Picture"I don't mind when it's cold out..."
The winter months get pretty chilly here in Matsumoto. And I'm talking about inside the house. Japan's aversion to breaking with tradition includes technological advances like home heating, and when the cold comes the community gathers at the gas station, lining up and waiting our turn to fill up our standard red-orange state-approved plastic cans with kerosene for the heaters in our living rooms. We keep warm this way, until it's time to take a bath in a bathroom that is not heated. Getting into the hot bath is heaven. Getting out is hell. Before we go to bed we turn off the heater. In the morning the air inside our homes, which are built without another recent invention callled insulation, is colder than the air inside our refrigerators. No joke. My heater has a digital display of the room's temperature. On most mornings in January and February it read 6 Celsius.

That's 43 Fahrenheit for you Americans. Yeah, you guys, the ones burning the heating oil non-stop. Wussies.

 
 
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The girl in this photo may never see her bicycle again...

Sounds like the opening to an episode of The Twilight Zone: Japan. But this is not sci-fi. And as far as I know the late, great Rod Serling never visited Japan.

But he should have.

It's plausible to think that (a) since her bicycle looks like everyone else's bicycle, and (b) since there are about eleven thousand of them parked in theoretically perfect parallel fashion, she could grow old walking the aisles. That her bike is the one with the furry, marble-sized Hello Kitty thing hanging from the bell on her handlebars doesn't help because every other bicycle has a furry Hello Kitty thing too, even the boys' bicycles (another TZ: Japan episode).

Notice too that she is wearing a high school uniform. This is a solid indicator that her young mind is jam-packed with standardized test questions and answers to the point that she may even forget she has a bicycle. She would be saved, however, by the vague recollection that she has a furry marble-sized Hello Kitty thing hanging somewhere.

No, the reason she might never see her bicycle again is actually very simple (for Japan).


 
 
PictureNakano-Fudohson Shrine.
No apologies for that last post. Being sarcastic is one of my strong points and doesn't Tony Robbins say we are supposed to develop our strengths? And anyway, you can take a kid out of New Jersey but you can't take New Jersey out of Da Kid! (Brand new nickname for myself there.)

Ever since I got married there hasn't been a New Year's Eve where I haven't wished I hadn't gotten married. (Stay with me here.) Think about it, this is the last big hurrah, an immeasurably valuable opportunity to get a little crazy with a few (or a few dozen, or few hundred) other people who also realize this is pretty much it until St. Patrick's Day. But my wife, being Japanese, isn't in tune with the concept of last hurrahs. To her, life is just this one long Zen Buddhist continuum that doesn't cater to age-old traditions of sophomoric insobriety and so we always end up waiting for midnight by sitting on our asses in a room with a TV.

The one consolation is that the entire rest of the country is doing the same - except for the ones standing around outside, near a shrine, freezing in jackets too thin for the weather and clinging to their cell phones with curled, half-frozen fingers. Which, now that I think about it, seems a hell of a lot better than standing around in Times Square. At least the shrine has toilets you can get to.


 
 
(That title up there is actual eating advice, offered by the Tokyo Fire Department.)

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Japanese people are fricking crazy.

It's true. And most of the world has no idea how fricking crazy Japanese people are because they are so subtle when they are being fricking crazy it can be really hard to recognize their fricking craziness.

Come to think of it, most Japanese don't even realize how fricking crazy they are. Something to do with the sake I guess.

Having lived in Japan for over ten ultra-perceptive years gives me full authority to pronounce the Japanese people fricking crazy. But one only has to spend New Year's here to understand.

Consider the typical Japanese person's New Year's Eve routine and see if you can spot the fricking craziness. (I'll call our fricking crazy example Yuki since Yuki can be both a boy's and a girl's name and I don't want to start a gender war here - even though it is a universal truth that women are the fricking crazy ones.)