Tag Archives: cultural Galapagos

Sun Roof

It’s been a while since I added to our little collection of objects and customs that live on in Japan but scarcely anywhere else. It’s a meme I call “cultural Galapagos.” Nothing necessarily implied as to good or bad – just idle observation. This is a good one, I think.


It’s impossible to go very far outdoors without seeing someone shielding themselves from the sun with, yes, a parasol. It’s invariably* a woman under the usually black or off-white arch, presumably for skin protection, though in the absence of sunglasses or a visor it surely must save squinting eyes, too. On these days when every living creature seems to seek out and cling to any available scrap of shade (at “don’t walk” signs, I carefully maneuver myself into the shadow of even the skimpiest utility pole), taking your own umbrage is arguably the most basic form of self-defense short of the shirt on your back. Though there may have been a brief parasol pitching dalliance in the west a few years ago, the smart, sproutable sunscreen has survived in Japan as a cultural archetype for centuries, never really going out of fashion. Umbrellas for rain, for that matter, are also more common here. In more entrenchedly motorized lands, we tend to dash from car to building with nothing between us and the downpour.


No relation to parasols other than as another manifestation of our steamy, sultry status, but various pairs like this, working for the city of Tajimi, were out with these curious-looking devices today, measuring temperature, heat as perceived by the body, and the effect of the heat on sound transmission (maybe; I couldn’t quite make out the quick answer they gave, and didn’t want to bother them by asking again. Then again, maybe the sound of their voice just didn’t carry in the heat. Or maybe that’s just so much of my own hot air).

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

*Update: Make that “variably.” After I wrestled yesterday with whether to make a gender association and finally settled on doing so, this man was out using a parasol this morning just to make me look self-consciously stoic. Invariably happens that way, doesn’t it?


And Now For a Word From Our Sponsor

Goody, goody. Another one hit me. I’d thought of this many times as a local lingerer that long ago fell by the western wayside, but hadn’t seen it in the context of my J-Jurassic Park menagerie until tonight.

TV shows here still regularly frame portions of their programs with their version of the quintessential authoritative white male announcer’s “Brought to you by…” or “Sponsored by…”

The only difference is, the announcers here, which include women, aren’t laffably full of their own enunciation and vocal modulation and depth as the fifties/sixties (and before that on radio) American male announcers invariably came off as. And the sponsors themselves are often more numerous and often only superimposed as logo graphics, not spoken. Anyone who didn’t watch American TV in the sixties or earlier has no idea what I’m talking about. Or maybe they they’ve rerun that kind of thing on TVLand or something, I don’t know. Use your imagination if need be, kids.

Maybe the use of announcers in general, something of a phenomenon of its own here, with fansites and inter-network competitions and such, is a distinct case of Galapagosian evolution, replete with customary Japanese replication and refinement.

Just a reminder, when I make these kinds of observations, it’s neither necessarily criticism nor adulation. It may just be a search for an ostensibly definable talking point to get me through dang near every last entry I make here a slow blogging day.

“This portion of the weblog has been brought to you by [cue slight audio glitch as splice of inserted interchangeable section of audio tape with highest bidder arbitrary content becomes apparent] Tajimi.mobi – The hottest site in your hand, from the hottest city in the land.”

Now that’s product placement.

Enemy Lines

From Quora, a question that’s a bit related to my ongoing list of obsolete except in Japan stuff: What are some systems we live with today that were designed for a world of the past? Regardless of how much it is or isn’t related to my list, some interesting points have been brought up there. This is after all the internet, so be aware there may be all kinds responding, and the language may be offensive.

Underused Underground


One thing someone mentioned that I’ve been meaning to add to my list is power lines and utility poles. They have in fact been greatly reduced in many parts of the world, but much less so here. As much as Japan is known for many kinds of beauty, these blights continue to scar the sky, precluding many a photo for urban and rural dweller alike except when used intentionally. But even that can become a rationalization.


Below, detail from a poster for an upcoming film at Nagoya Cinemathèque, an art house film theater.

Still on the Line

Detailed monthly schedules are available at Reverie in Tajimi.

Aerial Hangers-On

First, the Color Analysis

Not playing Hearts here, but I shot the moon over this house through my car window, with a reflection of the adjacent horizon in the azure. The soon-setting sun very momentarily caught that triangle just like you see in the photo. No photographer’s block here, though; I knew the moon would be nothing more than a high sac fly in the wild blue yonder. Read on for the real play-by-play of the pic.


I saw a repairperson putting up this antenna this afternoon and realized this common eyesore that I’ve often remarked on to myself here is another good example of one of those bygone twentieth century icons that live on as a protected species in our idyllic island reserve of the rising yen sun.

You Pick Up Tokyo On That Thing?


These rickety receptors verily defined suburban skylines throughout much of the postwar world through the 1970′s, but with ubiquitous cable (if not correspondingly worthwhile programming, alas), itself an ironic reversion to direct connection from the original “wireless,” their redundancy relegated them to the scrap heap in all but the most remote, isolated outposts of civilization Japan.


Thankfully, there are still some caring souls willing to take on the stewardship of these rooftop relics that liven our landscape so.

Touchy Vertical Hold

I have to say, though, it’s fittingly ironic that, just as we used to stick a contorted metal hanger onto the back of a TV set and then fiddle until we got a decent picture (unable, of course, to hold that backbreaking position (playing the whole thing just like a theremin) and at the same time eat our cake of actually watching something), as recently as the Japan Series last month, I found myself, in my diehard reinforced concrete building, holding my one-seg cellphone every which-way, contorting myself in knots, and, honestly, ending up propping the thing on a plastic hanger in the corner of the room to get a barely usable choppy view of Game Six. Technological advancement is a wonderful thing.

Speaking of revival of the once unfit, it seems Japanese and Russian scientists are back at the idea of cloning woolly mammoths (from recently thawed, well-preserved bone marrow; another unforeseen benefit of global warming).

Who Wears the Star?

Okay, thinking about yesterday’s blog entry made me come up with a related cultural anthroplogical throwback: service station attendants.

These uniformed, smiling, energetic folks who brave the elements to be there on demand to fill you up day or night, all but disappeared from American pumps long ago.

Once upon a time in America, they ran out in formation to greet your arrival, wipe your windows, check your oil and air pressure, and fill ‘er up. A veritable point of pride, they were even the subject of advertising jingles. Now even full service stations will only give you gas unless you ask for more. I always use self-serve stateside, but for some reason stick to full here. Same for car washing.

Even in Japan, they’re now the premium exception to the economical self-serve rule. But they still do more than anyone in America’s done in a long while.

Of course it’s factored into the price, but they also give you a choice of paper towel, tissue or toilet paper (in this arboreally challenged land, they had an infamous shortage of the latter in 1973 (actually, I learned, unfounded panic buying similar to what happened after the tsunami this year) that’s seared into everyone’s memory – that could be one reason t.p.’s a giveaway; personally, I’m touchy about my tushy, and only put white Kleenex Softie on my bottom line), or other freebies. One station I use gives a piece of candy.

As I pull away and drive off into the sunset, I leave you with one last curtain call on the subject of outdated automotive artifacts: I don’t know that these were ever used anywhere else (carriages??), but curtains in car rear windows, laced or otherwise, are still seen here, in the occasional Toyota Crown or executive limo-type car.


Fossil Fuel

As we head into another cold night, and perhaps a frigid winter, I can’t ignore what’s right in front of me now for another only-(or mostly)-in-Japan holdover from a bygone era – the kerosene heater.


Even now, ion deodorizing notwithstanding, sometimes the smell of kerosene evokes memories of my first days in Japan nearly three decades ago. That was my first exposure to these heaters, and my first experience abroad, so the association is indelible. Below, an all-mechanical type at work.


If we in the States do use kerosene, it’s really only for a lantern in a camping situation. We just take central heating for granted. Although in college the only heat in our two-storey shared farmhouse, except for exactly one night when we splurged and turned on the hot water radiators, was a woodstove in the kitchen. We chopped local logs (and every last board of a small barn we tore down after begging the landlord). Sometimes we put rocks on the stove and, after they absorbed the heat, put them at the foot of the bed as overnight footwarmers. I don’t know if Americans ever used kerosene heaters widely even in the past.

Living in a four-and-a-half mat room in Tokyo, it’s hard to believe, but I actually got by with only a non-fan electric space heater and a good fluffy futon. Of course there’s always gas heating, and here the body-warming nightly hot bath is still considered the ultimate portable rock in your bed. Now that I think about it, I did write before about rocks and hot water bottles. Besides a nip of warmed nihonshu, there’s one more heat source I think I’ll save for another time. And don’t forget those little packs you rub and keep in your pocket to keep warm.

Anyway, as we again begin the time-honored ritual of lugging 20-liter jerry-cans of oil from the car to the house, and pumping and pumping away, and as you kneel and bow to this (unfortunately for some of us) irreplaceable icon of inconvenience, remember to ventilate by opening a window for a couple of minutes a couple times every hour (I’ve heard brain damage is a possibility otherwise), and keep a wide perimeter around the heater clear of anything for fire prevention. Stay stoked.

What’s the Big Deal?

Here’s another remnant that’s survived in Japan (seemingly moreso than elsewhere) through all manner of technological and entertainment advance – sleight of hand magic tricks. I can’t understand why magicians, both pro and guy/girl-down-the-hall amateur, continue to hold people’s fascination. I’m still sufficiently analog, but I’ve got to say this parlor prestidigitation is some of the most boring stuff there is to see, or not see, in the case of disappearing coins, hankies or scantily-clad ladies. Am I the only one who thinks so?

Without question, there are a lot worse things than being boring. Heck, I love oatmeal, Cream of Wheat, tofu, plain rice and Brussels sprouts, and detest in-your-face shock-at-all-costs TV, preferring Dick Van Dyke to some dumbed-down donkey doo.

And I love card games, playing with my family most every weekend for years. But the allure of some stiff turning up (No!?) the card someone wrote their name on and everyone thought was in the middle of the deck, wore off like the spots on a well-used Bicycle ace of spades sometime between my last tooth falling out and the age of 14.

Now, if somebody could make these would-be wizards disappear from local bars, TV screens and party scenes, that would get a few hehhhhhhhs from me.

Vestibule Vestiges


Tonight we look no farther than the foyer for feature fodder. Two humble denizens of the doorway as possible additions to the list of especially local artifacts in a state of suspended animation: shoehorns and umbrellas. Sure, people everywhere have umbrellas, but living here it’s easy to forget, in an auto nation like America anyway, we don’t use them anywhere near as much as Japanese. Shoehorns are obviously a necessity here, so their persistence is not really surprising. Maybe cheap rubber boots fit this bill too. Oh, one more (outside) entranceway adornment just hit me – I’ve covered them before, but milk delivery boxes still stand the test of time here.

Sidedate (vertically challenged update): On a decidedly unrelated note, I could swear I just heard a Grateful Dead original tune used in a TV commercial in the next room. It was a digital recording, but it I would think it would have to be a recent commercial. Now, if corroborated, that has to be a first. Then again, the Dead have always been in at the very least a different from normal state of animation, so perhaps it’s a (Shake)downdate and not a first. These things are hard to put a finger upon. Like a secret promised to be kept, one can never tell

Hot Nights and Other Steamy Delights

I may be stretching here, but to add to yesterday’s new category of relics of remark that refuse to disappear here, how about hot water bottles? I remember my mother filling one once in a while when I was little, but that was longer ago than you want to know. From what I hear, they’re still used here.

In my twenties I had housemates who sometimes set a round rock on the wood stove at night and then stuck the hot rock at the foot of the bed before sleeping, but I think that’s an even older custom, certainly lost in the passage of generations. And we were anything but representative. And the Native American sweats we used to have, pouring water over literally red-hot rocks inside handhewn mountainside sweat lodges – that’s another story. Hot springs? Well, they’re just timeless.

There have to be better examples than this, but time’s a-wastin’ an’ a daily blog’s a dawdling digression daily blog.

Cultural Galapagos, or Survival of the Elsewhere Square

Okay, a new possible ongoing list to add to our list of lists: Anachronisms, cultural coelocanths, perhaps endearingly quaint things that may have been common everywhere once, but that fell by the wayside everywhere except in Japan, where ironically furui is often a highly dreaded word.

To start us off:

Pointers and printed props used by newscasters. These hand-held whip antennae, also used here by teachers and presentators, occasionally show up in the west in charicatures, but basically no self-respecting broadcaster over the past forty years would be caught red-faced waving one of these frankly anal-retentively-perceived know-it-all wands at the green screen. As for the boards, the TV medium just seemed suited for superimposed or graphic data.

TV advertising jingles. Sure, they still exist in the west, but they just haven’t gone out of style as much here. I mainly mean those that consist of a few notes, often sung by an ethereal echo-ey chorus of women, at the end of the commercial.

I’m sure I’ll come up with more, but this may help get things started. I don’t mean to be making fun of anyone here. I see these survivalist phenomena simply with a sense of interest and curiosity.