Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Macaroni westerns?

I teach a chapter from an upper-level English book that includes what kind of entertainment people like. Part of the chapter is about movie genres such as drama, action, comedy, musicals, sci-fi and so forth. It seems that whenever I ask my students if they know any other genres, this is what pops us: macaroni westerns.

Macaroni? The first time I heard it, I thought my student just made a mistake. "Don't you mean spaghetti westerns?" I asked.

"Spaghetti westerns?" my student asked. "No, macaroni westerns."

After hearing this at least three or four times now, I'm convinced that what Americans know as "spaghetti westerns" has entered the Japanese mainstream as "macaroni westerns."

Who knows how these misunderstandings get started, but they do provide some humorous moments.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Things I miss

Don't get me wrong. I'm really enjoying living in Tokyo, but, to be honest, there are some things I miss.

Central heating
How is it possible that a country that leads the world in technology can't figure out a way to heat and cool an entire house or apartment? All we have are these wall-hung combination heating/air conditioning units--one to an apartment. They're terribly inefficient and very expensive to run, so most people don't use them unless the weather is either extremely hot or extremely cold.

Insulated houses/apartments
In Japan, almost no insulation materials are used in construction. Whereas in the U.S. we have double-wall construction and double- or triple-glazed windows, Japan apparently has no use for these modern luxuries. I can sit in my apartment and watch the curtains billow out as the wind whips through. There is absolutely no retention of any heat. In the summer, it's the opposite with no retention of cool air.

Warm bathroom
See above.

This includes both personal and living space. I'm sure this is just an American bias, but I really miss having space for me and my things. Most of the time I'm elbow-to-elbow with other people, no matter where I go. Even in our teacher lounge, there are times when a room about the size of two bedroom closets holds 20 people or more. Often, between classes, it's standing room only. Everything in Tokyo is built with the thought of putting as many people as possible into as little space as possible. Apartments are the same. My entire apartment is probably about 150 square feet and costs me about $700 a month. My kitchen and bathroom are about 8 square feet each, and there is no heat in either of those rooms. Fortunately, I have a sliding shoji door that closes off the kitchen from my main room, and a door that closes off the bathroom area. That helps to keep my room warmer in the winter, but makes for icy-cold bathing and cooking!

Familiar stores
I miss stores like TJ Maxx, Ross, Fred Meyer, Pottery Barn, Lowe's, and Nordstrom. I could find anything I wanted in that combination of stores. In Tokyo, I have no idea where to find things. Everything is either in small, boutique-type shops, or enormous department stores that are like mazes. Even in such huge stores, I can't find what I'm looking for. And forget about finding clothes that fit! Armholes are half the size of American clothing, and bras and other underwear are made for 12-year-old-sized bodies. Women here also have wide waists, no hips and flat bottoms. I have none of those attributes.

I really miss the quiet, peaceful , sounds of nature. Everywhere here is noisy, from the sounds of loudspeakers hawking everything from politics to roasted sweet potatoes, to trains blowing their horns, to people talking, to music playing in the streets. . .everywhere, noise, noise, noise.

My things
I miss having my furniture here in Tokyo, and my beautiful china and crystal. I miss my books, pictures, art, rugs, good thick towels, 400-count sheets, my big down comforter.

Very few people have dryers. How can people live without dryers in a land where the summers are constantly rainy, where there are more than 20 typhoons a summer, where the humidity is around 90 percent for eight months out of the year, where winters are freezing cold? Washers and dryers are very expensive here, but there's plenty of money in Japan. Why doesn't everyone have a dryer? And, how nice does it look to see laundry hanging from every possible niche and cranny, including balconies, living rooms, bathrooms, kitchens or wherever there's a hook, curtain rod, moulding, or doorknob?

Even though it's very convenient to take the train, I miss having my own car. There's nothing quite like that convenience that I took for granted my entire lifetime.

Family and friends
While I've made many fantastic friendships during my time in Tokyo, I miss being in closer proximity to my daughter and her husband. Email and Skype and regular phone calls are great, but nothing compares to being able to talk face-to-face and give each other hugs. That's what I miss the most.