Once again, the number of people who opted out of the rest of their lives through suicide in Japan topped 30,000, according to the National Police Agency. A total of 32,552 Japanese took the tragic step of ending their lives, about the same number as in the U.S. despite the fact that America's population is double Japan's. As usual, people over 60 and those with health problems were the largest group, with unemployed people also highly represented. The number of students of all ages makes up an all-too-tragic percent of the group, a likely indicator of the extra stresses that Japanese society can put on young people. It's not a problem that's easy to solve, but one area I think they should work harder in is counseling -- it's extremely rare for a Japanese to seek some kind of psychological help for a problem, and even if they do that kind of help is very hard to find in Japan.
Whenever you go to live in a new country, you're bound to have your share of culture shock, and I was no different when I first arrived in Japan. A wide range of professions, from the men who guide you past road construction to train station employees, have uniforms that looked to my eyes like police uniforms, so I was constantly wondering why there were so many police walking around in Japan. Every gas station, it seemed, had a big flashing light that looked like police lights, which are really there to attract customers -- but I kept thinking there were accidents ahead of me on the road when it was just a "gasoline stand." I was amazed at the beautiful ceramic tiles on Japanese houses, which made them look, well, very Japanese. And the vending machines -- you couldn't drive a kilometer without passing twenty or thirty of them on either side of you. But one of the biggest shocks was that all but the largest streets in a Japanese city have no names. To give directions in Japan, you tell someone to turn left at the beauty shop, go straight, then turn at the pachinko parlor, or you draw them a map. I distinctly remember wanting to get my other gaijin friends together and name all the streets in our city.
Kanji is cool, and J-List popularized Japanese-themed T-shirts with our best-selling "Looking for a Japanese Girlfriend" and other original designs. Today we've got a great new T-shirt for you: the austere cover of a Japanese passport. A great design that's both elegant and uniquely Japanese, the shirts come in red (standard men's size) and navy blue (fitted girl's shirt), the colors that Japanese passports are made in. Get one of each and go for what's known as the "pair look" (when a couple wears matching shirts) -- kawaii!
Ueno Park is a beautiful sprawling park in Northern Tokyo. I'd actually never been there in 15 years of living in Japan, so I was surprised so much "vibrant greenery" (to use a Japanese phrase) around me. It was the scene of some big battle during the Meiji Restoration when pro-Emperor/pro-reform troops battled the Shogun.
Lining up for the Nasca museum event. There were a zillion people there and the sun was baking.
The Japanese, bless their hearts, had all signs dutifully presented in Japanese...and Spanish. Kind of hard on a "regular" gaijin like me.
We were quite taken with the gift shop on our way out. Here they are selling replicas of hominid skulls for $900 or so. This would not be the last thing I'd think of buying, actually.
Another item in the gift shop, a replica of the human brain. Hmmm, yeah.
The most famous point in Ueno Park is, of course, the giant statue of Saigo Takamori, who is the guy portrayed in The Last Samurai.