Monday, 13 February, 2006

Odd and amusing things in Tokyo

I spent a lot of my wandering about Tokyo taking pictures of things that I found odd or amusing.  The subway is full such things.  For example, you don't have to be able to read Japanese in order to understand what this sign on the door is saying.  I seem to remember a similar picture featuring something else, but in looking through my pictures I don't see it.

Leaving the subway after snapping the cat picture, I ran across this poster of Big Bird giving the Cookie Monster a lesson in subway manners.  This is one of at least a dozen posters featuring the Sesame Street characters, designed to improve (or perhaps maintain) courtesy on the subway system.  It's an ongoing battle between the older, more traditional, generation and the youngsters who are beginning to adopt the less-courteous ways of Americans.

Many restaurants in Japan have plastic replicas of the dishes they serve on display in their windows.  I've seen this in the U.S., but not to the extent that I saw it in Tokyo.  Not surprisingly, there are stores where you can buy an incredible array of plastic foods.   The sushi clock pictured at the right was on display in one of those shops.  David, who has some fluency in Japanese, made a joke--in Japanese--about the time being "salmon minutes after octopus," or some such.  Our Japanese tour guides (our host and clients) found it quite amusing.

In one area there were signs painted on the sidewalk, asking people to please refrain from smoking while walking.  That cigarette looks terribly depressed, doesn't it?

Coming from Austin, where it's illegal to smoke within 15 feet of the door to any public building, seeing the large number of smokers in Japan is something of a shock.  Dining in many restaurants is decidely unpleasant due to the smoke, and pachinko parlours have a visible cloud of smoke.  There are non-smoking cars on the cross-country trains, and smoking is not allowed at all in the Tokyo Metro trains.  Despite this nation-wide nicotine addiction, there is no chewing tobacco in Japan.  The few Japanese I asked said they'd heard of it but had never seen anybody chewing tobacco.  A company called Swedish Match has introduced a chewing gum called FireBreak that they advertise as "chewing tobacco."  It contains 1 mg of nicotine per piece, and about 3% tobacco.  It sounds a lot like Nicorette Gum to me, although it's apparently marketed as a smoking substitute rather than a stop-smoking aid.

I don't know how popular Death cigarettes are, but I saw advertisements and even saw them for sale in vending machines.

As in the U.S. almost all restaurants in Japan have paper napkins.  There are two things that set these napkins apart from those at home:  almost all are made from recycled paper, and the napkins have a thin coating of wax that makes them less absorbant.  As you can see from this picture, many of the napkins include the "tree free" logo to show that it's made from 100% recycled paper.

I think the wax coating is there to discourage people from removing the napkins from the restaurant to be used as toilet paper in the subway bathrooms.  You see, the bathrooms in the subway usually don't have toilet paper, or you have to buy a package of tissue (cost, 100 yen or about $1 U.S.) from the vending machine.

Seeing a need and a captive audience, companies have filled the gap by packaging small amounts three or four tissues in a package similar to the small Kleenex packages.  Advertisers buy space on a card that's visible through the the clear plastic wrapping.  Other companies hire people to wear advertising (a jacket with the McDonald's logo, for example) and distribute the packages free of charge outside the subway station entrance.  Somehow I managed to leave Tokyo without getting a picture of the package or of anybody passing them out.  Maybe next time.