Saturday, December 20, 2014

10. All the Small Things (aka squid and perverts)

And no, this post isn't about public baths in Japan. 

Before coming to Japan, I had heard all sorts of things.  I had heard that used schoolgirl panties were sold in vending machines, and that everything was super technologically advanced.  So far the vending machines have been disappointingly food-oriented for the most part, and some of the teachers at the schools here think email is unnecessary.  However, I did find a vending machine that sold beer without requiring an ID, which I still think is hilarious.

Here you go, kids! $1 USD
I have seen my fair share of unnecessarily high-tech things and total cultural disconnects, but a lot of what surprised me was the little things that I didn't expect to be different.

First up.  Groceries.

It's impossible to find anything, because all the writing is in Japanese, first of all.  I found this thing next to the jelly that looked like peanut butter, but turned out to be peanut-flavored frosting.  Not as delicious as you think.  I eventually did find peanut butter, but it was roughly the same price per kilogram as cocaine and similarly difficult to find.

The fruit here can be pretty expensive.  I've seen watermelons go for $50 USD a melon, but usually they're closer to $20.  Often the fruit that we would normally buy is a lot more expensive, but also dressed nicer.  Many apples have their own (usually pink) sweaters:

Oh honey.  Pink is really not your color.
Mushrooms here look like they're from fern gully, or at least from a cave in a video game or something.

I tried mixing these with a Daedra heart,
but no restore health potion so far.
I still check for fairies in these
before I cut them up.

 I've bought things that looked strangely like candy, but turned out to be dried fish.  Because seafood is so readily available and cheap, there are quite a few dried seafood products on the market.  This includes squid jerky, which unfortunately tastes just like you would imagine.  Speaking of seafood, here are a couple of my favorite examples that you can buy in the grocery store right next to my house.  This squid was inkless, and fairly easy to get the "spine" out (really just a cartilage feather-shaped thing).

The hardest part was getting them to
hold still for the picture.
You are no match for my sword,
vile beast!

The next time I bought squid, it was not so inkless and looked quite different.  Squid is really tough to cook - you put it in for about 60 seconds, and it can get really rubbery if you leave it in too long and really slimy if you leave it in too short.

Only $2 USD?  That's like 2.5 cents a tentacle!

You can also buy big ones, but I was worried about my ability
to defend myself if ever met one of their relatives in the ocean.

Octopus, apparently, is supposed to be barbecued or put in an oven.  Having neither of those things, a sandwich press had to do.

You can buy the same size you would see in
a zoo, but somehow that seemed more wrong.
Probably my favorite breadless sandwich
I've had yet.

There are a lot of things out there that I have no idea what to use them for, but this was one of my favorite.  Maybe you put them in soup?

Not so roly-poly in real life.
For some reason, both of these had
drastic price reductions.  Can't imagine

There are a lot of strange things about groceries in Japan, so I'm sure I'll keep you periodically updated with more.

People in Japan are often very worried about people being generally creepy towards women, and rightfully so.  Interestingly enough, one word for "pervert" in Japanese is the symbol for "foolish" followed by the one for "Chinese."
Trains are one of the biggest places where people worry about these "foolish Chinese."  Apparently some men try to brush against women on crowded train cars to get some human contact.  This has led to a number of harsh punishments for real or perceived unnecessary touching, as well as...

This is a train car, as my exceptionally well-planned
photography is unable to accurately show.
Another strange result of this widespread perv-phobia is cell-phone camera sounds.  When you take a picture with your cell phone, it makes a shutter sound on full volume, which is a feature you cannot disable.  This is supposed to make it harder to be a subtle pervert.  My friend Alejandro says he saw some dude take a video of a girl on a train though, which makes a lot less noise.  Where there's a will, there's a way!


For some reason, everyone always backs into parking spots here (except us foreigners!).  Everyone I've talked to just seems to think it's safer.  People have very strong instincts to do it, even when there are no other cars around.

Spot the foreigner!
Instead of signing papers with a written signature, everyone carries a wood-carved stamp with a slightly artistic representation of their name.  Most people carry inkpads, but often inkpads are provided in places where people often sign.  Mine is written in English, so it's a little different, but it's still kind of fun and interesting to use.
Forging signatures in Japan mostly involves being good at whittling.

Speaking of which, someone assigned a set of Kanji to my name!  It is 音人, which means "sound" and "person."  Pretty cool, huh?  Also, those Kanji are relatively easy to write, so I don't have to write my name in Hiragana like a kindergartener would.


But back to things you might care about.

I've run out of good general ones, so here's a few other miscellaneous ones:

-FM radio stations are tuned differently.  In the US, we have frequencies between about 88 and 105 MHz or whatever the units are.  In Japan, it's about 76-92.  In practicality, this means that my American alarm clock can only pick up one station in Tamba, the station that plays classical music in the morning and smooth jazz at night.

-Things are super hard to throw away!  Everything is separated into "burnable trash" and "plastics except bottles and egg cartons," which doesn't leave you a lot of wiggle room to throw out miscellaneous stuff.  There is a considerable amount of large junk in my apartment that I have not found the means to throw out yet, but will probably get to in the next 7 months.  Or I will make the next dude deal with it.

-Soy sauce is plentiful here.  It's all very good, but there is some that is exceptional.  This was expected.  However, for some reason it is an abomination to put soy sauce on your rice.  When I tried in public, people told me, "Nate... you can just eat it plain, you know."  They then offered to get me some new, unsullied rice.

-Japan is super cash-based.  No one uses a credit card to pay for anything, so when I travel I'm often carrying on my person more money than I've ever seen in my life.

-ATMs need their beauty rest.  I live in a town that is mostly a farming community, but there is a shopping center, so it's not that rural.  However, ATMs go on vacation at night.  They are still physically accessible in some places, but because the actual bank closes its ATM doors from 8pm-8am, you cannot withdraw money.  This happened after the ATMs all unionized in 2005.  Once they went on strike, it was hard to find the resources to oppose them.  Seriously though, it would be super easy to give me money at nighttime.

And the obligatory strange English T-shirt to finish things off.  I will note that this one is technically grammatically correct.

How inspirational.  And then outspirational.  And then inspirational again.

Picture credits on the Hanko stamp: