[The American Years]

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Daniel in Shibuya. Total Rockstar.

Shibuya Crossing


Things my brother pointed out about Japan, part IV. You'd think that I would come up with the interesting insights, but dude is here 2 weeks and he gets some zingers. Maybe things I've noticed without really noticing.

Let's review D's observations:
1 Not a lot of public seating
2 Difficult to eat vegeterian
3 They don't say no.

And now:
4 Cute sells.

I was trying to explain the difference between American advertizing and Japanese, and it took me about a 5 minutes.

Me:"You know in America there is always some half dressed model who is trying to look angry and important, and that's supposed to be sexy, but really it makes me want to leave. Well, in Japan it's different. There are girls in ads, but never sexy-like. And there are tons of cartoon characters everywhere... blah blah blah."

Daniel:"Cute Sells."

Me: "Oh. Right. That's it."


A few photos to illustrate.

There are three main currier companies. "Black Cat" seems to be everywhere.


The other currier company has the helpful ant as their symbol.


The symbol for the police here is the owl. Cute. Push his beak to cross the street!

Pharmacy Logo.

And which American company (at least I think it's American), offering supplemental insurance do you think had the advertizing cuteness built-in?

There are a lot more. But every time I upload a photo, I get the "Explorer Must Quit" With the Send Report or Don't Send. I was hitting the "Send Report" button, but Bill Gates hasn't called yet to see what's wrong. So I'm going to give up for tonight.


Mata Ashta.


Monday, March 26, 2007

Photos from Nikko.

No particular order.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

More about Daniel's visit.

He pointed out things that I hadn't noticed. The last I reported on was lack of public seating. I didn't mention this even to him at the time, but it is very rare to have a bench even at a bus stop. In my part of town, there are none. In the heart of the city, there are a few, but not everywhere.

Another thing we discovered when he was here is that it's difficult to be a vegetarian in Japan. Daniel is mostly a vegan (though he did make an exception for sushi for breakfast and of course octopus balls). It's difficult to be mostly a vegan here. Everything has a bit of meat here or there in it.

The other thing that was pointed out to us about Japanese is that they don't like saying "no". It's a great cultural attribute they have.

At the train station heading to Tokyo, we wanted to buy a boxed lunch for the ride. (Ekiben, or station box lunches are a treat, and widely adored.)

We stopped by a few stands to see what they had. I asked in my broken Japanese if they had any vegetarian box lunches. The response was never 'no'. It was "Hmmm. Vegetarian. Well. Let me see. Golly. Vegetarian was it? Hmmm. That might be difficult...."

All the while the employee is making an effort to look like they are making an effort to look though what they have. Of course they know full well that they don't have anything without meat.

Here's a quote from Dave Barry Does Japan (thanks to neice H. for the gift.)

Japanese person says: I see
Actual meaning in American: No

Japanese person says: Ah.
Actual meaning in American: No

Japanese person says: Ah-hah
Actual meaning in American: No

Japanese person says: Yes
Actual meaning in American: No

Japanese person says: That is difficult
Actual meaning in American: That is completely impossible

Japanese person says: This is very interesting.
Actual meaning in American: That is the stupidest thing I ever heard

Japanese person says: We will study your proposal.
Actual meaning in American: We will feed your proposal to a goat.

Back to the topic at hand. We did find a way to eat very well, and mostly vegetarian while here. They have very good itailan food that's pretty reasonable here, for example. And it was easy to go veggie with that.

The crowning glory of our vegetable eating experience was the last night in Tokyo. We were in Shinjuku, my new favorite neighborhood in Tokyo, looking for food, and not finding great digs. I happened to see a sign that said "Yasaya", or "Vegetable place" in an alphabet I could understand. It was a teppan yaki restaurant. Teppanyaki's closest cousin in America is the Benihana chain, but most teppanyaki is not showy or flashy, but delicious. This place specialized in vegetables. It was all cooked in front of us, and completely delicious.


Have you ever seen someone take such care with vegetables? It's part of the beauty of teppanyaki. You assume the chef has incredible skill because of how careful and precise he is. (Or at Benihana in the US, you assume great skill because the chef can throw a live shrimp 12 feet in the air and have it land on your plate, fully prepared, cooked and sliced.)

Mata Ashta
If I'm allowed to generalize (and I have decided that I am), Japanese people are attractive. Though it's not perfectly easy to tell at first.

The reason it's not easy is that nobody is overweight here, and everybody dresses well. For example, in public, grown men do not wear shorts. Shorts are for boys. Maybe at a park or something you will see a man in shorts, but it's very rare. Even jeans are rare.

There are 3 luxury foreign hotels in Nagoya: the Hilton, Wesitn and the Marriott. Go through the lobby on a weekend and it's astounding. The Japanese people coming in there for lunch or a wedding or whatever are dressed impeccably. Then there are foreign business people with the weekend off, heading out to do some sightseeing around town.

It's embarrassing. (Paraphrased from David Sedaris.) The Americans look as if they've come to mow the lawn in this foreign country.

Americans have the image of having an undeservedly high standard of living, and of living wastefully.

To see the large American body in large shabby clothes in a luxury hotel, the Japanese person must conclude that we are spending our money on lasagna and fettuccine, rather than Dolce and Gabana.

Friday, March 23, 2007

At the end of February, the wife and kids went on a Ski Trip.

The proof:

I wasn't there, but I heard all about Z and his mad crazy fast skiing. It was both kids first time, but Z seemed to really take to it. You could ski from 10am to 4pm, and he ignored all bodily necessities during those hours in order to maximize his time on the slopes.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

We went to Nikko. It's a mountainous area north of Tokyo with amazing temples all gathered into one little area. More UNESCO World Heritage Sites for us.

Zane took some pictures. This one is of his breakfast. He likes rice for breakfast.

The mountains from our hotel room.

His sister. (Young people in pictures are required to give the peace sign. It's a law.)

More will be forthcoming. Maybe even a picture of Nikko proper.


Here's an odd thing. On last month's weekend in Kyoto, we went up to a temple with a big statue of Kannon. A buddhist thing. It was a lovely statue.

Off to the side was a "Pacific War Memorial", with lots of English in it and around it. There was a little altar looking thing, with some nice stained glass and marble, but it did seem almost abandoned. Just to the side was a desk off in a little room, and a card file.

A closer look shows it's the record of everybody killed in the Pacific War (WWII to you and me). There are also the cremated remains of unknown soldiers from dozens of different countries in urns. Very strange and interesting find. And I think it was established in 1956, or 1958. Really soon after the end of the war. How long did it take to get a WWII memorial in Washington DC? Exactly. And we even won that war.

Mata Ashta
Big in Japan.

You have not completed your Foreigner-in-Japan experience until you have appeared on Japanese TV. We have now punched that slot on our gaijin card. Look for us on Osaka TV on April 30th at 8:30. Or look for us on the Osaka TV cutting room floor. (By the way, we weren't in Osaka or anywhere near it, but at a rest area between Tokyo and Nagoya.)

They asked us to laugh. We laughed. I guess we did OK. At first we failed because we didn't follow direction. He told us to go "Fu Fu Fu Fu Fu". It took us a few takes to get that he wanted us to laugh. I guess "Fu Fu Fu Fu" translates as "Tee hee hee hee."


More news about vending machines.

Some coffee machines have TVs on the front. They advertise and entice, and then when you buy a coffee, they pay off. They give a video of your coffee being produced.

Also, here is a photo of a newspaper vending machine. It drops one paper down, and has different papers for your reading pleasure. A fair bit more advanced than the square boxes used in the states. This cool technology might be just what the newspaper industry needs in order to appeal with the younger generation with their internets and new fangled pod transistor radio and whatnot.

And as previous posts noted, very little food is available in vending machine. But I found one. Here is the hot food vending machine that cooks up frozen french fries, rice balls, and (joy!) octopus balls.

Mata Ashta

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Yes, geisha exist.

It took us 3 trips to Kyoto this year to spot one. And we hit the jackpot. For some reason in the little cobblestone area where our ryokan was, they were walking all over the place, during the daytime. Kathleen was quick to point out that they were maiko, not geisha. How you can tell and what it means is for someone else's blog. Here are some photos.

I was unable to stop them and ask for my picture with them. I couln't bring myself to ask for a second of their attention, or even to photograph them from the front. Standing there with a camera pointed at them seemed so lame. Being that close to that much charm and beauty makes you want to get close to it and run away at the same time. So I just stood there like a dope. I bet it happens to them a lot.
But there were some foreigners jumping out of their cabs to ask for photos with the maiko. So maybe it's just me.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Chicken Cartilage, revisited.

I've had overwhelming response (two comments) to the chicken cartilage bit. Photo forthcoming of how it's cooked up.


Lunchhour is sacred in Japan. At least in my company, but it seems like in many others as well. No phones ring, the lights in the office are turned off. People are either playing computer mah jong, solitaire, or sleeping. Mostly sleeping. With all the people with their heads on desks or sprawled across three chairs it looks like someone released some nerve gas in here.

It's odd that in an office where most people stay well into the night hours (it's full here at 7pm, and the last person leaves usually after 11pm), nobody works through their lunches. It's very rare that they will talk business. It only for eating and sleeping until the bell rings.

It’s getting to be Sakura (cherry blossom) season over here. It hasn’t hit yet in this middle part of the country I live in. The weather forecasts on TV have maps showing the projected bloom dates, region by region. The below shows 3/26 as the bloom date for this area. Local businesses and planning people organize festivals, etc., based on the bloom date.

A reclusive and exotic animal makes a rare outdoor appearance during sakura season. It is the drunken and silly Japanese person. Get a picnic together, get some sake, then get silly under flowery trees!

A linguistic note about sake. It’s pronounced Sa-keh, not sa-kee. And it’s not pronounced Sa-keh either. If you are going to use the word sake, which I think usually means spirits, in general, you use the honorary ‘O’ in front of it. O–sa-keh. Or to be even more correct, you call it Nihon-Shu. That's what most Japanese people call it. i believe literally means Japanese Spirits. 日本酒。

It makes for a silly translation when Japanese people talk about Nihon-shu. They translate it back into English as “Japanese Sake”. They ask “Do you like Japanese Sake?” To which I respond, “It’s one of my favorite kinds of Sake.”

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Japanese is difficult. Did I mention?

Look at these:

They all say "Stop". But compare the symbols. They're all different. And these are not the only combinations I've seen. Why not make them the same? Especially for something as important as "Stop".

Great question. For a country as rule and structure oriented as Japan, this lack of precision is an interesting surprise to me.

By the way, thanks to all for recent comments.


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