Sunday, September 30, 2012

NHK keeps an eye on the typhoon
We saw NHK in its comforting mode yesterday, when a strident typhoon hit Japan in its solar plexus just before dinner. It was predicted that the storm would take most of the night to make its way up the spine of the country and NHK promised to keep us informed. The resulting coverage suggested that Japan thinks of itself as one great extended community watched over by NHK.
As the storm made its way north, NHK crews in towns in the path of the storm were told when they could expect to be on national TV for maybe two minutes, and they should be prepared to feed in a couple dramatic scenes such as trucks wading down highways submerged to the middle of their hubcaps; metal signs clanging in the wind; waving fields of bamboo; a pretty lady holding a bag of emergency groceries in one hand and a clear plastic umbrella trying to turn itself inside out in the other; a fisherman, having tied up his boat, rolling his eyes and softly cursing. A familiar shot was of scheduling boards showing all trains and flights cancelled.
It seemed NHK in its efforts to keep us informed was determined to tell us everything. An 80-year-old woman in Yamanashi slipped and broke her ankle. A Sendai man was blown off his bicycle. A temporary shelter has been opened up in Chiba and everyone is welcome.
NHK's Sunday evening year-long period TV drama ran as usual of course, but across the top streamed storm info. As the evening wore on, we became dull to yet more information about cancelled buses, battered storefronts, washed out bridges. How could we use this information? Was it possible that Auntie NHK was just using the typhoon to briefly flash into the national spotlight faithful communities that otherwise it would have no reason to notice? All in the family, it seemed.
Watching NHK as it took us by the hand to watch the storm move  upcountry seemed like being in the hands of an anxious parent who wants to show us our backyard at a stressful time.
We go to bed around 11. We woke at four to absolute quiet.
- Rick Kennedy 

Saturday, September 29, 2012


A lot of people have trouble making sense of maps of Tokyo neighborhoods and they become frustrated. Don't.

Realize that these maps are only a puzzle to be played with, not a serious guide to finding a place. Houses are given a number when they are constructed, so numbers are not consecutive.  It is the job of the neighborhood policeman in his koban to know where everything is and to be able to guide people who come to him for help to where they want to go.

But click on this for the view of Ian Kennedy, a former Tokyoite who has been lost in its streets so often it just seems natural.
My new goldfishes. His name is Sam and her name is Maizy.

Laundry wars
In our neighborhood our houses are so close together that we know what the next house is having for breakfast. We know when our neighbors turn on their washing machine and then when everyone hangs out their washing it is like an army unfurling their battle flags.
  In fact, there seems to be a subtle competition going on to see who can hang out the most laundry the earliest. 
We suspect that our next door neighbor, Asagawa-san, gets up early so she can get her washing hung up before anyone else gets out of bed, and maybe has even bought clothes at a jumble sale that nobody in the family can wear, just to fill up her laundry lines. She hangs out laundry every day.
Asagawa-san also hangs out her family's several futon, the thin mattresses we use here (if it's not raining or doesn't look like rain), then in the afternoon just before the sun goes down she beats them--whack, whack, whack--for ten minutes to scare away any dust. Asagawa-san's futon-beating is a neighborhood ritual. She has beaten us all at this….
 - Mikie Yaginuma 


Friday, September 28, 2012

A shiny machine inspires everyone

                                                 Inscriptions on Tokyo t-shirts

               Exchanging Delight the Happiness

                                   Grandeur is dead
                                      (silver lettering on a purple t-shirt)

                             Bad Boy
                             since 1982

                                                                     Refined utmost
                                                           STANDARD FOPPERY
                                                                    * Brightness *

                         Make the unpredictable trouble

Thursday, September 27, 2012

All-purpose business sign

Tokyo too big?
You ask why Tokyo is so large. It's not that the Japanese like each other so much. They've had to like each other. Tokyo is not only the largest but also the most populated urban complex in the world with roughly 50 billion residents if we include the outlying suburbs which depend on the city.
Well, it's a simple matter of geography. Japan is over 80 percent mountains. Tokyo is in the middle of the Kanto Plain, the only sizable fairly flat piece of land anywhere in Japan to locate a city Tokyo's size so it could grow.
Of course this leaves great chunks of the country--the glorious, rolling mountains--pretty much pristine and that's why the Japanese are such avid mountain hikers.
- Natasha Nakamura

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Inspection routine
  Something wrong with the shower controls so my wife called the shower-repair man.
He rang the doorbell and I opened the upstairs window to tell him to come in.
  He left his bulky bag of pliers, screwdrivers, tape measures, hammers, and wrenches outside on the stoop, came into the vestibule and took off his shoes, tossed off a quick bow as a greeting, and went into the shower to see what the problem was. "Ah, I can fix this quickly," he said.
So he went back into the vestibule, knocked off a quick bow, slammed his feet into his shoes, and went out to the stoop to bring into the house his bag of tools, taking off his shoes again and this time with just a quick nod before entering the house.
The work was done in two minutes, about half the time it had taken him to ceremoniously enter and exit our house, God bless him.
                                           - Alphonse de Tiende

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Two seats for a couple going one way and two seats for a couple going another

Things to know
Sharp, as you know, is a huge manufacturer of electronic things such as TVs. But few people know where the name "Sharp" comes from. It's not a Japanese name.
Well, the first product Sharp made, in 1915, was not electronic at all. It was a mechanical pencil. In Japan, mechanical pencils are called "sharp" pencils, borrowing a little English, because they never need sharpening and are always sharp.
- Zeke Suzuki

Monday, September 24, 2012

Ho now! Right here! New peaches just for you!

Searching for oneself
We hear that a woman described as Asian (we think quite possibly from Tokyo as she's wonderfully adventurous and extremely clothes conscious), wearing well-cut dark clothes and speaking good English, went missing while on a bus tour to the Eldgja volcanic canyon in southern Iceland.
  A search for the missing woman was organized with more than fifty people and vehicles and a helicopter brought in to stand by.
It transpired that the "missing" woman had stepped off the bus to change her clothes and when she got back on nobody recognized her. When everybody on the bus was told someone was missing, she joined in the search for the missing person. She began to think something was awry when he read a description of the missing person handed out to everyone and thought it sounded a lot like herself. She reported her suspicions to the police, who took a good look at her and called the search off.
- Ian Kennedy 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Tokyo graffiti

Scenic convenience
We hear of a Tokyo architect, a compassionate lady who, saddened by the prospect of men forced to relieve themselves in public restrooms while staring at a blank wall, has made it in a point in the buildings she designs to position the men's rooms so that men standing at urinals look out over a pleasant urban view, preferably with some greenery.
Well, Tokyo takes care of its own. Not everybody knows, though, that all the thousands of aptly named convenience stores* in Tokyo are required by law to provide restrooms always open to the public.
                                                        -V. S. Heliotrope

*Convenience stores ("combini" in Japanese) are scattered throughout Tokyo, like at almost every stoplight. They sell things that you forgot to buy, like batteries, lightbulbs, rubber bands, staples, twine, shoelaces, cotton working gloves, sleazy magazines, and boring but very cheap sandwiches to be washed down with a can of beer while sitting on the curb.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

White-gloved parking lot attendant

Saving space in a crowded city
There's a parking lot in the Bic Camera building in Yokohama which asks you to fold down the antenna on the roof of your car. This is because your car will be parked on top of another car and still another car parked on top of yours.
You drive your car into the brightly painted room you are directed to and just leave it there. A uniformed attendant gives you a card with your car's number on it.
When you want your car back, you just insert the card with the number of your car on it into a machine and take a seat in a comfortable chair to wait until your car's number appears on a display.
When your car's number comes up, you go back into the brightly lit room to find your car waiting for you.
The thing is, cars stacked on top of each other take up less space than when parked side by side. Roof-top parking is all done automatically by a hard-working roof-top parking machine.
- Natasha Nakamura

Can I sit down now, please?

Subway choreography
     There is an empty seat next to you and a lady comes up and gestures to her lanky teenage son to take the seat, which he does as if it is his right. (His mother, after all, has been ceding him her seat since he could stand.) You stand and gesture to the lady that she should take your seat so she can sit next to her son.
     The people sitting across the aisle notice this and scrunch together so you can sit down with them.
- Rudolfo B. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Architecture as plaything

Details, details
      Every evening at just before the 7 o'clock evening news, NHK presents its best guess of what the percent chance it is what the weather will be like the next day at three hour intervals in every major city in the country. And what it may be like the next six days. And if it will rain, how many centimeters? And which way the wind is likely to be coming from. And how the weather fronts are moving. 
So if you're curious how likely it is that it will be cloudy on Wednesday at three in the afternoon on the golf course in Nagoya, you've come to the right place. At a good eight minutes, this must be the world's most detailed TV weather report. Japanese are not dismissive of detail. They tend to think it authenticates
- Erika

Roadside bench