Monday, October 20, 2008

Things I Love about Japan

At the risk of sounding like a complete Nipponphile, there are many MANY things about Japan and Japanese culture that does it for me. I'll list just some samples here for you.

Vending Machines
On every block you'll see the ubiquitous vending machines. They sell everything from cold drinks like juice and tasty but not too sweet sodas to hot soups and coffees. I don't know how they do it but the cold drinks are cold just right and hot drinks, oh so perfect. Sometimes I was not even sure what I was going to get but always I enjoyed it very much. My favorite was "Royal Mike Tea". I had no less than 2-3 of these drinks per day when in Japan. I heard about but never saw the fancier ones that sell colorful condoms and used school girl panties. For sociological purposes, I definitely would have used up my yens for those specimens (no pun intended, oh ok, pun intended).

"Five-fingered" and "Split-toe" Socks
Oh, the Japanese do know their socks! Most likely because of the culture to leave dirty dirty shoes outside, one needs cute indoor footwear and socks. I simply love the "five-fingered" (injiji) variety best but also own a fair amount of the split-toes (tabi) variety. My Okinawan American grad school buddy first introduced me to them many moons ago and I've been a fan every since. Even when they were difficult to find, I found them on-line and picked them up overseas every chance I got. So, even though I try not to spend in Japan, I admit I did stock up on socks and even colorful stockings, leggings...They are all so beautiful and fun in Japan. If I were not so anti-Nike, I'd even get their multi-toed running shoes (Rifts and Vibram Fivefingers). I've been told it feels like going barefoot. Damn Nike and their good designs! Yeah, the pix are all of my socks.

To deal with movements of the overflowing population in Japan, they have created amazing public transportation. Metros and trains are easy to maneuver with their color codes. Shuttles require only a quick call and buses have readable numbers. When all else fails, the bike and even walking are both wonderful options! The best part was despite believing Japanese people to be aloof and xenophobic (they are in some ways still though), everyone I asked for directions from were courteous and helpful. I found speaking exclusiveness Japanese endeared me to them slightly and they actually felt sorry for me. These are people that once called foreigners that know some Japanese "pigs who speak". How times have changed.

Public Bath Houses
Japanese are sticklers for cleanliness and bathing is an art form. Public baths (sentō) and/or natural hot springs (onsen) appear in every neighborhood where residents use them on a regular basis. Some are divided by sex where others are unisex. Even the ones that separate males from females is often divided by a short wall and peeking over is easily done. Not that any dignified individual would do that. Everyone is completely naked and exposed publicly. You sit on a small, short stool and use a rough bath towel to scrub and rinse until you're raw. The ladies next to me scrubbed themselves for 30 minutes straight. Not to be outdone, I scrubbed for 31 minutes to assure squeaky cleanliness. Then once completely dirt-free, you then get into large hot soaking tubs (never beforehand). Then you get into cold ones (optional) and then return to the hot ones. Bathing is a serious matter and done with precision and thought. I want a public bathhouse on my block, but will have to settle for one in my own bathroom.


It's funny how some of one's favorite things of a "culture" actually comes from another culture. Like "Vietnamese" coffee or sandwiches actually were introduced by the French. Similarly in Japan French crepes has become as Japanese as sushi (well, not quite but anyway, you get the point). There are probably more crepe stands in Japan than France and it's a good thing. I still prefer the perfectly light crepes one can get in Paris but I like the sheer volume and accessibility of them in Japan. FYI, they offer everything from cream on cream on cream crepes to pizza flavored ones.

Flea Markets
Japan is an expensive place to live, no doubt about it. Citizens have complained about food prices for years. We have only experienced some of these high food prices in the US this past year. Japanese products tend to be of top quality and that comes at a cost. So, what is a poor professor to do? Well, flea market shop of course. From kitchen ware to clothes, you can come across great finds for pennies! It's held outdoors, fun as heck and one of the few places where I can put my good bargaining abilities to work.

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