Ask the Man in Japan

Inspired by the question in my Pit Thread, I’m opening thread to allow people to ask questions about Japan.

I first came to Japan in '81 as a Mormon missionary, lived here for a 16 months (as was the length of service then) came back a few times before moving over here in '90 and have lived here since then.

I speak, read and write Japanese and have worked for a couple of different Japanese companies.

There are several other Dopers in Japan, who are welcome to field questions as well.

Obviously, this is not GD, so I ask that while questions about politics can be asked and answered, let’s not get into debates on them.

Also note that because of the time difference, answers can come much later than the questions.

How’s the property market and economic outlook these days? I mean from the point of view of someone that lives there? Do you own your apartment, have regrets or wish you had bought 3? (I lived in Japan after the bubble but largely before the hangover)

also, I think your wife is Taiwanese? That’s probably an interesting story on how she came to be in Japan. Do the elderly generation in her family speak Japanese?

Are you still a Mormon? If so, what is the Mormon community like there?

How’s it different from living in Taiwan?

For that matter, what do Japanese people think about Taiwan?

My last duty station was in Yokosuka (about 15 years ago), and I’m wondering if a few things that I found interesting were still common practice:

  1. Do folks still carry portable kerosene heaters from room to room in wintertime?

  2. Do they still have vending machines that have everything from half gallons of alchohol to live bait to heated cans of Mt.Kilimanjaro coffee?

  3. Do some folks still completely cover the interiors of their autos with small stuffed animals?

How much Japanese does the average Westerner need to know to comfortably get around in the country? One of my dreams is to go to Japan, but I’ve always felt that it’s something that I would have to spend a lot of time preparing for, including learning basic Japanese, in order to be anything but completely lost.

Also, do Japanese people really regularly eat and drink the stuff that I buy at the Japanese market here, like ramune (the soda with the marble in it), Boss Black and Bosspresso canned coffee, pocky, milky, etc.? Is that stuff as common as coke and doritos is over here?

Have people finally stopped complimenting you on your Japanese?

Moved from IMHO to MPSIMS.

Would I, as a 6 ft. tall white American female, be stared at as a freak?

Okay, an odd question from the perspective of a member of the Western Culture regarding sexuality. When I was 14 I visited Japan, beautiful country, so many fine memories, and many great people. Something that’s eluded me though is the grasp of Japanese sexuality, in the family, and portrayed in popular culture. Which I realize are probably two very different things to analyze.

Most of the Japanese natives I’ve met always seemed very reserved, and polite; so seeing sex sort of expressed more openly on TV, books, magazines, an ads puzzled me. Then I saw the Tagata Jinja shrine. Good God, I thought, that’s a frackin’ huge penis everybody is praying in front of. I’m not Catholic, but I was used to small shrines of Jesus on the cross.

years later I’ve grown up and found the internet, and if anyone has the internet then they’ve had to trip across examples of Japanese hentai. Very graphic cartoonish depictions of violent sexual acts. Maybe it’s just me but I really haven’t happened across many American versions of this.

I apologize, because I don’t even know what my question is. But as an American born into Western culture, growing up with a lot of the classic Christian hangups on overt sexuality I was always puzzled by this seeming contradiction in Japanese respectful culture and surprisingly open, and sometimes shocking, views on sex.

Is there poetry still being written and do the still deify the best, like in the case of Hitomaro?

ugh… I wrote a very long post… and then an errant keystroke destroyed it…
Sigh… umm… sad… It was realy good.

Anyway… VCO3, don’t worry about learning the language. Almost all the important stuff is also in English.

And yes pocky, boss coffee etc etc… is all found in the 7-11 and Family Marts… as well as other incredibly awesome things like mayonaise and corn sandwiches and “donuts” that are really a soft dinner roll with a hole in the middle with a thin line of choco-frosting in the middle.

Also, how were missionaries regarded when you were there in 1981?

Why do you prefer to live there?

Are the Japanese really fond of Western music? I ask this because it seems you can get any non-Japanese music recorded by any artist in any genre, as an import from Japan. They have CDs by artists who have never been reissued since their vinyl album tanked in the US or GB forty or fifty years ago. Is the market really that large that some company can afford to press several thousand CDs by an obscure American artist who is all but forgotten here?

There are many, many popular artists who give their Japanese label extra bonus tracks that are appended to their CD, causing foreign fans (us) to spend a lot of money, buying the CD twice to get the Japanese-only material. Do you have any insight on any of this?

What do you do with your trash? Last time I was in Tokyo. I encountered the problem a couple times. I’d have an empty soda can or whatnot and there are no freaking trash cans anywhere. Walking for blocks. No public trash cans. At the same time the streets were spotless of any litter. I ended up taking it back to my hotel with me.

It didn’t take me long to figure out how to collect on Pachinco. You win toys that can be exchanged for money at a separate establishment. Ended up following a guy down a dark alley to a door with a slot. Gave the hand coming out of the slot the toys the hand disappeared and then came back with 20,000 yen. I thought I was going to die following that guy. But I guess me clueless investment of 2000 yen really paid off.

Sega arcades on the other hand. I saw plenty of people playing various games to win tokens. There where automated ways to bank the tokens for later retrieval. You could win lots of tokens but I couldn’t figure out what the hell you were supposed to do with them. There were no prizes you could buy with them or games you could use them in. No apparent shady characters to lead me into a dark alley to trade them in. Do you know what you do with tokens from sega arcades?

My question is along the same lines as this. At 6’3" even in lines or in church I am usually the tallest person around. Are there a lot of short people there? I feel like I stick out in crowds .

Some good questions! I’ve got to run off to look at a model home, so I’ll only get one or two now and then pick up the rest tonight.

China Man The economy has been picking up for several years now, and is going well.

I’m glad that I didn’t buy a condo (called a mansion here) during or directly after the burst of the bubble. My ex-wife and I looked at placed and decided to rent. A lady I meet in 2000, which was 9 years later, had bought a 490 square foot condo – the same size I was renting, for about $400,000. Nine years later, it was worth $100,000 in 2000, so I’m really happy to not have bought at the top of the market.

Any time after '96 or '97 would have been a good time, but I suffered from (1) not knowing at that time if I was going to be here for another 10 years (which I guess I know now and (2) starting having problems with my ex.

We’re looking at buying now. I’ll write some more about the real estate market later.

Second question. Yes, My wife The Lady in Red or LiR is the daught of people who can speak Japanese. The mother is one of the last of people who lived under Japanese colonial rule.

twister No. I quit 20 years ago and I have no idea.

Koxinga Yes, my wife is Taiwanese. I’ve only visited Taiwan, although I’ve been there four times now in a year and a half. Very different, and I’ll take up that and your other question later.

"My last duty station was in Yokosuka (about 15 years ago), and I’m wondering if a few things that I found interesting were still common practice:

  1. Do folks still carry portable kerosene heaters from room to room in wintertime?" No as many as previously. People usually use their combination air conditioner / heaters for this now.

“2) Do they still have vending machines that have everything from half gallons of alchohol to live bait to heated cans of Mt.Kilimanjaro coffee?” Yes, but they made you put in your ID after hours and they stop at midnight now.

“3) Do some folks still completely cover the interiors of their autos with small stuffed animals?” Some things never change.

OK, I’ve got to run now!

I don’t know how enlightening an answer I can give, since I don’t really know the answer.

I guess one big difference is that the dominant religions (Buddhism and Shinto, which are very casually practiced by most people) don’t tie sex together with sin. Buddhism (in theory) mainly says not to get obsessed by it, while Shinto, which is more nature/fertility-oriented and far less structured, says “yeah, baby! Just take a bath after you’re done.” The shrines you saw with the penises (and anything named -jinja) are Shinto.

The reservations you see are mainly superficial social conventions that depend a lot on the context of the situation (what you say during a meeting to the client you’ve just met v. what you say to your co-worker in the taxi afterwards), rather than absolute rules of right and wrong. If you’re a stranger, then most behavior in front of you will be very reserved. Once you get inside someone’s social circle, however, topics of conversation can turn surprisingly raunchy. Add alcohol, and it goes even further.

Look for a convenience store (usually at least one every block). They will always have trash containers either inside or out front, separated by the type of trash. (ETA) And I’ve never encountered one that minded me dumping trash I’d acquired elsewhere.

No idea about the Sega tokens.

Plenty of people make it around without knowing Japanese. Of course, the more you know, the easier it is, since most people don’t speak any English, but there are ways of getting around this. For example, get a map of where you are walking to, and most people can help you by pointing in the right direction. If you decide to come over, email me and I can provide more detailed help.

Yup. The soda with the marble isn’t that common, though, and often only seen at festables.

People who know me do, but I’d say a majority of people I met do, but that’s also just part of their culture and expectations that foreigners don’t learn Japanese as well as we do.

I’m a 6 ft. tall white American male, and usually the tallest person in the room. If you’re worried about not getting enough stare, die you hair pink.