[The American Years]

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Greetings from Japan, where umbrellas are everywhere. The Japanese carry them in heavy rains, light rains, light sprinkles, misty drizzles, and sometimes just when the clouds looks especially ominous. There are umbrella racks in the entryway into every public building, store, and office. There are always umbrellas in those racks. With the slightest mist coming down, everyone walking outside, to a person, has an open umbrella with them. The time that it's easiest to spot the foreigners in public is when there is a light mist. Just look for people without umbrellas. Do the Japanese wear raincoats? Nope. Slickers with hoods? Nope. Only umbrellas. That’s just what they do. Even when riding a bike to work. Umbrella in one hand, handlebars in the other. (Or sometimes umbrella in one hand, cell phone in the other, handlebars as needed.)


Clearly these are digitally retouched photos of Z & V. No self-respecting son of a firefighter would let his kids play with sparklers. (Thanks to our neighbors for sharing!)


My company has a ‘healthy in one year’ campaign. Of course they mean the fiscal year from 4/2006 through 3/2007. You and your Western-centric Gregorian calendar. My company says the year goes from 4/1 through 3/31, and so that’s the year.

They encourage everyone to stop smoking, eat well and get the body mass index below 24.2. Why is that the magic number? I have no idea. How do they 'encourage'? Well, there are posters in the common areas at work. An occasional company wide email to promote some company-sponsored weekend healthy activity. Oh yeah, and the company monitors what the employees are eating in the cafeteria. Down to the dish.

The cafeteria is paid for out of the employee’s salary. Each plate or bowl has a magnetic id inside. After you eat, you carry your tray with the empty dishes up to a reader. The tray bearing the dishes is set onto a reader on your way out of the cafeteria, it tells you how much it costs, then you swipe your employee badge to charge the meal against next month’s salary. (Of course, a system which rewards you financially for leaving a mess of dishes behind you on your table would probably not work in the US. The thought has probably never occurred to anyone here.)

I found recently that not only is that system used to charge your meals against your salary, but they are also monitoring your caloric intake. Is it all for my benefit, or is it a bit of ‘big brother’? Maybe somewhere in between. I think my BMI is near the 24.2 target right now. So they will still let me in the cafeteria.

And luckily the snack shop right outside the cafeteria where yummy ice cream sandwiches are only 100yen, and don’t show up on the big brother food monitor. Ice cream sammiches back home have ice cream between that chalky chocolate-ish, stick-to-your-teeth stuff. The Japanese show their superiority once again. Why not house your ice cream in ice cream cone material? It’s perfect, and perfectly delicious. No muss, no fuss, and my tummy thinks I just ate an ice cream cone! Genius!

BMI 35.5 here I come!… Maybe I should start smoking to control my weight….


Some photos of a day trip to a ceramics village, where there streets and walls are often constructed from pottery pieces. There was a big buddha we saw on the drive down. So we stopped to get a closer look. He got a look at us, as well.

Getting money is like digging with a needle. Spending it is like water soaking into the sand.
- Japanese proverb.

(Digging with a needle? How about eating rice grains with sticks!)

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Greetings from Japan, where people are typically reserved and polite, until they get to a baseball game. (They might stay polite, but they sing chant and bong noisemakers all game long. C’mon people, I can’t hear myself drink over here!)

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A benefit of having a Japanese computer: The bad English language comedy. I love that they try to work with the foreigners, I really do. But you'd think that they might ask a foreigner ever so often to proofread their stuff.
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Eye-spy for novices: find the foreigner in OsuKannon.

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Zane's class had a field trip to a rice farm. Zane was the first one in the mud and the last one out.

First photo: a glimpse of the new white sandal. Second photo: After the rice field claimed his sandal for its own.

A field trip where there is mud? What a school!

Leave it to Zane to get up to his elbows in ankle-deep mud.

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So as you might imagine, the Japanese sort their garbage. (And I don’t just mean that they send Yoko Ono to America.) They really sort their garbage. They sort it like it’s their job. I think they’ve petitioned the Olympic committee to make it an exhibition sport in the 2012 games.

As a Nagoya resident, I must sort my refuse into the following major categories: 1)Recyclable, 2)Burnable, and 3)Non Burnable. Easy, right? Wrong. They’re just getting warmed up. Within Recyclable, we separate into: Paperboard packaging, Plastic Packaging, PET drink bottles, Cans, Glass, Cardboard and newspaper and Milk cartons. And as the song goes, "You gotta keep 'em separated."

Each classification gets its own blue bag, except for the glass, cardboard, newspaper and your milk cartons. By the way, there are not jugs of milk in Japan. Milk comes in liter (translated: quart) sized cartons which you cannot just put in with the paperboard recycling. You must rinse them out, cut them up to lie flat, and take them back to the grocery store and put them in a bin. After I moved here and was living on my own, I had 4 empty milk cartons in my fridge because I hadn't figured out what to do with them. I considered switching to putting boubon on my cereal because those empties I could manage.

Everything you buy has a symbol on the packaging saying what type of container it is, and which category it falls into. It’s actually pretty noble. All packaging has to have a stream it goes into. Nothing can be sold unless there is a way to manage the packaging. I’ve only been here a little while and it’s affectected me as a consumer. I don’t want to buy glass because it’s going to be a pain to store it somewhere and take it down to get recycled. And they sell a lot of refill bags for things you might keep in bottles. Like your instant coffee. You can buy a refill bag of exactly the same size as the glass bottle you’ve just used up. Then you just have the bag to recycle. Nice! (Except the refill bag also costs exactly the same as the new bottle. Strange. No bulk-buying discount here.)

And there is a cost to consume. Not much, but the color-coded bags all cost money. (Maybe 10 cents per bag, but it’s something.)
They are far ahead of where we are as Americans, if purely because of necessity. When we’re all out of landfill space maybe we’ll have to start requiring recycling, instead of just suggesting it.
I haven’t figured the whole thing out yet, though. There are some things which don’t fit well into the available categories.

A used Q-tip: Recyclable paperboard? Burnable?
A broken rubber band: Plastic packaging? Non-burnable?
Belly button lint: never mind… I keep that to make lint art and sell it on Ebay.

Think this packaging management is all lovely and perfect? A utopian society? Think again.

Enter the cockroach.

(Not yet at my house, knock on bamboo.)
After I had been given the tour of the property and the ‘how to operate the __________” orientation from the relocation agent, she turned to the back of the ‘Welcome Guide’. A page on cockroaches. She explained that as new construction there would be little chance of an infestation in this building. Right. Until we have food-tainted milk cartons, tuna cans and takeout containers in twelve different bags in the kitchen awaiting the designated recycling day. And so do our neighbors.

The agent said that if we start to have a problem we just call them and they’ll bring over an ultrasonic deterrent you plug into the wall. Right. Aren’t those sold in the coupon pack in the newspapers along side the elastic waist casual slacks and the tomato tree?
I’m thinking about how to make a strong first salvo against any invading roach force. I’ve looked in the stores here briefly, and haven’t seen anything that has the chemical firepower I’m after. I’ll have to get it in the States. Seems like the Japanese are a bit soft on roach control. Hey, as long as the bugs take off their shoes before they enter the house, they’re clean, right?