Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Tofu Man

I am not sure if this man exists everywhere, or if I am just super lucky.
Anyways the tofu man is a man with a large two-wheeled aluminum wheelbarrow and a horn that sounds like a 1920's retired fire engine alarm. WEEEEEEE woooooo, the forceful sucking of air in and its exhausted release back out, like an old man on a respirator. You may or may not get the picture.
This man goes up and down a dozen streets and side streets throughout the day blowing the little horn. As you might have guessed he sells tofu to the denizens of Kyoto. This tofu is very likely homemade by the Man himself or possibly his wife. I cannot actually attest to the quality of the tofu and its tofiness, as I have never actually wanted tofu whenever he came by. He pretty much only comes by during daylight hours, around midday, but he will continue until dusk. And he will sell his tofu rain or shine. I have seen this man all decked out in rain gear with a covering for his wagon as well. I assume snow as well, but as it has yet to really snow and stick in Kyoto...
Honestly the way he walks selling tofu rather quite reminds me of the ice cream man in America. Touring the streets for sweltering children looking for respite, or in this case it is Japanese housewives planning their dinners.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

杉玉: Autumn invitations

This tree-brained decoration is courtesy of some of Japan's finest, sake brewers.

Japan has been known for some crazy innovations, and opening themselves to the western world has just made them...less noticeable/awesome. No really, those mikoshi and matsuri carts they carry around? They have zero nails supporting them. All wood in those babies. And these sugidama are to let you know when the sake is ready. Sugidama, 杉玉,  sugi meaning cedar and dama meaning ball, in a literal translation is something like cedar ball. Yeah don't call it that, you will sound like an idiot.

Rice is harvested in the fall season. Actually right now in some areas, but most will harvest them in the following few weeks or month or so when the stalks turn to a nice shade of gold. Once the rice harvest comes in, the sake brewers use it to make fresh sake for the coming year. This process can take a few months time. As we all know good things come to those who wait, so wait we shall.
Regarding the waiting process, sake brewers created a rather unique process to tell when the time is right. They created these balls of cedar that reflected the 'ripeness' of the sake. Pretty much, the cedar balls start out green, as you would expect of any tree, and over time (say a few months) they turn to this nice brownish rotten shade of dead and deader leaves. And THAT ladies and gentlemen, is when your sake is ready, though people are welcome to have a go at the fresher stuff, the connoisseurs will typically hold off until the vintage is good. Yeah, oddly, sugidama have no purpose other than that, placing an age on the sake.
Now a days, the sugidama  is mostly only used for decor, and of course to indicate you have some good alcohol. Mostly I will find them outside of cafes and restaurants that are fairly traditional in concept.  But in my time here, I have never actually found a fresh one. This is probably because this is a dying cause. There are fewer and fewer crafters of these great balls of cedar. And not only that, it has gotten exactly no easier for them to make them. They are still hand made with all those branches, wires and weaving and will weigh in at a significant amount (I am talking these things can get to weighing more than me!). Though I suspect that, where as you can order a nice green one for a great great sum of money, the majority of locations where these can be found were purchased from things like recycle shops or the equivalent of estate sales in Japan, where old stores and homes get rid of all their old stuffs. And I also suspect that, if found, they will still come with a heavy price tag. Nothing in Japan is cheap. >:(

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Lose Yourself

I wanted to name it Identity Theft but I feel like that might create too much of a stir. But sure enough it often feels like Japan stole my identity a bit.

Most people would call it growing up or becoming mature, but if you think about it I am not even a quarter of a century old. And pictures alone can attest to what my other 24 year old friends are doing on their weekends. And in comparison one might thing that I am purely unAmerican or a hack.
Many things have happened to me over the years. And yes it has been years now. I have officially been abroad for over two years. But one of them I never expected was to lose a bit of my 'American' and yet surely I know no other way to describe it. In my assimilation to fit in and be among the adult population of Japan, I have changed myself, my habits and my American-ness.
Recently, a man, an American man, described me as 'sexy'. My response was to say nothing and pretend it never happened. This is a very Korean response actually, but the Japanese people will do it too. Japanese people like to correct people and tell them how wrong they are with their descriptions, which really just makes the other person insist upon how accurate and sincere they are. But the alternative is to just ignore it entirely happened. Sometimes Japanese people really like to be oblivious to things until they are forcefully pointed out. For example:someone is not very clearly in love with someone else and pulling them all kinds of favors until explicitly in a confession he/she announces his intentions.
But my reaction to this was a bit of revulsion at the forwardness of this person. Japanese people do not really describe others as being sexy and if so, it is sometimes a bad thing where they mean that you look like a whore. If they want to say you look pretty or cute or anything, they pretty much always say kawaii, or cute. They have a word for beautiful, but they reserve that for people specially deserving of it. As I was entirely properly attired and very trim looking, I have ruled it out that I looked like a whore and more presumably he wanted to have more romantic relations with me. But that isn't what this article is about. It is about how in American if someone calls you sexy, you begin to feel a bit sexier and you feel good about yourself and you tell yourself you look hot. But in Japan is it a very different reaction. More or less the reaction that I had. If you are a upstanding Japanese citizen and someone such as a friend said you looked sexy, you might go to the bathroom and adjust your attire to make sure that you were sufficiently covered or you might put on a sweater. If someone less than a friend said that you might be repelled and attempt to cover up a bit more.

Additionally I can sense my Americanism, or perhaps at this point it is more youth vs maturity, draining away when I see young Japanese women on the streets and think to myself 'cover up!' Their skirts come only in one size here, mini. And their shorts are tailored to accent their slender long legs. And if I ever see a sleeveless shirt, even if it is entirely within reason or even business-like, I will think how unsuitable it is and improper for the public. Or perhaps it is me just spying the awkward in the scenario: the one person wearing a sleeveless shirt in a sea of people. That is just happens to stand out against the normal.

And a final example of my identity theft is in my very mannerisms. They have become a bit more quiet and reserved and excessively polite. Exceedingly similar to the Japanese mannerisms. There is no loud conversations on trains or cheering amongst friends, if you so much as pass by someone in an aisleway , you say excuse me for the mean inconvenience of your presence. You even try not meet too many peoples eyes, but then again I do that because I pretend no to notice their stares.
The one part about myself that remains unchanged thus far, is my happiness. I feel that I allow myself to be significantly happier than a good many of my Japanese counter parts. You will not often find Japanese people with a smile on their face when they walk any where. I would even go so far as to say that you have to catch them off their guard to see them smile, when they see an old friend, when something ridiculous occurs where the only solution is to laugh, or when they get proposed to. What I am trying to say is that they rarely feel liberated enough to let loose just a little and crack a smile. This is one thing that I hope I will never lose.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Interestingly there isn't much of it.

Sure there are some occasional places where it is amusing, but it is not as rampant as it was in Korea. Here the funniest thing I saw was an omelette on a menu which described it as using 'enough eggs'. We had a good laugh over that dish. But most of the mistakes you will find are normally on chalkboard-like signs with advertisements or changeable English menus and such. They are typically hand written affairs and easily fixed. For example on a little chalkboard by a sink someone wrote 'You got a me'. A little water took that 'a' right off and fixed it.
Other places where you hope to see awkward English is typically pretty hard to find. Like the store fronts of the names of restaurants. Those are best found in Korea. I kid you not. There was one English academy in my town in Korea named 'Winning English' I always got a good laugh out of that. Especially when the Charlie Sheen 'winning' thing happened.
Other places you may see it are on T-shirts. You won't find it on too many adult t-shirts, though on the ones that you do find are going to be awkward anyways since you know you will almost never see that on a grown person in the U.S. Where you do find the most awkward English, is on the t-shirts of the young-ins. Their shirts are cheap and colorful and something that they wear and don't think twice about, and perhaps the larger contributing factor is that they come from China. Kids are not picky about their clothes and wear them into the ground. Pretty literally. Therefore most parents get whatever is cheap for their daily use. And those just so happen to be from China. Not to say their own clothes are not from China, but they take better care in the selection of their own clothes and will go for brand names and more expensive things and do not have the awkward English problem.
Kids on the other hand...
Sometimes it is not so awkward as it is just wrong. I had one kid who had a bunch of writing artfully arranged on their shirt, and as it seems their new favorite task for me is to read their shirts, I had the pleasure of reading hers...'fununglement' the heck does that mean. Others are amusing like a shirt my friend found and bought displaying GET KRUMP GET KRUMP GET KRUMP and even worse, a good portion are not something you would want your kid to wear. For example, I have a student who walks around school in a black shirt with SKANK written in pink glittery letters on the front. Oh my indeed.

Here are a few good select shirts I found in the mall the other day. I don't know about you guys, but Notable Jabberwocky...
Yep, you're doing it right Japan. hahahaha

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Dr. Doctor

Doctors in Japan are extremely different from doctors in America of Korea. 

Let me start with Korea. First of all, in Korea I had to get accustom to saying 'hospital' every time I meant clinic. For them there are no clinics, only hospitals. And when I say hospital, I do not mean the kind with beds. Apparently it is customary to say you go to the 'hospital' whenever you go to the doctor, even if it is just a clinic. And who works in hospitals? doctors. Therefore clearly all doctors work in hospitals. However there are true hospitals as we know them. With the beds and the surgeries and the broken bones. It is at a much larger place, that looks just like your normal one in America.
Moving on, in Korea all doctors are required to learn English, making speaking it for them pretty much no problem. The reason for this is that there are so many English publications for scientific articles that are also important to doctors. Well that is one of the reasons. But there are many. To stay contemporary in terms of administration procedures, equipment, and practices (at least with the English speaking world) are all also very good reasons. Either way, if you have to see a doctor in Korea, chances are that he will speak English a lot better than most. I can personally attest to this seeing as I lived in a tiny little area of roughly 10,000 people (in my country. not my city) and both the doctors spoke wonderful English. One of which I nearly saw monthly. Paragliding is not a sport for the weak. 
Their offices were small and would occasionally be a part of some other building. The one I frequented was in a building that had apartments on the top floor, a travel agency on the third, the doctor on the second and finally the pharmacy. Another thing all doctors had in common was office placement in very near proximity to a pharmacy. I am talking like right outside. His doctor office for the most part was extremely small. And I would like to think there was more than one office, but I only ever saw the one and did not really see much space for another. Therefore it was this one doctor who saw everyone! Talk about a lot of work!
I saw him for muscle aches, ear aches, colds, fevers. Pretty much everything except my eyes and teeth. And he could relay pretty much any and all necessary information to me in English. Additionally he methods were very...western. I am not sure how to say this best, but they were very different from Japan, and very similar to America. He would poke, prod and probe, he would ask if this hurts, and stick things in my ears. In other words, it was a bit invasive, but not overly so, just to a 'normal' amount. He would also go a step beyond American doctors, at least where my ears were concerned (I am very prone to earaches) and would do me the favor of administering a one time dose of the medication on the spot for some instantaneous relief. A total miracle worker.
The medication. Oh the meds. Yes I was probably never perscribed less than three different pills whenever I saw the doctor. And these pills...they would always be very colorful and in different shapes. I swear to you once I had a yellow star pill. But I would always be feeling better the next day. Even if I feel like I might have been over prescribed. And as a result, I would not be taking the pills anymore with in 3-4 days. Oh! and additionally and very helpfully, the pills would always be packaged together for the day that you take it. It was a really nice and neat way of doing it. Like all 5 pills (or however many) would be in their own plastic little package you just rip open and swallow with water. For some reason I found this incredibly convenient. Also the pharmacy was incredibly fast. I never had to wait more than 5 minutes and they would often have a 'gift' for me. Like a hot vitamin drink in the winter (these are pretty popular and come in glass bottles and you can get them at most drug and convenience stores), or packets of tea or gum. That is one thing I really liked about Korea. Their little 'services' that is what they call these little gifts. They do this as a way to earn your favor to ensure your continued patronage, and it is not just pharmacies, but butchers, grocers, boutiques and more.

In Japan it may possibly be the case that all doctors must learn English, but I would never know it. Sure some of the doctors I visit speak a bit of English. Enough to tell me to take the pills two times a day. Nearly all their medical vocabulary might also be in English, or perhaps it is that they learn all the medical vocabulary specifically in English. Bacteria names and things like 'bronchitis' or 'sputum' I don't see in the text books I teach my kids at least. Most doctors will know these things. They even write in English. I am not kidding, they have a fantastic doctor scrawl in their medical records writings. I can't even read it, but I can promise you that it is not Japanese. They will know enough to convey bits of diagnosis and perhaps tell you what you have, but perhaps not how best to take care of it. I think it is because they will write down the key words in their reports, but not exactly connect them together with verbs and propositions and particles and such, which dramatically effects their speaking ability. I was sorely disappointed when I went to the doctor looking for a prescription for my sore throat, and he told me to gargle with salt water...only he did not know how to say 'gargle' or 'salt' (but he did know the word for 'pepper'). This situation did lead to a very amusing demonstration of them preforming the task in front of me so that I would properly understand. However this doctor also told me that sleeping with my mouth open would fix me. -___-
Doctors here are way less invasive. I went to one doctor for a pain in my heel (that I have had since February and it is now September). He looked at my heel and took an x-ray and said to lay off it a bit. No poking, prodding or anything. Did not bother to see where it hurt or really care about my explanation of the pins in my foot. All in all. A terrible doctor I would not want prescribing me anything. If you cannot see the root of the problem nor care to try, then you are not fit to call yourself a physician. Many doctors are like this. They will listen to your explanation. Not touch you at all. Do the least invasion thing (I swear I take x-rays for every little thing!) and give you possibly the worst diagnosis I have ever heard. If my doctor in the United States hadn't moved my foot around for himself he would never know that the tendon was too weak to support physical exercise. If the same thing happened here I am terrified to think of what the outcome would have been. 
Their prescriptions take pretty much forever at the pharmacy. And you get little packages, much like opening a box of Claritin and seeing the individually packaged pills inside, covered by this little foil wrapping. You would think with the time it takes at the pharmacy and with 8 people working there and only 3 people waiting that they must be individually wrapping the pills themselves with the time it takes to get them. I mean at least the people at the CVS pharmacy look busy when you approach them with your prescription and therefore you are much more accepting of their 20 minute wait. But then they have a drive through, and call-ins and people who pick them up at a certain time and then other people who are wandering around the store, but are in reality waiting on their prescription. In Japan there is no store to wander. There is only a white room with seats and if you are lucky a few magazines. And the waiting. Sometimes there is even a T.V. 
Let me talk about their offices. The offices here are more like real hospitals. Not clinics. They are larger and I am certain that each of the ones I have been to have beds in the back for when they administer shots or have patients bedridden for a time. There is still normally only one doctor presiding over things, or at least one at a time. At some hospitals, they have a rotating staff. 
These 'hospitals' are the ones that function more like the clinics we know, but have the inward appearance of hospitals and not clinics. Meaning that there is no consultation room and you get taken directly to the doctor and you get to see all the equipment everywhere. There is a waiting area and then you go beyond a sliding door when your number or name is called and go to face the doc. If you need an x-ray or your blood taken, you go to the separate rooms or floors for that. To me this feels like an American hospital and not a clinic, perhaps because of its size. Though there are true hospitals here as well, with over night patients and surgeries. Sometimes they are of the same building but on the upper floors, other times they at a nearby facility. 

And the last infuriating thing about hospitals, is that they are NOT open all night. Their hours are typically sometime in the morning, with a 4 or 6 hour break during the middle of the day and then open again in the evening perhaps starting around 5 or 6pm and ending around 8 or 9pm. This is largely due to the after work crowd. You see Japanese people are workaholics and don't want to miss their regular work time to go to the hospital, and therefore have the option of going after work. I almost wonder if there was some issue with Japanese workers getting sick and not going to the doctor due to its hours and therefore getting everyone else sick with an end result of doctors everywhere changing their hours for both business and for the benefit of coworkers everywhere. Just a theory. But I digress. Say that you had a mishap late at night, once such that you needed stitches for. Stitches have to occur within the first six hours of the wound (after that, I am not even sure what would happen). But at night the hospitals are closed. I lie. ONE is open. ONE in the entire area for cases such as this. But that one might be an hour away. I am not sure how this works, if it one per every 50,000 citizen  and 2 for every 100,000 or if it is one for 50 square kilometers, or what. But I know there is a very limited number open and once when I was sick in Shikoku, the nearest hospital open was over an hour away and I was in the center of the city. In America, if you have ever been to a hospital at night, you will see nearly every seat taken in the emergency room. Some just have sick children and for others it might be the only time they have off to see a doctor, either way, the seats are filled. Now perhaps Japan offsets this crowd because they have their clinics open in the evenings for these types of people to come by, and therefore they don't have to worry about keeping hospitals open all night. 
And for only one hospital to be open at night... I don't want to think about it and what terrible thing might happen and to have to worry about which hospital it was that was open (as those rotate from week to week). What if there was a fire with victims that were terribly burned and they had to travel AN HOUR to go to a hospital to be treated! There are reasons there are emergency rooms in America. There are reasons they are always open at every hospital. There are cases that need to be treated immediately without needing to worry about open hospitals and forever long journeys. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Traditional POP Art

Frequent are the movements in the pop art world in Japan, but rarely can I say they swim around for long out in this great big ocean before they are swallowed up by some other new fish. 

This past Golden Week, I made a point of visiting Nao shima. An island that is completely devoted to art and its various and innovative forms. There, they will take something old, or an old idea, and jazz it up a bit and make it fresh for contemporary culture. 
These little guys below are much the same, they are Daruma dolls that are sporting a new coat of paint. Traditionally they are plump little red egg shaped men, with enormous O shaped eyes and heavy eyebrows and mustaches. However recently an artist decided that this was a little too traditional and a little too bland. And spruced their vintage look up a little. As you can see they are handsome hand carved little men sporting some genki new patterns. 

If you are interested, you can order them here.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Infomen: Info for Men

This is more or less exactly how it sounds. Info for men. 

Now I would let your minds wander and let you think whatever you please of that summary, but I will take all the fun out of it and put your dirty perverted minds at is EXACTLY how it sounds. Ha! Now I know you are thinking perverted thoughts!

Anyways this is a place that I am told will tell men where the local hostess clubs are or other man-needing info. This one pictured below even has a T.V., though it wasn't working when we happened by it. Interesting enough, these were quite a frequent occurrence, as in there were about 3 of them in as many or less blocks. It seems that this is a popular business venture come evening. I can't actually tell you if you have to pay to use their services, or if they are free, but I am prone to believe the latter. Since they weren't open I could not for some unfortunate friend of mine to go asking about for some manly information. 
Also this same situation begs the question as to when they are open. Again since I don't exactly frequent these venues, I would have to guess, but I would guess that they would be open at the very least Friday and Saturday from evening onwards. As my visit took place on a Sunday evening, I can either tell you that these are new and as yet to be used or they simply do not operate on Sundays. I am personally assuming the later as 3 new venues in close range to one another, all of which are closed is too much of a coincidence for them all to be new...
All in all I suppose I can't really tell you much about these except for that they exist! 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Japan fashion: Swimsuit Season

Everybody Swim Suit Up!

So now it is actually the end of swim suit season, but no less of a reason to talk about it. 

I have been absent from Japan for well, nearly all of the summer so I never got to see the style choice of Japan's finest in their water clothes, until recently when the times called for a trip to Nagashima Spaland, a water park in Nagoya. 

So I guess you can say that the fashions are largely similar in the largest area for concerned men. Yes, they all do wear bikinis. Or nearly all. Many girls seem to prefer a fashion that is very similar to their clothing choices: in specifics, mini skirts. Their bikinis are comprised of a top and a mini skirt bottom. This bottom would be one with the typical bottom of a bikini suit, more like a skort. And a pretty unanimous factor would be the multiple ruffles cascading down below their butt. 
Though another interesting choice that I saw all too much of, was denim short bottoms. A friend informed me after I was vocalizing the uncomfortability of wet denim shorts and the rashes they give, that they make and sell denim shorts that are made of a lighter material, so that they dry faster, specifically to be worn in the water. No, before someone says it, they were not bathing suits made to look denim, and also they would have a bathing suit matching to their top underneath their shorts (you know they because they would have it sticking out or their shorts lowered on their waist and the barest hint of the bathing suit to be seen above). 
Another style that would make men rather more eager to see, would be the T-back swim suits. T-back is what the Japanese call a G-string, a thong, butt floss. Mostly due to the 'T' shape it makes. And when I say this, do not get excited that they are walking around a family water park wearing only a bra and thong. No, they are wearing something like two bikinis, and in one case, three. I can't actually tell if it is multiple bikinis or just one with a look-alike stringy thing attached. I mostly assume the latter, but you can never really tell, especially with some of the more hostess-looking patrons. 
In addition to the multiple bottom style of swimsuits, is the multiple tops as well. This one seems to be less popular, but is still seen often enough. It looks like the girl is wearing two different tops in two different colors, often only solid colors or at the very least, a patter with a solid compliment. These two tops are again likely a single top, and just appearing as two separate tops. One would be an over the shoulders strap and the other would be an around the neck strap. Leading to what must be some awkward tan lines. To describe the shape a bit more, one of the bikini tops would looks like a normal top or bra in all shape and form and the second one would look more like some sort of false bra only used to as a push up, without covering much of anything. 
Notably there was a sincere absence of the strapless bikini tops. Everything seemed to be overly straps. Their tops and bottoms alike. Also gone are the triangle tops that can be scrunched or expanded to the wearers whim. You know the kind that slid along the string that ties at the back. 
Among the bikini top clasps, a simple sliding hook seemed to be the most popular choice, with knot tying the least popular. Another alternative were bra hooks, but again they were less popular. Japan seems to vastly favor these, typically plastic, hooks, having multiple attaching loops for tighter fits.
And lastly, I saw a lot of dress like clothing. I could not tell if they were actually swimsuits, or if they would transform into swim suits, or if the girls just wore them around for looks. These are a less popular choice, with bikinis being vastly more popular, but still a present difference between cultures.

As far as the men went, trunks were most preferred with only small boys ever wearing speedos or jammers. Stripes and solids seem to be the way to go, with not much decoration or accouterment. Simple I know, but I fee like not much more needs to be expanded upon this. Actually, I suppose there is this as well, they do not typically wear their boxers, or boxer briefs as it is in Japan, under their swim suit as men occasionally do in America. They prefer a style au naturale, as seen when their trunks slip just too far down then the wave pool's current progresses outward.