Monday, August 14, 2006


Here are some of the great things about Japan:
1. In Japan, there are vending machines everywhere. We are staying on this tiny island in a tiny fishing village of about 50 people. There's a post office, an unused elementray school, some boats, and 5 vending machines. Most sell soda and juice and an amazing drink called Pocari Sweat. It tastes amazing, like Vitamin Water, and is perfect when you find yourself drenched in Person Sweat, which is all the time. You walk along, parched, feeling sodium and potassium and all vitality sucked out of you, and up ahead there's a vending machine glowing in the distance, a bright prism promising you cool refreshment, and in any other country you'd think this oasis was a mirage, but in Japan it's a reality. But these machines don't just sell juice; you can get french fries and oyster balls, ice cream and sandwiches, cigarettes and . . . beer! Beer and whiskey vending machines are everywhere.
Because in Japan, public drinking is not just legal, it's encouraged.

2. In Japan, public drinking is not just legal, it's encouraged. People wander the streets carrying plastic cups full of beer all over the place. It's a bit watered down like keg beer, so you really feel like most cities are just large frat parties when the sun sets. People start drinking at 11am, to wash down breakfast, and often the party stops at 5am the next morning. It is common to see a few homeless people sleeping on the subway platforms next to business men using their briefcases as pillows since they got too drunk to make it to the subway in time to get home. Somehow allowing people to walk around and drink eliminates the need for people to drink and drive. Also, the fine for ANY blood alcohol is $10,000.00. A Half Million Yen. For ANY alcohol in your bloodstream. So everyone takes the subway or a taxi or walks or bikes. Drinking is a huge part of social life, especially at FESTIVALS.

3. FESTIVALS! These are all over all the time. We've been here 4 weeks and have seen 8 festivals. Every town has a festival at least once a month to celebrate something.
There's always fireworks to announce the start, then some sort of parade with floats or lanterns, and dancing and drumming and people in traditional dress. There are children who stare at white people and tiny old women who push through the crowd like sharks. There is often tons of smoke from torches and people smoking, and lines of helpful policemen in fancy vests and hardhats. Then there will be more fireworks and dancing, and more drumming, and booths with carnival games. You can throw darts at ballons or catch goldfish with rice paper nets. One place had a booth with hundreds of fluffy yellow chicks, but we couldn't tell if they were for playing with or for eating. And of course, food. Grilled whole squid, and grilled crab legs, and octopus balls (yum!), grilled corn (non-sarcastic yum!), fried noodles, fried chicken, and of course BEER! And of course people wander around drinking. All night.
And then people just crash at the tables and wake up at 5am when the sprinklers come on and go to work. And remember, at these festivals, refusing a drink will bring shame to your whole family. So Kanpai!


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