Tag Archives: Japan

Japan round-up

One of the strangest things about spending time in Japan was the surgical masks. Or, rather, how absolutely not-strange they were to nearly everyone around me. After a day or three, I got used to maybe one in five people wearing a mask over his or her face. As I spent more time riding the rails, particularly the JR Yamanote line, I found that this wasn’t even that difficult to imagine an explanation for, either. In a very crowded car, people are literally right in one another’s face, and crowded cars are the norm in Tokyo. I don’t know if the masked themselves would draw this connection— Japan disclaimer—but at all events reaching for some sort of barrier stopped feeling mystifying.

It still felt strange, though. Like someone had announced an outbreak without me noticing. While, in the meantime, the whole thing was routine to everyone else. People wearing masks were a decided minority, but I think in Tokyo it has become like, say, glasses: it has been normalized in the sense that some people wear them, other people don’t, and you really pay it no special regard.

A few other notes about Japan that should wrap up my public commentary…

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Daylight Saving Time and Japan

Japan does not observe Daylight Saving Time. Observing Japan not observing DST is, I think, a useful experience for anyone who wants to argue about whether DST should continue elsewhere.

From what I could tell, the outcome of keeping standard time is this: compared with society on DST, extra daylight illumines the morning before people get going, while the sun sets relatively earlier in the evening when people are active. This seems predictable to me, really. Are people more likely to shift all the many elements of their interdependent schedules ahead, relative to the clock, to take advantage of earlier daylight… or to keep their established patterns relative to the clock, regardless of when it gets light outside?

No surprise, people keep following the clock. In truth, I’m not sure whether even many DST opponents expect otherwise. I don’t really pay a lot of attention to the arguments, such as they are, so I don’t know whether anyone anticipates that if we leave the clocks alone, people will adjust their activities ahead anyway… or if it’s more “DST annoys me because it’s non-rational, people should simply adjust their activities without meddling with the clocks, probably they won’t but that’s their choice, stop playing silly games with shifting clocks around dammit.”

Difficult to say with this type.

Personally, I just can’t care that much. Based on what I experienced Japan, I’m even less likely to support eliminating DST where it already exists than I was before. I can’t say that there’s necessarily a compelling case, there, for introducing DST in the first place… But I do think anyone who does want to take on this argument should be aware of the results from at least one natural experiment. (Acknowledging that my own interpretation of those results is open to question; Japan disclaimer.)

As for me, I think DST or its absence is another matter for one of my rules of thumb: don’t pick at it, you’ll only make it worse.

Sherlock Holmes in Japan

I suppose that I hoped to find Sherlock Holmes in Japan, in a small way. I certainly did not expect to encounter him in all the ways that I did.

The odd combination of Holmes and Japan has actually been, on a modest scale, established for some time as a concept. A local community of Sherlockians funded a public statue of the great man in 1988. At least two non-canon books have dispatched Holmes to Japan; one, A Slight Trick of the Mind, has been made into a forthcoming film with Ian McKellan. These are stories, however (and arguably “imaginary stories” at that), and my own itinerary did not include Karuizawa.

The only incarnation of Holmes that I was truly confident of encountering was one that I brought with me. My travel reading included the lengthy anthology The Game’s Afoot, which I found entirely satisfactory. Beyond this, I entertained some hope of returning with an additional Holmes book; I like the idea of adding to my collection when I travel so that volumes gain additional interest as a souvenir. I had note of a couple of bookstores with English-language sections, and thought possibly I might get lucky.

I did not, in my wildest dreams of Tokyo oddity, expect that beginning with my very first train ride I would repeatedly encounter Holmes in this baffling, chibi form:

So kawai

This might be a good time to link to the Japan Disclaimer

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Week in Japan, introduction

“Understand, you say? Understanding is in principle based solely on wishful thinking.” – From Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

I am planning to write a bit about spending a week in Japan, recently.* First, though, I feel like I ought to preface any and everything I write with a disclaimer along the lines of the above quote.

No general statement about cross-cultural comprehension, let alone “inscrutable orientals” is intended, I want to add. I simply feel it’s important that any remarks I make are accompanied by a reminder that, in this instance, I literally did not understand most of the messages around me.

Street with Japanese signs

Did not understand.

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All the manga in Japan

One ray of sunlight amid the gloom: I’m starting to think about a trip to Japan later this year. Perhaps I can write more about this later. At the moment, though, it has inspired a small diversion…

In the spirit of the What If series by Randall Munroe, and prompted by a (mostly) joking suggestion from comics’ #1 fan, I feel like investigating

What if I bought all the manga in Japan?

This feels like a question that pleads to become a catchphrase, at the very least; move over “all the tea in China.” I am confident that “all the manga” offers, at the very least, a valid synonym for “a lot.” As for greater precision than this…

Obviously it’s complicated. In theory there should be a real answer, in that I’m thinking about real physical objects; if we took all of the manga in Japan right at this moment and counted it up, it should be entirely possible to determine its weight and volume, at least. (Price would be much more complex even in theory.) There is some inevitable gray area, though, introduced by questions of “what counts as manga.” That of course is just theory, never mind practice.

In practice, to cut to the chase, I’m largely just going to make some things up and try to come up with a figure that (once more with Munroe as my model) at least offers some order-of-magnitude accuracy, probably. If nothing else, I’m curious whether it’s conceivable that “all the manga” could be loaded into a single container ship. Or even some plausibly low number of them. It wouldn’t shock me… but then again I could be way off. Let’s start estimating…

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