Tuesday, December 31, 2013

International Game Development

As of the last few weeks, I have begun developing a video game with an international team of programmers, artists, and musicians. While that sounds impressive, in reality I'm just working on a game with some friends of mine in the US while I happen to be in Japan. In any case, it feels great to be back into programming after a long hiatus.

At the moment only the physics of the game have been put together, but eventually it will have goals and levels and all those things that actually make a game fun.

The current working version is hosted here and will be updated as we continue to work on the game.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Discipline (Pt. 2)

After we got the concert venue setup including the black sheets, I learned that because the space is used by students during the day we would have to tear down a major portion of what we had set up. Some parts of this made sense to me. We moved the lunch tables and chairs back to their original position and moved the soundboard cables out of the way, but some things we were made to take down seemed like a serious waste. We had to take all the sheets down despite the fact that they weren't really in anyone's way. Even more confusing was the fact that we had bothered to put the sheets up the day before the concert despite the fact that we had to tear them down an hour later. In the end we setup and tore down the sheets 4 times going through about 10 rolls of duct tape.

After we had torn the set down for the day I learned of the schedule for the next three days. I had assumed that we would meet maybe 2 hours before the show to set everything up, but it turned out that we were expected to arrive at 8:40am and essentially sit around until setup time. This highlights what I consider a strange insistence on fairness that I have observed in my club experience. The club leaders said that because other students use the room, someone has to be there to watch the clubs property, but to make it fair, everyone has to be in the room the entire day. This seemed incredibly wasteful of people's time though I was allowed to use my computer while I waited around.

While I personally felt that some of the things we were required to do were wasteful, I can see how they contribute to how smoothly everything in Japan runs. My club-mates followed the instructions of the leaders to the letter and no one complained. For example, we were instructed to tape the black sheets on all 4 sides of the windowsill. This ensured that they completely blocked out the windows, but it seemed to me that if we only taped the top and bottom of the sheets we could save 70% of the tape and still block out 99% of the light. I suggested we talk to the club leaders about this and was told that that is simply not how we were told to do the job. In the end, I'm not sure how I feel about this. Certainly there are probably cases where the complete unquestioning compliance of subordinates allows a system to run smoothly, though it seems to me that the discretion of those actually doing the work should be taken into consideration in some situations.

The other teams seemed to have a similar level of discipline and the concert went incredibly smoothly. There was even someone behind the drummer to hand them a new stick if they dropped one. Everyone was busy between sets though those who didn't have a job while the bands were playing seemed to be having fun. The division of fun and work time is a very interesting topic which I will go into next time. I will also describe the extremely stratified relations between older and younger members and past-members of the club.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The 1%

Japan is 1% Christian so from time to time I hear about churches near where I live and go to school. I often saw this church from the train as I commuted to school. I recently walked to the church to see it up close. It's positioned crookedly on a side street surrounded by more typically Japanese homes and businesses. The building is throughly modern inside and I would guess it was built in the last 30 years or so. As with most buildings in Japan, there's basically no parking so I suppose most of the people who attend this church must arrive via train. These churches are much more visible than the far more numerous Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines so I often notice churches in the distance while riding the train.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

An Exception to Every Rule

While it can be said that Japanese people typically appreciate simple elegance in their personal belongings, there is still room for individual taste. Every so often I see large western SUVs like these driving around and in addition to being expensive to own and maintain, they also seem to be a pain to drive. These SUVs are almost as wide as some of the supposedly two-way streets that run through many neighborhoods. Western cars are widely regarded as status symbols in Japan despite the fact that they are typically less reliable than their Japanese counterparts.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Discipline (Pt. 1)

I've had many interesting experiences since joining the Folk Song club on campus. Contrary to it's name, it's really a rock band club. I was in two bands that performed 4 songs each at a recent concert. In addition to practicing with our bands, club members were also expected to join one of several subcommittees that take care of things like lighting, sound, and videography. I joined the videography committee which is also in charge of making decorations for the concerts.

At the first committee meeting two months ago, I was rather confused. I spent 4 hours drawing and coloring christmas decorations and by the end of it I was considering leaving the club as this did not feel like a good use of my time. In addition, the people I was working with who had been very friendly when I joined the club became surprisingly serious and conversation was sparse. When the final bell rang though, everything changed. Even though it was already 8:00PM people weren't rushing to get home, most people stayed around and had suddenly become much more friendly now that their work was done for the day. I was invited to go out to eat with several members and past-members. We had a great time talking about music, language, and culture and for the first time, I felt that I was making real Japanese friends as opposed to participating in a sort of formal cultural exchange. At this point I felt that I would gladly put in the time required to be a member of this club as it meant spending time with these new friends of mine with which I shared quite a bit musically despite growing up in very different cultures.

This drastically changed my perception of the work I was doing in the club. Even though I was getting home at 9:00PM many nights, I was enjoying the people around me and learning practical Japanese from people my age. For the next month we prepared for the concert, creating posters and decorations and practicing our songs. Sometimes it was stressful, but everyone else was working very hard so I felt compelled to persevere.

The concert was divided across 3 days and was located in a large public space where students often eat lunch. We would have to move part of our setup to allow students to use the space during the day which was inconvenient but understandable. The day before the first show we worked from 3 to 8 moving all the equipment into the space and getting it all setup. They had large black sheets to cover all the windows and we spent about an hour taping the sheets to all of the windows.

It was at this point that things started to get, at least from my American perspective, a little strange...

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Colonel Ojisan

I'm not sure if these exist in the US, but in Japan, all the KFC's have a Colonel Sanders statue outside of their stores and they dress the statues up for various events. People call these statues Colonel Ojisan (Uncle Colonel) and while there are official costumes for times like Christmas, some store employees make their own coverings for the statues to draw more attention to their store. [link]
I actually haven't eaten at a KFC in Japan yet, though I might go there with some American friends of mine for Christmas. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

At the Bazaar

Last week I learned about a Bazaar that occurs every few months near my host family's house. I decided to check it out as I can rarely resist a good deal. It was a huge event, absolutely filling a local park. There were a few food vendors and advertisers, but the bulk of the Bazaar consisted of individual sellers getting rid of unwanted items. It was like an absolutely giant garage sale. Many people were selling anime merchandise and I asked one seller who had purchased the anime figures they were selling. She told me that they were her son's. I bought a figure from her and now I'm wondering if it was the prized possession of some poor Japanese youth that was practically given away by his callous mother. In any case I got a sweet deal.

As with many local events I've attended, I was the only foreigner there. Whenever this happens I figure I must be doing something right as I try to avoid touristy events in the interest of getting a more authentic Japanese experience.

Monday, November 18, 2013

'tis the season

I've started to see a reasonable amount of Christmas stuff around town and they sometimes play J-pop versions of Christmas songs in convenience stores. Japan is around 1% Christian so I suppose it's more of a commercial thing. It's rather interesting seeing Christmas stuff when it's still fairly warm out. In Osaka there's pretty much a 0% chance of having a white Christmas, but that's ok. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A house with a yard!

Walking near my house today I saw this, and while it didn't immediately seem strange, after thinking about it for a second I realized that this was the first time I had seen a residential lawn since coming to Japan. While this plot might look quite normal in an American neighborhood, it really stands out in Japan. It's especially surprising that the lawn is not really being used for anything. I would imagine that this person is the envy of his neighbors as even if one could afford such a plot, the chances of finding one in town seem extremely slim.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

An Unfinished Job for Good Luck

Ever since I moved into my host family's house, I've noticed this strange recess in the living room ceiling. I didn't have the occasion to ask about it until today when I was talking with my host mother about how my host father built the house. It turns out this is a leftover space from where the stairs used to be, but more interestingly, it was left unfinished on purpose.

It is a tradition among carpenter's in Japan to leave a project slightly unfinished for good luck. It's thought that once a project is 100% completed, something bad is bound to happen, so by leaving a job 95% complete, this bad thing can be avoided. Even in his professional work, my host father leaves small unseen details unfinished. For example, he often does not completely finish painting areas such as attics where people are unlikely to go. If a customer asks why he hasn't finished a small part of a job he explains this traditional carpenter wisdom.

I think I may apply this technique to the essay I have to write soon, can you imagine what sort of bad things might happen if I actually finished it?

Friday, November 15, 2013

I finally (fig)ured it out.

There's a fruit tree near the entrance to my house and from time-to-time, my host father picks some of the fruit and brings it inside. I usually have one and I figured it was some sort of exotic fruit native to Japan. Today I asked my host parents what they are called. It turns out they're just figs, or ichijiku (いちじく). I guess I'd never seen or eaten a fig in the US. They taste somewhat like fig newtons, which isn't surprising. You learn about all sorts of things studying abroad.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Thrift Store Treasures

Since I came to Japan I've been consistently delighted by the amount of Anime related merchandise available pretty much everywhere. This always seemed exceptional to me, but while I was wandering around my local thrift store it occurred to me that the Anime products I find so interesting here, like this Kiki's Delivery Service toilet seat cover, are really just the Japanese equivalent of the Disney and Looney Toons products that litter US thrift stores. Looking through the shelves of random coffee cups you find images Astro Boy and Sailor Moon that probably seem to Japanese people like Sylvester the cat and Tweety Bird seem to us. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Phone Booth

Walking near my host family's house I found this phone booth. I can't recall ever seeing an operational phone booth before so this was rather interesting. Most people in Japan have a cell phone so I'm not sure who would use this, but it was in rather good condition. I guess it might prove handy in a pinch.

Family Business

Walking around the large train station near school I saw this smokestack in the distance. When I got close I realized the smokestack was coming out of this tiny shack. I'm not sure what they produce here but the furnace takes up the entire left half of the building. In Japan there's a long history of small businesses in residential areas. In the past there wasn't really a sense of zoning in Japan, so quite often families would have street-facing business on the ground floor of their houses.

Kid's Drawings

Today on the train, I noticed that the banners that are usually occupied by ads contained children's drawings mostly about trains. This was a refreshing change. It's interesting that the train company would do this considering how valuable that advertising space undoubtedly is. I have more respect for the Keihan company now. Maybe that's what they planned!

If you can afford it.

While cars in Japan are typically smaller than those in the US, there are certainly exceptions. This hummer H3 for example which, as a side note, gets 14 mpg which is actually not exceptionally bad considering it's size. In any case I wouldn't be surprised if it costs the owner more to park this beast than it does to fuel it. Gas costs $5.75 per gallon in Japan which is high, but not prohibitively high. While gas prices undoubtedly factor into purchasing decisions in Japan, smaller gars are also generally cheaper to begin with. The compact "boxy" cars typically associated with Japan often sell for $8000 or less. Since most cars in Japan are small, there is also less of a fear of crashing into larger cars. There seems to be a kind of arms race going on in the US when it comes to car size that doesn't seem to be an issue in Japan. Finally, navigating Japanese side streets in a larger car would be extremely difficult. While Semi trucks in the US try to avoid residential streets, large trucks in Japan are quite literally wider than some streets.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


There is an individual in a wheel chair who often rides the train I take to school. To help this person enter the train, a station employee brings down a portable ramp and similarly, when our train arrives at it's destination, another employee is waiting with a ramp. I was impressed by this rather personal level of service.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Jazz Where You Least Expect It

My school had a cultural festival on Friday. Basically it's a chance for all the clubs on campus to put on some kind of show/fundraiser. Most clubs sold fair-style food, of which I ate quite a bit. The music clubs put on shows. There was an A Cappella group performing outside, and the rock club was performing in a classroom which they had decorated as the "Cavern Club" which I assume is a reference to the Cavern club where the Beatles started playing. The Jazz club went one step further and offered coffee and bagels with their show. You had to buy a drink to enter "Cafe Beats" but it was well worth it. The coffee was of questionable quality as it came from cartons, but with enough sugar and cream it was alright. In any case, the true purpose of the club was the music. Throughout the day, various Jazz groups performed and I tried to catch a good number of them. Most of the groups were a little stiff, the freeform nature of Jazz probably doesn't come naturally to people, but they were talented nonetheless. One group in particular stood out though. They were called J.Seventh and their members seemed to have a good feel for the music. The solos were interesting and the members appeared to be having a good time. I especially enjoyed the guitar player whose playing seemed beautifully effortless.

When I woke up that morning I didn't think I'd have the chance to go to a Jazz cafe, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Scarring Animals with Shiny Things

As I mentioned in this post, people here seem to think that shiny things scare away unwanted animals. While this might be true, it seems to me that often the shiny things are more of an eyesore than the animals.

Here is a CD suspended from some wire in a very public part of campus. I believe the contraption is designed to scare away birds. While this probably works, it contrasts sharply with the orderly and professional look of everything else around campus.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Voice of the People

At breakfast and dinner I have the opportunity to watch some Japanese TV with my host family. Often we watch the news, but sometimes we watch one of the many variety shows that are some mix between American game shows and reality shows. Every once in a while they would invite the viewers at home to vote on some topic and 4 primary-colored boxes would appear. I noticed that those colors were lined up in the same order on the TV remote. It apparently costs extra to activate, but this voting system is built into just about every Japanese TV set. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

50th post!

Wow, this came up pretty fast. I've learned quite a bit about what it's really like to live in Japan, but I've definitely got a lot more to learn in the months to come. I've really enjoyed making these blog posts and I intend to continue to do so in the future. I really appreciate your feedback, if you find a post especially interesting or have a question about anything related to Japan or photography, please let me know.

This blog has received around 2.5k views so far which is pretty cool if you ask me. It's also cool to think that so many of you take time out of your day to read this. I've heard that even my grandmother reads my blog as part of her morning routine. Hi Grandma!

I hope I can continue to provide great content for you guys. If you know anyone else who is interested in all things Japan, please point them in my direction! Thanks!


Scott S.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Toyota Logo(s)

I assume most people in America have become familiar with the Toyota logo. The logo clearly marks a car as one produced by Toyota Motor Company of Japan and distinguishes it from other brands. That is typically the function of a product logo. In Japan, most auto manufacturers have a unique logo which they place on all of their cars. Toyota, however, has numerous logos, some associated with a particular model and others associated with an entire line of vehicles. The rear logo of all Toyota cars is the same as the logo used in America, but the front logo is quite often different depending on the model. Here are some logos that I've encountered since coming to Japan.

These are all cars produced by Toyota and they all feature the standard Toyota logo on the back. A few models have the standard logo on the front including the Prius line, but this is uncommon. Toyota produces an extremely large number of models for the Japanese market so the different logos may be used to help differentiate models by level of luxury or sportiness.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Some Like It Hot

At a few vending machines you can purchase coffee drinks that are hot. I don't think this system was thought out very well though as hot liquid in a metal can is not the best idea. Also, the coffee is dispensed immediately suggesting that it is kept hot all the time. The drink I tried had milk in it and it didn't taste quite right. It's a pretty impressive technological achievement in any case.


I've seen sets of screens like this at most train stations and I didn't realize until recently what they are for. These screens display areas further down the boarding platform. The man at the end of the train as described in this post checks these screens and ensures that everyone has boarded before he closes the doors.

I would also like to make a correction related to the above-mentioned post. Previously I suggested that the front and rear of the trains were identical, this is not usually true. I've seen some special trains where this is the case, but for most trains like the one pictured in the post, the front actually has considerably more controls.  

Monday, October 21, 2013

Knuckle Warmers

In Japan, gas costs around $5.77/gal meaning that driving can be seriously expensive. Because of this, many people drive scooters and sometimes motorcycles. The items pictured here appear to be designed to shield the driver's hands from the elements. I can't say for sure, but this seems rather unsafe.

Safety First

On busy roads through residential areas, you often see plastic signs in the shape of children asking drivers to look out for kids in the road. This is an older, probably homemade version and I find something terribly ironic about the fact that it appears to have been hit by a car at some point in the past.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Oppressive Tree Society

Sometimes I can't decide whether Japanese society is tougher on it's people, or it's trees. Though as a foreigner I am free of the various pressures felt by Japanese people to conform to certain societal expectations, I am aware that for Japanese people, these pressures are great and profoundly shape how people live their lives.

Similarly, trees are expected to grow in ways that are extremely unnatural in the name of beauty. It seems like the true art is keep the trees alive as they are contorted into seemingly impossible shapes. I've seen styles where the gardener clips off all but the outermost leaves on each of the branches of the tree and yet somehow it survives. The tree pictured here is kind of fun. It looks like the owner is trying to create a decorative touch over the front gate by heavily altering the growth of a nearby tree. So far so good.

Saturday, October 19, 2013


Starting in the 1950s, to offset the housing demand created by the then-increasing Japanese population, the Japanese government began building giant housing developments known as Danchi (団地) which literally means "group land." In contrast with traditional Japanese architecture at the time, the Danchi were entirely utilitarian and almost completely devoid of style. The individual apartments of a Danchi are almost identical and a Danchi complex may consist of numerous identical buildings. Pictured here are buildings C36-38 of a single complex that I later discovered extends from C1 to C40.

Quite often Danchi are used to symbolize the loss of traditional culture in Japan as it becomes more westernized. I am aware of a Japanese TV drama that focuses on the difficulties of adapting traditional ideas of community and family to life in Danchi.

Despite their negative perception, Danchi do make it possible to live somewhat affordably in the more heavily crowded areas of Japan. I've read about a Danchi in the center of Tokyo where a one bedroom apartment costs $600/month which is really a steal. Similarly, my host brother lives in a Danchi in a suburb of Osaka for only $80/month. While they certainly lack style and individuality, Danchi do provide a means to live reasonably in a country where space is always at a premium.

Always in the Distance

I'd gotten so used to it I forgot to mention that much of the Kansai region is bordered by mountains that are often quite visible in the distance. Coming from Minnesota where the closest thing to a mountain I've seen is that wicked sledding hill over by.... anyway, when I got here it was pretty strange to always see mountains on the horizon. While I've often entertained the idea of walking up into the mountains, in reality they're actually quite far away and I'm not aware of any train lines that take you close to the largely uninhabited regions near the mountains.

While this picture doesn't offer the clearest view of the mountains I've come across, it gives a good idea of what people in Osaka see on a daily basis as they go about their day.

Water Defence

Ever since I got to Japan, I've noticed large bottles of water seemingly on display outside various people's homes. I had gotten used to it, but after seeing this house which takes this practice to the extreme, I had to find out what it was about.

I asked my host mother and she told me that people who don't want dogs and cats peeing on their walls setup these bottles because the way they reflect light is thought to scare animals, discouraging them from peeing. She also said that in her opinion, the bottles are more of an eyesore than some urine and I would have to agree.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Lotte の Fits

Continuing to be a slave to Japanese advertising, I bought this gum today, but I mean, how could I resist? I even took a few minutes to learn the dance.

Shrine Mutual Respect

I went on a class field trip to one of the largest settlements of Koreans in Japan. Most of the people there were born and raised in Japan, but because of Japan's system of naturalization, many of them are not Japanese citizens. The area we experienced primarily consisted of Korean food shops. This was the first time I saw signs written in Hangul (the Korean alphabet) in Japan.

Nearby, a very small Danjiri (portable shrine) festival was taking place. This is an entirely Japanese event though some ethnic Koreans likely participate. This background of this festival was rather interesting. In the past there were two villages that were geographically very close but separated by a large river. In recent times, the river was diverted meaning that the villages were suddenly in closer contact. Each village had it's own Danjiri festival so when the river was moved, they began holding their festivals at the same time. As a show of respect, the Danjiri from one village travels to the main permanent shrine in the other village and "bows" to the shrine. Pictured here, as the musicians inside the Danjiri beat a lively rhythm, men from the village tip the back of the Danjiri up making it appear as though it is bowing to the other village's permanent shrine.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"Edgy" in Japan

While this is a somewhat difficult point to get across, basically, youth in Japan are all talk and no walk when it comes to acts of deviance and actually, that's probably a good thing. Looking around campus at my university I see some very interesting alternative forms of dress. If these people were American's I would assume they were part of a rather serious subculture and probably did something rather illegal from time to time. Getting to know some of these people though, I find that many of them are simply interested in expressing individuality and are, in fact, very well-behaved people.

As with many other American subcultures, the symbols of Marijuana culture in the US have become somewhat popular with young people in Japan. I've seen many T-shirts, bags, and wallets emblazoned with Marijuana-related symbols. I've also seen pot-leaf air fresheners in people's cars and in stores. Once again, in practice, most of these people do not actually partake in the consumption of illicit drugs as doing so in Japan is criminalized to a ridiculous extent. It seems that it is just an expression of the desire to be different.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Floor Space

While the area around my house in a suburb of Osaka is fairly crowded, the land isn't quite expensive enough to justify the construction of a building like this. I saw this building on a recent trip to downtown Osaka. They're somehow able to cram two apartments per floor into this extremely skinny building. I guess if you really want to be in the heart of the action downtown sharing a single lot with 20 other people is not so bad. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

A nice light to walk by.

On an especially late walk I noticed these delightful streetlights. Japan is exceptionally safe even at night so I am able to wander about in the dark and not worry about running into dangerous people. I'm starting to like city-life but I'm not sure I could be so carefree in an American city.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Seeing the Donut Sights

I visited the Mr. Donuts in Shinsaibashi and Nipponbashi, two of the biggest shopping centers in Osaka. Both stores had the same Donuts. Maybe I should start trying donuts from other shops, or maybe eating things that aren't donuts. More on this story as it develops. 

Coming Clean

It's taken a while to put this post together as usually when I'm using this space, I don't want my camera anywhere near. In any case, today I will be discussing my bathroom! 

While in a previous post I used the term bathroom, this time I literally mean the room with a bath. I've found talking with my non-American friends that the American use of the term, "bathroom" is somewhat uncommon. In other English-speaking countries it appears that, "bathroom" is interpreted literally and is not used to refer to the toilet as in America. 

In any case, before I discuss the actual bathroom I'll start with what I guess you could call the pre-bathroom. It is here that one removes their clothes and leaves their towel before entering the bathroom using the door on the left. This room is also where my host parents do their laundry and perform their morning routine.

The bathroom is actually a prefabricated plastic chamber that is waterproof from top to bottom. When I mentioned to my host mother that in America, the bath, toilet, and sink are often together in an otherwise regular room, she was shocked and couldn't imagine how we dealt with issues like mold. I will say it is somewhat liberating to be able to turn on the shower and not have to worry about where the water falls.

The shower head has two functions, it can be held in the hand or set on an adjustable-height stand to act like a regular shower. All the water is controlled by a faucet near the floor, turning the knob clockwise sends water to the shower head and turning the knob counter-clockwise sends water to a rotating spigot that can be used to fill the bathtub or fill up a bowl for a sponge bath.

The temperature of the water is controlled by the panel on the wall above the tub. Basically you set the temperature you would like and the system keeps the water at that temperature. I recently learned that my host father built the house such that the kitchen and upstairs sinks use the same water heater controlled by this panel so when one is done in the bathroom one is supposed to simply lower the temperature back down to 32C or so. I didn't realize this and on several occasions turned the entire system off meaning that the entire house had no hot water. My host mother was understanding though I was quite embarrassed.

In a traditional Japanese bath, the water would be kept warm by a fire outside connected to the bath by a set of tubes. Such baths were designed such that the act of heating the water actually caused it to circulate through the system without mechanical assistance. The metallic disk inside of the tub emulates this system by circulating the water back through the heater using a pump. This makes it possible to keep the bathwater warm indefinitely allowing multiple family members to use it.

Finally, I was initially taken aback by the fact that there is a large eye-level window in the bathroom. After some investigating I found that between the window and the neighboring house there is only about a 1-foot gap and that space has been partially filled by excess building materials my host father has collected over time. Because of this it is practically impossible to see into the bathroom window from outside.

This bathroom is definitely something I will miss in returning to America.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Alcohol in Japan

There are quite a few things to be said about alcohol in Japan. First of all, it's really easy to get. While the drinking age in Japan is 20, this rule is not strictly enforced and I have never been asked for ID when purchasing. There are alcohol vending machines in many places and while some require you to scan your ID, the older machines do not. If underage people want to get alcohol they can probably do so quite easily. While parents of such kids probably aren't thrilled, the police don't hunt them down as rabidly as police in the US.

While in the US glass bottles are a must for the reputation of fine alcoholic products, in Japan this is less so. Many fine brands of sake come in paper cartons much like juice cartons in the US. It is also possible to by very large quantities of even expensive brands of spirits. Suntory whisky is a household name in Japan and has won many awards both domestic and abroad. The company puts a lot of effort into maintaining the prestige of its products and is usually depicted in trademark honeycomb glass bottles (pictured right.) Despite this, it is also possible to purchase fine Suntory whisky in giant plastic bottles (pictured center.) It seems to me that breaking out the ol' 4 liter of Suntory at a fine dinner party seems in poor taste, but it might be different here.

Finally, a bit about how alcohol is referred to in Japanese. While in the west, "sake" refers to traditional Japanese rice wine, in Japan, "sake" refers to alcohol in general. For example, you might ask someone if there's, "sake" in a beverage referring to whether or not the drink is alcoholic. The Japanese word for traditional rice wine is, "nihonshu." For this reason, asking for, "sake" at a Japanese restaurant may lead to some confusion.

It's also worth noting that while drinking in public is frowned upon in Japan, being drunk in public seems to be somewhat accepted as late at night it is extremely common to see inebriated salarymen stumbling home from the bar. Because of the well developed train systems, it is quite easy to get home without driving. This may explain the general acceptance of male public drunkenness.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Curved Escalators

While I don't doubt these exist in the US, I hadn't seen one until I came to Japan and since then I've seen several. While I've seen some installed in places where space is limited such that a regular escalator wouldn't fit, I think the escalator pictured here was installed simply because it's so terribly stylish.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Real Sushi

I had the pleasure of eating at why my host family says is an authentic sushi shop. While the sushi doesn't spin around on a conveyor belt, it was exceptionally tasty.

A few years ago my father was hired to transform an empty shop space into a full sushi restaurant. In the process he become close friends with the owner and his wife. Throughout the evening my family conversed with the owner as he prepared our meals with great speed and skill.

In addition to the fresh fish clearly visible from the counter, there are many menu items I wouldn't commonly associate with sushi. For example, my host mother ordered Dobin Mushi which is basically a tea made from fish and a rare type of mushroom. While the idea of drinking fish didn't sound terribly appealing it was actually kind of good. My family also ordered a dish that was basically a giant fish's head cooked in butter. My mother explained that the best parts of the fish are in the head. Though it took some skill to pick the tiny pieces of meat from the face, they were very tender and the sauce the head was cooked in was delicious. While in the US we're rather taken aback by food with a face, in Japan it is quite normal. In the name of freshness there were even some live fish which could be slaughtered and served in a matter of minutes on request.

While you typically order individual pieces of sushi, there are also special platters such as the one in the picture. It contained an assortment of extremely beautiful vegetables and fish prepared before our eyes.

It's probably worth mentioning that the whole meal cost around $200 for 4 of us. While I can't say I though it was worth it, it was my host father's treat and it was truly amazing food.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Donut Tourism

While traveling to downtown Osaka with my host family, we had some time to kill so we stopped at a Mr. Donut in the subway station. It was much larger than the Mr. Donut in Hirakata. I had a mysterious fluffy chocolate pastry thing with coffee-flavored filling. Of course it was delicious. Sometimes I think about converting this into a donut tourism blog. It's a pretty big part of my life at this point.

The Little Things

Sometimes it's the little things that make Japan so nice. For example, toilet paper that doesn't need a roll. Other examples include: melon-flavored things, clothes that fit people like me, small stylish cars, Mr. Donut, and friendly store clerks.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Interesting Post

I see posts like this all over the place in front of commercial as well as residential buildings. They provide a barrier to discourage people from walking/biking/parking on the owner's property. When not in use they can be lowered completely into the ground. It appears that the latch mechanism for this post has broken. The owner remedied the situation using a pair of disposable chopsticks. quite ingenious

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Looking out for Others

From what I've experienced, driving in Japan is absolutely terrifying. Most residential roads barely have room to accommodate two cars. Whenever two cars meet, a delicate dance is performed as they stop, and then barely sneak by each other. When pedestrians are added to the mix it is beyond me how people aren't getting hit left and right. In reality, Japan has roughly half as many fatalities per 100,000 vehicles as the US so they must be doing something right. This statistic takes into consideration the fact that many people in Japan don't drive.

One thing likely keeping people safe are these convex mirrors installed throughout many residential areas. I've found them quite helpful in keeping track of cars as a pedestrian.

I'm especially proud of the fact that I was able to take this picture without my reflection appearing in either mirror.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Knock on Wood... But Where?

I took this picture when I noticed that all the electrical lines for this train station were incased in rather strange concrete "pipes" that snaked through the entire station. It seemed like concrete was an overly cumbersome material to use as an electrical casing. 
A few days later I was walking across the KGU campus with a friend and in conversation, she used the phrase "knock on wood". It was then that it occurred to both of us that there wasn't any wood in sight. After walking for a bit we found a singular tree to knock on, but clearly there was no wood used in the construction of the campus. 
Since then I have been more aware of the fact that new construction in Japan utilizes very little wood. Of course the old, traditional houses that still stand are absolute masterpieces of carpentry, but that tradition seems to have died out in the construction of new, economical houses.
Returning to the train station, one day I happened to look down at the tracks and noticed that all the railroad ties were made out of concrete! I've often thought when looking at wooden railroad ties in America that such large pieces of wood would be hard to come by now. In Japan that indeed seems to be the case. I would imagine that in Japan natural resources can run out a lot quicker than in America, so when deforestation became a problem, an immediate shift to other materials was probably necessary.
I hope that in the future, America will be more open to making drastic changes when it becomes necessary to protect the environment. knock on... concrete?

Friday, September 27, 2013

Beauty Where You Least Expect It

Though even the suburbs of Osaka are tightly packed and extensively paved, nature somehow finds a way to work itself into the surroundings. Many of the native plants that you might call "weeds" are actually quite beautiful. I've seen white flowers like this growing in the most unlikely places. Even though Neyagawa, where I live has around the same population as St. Paul, MN, somehow it feels more alive and natural. It probably helps that this region of Japan rarely sees temperatures below freezing. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

By Popular Demand...

Finally what you've all been waiting for... my Bathroom!!!

I live where my host family's 3 children used to so I have my own bathroom. In Japan, the toilet is almost always separated from the rest of the bathroom and mine is no different. The sink/mirror/shelf combination is very convenient and the head of the faucet comes off with a flexible hose for doing things like washing your hair. If you have hair that is.

As you may have heard, Japanese toilets are technological marvels. This one is controlled remotely via the panel on the wall. The toilet has a seat heater as well as a deodorizing feature. The thing I find most interesting about this toilet is the miniature sink on top of the tank. While I'm not sure exactly why this is a common feature of Japanese toilets, when you flush, the water that will re-fill the tank comes out of the faucet on top allowing the user to wash their hands with the water before it enters the tank. Kinda nifty though not super useful in my opinion. 
Toilet paper in Japan isn't always perforated so the dispenser has teeth that grip the paper when you pull up, making it easier to tear.

Like many toilets in Japan, this one has a bidet feature. Though I haven't been brave enough to use it, it appears that from this panel, you can control the angle, as well as the temperature of the water. 
You flush the toilet by pressing one of the two button on the top of the panel. To save water there are two flushing options, a large (大) and a small (小) flush. I'll let you guess what each one is for. I've seen this feature on a few American toilets so I hope it's catching on outside Japan.

Truly I'm living in Paradise.