Japan - An Essay with Photos

Back by popular demand! I’ve completely rewritten this essay, and added a bunch of new stuff. I’ve also reformatted it, and made it easier to read.

As of this summer of 2004, I’ve been in Japan over 4 years and so my opinions and thoughts have changed since I first wrote this essay.

Please note that these are all my own opinions based on what I’ve seen here. I have not lived in all areas of Japan, nor have I visited all areas. I have lived in Tokyo, the capital and largest city of Japan, and I have lived in Shizuoka, a smaller city of a half million people.

I will start out by saying that I’m torn between Canada and Japan. I love some things about Japan, but I hate others. It’s the same with Canada. Please enjoy this essay and feel free to send me your comments.

Transportation: First of all, vehicles drive on the left side of the road here, as in England. It does take a bit of getting used to. It’s only a real problem in some situations, for example when walking across the road, or turning into traffic from a side street. You have to be careful to look for coming cars in the 'other' lane. There are quite a few North American vehicles here too. They've got some very small trucks here, but some very big ones as well. Trucks are sized according to the job they do. Tiny delivery trucks can be seen parked on the sidewalk delivering goods to stores, while giant dirt moving trucks are in the construction yards. On the highways, large rigs, medium rigs, and small rigs move goods to far destinations. c:\pics\04_00_jap_trip\diggers_300.jpg

For moving earth and digging up the streets, some really interesting machines are used. Some of these are very small and can dig about as much as a man with a shovel. They come in a variety of wild colours and shapes and sizes. They really look like cartoon construction machines.

 

Cars are mostly Japanese made of course. And it’s true, there are many very small cars. However, recently, a trend toward bigger luxury cars and mini vans is growing. I've never seen a Korean car here, although they do sell them. I have seen all sorts of European cars though. Some very expensive cars, and some older rare models. Citroens, Mercedes, BMWs, and Volvos are plentiful. The young car drivers love to add a large bazooka muffler to make their car very loud. This is extremely annoying, and the police don't seem to care. Even small scooters and motorbikes are made very loud sometimes and highly annoying. But, it's part of the landscape here it seems.

Motorcycles: While there are a lot of little 50cc scooters everywhere, there are also many other motorcycles in other sizes. Most of the big bikes though seem to be the racer type. I've only seen a few Goldwings or other large touring bike types. The best thing though about scooters or any motorbike, is that you can drive right by stopped cars by going up the shoulder or between cars. Everyone does it. Bikes often even drive up the side walk to get into the front of cars at a light. So, on a scooter or bike, you're never stuck in traffic, you just keep going where ever you can find space to get through traffic. The 50cc scooters are cheap to insure and drive, and you can park them just about anywhere. Plus, you can drive them with no special bike licence, just a car driving licence is enough. Young drivers though, can only drive a 50cc machine, and have to get a special scooter licence, since they're not old enough to drive a car until the age of 20. The age of majority here is 20. I think they can get a scooter licence at 16. This creates a special species of 50cc racing bikes, and the very popular Monkey and Gorilla bike breeds. These are miniature little bikes with fat tires and a tiny engine.  I've seen large motorcycles parked with bicycles and scooters on sidewalks everywhere. There's really a shortage of places to park. Almost no street parking is available anywhere. As a result, many 'double parked' cars line the streets making it hard to drive a scooter or bicycle on the side of the street. And many people drive their bicycles on the sidewalks. There's far more bicycles than pedestrians on the sidewalks, and it's madness at times trying not to get hit by school kids on their bikes. A lot of people don't feel they need a light on their bicycle at night either, and wear dark clothing, making it hard to see them. Every bicycle has baskets and carriers for large articles which people might want to carry on their bikes. I've seen old men with 2 or 3 giant styrofoam boxes of fish, carrying them on the handlebars, whilst another couple boxes are on the carrier, and one in the basket.

Mothers have special carriers on their bicycles for babies and young kids. It’s not unusual to see a mother on a bike with 2 kids, or even 3! Downtown, and around all train stations, security guards are hired to try and keep bicycles off the sidewalks. At times there's so many bicycles that people can't walk by. These bikes will be tagged, and after several hours towed away, never to be seen again. People don't bother to collect them and pay the fines, they just go and buy a new one. I've seen acres of bikes collected this way, that nobody comes to get. They ship them off to 3rd world countries, you don't even have a chance to get them at auction. This creates a bigger market for new bikes, and new bicycles are pretty cheap in any case.

Motorcycles larger than 750cc have to be exported, then returned to Japan before they can be sold here. So, the factories do this all the time. Therefore, if you really have to have a big bike, not only will you have more trouble getting a licence, but you will have to pay for that extra shipping in the price of the bike. I wonder if Honda has it’s own cargo planes flying everyday to America, dropping the bikes in crates to the ground, then loading them all back in and returning to Japan. Did I mention, bicycles drive both ways on all streets, one way or not? Well, not only that, but they drive both ways on both sides of the streets. And, of course most of them drive on the sidewalks where there are sidewalks on larger streets. Fortunately, most Japanese drivers are very careful and courteous about all forms of transportation.

Bosozokus: And now we come to the hot-rodders, what I call the Bozozukas.  These guys can be in gangs, or individual with just a bloody loud car or bike. Often in the summer, and sometimes in the winter, you can hear or see a wild gang of young punks out raising hell with loud bikes and scooters. Some of the 2-wheelers they use, I’m positive are kept specially for this purpose, and are most likely not insured or licensed in any way. They are thrown together to be as loud as possible, and they are just as obnoxious in their looks, as their sound. Many are old 125 and 250 2-stroke bikes with stinger race exhausts, or no exhausts, bazooka exhausts, bare metal tanks, rusted frames, - whatever they have around will do. But they are obviously thrown together, unsafe, and nowhere near legal. Their pilots are likely without a helmet or with a small old porridge pot hanging off the back of their neck. They are dressed lightly with torn vests and dirty shorts maybe. They constantly rev the snot out of their smoke belching monsters to their obvious delight, and to the great displeasure of all those that hear and behold them. They ride like maniacs, ignoring all traffic signals and laws. Up the side, in between, around and through they go, revving and belching all the way. They assemble somewhere and ride out into the night and you hear them from your bed, late, somewhere in the distance, rumbling and echoing like swarms of angry insects. Frankly, I don’t think anyone, or any police pay them any heed. They are also a part of the tapestry of culture here in Japan.

Gas Stations: I haven't seen many self-serve gas stations. Gas Station Attendants all seem to have gone to school to learn how to pump gas as well as possible, and the moment you drive on the lot, they run out to help and serve you, while guiding you into place. They know how to find your gas tank, pump your gas carefully, and generally are very good at what they do. They all wear neat and clean uniforms, and many are young ladies. They even help you out into traffic when you’re finished, signaling you when it's OK, and wishing you well as you leave. Service is always prompt and courteous. They bring you your change immediately. They will do everything for you from unlocking your gas tank, to putting your key back in the ignition when they're done. All with a cheerful smile and many thank yous. Most gas stations in the city have hanging gas dispensers. They have no standing pumps as we know them, but hoses and nozzles hang from the ceiling of a large roofed area.

Trains: All the trains here are electric. Trains in Japan are of three different types. First, there's the Shinkansen, which is the high speed bullet train we've all heard about. It's expensive, but good for traveling longer distances like city to city. It goes very fast, and is very comfortable, smooth and quiet. It travels on tracks of its own. Second, are the regular intercity trains, which are usually in the same stations, but use different tracks. The regular intercity trains are also very comfortable, quiet and quite fast.  They stop more often, however they are cheaper. They are used for traveling shorter distances and commuting. On these two types of trains, there are attendants going up and down the aisles selling beer, sake, drinks, snacks, and souvenirs. The third type of train is actually like a subway and runs below and above ground. Sometimes they go from one city to the next, where cities are close together, or in a big city they are simply a way to get downtown or to another place in the city. Many people commute downtown on these, and drive their bicycle to the train station where they leave them all day in small parking lots beside the station. Better get there early though; these lots are jammed with bicycles quite early, and people end up leaving their bicycles just about anywhere else in the area. If you come home early, you will have trouble getting your bicycle out, since people will have blocked all possible exits to the lot with their bikes. Many of these bicycle parking lots are run by workers, and they charge a small amount to leave your bicycle there. But in smaller cities, many of these lots are unsupervised and mostly chaos.

Buses: Strangely enough, although trains are all electric, the buses are all diesel. They are nice and comfortable though, air conditioned and go just about anywhere. The most amazing thing is at most of the bus stops there's an electronic system to tell when buses are getting close and how long to expect one to come. These are using a wireless radio transmission system to track buses. People get on through the rear side door of the bus, and get off at the front side door. Sometimes though this is reversed and it creates a bit of confusion for visitors. The fare system is to pay more for longer rides. You get a ticket when you get on, and pay when you get off. Up front and above, there's a large electronic board that counts up the fares. It can be quite expensive for longer rides, but reasonable for shorter rides. Most people pay with a pre-paid transport card that's also good for the city trains. You can get a bit of a discount with these. Larger amount cards give more discount. The cards and tickets are magnetic on the back for machine reading, and have small punch holes and the amount left is also printed on the back in most cases. If you don't have much left after you punch out, the machine will display a warning to you. In all cases it will show you the amount left on your card as well. When a bus stops for any length of time, say at a red light, or in heavy traffic, the driver will shut off the engine, then restart when the light turns green or traffic starts to move. These buses belch out a lot of diesel smoke, and their exhaust is not up high but down low so anyone on a bike or scooter behind them should stay clear when they take off.

Transportation Notes: Public transportation, and in particular the train systems in Japan are very well developed and important to life here. Even though most people own at least one car, they don’t drive them very much due to traffic, the price of gas, and highway tolls. Amazingly, trains and buses are always on time. Except of course when disaster strikes. After an earthquake, workers must go out and check all tracks before the trains start up again. During a Typhoon or flooding, public transportation can also grind to a halt. Once in awhile someone throws themselves in front of a train and train schedules get messed up. Not for long though, as the system is very well regulated and controlled by computers. I can’t ever remember hearing about a train crash in Japan, although I’m sure it’s happened. And I guess these things are part of the reason why travelling by train or bus here is so very expensive. In Toronto you can ride a bus to the subway, ride across town, and ride a bus, all for the one time fare of two dollars. Here, I might take a bus to the train station for 200 yen, take a train downtown for 600, take the subway across town for another 600, take another train for another 600, then take a bus somewhere for another 300. Total cost of trip: about $20 U.S. Yes, you heard me, about twenty bucks to go across town!

Shopping: There aren’t many large malls like we have, but there are many large downtown department stores, and of course many small stores lining most streets near the train stations. There is a real lack of ‘DIY’ type of stores here. Many people like to do as much shopping in their neighbourhood as possible. There are some ‘hardware/outdoor’ type of stores scattered around outside of downtown, but not that many. Discount liquor stores are everywhere.

Downtown, it’s a strange combination of small, traditional specialized shops, and huge designer department stores. Expensive imported items are big sellers downtown, with handbags, makeup, and clothing being the largest markets. Shopping is also a great mix of Japanese along with Imported. I do not believe such a large variety of goods is available anywhere else in the world. This is not to say that I can buy anything here, I can’t. But you can’t find the huge variety Japanese goods anywhere else right along side the Gucci stuff. And the way the stuff is laid out here really reflects the Japanese style and art of perfection.

Big department stores put any store to shame in America or Europe. I have never seen such incredible window displays either. No expense is spared in either the store design or fixtures and decor. And the prices in those stores reflect that too. I’ve never see such a nice assortment of men’s ties as I saw downtown in Ginza at a large department store. Tables and tables of ties with lovely colours and patterns. The reason I mention ties as an example, is because most tie displays I’ve seen were boring, with horrible colour and pattern selections. The rest of the store was the same, a sort of artistic perfection was laid out for display everywhere. Everything just oozes wonderfulness. It’s just Japanese style overlaid on the best of the world’s merchandise.

Train stations are miniature city centres, and the area around any station is a hub of activity at any time of the day and night, During the day you find shoppers, commuters, and students everywhere. Bicycles flit about like flies on a dung pile. Sidewalks are narrow, and cars are double parked everywhere. Coffee shops, fast food places, photo labs, convenience stores, and all kinds of small specialty shops do brisk business. At night you find working men coming home late up until midnight! Many of these men stop for dinner or a snack, and perhaps a few games at the local parlour.

Pachinko Parlours are very popular. Inside you'll find crowds of people gambling on the machines, and loud driving music fills these places. Bright colours and lights are everywhere, looking very much like little Las Vegas inside and out. I've heard a lot of Pachinko Parlours are owned by wealthy Koreans. Most players are heavy smokers and although air conditioners are constantly blasting the place, the air is foul and obnoxious.

Only recently did I actually try a few games of Pachinko. Here’s my take on it: you basically pour a bunch of steel balls you just paid a lot of money for into this machine which looks like a cross between a video game and a slot machine. The machines are in tight rows with tiny stools in front of each where players crouch and sweat side by side. Ok, balls in, press start and the balls start falling down and bouncing around. Most, and I do mean most balls go directly to the bottom and are not seen again. However, some fall into special holes and you get points and special effects on the video screen which is the main thing you stare at. There’s no flippers, but only one control knob. This allows you to either flush all your balls or slowly dribble them into the playing area. In other words, you can piss away your money quickly or a bit slower. Depending on the speed of the balls, they may go different places or hit different holes. The idea, I was told, was to find a middle position where the balls were following each other into a special hole. Most players I found do not move that knob around much. In any case, my balls were quickly gone and my game over. I left wondering why anyone would find it fun.

Japanese women like to buy expensive perfumes, makeup, and accessories. Designer handbags cost upward of 400 dollars. A bar of beauty soap might cost 30 dollars. Japanese women really do keep themselves looking good. Japanese men too, spend a lot of money on hair loss products to try and keep from going bald. The younger girls are now in on the act, with the makeup and accessory market for the 10-14 year olds booming.

Some things you just can't find here. One thing that strikes me, is that the drugstores don't carry many North American patent medicines. They have their own brands and types of drugs to buy. If you want mosquito repellent, there's no Muskol or Deep Woods OFF. Instead,, you buy a little can of stuff with the picture of a kid swatting a fly on it. Does it work? - Well, as far as I can tell, not very well. I tried to buy a stick of underarm deodorant, but it doesn't exist here. And this is in a very long hot summer climate. The only thing I could find is an overpriced powder spray can, and the selection was very limited. I guess since the Japanese wash and bath so frequently, they don't need it. Or maybe they don't sweat like we do, I don't know. Please send 4 sticks of Mennen Unscented Sports. (ok ok, I have enough now, thanks Mom) I couldn't find aspirin, Tylenol, Advil, or anything else at the drugstore either. No Peptobismal, no Listerine, no Vicks cough syrop, etc. However, I'm told if you put a dried red plum into hot greentea, you have a cure for cold and sore throat :-)

The Japanese love their toys, and plenty of people have GPS units and televisions in their cars. Not to mention that every school kid over the age of 9 has a cellphone to their ears all the time they're not in school. I understand these kids run up some very high bills, but they can't live without them. The latest rage in phones is to have a digital camera built in and transmit photos on the spot to your friends or to the internet. Within months of the introduction of these camera phones, everyone had one. Cellphones play games, can have a GPS, play a choice of tunes instead of ringing, and generally are smaller and more flamboyant than anything seen in North America. E-mail and web surfing are very popular in trains, where it’s not allowed to talk on a phone, or have it ring. It takes a great many button presses to create a short line of Japanese on a phone. But using a combination of thumbs and fingers of both hands, a flurry of button presses provides a constant entertainment for many. There are cellphone stores just about everywhere you look.

Update: Recently I have seen such American items as Contac C, Aquafresh, and Bufferin. No sign of Tylenol of Advil though.

Food: Here's where things get really different. The variety of veggies in the supermarket is amazing. However, you don't find some of my favourites.  Cauliflower and brussel sprouts are getting more popular - I have bought some, but they are expensive and only in some seasons. They do have what they call sweet potatoes, but they're not very sweet. They are yellow inside not orange, and aren't nearly as good as the yams we have back home. They are a popular and healthy snack, with some candied, some just roasted and generally sold and eaten everywhere. You can buy regular potatoes, but they're very small. The carrots and most other veggies are excellent though, and you can get dozens of types of mushrooms, most of which I'd never seen before. Regular white button mushrooms are very expensive. Shitake mushrooms grown in China are now invading the market. My wife thinks they are not as good, but they look and taste the same to me. Other veggies I can't begin to name, but there's a lot of different ones, and they are great. In the meat section is where things are really different. Chicken can be had, and cheap too, but mostly it's pieces with no bones. I've never seen a whole chicken in the store.

No turkey, darn. OK you might find a frozen turkey before Christmas, but it’s not easy to find, nor popular. Beef is, well, different. Mostly it's sliced into thin strips for stir fry, and it's expensive. Sometimes, you can get small, thin steaks which are excellent, but I've never seen a roast. Most Japanese beef is layered with fat throughout. This makes a greasy, but moist, tender, and tasty meat. I have bought Australian and American steaks quite reasonably though. Since the big madcow scare, beef has become less popular. Lamb is also not popular, but is also available but difficult to find. Pork is not available in anything larger than a 1 kilo chunk, and mostly the larger pieces are tenderloins, therefore expensive. I have bought some pork chops that were excellent, and recently imported pork is becoming more available. I’ve even seen Canadian pork. Pork is mostly sold in thin frying strips as well. Bacon is available, and good, but expensive. It’s much more meaty though than back home.

FISH!: Now here is where the big difference is. The seafood section of the supermarket usually takes up about one third of the store and has everything a fish lover wants, and more. Some of it stinks, some of it is alive, and some of it is frozen. You can get octopus, squid, urchin, eggs, and every other type of fish or ocean critter that swims or crawls here. All of it is excellent, most of it is eaten raw, and generally I love fish. My favorite is salmon, and it's plentiful and not too expensive. A typical traditional Japanese breakfast would be miso soup, rice, and fish stew. Sukiyaki is popular to cook at home for dinner. It’s sliced beef, veggies and mushrooms cooked in an large electric pan on the table. With a slightly sweet soya broth and plenty of cabbage and onion in it. It’s delicious. People do drink coffee, but mostly they get it from a machine, either cold of hot. Most people prefer black coffee and I found there's no coffee cream in the stores. They do have powdered coffee whitener which is popular. The only real cream I've found is whipping cream, which I sometimes mix half and half with milk for coffee.

Rice and Mochi: Japanese rice is naturally sticky in nature, and is eaten with everything. Very popular as a side dish, people fill a bowl with steamed rice and drop stuff on top of it, then eat both together. Popular things to eat on rice are pieces of grilled fish, or stir fried pork, or beef strips. Miso soup is slurped on the side. Tipping the bowl up to drain it is OK. In fact, most people simply drink it out of the bowl from the start. Leftover rice is formed into balls around a small piece of tuna, or sprinkled with bonito flakes, and perhaps rolled in a sheet of seaweed, and kept for later as lunch or a snack. A typical Japanese home will have at least one large rice cooker, and perhaps two rice cookers going all day. Ditto the Japanese like to drink green tea at all times of the day. Electric hot water servers are popular to instantly refresh the teapot with the push of a button. Mochi is steamed and pounded rice formed into a cake about 3/4 inch thick. It can be kept for a long time and eaten later in different ways. Pieces can be grilled until they puff up and brown, then dipped in soya and eaten, or mochi can be added to soups. Mochi is traditionally made at New Years, but can be bought and consumed year round. Many people buy a small electric machine to make it at home at New Years. Special rice is used for Mochi. I dip my pieces in Maple syrup, but that’s just me eh. For a photo essay on Mochi Making, click here.

Sushi Restaurants: North American Japanese restaurants usually specialize in Sushi, and well they should, since it’s a truly unique food of the Japanese culture, and it’s also the most tasty. What’s that? You think eating raw fish is weird? Hey, I took some to my parents back home and they liked it.(or maybe they just said they did :-) Basically, they cook a bunch of fabulous Japanese sticky rice, and age it somehow in a bit of vinegar and sake. Whatever, it is formed in the chef’s hand to a small wad, a dab of hot green Wasabi (Japanese horseradish) is added, and wrapped on top with a large meaty slice of raw fish - or scallop, or shrimp, or well, just about anything they can think of. BBQ’d eel, egg, and roe are very popular. There are many types of sushi houses. There’s discount hundred yen sushi, where the slices are thinner, and the quality lower. I do not believe these places are a bargain. Then, you have the conveyer sushi places. These places have a moving conveyer platform all around the eating area where you choose and pick off the dishes you want right in front of you. You stack the plates up, they’re colour coded to price, and they total your bill based on the dishes in your pile. I love these places. You can special order from the chefs who are in the center of the bar right in front of you making up the sushi as you watch.

Noodle Houses: When I first heard that people actually thought a bowl of noodles was a meal, and paid plenty in special restaurants, I thought, well, I wondered how they stayed in business, and wondered if people got hungry a half hour later. Now I know better. This ain’t no ordinary noodle cup. These guys are trained experts at delivering the good stuff. You have many choices, but the old standard is a soya, miso, or salt broth with ramen noodles. Maybe a bit of green onion sliced small, dry pickled bamboo, egg, nori (seaweed) or fish cake slices on top. Or, you could get the super deluxe noodles with pork slices on top. Recently I had a fantastic seafood with a butter broth noodle dish. Many of them are solid, healthy meals, and tasty beyond belief. It’s really wonderful slurping up these savory noodles and broth. You get a really big bowl too. At a really fine noodle shop you can get some handmade noodles that are the best. Plus, for me, there’s something fun about making loud slurping noises and knowing no one will scold you, look strange at you, or wonder about your manners. It’s expected to slurp loudly.(see Mom, I was just practising) You would find there is no other way of ‘eating’ a large bowl of noodles. Sure, go ahead and tip the bowl up to your mouth if you want to drain the last of the bowl. It’s allowed.

Soba Restaurants: These places specialize in a type of noodle that’s handmade from buckwheat flour. It’s darker and tastier. It’s enjoyed often in the summer cold, as are other noodles. But Soba seems to be a black art practised in special places. It’s also traditional to have soba on new years eve. Soba is the traditional Japanese noodle, ramen is a Chinese noodle. Udon noodles are fat soft white noodles that are also prepared in these places, since they use the same types of broth and toppings.

Okonomiyaki Shops: The name means ‘cooked favorites’. It is cooked on a grill, usually built into your table. It’s a cross between a pancake and an omelette. You get what you like added to it. Shredded cabbage, eggs, flour and milk are usually the main ingredients. I like to have shrimp, squid, and bacon in mine. The hard part is waiting for it to cook, usually about 15 minutes. On the top of okonomiyaki is dribbled a brown secret sweet sauce, then bonito flakes are sprinkled on that. You add mayo to suit. Mustard mayo makes it extra good for me. Red pickled plum strips are usually added, but they are bitter and not to my taste. Fried noodles are also popular in okonomiyaki or as a stir fry at okonomiyaki shops.

Bbq Eel Shops: Strips of eel are grilled until black over charcoal fires. Eel is very oily and not my favorite dish. It’s eaten on a bed of steamed rice. My wife loves this stuff. I keep thinking about greasy water snakes.

Sashimi: Sashimi is raw fish chopped or sliced up and eaten with small garnishes, and dipped in soya. It’s sushi without the special rice wad to wrap the fish around. It is chopped in small pieces and enjoyed with thinly shredded white radish. It is often a side dish, or an all out buffet of a variety of pieces of fish and seafood. Tuna is very popular for sashimi. Fatty tuna is the most special and expensive. Small drinking bars specializing in sashimi and sake cluster around railway stations and bus terminals. Hell, they’re everywhere.

Sake Bars: ‘Izakayas’ are found in different sizes from tiny shacks to large restaurants. In these places, the emphasis is on the sake, and the food is to have something to wash down. Downtown in many places you will find clusters or rows of what appear to be small joined shacks with banners all over and old wooden sliding doors. Inside each one is the owner around which might be an L shaped row of low stools at a bar. Food and drink is prepared before your eyes. People smoke, drink and eat there in the evenings. They are inhabited by regular circles of friends who meet often after work and enjoy chatting and getting drunk on fine sake while munching on Oden. These small places make me think of what a restaurant in Japan might have been like a thousand years ago.

Oden: This stuff is a bit weird for me, but some of it is tasty. Basically, it’s different ‘food’ on a stick which has been taking a bath in steaming water for hours. The water looks like a very weak broth, or in other words, like the wash water from my old football pants. Favorite things to eat skewered on wooden sticks are: hard boiled eggs, white radish pieces, kabobs of what look like chicken fat pieces, and other stuff I haven’t investigated fully yet due to lack of interest. Usually, it’s self serve at Kombinis or Izakayas. There are also specialized Oden fast good restaurants. You fish around until you find something that’s interesting and retrieve it on it’s stick to your plate. You never know what you’ll find in there...

Takoyaki: These are places that specialize in octopus takeout food. Pieces of ‘tako’ or octopus to us, are coated in a slightly sweet pancake like dough and put into little round muffin like pans in rows. Then they are cooked over a fire bed or heater, turned once carefully with large chopsticks, and golden browned all over. You stick one with a little pointed stick and pop it into your mouth - ouch, they are hot! You might squirt some mayo on it, but the mustard mayo is the best on these too. You often find little places cooking takoyaki at fairs, temples or ‘Matsuris’ (festivals) Some people have smaller takoyaki cookers at home, and they will cook them on the kerosene heater in the winter.

Pizza: There is such a variety of good things you can get on a pizza here, it’s really a shame they’re not offered back home. Potato, corn, mayo, and Seafood are very popular toppings. All the pizzas I’ve tried are delicious. Popular pizza flavours are Sukiyaki, Mochi, Teriaki Chicken, and on and on the list goes. Delivered usually to your home by a 3 wheeled ‘Gyro’ scooter with a huge insulated pizza box on the back.

Kombini Stores: No essay on Japanese food can be complete without at least mentioning the ubiquitous ‘convenience’ stores: 7-11, Ministop, Lawson’s, Family Mart, or Daily Store. These are the names of the big chains of stores you find on every corner. They sell everything. They have a great selection of food. Some even sell sake, liquor, beer, and wine. You can get some decent full meals, sandwiches, and salads there. Also many have hot chicken pieces, coated weiners on a stick, Oden, and one of my favorites, Nikuman. These are soft, fluffy white semisweet puffballs with a pork and gravy or vegetable filling. They also have Pizamans with pizza like fillings. Hot and quick to go, these are popular in the winter between the store and home

 

Roving Delivery Trucks:

There are many types of roving vehicles selling fruit and veggies, gyoza (chinese dumplings), or as shown below, Yakiimo (Japanese baked sweet potato). You can see that he has a wood stove build onto the back of his little pickup truck. Tasty, but rather expensive. These guys have a speaker playing loudly, announcing their delicious wares.
yakimo truck

Restaurant Notes: I’ve now had time to experience most of the different types here. I can’t begin to describe what it’s like to be in some of these places, but it’s a big plus to visiting Japan. It’s a delightful experience where at times you will be removing your shoes and squatting on tatami at a low table, and other times you will have your meal cooked on a grill in the table you are sitting at. At times you will pick plates of food from a moving platform in front of you, and at other times you will pick out food on sticks that sit and cook in a bath of Oden broth, while huddling in a tiny Sake bar that holds 8 people just barely. I should also mention that everywhere in Japan, there are also excellent foreign restaurants. I have eaten at fine Indian, Indonesian, Arabic,  Chinese, and Korean restaurants, and I’ve had a Guinness on draft at an Irish pub. There are also McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Japanese burger chains. Mos Burger makes fantastic burgers, chilli, and fries for a junk food fix every week or so. Kentucky Fried has great chicken here! Pieces are large and meaty. Even the wings are good. McDonald’s, I’m sorry to report, is the same as everywhere. They do have some better specialty items in chicken and seafood burgers, but overall I avoid them like the plague.

Chopsticks: No essay on Japan would be complete without a section on chopsticks. Chopsticks are used for everything possible. Only rarely will a Japanese stoop to using a Chinese soup spoon to sip broth or help get something elusive to the sticks. Everyone says I handle them well, and no doubt about it, I find them easy to learn and fun to eat with. I prefer disposable wooden sticks you break apart since they have a rough texture for grip, squarish edges, and are thick. I just cleaned out our utensil drawer and must have piled up 40 or 50 sticks from there. We also have some higher priced lacquered wooden sticks that are longer, round, and more pointed, but I find them a nuisance to use and grab stuff with. These sticks though are narrow, round, and slippery. I can handle any sticks, but frankly I much prefer the plain cheap wooden sticks. Besides, they feel more primitive, which chopsticks basically are anyway. I love chopsticks. Here’s some chopstick etiquette and tips for you: never actually touch the chopsticks to your lips, that’s not very hygienic. Especially if you’re dragging stuff from a large communal plate, heh heh. Rest them either on the plate, or on special stick holders provided, when you’re not using them. Never let them touch the table. Keep the upper stick slightly further out than the lower one. Hold the sticks up toward the top ends; don’t try to use them too short. And there’s no need to hold them tightly, just grip them in a relaxed manner. Hold your bowl right up under your mouth so you can use short strokes to shovel and pour stuff into your mouth and not spill a drop. Oh, and those hot white napkins in a plastic bag - you use them to clean your hands before a meal - after use, fold it up and put it beside your plate on the plastic casing and forget about it. It’s a strange practice, just do it.

Education: Here in Japan, children have to qualify for a good high school, then qualify for a University after high school. That means plenty of extra classes and tutoring in ‘cram schools’ trying to get the best marks possible. Otherwise, a kid will have to attend one of the 'dumb' schools. Kids are at school almost everyday, and from early to late in the day as well. On the weekend they might attend extra classes or play sports at school, but they are at school most of Saturday, and sometimes on Sunday as well. They have lunch at school - no going to the mall for a pizza slice. Older high school kids though, do get to go out during the day sometimes, and do get some freedom. The system is beginning to slowly change here. The school uniform tells the tale. Not only do the lesser high schools have poorer equipment and teachers, but their uniforms are more drab and plain. So everyone can tell immediately you're a dumb kid by what you wear. Young boys will wear shorts year round until high school, and elementary school girls wear skirts year round. In high school the uniforms are much more complex, and can be custom tailored. Most girls make their skirts extremely short. On their bicycles, they're a sight to behold; all those bare legs everywhere - wow! However, they wear dark spandex underwear, so the leg show is as far as it goes. It does get cool here in winter, but the kids don't seem to mind. Oh, another thing is, most of the schools are not heated. Some of the private schools are, but mostly the kids just have to put up with a cold school. I've never seen such sophisticated equipment for sports outside of professional teams. For baseball, they have automatic ball throwing machines, and not just one or two, but rows of them for batting practice. Archery is very popular, with kids carrying longbows in cases on their bikes and quivers on their backs. Soccer of course, is played constantly, at all ages, by the boys. Every morning you will hear the sounds of orchestra instruments being tortured and sometimes harmonized for the hour or more before high school classes begin.

Housing: Many older buildings have low doorways - ouch! Land and houses are so expensive, I don't know how anyone can afford to buy a house. In the city, a house makes up 40% of the price of buying. The land is the other 60%. In the country, an old house would make up 5% of the price. And the lots are small - just big enough for the house - no yard - right to the street - right to the corner of the street. There are only sidewalks on the larger streets, but usually a line is painted on the sides of all roads, where people can walk. And the side streets are very narrow, larger cars really have a problem going to a lot of places. Large convex mirrors at the corners help you see what’s coming. People park their cars anywhere they can. There's no street parking, and many houses don’t have a parking space. In every neighbourhood though, there are pay parking lots where people pay ridiculous monthly fees to keep their car. The place where we live wants about $150 a month for parking! I don't think I'll be getting a car here. Apartments are small. Bedrooms are very small. There are no closets to hang clothes in bedrooms. I'm still trying to figure out where people hang their clothes, but plenty of clothes hanging units are available to buy, to hang your clothes on. The trouble is, I don't have any place to put the units.

Many people sleep on futons, and every morning they hang them out on the balcony, beat the dust out of them, and air them out. People have their washing machines on the balcony and every morning they do a load of washing and hang it out on special long poles on the balcony. And people use only cold water for washing clothes. Hardly anyone has a clothes dryer, they're too expensive to run and take up too much space. Electricity costs about double what it does in Canada, so you don't want to use any more than you have to. Kitchens are really different here. There are no ranges, but only a duel burner gas table. This does have a small fish grilling oven inside, but nowhere to cook even a small roast. Everyone of course has a microwave oven, and some of them have heating elements built into them. Refrigerators are very compact to save space, but are surprisingly big inside. And they work well. The Japanese are fastidious about cleanliness and like to keep their place spotless. They always remove their shoes at the door and wear slippers. In tatami rooms though, even slippers are not allowed. Tatami are large woven thick ‘reed’ mattes laid into a floor.  Each matte is about 1 by 2 metres. It is made from some natural straw like plant material and is woven very dense and strongly. Rooms are sized according to how many mattes it takes to fill it. A small room would be a 6 tatami room, a large room might be 9 or 10 tatami in size.

Heating: I decided to have a special section on the subject of heating homes. There are no central furnaces in the homes here. Instead, individual room heaters of all types are used. Most people heat with kerosene or city gas room heaters. Kerosene is the cheapest, and is what I use here mostly. Although the word kerosene conjures up stinky, primitive and dangerous old heaters, the type used the most in Japan are very modern and efficient machines. They are electronic and have computer controls, a fan, a timer, and many automatic functions in them. They light themselves at the push of a button, adjust themselves to the digital temperature you set it at, and have forced air fans to blow the heat out. Not bad for a kerosene heater, they really pump out lots of heat quickly. The latest ones even advertise to have no smell. I bought one of these, and it is a big step up from the old ones, but still your place does have that lingering kerosene smell. And of course you have to refill them every 3 or 4 days. You get kerosene at any gas station, and there are small kerosene trucks that drive around the streets at the same time each week. We bought two electric blankets and have been warm in bed at least in winter, ever since. Click here to see some Japanese heaters and A/C units.

Air Conditioning: Newer houses and people with money use the air conditioners they built into each room for heating as well as cooling in summer. These air conditioners are interesting. They come in different sizes and are optionally installed into rooms. The cooling/heating unit sits outside, many times on the balcony or side of the building. Some are on the roof, or perhaps at the side or back of the house on blocks on the ground. The inside radiator/control units are installed up high on a wall, and are controlled by wireless remote control.

Pets: Many Japanese dogs live outside chained up, and bark most of the time. Most of these types of dogs are Japanese Shibas and look unkempt, mangy, and flea-bitten. Some dogs are kept inside, but then a lot of them are in a cage just inside the front door. Rarer breeds of dogs are becoming more popular, and they are very expensive. I saw a bulldog puppy going for close to $10,000 dollars in a pet store. Other more regular puppies can be had as low as $1000.00. Unfortunately too, people are breeding whatever they can to sell. There seems to be little care about the qualities of the dogs, so many of them have problems. Good news to me was that the Vets here are cheaper than in Canada. I guess they have to be or no one would take their dog in. However, for some reason the price of the new flea systems are outrageous. I guess that’s because they are so necessary here. Few people spay or neuter their dogs here, so many of them are viscous and fight all the time. That's why they are almost always on a leash when walked. Beside, no one bothers with any training of their dogs, so they don't come if let off their leash. I think it's the Buddhist way not to alter animals. However, it's really too bad, most dogs are very antisocial, and are constantly looking for a bitch in heat. They never play, they're so busy doing this. There are very few areas to let your dog run. Even then, people frown on it, and there's always people where ever you go, so you have to watch your dog all the time. Small parks throughout the cities have signs saying no dogs. It's ok, since most of them have no grass, simply gravel. fortunately, there are hills around with hiking trails on them for walking dogs, if you're lucky enough to live close to one that is.

There are about a million homeless cats living in Tokyo. Everywhere in Japan you see cats living outdoors. The parks are full of them, and many people regularly feed them there. People also make little homes for them in the bushes in cardboard boxes with old umbrellas over head. It’s very sad, as many of these cats are obviously suffering from various kinds of parasites and diseases. I can understand not wanting a cat in a home which has a floor made up of reed mattes. I would never feed these cats.

Homeless and Discrimination: Plenty of people are living in the parks and on the beach. They are mostly older men who have no savings, no job, and can't afford to live anywhere else. The city provides no place for this type of person to stay, and seems to turn a blind eye to the fact that some of them even have permanent tents erected in the parks where they live. These people seem to leave a lot of garbage around, but surprisingly most of them are not drunks. They are just poor people nobody wants anymore. Japan is a society for the young. If you don't have a high education and make it early in life, everything will pass you by. No wonder the kids are studying hard all the time to get into the best schools. Ads in newspapers blatantly advertise for 'good looking, under age 30' people; age discrimination is the normal here. Also, young receptionists are always young and beautiful; nobody hires an old or ugly person. Sex discrimination - you bet! Women are hired for secretarial work; men for construction work. There are very few women in top management or government. It is changing, but very slowly.

Computers: Computers here are for business. Video games are played on game machines. My local computer store has a really good selection of computers, parts, and business software. The PC game software department is very very small. Most adults don't play games, only kids do. And they play them on xboxes, playstations, gameboys, segas and nintendos. My local mega-computer store has maybe one joystick and a second rate steering wheel for PC gaming. More and more people are getting on the internet now at home here with high speed ADSL. Computers and parts are plentiful and pretty cheap here. However, they always seem to be one generation behind North America in hardware. The most popular computers are the compact, cutesy designer ones with bright colours and round lines. Keyboards do have Japanese and English characters on them but English characters are used for input of all Japanese language. They enter English characters according to the sound of the Japanese they are typing, called Romaji, but it's converted through a complicated procedure to Japanese characters in the computer.

English: Almost everything has some English on it. I'm not sure why that is, because most people don't understand or care less about it. However, products usually have English names, sometimes meaningless, often cutsey. The funniest thing I have seen was a TV ad for a laxative. It's called 'Run U Soft'! Many stores and what few street signs there are, are in English. Some are in Japanese. Some are in both languages. There are some TV stations that show bilingual movies, and most TVs can change the sound to either one language or the other. NHK, the government run TV station, also broadcasts the News in both languages, which is nice for me. There's some very helpful agencies that help out English speakers with lists of professionals that know English. Everything from dentists to lawyers who speak English are available almost everywhere. However, most people you meet do not speak English. Sure, most people have many years of schooling in English, but they won't know what you say or be able to help you much using English. That includes police, store clerks, and just about anyone on the street. However, you will meet some younger people that are just waiting for a chance to try out their English with you, and are very helpful. Unfortunately, when people speak Japanese to me, they don't seem to realize that in order for a beginning Japanese speaker to understand them, that they have to speak slowly and clearly. It helps to know how to say in Japanese things like 'please speak more slowly'. Overall though, the people are very friendly and helpful here.

Bathrooms: Washrooms are always split with a small room for the toilet, a room for the bath and shower, and a room for the sink, mirror, and perhaps the washing machine. Most Japanese do not shower every day, they have a bath every night before bed. Tubs are very small mostly, just big enough for me to squat in. But they are very deep.  It's very common to have what I call a 'Pussy Washer' attached to your toilet. This device is amazing, and a great thing for everybody. It has 2 different washing functions. One is for women, one is for your rear. After a warm water rinse, hot air blows to dry you off. They take a little getting used to, but no Japanese wants to live without one. TV ads for these show giant peaches in the air over the city being hit by streams of water from below. You just have to see it to believe it. The toilet is located in a small room by itself. Strangely, there doesn't seem to be even a sink in there to wash your hands, although many do have a sink of sorts built into the top of the toilet tank. The bath tub room will have a floor with a drain and the shower is usually outside the tub in that area. The main bathroom area will have a small sink and mirror, and perhaps the washing machine. I find myself constantly banging my elbows turning around in these rooms.

Japanese families traditionally have a common bath every night before bed. The father gets first go at the bath water in most cases. Special additives are put in the water to make it smell good, keep it sterile, and I think colour the water to make it hard to tell if it's getting dirty. Everyone rinses and washes off before the bath, by sitting on a special little plastic stool and using a small bowl of water for washing. The bathtub has a cover to put on between uses, so the water stays hot. Usually this bath water is recycled in the morning, when it's sucked out into the washing machine that's nearby. Some Japanese will spend $80,000 on a car but are too cheap to have a shower! The shower head will have a long flexible hose to make it easy for washing off prior to getting in the tub, or rinsing after coming out. It's not really designed as a shower as we know it.

Garbage: Everything possible is recycled in most places. However, in large cities, recycling has seen a decline lately. There are special days and places for almost everything the city picks up on the street. First of all, you sort all garbage. Normal burnable garbage is collected twice a week, and you put yours in clear bags that are approved for this in a special place on your street which is looked after by a local resident of that area. Recyclables fall into many categories. Cardboard, newspaper, and regular paper is collected once a week on a certain day and you have to bundle it up and put it in the designated place on your street. Cans and glass are separated, bagged, and placed out once a month also in that place designated. PET, or plastic bottles are taken to the grocery store where they have a large bin for them. But first you remove the tops, rinse them and squash them. All plastic PET bottles are of the same type of recyclable plastic, and come with removable labels. This maximizes the amount that can be recycled. Brand labels are not printed on the plastic, but are on special light plastic wrappers that can easily be removed when you use them. All of this is government regulated, but it's the people who make this system work. What can’t be recycled is burned or land filled. Much of what can be, is recycled. Non-burnable ‘other’ garbage is collected as well every week on a special day.

Overall, I think North American governments should take a really close look at this garbage system and learn from it. The Japanese have no choice, they have limited place to landfill and so they have to do these things. The question is, how long will North Americans continue to bury most of their garbage in the ground? It's amazing how little effort it takes for each of us to separate our garbage and make it easier to recycle things. But it's up to the government to make people realize it's important to do. It's up to the government to make systems work for recycling. Many private trucks also drive around the city here collecting things to recycle. Things like old scooters, bicycles, and newspaper are collected and money made from them. Many apartments in Canada have large garbage bins, where literally everything gets dumped and taken away for landfill.

Also interesting here is that parks have stopped having garbage bins. People are expected to take their own garbage home to dispose of it. I guess too many people started dumping anything they felt like in the park bins and they had to remove them.

Unique and Traditional Japanese Things: I couldn’t find a category for some things, so I will mention them here. One thing that is different is the trucks roaming the streets in the daytime selling various products. They usually drive a mini-truck and have a loudspeaker blaring out their messages about their product. They are all different though, and some like the tofu guy might only have a small cart or bicycle and use a special whistle to attract buyers. You hear them around dusk. The Hokkaido milk guy comes around twice a week at noon blaring his cute advertising jingle on the loudspeaker of his truck. When he’s in the area, you must know the time he comes, and meet him on the street to buy from his truck. Then there is the laundry pole guy. He is the most obnoxious and cruises very slowly in his truck with long aluminum poles in the back. He has a speech recorded, also with a catchy jingle to recognize him. There occasionally is a knife sharpener around, but not often enough to remember. I think he has a bell jingling, almost like back home. There is also a guy selling baked sweet potato. This is usually a little pickup truck with a wood stove burning in the back! And of course in the winter, it’s the kerosene truck playing loudly like a music box over and over. It’s a reminder to me I’m not back home anymore. It’s part of the sounds of Japan.

What else is different here? Well, kids stay at home until they get married. These days that’s often until they’re well into their thirties. The eldest son will be responsible for taking care of his parents when they get older. That also means he will get the house when they’re gone. But it can be the reason he can’t get married, since a lot of that caring will be expected of his future wife, and many women do not want to get stuck caring for his parents when they get very old. It is not unusual to see women walking down the street in a Kimono, especially in the summer. Around the house, a man will wear a padded sort of long house jacket. Homes will have a large table in the living area where the family keeps warm in the winter. These tables, called Kotatsu, have an electric heating element underneath in the middle and a heavy table cloth falling around the outside to keep the heat in. Some people spend the entire winter indoors with one of these. Room air temperature is kept cool. They sit on cushions with no backing. These are not for a tall westerner. I’d likely burn my feet and my back would be killing me if I tried this. Sliding papered doors with black enameled frames are everywhere in homes. The only doors on hinges might be the entrance and the toilet room. Every house has a bunch of bicycles out front, maybe a scooter or two, and at least one car.

Japanese people love plants and flowers and houses are usually adorned out front on the street in every possible place with trees, pots and hanging plants. In this climate anything seems to be able to survive the winter. In my old Shizuoka neighbourhood I could see a 30 foot tall grape vine climbing the front of a house and producing a great crop of green grapes every year. Also, there was a kiwi tree down the road that grew out over the attached garage. Also seen in local streets are olive trees, plum trees, and fig trees. Orange trees are everywhere. It’s lovely to see flowers everywhere all winter. As the seasons change, the types of flowers change. Camelia, rhododendron and azalea bushes are common sights blooming at different times of the year and adding to the great beauty of the cities and country here. You will find small fruit and veggy stands or tables outside many homes in neighbourhoods. There will be a small cardboard box you leave your money in as you help yourself to a bag of food on the table. Often these are locally grown in town. You can use your house it seems for just about anything that doesn’t disturb the neighbours. You can open a fruit and veggie stand in your garage, or a hair dressing salon in your living room. In any given residential area you will find all kinds of local businesses thriving amongst the houses and apartments people live in. A lot of small apartment buildings coexist among the houses. Often they will be 6 or 8 unit buildings and blend into their areas well. Strangely, apartments are called 'mansions’ here.

To the right here you see a display that you find in most homes during the time of ‘Girls Day’. This is a special time for all girls, and this is a collection of dolls that expands over the girl’s lifetime. It’s packed up the rest of the year in boxes. The display shown here is quite a large display. Some will be smaller, but every girl has a collection of dolls and a display much like the one shown here.

Boys also have their special day and a collection of dolls. But they are of a different style, in that the dolls portray warriors. Whereas the girls’ dolls are a Shogun and his court entourage, the boys’ is a Shogun and his military entourage.

Public Announcements: Another thing that’s a bit strange here, are the public announcements that are blared all across the city. Some are at regular times, while others at special times. They echo around like crazy and you hear a chorus of echoes following every word. A special announcement might be a message to look out for some old person who’s escaped from the hospital, or it might be information following an earthquake or other disaster like a typhoon. It might be a warning about a tsunami, or ‘all’s well’ reassurance after a decent sized quake. Most of the time, even my wife can hardly understand them.

Police: Mostly you do not see the police around town much. You might see the odd one on bicycle traveling somewhere on duty. But mostly they just stay in their Koban places which are sprinkled around town. I don’t think very much happens for them to get concerned about. There is a real attitude of ‘leave well enough alone’ here. Sure the cops could go out and bust a bunch of young punks having fun on their loud bikes, but they don’t. They could pull over cars with obviously illegal tinting, mufflers, or lighting, but they don’t. I think they have their hands full investigating bicycle accidents on most days.

Festivals (matsuri): There are many large and small festivals going on, especially in the summer and the fall. Here is a photo I took of a small festival parade which went by our house.CRW_790402 CRW_790302These festivals are religious in nature and start and end at a temple or shrine. You can see that the men are carrying a religious icon of some sort here. The carriers chant and sing. Sometimes they carry a pretty girl on the shrine. It certainly seems like they have a good time, and I’m certain some drinking of alcohol is involved. By the way, this little narrow street we live on is a two way street! Even small cars have to slow and carefully pass each other. However, many young kids on scooters and bike rip down this street like it was a racetrack. Old people walk and ride bicycles wandering along the street, but somehow no one seems to get hurt. I personally drive very slowly along here. Hopefully one day soon they will make this a one-way street.

 

 

 

Changes: The Japanese are beginning to become westernized in many ways, but their tossing of garbage everywhere is the worst thing that’s happening. Especially the young people, who don’t seem to care about the environment. It's a shame, most Japanese used to be very careful about leaving any mess, anywhere. But now I find styrofoam, plastic, and cardboard food containers just about everywhere. It's partially because of city cutbacks - they've removed the garbage bins from the streets. You won't find a garbage bin anywhere except in front of convenience stores, and that's a private one taken care of by the store. In the parks you will find some garbage bins, but they're few and far between. People are responsible to clean up the area around their homes, and that means picking up garbage and sweeping up along the streets. Overall, the kids are well behaved, except for maybe their erratic bicycle driving. There's very little delinquency or graffiti to be seen. Lately, I have talked with high and junior high school teachers here that tell me things are changing for students. They tell of plenty of disruptive students, and a general lack of respect growing in the schools. It’s getting like back home, just not that bad yet. One thing that surprised me was that many Japanese men have not retained any of their old time manual skills. There are certainly craftsmen carrying on the traditional woodworking and ceramic industries. But the average Japanese male can hardly be expected to change a light bulb, let alone do an oil change on the car. People work long, hard, and late. As young students, they spend much of their spare time doing extra school work. There is no time for the old skills. Everything now goes to a specialist, or is simply replaced with new. Or I should say a specialist comes to you. If you want a new screen for your window, you call, and a window guy comes and measures up. He then returns in a few days and installs the new screen or window - efficiently and expertly I might add. And he can custom make aluminum frames to fit anything. There is no lacking in talent of the specialist workers. The same guy though, won’t be able to change a fuse on his home electrical panel if it blows. Ditto the other trades. I realized the state of these matters when I checked out the Mega Auto Parts store here, and the local ‘Home Hardware’ type of stores. You see aisles and aisles of fancy cleaning stuff, nice smelling electronic perfume dispensers for your car, row on row. You see cellphone racks, stereo and gps units stacked high, big chromed car exhaust pipes wall to wall, custom wheels for your mini van piled up in rows, and accessories that leave no stone unturned. Drink holders, ashtrays with motorized filters, drink heaters, miniature drink coolers that plug in, - oh low and behold there’s some oil so you CAN change you own oil. Most oil you can buy though, is expensive and exotic synthetic stuff, so mostly the guys into changing their own, are the guys with hot cars and black lights on the dash. I have analyzed the do-it-yourself culture here (being one myself for my whole life), and concluded the Japanese are way behind North America in the cycle of manual skills people have. I mean, in North America back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s people were rejecting the old skills way, and light bulb changing had become a lost art. Then in the 90s people started renovating their own homes, people were changing their own oil again, tools were being collected and enjoyed. Before, doing these things had become something that was looked down on. It was something for the lower class. Then, people with too much free time started to find out the great satisfaction and pleasure to be gained by doing their own work, and making and fixing things. No longer was there a bad social stigma attached to being able to hammer nails correctly and expertly. Yes, we entered the Martha Stewart age. I believe Japan is just now starting into this DIY faze of life where it’s not looked on as being a lower class thing, and people are beginning to enjoy it’s revival. It’s only starting here, but I’m betting in another 5 to 10 years it will be a much bigger thing here, like it is now in North America. Maybe even the women will get into it eventually like they are now starting to do back home.

Conclusions: Japanese society is very different from North American society, but I think the people live and think very much the same. People go to work everyday, raise children, and believe in being good to their neighbours. They eat different foods, enjoy different past times, and speak a different language. I think the Japanese have a lot to teach us. If only we were interested in learning. I hope the Japanese can hold onto their morals and traditions. They have a unique culture of theatre, music, movies, art, and life

Copyright © 2000-2007, James B. Davis. All rights reserved.