order to call me on my birthday. I don't know what it cost per minute back then, but I do know that it cost me about $1 per minute to call him from the U.S. at that time and I could call him more cheaply than he could call me. (Note: Since writing this post initially, I have learned that he was able to talk to me for 34 minutes, which means it cost about 150 yen per minute which at that time was a little over a dollar a minute.)

If you look at the card pictured at the top of this post, it is the very card that he used to call me on my birthday in '87. You'll note that it has "540" units on it. That means that he got 5,400 yen ($67) worth of calls for 5,000 yen. By Japanese standards, that was actually a fairly big discount. Holes punched in the cards marked the points at which they were used to let you know how much you had left. The fact that this has one hole only punched at "0" means he used the entire value of the card at once to call me.

The cool thing about my memory book is not that I have a bunch of stuff from 1987-88 that is uncommon in Japan at present, though that is certainly an interesting thing. The greatest thing is that these items tell a story in a way that modern technology, like a call or chat log, likely would not. That card reminds me that my boyfriend spent a lot of money to call me on my birthday, and did so in the heat and humidity of the Tokyo summer to do it. That little hole punch tells me that he used every yen he had to spend as much time as possible on the line with me, which reflected just how precious communication with me was to him. Any memento that can stir that kind of memory is a valuable one indeed, even if it is just an old used-up phone card in the eyes of others.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Will Miss #501 - marriage is a good thing

Throughout my life, marriage has been portrayed in Western culture (especially America) as a burden on men. There are jokes about the "old ball and chain" and the idea that men are giving up their precious freedom if they subject themselves to restrictions of this lifelong commitment. The message is crystal clear, marriage is bad news, particularly for men.

In Japan, the message is greatly different. The culture largely views it as a rite of passage and a means by which people make the transition from prolonged dependence and their status as a child in the family to adulthood. Men and women alike want to marry for the most part and see it as a desirable thing. They look not at the things they are losing, but what they are gaining. And, yes, men actually get more benefits from marriage than women so this is hardly a lie. Do a search and you'll find a variety of perspectives from which this is so including economic gains.

I miss the way in which marriage was portrayed as a positive thing by the people and the society in Japan.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Won't Miss #2 - the herd mentality (reflection)

"Steakhouse Satou" (in Kichijoji) with a huge line of people. For years, this fairly average meat shop has gathered long lines because of word of mouth about the quality of the meatballs they make. Your granny's meatloaf is likely as good or better, but the herd must gather at the proper places.

I grew up in a rural area, and the only types of "herds" I ever encountered consisted of large bovines. I'm guessing the only way my town could have mustered up a crowd would have been for much of the population to show up at the same place at the same time. The way in which Japanese people tended to cluster about a popular place because it was popular with others was something with which I was pretty unfamiliar.

Since returning to the U.S., I have not experienced this sort of thing at all. However, to be fair, I'm pretty sure that part of the reason for that is that I'm in the suburbs most of the time and I think that, if I lived in a big city like New York or Los Angeles, I would certainly encounter places to which people flocked because of buzz.

That being said, I still feel that the way in which people flocked to something relatively pedestrian (like Krispy Kreme in its first year or the meat shop pictured above) was unusual and unusually annoying and I don't miss it.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Will Miss #1 (reflection) - sembei varieties

It rather goes without saying that people won't be making fresh sembei hot on a charcoal grill for me now that I'm back in the U.S. This fellow was making them in Kamakura when I visited there. Warm sembei, freshly brushed with sauce, is a unique pleasure. 

In my very first "will miss" post, I said that I would miss the wide variety of sembei (rice crackers) in Japan. Now that I've been back for nearly 7 months, I can say that this is absolutely true. It's not that you can't get varieties of rice crackers in the U.S. because you can, but the ones that are made for the domestic market comparatively fail in comparison to their Japanese brothers.

My first experience with American-marketed rice crackers was pleasant enough, but for some reason they seem designed for anemic palates. They lack a strong crispiness and have the sense of being slightly stale and lacking in bold flavors, and absolutely lacking in variety. They do tend to be less fatty, but this is likely where they are failing as they probably are not lavishly coated with enough of the good stuff to give them the proper texture, or, simply not fried as some Japanese crackers are.

The strangest thing about the way rice crackers are offered here is that they are so relatively bland. For a country which loves it some flavor blasting and produces sweets that are so shockingly sweet in many cases that all other flavors are knocked out of the park, why are the rice crackers so limp and lifeless? I guess that anything which is "Asian" is seen as being demure, polite, and unassuming. It won't reach out and grab your tongue, but graciously walk up, bow, and then apologetically alight on your taste buds. The crackers made for the Japanese market know how to waltz up and take your taste buds for a ride,  not to mention give you a light crispy texture that leaves you wanting more. Though the Japanese prefer subtle flavors bordering on bland in their cuisine, that is not so when it comes to anything that might be consumed as a side snack for drinks, especially alcoholic ones.

I've found imported sembei in a few shops, but the prices tend to be on the ridiculous side, often double what I paid in Japan. While I do love me some flavorful sembei, I'm not quite prepared to pay $4 for a bag that once cost me a little over $2. I definitely miss the rich variety of well-made and tasty sembei that I had access to in Japan.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Won't Miss # 501- hearing about "the bases"

The U.S. has military bases in Japan and occasionally, one of the people living there commits a crime. When this happens, the Japanese media has a field day pointing fingers at the bad Americans with their criminal behavior. Every day you read about (Japanese) parents murdering their children or old people being killed or killing people or babies being abandoned and left to die, but any crime carried out by a person stationed on a base is made into a much bigger deal because the existence of the bases is controversial. Many Japanese people don't want them so they assume an attitude that crimes wouldn't happen in those areas with bases if the bases were eliminated. There is always the either overt or covert message that the Americans are inherently criminal and violent and that the Japanese people would never experience crime if it weren't for the contaminating influence of these soldiers and their families. Frankly, I wish America would remove the bases since everyone would shut up about them and the Japanese would start footing their own defense bill (something which many of them fail to realize is going to cost substantially more than what they pay America to protect them),  not to mention tangling with the diplomatic fall-out from their Asian neighbors that would result from such a change. The fact of the matter remains that the bases are there because they benefit Japan more than they harm them, but the focus is always on the deficits and never on the (rather large) benefits of this military presence.

I won't miss hearing all of the claptrap about the American military bases in Japan.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Random Thoughts: Where I go from here

As of yesterday, I finished my 1000 things, 500 good points and 500 bad points. There were times when I thought I would not make it, and times when I was certain that I would. In terms of the full content, I'd say that I'm not happy with some, but am mostly happy with the vast majority of my posts. As Dave Barry used to say, and I paraphrase, 'they can't all be gems'. Not every post is an earth-shattering observation or an exploration of a nook and cranny of life in Japan that is of optimal interest, but that's not what this was all about.

What this was all about was remembering my time in Japan and doing so in a way which was more meaningful than an album of pictures from a trip to Mt. Fuji (which I never went to, incidentally) or a vague recollection of a certain experience years after it had occurred. It was about details of my experience, warts and all, as well as processing and reflecting on them in a personally meaningful way. It was about pausing in the sleepwalk I did through that life and taking careful notes of what was around me and how I felt before I left that environment and lost the luxury to do so.

In terms of where I go from here, I have no intentions of stopping this blog, though I clearly cannot continue to churn out new content at the same rate as I have in terms of stacking on more new "things". Obviously, I've been mulling this over for some time as the end drew near and my plan is as follows:
  1. I will be adding in new posts as the ideas come to me. The truth is that there are still ideas in the buffer that have not been used. While the last 4 posts were written a very long time ago in anticipation of the end and the way in which I wanted to round out my 1000 posts, there are little things that never got into the mix for various reasons (usually, the fact that I could not locate a photo that had an even limited connection to the topic). Those things will be added on, as will new ones that come to mind through time. 
  2. I will be opening up all posts to comments conditional on people making ones in a respectful way. People don't have to be positive toward me, but I have zero tolerance for snotty, nasty, angry people who just want to prove something or treat me like their personal stress relief punching bag. If you've got something to say, say it, but pretend I'm your boss and you have to behave in a civilized manner. Otherwise, my moderator (my husband, who screens all comments before I see them) will kick you to the curb. Don't see making a comment as a way of "getting" to me even if you don't get published. There's a protective layer between me and jerks with emotional issues. I hate that I have to say this, but early commenting experiences on this blog compel me to do so. 
  3. I will be re-editing and re-posting past posts. That is, I will be re-reflecting on what I said a long time ago and adding in new ideas, possibly expanding the initial posts and going to a more long-form style with some of my old ideas. I'll also be using new photos in some cases. The purpose of this is three-fold. It will allow me to break out of the box I put myself in initially with short-form posting and it will permit me to reflect on how I felt while I was in Japan compared to how I feel now when I'm in America. Essentially, I'll be able to talk about whether or not I actually do miss those things now or whether my speculation was incorrect. It will also allow commenting on old posts (which I can't open for comments retro-actively on a macro level) so that those who wanted to say something when the topics first came up will now have the chance to do so. Again, see item "2". 
  4. I will continue with "Random Memories" posts as long as I have things to share from my memory books from my earliest time in Japan. 
It's possible there will also be other surprises. Now that the "burden" I placed on myself to do an arbitrary number of posts is over, I can go anywhere I choose. It remains to be seen just where that might be, but I sincerely appreciate everyone who came along for the ride and anyone who chooses to keep going along with me. I really do appreciate that people take the time to read what I write, and hope you continue to enjoy whatever comes in the future.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Will Miss #500 - living abroad

When I first got on to Facebook and started connecting with my former classmates from elementary school and high school, they saw me in a particular fashion because I was living in a foreign country. Automatically, my life was more interesting and everything I talked about was more exotic, even when I was talking about things which were present in American culture as well. The idea of living abroad imparts a sense of circumstances being "special", both to those viewing that life and those living that life. It's an achievement of sorts to merely operate in that environment. It affords a sense of automatic "success" because every day you are accomplishing something merely by coping with the challenges of that culture.

I miss the experience and idea of living abroad, especially in the land of the rising sun, which is viewed as a difficult place to cope with compared to more European cultures. I miss what it meant to me personally and how it affected how I was viewed by those not living in that culture.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Won't Miss #500 - being a "gaijin"

While living in the United States, I am just a person. While living in Japan, I was turned into a "gaijin". This is an identity that was assigned to me by the Japanese and is given to everyone who does not suit the definition of "Japanese".  Even people who are actually Japanese, but don't look it, are given this identity. I've spent the last 23 years of my life being defined by my "otherness" . It has made me feel less than human and objectified for a very long time. There is no pride in being a gaijin and there certainly is no community support among foreigners for the difficulties involved in being slotted into this identity (as my many posts about the negative attitudes toward foreigners by other foreigners illustrates). There is only the feeling that you are an outsider.

I won't miss being a gaijin and, by coming home, I'm starting to feel like "just" a person again. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Will Miss #499 - something to write about

I have yet to write about foot monkeys, but you can't cover everything... not even in 1000 posts.

One of my students aspired to be a writer. In fact, she had been trying to change her work from salesperson to something in the publishing industry for quite some time. The only problem was that she was a writer who didn't write. I encouraged her to blog, because you can hone your craft through writing one, but she said she couldn't think of what to say or write about. Many people have the same problem. They blog anyway, but they really have nothing to say so they go around reading what other people write in articles or say on their blogs and comment on it.

I am a writer, and I write about what I think (and I think a lot) and experience. The perspective I gained from living as an outsider as well as the experiences I had were invaluable in stimulating my written work. Living in Japan gave me a wealth of opportunity to express my voice uniquely on topics which not everyone experiences in the manner in which I do, and I'll miss that.