Thursday, December 20, 2012

You never lack for Christmas cheer in Japan!

I don't know what it is about Christmas, but even in Japan where I believe only about 1% of the population are Christians, you get the full effect of the holiday season.  At least the Santa Claus aspects of it.  If you're inclined, you can supply all the spirituality you want.  Expect lots of Christmas music in stores, holiday displays, greeting cards for sale, colorful lights and, sometimes, even gigantic aluminum Christmas trees, tall and shiny enough to warm even Lucy Van Pelt's crabby heart.

Hamamatsu is no exception.  Sometime in November the Col. Sanders statues at the KFCs suddenly donned Santa costumes and they're all standing proudly in front of their bustling restaurants.  Expect long waits for your fried chicken and cole slaw.  The city workers strung blue lights in the trees lining the main street in front of Zaza City downtown and transformed it into a fairyland.  It's too bad there aren't that many shoppers taking it all in.  At the Entetsu department store plaza adjacent to the station there's a lighted globe and dazzling stars suspended from the high ceiling (which didn't exist when last I lived here).

Even in my little neighborhood well north of city center there are houses with blinking lights.  Some jolly soul even decorated an apartment balcony by stringing a few colorful strands along the railing.  Create Drugstore has Christmas music playing over the sound system, which I have to admit entices me to want to overspend. Only I'm generally there to buy toilet cleaner and Belgian waffles, two items that don't exactly inspire feelings of warmth and joy.  Well, maybe the waffles.  They make great stocking stuffers, too.

This year, we'll spend Christmas week in Tokyo.  We have a fancy hotel room reserved and tickets for various events.  It's not a crowded itinerary, but it is a fun one.  The last time I was in Tokyo for Christmas I enjoyed strolling solo among the young lovers out on their romantic dates in Shibuya and Harajuku.  Even there Christmas music drifted through the cold air and brake lights from all the traffic combined with Christmas illuminations and omnipresent neon signage to dazzle the eyes.  I expect more of the same, only this time I'll be one of those romantics.  Which will be very pleasant indeed.

So Christmas is all around the world.  I suppose I should spend some time decrying the encroaching commercialism of it all, but Japan is not a country that shies from commercialism.  We shop til we drop whether it's Christmas or not.  I could bemoan the lack of the holiday's true spirit, but I think that's something that resides within.  You know its meaning and it's up to you to apply it as needed.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Kyoto man, 115, now world's oldest | The Japan Times Online

Kyoto man, 115, now world's oldest | The Japan Times Online

Most of the news here in Japan is of a political nature these days.  We had an election this past Sunday and the LDP won big over the DPJ.  What does this mean?  It means a new prime minister on December 26th, namely Shinzo Abe, who was prime minister not too long ago and, like everyone since Junichiro Koizumi, stunk things up big time (scandals and suicides also wracked his administration) before resigning over "health issues."  But forget all that noise.

Longevity is the thing.  Can you imagine living long enough to become a centenarian?  Or living long enough to hold the record as world's oldest?  I've always wanted to be world's smartest, or world's richest, or world's sexiest, but I would definitely settle for someday succeeding another elder as world's oldest.  There's slightly more turnover at the top of the age game than there is at the top of the Japanese government so I doubt I'd hold the title very long.  Still, you can't get enough life.  I'd outlive even the sun if I could.

Jiroemon Kimura is a miracle.  I love his glasses and his smile. He attributes his long life to eating small portions of healthy foods "without likes or dislikes."

Friday, December 14, 2012

Candidate, 94, taps funeral fund, runs for Lower House seat | The Japan Times Online

Candidate, 94, taps funeral fund, runs for Lower House seat | The Japan Times Online

This guy is amazing.  In fact, he's my new hero.  Whether he wins or not is beside the point; he has a message governments all over the world need to hear and he learned it the hard way, through bitter experience.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Finding an apartment in Japan isn't that difficult...

Especially if your fiancee is Japanese.  I'm going through the process of getting married here in Japan and part of that involves setting up housekeeping together.  My current place is one of those living room/kitchen in the entrance/shower room studio apartments.  Nice for one, not so pleasant for two.  Not so pleasant for the neighbors, that is.  One person can think, but two people have to talk.  Unless they're highly evolved telepathic super-humans who no longer need to communicate through the clumsy device of spoken language.

My first apartments here in Japan came courtesy my employers.  Nova shares in Toyohashi and Hamamatsu, my own private Idaho out in Sanarudai then another in Motohama-cho, a small place in Asahi, Chiba.  Friends helped me find my current place.  It took some doing.  I had to sign all kinds of forms, visit banks and city halls, but the friend who handled the Japanese side did the heavy lifting.  And on top of that, I had to have a third party sign on as my guarantor.  It took a month and there were some dead ends and disappointments along the way.

This time out my fiancee took over.  She started looking Monday, we discussed a place Wednesday, she looked at it Friday and we closed on it Sunday.  Yes, there's some discrimination involved.  She knows it, I know it, the realtor who handled our transaction admitted as much.  I make no excuses for my adopted country in that.  A more activist type might make an issue of it, and justifiably so.  I'm just trying to smooth the way for a spring ceremony.

Here's how it went down--  The realtor picked us up in a tiny company car just outside Hamamatsu Station, drove us a circuitous route to his office where a co-worker served us green tea.  The temperature inside was positively Hawaiian, perhaps to elicit faster agreements from the prospective renters.  My fiancee and the realtor talked for a while, he presented her with some forms which she read and carefully filled in in a matter of minutes, then another realtor presented us her credentials and read the leasing agreement to my fiancee point-by-point while my fiancee made notes in pencil and asked carefully considered questions.

The realtor informed us in her business-like tone the apartment doesn't permit pianos.  Knowing my rock star past, my fiancee asked about guitars (the day before I had floated the idea of the two of us teaming up John-and-Yoko-like with a private studio at some point in the future and true to her nature, she did not forget).

I sipped tea and observed.  My role in the ceremony involved peeling off a number of 10,000 yen notes and laying them carefully inside a plastic tray.  I counted them twice, my fiancee counted them once, the first realtor counted them again.  He presented us with a receipt that looked more like a university diploma (with a postage stamp for that extra officially legal touch) and they discussed moving companies.

It took about an hour and fifteen minutes.  Everything complete, the realtor drove us back to the station, entertaining my fiancee with stories of his own mysterious, creative wife and unconventional, heavy-smoking parents.  I laughed along whenever I understood what they were saying.  I think it was a huge relief for my fiancee to have a pleasantly pointless conversation in her native language after discussing heavy financial matters with me in English all weekend.  She's shy, but a charming chatter in her own right, and he seemed like a cheerful fellow.  It relaxed me and I enjoyed looking at the late afternoon clouds in the thinning light.

Wintery afternoons in Japan can be very lovely.