Capsule Reconsider Your Choice of Hotel

A few weeks ago I went to Osaka to catch up with my friend from Takarazuka, Crazy K.

To save money we looked for a cheap hotel. Because Japan’s urban areas are some of the most densely populated in the world, the main way hoteliers can reduce their costs is to reduce your space. In the case of our particular hotel they reduced it to this:

Capsule Hotel
Our hotel "rooms". Believe it or not, these are the extra wide capsules - we paid $2 more for that little piece of relative luxury.

It was a bizarre mix of high-tech and high school. After checking in at reception we were given keys to our metal lockers where we could stash all of our stuff. We then refreshed ourselves in the communal baths, bought drinks and snacks from the onsite vending machines, watched TV in the 1980s communal lounge, and then retired to our $25 coffins to die sleep.

The capsules were actually surprisingly comfortable, and I would’ve slept quite well if I hadn’t foolishly consumed caffeinated coffee at 11pm, and if drunken salarymen hadn’t entered loudly at 3am triggering a half-asleep and justifiably grumpy capsule occupant to start shouting “Oi”, “Ooi”, “Ooooiiii”. How considerate.

The next morning I witnessed a quintessentially Japanese sight. A crumpled businessman emerged from his capsule, got dressed outside his high-school-style metal locker in a shirt, cufflinks and a fine business suit, and styled his hair for a power meeting, thereby transforming himself from a shrivelled drunk to a successful business professional in just 5 minutes. It was like I was witnessing the accelerated metamorphosis of a caterpillar to a butterfly. Well maybe not a butterfly… perhaps just some kind of ultra-efficient grey moth.

This is Japan.

Nutritious, Nice or Neither?

I just watched a news report about the latest apparent craze of eating vegetables dipped in chocolate. I’m not talking about strawberries or cherries. I’m talking about carrot, celery and broccoli. All the goodness of natural veggies with all the badness of full fat chocolate.

Does anyone else think this is nuts? What’s the point? Surely one should either eat something healthy or eat something nice, instead of mixing the two to create something that is neither!

Choco Veggies
Image courtesy of this Japanese blog.

Christmas is Kentucky

In Australia if you had your family gathered for Christmas dinner and you brought out a bucket of takeaway greasy fried chicken you would be pitied by most. Do the same thing on Christmas Eve in Japan (preferably just with your significant other) and you are considered to be a well-rounded and cultured human being.

I am unreliably informed that KFC’s biggest sales day in most Western countries is Mother’s Day. Of course it is unlikely that the reason for this is that mothers generally like fried chicken. Rather husbands and children have trouble locating a source of food that is not mother-dependent.

In Japan KFC’s busiest day is Christmas Eve. By far. To the extent that reservations are taken a month in advance and back office staff and executives clumsily undertake frontline service to help cope with the volume of demand. This year KFC’s Japanese television advertisements boldly proclaim that “Christmas is Kentucky”. Such a brazen attempt to own the birth of the Christ has not been seen since Coca-cola co-opted old Saint Nick in order to sell fizzy sugar water in 1931.

This bizarre connection between Christmas and greasy chicken began as the result of a marketing campaign in the 1970s, allegedly introduced after a foreign resident missionary, in an act of what must have been nothing other than sheer desperation, resorted to buying a box of KFC because he couldn’t find any roast turkey in Japan. Although this guy was clearly nuts, I, for one, can sympathise with him. In 2003 I attended a Thanksgiving Dinner here with some American friends. We also had trouble finding turkey. What we did manage to find was made of reconstituted meat, had no bones or stuffing, and was shaped (and tasted) like a car battery. However, in Japan, this was the best we could do – and even then only courtesy of the Foreign Buyers Club.

I’ll leave you with some videos that demonstrate the extent of this “Christmas is Kentucky” madness. (Have your vomit receptacle at the ready.)

2010 Christmas Advertisement:

People queueing for their KFC on Christmas Eve:

(The staff member he talks to says there’s a 2 hour wait at that store.)

Bring your Dog Shopping for its Replacement

Today Nicewife visited a large hardware store that had a surprising pet angle to it. Apart from being able to buy the usual building supplies, tools and garden equipment you could also buy dogs, cats and goldfish.

And if you already own a dog there is no need to feel separation anxiety during your brief shopping sojourn – you can bring your dog from home and take it shopping with you! Just place your substitute-for-a-real-child pooch into one of these specifically-provided shopping trolleys and hope that it doesn’t barf in your watering can before you get to the checkout.

Large Dog Cart
The text on the side reads: "Cart for use of large-type dogs".

Unfortunately Nicewife didn’t have a camera with her, but she informs me that the dog cart for larger dogs looked basically like the one above. (Photo courtesy of this blog.)

BBQ on Chita Peninsula

Yesterday we had a BBQ lunch at a delightful little harbour at the south of the Chita Peninsula. The BBQ was arranged by the previously mentioned “Special Tomato Friend” and his good mate “Fisherman Friend”. As it turned out, Fisherman Friend invited some of his fisherman mates, who rocked up one-by-one throughout the afternoon, bringing with them more seafood and beer. (Some of which was actual beer.) It seems that Tuesday is the standard day off for fishermen of this area, and Special Tomato Friend isn’t too busy at this time of year – he’s just waiting around for his hydroponic tomatoes to grow.

Fisherman at BBQ

Anyone who has studied Japanese knows that there is all the difference in the world between Standard Japanese (標準語) and the language that real people actually speak. I have discovered that the absurdity of the Japanese spoken can be calculated accurately using this equation:

W = D * 1+Ff * 1+(1/2A)


W = Weirdness of Japanese

D = Distance from Tokyo in kilometres

Ff = Number of Fishermen Present

A = Alcohol Consumed by Present Fishermen

The value of W fluctuated from 600 to 2300 throughout the afternoon, making it extremely difficult for me to accurately follow the conversation. However, I did glean the following points:

  • Australian Snapper is too thin. Japanese Snapper is nice and fat. You guys gotta fatten up your fish!
  • Japanese politicians LOVE nuclear power plants. Every time one is built, the get a little bit richer. Japanese people don’t really like them.
  • When I retire I’m gonna drive my boat to Australia. Do you think one tank of fuel will be OK?
  • …but I won’t retire until I’m 75. (Given that he’ll probably live to 150, that doesn’t seem so absurd.)

The BBQ was absolutely delicious. It included some of the best squid sashimi that I’ve ever tasted (nice and firm but not hard and chewy), a couple of boxes of fresh crabs, and deliciously fatty Wagyu beef.

Box of Crabs

Preparing the Food

Another interesting fact about the location of the BBQ was that it was a popular spot for those undertaking “Empty Business Trips” (空出張). In Japan, it is important to be seen to be busy in the eyes of your work colleagues. This means staying late even when there is no work to do. In order to stay late, you need to find something to do all day! There were about 5 cars with businessmen undertaking Empty Business Trips at the harbour for the majority of the time we were there. They’d even leave to get some lunch from the convenience store and then come back for the afternoon shift!

Empty Business Trip
Here is a Secom employee busy checking the electronic security system that must have been surreptitiously installed on this rubble car park.

Another absurdity of the afternoon was when Special Tomato Friend gave Nicewife’s dad a hat with “USS Arizona – Pearl Harbor” emblazoned in English across the front. This gift was made with absolutely no sense of irony. Fantastic!