Other thoughts on Japan

1) It has been 19 years since I last visited Japan, and there are a number of things that have changed.
a) There are a lot fewer English advertising signs now, but the ones that you see generally seem to make more sense. When I was here before there were signs such as "I feel Coke" or "I touch Lark (cigarettes)." There are still a few things such as a drink called "body love," but this is more silly than anything else. Most English signs are something like "Great Selection" or "Hair Make," something I saw at many beauty salons. I like the packages in the grocery stores that have an English label reading "tastes great," but the rest of the package is in Japanese and I couldn't figure out what it was inside the bag, though I was tempted to buy it just to find out what tasted so "great."
b) When I was here before it seemed most people smoked. I thought that I needed an air tank with me to go on the trains, and the smoke was unbelievably thick. Now I have seen one person smoking. Before the sidewalks were filled with automatic dispensors for cigarettes, but I have only come across a couple of set ups this time.
c) The population seems visibly much older. I kind of expected this because of everything that I know about the birth rate here, but the ratio of older people on the trains is quite high.

2) Japan has privatized its university system, though it has left many regulations in place (such as restrictions on tuitions). The government has apparently stopped its subsidies and the universities have to make up the difference with getting donations. My host at the University of Tokyo is essentially doing consulting for major companies and turning over the consulting fee as a donation to the university. You can really tell how much he cares about the university, but it seems like are really difficult task to assume that there are enough faculty over enough years who are willing to make that type of sacrifice.

3) One hot topic among academics here is the drop in fertility. I suggested some changes in divorce laws and the property division rules that women would get on divorce. One amazing fact to me is that up until recently women did not get any of the man's retirement fund when there was a divorce. The new rule is that the fund is divided 50-50, but I explained that to the extent the man is the one who invested in market activities and the woman invested in the home, she was still being shortchanged for her investment.

4) Few apartments seem to have dishwashers and no one seems to have disposals. Dryers also seem to be relatively rare, with people hanging their clothes out to dry on their balconies. The cost to women doing these chores must be tremendous and from the comments that I have heard from people, women are the ones who are expected to do these tasks. Someone that I discussed this general issue with noted that it isn't surprising that women don't want to have many kids.

It didn't seem like a joke (I could be wrong), but one professor said he had gotten a dishwashing machine because his wife was "lazy."

5) Japanese book stores are suprisingly colorless. Their books have white covers with writing, but none of the pictures and colors found on books sold in the US. The books are also basically stuffed into every available space. The books aren't displayed nicely where you see the covers as in the US, but you only see the binding.

6) Post cards are very difficult to find. As someone who tries to send them to my friends when I go to interesting places, this has been a time consuming task with little success. strange.

7) Sake doesn't seem to produce the hangover that other alcoholic drinks do. I guess that I knew some of the differences with Sake before, but not as many as I do now. There are two types of Sake, those that are meant to be served cold and those that are meant to be served warm. The cold Sake is the high quality one, but there are many different varieties of that. The very best seem to taste very smooth -- they almost have no taste. The hot Sakes that I tried remind me of Kentucky Bourbon.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

If post cards are hard to find, just turn over a beer coaster. Many of them are blank on the back. They'll fit a stamp and address no problem! Just write a short note around the edges on the front. I did this years ago when I visited Germany and Belgium - they were a huge hit among my friends. Even the round ones and other odd shapes made it though the mail system. (I was a surprised as anyone)

5/21/2007 12:13 PM  
Blogger John Lott said...

Thanks, Anonymous. Next time I will keep that in mind.

5/26/2007 8:32 PM  

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