*to Hanlon's razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Things to take from Japan

No, the picture is not meant as a suggestion to take home a wife: 'that way lies madness'. Look at the halo above 'Lady Shimano' for the clue. If you have a Japanese artistic or martial hobby, I will leave this up to you. If you have a thing for manga, anime, modern Japanese fashion, electronics, or neonatal porn, I couldn’t care less. Here's the rest.


It is much easier to get Japanese ingredients now than the last time I went home, but you might still want to pack a few. Omitting things too heavy, that spoil and snacks, I can suggest a few. The first is alcohol, declared or otherwise. I have a thing for good nihonshu (don’t say sake: it means hooch, generically), but be aware that the shelf-life is just over six months. I don’t care for awamori or shochu, and despise umeshu, but you should try these yourself, because it's not the weekend until you've waken with tatami-face. Take a look at your fridge in Japan, and decide the condiments you can’t do without. You cannot get the selection of furikake or tsukudani; and there is no way I can get the Kanzuri sauce that is my newest addiction.

House wares
This stuff starts to get heavy. My main interest is in ceramics and fabrics. Limit yourself to a few unique pieces, because a lot is now available in bigger cities overseas. In N. America you’d look for Utsuwa-no-Yakata. Of course you have to make a trip to Kappa-Bashi in Tokyo: the selection is crazy, but don’t expect any real bargains. My mother enjoyed buying plastic sushi and akachochin. Anthony Bourdain says you can sharpen a piece of sheet metal and do just fine, and I believe him, but Japanese cutlery is so amazing that I think I may still drop a couple tens of thousands of yen on some knives before I return. I need to look into bringing back a hibachi…

Traditional Clothing
You can get your size in Japanese clothing, even if you are tall. That you're going to look ridiculous can't be helped. I am afraid this is truer for non-Asian women, than for non-Asian men. If you are lithe you are going to look much better in Japanese clothing than if you are not, even more so than for your regular clothing. I have not yet seen the Caucasian woman who looks like her yukata or kimono fits, though I have seen Happa who look outstanding! There is something about E. Asian morphology that suits the clothes, whereas it suits almost nobody else. It is a bit of a mystery to me, because the effect is not strictly because some women are curvaceous: even chubby or 'top-heavy' Japanese women pull off a yukata fine. I have received a pair of geta that fit my size ten feet, but that is the upper limit unless you go shopping wherever the Sumo rikishi do.

Whatever you do, don't buy the clothing or ceramics at Asakusa, 'the Oriental Bazaar', or any other place you see many 'pale-faces'. Sure it's cheap: it wasn't made in Japan. I've even seen umbrellas sold at Kyoto's
Kiyomizu-dera that I'd also seen sold in Xiamen, China. Buy quality where you see the Japanese buy it. Buy less but buy better: good advice in general.

Bicycle Components
You’ve heard of Shimano, right? No doubt it’s made ‘offshore’, but it is sold here for less than in N. America. It is also more available in stores than in Canada and the U.S., and far more available than online in Canada. Once you find a decent bike shop, you can pretty much walk in and find the cassette, pedals or such as you want, which is a new experience for me, coming from Canada’s petty economy of scale. If you are a Capagnolo-fascist, please go under a rock. If the ‘retro-grouch’ Japanese components by Ostrich or Nitto that you see at Velo-Orange or Rivendell are your thing, you are going to be pleased indeed. Not only is it nice to be able to handle the stuff before you order, there is more selection and it is significantly cheaper.

If you are into the Keirin thing, you already have a better idea than I have where you are going to go to find goods. It is a big pool. I haven’t dared to start an obsession with this, in part because the stuff is too shiny for a forty-year-old not to look like an @$hat riding. There’s also the cost, and that when I take it home the first Toronto winter is going to trash it, if it isn’t stolen first. And I am “too damned tall”, unless I have one custom made… I’ll stick with my old Paddywagon.

I have been less satisfied with buying complete bicycles, but I am just over 6’. You’ll be lucky if you ever find a frame over 56”. This is another case of the Japanese market ignoring anyone outside the bell-curve. There are Japanese who are 6’ tall, but a 56” frame is only going to suit those up to 5’9”. I’d wanted to buy a large new bike online here, but it was an impossibility. Do your research before you go, so you can decide whether to suck-up the $250 bike-shipping surcharge. Shippers charge about that, and so does the airline for an extra bag. It's about $50 if within your baggage limit, to take one bag as a bike. You may also be unfamiliar with many of the bicycle brands, and those you are familiar with may be more expensive than you are used to, as they are imported. If you are under 5’10”, and can find the bike you want, you can get a deal as good as stateside (and far better than Canada). Though mamachari are ubiquitous, serious cyclists, like all otaku, throw down enough money to keep selection high in every niche.

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