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Sunday, Nov. 19, 2000


Top 10 commandments for Shiraishi Island

I've been camped out here all day. I'm demonstrating against the recent change in an old Japanese tradition. I'm protesting the closing down of Japan's beer machines.

All across Japan, liquor shops have voluntarily been closing down their vending machines to support efforts to stop underage drinking. We have two such vending machines on our island where you could once buy canned beer, two-liter jugs of beer and hot or cold sake. But now the machines have their oracles duct-taped over, victims of social pressure and group harmony.

People under the age of 21 are a minority on this island. The nine toddlers on the island aren't tall enough to reach the coin slot and I can't see them escaping from their houses at night with Hello Kitty ladders to buy booze from the vending machine. Nor do I think that the 34 elementary school kids are going to spend their allowance on moonshine. The dogs on the island like beer, but dogs don't have any money. That leaves 22 junior high-school students and 27 high-school students.

"Do you really think there is a problem with underage drinking on the island?" I asked Amano-san, the man who owns the liquor shop and the beer machines.

"No. But all the shops on the mainland are closing the machines down. We must show our support."

There must be a better way of solving the beer machine "problem." Perhaps we could have security guards. Or maybe install a security camera. Or we could do like they do on the first evening of every month, when people walk around the neighborhood clapping wooden blocks together to remind people to turn off the gas in their houses.

"Don't forget to turn off the gas (clack, clack)," they say. We could say, "Turn off the gas (clack, clack) and don't forget to not drink alcohol if you're under age."

In addition, we have fire prevention week. This morning, I was awakened at 7 a.m. by a fire truck driving around the island announcing, "This is fire prevention week. It is now Autumn, so the leaves and grasses are dry. Please be extra careful to prevent fires." Couldn't we drive a pickup truck around the island with a beer machine in the back: "This is alcohol awareness week. Those under age should be extra careful not to buy alcohol from machines."

Or we could tackle the problem the way many problems are tackled in Japan -- by putting up a sign. We have signs on our island that say, "Be nice to everyone," and "Smile!" Others are more pedantic, "Always greet passersby" and "Don't ignore bullies -- turn them in." The "Campaign to Brighten up Society" has posted signs that say, "A helping heart and valor connect our district." Some small, discreet signs posted on telephone poles say, "Mothers bring up children with their hearts, fathers with their backs."

Recently we had banner flags that encouraged people to use a child seat in their cars, even though the majority of the people on the island don't even have children let alone cars. Most people here are so unaccustomed to riding in cars that when they go to the mainland and ride in a car, they get car sick. These people don't need to be reminded to use a child seat, they need to be reminded to take Dramamine.

So why can't we have a large banner that tells children not to buy alcohol from vending machines?

With all the signs in Japan, it seems odd that there isn't a central location where we could read them all at once. Something like a stone tablet with 10 commandments written on them. If Buddha had gone to the top of Mount Koya and brought back 10 commandments to Shiraishi Island, they would have been:

1. Thou shalt smile.

2. Thou shalt give greetings to passersby.

3. Thou shalt not bully.

4. Thou shalt turn off the gas in your house, especially on the first evening of every month and during fire-prevention week.

5. Thou shalt bring up children with your heart and back.

6. Thou shalt take Dramamine.

7. Thou shalt not fish in the port or other restricted areas, unless no one is looking.

8. Thou shalt not litter, unless it's a large appliance such as a washing machine or refrigerator that you can't lug all the way back to the mainland.

9. Thou shalt brighten up society with signs and flags.

10. Thou shalt not buy beer from machines unless you are at least 21.

Visit the Japan Lite home page at www.amychavez.com or e-mail comments to: amychavez@mailexcite.com

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