Frankly speaking, it's a lot of what makes the vibe in Japan "Japanese", and I will miss it.
Friday, June 29, 2012
Thursday, June 28, 2012
It's higher than it looks here.
After the big quake, I was always afraid of being trapped for hours on a train or subway after a big quake and ending up soiling myself and I won't miss that paranoia.
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
A fairly typical in-season price for berries is 350-500 yen ($4.36-$6.24). Why pay less and get them the easy way?
In the U.S., people sometimes pick their own fruit to get a reduced price on what they take home or to ensure that they have the freshest fruit, but they'd never pay a lot more to just stand around in a grove and eat fruit. It always amused me when students told me they paid someone else to have a chance to do what I was once paid to do.
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Image from Meg Milk's Snow Brand butter page.
Though many things in Japan are arranged for maximum consumer convenience, the lack of a strong baking culture meant the butter wasn't one of them and I won't miss it.
Monday, June 25, 2012
Tatami beds, an interesting blend of the old with the new.
Photo courtesy of Luis Poza at BlogD (used with permission).
I miss seeing the way in which the old and the new are woven into daily life in Japan.
Friday, June 22, 2012
I guess covering your nose might also keep the smell out, but it doesn't quite accomplish the same goal.
The culture of "kusai mono ni wa futa o shiro" stands in the way of improving situations and is a roadblock to communication and I won't miss it.
Thursday, June 21, 2012
I'm annoyed that I didn't have any other bills to show (because this was all I had left from my Japaense cash), but you can see more of them here.
My mother is blind, and I often appreciated the effort that was made into designing Japanese money such that it was easier to use for people with such a disability as well as harder to confuse for even sighted people. I will miss this daily reminder of consideration for those with this particular hardship.
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
I didn't mind it when Japanese people who were trying to help me for whatever reason spoke English to me. It may have been slightly presumptuous of them to assume that I spoke English, but their intentions were always kind. I did mind it when one of a pair of random strangers who were both Japanese and speaking Japanese to each other suddenly started to speak English at the sight of me. I'm not sure what the motivation was as I'm pretty sure it had nothing to do with "helping" me by making sure I understood any overheard conversation. It seemed to me just another variation on "gaijin da!" and it was meant to make sure they knew I recognized my own foreignness. Frankly, it really felt like a way of mocking me and I found it quite rude.
I could be wrong about the motives of such people. Perhaps they were insufferable show-offs who were waiting for a chance to demonstrate their dubious English skills to someone who they believed would appreciate them, but I will not miss Japanese people who speak English to one another upon seeing me.
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
One of the first things I learned about Japan was that their regard for sexual behavior is quite different from that of Westerners. I was told, and this was a notion that was reinforced as the years went by, that sexual acts were regarded as a biological necessity, much like the need to urinate or eat. This was offered as an explanation as to why some Japanese women would tell their husbands or boyfriends that they understood if they strayed, but they simply never wanted to know about it. Cheating is tolerated to a greater extent because it is seen as a release, not as a threat to relationships. While some foreigners, especially men, view this as a superior and enlightened attitude toward sex, I simply see it as a different way of looking at things based on cultural differences. And while the Japanese do practice more censorship of pornography (laws made in 1907 that were never altered) than Western countries do, they don't have laws in place to restrict private behavior (such as ridiculous sodomy laws that say what you can and can't do in your own home). I have no idea why the censorship laws were never changed, but I think it has more to do with inertia than prudishness.
To me, the aspect of this that I will miss is the lack of prudishness that accompanies such a frank and utilitarian attitude toward sex.
Monday, June 18, 2012
In America, where people do what is required by law rather than what is reasonable or best, we have a culture in which contracts are specific and followed to the letter. This provides a sense of comfort since it stops people from being taken advantage of, especially in the workplace and in business transactions. In Japan, contracts are not seen as concrete. They are seen as the beginning of a process and often the terms that are spelled out in them are disregarded when they become inconvenient for the more powerful entity signing the document. Many English teachers who are hired abroad sign contracts stating working hours, duties, and conditions and upon arriving in Japan discover that they are expected to work overtime, perform mundane cleaning duties, or work on days not specified in the contract they signed. The Japanese themselves take it for granted that employees will do whatever is asked no matter how outside of the original terms of employment such requests are. Unfortunately, the contract flakiness doesn't only apply to employees. It can also apply to purchases, services, or renting an apartment. Though it happens less often when one is a customer, it did happen to me in regards to cable services.
I realize that this is a cultural difference and my objection to this is completely ethnocentric, but I will not miss being taken advantage of or being treated like a huge problem if I refuse to let it be done to me because employee contracts aren't worth the paper they're printed on in many cases.
Friday, June 15, 2012
One of the aspects of living in a foreign country and Japan in particular is that you have the chance to present yourself as an authority on whatever you choose to expound upon. When teaching, I overheard plenty of gas bags who loved nothing more than to "teach" by telling students "the truth" about whatever. Sometimes, the things I heard people say were so ridiculously wrong that it made me cringe, but students never challenged the assertions that their idiot teachers made. The largest part of the reason they did this is likely that they felt that they couldn't speak with authority on the topics the teacher pretended to know so well. Another large part is that the students are always at a disadvantage linguistically and can't express sophisticated notions well. And, yet another is that Japanese people don't operate under the misguided notion that their opinions are equivalent to facts as many Americans (and other Westerners) do. Finally, Japanese people out of modesty, politeness, and a higher concern for safe-guarding the relationships they have with people will often opt not to argue counterpoints.
It is easy in Japan to feel like you are smarter than you really are because you can say pretty much anything and have your ideas validated with a nodding head. It can be immensely gratifying to the ego to feel like you're an authority on anything of which you speak because you are dealing with people who either can't disagree due to lack of cultural experience or won't because of their cultural inhibitions about doing so and I will miss that sweet illusion.
Thursday, June 14, 2012
When discussing this topic with Japanese people, I was always frustrated by the hypocrisy and selfishness inherent in such thinking and I won't miss it.
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
This was a Chinese meal in Japan. My husband forgot to take a picture until he'd consumed most of it. Usually, we get a shot before we start eating.
I never realized how much quieter it is eating in Japan with chopsticks and/or lacquerware bowls and plates and I miss it.
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Japanese tastes run toward things which are creamy and that carries a calorie price tag that I won't miss.
Monday, June 11, 2012
Though I'm using a picture which talks about "health", I'm pretty sure that the lack of sugar bombs in most Japanese food has less to do with health and more to do with tastes based on food culture.
Each country has its particular cuisine and preferences, and America loves its sugar. This is not a genetic defect or some sort of lack of restraint in the face of an option to choose sweets. It's a preference formed from years of experience with the same types of food. If you give people very sweet food all of their lives, they will have a taste for it. One of the things I've encountered much to my dismay in America is that sweet things are often intensely sweet. In fact, they are sometimes so overbearingly so that I can't taste much of anything else. The flavor depth is obliterated by sweetness.
In Japan, it was rare for things to be so intensely sweet that you couldn't taste anything else. Sometimes, things didn't have enough sugar, and that was an issue, but I grew used to having more flavor depth and I miss the lower sugar content of Japanese sweets.
Friday, June 8, 2012
A Roppongi Hills restaurant the summer of 2011, with the doors wide open to the outside and air conditioners blasting.
The summer after the Great Tohoku Earthquake, the number of people who were carted off to the hospital for heat stroke tripled. This was because the damage to the Fukushima power plant created an energy shortage and everyone was encouraged to reduce energy consumption by using their air conditioners at 28 degrees C. (82 degrees F.). Many Japanese people responded by not using their AC at home all in a spirit of solidarity. However, while average consumers were succumbing to the effects of the heat, businesses were doing what they have always done: leaving their doors wide open and allowing the cool air to blast out into the great outdoors. This act of energy wastage is done to make the business appear more inviting to consumers and despite Kyoto accords and pledges to reduce carbon footprints and the very real need to reduce energy after the earthquake, it hasn't changed.
I won't miss seeing doors of heavily air conditioned buildings wide open and bleeding cool air into the open in an act of stupid and pointless energy wasting.
Thursday, June 7, 2012
Click this image to see a larger, more readable one. This is their nice way of saying, "don't be an ass when you come here."
Many foreign folks believe that Japanese people don't complain. While it's true that Japanese people don't like to complain, and often don't mention trivial annoyances, they do complain; they simply don't tend to do it in an overt or "in your face" manner. If you're not paying attention, you can miss it or write it off as some sort of quirky communication problem. For example, my new neighbors have been very noisy for the past two months and my husband and I have, reluctantly, had to complain about their stomping and banging around at all hours of the day and night. Rather than go to my neighbors and say, 'the downstairs people have complained and you're too noisy, so settle down,' the landlord issued a gentle note saying, "please be mindful of your neighbors when moving around your apartment." The tone isn't accusatory ("you're noisy"), but a suggestion to be considerate of other people (without revealing exactly who may have a problem).
This type of subtle complaining is designed to keep the relationships between people cordial as well as to allow people to feel they are in control rather than being controlled (which respects their dignity and autonomy), and I'll miss it.
Wednesday, June 6, 2012
I won't miss the helter skelter layout of many of the districts in Tokyo.
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
The fact that all of the food in Japan is served cut into pieces that can be easily manipulated with chopsticks not only makes the experience of eating easier, but it also takes the tiresome and petty judgment of how one cuts ones food as an indication of cultural superiority off the table, and I will miss it.
Monday, June 4, 2012
I won't miss freezing my digits off when washing my hands in Japan.
Friday, June 1, 2012
One thing about a lot of attitudes in America which upsets me is the preoccupation people have with how their taxes are distributed at times to people they view as deadbeats or as having chosen irresponsible paths. While in Japan this attitude does apply to homeless people and there is not the greatest sympathy for the unemployed, it doesn't tend to apply to society at large.There are a variety of examples of this, but one of them is the existence of suicide insurance in a country with a high suicide rate. When I discuss this with Japanese people and ask if perhaps it's not such a good idea (as it may encourage suicide), they feel that it is important to have some sort of financial safety net to help the families of troubled people even though they know the family will collect more than the deceased paid in. I've also spoken to many people who, while not happy with the notion of paying a higher consumption (sales) tax, say that they believe it is important to give more money to the elderly even if it means they personally pay more for goods and services.
There is a much higher level of comfort about seeing ones money given to others who have a greater need as well as an understanding that we are all a part of society and contribute to a good one by sometimes paying more than our share and I'll miss this attitude.