10 Japanese Certainties

  1. TV presenters will proclaim all food, no matter how disgusting, to be “delicious”.
  2. There will be ten new Prime Ministers by the time this decade is out.
  3. Payment of inducements to public servants serves the greater good by building business relationships.
  4. The miniskirt will never go out of fashion.
  5. Overtime spent in an office = Automatic productivity.
  6. Nature is evil. It must be cleansed by concrete.
  7. Owning an old car is bad for the economy dangerous.
  8. In order to (dis)respect someone, you must first be certain of their age.
  9. English exists solely for the design of unintelligible T-shirts.
  10. The older one gets, the freer one becomes. Once you’re over 90 you can say whatever the heck you want.
cleansed by concrete
#6: Nature cleansed by concrete in Shinjuku, Tokyo
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Two Convenient

Despite poor economic times the number of convenience stores in Japan continues to grow. The sale of snacks, cigaretts and alcohol truly is a recession-proof industry.

There are 10 convenience stores within a 10 minute bicycle radius of my house. The most prominent chain around here is 7-Eleven, which has over 40,000 stores around the country. But what really takes the biscuit is this quiet nearby street featuring not one, but two 7-Elevens within 60 metres of each other.

If you stand somewhere in the middle you’ll have 7-Elevens at 7 o’clock and 11 o’clock respectively. Ladies and gentlemen, we have crossed from the realm of convenience to that of absurdity.

seeing double
Seeing Double.

P.S. If you want to find out why Japanese convenience stores are just so damn great check out this post over at This Japanese Life.

Radioactivity is Wife in Japan

In an attempt to make nuclear radioactivity easy to understand, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency has got itself in hot water over a poorly-conceived analogy it published on its website. The analogy was presented as a cartoon of an angry wife, with text drawing the following comparisons:

  • The angry wife is the radioactive source.
  • Her animated state is radioactivity.
  •  Her screaming, angry voice is the radiation itself.
Radioactive wife
Cartoon Comparing Radioactivity to a Not-very-Nicewife. Source: tv-asahi

After garnering a little too much attention the cartoon was taken down yesterday.

The Sky Tree’s the Limit

Tokyo Sky Tree
Tokyo Sky Tree

A couple of weeks ago the Tokyo Sky Tree opened to the public. At 634m it is the tallest tower in the world. In a beautiful paradox the Sky Tree is a thing simultaneously with pinnacle and pointless.

The Japanese media’s infatuation with it has been nothing short of extraordinary. We’ve had TV programs on it’s perfect design, on how it was built, its LED lighting plan, the opinions of local residents and distant tourists, on the financial circumstances of its owner (Tobu Railways), on the Skytree-Shaped Food that is currently being sold all around Sumida Ward, and on the trouble being caused by bored youth hanging around at the tower’s foot and trampling on the new garden beds.

In the midst of this wide smorgasbord of televisual nonsense has been pervasive coverage of how the Sky Tree makes people feel. “The tower makes me smile”, one woman says. “It raises my hopes for Japan”, says another. “It makes me feel good about the future”. “It makes me think that Japan is really great”. The upper observatory costs a ridiculous $40 per adult but in typical Japanese style it has been fully-booked for weeks in advance.

In evidence that God has a sense of humour, on the opening day the observatory was shrouded in cloud. The honoured first guests enjoyed a view of perfect white, and then become stranded at the top as the elevator had to be suspended due to high winds.

I now agree with one of the aforementioned interviewees. “The tower makes me smile”.

Self-serving Self Service

It’s taken a long time for self service petrol stations to take hold in Japan.

When I was last living here some 7 years ago they were still the exception. Filling up at a full service petrol stations became something that I quite enjoyed at that time, which is surprising considering the sentiment most people hold when paying for a cartel-controlled overpriced daily necessity. At Japanese full-service petrol stations not only do you not have to get out of your seat, but the service extends to cleaning your windows and side mirrors, filling up the tank, emptying your ashtray and taking any other rubbish off your hands, taking payment and giving change without leaving your seat, and even safely directing you back onto the road when there is a gap in the traffic.

Fast forward 7 years – the economy is down and cheap self service is king. But in typical Japanese style they haven’t done it half-heartedly. Today I stopped at a self-service station. There is a touchscreen terminal at the pump at which you place your “order”, pay in advance and fill up. After the machine determined that my tank was full it forced me play a slot machine game. Three wheels started spinning on the screen and the only option was a large “stop” button. I touched it and the wheels slowly span down (wasting valuable time while the person behind was waiting to fill up) and stopped on 777. They ALWAYS stop on 777. My prize was then announced: a discount, not for today when I actually need it, but for when I come back next time. Hmph.

After the mandatory slot machine you are then presented with a receipt with a barcode. You take that to another machine located literally 2 metres away from the pump where you paid, and you scan the receipt for your change to be dispersed into the tray underneath. The whole process takes far too long – but the mandatory slot machine is what I think really makes this Japanese self-service petrol stations absurd.

Slot Machines
This photo is only vaguely related to the post, but it gives me an excuse to include some Engrish. The “Slot Machines” referred to by this sign were actually vending machines. They can be found right next to the ravatory.

Nuptials with Nanoparticles

Given that you usually only get married once, you want that special day to be memorable. One way to ensure this is to get married at this beautiful and expensive little wedding chapel in the south of Nagoya.

before
What a beautiful fake-sandstone wedding chapel....
after 1
.... just make sure your photographer knows how to crop his pictures.
After 2
A perfect setting for a special day.

Octogenarian Rugby

On TV a couple of nights ago I saw footage of a bunch of octogenarian former rugby players actually playing rugby. It was a full contact game that included tackles, scrums and trys. As one would expect there was a large group of medics on scene to quickly deal with any incidents, and a bunch of undertakers and counsellors on standby to deal with the numerous expected deaths.

In what was billed as a Japan first, the minimum age for participation in the game was 80. The oldest player was 90, and is clearly identifiable in the video below by his gold pants. Kylie Minogue would be proud. At the end of the video the 90 year old is asked how long he’ll continue. He replies that he’ll continue as long as he’s still alive and able. Perhaps not that much longer then.

Life in North Korea

Many areas of rural and semi-rural Japan have a public address system operated by the town council. Multiple loudspeakers are installed on tall poles that are strategically located to ensure that all houses that fall under the council’s jurisdiction are covered. This is the one nearest our house:

The Mind Controller
Mind Controller

The system serves a number of purposes:

  1. It is used to relay announcements in emergencies – such as during the landfall of Typhoon 15 in September when the system kept us notified of the water level of a major river that runs nearby. Several years ago when I was living in a much more rural part of Japan (in northern Shiga Prefecture) the system was used to warn us when bears had been spotted about the town.
  2. Much less usefully the system is used to play “music” at noon and at 6pm. Town councils are seemingly oblivious to the fact that Japan practically invented the modern electronic wristwatch.
  3. Finally, it is used to broadcast announcements about civil events, often at a very uncivil 6.45am on a Saturday morning. Any hypothetical interest I have in attending a council event on a Saturday would quickly evaporate once I am woken up at 6.45 by a loudspeaker imploring me to do what I have already decided to do, albeit now with an hour less of sleep.

So in order, these three different purposes are: practical, unnecessary and annoying.

Some of my friends who live in more rural areas actually have loudspeakers installed in the kitchens of their homes so that messages can be delivered from the town council directly to their brains. The speakers can’t be switched off, nor can the volume be adjusted. The messages are broadcast anytime the council feels like it. This helps councils to enforce a suitably flamboyant style of mourning with respect to the recent and unfortunate passing of our Dear Leader. Is anyone else reminded of a crazy little country on the other side of the Sea of Japan?