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.