Don't Shop 'Til You Drop, Please

*Wow! 2 posts in one day. You guys are lucky. By the way, are there any "you guys" still out there? I'll probably keep writing even if you aren't, but I'd feel a bit less narcissistic if I knew you were. And I like to here what YOU think about what I'm thinking about.*

I ran across this brilliant video about the ridiculousness of America's consumer culture and I just had to share it (and of course my own opinions on the matter).  As a self-proclaimed environmentalist, I have tried my hardest to eschew the materialism and consumerism of the U.S., but no one's perfect and this is one of the many aspects of my eco-guilt.

Back in high school, I never really loved to shop quite as much as most of my teenaged counterparts, but I took part in it anyways. Darn you, peer pressure! I rarely shop now unless I'm in need of a specific item or I'm on a mission for a gift. Today, in fact, I am wearing a concert t-shirt I picked up back on The Flaming Lip's 2002 tour (I have trouble saying good-bye to beloved pieces of my wardrobe.) and a sweater my mom picked up for me at a thrift store (Thanks, mom!). But my pants were only recently purchased back in February when I just needed some of those "skinny jeans" that tucked so nicely into the boots I wore nearly everyday to keep me warm.

Once I moved out of my parents house, I realized how effortless it was to amass a giant pile of junk in an extremely short period of time. I didn't particularly enjoy hauling all of my belongings from dorm room to parents' house to new apartment etc. etc. etc., yet I still managed to save up a truck full of stuff before leaving on my present journey. Dustin and I have only been in Japan for 7.5 months, but already our apartment is filled to the brim. Most of our belongings are things we brought from home or furniture, but some of it was unnecessary. Example: Did I really need that LEGO® calendar? I did get it from our premier recycle shop (read: thrift store with no charity involved), but it currently sits on my desk still displaying April's dates, because it's kind of a hassle to change and I rarely reference it anyway. 

Japan is definitely a materialistic nation. Japan isolated themselves from the rest of the world for quite a long time before us big bad Americans came over with intimidating black ships and demanded they trade with us (Commodore Perry 1854). After that, being the extremely efficient peoples they are, they modernized rapidly and yearned for the material wealth that the West was enjoying. I can't speak for the entirety of the 20th century in Japan, but here in 2009, the Japanese are a shopping bunch. Whenever I try to make plans with a Japanese friend, they always suggest shopping even if I mention that I'm trying to save money or that I don't really need anything. I've ended up on more than one shopping trip where I just nod in agreement numbly as my friend gushes over this or that. こわいい、ね。(Cute, isn't it?) Going to dinner frequently ends with the suggestion of heading to this store or that for "just a minute." When I asked a young, single Japanese friend what she normally does on a date, she answered without a moment's hesitation, "We go to dinner and go shopping." The consumer culture is so ingrained in Japanese society that it seems to engulf peoples' lives and finances. Even little old Nagaoka has multiple depato (department stores) and huge mall complexes. 

No one's perfect and we're all going to buy something unnecessary every once in awhile, but it doesn't have to be every day or every week or even every month! Before you going shopping the next time you get an urge, ask yourself if you really need it. Watch this and hopefully, you'll see why your shopping can be so harmful to yourself, your planet, and your neighbors near and far.

p.s. There's a new photo album (link to the right) of our fun fun fun BBQ at the beach a few weeks back!

Our Imperialist Nation

One of my Japanese friends asked me the yesterday, "How many states are there in the United States?"
"Really? I thought you guys had gotten more since the last flag was created."
"Ummm... no. We're not really in the business of obtaining new states as I understand it."
"Oh... I thought the U.S.A. was always getting new states."

Good to see that we're projecting a good image in other parts of the world. Hmmmmm.


Slowing Down

I wrote an article about NOT driving for a website created by the very brilliant Jessica Brothers. You can read it here: 


Changes All Around

It's been quite the busy month. As the month began, we spent our Golden Week in Kyoto and Osaka. It was great fun. Dustin lost his phone right before we left. I made dire predictions of us losing each other forever in the big metropolis of Kyoto/Osaka, so of course that's almost exactly what we did. After a two hour breakfast spent waiting for the hotel to open in Osaka, we headed to the subway station and found the platform where we could catch a subway to our hotel. I thought Dustin was right behind me, but he'd stopped to ask a conductor if it was in fact the correct train. As the train pulled away from the station, I stood gaping through the window at a stupefied Dustin, standing on the platform staring at me inside the train.  Luckily, we both made it to the proper subway station and found each other.

We did oh so much in Osaka, so I'll point out the highlights:
  • Bow Wow Café: We got to play with dogs while enjoying a tasty beverage. It was fun for a while, but the dogs were highly motivated by expensive treats we refused to buy, so they didn't hang around us for long. 
  • IMAX Dinosaur DX 3D: Super Awesome!!! I couldn't understand any of the facts other than most of the numbers, but the visual effects were all I needed to be impressed.
  • The World's Largest Giant Ferris Wheel (highly debatable): We went at night, so we got a lovely view of the nighttime skyline. Dustin terrified me by rocking the car, but we made it down safely.
  • DiJest: We happened upon a great sports bar that was completely empty, so we had free range of all of the dart boards, golfing, pinball machines, foosball, air hockey, and board games we could handle. I was backgammon champion, of course.
Next stop was Kyoto. Like Osaka, we spent most of our time exploring on foot and eating wonderful wonderful food. While on vacation, we had Indian food, Middle Eastern food, and Thai food, which are all non-existent in Nagaoka. It was amazing. Besides eating and walking and walking and eating and walking some more, we saw loads and loads of temples in Kyoto. Dustin argues that we didn't actually see any since we technically did not enter any of them, but I saw the grounds and outside of at least 5 really giant temples and countless smaller ones. Here are the Kyoto highlights:
  • Kyoto National Museum: The architecture of the Special Exhibition Hall was an interesting mix. I thought I was in Paris again until I looked closer at the lounging figures adorning the building and saw their Asian eyes. Inside the gorgeous building, was an exhibition on Zen Buddhism. All of the artifacts from Myoshin Temple were brought to the museum before the original temple was destroyed in a war. Most of the art work was clearly ancient. I enjoyed seeing all of these holy artifacts; however, it would have been more beneficial if I could have read the scrolls and letters, almost all of which were in kanji. 
  • Rumic World: Rumiko Takahashi is a manga artist I like. Before coming to Japan, I liked almost no manga or anime, but in the past few months, I've come to appreciate a small selection of anime. (I can't quite read the manga yet.) Ranma 1/2 is an anime that Dustin and I have been watching for some time now about a male martial artist who turns into a girl whenever he's doused in cold water, because of falling into a cursed spring. Seeing the original art and giant portraits not entirely related to the series was really intriguing. If you're interested in anime, all of Rumiko's series are cute and funny.
  • Tezuka Osamu Theatre and Mini-Library: More anime! This permanent exhibition in Kyoto Station celebrated Tezuka Osamu's huge volume of work. He's the "Father of Anime." He created Astro Boy, the cute little rocket boy on my bank card, and Kimba the White Lion, who is the basis for Simba from The Lion King. He's basically the Japanese equivalent of Walt Disney. We watched a short video collage of some of his popular anime series and flipped through a few of his manga after posing for pictures near Astro Boy.
  • Okonomiyaki to Karaoke: Our friend from Nagaoka, Scott, and his parents were also visiting Kyoto, so we met up for some dinner and drinks. We had okonomiyaki, a type of pizza/pancake that's made from flour and eggs and various ingredients. After dinner, we headed to a very local little bar. It had ten seats, three of which were occupied by some neighborhood guys. With me, Dustin, Scott, Scott's friend John, and Scott's two parents, we were a party of 6, so we pretty much filled up the place. At this particular bar, regulars buy a bottle of sake or shochu and the bartender puts their name on it. They didn't have much of a choice as far as drinks went. Dustin ordered a rum and cola and we had to explain how it was made to the bartender before she walked out the door and got a Coke from the vending machine. Surprisingly, she pulled out a karaoke remote and told us we could sing all night long. We immediately got down to it and even pulled one of the innocent bystanders into a Red Hot Chili Pepper's song. When I questioned Scott's dad about his lack of karaoke-ing he said that he wasn't a very talented singer. I said, "Oh, we're all just having fun." He responded with "Yeah, but John and Dustin actually sound good." Burn... It was still a very fun night indeed!
  • Sightseeing: I'll lump it all together, since it was interesting to see some great historical sites, but you wouldn't want to be bored with minor details about each one. We saw a very old Japanese garden, important temples including a Golden Temple, a castle, and botanical gardens. We also saw Gion, which is the geisha area, but they were all hidden away and we didn't want to pay $40 each just to see them pour some tea, so we didn't actually see any geishas the whole time we were in Kyoto.
  • Arashiyama Monkey Park: For the most part, I'm not a supporter of zoos, since they keep the animals locked up in tiny compartments and often in environments very much unlike their  appropriate environment. This monkey park, however, was an open air sanctuary for the monkeys. Monkeys have been in this part of Japan for a long time, but the city has encroached upon their habitat. The monkey park was a hearty hike up a mountain on the outskirts of Kyoto. The only fences are to mark the territory and can easily be climbed by the nimble monkeys. There's nothing to force the monkeys to stay in the park; they stick around, because they like the nuts and fruit that people are permitted to feed them in a small area of the park. Visitors are put in a cage and they can stick their food out through the mesh. The monkeys come and go as they please. One crawled right up next to me on the bench where I sat and started to rifle through my purse before I snatched it away. My favorite part of the park was just watching the monkeys doing things that reminded me of human behavior. 
  • Everyday Monks: Buddhism is very important in Kyoto. It's where Buddhism started in Japan. The oldest temple in Japan is there. Monks weren't exactly EVERYWHERE, but you ran into monks more often than you do in Nagaoka at least. Sometimes, you could catch a monk doing very unmonkly things. We saw a monk leaving a temple at sunset with a briefcase. Another monk was spraying pesticide on the garden around a temple. Finally, we saw a monk on the subway carrying 6 dozen Krispy Kreme Donuts. Hmmm... not very zen.
  • Falafel Gardens: There are few things I miss from America, but healthy and easily accessible vegetarian food definitely tops the list. So, I was in vegetarian heaven in Kyoto. We found a falafel restaurant and made plans to make it there on the last day. Unfortunately, we hadn't budgeted very well and we only had $20 left for dinner before we caught our bus home. The falafel sandwiches were quite expensive, so we did the math and determined that we could get 3  half-sandwiches. They were so tasty! We finished them, paid, and reluctantly left, wanting more. As we walked back to the subway station, we passed a 7-11, so we decided to try the ATM despite being told that our ATM cards probably wouldn't work during Golden Week. When I put my card in, it was rejected. But when Dustin put his in, we were surprised to see more money in his account than there was before we'd left for vacation. Dustin's share of the Japanese stimulus plan had come through! We quickly withdrew some money and headed back to the falafel restaurant. After enduring some giggles from the staff, we ordered a huge platter of falafel, hummus, and baba ghanoush and ate until our buttons popped.
We had a lovely vacation and you can see pictures by following the links on the right. There're 3 albums this time! We came back happy, but tired... and determined to make our way back there someday. Dustin was transfixed by one particular museum, the Folk Art Museum, mostly filled with pottery. There were plenty of other ancient baubles that Dustin drooled over in both Kyoto and Osaka. At some point in our trip, Dustin realized that he really missed anthropology.  We've been teaching for 7 months, so I've been involved with my major since I graduated, but Dustin hasn't had anything to do with anthropology in all this time. He wants to get back to studying about human culture, especially in Japan. So... we're hoping to move down to Kyoto/Osaka at some point in the nearish future, so that Dustin can go to graduate school. This won't be for a while, but it's a new goal. 

Another goal is to find a new apartment. We just can't stay in these two tiny apartments any longer. Our kitchen is so small that we don't want to cook nearly as much as we did in the States and when we do cook in our apartment, we can't cook anything elaborate since we only have one burner and no oven. Plus, we're paying more for two tiny apartments than we would for a much more spacious single apartment. Hopefully, we'll be able to find an apartment that will let us sign a one year lease. Both of us recently renewed our contracts for 12 months, so we'll be here for at least another year and a half with Peppy before trying to get down south to Kyoto/Osaka.

The biggest changes are work-related. We both currently work for Peppy Kids Club, which is a division of KTC Holdings, a huge corporation that makes English language education materials and has a wide variety of English language schools. Peppy Kids Club, the company Dustin and I have been working for for the past 7 months, used to teach kids from 2 1/2 until junior high school. This year, they've added high school classes. Dustin doesn't teach any of those classes, but I have 3 high school classes, and I surprisingly enjoy them. We'll also have new baby classes added to our curriculum soon. Beyond Peppy Kids Club, Dustin and I have both also just agreed to work for Goosky's, an English school similar to Peppy, but primarily for younger students. We'll be working with babies (and their mothers) and pre-schoolers. I go to training Tuesday and start at my new school in June. I've also agreed to do a special weekend seminar for high school students hoping to pass a prestigious English test. Summer School is coming up and we've been preparing for that. At the beginning of August, we'll work 7 days straight and our hours will be longer on each of these days and the classes will be twice as big as the ones we teach now. Joy!  And my boss asked me to be his assistant, which I'm pretty sure doesn't really mean anything, but that could potentially produce some more work at some point in the future. So, work has gotten very very very busy. 

Lastly, Dustin and I are coming to Missouri for Christmas! In case you aren't on facebook, I'll repeat the plan here. We'll be coming in the night of December 17 and staying in Kansas City for a few days before coming down to Springfield for a while. We'll be taking care of wedding business, seeing friends and family, and I will definitely be enjoying some burritos. We'll head back to Kansas City on January 2nd before taking off for Japan once more on the morning of the 3rd. I can't wait!

I'm a little overwhelmed with all of the changes present and future, but I'm simultaneously excited! I hope Spring has come to you in the U.S. It blessed us with its presence for about a week in Nagaoka before quickly leaving us in the cold again! I can't wait for warm, sunny days!