Tokyo Protips #1: How to Discourage Pushy Assholes on Your Commute

One amazing phenomenon you will see in Japan is people waiting in lines for everything without any explicit instruction to do so. Sometimes it can make you wonder if Japanese culture somehow compels one find their place at the end of an orderly line. Unfortunately, in the train stations of Tokyo, an orderly line can quickly devolve into a shockingly physical game of musical chairs as soon as the car doors for the rapid express slide open.

On my own commute, there was a repeat offender who would always line up at the same time for the same train car as I would. His diminutive stature belied his assholish nature; every time I stood in front of him, I received a forearm shiver to the lumbar as soon as the train arrival chime rang. One day, as the train was pulling into the platform, I summoned all of my rage, turned my torso around, and looked him directly in his beady little eyes . I saw his eyes go from the empty seats on the train, to my angry gaze for a split second, then down to the ground. Lo and behold, when those doors opened, he politely filed into the car like a normal non-asshole. I now do this regularly (minus the rage summoning) and, save for extremely crowded trains, no one ever pushes their way into the car behind me.

TOKYO PROTIP: When waiting in line for a train, as the train is arriving, turn around and look the people behind you in the eyes to discourage them from pushing you into the train.

Continue reading


Americans of the East: Fat Japanese Men

fat salaryman

A growing concern: The Fat Salaryman

I last wrote about the ever-shrinking Japanese female figure, but really I was digging for data regarding the increasing number of portly Japanese men I’ve been seeing on my daily tortuous ride on the Chuo line morning commute. As I correctly suspected, the flip side to the incredible shrinking Japanese woman is the increasingly corpulent Japanese man.

Once more, let’s go to the numbers:

Continue reading

The Incredible Disappearing Japanese Figure

Compared to Japanese women, Western women are fatter and mouthier. We all know this.  Whenever I would hear a female expat lament, “These Japanese girls, they’re way too skinny,” I chalked it up to a severe case of the jellys and an inability to shut up and hit the gym in lieu of their daily Japanese bakery fix. Then I came across a few things that made me rethink my position. First, article in the Washington Post:

Big in Japan? Fat chance for nation’s young women, obsessed with being skinny

Next, this chart from Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare:

Japanese Obesity Chart

1) 1987, 2) 1997, 3) 2007
Red – obese, blue – underweight

It seems my fellow expats have a point. I myself was not particularly concerned with or attracted to women who aspire to the Auschwitz look so I must have ignored the unusual amount of skeletors running about. But once I became aware, I couldn’t stop seeing them everywhere.

The cliff notes for y’all who don’t like assigned reading:

  • Japanese women under the age of 60 are skinny even by their own stricter standard (BMI of 18.5 or less), and trending skinnier.
  • Imagine a person standing 5’2″ (157 cm) weighing in at a scant 101 lbs (46 kg) or less. As of 2007, more than a quarter of Japanese women in their 20’s are of these proportions.
  • Being skinny is extremely important for Japanese women and they exert enormous social pressure on each other to be so.
  • There’s not much evidence of serious eating disorders, just a warped sense of what “overweight” is, an increase in smoking, and restricted calorie intake

Continue reading

If You Meet the Buddha, Give Him Some Tissues: Modern Koans

Public transportation you can set your watch to. Blazingly fast fiber optic Internet. A culture that fosters hard work and attention to detail. Toilet seats that warm your cheeks and wash your anus. Androgyny advanced to a level where you might believe that the populace has evolved past petty sexual differentiation. Neon everywhere. To many visitors, Tokyo seems like a city of the future. Looking out over the city from one of its many skyscrapers on a rainy night, one can’t help but think of Blade Runner made real.

Spend a few years living in this marvel of human engineering, however, and you’ll start noticing some disturbing inconsistencies. Transactions are still recorded in paper and ink and notarized with a stamp. Internet Explorer 6 and fax machines are standard issue for many businesses. Spill boiling hot oil on your hand on a Friday night during a drunken cooking accident? Sorry bud, hospitals are closed on the weekends. Where was that attention to detail when you came across your umpteenth “No Smorking” sign? It’s enough to make you wonder if that African fellow in sunglasses and a trench coat slipped a red pill into your gin and tonic last week at Ageha. Continue reading