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Thursday, April 28, 2016

What I Hate About You

I can dislike some things about Japan, despite being one of those people who is rah-rah about the country et al.

But, despite the attention grabbing headline (I hope), hate is such a strong word.

For me—and others—there are several things about Japan that are irksome, but to use irksome in a headline would remove that Romantics vibe I was reverse paraphrasing. It's a rock song.     

So, enough fence sitting, let's take a look at some of the things that baffle foreigners who visit Japan:

1) Gaijin.
A different kind of Foreigner...
The word 'gaijin' means 'outsider' or foreigner, and I think that nowadays with few exceptions, when a foreigner hears the word uttered by a Japanese person it is said to mean 'foreigner'. The Japanese have this 'thing' where they like to emphasize how Japanese something is, and reinforce that by noting when things or people are non-Japanese. Hence 'gaijin'. It can be upsetting for many foreigners who have lived in a community for a while to hear themselves referred to as an 'outsider/foreigner'—and I dig that—because most of us who have lived in Japan do our best to fit in. My advice is not take exception to it unless you see actual signs prohibiting entrance to gaijin into bars or dance clubs. Then that's just racism rearing its ugly head. I understand that in a free society every shopkeeper has the right to not serve whomever they wish, but I don't like it. It's like some shop in the U.S. denying service to someone because they are gay. Oh wait... that sort of stuff still happens. Stone. Glass houses.

2) No soap or paper towels or toilet paper in public washrooms.

If they did that in Canada or the U.S., people with pee or poop on their hands would simply walk out not caring if anyone else touches that stuff. We HAVE soap and paper towels available and still we have jerks who don't wash up. And I'm talking about where I work. Despite the no toilet paper thing at public washrooms, many companies hand out promotional items of small paper tissue packs that the recipient can use to clean their dirty butts and after washing their hands with soapless water, can now dry them.
I would never dry my hands on a paper tissue, because it would invariably fall apart and leave paper tissue crud all over my gaijin fingers and hands. If you saw me exit a public rest room (say at a restaurant), odds are you'd notice a dark stain going down the thigh area of my jeans. Classy hotels will always have paper towels, soap and toilet paper, by the way, but I would imagine you'd have to be a hotel guest to use. Maybe. Just walk in and act like you belong. As far as soaps... I never received any free samples, but I would bet some promotional items exist. If you must use a public restroom, there are no doors leading into it, so you won't have to worry about touching a door handle where someone may have soiled it. Anyhow, after a short while, I refused to use a public washroom (except at a school - and there they had toilet paper). It’s also why I didn’t make it home in time and crapped my pants after a night of heavy drinking. Really. I just tossed the pants out in the garbage… or was it recycling. Yes, I drank a lot in Japan, but not everyday. Usually just Friday and Saturday nights.

3) Individually-wrapped fruit & veggies.
Japanese pears aren't even pear-shaped.... but they do come with their own individual bandana.
I work in the packaging industry, but I didn’t know this - I saw individually wrapped fruit, but I assumed somewhere one could buy a bag of oranges if they wanted to. Still, My bad. I’m pretty sure I recall buying packaged trays of mushrooms… hmm… never had corn in three years… and apples, oranges and pears were the size of softballs, so no one purchased a dozen of them… and besides, most home fridges were tiny… which I think encourages people to purchase food on a daily basis… I rarely had food go bad at my place… I could only shop and store food for about three days. Tiny fridge. Perhaps the size of the individual fruits would preclude them being available in a multipack... the weight alone to lift would kill tiny Japanese housewives.

4) Bread.

Japanese bread is stupid. Not only can one find bread that looks like a baby’s arm. But ‘regular’ bread… when you put two slices of bread atop each other (flat)… the damn things are three to four inches high. That’s a lot of bread. Can’t the Japanese create sliced bread that is thinner? Oh well... in Japan bread isn't eaten as often as rice, where rice can be eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and even as a snack should you go to a 7-11 or whatever for some onigiri—love that make-it-yourself riceball with dried seaweed and a tuna and mayo center! Anyhow, I would buy a loaf of bread and get maybe eight slices out of it. Since I'm the two sandwich for lunch kindda guy, I would be out in two days... which is fine, because Japanese fridges are so tiny one can only place enough goods in a Japanese fridge for about two or three days worth of meals. Still... no one needs that much bread... it's like I ate eight slices of North American-sliced bread in one sitting. Ugh.


5) Toilet slippers.
Now available in multiple colors, mine was green and had cartoony frogs on them sitting upon a water lilly in a pond... with the world as their proverbial toilet. Being a slightly larger-than-average gaijin, my feet would not fit into the slippers. Since I never peed on the floor, I had no problem in going in slipperless. I also did my own laundry—which surprised all the Japanese men—so even if I did step in something wet, I could always take the socks off and wash them at my convenience. A much better solution than semi-private shaming from having to wear stupid plastic green froggy slippers.
Look, I appreciate that you don’t want me to wear my dirty outside shoes into your clean Japanese home. I’m good with that. I’m also good with the fact that the Japanese offer slippers for me to wear while I visit their home. Thank-you. But toilet slippers? Plastic, green or blue toilet slippers? With stupid cartoony frogs, or angelic silhouettes of children or happy, over-dressed couples as graphically depicted above?
Look… you don’t want me to get your nice clean indoor slippers dirty from me peeing on them, or crapping on them… but perhaps you should be more concerned with the fact that I’m peeing and crapping all over the place. Apparently there is precedent for me doing that up above. Dammit… I’m not helping my argument.

6) Cheese is scarce.
Image from http://en.rocketnews24.com, who know all about cheese. Excellent website. This is all the cheese in Japan.
Apparently some bloggers believe cheese to be scare. Cheese is not scarce. Or at least it wasn't when I was there 20 years ago. I used to build five cheese lasagne when I lived in Japan. While I did not make my own pasta, I did build my own lasagne. Five cheeses… and I could have used more, but why should I make a $70 lasagne for my dinner? Irksome if true about the scarcity, but certainly not a hateful thing. Anyhow, cheese is very popular in Japan, so this is a bogus hate-on.

7) No street signs.
This is apparently
East Fuji Five Lakes Road, a 2-laned toll road linking Yamanashi Prefecture and Shizuoka Prefecture in Japan. What is interesting is that there are no street signs indicating that at the corners, where one would expect to see one. Image fromsnipview.com
As a stranger in a strange land, even if there were street signs, I wouldn't be able to read them any ways. But there are very few (if any) street signs anywhere in Japan. It's pretty much learn where you need to go or don't go. I thought Japan learned from the west during the Meiji era beginning in 1868 when it tried to become less Japanese and more global. Street signs. Europe and North America have street signs. Japan… this is the place U2 sang about. Whenever I traveled in Japan, my Ohtawara Board of Education office would take bets not on whether or not I would get lost, but rather how badly I would get lost. I once tried to get to the east coast for a beach party and ended up three hours west in the mountains. One of my bosses was the closest, suggesting I would end up in Korea. I learned that I should travel everywhere in Japan with a woman. If she couldn't figure out where we were, at least I could be lost and have a shot at getting laid later. I really did think like this.

8) Smoking in public spaces.

Smoking in restaurants is still allowed in Japan. Looking back to the 1990s when I was in Japan, what was worse were the nurses and doctors at the local hospital, who all had lit smokes dangling from their lower lip as they tried to describe to me that me crapping my pants was due to some gastro ailment rather than someone playing a practical joke on me. I once found a pack of menthol smokes in the cigarette vending machine below my apartment... how drunk do you have to be to not pick up the smokes you just paid for? Anyhow... I had a lighter in my pocket that I used for lighting candles in my ambience-heavy apartment... so I lit up a smoke... just as a strong wind blew, throwing the flame into the side of my face. Coincidentally, I then began to grow a beard for the first time ever. The scars healed - at least the physical ones - but damn... I looked good with that beard that had no grey in it. Anyhow, smoking in Japan is decreasing... no, really.

9) White cars.
Not every car in Japan is white, but as you can see, it's the most popular. Image from classes.soe.ucsc.edu
I wonder if this is still such a big deal, but let's assume it is. For as long as anyone can recall, the Japanese have preferred their cars to be white in color. Why? The reason quoted to me is that white cars are easier to see in the dark. Yes... but if headlights are being used, one kinda has an idea where a car is. The real reason I was told by many others, however, is that white is a color of purity, and the Japanese like the concept of being 'pure' - even when leaving their mistress behind to head back home to the wife and kids at 2AM. When I arrived in Japan, I received much credit from the Japanese because I owned a white Mazda 323. For the record, my current car is black with gold dual pin-striping. It looks beautiful even when it dies in a live lane on the highway as it did last Thursday.

10) Green Tea.
Drinking green tea is the cat's meow in Japan. Image from en.rocketnews24.com
Gaijin, both foreigners and outsiders, can get a little piqued about the amount of green tea they are offered during the day by the Japanese, who can't get enough of the stuff. First... despite the high incidence of smoking, I only saw one person who had a smoker's cough while I was in Japan... and he was a gaijin. On the other hand, the Japanese drink a lot of the healthy green tea known as o-cha. On a slow day I might be offered about six cups, but I've ingested over 14 a few times. This is when one wishes Japan's restrooms had soap and paper towels handy. Again... this isn't really an irksome or even a hateful thing. It's the Japanese being courteous and offering you a free cup of steaming hot green tea. True or not, even when the humidity makes the temperature feel like its 44C, a hot drink is supposed to cool you down. Me? I drank it for the caffeine, and to combat the dry throat after a night of real drinking. Where did my pants go? Still, not everyone likes green tea. I could take it or leave it. If you are that way, always take it so as to not disappoint your Japanese hosts. As long as you sip about half of it down, no one could ever take insult.

11) Stupid English Words.
My words can do this no justice...
Japlish is a thing. Japan seems to love having English words on their clothing or bags, photo albums, binders, rulers... whatever... The problem, however, is that whoever is manufacturing these products for the Japanese either doesn't know much about English, or doesn't care enough to give the Japanese a product where the English words aren't gibberish. Hey... anyone can make a mistake when translating to another language... but for Japanese clothing or accessories, it's like someone sees an open page in a book, photographs it, and then crops the middle of that image and sticks it on the back of someone's leather jacket.

12) Pantyhose.
Japanese flight attendants wearing pantyhose. I can't see anything wrong with this, however... I'm not making my point here.
I have nothing personal against pantyhose. It can look very sexy. Man that photograph above is hot.  But Japan can be quite hot and humid in the summer, and seeing women wear pantyhose in the steamy hot weather makes ME uncomfortable. I enjoy seeing a naked leg... but even my Japanese girlfriend would wear pantyhose in the middle of a heat wave. To be fair, she was coming back from teaching at a school, and at a junior high school there are a lot of perverts running around—and I'm just talking about the teachers. Since she knew of my disdain for the hose when unnecessary, she would slyly remove them in her car in my apartment's parking lot before knocking my socks off when she arrived at my door. Man... just thinking about that now makes me want to use the washroom.

13) Closed Windows.
A telephone card of my old school Nozaki Chu Gakko - where pantyhose wearing (sometimes) Noboko was a teacher.
I know that weather is different all over the country of Japan, but where I was, it was very humid. But even when the temperature got very hot, the Japanese would keep the windows down. Conversely, when it was very cold, they would open up the windows to let the fresh air in. For those that use a kerosene heater in the winter to warm up a room, one MUST keep a window or door open so that the gas vapors can dissipate. Failure to do that can lead to death or in my case a severe talking to from my bosses who then got me a wall-mounted heating/AC unit just in case I was too stupid a gaijin to obey simple Japanese rules. Yeah... I was stupid like a gaijin. Ha.

14) Tiny Roads.
This is an example of the narrow roads that ran through the City of Ohtawara where I lived. In many places, the roads were even narrower.
I lived in the rural part of Japan where roads would cut a path through rice paddies... roads that were/are at best 1-1/2 car widths wide... which presents a problem for you, the gaijin, on the bicycle who now has two cars trying to pass one another (oh yeah, and you) on a pathway that would make a mountain goat nervous. Apparently, some people believe in ladies first, rather than who arrived first, but that's not all of Japan. Just back off and let the cars fight off who is going to gain the right of way. Sometimes it can be fun to watch.

15) The Missing Sidewalk Block.
Okay... see the photo I took in Point #14... over to the left and right of the road... the grey blocks that look like sidewalks, but really aren't, but are considered to actually be a sidewalk.... that's what I'm talking about...
Japan has sidewalks alongside some of its many streets and goat paths. The sidewalks are rarely raised (except in the big cities). In the smaller cities, towns and villages, the sidewalk is actually a stone tile that covers a water drainage system. Sometimes one or more tiles go missing or are broken. Sometimes when you are riding your bicycle late in the morning (say 3AM), and you are drunk and it's really difficult to ride with the light grinding away at the tire, and you really don't want to crap your pants... it is very easy to suddenly plummet down about 10 inches into the open sewer system. I have no idea if it's a sewer system... but it's never dry. No, neither are my pants. But that's probably for another reason.
Anyhow.. because I had a difficult time finding an image on the 'net... maybe it ain't a thing anymore. Hunh.

That's it for now... do you have any quirks about Japan that irk you? 

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph
PS: By the way... when I went to the Internet to confirm that The Romantics did indeed sing "What I Like About You" which allowed me to paraphrase my blog title - I also discovered there was a 2002 American television show by the same name. Here's what its about:
When Holly's father is transferred to Japan, she is sent to live with Valerie, her big sister, in New York City, and turns Valerie's life upside-down. It stars Amanda Bynes and Jennie Garth.
Japan pokes its head out once again. 

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