What you'll find on Storybook Days

The Home page displays all my musings on life in Japan and a few other things (baseball and children's books are distinct possibilities). For highlights only: "A Day in the Life (edited)." "Tabemono (Food)" is exactly that. "Big in Japan" is my completely biased and oversimplified list of what is popular in Japan, and "Kimono Count" is a day-by-day record of the people I see in traditional dress. "Editor's Delight" catalogs the unintentionally amusing and apparently quite complicated world of Japanese-English translation. "Uncle Tucker" tracks our sightings of a certain cat following us around Japan.

Big In Japan (日本で成功する)

A completely biased, unscientific and entirely oversimplified list of what seems to be big in Japan (or at least Tokyo).

HELLO KITTY.   Yes, it's true.  Kitty-chan as she is affectionately called here is on everything.  Everywhere.  All the time.  Anything you want, you can find it with Hello Kitty on it.  I promise.  This is the Land of the Rising Hello Kitty.  (Not that I mind.)

Here is a golden HK "deity" welcoming you to a shop in Nikko.
Cute.   Pardon me for sounding like a college kid writing an essay on consumerism, but the overriding sensibility with any consumer item seems to be "cute sells."  Doesn't matter what it is.  Phones, socks, packaging, parasols, clothing (men's and women's and kids'), electronics.  Anything.  It must be cute.  Hello Kitty is just the tip of the iceberg.  The aesthetic continues across many everyday items, including public posters (animated panda bears are popular for announcing important information), manhole covers, and taxis.  Example?  Sure!

Not only does cute sell; it conveys important information, too.  Cute seems to be the flip side of the more sophisticated aesthetic of beauty found in traditional Japanese art and architecture.  Happily, there are still "high and low" signs of traditional beauty everywhere:  manhole covers with detailed cherry blossoms scenes,

 intricately carved toothpicks, and lace doilies on the seats of taxicabs.  (Caveat:  The one place the aesthetic of cute/beauty does not seem to cover is the Soviet-style concrete apartment buildings.  Still not sure what to make of those.)

Vending machines.  Everywhere.  Seriously.  Every block has at least two or three.  Most popular vending items:  Coke, water, and cigarettes.

Socks.  Specifically, socks for the ladies.  In keeping with "cute," knee socks and ankle socks are alive and well, particularly with the under 30 crowd, though it is definitely a fashion statement that spans the generations.  (Especially when the ankle socks have lace.)  And what is the statement, you ask?  "I'm practical, but cute."  Which is why you will never see L.L. Bean in Japan.  But you will see places like Tutuanna*:

Also popular:  Leggings with socks built in.  This might be my favorite fashion intervention of all time.  Many come with lace around the edges:

But why, you ask?  Why?  Comfortable, yet practical?  Here's a clue or two:

This is a trend that definitely falls under the category of what my kids derisively refer to as "fashion style."  Here is a non-legging version of innovative fashion socks.  I call it the Mary Jane, though technically I realize it's not really a Mary Jane.  (The strap is too high):

Parasols.  Not only are parasols practical, they're fun.  Like shoes, you can have several to match your outfits:  cute, sophisticated, utilitarian.  Not feeling like hat head today?  No worries;  a parasol will keep the sun off your face without your hair's disgrace.  Women are particularly adept at riding a bike while holding a parasol.  Sometimes, if you're lucky, you get a whole socks-n-parasol package, like this:

I'm especially fond of the red shoes.  We've got several things going on here:  sailor theme (navy striped sweater and navy shorts), Dorothy-meets-Kyoto (red shoes) and island getaway (purse).  (Where, oh where, are Stacy and Clinton when you need them?  I see a whole season "What Not To Wear, Tokyo" in the future.)

Mr. Mormon Style.  Business men are surprisingly consistent in their fashion statement:  black suits, white shirts, and bikes.  But unlike back home, these men aren't carrying the Book of Mormon with them.

The Tokyo Metrosexual.  Lots of young men here--esp. the 30-and-under crowd--favor plucked eyebrows, cardigans, rolled jeans, and Ziggy Stardust's hair.  All in one look.  I have no explanation for this, but find it absolutely, positively fascinating.  Tokyo Metrosexuals: where the young men are womanly and the young women are girly and the girls are animé.

Update:  Just to prove that I am not making this up, here's today's article (6/19/12) in The Japan Times (the biggest English-language newspaper in Japan):   "Young Japanese Men's trend: Trying to look pretty"

Maid bars.  Perhaps my Puritanism and well-honed Feminism are showing, but there is a disturbing "school-girl as maid" fetish all over town.  The idea is that women dress as school girls and serve men in bars as maids.  I find the "Welcome home, master!!" tag line a nice touch, don't you?

It's not a strip bar, but somehow that might be less disturbing, because at least I would understand it.  This seems much more complex.  Cute sells. Sex sells.  Cute sex sells to the Tokyo Metrosexual and Mr. Mormon Style.  Here's a test.  In the following picture of five school girls, four are real school girls, and one is advertising for a Maid bar.  Can you find the maid?  Hint: she's the one with garters and a parasol:

This makes me want to go back to school and write a research paper on the geisha tradition in today's Japan.  Or email Maureen Dowd.  She could take care of it.

Figurine mania.  Small toys everywhere.  Especially if they are Manga figurines or robots.  We have already purchased several in the robot style.

SmokesHoly carcinogens, Batman.  For a country preoccupied with health (yes, people really do wear surgical masks in public when they are sick), you'd think they would have cut back on the smokes a little bit.  Not so, my friend.  Not so.  You can buy them anywhere (including vending machines on the street) and smoke them most places (including--to the horror of my kids--restaurants).  Wonder what they'd think of Mayor Bloomberg here.

Trash? What trashThe Japanese people are not trashy.  I know this because there are NO PUBLIC TRASH CANS anywhere, nor is there any litter.  Where does the trash go?  I have no idea.  Maybe it's animé magic.  All I can tell you is that after a day of sightseeing, I have more trash in my purse than Oscar the Grouch.

Nintendo DS.  Ah, the bane of many American parents' existence--the dreaded Nintendo DS.  We're at ground zero, here, folks.  But the funny thing is that mostly we see adults playing them.  In public.  In groups.

It's unusual enough that the kids have commented on it repeatedly.  Bottom line:  I'm not a gamer.  I just don't get it.  Get outside an play some ball!

Surgical masks.  It's true.  The folks here really do seem to love to wear surgical masks when they are sick.

I am not sure if it is because they are preoccupied with health OR because they are so polite that they don't want to assail anyone with their germs, even if it means looking like a victim of an influenza outbreak.  Frank has made a good point, though:  given the obsession with fashion here, there is a huge money-making opportunity in designer masks.  I'm on it.  I'm thinking big lips in a variety of colors.  Maybe to match your socks.

Boy Bands.  Almost as disturbing as the Maid bars.  Here we have a huge billboard atop a building in Shibuya with two boy bands advertised: 

Nothing like listening to a little bit of "Lady" by Sexy Zone (whose members are all of twelve, I think).  Ewww.  There were two other boy bands advertised on Shibuya billboards, but I am not posting pictures of them.  You're welcome.

Tommy Lee Jones.  Nothing says "Boss" like rainbows and Tommy Lee Jones on the side of a vending machine.  Nothing. (I made the picture extra large, b/c it is so awesome.  Go get 'em Tommy.)

(Yes, I did see "Lost in Translation."  I am on the lookout for Bill Murray on every billboard, I promise.  But, I must tell you that this was just as good.  Truly.)

Cell phone charms.  As far as I can tell, the smartphone craze has yet to hit Tokyo, but there is a much more charming craze:  phone charms.  Especially for flip phones.   Here's a perfect example:

Note the large, white, Hello-Kitty-ish charm hanging from the flip phone.  Note also that the hat and hair (and khaki jumper) qualify this girl for the "cute" entry above.  The charms are everywhere and not limited by age or gender.  It's an amazing phenomenon. I don't see how this country can be in a 20-year economic depression if everyone has the money to buy multiple phone charms.

Starbucks.  Sigh. Sad but true.  Look at this line.  Just look at it.  Not an American in sight:

Bikes.  Tokyo knows how to bike in style.  Bike lanes galore.  Lots of rigged cycles with seats for multiple kids (you can easily fit one in front on the handle bars and one in back behind your seat), like this:

Oversized shopping baskets attached in front and in back (with a small trailer) are popular, too.  Adults don't wear helmets, but kids do.  The only adult I've seen wearing a helmet was a Western woman.  I'm going to assume she was American. 

MascotsEverything has a mascot.  Everything.  They are cute and cuddle-y and omnipresent.  The national telephone company has one.  Each prefecture (state) has one.  You name it, there's a mascot for it.

Packaging.  The obsession with packaging here is extreme.  If you buy saltines, the crackers in the box are divided into packets of 6.  If you buy cookies, they are packed inside the box in groups of one or two.  It's like troika dolls.  Everything comes inside a smaller package.  Perhaps this is distract you from the fact that the food portions are distressingly small and unbelievably expensive.  I think at least half of the expense has got to be tied up in the packaging.

Sleeve warmers.  I don't really know what they are called, but think of leg warmers for your arms.  Very popular with the ladies here.  Take a short sleeve shirt, then add a pair of arm "warmers," which cover your arms from wrist to elbow.  All I can think is that maybe it is in lieu of sunscreen.  Certainly it can't be a fashion statement.  Can it?  Please, no.

Street garden.  Many shops in the city have "gardens" outside them like these.  Jade plants and geraniums are favorites:
If Mayor Bloomberg finds out, they will be required in NYC.  Couldn't hurt, could it?

Plastic food.  Just about every restaurant, no matter how cheap or expensive, has an array of food displayed in a glass case that faces the street.  An array of plastic food.  Plastic food that is meant to approximate the size, color, and texture of the actual food served inside.  Helpful to foreigners, but I just don't get it.  Of course, at McDonald's they could just put the real food in the case and not worry about it going bad.  Ever.

Face ClothsThink of it as a handkerchief, but it looks like a child-size wash cloth.  Everyone uses them here to wipe the sweat off because it is oh-so-hot in Tokyo in the summer, and a/c is rationed due to an energy shortage.  (Almost all nuclear power was halted after the Fukushima disaster.)  This being Japan, the cloths are available in an infinite number of styles, prices, and colors.  Here are some fancy (expensive) ones in an upscale department store.  Over $20 each.  Ralph Lauren sweat rag, anyone?

Fake Eyelashes.  I knew they were big for a few reasons:  1. I've seen a woman reapply hers (with lots of coaching from her friend) while standing in line for the log ride at Tokyo Disney.  I wonder if she had to reapply after the ride, too.  2. The one time we watched a TV show popular here that teaches English, one of the segments taught people how to say "Cut the fake eyelash to fit your eye."  WTF?  3.  This is the eyelash section in our local store.  Floor to ceiling displays so big I had to take 2 photos to get all of it in (I simply cannot make this up):

Big Eye ContactsThese are freaky, and when paired with the false eyelashes, they produce a truly disturbing effect.  The idea is to make the eye look more round (and therefore more European).  I took this image off the web to give you an idea:

It makes Japanese women look like an anime character come to life:  http://www.contactlenseofthought.com/big-eye-contacts  I've not noticed men wearing them.