[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!)

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