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

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 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.