Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Osaka.... again!

So Becky and I went Christmas shopping in Osaka a couple weekends ago. It was a good time, except for the fact that I had to drop all of my shopping spree money on the new 15" Macbook Pro laptop rather than cute coats and dresses as originally intended. oh, and gifts for friends and family too. The left hinge on my beloved titanium laptop finally snapped (apparently it's a common problem- the fact that it lasted almost 4 years is amazing) and it was time to get one.... luckily, I qualified for Apple's educational discount but still.... what a purchase!!!

In the spending frenzy, I also ended up buying myself a very Sex in the City cream-colored belted trenchcoat (from Uniqlo). Of course, we ate tons of delicious international food (bagels, MEXICAN!!!!!!!!, THAI!!!!, etc.) and it was kind of fun being in the hustle and bustle of a big city, especially for the holidays.

Great architecture, great hair. Oh, and uh, yes. that's Starbucks, the place I hate. However, I was suffering from the low blood sugar and it was the only place that was open. I know, excuses.....

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


As you can tell from the title.... this is POSSIBLY THE BEST SIGN I'VE EVER SEEN.

No explanation needed. Click on the picture to enlarge it.
(Thanks to Becky who took the photo in Hokkaido.)

Enjoy, and remember, smoking is bad.

Happy Holidays!

Wait, it's the middle of December? Didn't I just arrive in Japan? Wait, I've been here for almost 5 months?!?!?

For a country that doesn't get the actual holiday of Christmas off, they sure capitalize upon it enough... the twinkling Christmas lights, gaudy decorations, and the cheerful nonstop Christmas songs playing at the grocery stores, malls, and even on the street loudspeakers... arghhh, it's too much.

And I'm hosting a Christmas party this weekend... Right, so last night, Eric, Bryn, Jannie, and I went to the 100 yen store in Omiya and stocked up on all of our Christmas needs. Well, I picked up a (very misleading 525 yen) fake tree and some decorations, while the wholesome twins (Bryn & Jannie) picked up MORE decorations for their respectives tree(s). Unfortunately, there's a party in Kyoto the same night thrown by some good friends, so it's going to be a split of Tango (country) v. Kyoto (city) people.

So this is the interesting tidbit I learned this week. Apparently the song "Auld Lang Syne" which most of us Westerners sing at the START of the New Year, is sung at the end of the year here in Japan, in addition to be played at graduation ceremonies and at the end of the day when stores close! It is a song to remember the god times, to close out the year, day, or whatever.

Paul gets here this afternoon and he'll be staying for a month! I hope to have time to update the blog more during his trip this time, but we'll see. We leave for Okinawa next Thursday and will spend Christmas there. Then, we'll go to Kyoto and Osaka for a few days. We haven't decided on any New Years plans, but we both agreed it's overrated and we're excited about spending our first holidays together.... I know, I'm getting sappy. Maybe it's all the Christmas songs getting to me...

Oh I don't want a lot for Christmas
This is all I'm asking for
I just want to see my baby
Standing right outside my door
all I want for Christmas is....

Happy Holidays everyone!!!

More photos of the beautiful countryside/seaside near me

It's been awhile since some of these pictures were taken... Miyazu Bay at sunset...

...and the coastline of Amino (near Becky)

...and persimmons being hung to dry.

Japanese Life: Extreme Differences....

It's getting cold... the lowest I've seen so far is about 4 degrees C (about 39 degrees F)- which, of course, is NOT too bad.... but remember my no-insulation problem in my apartment? In the summer, it was about the same temperature as it was outside- well, it's the same thing in the winter. Seeing my breath INSIDE my apartment is not one of the things I want to wake up to, but it's an accepted fact here.

Again and again, I've asked people here why they don't put "insulation" in their homes- I see new homes being built all the time, but they all just shrug- it's the way it's been for thousands of years- we don't mess with tradition. The EXTREME positions the Japanese takes are appalling....

Here are some of the extreme differences I've noticed since I've lived here:

1. Japanese electronics and technology are constantly evolving and getting faster, smaller, and more advanced and efficient. However, the concept of insulating homes to conserve energy costs (cooling AND heating) has not been accepted.

2. Same thing with toilets- on the one hand, you have these beautiful toilets that sing and make noise, have heated seats, and sensors and different washing levels (soft, strong, spray, squirt, etc.) and then you have the basic, drop toilets on the other hand.

3. The garbage system: I sort EVERY single piece of garbage into like 10 different bins, from combustible to paper to recyclable plastic to non-recyclable plastic to plastic bottles to metals to styrofoam, etc... but everything you buy here is individually wrapped in plastic, then wrapped in pretty paper and stickers, then put into a plastic bag, then placed inside a nice shopping bag.

4. Conserving: water, energy, etc... There is a huge emphasis on saving energy (except for the cooling/heating part)- the lights in the hallway are never turned on at school until you can barely see.... but this I found interesting. The overpoliteness of the Japanese has manifested itself at the toilet level.... If there is more than one person in a public bathroom or something- one of them will FLUSH the toilet WHILE going, to mask any sounds- of course, using more water than necessary, but god forbid someone can hear you go pee!!!!

5. The discipline issue- parents do very little disciplining of their children in order to be a "nice dad" or a "nice mom"- so they spoil their kids rotten, let them do whatever, get whatever they want, and save the disciplining for the teachers, since they see their children more often than they do. This puts a lot of unexpected and unnecessary pressure on the teachers, who can't give their attention to all of their students.

6. The repressed society: Conformity, conformity, conformity. Masses of salarymen in black and gray suits shuffle back and forth from work to home to work, pretty well-dressed OL's (Office Ladies, or "secretaries") clicking away at keyboards, hordes of smiling uniform-wearing students on trains and buses.... Right now, the look of almost every "conforming" Japanese woman / lady is to wear a nice fitted sweater, knee length skirt, and tall boots. Every city seems to look the same. And then you have the outrageously colorful mohawk sporting hoop skirt wearing teenagers of Harajuku and other big cities. You've got these slutty teenage girls wearing short shorts (Daisy Dukes) with over-the-knee boots with blonde hair and buckets of makeup, the guys with crazy hairsprayed hair and ALSO wearing makeup (apparently the girls like the "pretty boy" look). Oh, and women are thought upon as pretty things that reproduce, sex symbols, but not really human beings. So men can just treat them like shit and it's ok. And women take it because, well, that's what they've been told. Men can take mistresses and all that and women just stay at home and cook, clean, and deal with it. You don't talk about sex and porn or anything because that's not "proper" but the underground scene is bursting. There's porn vending machines and booths on main roads, sex shops, love hotels, and fetish-inspired restaurants, bars, etc.

7. The teeth. I don't know what to say about this. I've heard that messed up teeth is "cute". You'll see thousands of beautiful, put together Japanese men and women on the street- great outfits, accessories, hair, the whole thing... then they open their mouth, and you're just like WTF!!!???? Either they have scaffolding keeping their teeth together, or they're just sticking out every which way.

8. The "SMILE": The Japanese are probably the most polite people I've ever met. They go out of their way to help you out, make sure you're happy, greet you with a smile, and follow you around stores to make sure you can find everything you want. However, underneath it all, they could be SEETHING, SCREAMING INSIDE, but outside they've got this cute smile and cheerful voice. The "smile" is Japan's way of masking any sort of feeling they have- whether it's anger, confusion, sadness, or whatever- because expressing their opinions is not allowed.

OK, that's all I can think about for now... For more interesting things about Japan, check out this amusing and informational
website. (Thanks Sono for forwarding to me).

I'm not necessarily complaining about these aspects of Japanese culture- I guess it's a bit of culture shock (or as JET likes us to call it: "culture fatigue"?) and when you compare certain things with the customs of your home country, you're certain to feel frustrated and confused. So, I guess all I can do now is... smile!!!

Monday, December 04, 2006

More food....

On a lighter note.... I went to one my favorite izakayas the other night...

Edamame, sashimi (w/ maple leaf garnish!), pumpkin tempura, fried chicken gizzards, fried octopus, grilled alligator (a bit chewy, kinda pork-like), salad, fried pig ears (ugh... very cartilage-y), cucumbers w/ miso paste, and a slice of ice cream cake for the ladies...

Mecha oishiii!!!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Late Autumn

This is an excerpt from a nice article in The Asahi Shinbun.

I recently stood under a colossal ginkgo tree... Underfoot, a thick carpet of red and yellow fallen zelkova leaves covered the rich dark soil. It will not be long before the whole tree will be ablaze in gold.

Autumn is coming to an end.

A special sense of melancholy accompanies this transition from late autumn to early winter. Autumn is the harvest season, when the branches of trees are laden with fruit, and ears of rice bow under the weight of ripened grain. With such images still vivid in one's mind, one naturally feels somewhat desolate when that season of plenty comes to an end.

"The plants that once bloomed with flowers and the trees that once bore fruit are all withered now. Having completed their year's work, the trunks and branches of trees are now bare, and readying themselves silently for their long hibernation. In nature's cycle, nothing compares with the quiet beauty of late autumn."
--"Machi Bugyo Nikki", [Shugoro] Yamamoto

By their presence, the trees that are about to complete their annual cycle seem to invite us to look back on the past year. Calendars will turn to the last page.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 30(IHT/Asahi: December 1,2006)

Friday, December 01, 2006

Hiroshima Controversy

After returning from Hiroshima, I was talking to one of my Japanese English teachers, and she was telling me how most of the AETs that she has worked with has visited HIroshima, but many Japanese students today have not. In the past, it was a mandatory field trip for primary or junior high students to visit the Peace Park and learn about the atomic bomb, talk to "hikabusha" (survivors of the atomic bomb), and raise awareness about the atrocities of war and advocating peace. She has been there 3 times, as a student and once as an adult, but her teenage daughter has never been. If she wants her daughter to learn about Hiroshima's history, she would have to take her there herself, at her own expense.

With the rise of international nuclear activity and tensions, it seems that everyone is on guard. So, can Japan be part of the world's leaders, discussing global conflicts while maintaining a peaceful viewpoint? Nowadays, the government is steering schools away from the Hiroshima field trips and is "encouraging" the schools to go to Tokyo, where Tokyo Disneyland is a symbol of a modern Japan, to visit the Imperial Palace and grounds, and enjoy the bustling capital's entertainment and shopping. (And what student is going to argue with this??) Even if some teachers still wanted to take their students to Hiroshima, pressure from the schools and parents keep them from going- in the fear that they would be thought of as "too liberal" and "non-conforming".

Any comments?