Sunday, 31 May 2009

Women Only

Hurrah for the Women Only cars on trains and subways! Thanks to the 0.5% of Japanese men who are sukebe chikan (dirty touchers) many lines run women only cars during the morning and evening rush hours. This gives us women a place to sit in comfort and put on our make up. Women Only cars felt strange at first. I thought there might be some greater sense of cameraderie and that women might chat to each other. But we don't. Most women are so tired they fall straight to sleep. What unites us in action is the idiot male who decides to get from one carriage to another by going through the Women Only car. I have noticed women stretching their legs out across the passageways to trip them up. I have started doing it too. Some women will tell the guy outright to get off the train. The complete sense of entitlement and feelings of instant outrage when a man tries to abuse our rights is quite surprising. After all, if I was in the next carriage I'd be surrounded by men. But one man in the Women Only car is totally unacceptable. Kill him! Now I realise how some British men must have felt in the Seventies when women began invading their companies and working men's clubs. I see how easily the hostility can bubble up.

A male colleague rightly stated that if there is a Women Only car then there should be a Men Only car too, for all those guys who don't want to risk being accused of being a chikan. Because it can happen so easily. Tokyo trains are crowded at all hours and putting your hand in your pocket to get your railpass could land you in jail. This is the sad part about Women Only cars, that they have to exist at all. On rare occasions a man will get in a Women Only car and sit down. He will relax there for a moment, perhaps planning his route or checking his stop, and then slowly the realization will dawn that he is the only man in the carriage and that the women around are staring at him. When he sees the Women Only sign he is utterly mortified, like he has suddenly found himself in a ladies' restroom, and he will leap up and run like a frightened rabbit to the next carriage. He will be demonised for making an honest mistake. The real chikan meanwhile will be somewhere else on the train touching up high school girls.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Hygienic Hand Washing

Are you doing your bit to prevent the spread of influenza? Follow these instructions from a public restroom.


Hygienic Hand Washing

1 Rinse your hands in the running water
2 Get soap
3 Wash your palms
4 Wash the backs of your hands
5 Wash your fingers
6 Wash your fingers (The picture shows that this time you wash your ‘oya yubi’ or ‘parent fingers’, that is, your thumbs.)
7 Wash your fingertips
8 Rinse your hands in the running water


After you have washed and dried your hands …

1 Get the disinfectant liquid
2 Rub it into your fingertips
3 Rub it over your palms
4 Over the backs of your hands
5 Between your fingers
6 Over your thumbs
7 And over your wrists

You are now ready to perform major surgery.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Summer Drinks 2009

There are a lot of coffee shops in Japan. Japanese homes are small so people generally don't invite friends over. This is also the reason that business is conducted in coffee shops. For example, you can often see housewives drinking tea while negotiating insurance contracts with salespeople. Also heating and air-conditioning are expensive but you can heat up or cool off for the price of a coffee, generally around Y250. And between 4-6pm the cheaper coffee shops (like Mister Donut)are full of students hanging out between school and juku (cram school).

How do you attract customers to your shop? Japanese people like to try new tastes so shops regularly bring out seasonal snacks and drinks. The Excelsior Caffe, for example, is joining the tapioca boom with iced tapioca teas and iced tapioca lattes. The blurb says they taste sweet and coconutty. However I'll be going for the super-healthy matcha latte with soy milk. Matcha is powdered green tea. Green tea and soya in one drink! Ikuzoo! (Let's go!)

Saturday, 23 May 2009

It's Here!

New Flu is now at large in the Tokyo area. One person in my neighborhood is in quarantine and there are no masks to be had. But New Flu has triggered improvements in hygiene and as long as no-one dies I for one could not be happier. In loos, convenience stores and outside food shops such as our on-campus bakery - see above - there are bottles of spray disinfectant. More people are wearing masks on the subway. And today at our school festival we were asked to wear masks to the Rakugo performance. As you can see from the photo about half did. No-one is panicking, in spite of what some of the foreign newspapers are saying. The Japanese are a clean people. They seem to be enjoying it.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

New Flu

Last week it was reported that if any Japanese presented themselves with flu-like symptoms at a hospital they were asked if they had been abroad or if they had any foreign friends. If they answered yes, they were turned away and told to go to one of the new fever clinics. Consequently, sick Japanese friends had to deny knowing me. This week I felt vindicated and rather smug when the "New Flu" finally arrived, brought in by a Japanese tourist returning home from the USA.

I popped into several shops today to buy masks - not because I believe they work but because my university might ask us to wear them - only find that they had all sold out. And I heard several people asking for them. So I only have my antibacterial handwash which I use regularly anyway because I have to handle students' papers, some of which are filthy.

As a university lecturer who has been teaching for over 10 years I'm not too worried about New Flu. Teachers regularly come into contact with so many students who cough, spit, sneeze and hand in germ-covered term papers we tend to build up a strong resistance to bugs. It is said that in the first five years teachers get every bug going. After that they become super-human.

I tried wearing cotton gloves on the subway last week but soon had to take them off to count my change at the station salad counter. Then I realised that unless the government planned to start disinfecting money I was wasting my time.

My university has sent out a memo saying that if the New Flu comes to Tokyo, we will close. The students are already planning their vacations. I thought teachers might get time off too but I see that although the affected schools in central Japan closed, the teachers still have to go to work. So when the students return after seven days, the teachers will all be carriers and ready to infect the entire school.

Japan is a very crowded country full of workaholics who will go to the office no matter what. New Flu is going to spread fast via the buses, trains and subways.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Sunday, 10 May 2009

My Bag

My sister has pointed out to me that in the global fight to preserve natural resources by reusing and recycling, Japan with its wrapping culture does not seem to be doing its bit. It's a fair point. Whilst most regions in Japan do have some pretty comprehensive recycling programmes, half of them wouldn't be needed if products weren't overwrapped in the first place. Things are getting better though. Five years ago I would go shopping with my Asda Bag for Life but shop staff would refuse to let me put my purchases in the bag without wrapping them first. Earlier this year however the goverment persuaded most supermarkets to charge 5 Yen for a plastic bag and to start a 'My Bag' scheme, persuading customers to bring their own. Then coffee shops began 'My Cup' schemes whereby you could take along your own insulated cup.

More expensive shops continue to resist though. The staff at the Yohan bakery can be persuaded to put bread rolls of the same type into one plastic bag instead of in indivual bags (as above) but they still want to give you extra paper bags, plastic ties, and greaseproof papers. And put them all in a large carrier.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Late Ticket

Week 3 and I have received the first 'Chikoku shoumeisho' (late ticket) of the semester. The ticket says "This shows that the honourable customer's train journey was delayed as indicated on this ticket. We are extremely sorry for the inconvenience". The ticket is punched for the 24th (April) and shows that the train was 15 minutes' late. It carries the stamp of the station master. Late tickets are handed out at stations when trains are late and the passengers may be adversely affected. Our university has a late policy and students are marked absent if they are more than 20 minutes' late without a good reason. So this ticket saved one student's bacon.

Most Japanese trains run on time to the second although delays are more common in Tokyo where 'jinshin jiko' ('personal accidents' meaning suicides) or overcrowding cause minor delays most days.