Monday, August 16, 2010

Obon's End

Well, today is the last day of Obon! Also known as Gozan no Okuribi (五山送り火), or literally, five mountain sending off (funeral) fire. In Kyoto, they light a giant 大 in the side of a mountain. That's pretty amazing, and I would love to see it for myself! Actually, there are a few more kanji on there as well. Just go to and you'll see what I mean. Or check out the wikipedia article:

Yesterday, I spent the entire day doing laundry and cleaning up my apartment. Actually not quite done yet, as I'm trying to figure out what to do about all of the paper that I've gotten from the two orientations. So much stuff to read through! I've gotten through a lot of it, but I believe the majority of it is really just for reference. But yeah, doing laundry in Japan is quite different in the US. I'll proceed to describe various other differences here that I've found amuzing or interesting (or even troublesome).

My apartment does NOT have a dryer. This means that once I'm done washing my clothes, I immediately put my clothes on hangers and put them somewhere to dry. My predecessor put a bar in one of the bedrooms for just that purpose. She usually used this bar during the winter and used a bar outside on the back patio to hang stuff when it wasn't cold out. But I found that hanging them inside was more convenient, because my shirt closet is in that same room. Also, the washer took quite a bit of time to figure out how to use. I had to look up the kanji that I didn't know and then make a vague interpretation of what the washer actually did with that particular setting. For example, one of the words was about flooding, so I figured that it had to do with re-filling the tank. There was also "drying," but the washer doesn't *actually* dry anything.

Another interesting thing is the trash system. In the US, we only have trash or recycling; and only recycling requires separation of stuff. But hoooooo, in Japan, even trash needs to be separated. When I was at a government institution last week for Miyagi orientation, there were four distinct trash bins for different stuff. Trash can be separated into burnable trash and non-burnable trash. In other words, paper & organic waste versus plastic waste. But then you have lots of plastic bottles for drinks, known as PET bottles in Japan. To discard a PET bottle, you must first remove the cap and the plastic label and put those into the plastic/non-burnable trash. Then you may put the PET bottle into its designated container. Things like glass and aluminum have their own things as well, but in a public place, I think there are places for any sort of bottle-shaped trash. If you think about it, it's not really all that different from the recycling system that we have in the US. But the difference is that typically, the recycling and sorting happens at home, whereas here in Japan, it's public. I definitely think that it's for the better. I've also heard that if you don't separate the trash out properly, it gets returned to your doorstep!

Driving. Everything about driving here just seems *backwards*! The steering wheel is on the right, which Americans normally refer to as "passenger side." You must drive on the left side of the road and stay in the left lane. I believe passing on highways occurs on the right lane. The lane switch also means that left turns are now easy, whereas right turns are now more difficult. But see, I already knew about all that, so I wasn't surprised or shocked or anything. What seems the most "backwards" here is parking: everyone backs into their spot in a parking lot!!! This blows my mind, because in the US, nearly everyone goes head first into their parking spot, so all the cars face each other. But in Japan, all of the cars face away from each other! I haven't seen anyone load a ton of groceries in their cars like this yet. I'm sure to be amused when it happens.

Hmm, that's another thing. I've seen people buy lots of stuff; but the mentality of having abundant amounts of things is just different here in Japan. In the US, we like having a lot of a lot of stuff (yes, I meant to use "a lot of" twice). We go to places like Sam's Club or Costco or Walmart and stock up on things we use often, like toilet paper, paper towels, drinks, food, what have you. But in's just not like that. I mean, people DO do that, but oftentimes, people are more inclined to buy smaller amounts of things because that's all that they need. I will share a story that I heard at Tokyo Orientation about this:

A JET participant (whom I'll refer to as "the JET") went shopping with a Japanese friend at the grocery store. For a long time now, the JET had been shopping at that store. There was a 1L (liter) beverage being sold for 80 yen. And every day, it was that price. There was also a .5L size being sold for 60 yen. But when the JET and her friend had gone shopping, the 1L drink was on sale for 50 yen, less than the price of the smaller one! The friend wanted to buy this drink, so she picked up the smaller .5L bottle and was about to go pay for it. This blew the JET's mind. "Why are you getting the smaller one??? You can get the larger one for a cheaper price!!!" "Because I only want this size." (I might have told the story a bit incorrectly; the two sizes might have both been 50 yen when it was on sale. But the point I'm trying to make is the same.)

Miyagi Orientation was last Wednesday to Friday; it might be a while before I see fellow JETs again. Orientation was fun; but the facility felt like a dormitory. Males and Females were separated by floor. And there were public restrooms rather than each room having its own bathroom. And there was also a public shower room (with private showers) but also a public bath. With public stools. And public sitting area. After two full days of getting to know people, a few of the guys fought their insecurities and went into the bath. And let me tell you, that was quite hot. But I hear that real onsen's have much, much hotter water. It felt good though. But I couldn't sit there for too long, because I was starting to get light-headed. Still a neat experience. I look forward to going to a real onsen one day; my supervisor said that he'll take me to one. Apparently our area is known for its many onsens. There's even one in town!

Word of the day: ごみ箱 「ごみばこ」 "gomibako" or "garbage can." Gomi, or trash, is also often written in the katakana form: ゴミ


  1. You know what? Now that you mention it I just realized that all of my Japanese friends who can drive (who live in the states) all back up into their spots! It is so WEIRD. I don't trust myself with things like that.

    I LOVE onsens. I can't wait to go to one again. I am glad you were comfortable with going in and not being all self conscious. I have Japanese female friends that also feel that way, they don't want to go in because they feel embarrassed.

    Just don't forget to shower and rinse before you sit in the bath and when you get out dry yourself off good! Don't be like me and not wash yourself and forget to make sure you are SUPER dried off. As you can tell, I failed in those things at least once lol.

    By the way, Ritsumeikan's international houses have public baths like the ones in the facility you stayed in. I really don't mind though. :D


  2. By the way, AWESOME PHOTOS!! I am sad that I didn't get to see the 大 in the hill. D:

  3. Wow that's so weird! I'm not skilled enough to back into a spot. haha (did you manage it even when the steering wheel's on the right, that sounds like it would mess with my head trying to go backwards. lol)

    Jeez, Japan has a very specific system for garbage huh? I knew they had separate ones but I didn't know it was THAT specific.

    Good job figuring out the dryer! Must have been tough. Yay jishos!

    I'm so jealous you have an onsen right in town! That's so neat! I hope I get to go to one! And the Obon Matsuri sounds like it was great. You've experienced so much already!

    P.S. I think I'm gonna end up going on the AU plan. Let me know if you find out the prices for those two phones please =)

  4. Actually, I haven't actually started driving yet! Hell, I never even turned on my car! Hahaha. But I'll definitely do that soon. I'll do it sometime this week probably.

    And yes, I remembered to dry up. lol

    Alana, I will look into the phone's prices for you! time I go to an AU Store, anyway. :-) But yeah, a TON of people, especially foreigners, like the JETs, have AU. The rest have SoftBank. Only one non-Japanese guy I met has Docomo. I asked him about it, and he said that something like 95 percent of the towers (or something?) were owned by Docomo up until recently, and everyone else was renting/borrowing stuff. So they have the best service/signal. But I haven't heard any complaints about the other two.