Monthly Archives: August 2014

Half Done is, Well, Begun

Today marks blog post 183, which means by the end of it I’ll be over half done with this daily project. 183 down; 182 to go. I’ve tried to write at least 400 or so words each time (more or less) which means I’ve already got at least 72,800 words on this blog (some of which actually make sense and are spelled correctly.)

I remain shocked that I’ve been able to keep up with it. For the last few weeks it’s been a particular chore. A bunch of posts were written, quite literally, in front of the in-laws, who didn’t seem to understand why I was swearing at myself and telling them to shut up so I could concentrate. (At least one of those statements is not true.)

My rules remain the same: Post before midnight Japan time (10 a.m. Kansas time) and spend no more than one hour writing the post. Unfortunately, life and life related things–and computer games–generally have pushed back my start time until after 10:00 each night, which is not always the best time to write, especially if it’s been a hectic day. I also don’t always have a clear topic.

One time I was playing World of Tanks about 10:00 at night and, via TeamSpeak, one of my friends asked me what the topic of the day was. I said I didn’t know yet. I’m not sure he realized I was serious.

I’ve opened up the “Add New Post” form at 11:15 at night still not knowing what topic I wanted to write about. Quarter by Quarter Dollar By Dollar and The Politics of Work Sustaining Energy Shots came out of nowhere. Others went nowhere. Some were just strange although I kind of liked them. I still don’t know where The Application is Half the Battle came from.

Some of them have been pleasant surprises. I’m especially happy with the recent No Good Idea Goes Unpunished and Let’s Have a Drink and a Chunk of Your Wallet which also came out of nowhere. (If you have any favorites, please tell me which ones they are as my goal is to assemble the best posts into a book when this year is done.)

I, too, have been shocked at the large number of drunk blogs.

I have about a third of a small notebook full of possible topics, but I’ve been holding off on those. Some of them are seasonal and some are for the dark places when all other lights go out.

I’ve also been holding off doing other kinds of posts on the site–photography, hobbies, reviews, random bits of randomness–mostly so I don’t mess up the nice and neat post count. However, the long term plan for this site is to start doing things like that.

I’ve made feeble attempts at monetization. I have PayPal donation button and, at the suggestion of a friend, included a Bitcoin donation plugin, but I didn’t like that the Bitcoin donation link was almost as large as some of the posts so I pulled it. (If I learn how to adjust the size, I may put it back on.) Instead I’ve added a wallet number in the sidebar for those who 1) find it and 2) understand it. For the future, I may add a page of recommended books with Amazon Affiliate links and encourage everyone to shop through those.

I’ve also noticed that I tend to go in phases in posts about Japan. I’ve tried to stagger those out more, but, well, 11:15 p.m. and no topic. My long term goal is still to modernize The Crazy Japan Times which right now can’t be read on most mobile devices and start a daily Japan related post there.

Readership has been small but consistent, but that’s partly because I’ve not been expanding the subject matter beyond myself. Some of the random posts about pens and notebooks have been picked up by the Pen Addict but that’s only provided short bursts of new readers. Russian spammers remain my most loyal commenters.

I remain torn about how honest and revealing to get in the posts. There are topics I’ve been putting off because they might dredge up unpleasant history even if I don’t name names, but, well, we’ll see. There are also topics that push the edge of political, which I’ve also been avoiding. (Hint, think of where I live and the big events that happened in August in 1945.)

That’s an hour, now, so it’s time to stop. For those who’ve stuck around since the first post, thanks. I hope I haven’t wasted your time and I hope you’ll stick around until the end.

Slow Rumbling Freakout in Camp Green Hell

About this time 18 years ago I was invited to join the Grade 3 (9th grade) Camp at Nou Junior High School. Unfortunately, at that time, I had ears but couldn’t ear English spoken in Japanese. I also didn’t know how to ask the right questions.

Because I was still in the honeymoon, Japan is wonderful phase of moving to Japan, I agreed to go to the camp. Thinking back, I’m trying to remember the exact moment when my colleague told me what to bring by telling me it wasn’t necessary. I was told the teachers would be sleeping in cabins but when I asked what I should bring, I was told I didn’t need to bring anything.

Now, I’m not sure if this meant that because we had cabins I wouldn’t need to bring a tent, or she assumed I understood what was meant by “camp” and “cabin” and would know what to bring. I also pointed out I didn’t have a sleeping bag and that didn’t seem to be a problem. Either way, I went minimal–the camera and a book to read being the most important things I was carrying–and was surprised when I arrived at the gathering point and saw students and teachers loading fairly hefty bags and sleeping kits into a truck.

At that point, if I were smart (and if you’ve been reading regularly, well, you know) I would have hurried home–I only lived a few minutes a way–and assembled a blanket roll but, well, you know. Also, with no evidence whatsoever, I convinced myself there’d be futons in the cabins. We took the train two stops and then began hiking. We went through town, crossed an expressway, went through a field and then followed a road into the hills. The hike itself wasn’t that difficult but it was Japan in August and the humidity was two percentage points away from liquid.

The camp itself looked nice but had apparently been located in the most humid place possible. I, of course, had only one shirt, now sweaty, and it didn’t dry completely while we were there. The cabins did exist, but they were empty rooms with no cots or futons and I would be sleeping on the bare floor.

The preliminaries were fun. The students cooked Japanese style curry for us and there was a bingo game–with the only prizes being a completed bingo–around a campfire. Bingo was followed by everyone heading off to their tents or cabins for sleep. At this point, I was still damp from my hike and, because the camp was in spitting distance of the ocean, it was cool enough to make me feel cold. I figured I could fashion a pillow out of a towel and my pack and eventually fall asleep.

However, the last card had yet to be played. One of my cabin mates, who also happened to be a colleague, also happened to be one of the world’s worst snorers. If I’d had a pillow I probably would have smothered him. I would discover after a manly attempt to suffer through it that he could be heard dozens of meters from the cabins. My usual panic “What have I done” freakout started and went down near the showers and restrooms, which had electric lights, and started reading my book to calm myself down.

I was seen by the chaperones, who would report what I’d done to my colleague who would apologize the next morning even though I was more angry at myself than anything else. Eventually I calmed down enough, and got sleepy enough, that I was able to get a couple hours sleep. The next day we went home and I was never invited to another camp.

The funny part is, as I write this and think back over what was said and what wasn’t said prior to the camp, I’m not actually sure I was actually invited to the camp in the first place. I may have misunderstood what was being said invited myself, which is why I didn’t get any information about what to bring to the camp.


No Good Idea Goes Unpunished

I don’t know why I’m thinking about this today, but suddenly I’m reminded of an unpleasant moment when I was in the Boy Scouts back in Hayden, Colorado. It was one of those moments where personal initiative met personal ambition in a storm of politics. (Warning, some language below not safe for work and/or sensitive types.)

For reasons I don’t fully remember, but some kind of troop exposition was involved, our troop (Troop 193?) had to come up with an information booth based on one of the various merit badges. The idea was to put together a booth so impressive and so full of information that grown men would cry and your troop would win prizes (something like that). For reasons I also don’t remember we either were assigned or chose “Astronomy“.

On the way back home after our weekly troop meeting, my friend Bobby and I started talking about the booth and, in a sudden flash of inspiration/evil (depends on your point of view, as you’ll see later) we suddenly started rattling off ideas about how to make the booth. We’d have slideshows of celestial features–basically our own planetarium–and diagrams of various constellations. I remember us being really excited about the possibilities and wanting to volunteer to run the planning. Keep in mind, neither of us were particularly ambitious at the time, but the Boy Scouts is/was supposed to be about training young leaders and we suddenly had the leadership bug.

The next day I brought our ideas up to our Senior Patrol Leader, let’s call him EJ, while we were at school. He mumbled something about needing troop permission or something or other but he clearly wasn’t as excited about our ideas as we were.

I told Bobby what happened and we went about our school business. At the next troop meeting I had my first experience with what I would later realize is called a “shit storm of petty bullshit” (that’s a technical term). Although because I was just a teen all I could say was “it fucking sucked” (another technical term).

One of the senior adults in the troop, let’s call him DJ, also happened to be the father of EJ. Rather than simply saying “no” to our ideas, he’d actually spent the week calling other high level Boy Scout leaders in the area to all but accuse Bobby and me of beating his son to get control of the exposition. It was all part of a plot to undermine the leadership of the Senior Patrol Leader and to kill children in Asia with unwashed spoons. (Hey, I was only a teenager, that’s about how much sense it made to me at the time.)

We then spent pretty much the entire rest of the troop meeting explaining how we were excited about our ideas and thought we were helping out the troop and no offense was intended. The approximate response was “Well, you’re fucking not helping and offense was taken!” (Well that was the tone anyway and I wish it was an exaggeration.) I was right at the edge of walking out–and learned later at least three people would have gone with me–but it all got resolved by a troop vote and suddenly Bobby and I were the equivalent of a dodgy interim government after a coup when were were voted in charge.

We then got to work putting together the booth. This involved photographing celestial features and making posters of the merit badges requirements. Every time we asked DJ for advice we got “you’re in charge, you tell me” (remember, DJ was the adult, EJ was the teen.)

Somehow we got it all put together and assembled at the exposition. The job was then to occupy the booth and answer questions about the merit badge requirements. If our show was good enough, our troop would win the prize.

We did a pretty good job–we even knew most of the celestial features in the slide show–but one judge walked up and asked “What is the altitude for geosynchronous orbit?” This is roughly the equivalent of asking a kid showing horses at the county fair what the air speed velocity of a laden swallow was. Yes, it had a connection–both are animals and geosynchronous orbit is in space–but we weren’t supposed to be experts in space, just in the astronomy badge.

In the end we didn’t win, a much more politically connected booth that only handed out a few pamphlets did–once again, I wish that was a joke–and EJ and DJ both pretty much scoffed at Bobby and I for the rest of the year four our failure.

At that point, Bobby and I pretty much resolved never to take any initiative or to show any leadership or to try to implement any good ideas ever again. I still haven’t– I think Bobby enlisted in the Air Force so the jury’s still out on whether he has or not.

Temporary Friends Forever And Also in My Head

Some of the best friends I ever had I knew for only a few days or a few minutes. One of them didn’t technically exist.

Back in my graduate school days I had the opportunity to attend a couple graduate student conferences in Columbia, Missouri. In each case I fell in with a group of fellow travelers based simply on being at the same place at the same time. I still do not understand how  groups like these form, but at the second one I was best friends with a university Marxist, a cute basketcase from somewhere in California, a Canadian guy, a guy from California carrying a rather potent thing some people refer to as “weed” and a guy who did “meta” criticism which I didn’t actually understand but he was really cool.

We hung out for the few days of the conference and I quickly learned that when I said something was “only a couple blocks away” I had to clarify if I was using coastal or mid-Western blocks. (Mid-Western blocks are apparently larger than coastal blocks and, according the complaints I received, the difference is apparently several miles.)

We all promised to keep in touch, which means we exchanged exactly one email and then never contacted each other again. Still, they were a fun group and I’m glad I got to know them for a while. I don’t even remember their names.

The ones I knew for a few minutes I met whilst waiting in some sort of endless line, probably university related, or at a ski slope. Misery loves company, especially when you’re all in the same miserable line.

One year, though, while I was still an undergraduate, I went skiing in Colorado with my friend Steve and his friends. I quickly encouraged them to abandon me as they had skiing skills and I didn’t. While I was on my own, and oddly before any alcohol was involved, I decided to pretend I was English and started speaking in an English accent. “Do the queues, I’m sorry, the lines, do the lines always move this slowly?”

I was worried at first when the lift attendant–some random blonde ski bunny–simply mocked my accent when I asked a question. I didn’t know the proper response: “Bugger off? Go #@$% yourself? Suck it, bitch?” I’m still not sure what a proper Englishman would have said, but then, technically, I wasn’t a proper Englishman.

I quickly developed a back story for my character. He was from Bath (which I had actually visited recently and still remembered some details about)  but he had an American mother, which would explain any pronunciation slips and odd phrasing. I chatted with a father on son during the gondola ride and remember talking about how humiliating it was to be falling about on the course whilst five year old children raced past with little trouble. I skied with them for a bit, but they were heading to a smaller lift that would take them to courses with names like “Widow Maker” and “Death’s Door” or which were so terrible they only had codes like “K1” (which means Kills One Each Day. No really. Look it up.)

The main thing the English accent got my friend, er, me was beer. I was still only 20 but I went to the bartender and asked “Which of your American beers do you recommend?” I got beer with no problems.

I said goodbye to that friend by the end of the day and never met him again. I never actually gave him a name–it was safer to use my own as “Dwayne Lively” is somewhat English sounding–but I always wish I’d thought to give him a name. I’m funny that way.


Alcohol and Smoke and Throwing Things Away

I’ve written before how being around smokers doesn’t bother me. I also mentioned that, on occasion, I’ve smoked cigars and had a bad period of pipe smoking pretentiousness. Most of my early smoking, though, involved alcohol and,  not surprisingly, a woman was involved, too.

The first time I remember smoking cigarettes where I actually felt like I wanted a cigarette and not because it seemed like a cool teenage thing to do, was at university and I’d been drinking. For reasons I don’t understand, in addition to copious amounts of pizza and/or nachos, when I’ve been drinking I sometimes crave a cigarette. I only remember smoking one, but that probably meant I smoked two. I then didn’t smoke again for months until alcohol was again involved.

I also dated a smoker for a while, sort of (long story requiring a novel) and I’d smoke when she smoked (again usually after drinking which was, well, read the novel).

Somewhere in there I tried Swisher Sweets cigars which are really useful for making you really sick. Use them on your friends, not on yourself.

However, when I got to Albania, my friend Eddie introduced me to “proper” cigars and Cuban cigars. I started smoking those off and on, mostly when I could afford them, for a few years.

What I discovered was that no matter how smokey a room is, no matter how many people are smoking cigarettes, if you pull out a cigar, cigarette smokers will start going “P. U.” to which I usually respond, especially if I’ve been drinking, “F. U.” (which I think is a French abbreviation for “Silence Hypocrite!” No really. Look it up.) Even in Albania, if Eddie and I started smoking cigars in a bar with cigarette smoke so thick we could barely see each other, the bar owner would suddenly open the windows to let smoke out.

I also blame Eddie for convincing me to try pipes. (For the record: He looks cool smoking them. I look pretentious.)

Eventually I lost my grandfather and grandmother to smoking. I stopped smoking cigars soon after I got married, but I still had a few tucked away that, miraculously, didn’t get moldy, so I kept them for a special occasion.

Last year, though, I lost my dad. In fact, one year ago today. For some reason, I still kept the cigars. I threw them out today. Completely crushed them up. (Two Bolivars, a Romeo y Julieta, a Cohiba and a Punch Habana). It’s the only way I can honor him now. Also, since he was living in Louisiana when he died, I’m toasting him with a mint julep.


The Politics of Work Sustaining Energy Shots

Our oldest and I got back from visiting the in-laws today and spent the day recovering from the trip, the days sitting on the floor, and the time standing around watching our girls play computer games. All this has got me thinking about little vials of energy.

I suspect that part of the reason Japan was, and partly remains, a smoker’s heaven and a coffee drinker’s hell is the abundance of energy drinks (called “nutritional drinks”) available long before the West discovered Red Bull–an import from Thailand. In some ways energy drinks are better than coffee for workers in a hectic environment: There’s no mess; no one has to worry about being the one who empties the pot and has to waste precious time making a new one; there’s no chance of spilling on the way back to the desk; and there’s no chance some moron will slip decaffeinated evil in the mix. Energy drinks can be consumed quickly at the desk or during a smoke break.

My first experience with one of these came my second year in Japan. Mr. Oguma, the former punk-rock musician working as my Japanese English Teacher, either noticing I was tired or tired of me complaining I was tired, gave me a little bottle of energy drink. I don’t remember the name, but I remember it had coffee beans on the label. It had a nice, tart flavor and was gone in a few seconds. I wasn’t that impressed at first. Then my stomach felt warm; then that warmth spread to my entire torso and out into my limbs. Then I had one of those movie moments where I went “I’m not really feeling it” and then it hit and my teeth bared, my fingers made claws and I hissed. I was ready for work.

Almost every pharmaceutical company in Japan makes some form of energy drink and they range in price from a few dollars a bottle to over 20 dollars a bottle. I know one company that, as a right of passage, sends its new employees, regardless of their job, into shopping centers and into the streets to sell cases full of the drinks to passers-by. Because of the pharmaceutical connection, they were only sold in pharmacies. Several years ago, however, for reasons I don’t remember (best guess: money), Japan changed its law to allow energy drinks to be sold in convenience stores.

This created political problems for some of the pharmaceutical companies. One company has a pharmacy chain as one of their major stock holders. The pharmacy chain refuses to allow the drinks to be sold in convenience stores even though sales would probably double. (It would be like trying to buy aspirin if it could only be sold over-the-counter in pharmacies.)

I still generally avoid the energy drinks. The one’s I’ve tried were, with only a couple exceptions, free samples for human testing from clients. I’ve tried Red Bull a few times, but mostly when the Red Bull Mini and the Red Bull Girls are out in front of the station near where I work.

I prefer coffee.

Quarter by Quarter Dollar by Dollar

Today we did some running with a couple in-laws. In this case “running” typically means going to Aeon shopping center in Joetsu City and window shopping whilst our oldest and youngest play games in an arcade.

Japanese arcades (which they call game centers) are overwhelming experiences of noise and light. When I was a kid the closest we got to this was a proper pinball arcade with lots of bells, clattering, flashing lights and swearing. The later arcades with computer games and skee ball and Pop-a-Shot didn’t have that level of sensory overload. (That didn’t, however, stop me from spending my future a quarter at a time.)

Japanese arcades, though, seem designed to be loud. They all seem to play music and they all have flashing lights. A lot of the games also involve physical exertion: beating on drums, dancing on foot pads, and shooting things that scream. The worst was a horse racing game that required the contestants to ride a plastic horse. this involved holding a ski position and rocking the horse for three or four minutes.

Some of the Japanese games also have the potential to lead to fights.

My favorite was called World Cup 2000 (or something like that) and it was best described as a “versus” game. Imagine two identical games sitting back to back and connected by cables. It was designed, in theory, for friends to play against each other. However, if you’re by yourself, as you’re playing a game, someone on the other side puts 100 yen (about a dollar) into the machine and suddenly, your game is interrupted and you are playing the other person for control of the console.

Whoever wins gets to keep playing–if you win, you go back to your old game–whoever loses has to put more money in and play for control or move to another machine. You may never see the face of the guy who steals your best game (and it’s always your best game ever when someone hijacks it). Or you may go to the other side and strangle a dollar out of him.

Our girls are big fans of a game called Pretty Rhythm and it’s sequel Prism Paradise. They combine fashion and trinkets. Each time they played, the first game gave them a computer readable stone that could be used to change the clothes of the game character. The game was popular enough it spawned an Anime series the girls were also fans of. My oldest is enough of a fan that she follows the voice performers like rock stars. Our house overfloweth with heart-shaped stones about the size of a US quarter. Some of them are rare, some of them are ordinary.

Luckily, the threat of having millions of little plastic hearts dumped on their property by thousands of irate parents encouraged the maker to incorporate a way to use the old “stones” in the new game. The new game issues tickets with removable tabs that can be shared between friends. After designing the outfit, the player than has a series of games involving pushing various buttons in the correct rhythm to make the fashionable characters perform music better. At the end of the game points and results can be stored on cards.

When this game finally fades away, I’m going to have a lot of cards and “stones” to dump in front of the Takara Tomy headquarters.

Repeated Conspicuous Gluttonous Consumption

Tonight’s post is about food and beer and gluttony. Today my sister-in-law and her husband stopped by for supper and that means this post is being written under two conditions: full and drunk.

One of the impressive things about She Who Must Be Obeyed’s family is how much food they can put away and still remain reasonably thin. Today we had a tray of sushi, a small tray of sashimi, several roll-your-own sushi rolls, and a plate of the Japanese version of cold cuts, which included fried chicken, sausage, three different kinds of shrimp, potatoes and skewered chicken. A few bottles and cans of beer were also involved. Then they brought out dessert.

I first learned about their eating prowess very early on after She Who Must Be Obeyed and I got engaged. As part of the celebration we went to a Korean Barbecue restaurant in Itoigawa—for those who don’t know what this is, it’s a place where they trick you into cooking your own food and then charge you extra. We proceeded to eat and eat and eat. I felt it important that I hold my own in order to preserve US pride and my own omnivorous reputation. I think it’s fair to say we consumed an entire cow and an entire hog each, including large portions of innards, and a handful of vegetables. They kept handing the leftovers to me and I went “Well, you know, I really shouldn’t, but I’m going to” and then ate what I was handed.

After consuming all that dead animal flesh, I’d pretty much reached the limits of my consumption ability. That’s when they said “Do you want rice or noodles?” That’s right, after all that, they intended to top off the evening with carbohydrates. (Please remember, though, that THEY cheated by giving ME all the leftovers.) I chose ishiyaki bibinba (a rice and meat dish cooked in stone bowl) and somehow managed to force it all down.

The part that still amazes me is they always eat like this. Some of my friends got to see them in action at KC Masterpiece during our US wedding. I’ve learned to pace myself better, even when it leads to constant rounds of “Don’t you like it?” “Does it taste bad?” “Do you want something else?”

The fun part is, tomorrow we’ve got fresh sashimi coming in from She Who Must Be Obeyed’s cousin’s fish shop. It means we’re going to do this all over again.

Locked in and Blacked Out Old School Style

After my batch of JET Programme members arrived in Tokyo, we were subjected to three days of orientation of questionable benefit. Our prefectural orientation involved a handful of people telling us that we’d get more pertinent information at our August training. One of our presenters then explained that the training would take place at something called a Kyoiku center, which is a kind of education hotel, and that there would be a lot of rules. The most important rule was that the there was a 10:30 curfew. In fact, at 10:30 the outside doors were locked.

This prompted one English lass in the front row to go into shock and keep repeating “You’re taking the piss. Right? You’re taking the piss right?” Our presenter assured us no piss of any kind was being taken. Now perhaps because, at the time, I was pushing 30 and had been in Air Force ROTC and the Peace Corps, I wasn’t surprised. A few years in those institutions will prepare you to handle both random rules and random bullshit. And then there was that “It’s part of the job” thing. However, “It’s part of the job” doesn’t go very far with young people yet to actually start their first jobs (in their minds, the orientations were just an extension of university).

We were then sent to our towns and while those of us working directly for the local governments were required to show up to the office and do “work”, those assigned to the prefecture got a month’s holiday. After that month, though, we all arrived at the Kyoiku center, some of us happy to see different faces that all spoke English and some of us wondering why the hell vacations had been interrupted for more classes.

The fun started right away, when we learned a couple more dirty little secrets of the kyoiku center: not only were the doors locked at 10:30 but it was lights out at 11:00 because that’s when power to all the rooms was shut off, which also meant there’d be no air conditioning until morning. Keep in mind, this was Japan in August and it was nasty hot and humid (those are technical terms). Also, any official drinking could only occur in certain common areas during the half-hour between lock in and lights out as we were not allowed in the common areas after lights out.

The kyoiku center did make one concession by opening the baths and showers in the morning to appeal to our bizarre Western idea of not waking up sweaty and going straight to work.

We were allowed to leave the center for the 5 ½ hours between the end of classes and lock in. The complication is we were in a rural area with spotty train availability. In order to get back by 10:30 we had to leave Niigata City around nine. It was amazing to see how much partying a group of Westerners could fit into the 2 ½ hours available to them.

Not much happened the first year, but in the years after that there were incidents involving loud noise and people pulling fire alarms to get the doors open after lock in.

I suspect things would have been different if we’d gone to the center straight from Tokyo. Please keep in mind we were not in the military and this was not a military institution, although it was where local firefighters did their course work. The organizers kept insisting, though, that this kind of thing was important to the Japanese. It was a hell of a test of flexibility, but it all seemed very old school in a well, old kind of way.


Profoundly Profound Conclusions Jumped Toward

One of the common effects of visiting Japan on a visitor to Japan is the formation of a series of falsely profound conclusions that seem rather, well, profound: Kanji is SOOO deep. It’s like pictures. Each picture is made up of smaller pictures. It has meaning beyond its meaning. It’s SOOO much deeper than the Western alphabet. (Well, yeah, that’s kind of true, although writing with pictures is actually pre-alphabet and the easier versions of Japan’s four alphabets are slowly taking over, and, well, WHICH Western alphabet?)

Writer/Activist Arudo Debito describes this as Gush and Mush–Gush is Japan rocks; Mush is Japan sucks–and ascribes it mostly to journalists in town for a few days. In my experience, though, Gush leads to Mush.

Gush: Japan is SOOO modern; it has the fastest broadband internet connections and everything is SOOO modern.
Mush: There’s no free wi-fi except in Starbucks and the parking lot of 7-11? Japan is SOOO backward.

I personally believe this a consequence of commenting on results without understanding the causes. (Japan hasn’t needed free wi-fi because people have been surfing the net on their cellphones for over a decade and are used to the expense. They’ve been doing that because landlines were expensive. Etc.)

I bring this up because this is a common reaction to the design of Japanese houses and the way that design impacts the lifestyle of people living in them.

One of the falsely profound conclustions is that Japanese families are closer because they all sit together in one room. Rather than having central air, Japanese rooms are heated and cooled as necessary. “This is SOOO much more civilized than the west and brings families closer because everyone is gathered together under the kotatsu and can talk and share values. This is SOOO much better than the selfish isolationist Westerners who sit in different rooms surfing the internet. Also, it’s SOOO much more energy efficient to only heat the room you’re in rather than waste energy on the rooms you’re not using. West bad. Japan good. I love Japan!” (Gush.)

There’s a lot to unpack in that, but I’ll start with a general tendency for the Japanese to build crappier houses—partly because of earthquakes and partly because the value of land is the majority of the cost of building a house. This leads to a lack of insulation, especially on older houses, and a lack of central air. The only way to heat and cool a room is to buy a heater and an air conditioner for that room. This means it’s cheaper to heat only one room.

As for the notion it’s more energy efficient, I don’t believe it. The one room may be warm, but at least one wall is uninsulated and is up against an unheated hallway or room. For example, in winter, my in-laws hang out in one room. That room has a flimsy sliding door that bleeds heat and energy into a hallway that’s so cold that going to the restroom just down the hall feels like going to an outhouse (albeit one with a heated toilet seat that washes and dries your backside.) In summer, you can feel the heat and humidity from the hallway bleeding in through the door, requiring the air conditioner to work all the time.

As for Kotatsus, well they are great until one’s nether regions start baking. Also, because the kotatsu is baking already stinky feet, I’ve been told that I’m lucky I have no sense of smell. As one of my friends said to the comment that the kotatsu is great “So is insulation! So is central heating!”

Also, that “heating only one room is SOOO awesome” conclusion changes by the middle of winter as the person is huddled under a kotatsu and wrapped in blankets: “I can’t believe my coffee table is heated but my apartment is not. I hate Japan!” (Mush.)

Also, although everyone’s together in the same, they are watching TV whilst teenagers surf the net on their phones. At times, it’s no closer than being stuck with people on a crowded train.