Thursday, January 31, 2008

Welcome Home

When I got back from Japan, the first question a lot of co-workers and friends asked was "so what do you miss most about Japan." My usual response was to chuckle and say "the vending machines." Now, there's some truth to that statement, but really, I miss a whole lot. Many of those things are things I miss about living in Germany as well, but one unique thing seems interesting to write about right now.

First though, I feel like clarifying the vending machine remark; vending machines are ubiquitous throughout Japan. A gaijin Lyle and I hung out with at one point mentioned a rumor that Tokyo has more vending machines than all of the US. This is a number I doubt, but from what I saw it wasn't that far-fetched. It seemed like one couldn't go more than 5 feet without running into a set of vending machines. It took smaller towns like Kurabuchi to get down to the frequency of vending machines I'd see in larger US cities.

So why would I miss this? Two reasons. First, the smallest bill in Yen is 1000, which is roughly $10. That means that 100 and 500 Yen ($1-$5) come in coin form. This makes Japanese vending machines a million times easier to use than US ones, where I rarely have the right combination of bills and change to get a $1.25 soda. The second reason is selection; the vast majority of vending machines were for drinks (the rest were cigarettes and a few had beer; I never saw any of the more... creative ones people claim exist), but unlike the US those weren't limited to bottled water and soda. There was often tea, vitamin drinks, and coffee, not to mention an assortment of soft drinks that were more varied than anything in the US (how I miss CC Lemon). Many of the machines had milk tea and cafe au lait, both of which often had both cold and warm versions. The latter was very nice in the cold weather.

What is it I miss right now? Kotatsu. While they aren't nearly as necessary in American homes as they were in Japanese homes, I really wish I had one in my apartment. Why? My apartment's heating is probably one of my biggest complaints about it. It has two small electric heating elements in the living room/kitchen space, which is two stories high thanks to a loft above the kitchen, and thus not kept warm very well by the two lame heaters. Lyle's kerosine heater did a better job than these do. |f I need a lame electric heater, I think I'd be much happier and better served by one in a table with a thick blanket than by what I have now.

I think there might be a little more to it than that though; most of the kotatsu I saw were fairly small (which makes sense given the size of most Japanese homes), so when eating dinner with a group of people, it felt a lot more social than a dinner at someone else's house here in the States (though I suppose the fact that we ate sukiyaki when we ate at one of Lyle's co-worker's house didn't hurt that either). I think I'd almost go so far as to say I prefer the smaller houses I saw; if it weren't for the poor heating, I'd love to find a house like Lyle's around here. Well, I would if housing prices here weren't lame.



Blogger Lyle said...

I agree about the kotatsu making dinner seem more social. It's a lot more intimate around a small table.

I, for one, am getting a lot of use out of Mr. Kotatsu (or is it kotatsu-san? =P). We got about 6 inches of snow on Sunday. It was awesome, but also indicative of how cold it's been.

You could probably find one in the US. Or just get a coffee table, put a blanket on top and throw a small electric heater underneath. I'm SURE it wouldn't be a fire hazard at all.

9:38 PM, February 03, 2008  
Blogger tim said...

There are actually a couple places that I have seen where you can buy the kotatsu heating elements. If you then just found a small table that suited your fancy, you could relatively easily get a blanket either fixed to, or draped over the table with another piece of wood as a top-surface.

I guess, after typing that out, it sounds more complicated that it does in my plans to build one myself. Also, the fact I will try and get my dad to actually build the frame out of nice hard-wood makes it slightly less complicated on the "build it yourself" front.

In any case, just so you know, good kotatsu heating elements are available in the states. With just that, you could probably set yourself up pretty nicely.win32

5:04 PM, February 16, 2008  

Post a Comment

<< Home