my oh-so-normal life

Location: California, United States

There are no random acts. We are all connected. You can no more separate one life from another than you can separate a breeze from the wind. (the five people you meet in heaven)

Sunday, February 26, 2006

コインランドリ・Coin Laundry (Laundromat)

If I add up all the days, weeks, months, and years that I have spent in Japan, the total would come to more than five years. However, today I did something that I had never before experienced. I went to the Laundromat, or in Japanese, the Coin Laundry.

Despite the rain, the sensation that I needed to have my clothes cleaner than hand-washing provides forced me on a fifteen-minute walk to the Laundromat. Since it was raining pretty heavily, I found it quite amusing that Washing Hero 1 had “I got sunshine on a cloud day” on its awning, not to mention the name. Washing Hero? Can you say Engrish?

When I entered the establishment, there was an old man sitting waiting for his laundry in the dryer. I said, “こんにちは” (hello), but he gave me a somewhat untrusting look. I pulled out all my clothes and started to wash. Several minutes later, his laundry was done, and when he left he said, “お先に” (I’m leaving ahead of you.) When I told him, “御疲れ様です” (Good job on your hard work), he started to chat me up before he left. That really made my day. I am pleased to report that despite costing an arm and a leg ($3 per load and $1 for 10 minutes in the dryer), my clothes are now brilliantly clean.

Coin Laundry, you’re my Washing Hero. I’ll be back soon.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Asian Girl Status, Achieved?

I have now been in Japan for four weeks. Just about very morning I go downstairs to have breakfast with my laminated breakfast ticket. (Hello, major geek girl.) This is a restaurant with actual protocol, Japanese style. You must first wait in line to be seated. They find you a seat, then ask if you want coffee or tea, and at that point you can head off to the buffet. I have given up coffee (except for a Starbucks or two on the weekend while I study) and ask for water. The first time I asked for water, I asked for “氷が入っていないお水” (water without ice.) The server looked at me and said, “あぁ~。普通のお水。” (“Oh, regular water.”) Faux pas on my part? Well, the man seating me on Monday (not the one who is usually there) brought me water with ice, since I had not specified. (And I refuse to tell you that once I had drunk the very cold water, I dumped the ice out on my salad plate, one by one, with a spoon. This restaurant has protocol, after all….)

It’s funny, because the people I normally see have more or less figured out that I am the Asian Girl, despite everything. However, when I walk up to the “waiting-to-be-seated” line on the weekend with a few Japanese also waiting, the man who normally seats me will say “Good morning” in English. I always have to wonder if he does that because there are Japanese guests sitting there waiting to be seated.

In any case, I thought that I may never achieve Asian Girl Status at the breakfast restaurant despite having (at this point) eaten there over 20 times.

Tuesday, a new dawn was on the horizon. I must have been giving off good vibes. Not only did everyone at the entrance to the restaurant greet me with “おはようございます” (good morning), no one tried to give me water with ice. (Maybe that trick earlier this week has made me infamous---you never know.) In any case, I’m sure that there will be some incident in the very near future that will bring me back to reality: I am a white girl. Oh well, it’s great while it lasts....

Monday, February 20, 2006

和製英語・Japanese-made English (Engrish)

和製英語 (Wasei-eigo: Japanese-made English) is a term that all foreigners living in Japan come to learn. No matter where you look, you cannot avoid it. Whether it’s someone's t-shirt, a sign in a store or on the streets, sayings on letter paper, etc., like the konbini, wasei-eigo is ubiquitous.

I hadn’t thought about this in a long time, but as I was shopping in Tokyu Hands, I saw a lot of stickers with wasei-eigo. I couldn’t stop myself from taking pictures as I now carry my camera everywhere. So, for your daily amusement, look no further.

When I returned to work on Monday, I was given a “souvenir” (お土産---omiyage) from someone’s business trip. Omiyage are obligatory and usually edible, as in a snack (okashi.) Seeing that I had just been thinking about wasei-eigo over the weekend, I found the packaging appropriate.

The spirit of OKASHI. It is what gives a peaceful and pleasant mind to the human race. All the time, man seeks romance in the OKASHI. We have been working hard and carefully, and work on. To weave the romance and the fancy into each OKASHI. This, at last, we have made up “The HAKATA SEIYO-WAGASHI.” If you taste the feeling and the spirit of the OKASHI which value tradition and living in the times, there is no pleasure better than it.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Sober Girl, Revisited

I guess that I do need to say more. When I first saw Sober Girl, I was walking back to my hotel, it was close to midnight, and I was walking through a section of town where there are a lot of office buildings. I could not fathom what she was doing there; I was simply shocked to see the store front.

I got an e-mail from a friend that said, “Saw the Sober Girl shop on your blog. How come there are no photos of the INSIDE of the store?...hmmm, couldn’t meet the entry requirements?.....but you are a girl and oh...I get the picture.” On that note, I decided that I needed to figure out what type of shop that Sober Girl is in front of. So, this afternoon I set off in search of Sober Girl as I was not exactly sure where she was.

Well, I found her easily enough.

She is in the window of a store that sells to smaller stores, a type of wholesaler. Nothing more interesting than that, I am sad to say. Unfortunately, I still have no idea why she is there or what she has to do with the wholesaler.

Yet, here she is in all her glory.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


This is dedicated to PF. I will always think of you saying “chick car.”

There are so many things about Japan that are different, noticeable, even shocking from a Western standpoint, and some even more so by US standards. While blatant sexual harassment is one thing, there are differences in each country as to what is acceptable and where the line that defines sexual harassment lies.

When I was in graduate school, I wrote my thesis on Japanese women and included a section on sexual harassment incorporating a bit on chikan. I cannot remember exactly what I said at this point, but this is an interesting phenomenon that takes place in Japan. If I look up the word “chikan” in my electronic Japanese-English dictionary, it says “a molester; a pervert.” The Japanese definition (女性にみだらないたずらをしかける男) translates as “a male who plays lewd (indecent) mischief on a female.” Nowadays, this commonly refers to men who reach up under women’s (or girls’) skirts on the train to grab them in inappropriate places. I find it quite amusing that there is a specific word in Japanese that defines this activity and person.

This is actually a serious subject matter: getting felt-up in a crowded train is not really what anyone wants to experience. This has been going on for years in Japan; however, in the recent past, Japanese society has begun to address this issue. One of the most innovative things that has occurred is the implementation in major cities of a “women only” car on the train during rush hour.

I love the fact that someone working for the railway company thought of this and am delighted that employee(s) fought to have it implemented. When these “special cars” first appeared, the railway was not sure how popular they would be. Not surprisingly (from a woman’s perspective), there was such a demand for these “special cars” that they had to add more to each train. There are now places on train platforms in the major stations to report instances of chikan.

Last night I was reminded of something that I learned long ago. The Japanese word for okay or alright is daijoubu (大丈夫). A very good friend of mine who grew up in Singapore told me that she was shocked when she learned what the kanji (Chinese characters in the Japanese language) for daijoubu was. Why? Because in Chinese大丈夫 (the characters for daijoubu) mean dirty old man. Maybe I am carrying this too far, but it’s interesting to see how different words are interpreted and what is culturally tolerated in each country. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, February 12, 2006

リサイクルの課題に戻る・Back to the Recycling Theme
One thing that I really think is just outstanding about Japan (and remember, I’m a bit of a tree-hugger) is that you find trash/recycle bins in front of every convenience store. I remember my mother coming back from some vacation telling me that there was a separate bin to throw away your cans and bottles. It struck her because it was a rarity. I don’t know why we don’t have these everywhere in the States as well. It’s such a simple thing to do. When I first came to Japan, there were no pictures on the bins, just the writing you can see at the top. Times are changing…
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Saturday, February 11, 2006

Sober Girl

Need I say more?

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Monday, February 06, 2006

コンビニ・Konbini (Convenience Stores)

S. told me that her mother says, “If you can’t get it at Walmart, you don’t need it.” I think if her mother lived in Japan, she would say, “If you can’t get it at the konbini, you don’t need it.”
In Japan, there is a convenience store on every corner. 7-11, Circle K, Family Mart, Lawsons, Timely, Spar, Community Store, Sunkus, etc., etc. Some have their origins in the US, others in Europe, and still others are Japanese home-grown. Like the vending machines, they are omnipresent.

Another frequent stop on the cycling tours, the convenience store was the perfect place to pick something up for lunch that we could take and eat somewhere on the side of the road while we cycled since we felt a little too gross to actually go into a restaurant. While the selection is vast, there are general categories of food that exist in every convenience store. However, dismounting and taking a break from the bikes generally lead to both of us wandering the aisles endlessly trying to make up our minds. We termed this state of being “convenience-store-dumb.” I had a (flashback) episode of this during my first week in Osaka but without the bicycle.

We have convenience stores in the US, so why am I (and many other foreigners) so in love with Japanese convenience stores? Just like at home, you can find all kinds of packaged snacks (both salty and sweet), all types of drinks (hot and cold), and sundry other non-food items, but the most amazing thing to me is the fresh prepared food you can find there. While American convenience stores have begun to offer prepared foods, they are far behind their Japanese counterparts. When I go into a Japanese convenience store, I can find sandwiches, pasta dishes, hamburger patties, and various Japanese dishes such as yakisoba, okonomiyaki, donburi, sushi, onigiri, and more. If needed, the konbini will heat up your selection and give you chopsticks or a fork to go with your meal (or, in the case of white foreigners, both.)

All types of prepared Japanese dishes waiting for the people working in the surrounding offices to come get their lunches.

In addition to the selections you will find week after week, there are always “seasonal foods.” In winter this means that behind the counter, you will find oden, a type of traditional boiled Japanese food. Next to the register you will find a case containing Chinese buns with various fillings: meat, pizza, anko, and more. You know that spring is coming when these items disappear from the stores.

This is the oden at the Sunkus around the corner. This is a fancy one with the traditional stall.Posted by Picasa

Sunday, February 05, 2006

自動販売機・Vending Machines

When Tea was asked what she would miss most about Japan as she prepared to leave after having living in the country for five years, she answered, “Vending Machines.” The first impression of someone else I knew was “There are a lot of vending machines here.” In fact, I recall reading an article several years ago which said Japan glowed from space due to all the vending machines. They are ubiquitous in the Land of the Rising Sun.

I remember (fondly) the cycling trips Tea and I took throughout Japan. We always knew that we would (sooner rather than later) come across a vending machine, even out in the middle of nowhere. I remember sitting in the tent one morning in Shikoku with the rain pouring down. After hot canned coffee from the vending machine, we decided that we would pull up stakes and go. (Of course we heard commentary from one of the three Japanese guys in the tent next to us, “Hey the foreign girls are leaving!”) Go hot Boss coffee!

This brings me to what is so special about Japanese vending machines. Yes, we had hot canned coffee from the vending machine. In all Japanese vending machines, you can get either hot or cold drinks. How many are hot and how many are cold depends on the season, and it’s easy to tell which are which even if you don’t read Japanese. The red bar running under the display can means hot while the blue bar means cold. In the States, you can purchase soda or water, but in Japan the choice extends far beyond this. You can buy water, soda, tea, coffee, cocoa, soup, hot anko soup with mochi (rice balls), etc. You can also buy beer and chu-hai (a Japanese cocktail made with shochu (焼酎), a Japanese alcohol made from barley.) And I’m only talking about machines that sell drinks at the moment. Moving on to the non-liquid category, you can find vending machines that sell hamburgers and other foods, hot. You can even find in hidden corners the vending machines destined for sukebe (dirty old men). Yes, at a conference my friends did find a vending machine selling underwear previously-worn by high-school girls. Personally, I’ll stick to the hot and cold drinks.
Note the corn potage (soup) on the top row, third and fourth from the right. It's right next to the Royal Milk Tea.

A hot can of anything is great to warm your hands and your stomach as you walk down the cold winter streets. While I have spent enough of my life in Japan that I never find this weird, I know it is special to Japan as it is one of the things I miss when I’m back in the States.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

やっぱり、関西だ!・Yup, I’m in Kansai

For those of you wondering why the Osaka airport is called Kansai International Airport (KIX---関西国際空港), the answer is easy. The region in which Osaka (大阪) and Kyoto (京都) are located is called Kansai (関西) while the region where Tokyo (東京) is located is called Kanto (関東). Literally these translate as the Western Plain and the Eastern Plain. When I first lived in Japan, I lived near Tokyo. The accent spoken in Tokyo is considered standard Japanese (標準語). I did live in Gifu (岐阜), near Nagoya (名古屋), for three years, where the accent is a combination of Kansai and Kanto. Even though (for the most part) I understand the speech differences in the speech between the people of Kansai and Kanto, these words and speech patterns/inflections do not roll off my tongue, naturally or unnaturally. As I walk down the street and at the office, I am constantly reminded that “やっぱり、関西だ! (Yup, I’m in Kansai).” It is interesting to hear all the verbs spoken that end in “hen” as opposed to the standard Japanese “nai” or “masen.” The biggest kicker to me though has been all the times I’ve heard 本間 (honma, as opposed to 本当 (hontou) in Kanto.) Whenever I hear “honma,” I think to myself, “Yup, I’m in Kansai.”

Osaka is a gorgeous city, one that I was not familiar with. There are many rivers running through the city, and its skyline is outstanding. (I’ve managed to take quite a few photos so far which you can see by clicking the link to flickr.) I am thankful to have this opportunity to explore and hopefully add a few words from 関西弁 (Kansai-speech) to my vocabulary.