Limbless Reptile Gets Cold Feet

Yesterday I went to the library to do some work. I thought it might be a nice and free alternative to paying $5 for a cup of mud-like filter coffee and 2 hours at a table. I set up my laptop at a nice spot near the window and was just about to get down to work when I noticed a sign:

  • No Mobile Phones
  • No Food and Drink
  • No Portable Electronic Games
  • No Calculators
  • No Office Equipment
Always anxious to make a positive impression to locals of foreign residents in Japan, I thought I better check with the librarian to make sure that “Office Equipment” did not include laptop computers. Surely it wouldn’t. After all, what serious student nowadays studies without the aid of a laptop or iPad or something? That sign must be there to prevent people from bringing in their own fax machines and making atonal sounds at the nice table near the window.
Me: “I’ve brought my laptop from home. It’s ok to use it in the library isn’t it.”
Librarian: “I’m terribly sorry.”
Me: “You mean it’s forbidden? Really?”
Librarian: “I’m terribly sorry”; now looking ashamed of this meaningless rule.
Librarian returns to typing on her Office Equipment.
No wonder the library is empty! They turn away anyone who doesn’t think it’s 1975. Dejected, I got on my bike (literally and metaphorically) and followed the footpath along the river until I saw this.
snake out of the grass
I stopped to take a photo on my phone and these two middle-aged ladies (who I’d just overtaken) walked past and straight towards the snake. They were moving so confidently that I thought they must’ve seen it… after all, it was right in the middle of the path – how could one miss it?
“That’s unusual”, I said.
“What is?”
“Seeing a snake, here, in October.”
“Snake? “
They froze for a second or two, quietly freaking out. A little knowledge is dangerous: they now knew only that a snake was somewhere nearby without the vitally important data of its exact location. I watched them closely and I could pinpoint the exact instant that their eyes had locked onto it.
A few seconds later I looked back over my shoulder to about 5 meters behind me, where the two middle-aged ladies now stood.
“Do you think it’s poisonous?”, I asked.
“No. But I hate snakes!”, one of the ladies replied.
“I’ve lived here all my life and this is the first time I’ve seen one.”
We watched the snake, apparently now having gotten cold feet, slowly disappear into the adjacent playground.

FREE as in Beer-Free

Real or Fake Beer?

In Japan, what is the most popular method of transferring alcohol from a libation into the bloodstream? Saké perhaps? Suntory Whiskey? Shōchū – a spirit distilled from rice, sweet potato, sugar or other core ingredient? Nope… the residents of Japan like to drink good traditional German-style beer, of course. But what exactly is the Japanese definition of beer? Let’s compare the two drinks above.

We’ll start with the obvious things. The size: one is 500ml, the other only 350. They both appear to contain beer; the words “smooth” and “refreshing” appear in English on both cans. They both have an alcohol content of 5%, as is standard for Japanese beers. The one on the left was made in Korea, the one on the right is from Japan. The large one cost about 280yen, the smaller one, just 88 yen! (If we adjust for volume, those figures work out at 196 yen and 88 yen.) The important difference between these two products is that only one of them is actually beer.

The answer is found in the fine print at the bottom of the can. The cheap one is classified as “Fizzy Liquor” (リキュール発泡性). The expensive one is “Draft Beer” (生ビール) . The difference in price is largely down to how the two drinks are taxed.

Bizarrely, Japanese beer is taxed on its malt content. The “Fizzy Liquor” drink is an artificially carbonated unmalted “beer” crossed with barley spirits. It is in essence a beer-flavoured cocktail, but in a blind taste test most people wouldn’t be able to tell that it isn’t beer. As the economy continues to decline, low-malt and no-malt “beers” continue to gain in popularity.

What I like about this particular farce is its demonstration of Japan’s affinity with laws that only have  face value. Another classic example of this is gambling. Gambling is illegal under Chapter 23 of the Penal Code. But pachinko (a pinball-like game with potential winnings) is a $300 billion industry and there are pachinko parlours in every corner of this country. Pachinko skirts the law by officially only offering players the chance to win, say, a cheap plastic pen, which is then exchanged at an “unrelated” exchange booth off-site for, say, $10,000! The outcome: Japan can take the moral high ground on gambling. Pachinko operators can rake in their profits. Individuals can do whatever they want. It’s win-win all around…. except for the addicted.