Monday, February 27, 2006

Japan: Hiroshima 35 - Interesting tidbits of society

There are good things about women and society in Japan. However, this one is a summary of the appalling things I have learned based from my discussions with other Japanese women and foreigners, reading articles and my own observations...

Japanese culture from old to new:
Back in the day, the typical Japanese woman will quit working when she gets married. She then becomes a stay at home wife and mom. And as custom goes, if a woman marries the oldest son in his family, she not only takes care of her kids, but also her husband's elderly parents. (My Japanese teacher said when she was young, she would avoid dating guys who were the oldest son). As times have changed, many Japanese women want a career instead. They work hard to get into a good University, secure good jobs and often do not get married until much, much later, if at all. Japan's population has been on a steady decline. There are more death rates than birth rates and they're working population is aging. The cost of raising a child is sky high and with no day care availability, more women are choosing career over children. (Many of the few day cares that do exist are unlicensed.) Still tradition prevails over many households and sometimes it is the husband or even the woman's manager at work, who wants her to stay home and be a housewife. Those that are becoming more modern realize the importance of having dual income in a high cost society, and may forgo having children.

Dishwasher and Dishdryer:
In many of our friends' apartments, we notice dishwashers that are super super tiny (like the kind you have in a dorm room), even if there is room for a larger one. In some, there are huge dishdryers but no dishwasher. I have learned that this is intentional so that the wife does not get lazy. (WTF!)

For such a rigid country w/many rules, affairs are not uncommon. It is not unusual for the husband's company to send him elsewhere to work, while the wife and kids stay. The reason is because of the school system. They kids have to stay where they have access to top schools so they get into top Universities. Sometimes husband and wife are apart for many, many years until the children graduate high school or even college. Therefore there are husbands who have girlfriends elsewhere or they frequent bar hostesses.

Bar Hostesses: Bar hostesses are expensive companions for the evening. They lavish attention on men while they expertly suck them dry of their money. Here is an excerpt from Japan Times: Kyabakura -- budget-priced drinking establishments that charge a flat hourly rate to sit and drink with young hostesses -- are popular with rank-and-file salarymen. But a growing number of salaried workers have been discovering to their chagrin that kyabakura can be an ruinously expensive visit clubs where they can relax over a drink, and entertain the hope they might get lucky and seduce a sweet young thing. A 24-year-old retail store employee relates his own tale of woe. "Although my monthly take-home pay was only about 180,000 yen, I began visiting a club in Ikebukuro where this really nice girl worked. I wound up going four nights a week, with the bills more than 20,000 yen each time. Within a year, I'd spent over 2 million yen and was flat broke. I had no choice but to file for personal bankruptcy."

Alibi Channel:
There is a radio channel that exists for the sole purpose of giving your wife an alibi. For example, you can call your wife from your cell phone and the channel plays background sounds for say, traffic. Then you can tell your wife you are stuck in traffic. (how awful!)

Autoshow outfits: The skimpy outfits that models wear at autoshows can be bought in autoshow magazines. Pick from an array of mesh, short skirts, or small tops and they can be yours so you too can be a car model and show off your boyfriend's car...NOT!

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Japan: Hiroshima 34 - Baking in Japan Addendum

I'd like to add a new comment to my baking in Japan experience:

I'm stupid and did not convert the temperature. It'd be like cooking it on 500 degrees...oops. I have been informed that I should convert it first, take another 10% off the heat, and take 25% off the cooking time.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Japan: Hiroshima 34 - Baking in Japan

Three words: Don't do it.

I'd like to think I am a pretty good cook and an excellent baker. However, not only does Japan pose challenges in the eating arena, it also throws us a curve ball when trying to cook. Here are the culprits:

The oven - it is my enemy with split personalities. The same unit functions as both a microwave and a conventional oven. How? You either push the button for "microwave," "oven," or "microwave and oven (haven't dared try this one yet).
Example - I tried to bake a chocolate cake. I brought from the US, Duncan Hines box cake (aka cake for dummies). It called for 30 min. at 350 degrees. Our oven only goes up to 300 degrees. After 10 minutes it looked done. Turned out to be burned on top and completely liquid in the middle.

The fish grill (I think) - is in cahoots with the oven. Both determined to starve us. Above the conventional oven, about the size of a toaster oven there is a small door that I guess fish goes in. The knob to turn it on is a picture of a fish. I like toasting bread in there. Til one day I forgot about it and my grilled cheese sandwich caught on fire, literally. WTF? I ruined grilled cheese!

Basic ingredients - It takes about 15 minutes of standing in the aisle to buy the simplest things. Ie. sherry vinegar, hamburger buns, half & half (ended up making it myself), whip cream, worcestshire sauce (this one took a trip to 4 different grocery stores)....

We are learning, but it takes time. We're developing a new system now - when we painstakenly find an ingredient we like, we take a picture of the package and store it on the computer. That way we can print it out and take it to the store when we need more.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Japan: Hiroshima 33 - Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day! Just a short blurb on Valentine's Day in Japan. In the past couple weeks, there have been chocolate ads everywhere for Valentine's Day....from bakeries to department stores. Yesterday, I was at Anderson department store and there was an insane line out the door of just women. Apparantly Valentine's Day is a hallmark holiday that requires Japanese women to buy chocolates for men. Men give nothing on Valentine's Day. The women buys two kinds of chocolates:

1. Love chocolates - For the man in her life be it a boyfriend or husband
2. Obligation chocolates - For the men at work and friends. Many American men mistaken this as a token of affection from Japanese women. But not to worry, this is merely obligation candy.

However on March 14, it is the man's turn to buy a woman gifts on White Day. He can give her chocolates, a scarf or such. However, it should be double the price of what she gave him on Valentine's Day. Yeah, He better recognize! Pierre Marcoloni chocolates are available in Tokyo for $80 per 25 pieces. Call it insurance, she's just ensuring she'll get a phat gift in return!

Current article on Valentine's Day in Japan:

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Japan: Kyushu 32: Scenic Tour Day 2 and Back to Hiroshima

On the 2nd day of our stay, we were offered 3 different tours to choose from. I chose Tour A:

A course: Trip to Satsuma Peninsula (southern most point); Nagasaki no Hana (park on the ocean; nice views of volcanic peaks/islands); trip to the well-preserved Samurai Street (Samurai houses and gardens), a fishing port/village and a karukan factory (karukan is a famous dessert/sweet made in Kyushu).

Samurai village
The Samurai village is a small community of houses that used to house Samurai, but is now a tourist stop. The homes each have a garden area. The guide spoke in Japanese so I couldn't understand a word except that we were supposed to admire the garden. My friend did translate that the roof tiles were from the 17th century, the rocks were brought from the ocean, and the hedges are not cut straight across, but rather like the mountains so that they blend in with the background. Also the roads in a Samurai village are not built straight, they all curve so that enemies in the village cannot find them easily.

Seaside Lunch and Scenic stops
Stop at the park and views.

Lunch was more seafood at a place near the water.

Rest stop with yellow flowers everywhere.

On the way back the 3rd day we stopped for lunch at a well known fishing port, Shimonoseki. It is also one of the few places whale meat can be bought. About 30 yrs. ago whale meat was abundant, however it is now a rare delicacy. My friend bought a piece about the size of a bar of soap for $100. We also visited an amazing aquarium, Shimonoseki Marine Science Museum:

Japan: Kyushu 31: Nightly entertainment and Onsen

In the evenings, we'd be served a huge set dinner. Since we are near the ocean, it was always fish...a lot of sashimi on this trip. Then afterwards, karaoke was our nightly form of entertainment.

Later, it was onto the Onsen. The Onsens were located on the 2nd floor. Men and Women are separate because you have to be naked to go in. Definitely not for the shy. Japanese do not have a problem being naked in front of each other. It is part of culture at public baths, onsens, even at my gym there is a shared soaking tub. However, the number one rule is that you have to take a shower and rinse clean before you can go in. No towels, bathings suits or anything is allowed in the water to dirty it up. Inside the Onsen you strip, go to one of the showers provided and clean yourself, then go soak in the hot springs. The air smells like sulfur but it is extremely relaxing. Particularly the outdoor one that is surrounded by a garden. Website of pics of the Onsen inside:

Everyone walks around the hotel in their yukata (me in mine)

Japan: Kyushu 30: Onsen Here We Come!

Japan is made of many volcanic arcs (curved belt of volcanoes). Therefore, onsens (hot springs) are a plenty and is the common past time of the Japanese. The waters are natural, hot and full of minerals which are supposed to be great for the skin and relaxing. Some of the ladies from the Women's Club invited me to go on a Japanese tour bus down to Kyushu (southern prefecture of Japan) to a very well known Onsen in Kirishima. Since it is winter and the tour is meant for Japanese people, we only paid about $300 for 3 days, 2 nights at a hotel, all meals, and transportation.

The trip from Hiroshima to our destination is a 10 hour bus ride, including rest stops every 2 hours. Our tour director is a woman at the front of the bus, who despite her tiny size, as a voice that is piercing. People warned me that tour directors will talk non-stop the whole ride. I had a headache after 3 hrs. Ipod rescued me for the duration. Lunches are at a "mess hall" like place where set lunches are already put out for people on tours. Rest stops are rather clean and there is always 1 or 2 Western toilets available. Otherwise you're stuck using Japanese toilets.

We traveled thru very mountainous terrain and finally arrived at the Kirishima Kokusai Hotel: It is built on top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere. You see stacks of smoke arise from hills beyond and pipes everywhere channeling the hot spring water into all the buildings. The hotel was large and for the cheap price we paid, we slept 4 to a room on tatami.

View from our balcony: