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Saturday, Oct. 4, 2003
'Good old Japan days' gone -- whew!
By AMY CHAVEZ
It used to be said that you know it's time to leave Japan when you start bowing on the phone. Have you been in Japan too long? Maybe. But to prevent you from becoming one of those old Japan-hands relenting the present and waxing lyrical about the past and the "good old Japan days," first tell me if you remember:
When people-watching wasn't any fun? Nowadays you can go to Harajuku or Shinjuku and look at the girls all dolled up in everything from Hello Kitty accessories to costumes. You can park yourself almost anywhere in Japan and see studded, tattooed, hair-dyed people wearing funky clothing. Not so before. Everyone used to dress in staid, dark clothing and everyone looked the same -- very serious.
Waiting at the crosswalk for the "Don't Walk" light to change so you could cross? Nowadays, I often find myself, the "gaijin," the last one waiting, while all the Japanese have already jumped the light. No one waits for the light to change these days except for kindergarten teachers.
When no one had a hair style? The closest thing to a "do" was pigtails -- and all the girls had them! Even adult women did the pigtail thing. Straight bangs, or fringe, in front were de rigueur, with a slight curl to keep them off the forehead. This curl, more like an ocean wave, really, was shaped by putting one roller in the hair at night before going to bed and sleeping that way. Or, if you were into advanced bang curling, you would buy the one-roller contraption (still available) with an electric prong attached to plug into the wall.
When all stores closed by 7 p.m.? It was impossible to go shopping if you worked full time. At my company, women were allowed to go home early, before the men, so they could get to the grocery store and have dinner on the table by the time their spouses came home.
Being cashless on Sundays and holidays because the cash machines weren't open? I never understood why cash machines needed a holiday. Where would they go anyway -- the Isle of Man for some offshore investing? Even now, I see signs on cash machines that boast "Open 24 hours!" as if this was cutting-edge technology to boost consumer spending.
When no one accepted credit cards? Not the JR for 30,000 yen shinkansen tickets, nor the travel agent for 200,000 yen plane tickets. It was possible to be stuck in the airport with no way to get home after your holiday in Korea because all the cash machines were closed and, by the way, the money exchange won't change any of that Korean won back into yen. All you could do was wait for the machines to open the next morning -- at 10 a.m.!
Sweating it out in long sleeves until May 1st, the official day for everyone to change to short sleeves? And then sweating it out in short sleeves until July 1st -- the official day for turning on the air conditioning! Now you can freeze in air conditioning anytime after March.
When the cheapest thing was 500 yen? Now you can outfit your entire house with merchandise from the 100 yen shop -- and be proud of it. Before, you were lucky to retrieve something from the "sodai gomi" (on big garbage day) and Japanese people would cringe if you boasted about it. Now even the Japanese boast that they bought something from "hyakkin" (100 yen shops). I'm holding out on buying a house in Japan, because I'm sure I'll soon be able to buy one at hyakkin.
So, while you may wallow in the good old Japan days, I scream "Hooray!" to the new Japan. Japan gets so much better and easier to live in every year, it's hard to know when it's time to leave -- when you start bowing on your keitai?
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Web site: www.amychavez.com