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Saturday, Dec. 18, 2004

JAPAN LITE

Checklist before leaving for the holidays


Many foreigners will be leaving Japan for the holidays, and I am no exception. It's always a scary thing to leave my house for more than a few minutes: Japanese houses are so -- delicate. Almost anything could obliterate a Japanese house during your absence, which is probably the real reason Japanese people don't take long vacations. During the last typhoon, for example, I'm quite sure the added body weight of family members is the only thing that kept my house from getting blown away.

With all the typhoons, earthquakes and heavy rains Japan has had this year, we have reason to feel uncomfortable leaving our houses at home alone. Call it global warming or global climate change, whichever you like; I call it angry Shinto gods. With over 8 million gods in Japan, you have to figure that there are going to be feuds now and then. The population of Japan is around 120 million. With 8 million gods, that's almost one god for every 15 people. Not a bad ratio. Nonetheless, since the gods are obviously very busy, the shrinking population must be very appealing to them: fewer people, less work. And remember, not all gods are good gods. Many of them like to instill fear among us.

I suspect most of the spats among the gods concern early retirement. And rightly so. Think of all the years they have been working -- thousands and thousands! With the shrinking population, some gods will become redundant and some will fall into "amakudari," but who to let go first? I hope they'll have their welfare system and a new benefits package arranged by the annual October god summit at Izumo Shrine. Until then, however, we have to consider the possibility of a Christmas typhoon or a New Year's quake. Especially if the gods decide to have a dance party on New Year's Eve. Run for cover if you hear them playing Elvis' "Shake, Rattle and Roll."

Another thing I worry about when leaving my house is termites. Do not underestimate the power of the termite mandibular function. I have seen a neighbor's brand new house come and go within just three years due to termites. My house has been infested with termites for many years now, with the exception of a three-year period when they went over to the neighbor's, so I worry that if I leave, I could come home next month to no house at all -- the old termite "dine and dash." If we could just teach the termites some manners, such as to chew their food 13 times before swallowing, my house would last 13 times longer.

But all these worries aside, I decided to leave anyway, and made a reservation for a flight leaving on a garbage day, so I'd be sure to leave no Viking buffets for the roaches, who are in cahoots with the termites. I could also make sure nothing would be left in the refrigerator this year for what has come to be the annual Big Rot. I would win any quiz show that required identifying completely abandoned, furry food left in a refrigerator for more than a few months. I'm also quite good at identifying how long rice has been left in the rice cooker (if it's yellow sludge, it's over a month old, in case you're wondering).

The very last thing to worry about when leaving the house alone for the holidays is eating up as much food as possible. Despite a weeklong vow that I'm not buying any more food, the day before departure, I usually break down and buy food. I have eaten some very strange omelets on the morning of departure day. My favorite was the combination with rice, pickles, chocolate, sushi and "senbei." Hey, the roaches would have loved it!

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