Living Japanese style

Reduce, Re-use, Recycle and BURN

TrashTrash is complicated here. Burnables go out on Tuesday and Friday. Weird things that you wouldn’t really think of, are considered burnable. The agency leaves us helpful little signs so we know what’s what: food, old sandals, bento boxes, plastic bags, plastic bottles (yep) and used chopsticks. The recycling (separated by category) goes out on Wednesday morning: bottles and jars, hairspray aerosol cans,  magazines and newspapers and tin cans. Unburnable things smaller than 30 cm go out on the first and third Wednesday and include: broken bowls and cups (even if they’re glass), batteries, light bulbs and lighters. Not sure what happens items bigger than 30cm but I suspect they go out on the garbage day that we all used to look forward to when I lived here as a bright young thing in the 90s. I think this was the day that people left out GREAT stuff that was barely used that we would scavenge. We got a TV. Seriously. The remote was nicely taped to the top. Not a junker either…I don’t think the model they disposed of was even available in Canada yet. Housing is expensive so most people rent therefore they have a fair amount of disposable income so they buy the latest greatest stuff. But that’s another story. We also got a rice cooker, a new futon in the package, dishes, a table, a bike and a chair. I saw a bread maker on the street last Wednesday so I suspect that is when you get rid of big stuff. Maybe we’re not allowed to or maybe they just assume we don’t have anything that big.

The amount of packaging used is much less than it was in the 90s. Things used to be wrapped like crazy. For example, if I bought a bun from the bakery (one bun), it would be put on a small cardboard tray with a doily and a napkin, then into a small box, then into a carrier bag–sometimes with tissue paper. You could not sway them from this procedure and I even spoke Japanese then. When I moved into in the city (Gotanda, the armpit of Tokyo) there was another foreigner I would see at the supermarket who used to bring her own shopping bags (remember this was 1991) and the cashiers did not know what to make of her. They treated her carefully, like she was an unpredictable nut job that would potentially destroy the social order.

In terms of recycling and package, there have been improvements twenty-three years later. I’ve noticed that the packaging is less, I even get bonus points on my supermarket card if I bring my own bags! However, there is still an awful lot of garbage and some changes will be a long time coming: they still offer plastic umbrella bags at every store which you are expected to use when it rains.

Where, you may be wondering, do they actually BURN the trash? It would appear that there is an incinerator just down the street from us. In fact, I can see it now from where I sit. Though this is obviously an environmental faux pas, what choice do they have really? They probably don’t have room for landfills…. They could recycle the plastics and I’m not sure why they don’t; they could cut down on packaging; they could eat fewer packaged foods. To be fair to the Japanese, they do have an awful lot of people to contend with and they do have some time-honoured traditions that are VERY eco-friendly. The bento box, for example, used to be made of lacquerware (now mostly plastic) and is re-used every day. A large cloth called a furoshiki is used to wrap up your lunch or other items. Children are often given a cloth napkin in their fabric lunch bag. Kimono are handed down for generations. I have confidence the Japanese will come up with a solution.

This pile is of our ‘burnables’ since Friday. That’s for four people, one of whom left on Sunday. Not big eaters and the girls eat our at least one mean per day so I imagine for a family it would be a lot more. Note the lovely shot of the incinerator in the setting sun…they burn the garbage at night so as not to remind people….

Trash Incinerator

Shaking Earth…

earthquakeSo Karis and I were woken up today by the earthquake. The second one we have had. Last Saturday morning was just mild swaying…sort of like being on a boat. Karis didn’t even wake up. This morning’s event woke us both up from a sound sleep and lasted a little longer. There was a siren and an announcement over some sort of loudspeaker in the neighbourhood, which, of course, we couldn’t understand 😉 Then it ended and we went back to sleep.

I remember my first earthquake in Japan…23 years ago. Things actually fell off shelves. My roommate and I ran out into the middle of the street. No one was there. No siren. There was another one while we were out there in the middle of the road, in the middle of the night. No one even turned their lights on! Our apartment was old and it sort of swayed and rocked with the movement of the earth. We did get used to them…they happened almost weekly.

Apparently the apartment we live in now pretty safe though the girls tell me the apartment in Asakusa is better and you can’t even feel them there. I read a blog on what to do when an earthquake happens written by a foreigner living in Japan (http://www.thejapanguy.com/earthquake-safety-10-things-to-do-during-an-earthquake/). Apparently we’re supposed to stay indoors and know where there are flashlights (nope) and have a first aid kit (yep) and follow the instructions from a battery-operated radio (maybe?). Oh yeah…and don’t panic 😉

Car Culture

Alfa Romeo traffic UPD DeliveryIMG_0230

They have cars here that we don’t get in North America. Some are very cool Japanese concept cars that are hybrids or electrics; some that are extremely tiny and compact from international car makers; and some that are fancy versions of Toyotas that they don’t export. Apparently the Japanese car market is highly competitive and very specialized with high tariffs. Basically Japanese people like Japanese cars though there are growing numbers of number of luxury cars in wealthier areas. Apparently it is prestigious to own the usual suspects here as well: Mercedes, BMW, Jaguar, Alfa Romeo and Range Rover, though the patriotic stick to the luxury versions of Japanese brands that are not usually exported.

Driving here is a nightmare. It’s on the other side of the road, like the UK. I am almost run down at least once a day. The traffic is horrendous–I actually saw a woman READING whilst driving the other day. To be fair, she wasn’t moving very quickly. People also text while driving here too and I don’t think it is illegal. If it is, everyone does it and no one seems to care.

Lots of people ride bikes…especially mums with kids and older people. I haven’t been hit by a cyclist yet and I’m learning to look out for them. They don’t ring their bells that often…they probably think it’s rude. I have to say…it’s all pretty efficient, the transportation thing, considering the population of Canada lives in Tokyo. If we were staying longer, I’d get a bike. I certainly wouldn’t drive here. Ever. Even if I lived here.

Car = kuruma

Laundry by Susan

Laundry

Laundry is a little more old-style here. Not that I’m down by the river pounding it on a rock or anything…which wouldn’t work because the river is black, but it’s a lot more labour intensive. For starters, I can’t really understand the washing machine. I can wash a load in cold water and spin it dry. There are few dryers here as electricity is very costly. They have those fancy-dancy two-in-one models that apparently wash AND dry but we use the time-honoured air dry method. Which is fine if it’s sunny out but a bit more time-consuming if it rains. Also, we only have one bath towel each and one set of sheets so you need to make sure you have lots of time to dry everything. When I lived here 23 years ago and we dried laundry on the deck, white clothing rapidly turned grey from the pollution. I think I’m in a nicer neighbourhood now, in that there are no factories or trains in my backyard, (though we do have a garbage incinerator though it apparently only runs at night for a variety of reasons), but I think it’s also less polluted in some ways. You aren’t actually ALLOWED to smoke in the streets. They have these smoke pits in various spots–for sure outside the train stations–and, for the most part people actually use them. That being said, you can still smoke in a lot of the restaurants here.
Anyway, back to laundry. Long term cold water washing doesn’t seem to get stuff CLEAN, but I can’t read the machine and have no idea how to change it. Better call in the Japanese friends. Cold water wash does give me limited opportunities to ruin stuff though. To dry laundry they have all kinds of cool little clip hangers and poles, but what I really want is a stand up rack. They’re not so popular here for some reason, maybe because they blow over in the wind? Most people have bars that hang from their deck that they hook their handy-dandy clip hanger laundry things to (see photo on title page). People also do laundry here pretty much every day. Probably because it’s so frickin’ hot and their clothes get dirty fast. I air-dried a thick towel today on my deck in under an hour. Seriously. It was ridiculously hot. I’m feeling quite noble and environmentally friendly, though I think the fact that they burn my trash at night kind of cancels that out.

Please note that this article was in tribute to my good friend, Susan–the most environmentally friendly person I know who always air dries her laundry;-)

I live next to a…park for aspiring sumo wrestlers!

In the photo, the image on the far left is my house–the one with the expansive deck with the sliding doors is our room. This little park filled with Zen and bamboo and carved stones (maybe gravestones, not really sure) and a sumo ring is literally in my backyard. It’s an actual covered sumo ring with curtains and tassels, though you aren’t allowed to use it without permission, as well as kiddie playground stuff, contemplative paths and a public toilet.

Eating: More complicated than I thought

I forgot how small everything is here. No storage. They sell eggs in packs of four. No oven. Sharing with six other people. One shelf, one storage basket and one shelf in the fridge. Two burners, one microwave, one toaster/grill/potentially explosive device. No rice cooker and the blender is broken. It seems that a lot of people (Japanese people not just the idiot foreigners) eat at 7-11 (the ‘conbini’= convenience store) and there’s no shame in that here. I’ve found Greek yogurt, green tea and English muffins as well as chopped pineapple and affordable grapefruit. Though last night we did got to 7-11…ramen noodles, seaweed chips and carrot ice cream. Going to get more organized today seeing as they do keep track of the girls’ measurements–the clothes are a lot smaller here. Most of the girls eat pretty well especially the older more experienced models; the young ones tend to choose pasta and toast in a pinch. Can’t say that I blame them…easy, cheap and recognizable comfort food. You can get awesome sushi at the supermarket though for about $4… Just takes a little organization. And the toaster/grill thing scares me. It is gas and doesn’t always light quickly… Anyone who knows me knows that I can’t even light the barbecue because I harbour a deep distrust of propane. So you can imagine me making toast…

Most excellent flavours

After last night’s culinary adventure with tomato ice cream, tonight I really walked on the wild side with carrot. Not bad… To be honest, they taste mostly like fruit with vegetable high notes. Karis got ripple chips flavoured with what I suspect was seaweed. Not surprising really since we are in Japan. Also got some great fast foods suggestions from friends…most were yucky and just BIG but I must say the Wendy’s Surf and Turf did sound mildly appealing. Sadly it was a promo item only 😦Carrot ice cream

To-i-re wa, doku ni ari masu-ka? (Where is the toilet?)

Toilets

The Japanese are master toilet makers. Ranging from the squatting version on the left to the high-tech Toto in the middle to the standard household model, they’ve got it all covered. The squat toilet was in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and was one traditional toilet amid a sea of Western ones. It’s actually fairly hygienic as you don’t actually touch it with your body anywhere…. The high-end Toto version was in the Loft department store in Shibuya and has a build in bidet function, a dryer (some still regard the use of toilet paper as incredibly dirty) and can play music or a fake flushing sound should you be making an embarrassing sound yourself that needs covering up. Sadly most of the instructions are in Japanese which makes it a little tricky. The toilet in our house is pretty standard for middle-class homes with the built-in tap on the top to wash your hands with the water that is FILLING the tank. Cold but better than nothing and also a good way to conserve water…. Personally I prefer the Totos with the heated seats that play music 😉

Our house…in the middle of our street

This is our hacienda in all its glory. Top left is the kitchen ‘storage’ and I use that term lightly. Daily grocery shopping is my life. Next is the view of the eating area from the front foyer. Top right is our bedroom…that’s my bed by the deck. Notice the laundry drying on the curtain rod. Electricity is expensive = air drying. Middle left is the bath/shower room–shared by 7 people. The idea is to clean yourself first then soak in the tub. Seeing as we’re not Japanese that doesn’t happen. Middle right photo is the living area and eating area also shared by seven people though most of the girls hang out in their rooms. Note the couches. This is a big deal. Many apartments don’t have such large spaces and definitely no couches. When I was here in 1990-91 I lived without a couch the whole time. Too old now for that sitting on the floor stuff. I make sure to sit on the couch at least once a day to express my gratitude. Bottom left is the washing machine which is immediately adjacent to the shower room. Next is me at the top of the stairs just by our bedroom door. Next is the entry hall with shoe storage (no shoes in the house) and finally, last but not least is one of our two toilet rooms. We’re in Shibuya which is a decent area and this apartment (flower shop on the bottom floor) is probably worth about $2 million dollars….

Snapshot of My Day

A day in the life…first of all, toilets. I think I could possibly write a book about toilets here in Japan. At least a post on toilets, but I’ll get some more photos first. For now, the toilet seat cleaner. It’s a movement detecting device so no touching anything icky and all you do is insert your little wad of TP underneath, wait for the spray and wipe the seat. Though it is entirely possible that the Japanese do it after they finish as well. I may never know the truth about this. Secondly, vending machines. Everywhere. The one in the photo is literally outside my door. I could go in my pyjamas. There’s a recycling bin right beside it because you are sort of expected to drink on the spot and not wander about offending people by drinking in public. Sadly I have learned it is no longer possible to buy vodka or any other spirits from vending machines due to a crackdown on underage drinking…but I can get it at the 7-11 across the street 😉 (more…)