Friday, November 30, 2012

This three-story apartment house is being built entirely of wood.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

In Tokyo, vending machines are everywhere.
One offers quarter bottles of Champagne.
also on offer...

Cup Noodle

Fast and cheap food: America has given the world MacDonald's and Japan has given Cup Noodle, which are lightly fried then dried noodles in a disposable plastic cup or bowl to be eaten quickly after being brought to life by having boiling water poured over them and soaking for maybe four minutes, then having the included little packet of a sauce and another of dried chopped vegetables stirred in. Japan consumes over five billion disposable bowls of Cup Noodle a year.

A range of Cup Noodle from various producers is on display in supermarkets and convenience stores all over the city. In less affluent neighborhoods, there are stores which sell only snappy magazines, a selection of Cup Noodle, and cans of beer, the beer costing twice as much as the Cup Noodle. Beginning at less than 100 yen, a bowl of Cup Noodle is the cheapest meal possible, and one easily upgraded by adding a couple shrimp or  a few slices of ham. Connoisseurs will sprinkle in a dash of a favorite spice, at the risk of the raised eyebrows of anyone watching.

Statisticians suggest that the vigor of the Japanese economy can be gauged by the sale of Cup Noodle - sales rise as income falls.

- Mark McGarrity 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

At the urinal, a place to hang your umbrella.

Tokyo Basement Olympics?

A sign in Shibuya announces "Indoor Golf, B2 basement" which sets the mind wandering. It seems a fine idea, golf in the basement. No green fees. No concern about the weather. No need to hire a caddy.

But why stop at golf? If we can put a driving range and a putting green in the basement, why not a fishing stream? Why not a shooting range?  A running track with facilities for pole vaulting and throwing a miniature javelin? 

Tokyo has reformed the game of soccer so it can be played on a field as big as a tennis court. We call this game "fusbol" and it is very popular in Brazil. Perfect for the basement.

We could certainly engage in rock climbing in the basement. Not on a mountain, but on a cantilevered wall with intricate handholds and if desired a strong crosswind and flashes of lightning to add a touch of color.

Sailing as we know it would not be possible in a basement, but tacking back and forth through a slalom course on a sailboat as large as an ironing board seems a possibility. It wouldn't be the same as sailing off Kamakura, but it could be technically challenging. And skiing down a slalom course, with the course rolling up continuously on an escalator.

Similarly auto racing, where the point would be not how to handle sheer speed, because the course would be only fifty meters long, but cornering with millimeter accuracy.

Could we schedule wars in the basement? A pocket war would allow opposing armies (no more than a dozen soldiers on each side) to perfect their tactics and work out aggressive feelings, while keeping damage within bounds. After the final battle and the armistice, the opposing armies could enjoy a beer together before catching the subway home.

Such basement amusements might seem unreal to foreigners, but in Tokyo it seems perfectly natural to think this way.

-Perry Arguable 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Takubin is our very quick, very efficient package delivery service. Everybody uses it to deliver everything (a bunch of roses, a cauldron of homemade soup) anywhere (to a group of indigents living in a tent next to the Tama River, to a friend forced to spend the night in jail). A year ago Takubin decided its trucks were taking up too much room when parked on main streets, so it decreed that trucks should only be parked away from the center of towns and deliveries should be made by bicycles, which the trucks would carry with them. The bicycles would often tow carts carrying packages. The company also decreed that any time delivery persons were on foot to deliver a package they should be running. 

Another year…

This morning Kimura-san, who is this year's head of our little enclave of families (in our part of town, every group of a dozen or so families appoints a "head" every year to distribute information and make sure everyone gets the word) knocked on our door so he could give us the nicely wrapped packets of tea the city had given him the day before. The tea was in recognition that the third Monday in September--Respect for the Aged Day--is almost upon us. The idea is that old people, age 70 and up, are "Living National Treasures," don't you see?

- Rick Kennedy, age 77 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

No more room, sorry.

The house on the hill

In our area, there is no more land to build on. Houses are so close together that the roof of one house can be tucked under the eaves of the adjacent house. 

Oh I suppose it would be possible to clear a patch if through complicated negotiations you could obtain permission to knock down a temporarily dormant factory on the other side of the river, but who would want to live surrounded by factories on the other side of the river? 

So, to build a house it is necessary to somehow create more land, and this is what our new neighbor did. He bought the side of the cliff which descends into our little valley and at what must have been bone-chilling expense filled it out with concrete. It was like taking a sphere and filling it out so it had the shape of a cube, so he could build on the top of the cube. The whole exercise must have cost as much as a house itself.

So then his three-story house went up on land that hadn't existed before. The front door was a foot from a well-trafficked road, and the house must rattle every time a large truck comes by. There is no sidewalk between the house and the road: the fenders of passing cars clear his mailbox by inches.

The house at the top of the hill is not really part of the neighborhood, but towers above it like the keep of a castle. Over time, we got to at least recognize our new neighbors, the family living up there next to the highway, but they never came down into the valley and we never went up there except to put the garbage out next to the road for the garbage truck to pick up.

Japan's overall population is aging and dwindling, but Tokyo continues to grow. Next, we'll be building houses on top of houses, on top of apartment buildings, in fact it has already happened. At  some point somebody's going to put up a huge balloon, anchor it with cables to a small patch of land, and suspend a house from it. The children in this house will shinny down the cables in the morning to go to school and their classmates will envy them for being able to start the day so adventurously.

- Emily Underwood    

Sunday, November 18, 2012

As winter approaches, hot water bottles
 for the bed in calibrated sizes go on sale.

The etiquette of argument

Japanese avoid arguing, which is why Japanese politics is so lifeless. But if you are determined to offer an alternative to the other fellow's point of view, after he has made a statement you find questionable instead of confronting him head-on, you should first say so desu ne, which means "Ah, that's certainly true." Only then can you proceed to chip away at his position.

(I say "he" here because Japanese women are not inclined to argue outside the home at all, oh no.)

- Amelia LaGordo

Friday, November 16, 2012

Earnest discussion over hamburgers beside
Shinobazu Pond, Ueno. Bring your own wine. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Properly sorted garbage, protected from the crows, ready to be picked up

How to take out the garbage

      The City of Yokohama gives all new residents a 38-page booklet outlining the garbage-disposal procedure but you are sure to be instructed by your new neighbors, who will be quick to remind you if you don't get it right.

When you move into a new house or apartment in Tokyo, the first thing you have to learn is how to take out the garbage. Different types of garbage are picked up on different days, to make sorting and disposal easier on the other end. You will quickly get a reputation for irresponsibility if you don't adhere to the garbage schedule.

In our neighborhood, for example, the following types of garbage are picked up on Tuesdays and Saturdays:
1. Burnable garbage. Kitchen scraps, plastic items such as video tapes, and paper that cannot be recycled because it is not clean.
2. Spray cans. To be put in a separate plastic bag (but plastic tops go with the plastic as on Friday below).
3. Broken glass, broken dishes, light bulbs.
4. Used batteries (in a separate plastic bag).

These things go out on Fridays: plastic bottles, plastic cups, and the plastic trays used by supermarkets to hold fruits and vegetables, and empty plastic bags.

Mondays: Cans, glass bottles, and PET bottles.

Every other Friday except if it is raining or looks like rain: Those newspapers that are not picked up by the newspaper company (neatly stacked and tied with twine, if you please), cardboard containers (flattened and tied), and paper containers of liquids like orange juice (rinsed out, opened up and flattened and tied.

Recyclable wool and cotton cloth and clothing, if clean. Picked up from a separate place by elementary-school volunteers. Every other Friday.

Got it? Actually, it's more complicated than this but pay attention to the above basics and you'll fit right in. 

-Ernestine LaForge 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Japanese cars are now so big, following the husky American model,
 they no longer fit in the garage

In Tokyo, life can move fast

Remote control for TVs made in Japan have a button which when pressed can speed up a recorded program so all pauses in conversations are eliminated.

Anime action zips along so fast devotees come to assume that the pace of 
ordinary life is  S  L  O  W.

It is so easy to take a photograph that people in a hurry have gotten into the habit of taking a picture of a poster explaining a complicated procedure, say, so they don't have to stop and can read it later.

The point of most digital games is not strategy but lightning reflexes.

In fast-growing Tokyo neighborhoods, a house can be built in five days.

Trains on main lines are scheduled so passengers will not have to wait longer than five minutes. And still when the display flashes that a train is due momentarily, there will be a rush through the turnstiles and down the escalators. Passage through the turnstiles is made easy by simply flashing your unopened wallet by the reader, so it is possible to run through.

A doctor using a computer to display and analyze his patients' records can welcome a patient into his office, advise him, hand him a printed-out prescription for pills, and wish him on his way in three minutes. After your appointment, you pay your bill by inserting your card into a machine which will tell you how much you owe, and you insert money into the machine and a receipt comes out. You are away in the time it takes to hum the national anthem.

At big supermarkets there is never a need to wait for something to be restocked. When you take a can from a shelf, another can immediately slides into its place. When it is time to check out, a display will tell you which line is quickest. Some supermarkets don't have checkout lines at all--customers check themselves out on the honor system by swiping items across a reader.

At many barbers, scissors are too slow. The barber has at his elbow a rack of electric clippers so he can get you out in five minutes, including a swipe with a hot towel.

Soba is a popular lunch at least partly because it can be eaten standing at a counter in the time it takes a traffic light to change from red to green and back again. 

In order to save time in the subway, the twenty or so exits of main stations will be carefully marked so you can leave by the exit which will put you on the street going in the direction of your destination. 

Are Tokyo elevators faster than those in other cities?

But there is no rushing the pace in a public bath, which can easily take hours.

- Ernest LaForge 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The East adjusts, willy nilly

"Pick up your feet!" my father used to say. And I did and so learned to walk confidently.

But in Tokyo, no such admonition. It's perfectly OK to shuffle. Does this come from wearing sandals, which lend themselves to shuffling? Absurd to pick up your feet in sandals. Shufflers are nonchalant, at peace with themselves and the world.

But women in high heels have to pick up their feet. It is not possible to shuffle in high heels.

Thus does the West intrude on the conventions and rhythms of the East.

- Dan McPartland

Friday, November 9, 2012

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Ancient Japanese poems

   On the snow
Alighting gently
The nightingale.

-Kawabata Bosna

Gentle as my dead friend's hand
Resting on my shoulder, 
This autumn sunshine.

-Nakamura Kusado

The world of dew is
A world of dew…and yet,
And yet…


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A grafitto extolling free-range chickens from Miyazaki Prefecture,
 presumably obtainable somewhere around here, although no directions offered.


You may wonder why there are no beat-up jalopies on the streets of Tokyo. The reason is the law requires that every two years a car must undergo shaken, a very thorough inspection to ensure that the vehicle is roadworthy. Even if everything's OK shaken can be expensive, so it just makes sense to keep your car in good shape and to consider trading it in when its mileage has a number of zeros after it, before it has to undergo shaken again.

We recently took our six-year-old Nissan MARCH in for shaken to the dealer we bought it from, and this is what happened.

We called the dealer for an appointment. If we hadn't he would have called us to remind us that our car was due for shaken. We brought the car to him and for the couple of days it would take him to go over the car against the 60-point shaken checklist, he lent us the latest model of MARCH, which was fun to drive because it was subtly upgraded over our own car (slightly larger steering wheel, easier-to-grasp door handles, posher seats, slightly sexier grill) so we could not help but think about trading in and moving up. 

Two days later, Nissan calls us to say shaken has been performed and we can come in and pick our car up. When we pull into the dealership, they are waiting for us outside. We are graciously shown inside to a table and asked if we would like anything to drink from a long list. A young lady brings us tea on a tray. For the next twenty minutes we are run through the results of the inspection, being guided with a series of charts dissecting the automobile. 

"Headlights properly aligned--OK. Wheel alignment OK.  Tires with adequate rubber but in six months may have to be replaced. Speedometer accurate. The radio's speakers are fuzzy, as perhaps you know,  but to remedy this you should take your car to the nearest representative of the radio manufacturer, whose address and telephone number are on this card. We have replaced your battery and the wiper on your rear window. Your car doesn't emit more than 1% carbon monoxide and not more than 300 ppm of unburned hydrocarbons, so that's OK. The exhaust noise is within the limit…"

We are presented with a bill for 140,000 yen ($1,800), which causes us to gulp and think about trading the car in, as a new car would not be subject to shaken for three years. The dealer notes our raised eyebrows at the bill. We ask for details on the new MARCH and are given an envelope with a well-printed brochure and it is suggested that we might like to take a look at the new MOCO, ROOX, and OTTI mini cars sitting outside in the lot, as the shaken on mini cars is significantly less expensive and their gas mileage is impressive.

We are graciously shown outside to our sturdy old MARCH, which has been polished until it glistens, its wheel covers gleaming, and wished well on our way by three bowing members of the staff.

Do we really need a car? We have bicycles and the trains are very good.

- Rick Kennedy     

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Defusion by perfumery

"Orange is believed to relieve stress: some Japanese offices waft orange scent through their air-conditioning ducts to minimize worker angst."
--from Bath by Jeff Stone and Kim Johnson Gross

Might it be possible in this way to defuse an entire country? North Korea, say. Seems worth a try.

-Max Tsurimoto

Thursday, November 1, 2012

If we plant stones in our park, will they grow?

Spider webs

In our little neighborhood, some of us have short trees in our tiny gardens between which spiders sometimes spin webs. In the morning with the sun just off the horizon and in the evening as the sun goes down these webs glisten. Then we can see the spiders who have constructed these webs and the flurry of insects who have been caught in them.

"Shouldn't we swipe these webs away?" I asked our neighbor Morimoto-san, who moves with grace, like a lazy ballet dancer.  "Aren't their webs a mess?"

"Oh," said Morimoto, "they have worked so hard. And perhaps they think the world outside their web is a mess." 

- Eliza  B.