Friday, 4 February 2011

Lost in the supermarket, nasal (rites of) passages and the pensioner police

I've been a long term critic of supermarkets in Berlin, so it is time to redress the balance. Supermarkets in Japan are awesome!

Mainly I've shopped in 'combini' stores. These are small corner convenience stores that are open either really late or 24 hours a day. In the UK or the US this would probably mean they were stocked with booze, pringles and cigarettes, but here there is a wide variety of food on offer, some of it even fresh and healthy.

My favourite is Lawson, but there are 4 or 5 different chains literally all over Tokyo. For the traveller it is pretty great.

Tokyo blogger Kevin Cooney gives his opinion on 'combinis' below. TokyoCooney is my favourite source of information about Tokyo. He has made tonnes of videos about all aspects of life in the city. Recommended!

In Yokohama I grabbed lunch from as small supermarket and I was pleased with my haul.

Hot weak lemon drink £1


Baked sweet potato cooked on hot coals inside the supermarket £1.20


Tasty sushi with a sachet of soy sauce, pickled cabbage and a dash of wasabi £2.50


Not bad I'd say, but there is a problem. I've read and been told, that it is actually quite rude to eat in the street in Japan. When you are buying most of your food from supermarkets and don't have anywhere to live then this proves to be a problem. I have generally been trying to find a discreet bench on which to munch my bounties, but benches and places to sit down also seem to be sparse.

On this occasion I was able to find a suitable spot and cracked open the hot weak lemon drink (a habit that is eating into my poker profits as I am drinking one bottle of this per hour when I play).

As I eat I observe another Japanese city phenomenon. The pensioner police! This particular guy is wearing a green armband, a peaked cap and some kind of ID badge. I'm not sure what his official role or title is, but it seems he is there to preserve order in this sleepy Yokohama suburb. In this case, order means that making sure the bikes in the bike rack are exactly symmetrical. I have to say that I thought the standard of the bike parking in this rack was quite high in the first place, but it is not good enough for him, and he adjusts several bikes so they are aligned. People generally don't lock up their bikes in many parts of town (with the pensioner police, your cycle is safe!), so he has a free reign to rearrange the cycles at his will, making the streets of Yokohama a better place. I know he instantly clocked me the moment I sat down, and I'm sure he is watching me like a hawk to make sure I don't leave rubbish.

And that isn't as straightforward as it seems, as there are absolutely no trash bins in Tokyo and nobody seems to know why. Some say it is because of terrorism, others because they want people to take their trash home. Some people just shrug at me when I ask. I've walked around for hours, pockets full of rubbish and nowhere to put it.

I have been suffering from a cold the past few days and again have faced another etiquette situation. It seems it is highly rude to blow your nose in public in Japan. I guess this makes sense but it begs the question, what are you supposed to do if you have a cold? I see a lot of people around with the face masks, especially on the subway train and considered getting one. Sadly people only seem to have them in white and I'd prefer black myself.

Instead what I have been doing is going down dark back alleys to blow my nose. The shame of it!

This time I thought I'd found a good secluded spot. I pulled my tissue out of my pocket, took one last glance around to make sure the coast was clear, before letting rip with my nasal excretions. Unfortunately, just at that moment, an old lady walks straight around the corner into my path. The look on her face was priceless. You've heard the phrase 'she looked daggers at me', well in this case it was samurai swords. Horrified! Her expression was akin to her walking around the corner and seeing me defecating onto a picture of the Japanese Royal Family. She hurries off muttering under her breath.

I have no desire to offend anyone, but what's a guy with a cold meant to do in this town?

Of course it is pretty much impossible for me to avoid standing out here. My friend John said he felt like a monster when he was here. I tend to agree. And of course it is impossible to follow every part of Japanese etiquette, no matter how hard I try, but I am thankful to receive a 'gaijin pass' from time to time.

Certainly there is no way I would ever be able to get away with a crime in Japan:

Police chief: "So, we are looking for a tall white guy with long blonde curly hair"
Officer: "Well there are only two people that fit that description in the whole of Japan"
*Shows him the files*
Police chief: "uh huh"
Officer: "I checked the alibi of Thor the Norwegian blues guitarist. He had a show that night"
Chief: "RIGHT! Case solved! Bring Huxley in. We'll show him the error of his noseblowing ways..."
Officer: "No problem Sir. Right after I've given directions to this queue of tourists. Where's my big, red pointy glow in the dark stick?"

1 comment:

Alex Schedel said...

Hey Phill,
like your way of writing, very entertaining! Keep it up!
Found the link to your blog on CS Tokyo group while getting prepared for my next trip.
I am from Berlin and going to travel to Tokyo on Thursday.