Friday, May 16, 2008
Living in Japan, it's always interesting to observe the various "when worlds collide" moments that come along every once in a while. I remember back when J-List's Tomo came to work here, nine years ago. Like many Japanese who grew up in the postwar period, Tomo has always had a lot of respect for the music culture of the West, and he basically taught himsef English by translating and memorizing songs by the Stones and Led Zeppelin. I don't think he ever expected to meet an American who had done the opposite, embracing Japanese pop culture in order to learn his language, as I've done. One day we were talking about the classic 1972 song "Alone Again (Naturally)" by Gilbert O'Sullivan, which a student of mine had ironically played at her wedding, not understanding the words. I was sure was a Beatles song for some reason, and I'll never forget the look of utter shock on his face that an American could get a fact like that wrong. Ever since coming to Japan I've loved onsen, Japan's volcanic hot springs, and I've been to dozens all over the country. When Tomo told me that he almost never went to hot springs, I was equally shocked that a person could live here and not love the bathing culture as I do. It was quite an educational experience for both of us, and these days, he goes to hot springs and I know more about Gilbert O'Sullivan.
Visitors to Japan will encounter many strange and wonderful sights, from thousand-year-old temples and five-stories pagodas to vending machines that manage to take up less than ten inches of space along narrow Tokyo streets. While prices in Japan are often quite reasonable -- we took nine J-List staff members out for Indian Curry and naan bread to welcome a new employee today, and it only cost $100 -- the opposite is sometimes true. For example, virtually all forms of media are pricier in Japan than they are in the U.S., with music CDs still costing around $30, and a video game in a ge-sen (game center) setting you back $2. Gas is expensive, too, currently up to $6.25 a gallon or so. Then there are those mysterious honeydew melons you see in produce shops which cost a mind-blowing $60-80. Japan being Japan, there's more to this high price tag than meets the eye, and these high-end fruits are nearly always purchased as gifts for individuals who have helped you out recently, given to bosses to butter them up for larger bonuses, or exchanged between companies. The bar for ridiculously priced fruits was raised this week, when a pair of exquisite melons from Yubari, Hokkaido (the Mecca of melons in Japan) fetched an unbelievable $24,000 at auction. The high purchase price helps local melon farmers doubly because the news generated by the new price record will no doubt generate a lot of extra interest in these high-grade melons all season long.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Monday, May 12, 2008
Oh, this is the ONLY cultural reference to Mach GoGoGo! I was able to find, after 17 years of living in Japan, a commercial featuring Aya Ueto, It is pretty awesome ^_^
Last time I mentioned that the word "taco" (tako) happens to mean something very different in Japan: octopus. The Japanese get around any confusion related to this by always referring to the Mexican version in the plural, as tacos, which takes some getting used to when you're talking about just one. Sadly, tacos and all other forms of Mexican food are almost completely absent from Japan, and the closest thing you can find are the Twisters from KFC, which aren't that bad if you keep Taco Bell sauce in your car like I do. Imagine my surprise when I went to the local home center over the weekend and saw a real live taco stand set up, selling authentic "Mexican Tortilla Tacos." Every food must adopt to meet the tastes and expectations of the locals, however, so there were some changes to the tacos. These included the option of choosing sweet chili or Italian sauce instead of salsa, and fresh cabbage and cucumbers instead of lettuce -- yum. I certainly hope the taco stand does well so we can enjoy this special treat in the future, which folks in the U.S. are able to take for granted.
What a glorious sight to a starving gaijin!
It took me a while to figure out that "avocado sauce" was guacomole
It didn't look like I quite expected, but...
it was great!