Sunday, October 29, 2006

Japan - Random Thoughts and Pictures

As I near the end of my trip report (still a few more posts to go!), I thought I'd round up a few of the random photos I took that don't really fit in anywhere else and don't have stories of their own and throw them up here. There are always these little moments whenever I go to Japan where I'll notice some tiny little detail around the fringes of my day that stands out for whatever reason... here are a few of them.

You know, sometimes I worry that the term "Engrish" might be offensive to some people. But there's really no other way to describe this:

The Japanese love to use English whenever they can. It's part fad (there's a "cool factor" to it if you can speak English), part government encouragement to promote business and industry, part the Japanese educational system that forces learning English at an early age.

The problem is, this means most Japanese speak a little English. A little. So you get random English words thrown around the Japanese language, their meanings altered and the grammar mangled. And you get these little, almost poetically funny English phrases in various odd places like public restrooms.

I don't mind most of what's generally called Engrish, because a lot of it isn't really trying to be English - it's Japanese. It's a fourth alphabet for them, and they've just incorporated whatever they can from our language into theirs, and so what if they change some things up in the process? When Americans stop pronouncing "karaoke" as "carry-oh-kee" then we can complain about English words in Japanese. But the sign posted above that urinal is definitely not that. It's trying to be real English, and failing hilariously.

Words aren't the only thing the Japanese have borrowed from us:

Click on that photo and open up the big version so you can see what's for sale.

Now, you can take my pancakes and do whatever you want with them. But I'm a New Yorker, and I'll be damned if I'm going to stand idly by while someone in the world is eating a pizza with hard-boiled eggs on it!

That's pretty tame, actually - I have actually eaten soba noodle pizza and it is not really an experience I'd like to repeat. You can get pretty good New York style pizza in Japan these days (and I mean real New York style, not "New York Style" [or "Brooklyn Style", whatever that means]), but more common is squid pizza, soba noodle pizza, egg and mayonnaise pizza. The Japanese can never just take a foreign food and serve it up authentic... they at least have to give you the choice of Japanifying it up completely.

This works better with some foods than others. Some western foods actually benefit from the Japan treatment - the crepe, for example:

You can buy crepes almost anywhere in Japan these days, and rather than being some sort of highbrow breakfast or dessert treat, they're basically treated like carnival food. They're made to order, but the experience is kind of like buying a funnel cake on Coney Island.

So many flavors!

You buy one and they make it right there in front of you and serve it up like an ice cream cone:

So fresh and so good! Available in sweet and savory varieties. That one right there is bananas and cream - it's actually smaller than most. We got it at our hotel. (Not at the same place as the selection shown above.)

Switching gears now. (How's that for a segue?)

Open that one up. Note how the bicycles continue literally as far as the eye can see. You want to see something even more amazing?

This was the view from the same spot in the other direction. This has to be a mile of parked bicycles, in two rows, all packed within inches of each other. And people wonder why the Japanese are in better shape than we are!

This was in Urayasu, near the train station, where my wife lived for a while. According to her, "the trick is remembering where you parked."

When we were in Ginza, we happened to be passing by the Sony building and I noticed a PlayStation 3 in the window. I decided to go inside just to check it out, and lo and behold, the systems were playable!

I got some hands-on time with Minna no Golf 5 and Gran Turismo HD. To play a PlayStation 3 is to want one - I don't care about the high price, I'll be buying one of these as soon as they're easily attainable. (No, I don't plan to wait in line or anything - I've been down that road before, and it's a road to heartache.)

Food again. Japan is known as a tea nation - and rightly so. Tea is really the only no-calorie drink you can get most places, and green tea is still pretty much the national drink. But coffee is huge too, and Japan has two categories of coffee that I wish were bigger here. The first is the gigantic variety of canned cold coffee:

...including some being marketed by American celebrities:

Any vending machine in Japan - and you can't walk a block without stumbling over four or five - will have at least ten different varieties of canned and/or bottled coffee. It is impossible to ever find yourself wanting for caffeine in Japan. Not every variety tastes very good - as averse to overly sweet things as the Japanese are, their coffees are usually way over-sugared. But a few varieties are both smooth and bold, and not too sweet. (The less-sweet versions are labeled as such.) You'll pick your favorites soon enough after being there for a few days.

There's also this:

At any convenience store or supermarket, you can buy single, self-contained filter packs that fit over any standard cup and will give you real, freshly-brewed hot coffee wherever you happen to be. (Provided you're near a water source and potentially something to heat it, of course.) This is pure genius, and so ridiculously convenient that it amazes me we haven't latched on to the idea in America. Do we even have this product here? I've never seen it.

A lot of Americans seem to think of Japan as xenophobic, which I think is just bizarre. The Japanese, at least those in the big, modern cities like Tokyo, are probably more westernized than any other country in Asia. Call it a byproduct of the post-WWII reconstruction. They also love to buy our products, though most of them are just a little bit different to suit Japan's tastes:

What? You knew Haagen-Dazs was American, didn't you? Yep, from the good ol' Bronx, New York!

Anyway, what's wrong with that picture? Blueberry ice cream, that's what. Japan's got some crazy Haagen-Dazs flavors that I really wish I'd tried, like "Azuki" (red bean), "Rich Milk", and "Black Sesame". (I actually tried some great home-made ice cream right off a farm in that "Milk" flavor - it's basically like vanilla but a lot lighter. Apparently very popular in Japan.) Haagen-Dazs also has an excellent Green Tea flavor in Japan that doesn't seem to be available here - I would guess that someday it will be. This is a flavor that's gaining a lot of popularity in general in urban areas of the United States.

As some of you might know, I'm a huge PUFFY fan - I was hoping to see and hear a lot of them in Japan, but I oddly enough saw them only twice, on both the first day and the last day. This was actually at JFK airport:

On the last day, I saw them in a Lipton commercial - they've been enlisted to help Lipton celebrate 100 years in Japan. The first time I went to Japan, everybody was dressed like them and they were all over TV. This time... not so much. It was kind of depressing, especially as their music has actually really improved over the years. This time, rather than Amis and Yumis everywhere, it was little miniature Kumi Kodas - that's the popular style now. But I did still see a few obvious Puffy fans here and there. The Japanese, even moreso than Americans, love to dress up just like their favorite bands and artists - down to individual articles of clothing they've seen them wear. They'll go far and wide searching for that one particular armband or shoe or whatever. So it's easy to tell who's a fan of what.

Coming soon: the Studio Ghibli museum!


  1. Anonymous8:31 AM

    I know there are single-cup brews that Community Coffee sells. They're made for special single-cup brewing machines, but the packets are pretty easily adapted for what you've got there.

    It's very, very new, though. We just started carrying them here about two months ago. I'd have to ask my barrister roomies exactly what the trick entails, but it's possible to rig up a simple way to brew these single-cup pods.

  2. Anonymous12:25 PM

    It's interesting that you found the strange sign in the restroom.
    Probably, most Japanese don't pay attention those signs which are written in English. We just pick up a few works we know and guess what it means. I heard that in China, they are preparing for next Olympic and making many English signs, but some are really weird.
    This is one of the strange examples; Racist Park- (they wanted to say Park of Ethnic Minorities).
    If you have a chance to go to China, you should check these out. Just kidding. Anyway, I enjoyed reading your blog, and I'll stop by sometimes.

    Yoichiro( from Mixi)

  3. gg:

    I've seen the types of filter packs you're talking about in the US, but it seems like the primary goal of these is to sell coffee machines specifically made to use them. I think it's kind of a scam. I've never seen packs designed to just fit over any standard cup in the US, which is the really convenient part of these filter packs in Japan.


    Yeah, I'll bet a lot of these types of signs are just generated by one of those auto-translators. They probably just plug in Japanese (or Chinese in Beijing's case), click the "translate" button and then use whatever comes out. I just put "Park of Ethnic Minorities" into the Excite translator and it came back with 少数民族の公園. How would that look on a sign? I have no idea because I can't read it! I'll bet that was the case with the bathroom sign above. Pretty funny, though. (And in case you're wondering, no, I didn't initially bring a camera into the bathroom! But I had to run out and grab my wife's camera when I saw this sign.)

    Anyway I hope you keep checking back here every once in a while, and check out some of my other Japan posts!

  4. Anonymous9:48 AM

    Actually, the person who wrote the article used the same translation. BTW, I realized that in Japan, because we have a few minorities, it would seem like kind of discrimination if I found the sign in Japan. It's not like the U.S. or China.
    Anyway, I'll stop by your another website too.


  5. Anonymous8:20 AM

    I love crepe ^3^
    true PMJ3^_^
    from Nagoya^3^
    I am not Nagano;)

    Kaela chan love^3^

    Ms Marimari-X^3^


  6. Yoichiro:

    I think something got lost in my last comment, there was supposed to be a Japanese phrase there! It was showing up before... the meaning of my comment is kind of lost without it. Oh well...


    Those crepes sure seem popular there! But I liked them a lot too.

    Thanks for checking out my blog :)

    I'll check out the PMJ site if it ever goes back up...


About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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