Weill in Japan Jason Weill Web Productions
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calm after the storm

weill in japan: day 09

Typhoon 6 hit Tokyo last night and early this morning, as the first giant rains started to fall at about 11:00 PM local time on July 10 and continued well into the early morning. When I left for the station on July 11, it was very warm and clear -- my host mother insisted that I leave my umbrella at home to dry. Temperatures approached record levels, with Tokyo registering 33.8 degrees Celsius (92.8 degrees Fahrenheit) and other cities warmer still. Humidity is still very high, making outside activity undesirable. The typhoon left a lot of downed leaves in its path, and a lot of rivers overflowed their banks to cause flood damage. Now, the typhoon makes its last land-based stop in Hokkaido.

Today on the news, Typhoon 7 was already spotted heading on a very similar path. If it hits Tokyo as well, it will likely arrive around the middle of next week.

time to get down to business

Yesterday, I carelessly left my pad holder in the computer lab. It contained my passport, my homework, and a variety of other documents. Because of this, I started down the inauspicious track of missing my first homework assignment. Since I don't expect my professors here to be nearly as tolerant of late assignments as my Japanese professors back in Pittsburgh, this trend needs to stop. Tonight is the night when I get down to business and get into my assignments.

Class is going fairly well as long as I have my coffee in the morning. Today I also picked up a muffin and a bottle of CC Lemon at the bakery near Musashi-Sakai station. CC Lemon, made by Suntory, is the only soft drink in Japan endorsed by The Simpsons.

purezento!

Speaking of CC Lemon, Suntory is one of many companies running a special "kyanpeen," or "campaign." Collecting product labels from CC Lemon will make me eligible to get a CC Lemon folding chair with pictures of Bart and Homer Simpsons on it. Being the die-hard Simpsons fan that I am, I need this chair. Something tells me that if I order it now, though, it won't arrive at my host family's house until well after I have returned to New York.

Other companies are promising "purezento" (literally "presents") as part of ongoing campaigns. My host family has a tumbler from Nescafé that they can use to make cafe latte at home. Pepsi includes special Star Wars bottlecaps with every bottle sold now, and is selling additional sets for six labels plus ¥1500 ($12.50). Alternatively, for six labels and ¥3500 ($29) you can buy a special stage to display all of the 50 or so bottle caps. Right now, we just put them on top of the TV in the kitchen.

Coca-Cola is running a few lotteries, and entries cost either 10, 20, or 30 stickers from Coca-Cola products. The more stickers you use, the better the prizes. I have eight stickers right now, including one on the 1.5-liter bottle of Coke in the fridge. A few companies have run "points" programs, such as Pepsi and Tic Tac, in the U.S., but none of them have included lotteries.

The whole purezento push is part of the summer gift-giving season in Japan, where gifts are given by a strict social regimen. If you receive a gift in Japan, often you are expected to reciprocate with a gift of at least half value. Gifts are usually food products, like the fruit baskets associated with obligatory corporate giving in the U.S., but also include alcoholic beverages. A similar gift-giving season occurs in the winter, just in time for Christmas. Even though Christians make up only about 2% of Japan's population, Christian holidays and their associated gifts are extraordinarily popular.

food takes a turn

I've been unimpressed to say the least with the food of late. One of the difficulties associated with homestays is the presence of unsavory food that may be unfamiliar and/or unappetizing to the exchange student. On a couple of occasions, I've eaten food whose ingredients are unknown to me. Most of it has been passable, but lately there has been a fair amount that has been served cold or even possibly raw. I'm not talking about raw fish here: sometimes pork or horse meat (!!) is served uncooked (not to imply that they've been served in my house). I'm already a picky eater of sorts back in America, but just the thought of some unusual Japanese foods makes my stomach turn. My host mother points out that those "unusual" foods are rarely eaten in Japan today, and was surprised that I even knew about their existence. Most children today aren't even aware that foods like shirako and bazashi exist, although my father eats natto at breakfast every day.

I have lunch every day on campus in the ICU dining hall, where the food quality varies wildly on a day-to-day business. Some of it has been good, but things like what I call "miscellaneous fish" tend to end up on my plate rather than in my stomach. What's more, the ICU dining hall food is neither good nor cheap: a typical lunch including steamed rice and a drink costs around ¥600 ($5). If possible, I may wait until after I leave campus to pick up some take-out food. There are also a few tiny noodle shops located right on the station platform, complete with vending machines outside that allow customers to order their food and pay before entering. The machines dispense claim tickets. Drinks can also be ordered from vending machines outside. I've never seen anything like these shops before.

There are also a large number of small take-out food places in the vicinity of the station for hungry businessmen; many of them deliver, too. Last week, I stood frozen in surprise after I was nearly run down by a man on a bicycle carrying a tray with two large noodle bowls on it.

Although I haven't finished a meal at home or at school yet, last night was the first night when I was visibly uncomfortable with the food served to me. Naturally, my host parents are concerned. Tonight, they prepared tempura, which I noted was my personal favorite.

Milestone: tonight was the first night when I ate everything prepared for me.

tidbits

One of these days, I'm going to walk straight into an automatic door's glass panes. The sensors are positioned so that the door won't open until the customer's nose is literally less than an inch away from the glass. This forces me to suddenly stop and wait for the door to open, as opposed to other countries' doors which allow people to keep walking at a normal pace.

George Costanza would be proud: in the bathroom stalls that I've seen here, the doors and walls go all the way to the floor for maximum privacy.

Today I discovered the wonder that is the 100-yen shop. Similar to the American 99-cent shop but smaller and less expensive, they sell a variety of small kitchen items, stationery, candy, and instant foods. I bought a couple of snacks, but couldn't resist photographing a bag of Pixy Stix-looking tubes marked "PURE SUGAR." They look very much like Pixy Stix, but they are in fact pure sugar; no artificial flavoring or coloring.

One of the snacks I bought was a 108-gram bag of ring-shaped potato snacks. When I came home, an identical bag was sitting on the table. My host mother bought it at the supermarket (for more than 100 yen, she said). This marks the second day in a row when my host mother and I unknowingly bought the same food item. Yesterday, I picked up a 1.5-liter bottle of Coke at a convenience store, only to find that my host mother had bought one at the supermarket the same day.

Japanese game shows are known for their outlandish themes and intense levels of competition. Tonight on "TV Challenge," I watched three contestants match wits to identify ice cream from around the world. The level of knowledge about Japan's thousands of ice cream brands and flavors (including eel, sea urchin egg, green tea, and countless others) was absolutely amazing. One of the ice creams in the "foreign" category was the American delicacy which is Astronaut Ice Cream. It was identified immediately.

Enough tidbits. Time for work.