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Cross-cultural observation between America and Japan.


Originally, these articles are written for Eiji's newsletter to his friends by DTP with the same title. On the Web, it's not offline anymore:-).

by Eiji Takano



Contents



Damn Christmas presents!

Barbara, my wife, told me that "Christmas is not the most important day for American family. Thanksgiving Day is the one. Christmas is just for children." Maybe that's true for most American family. But, not Barbara's.

Barbara's mother is 77 years old. Barbara and her sister are over 50. We are not children anymore and we can buy anything we want (if it's affordable, of course). But we are still exchanging Christmas presents. It's the family tradition.

[Santa]

I know what my wife likes, prefers and wants. It's not so difficult to choose a present for her. A present for mother-in-law and sister-in-law is very difficult. I don't know their likes and dislikes well. On the other hand, My mother-in-law and sister-in-law don't know me well, either. So, three of us are at our wit's end and buy unimportant and unneccessary things every year. This is a waste of time and money, I think.

Most Japanese people might be seen as religiously inconstant to the rest of the world. We go to a shrine nearby on New Year's Day. We have funeral ceremony served by Buddhist priests. Having a wedding ceremony at a church is a trend for the youth. Also we enjoy Christmas, too:-)

But even such Japanese don't exchange Christmas presents with everybody around them. Though husband and wife do, not with brothers and sisters, brother-in-laws and sister-in-laws or mother-in-laws and father-in-laws.

Japanese kids get only a few presents. The number of presents for American kids is unbelievable. One of my neighbors gave his son and daughter about ten each one year! But it's OK. Children can't afford toys by themselves.

Each member of Barbara's family buys more than three for each of others. Sometimes more than five! On Christmas morning all of us yells "Pretty!," "Gorgeous!," "How cute!," "Great!" etc. Next day, half of such oohs and ahhs stuff go back to department stores to get the money back. I guess it's because none of us are confident with our choice. Satsfaction is not guaranteed, they are afraid.

Of course they are tired of it--thinking, choosing and worrying. I heard that they once had a treaty about the number of presents; three. They agreed. It was the day just after the Chritsmas. At next Christmas everybody bought more than five, again...



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Call of the wild

The difference in telephone manners between the U.S. and Japan is enormous.

Japanese people introduce themselves at the beginning; for example, "Hello? This is Takano calling. Is Mr. Fukuda available?" I haven't had any unpleasant experience with it.

In the U.S., on the other hand, when I pick up the phone and inquire "Hello?," American people just ask "Is Barbara there?" without giving me their names. Moreover they don't say "How are you doing?" to me even when I can recognize their voices. I remember we have met and we've had a nice talk. But they don't say "Hi!" to me. This is rude. So I usually respond to them as if they were sales person and don't tell my wife's work number. We are only strangers now, right?

Is this due to an efficient American attitude? They don't have time to say "Hi" to their friend's husband because they are too busy?

One reason I can guess is they want to say "Hi" to me but they can't recall or they can't pronounce my name correctly. American people usually say, "How are you doing today, Eiji?" But most of them are anxious about pronunciation of my name. (Was it 'I-G' or 'A-G'?) After all they give up and decide not to say "Hi." This is a favorable interpretation, though.

Barbara, my wife, told me that "I sometimes say 'Is Jane Doe there?'" to her friend's husband without saying anything. Then I have to think this is an American method for calling. She excuses she was not sure if it was the husband answering the phone, perhaps it was a son or a lover:-)

Once I got a phone call. "Hello?" The other end asked me, "Who's this?" with a voice of a middle aged woman. I responded, "Who's this?" The woman repeated, "Who's this?" I simply hung up. I don't need to talk to this woman.



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[Omoo-rice1]

How to cook Omoo-rice

This is stirfried ketchup-seasoned rice wrapped in an omelet. It's a very popular Japanese dish with children and adults.

The name is a combination of "omelet" and "rice." Japanese pronunciation is like "omoo-rice."

Materials:
1) Cooked rice (Californian short grain preferable. 3/4 cup per person)
2) Chopped onion (half size and finely cut)
3) Chopped chicken (one small piece, any part)
4) Eggs (two per person)
5) Ketchup
6) Corn starch

Mix 1 tablespoon corn starch with 1 tablespoon of water.

Mix two eggs with 1 tablespoon of above.[for one person]

Stir fry chicken. Add onion and a little salt and pepper (picture #1). After cooking set them aside.

Stir fry rice. Add salt and pepper. Do not press with spatula, rather 'cut' it. You are not making a rice ball. Add cooked chicken and onion. Pour ketchup until whole rice becomes pink (picture #2). Taste it. Add more salt and pepper if needed.


[Omoo-rice2]

Make an omelet in a larger pan with the prepared eggs . When done put the rice above for one-person in the center of the omelet (like a shape of thinner cask).

Spread a sheet of paper towel on the cutting board. Slide the omelet and rice gently on the paper. Squeeze the omelet from both sides softly (picture #3). Roll it to a plate so that the seam is on the bottom.

Draw a name or heart mark on top of the omoo-rice with ketchup (picture #4).

Japanese people eat omoo-rice with only a large spoon. They spread the ketchup on the top and cut a bite-size portion with the spoon.

By the way, you can serve only stir-fried rice with chicken, onion and ketchup. This is another popular Japanese menu called "Chicken rice."

Enjoy!




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Mystery of "Others" charge--A comparison of golf fees

[Golfers]

These are two samples from public courses in Meridian (18 holes on weekdays).

Course A                 Course B
5674 yard, Par 70            6596 yard, Par 72

Green fee          $8.00     Green fee         $10.00
Electric cart fee  $7.00     Electric cart fee  $8.00
------------------------     -------------------------
                  $15.00                       $18.00

I don't need to pay any tax or insurance fee. I remember I paid tax, locker fee, accident insurance fee and so on at Japanese courses. I wanted to try to compare the price in both countries.

I got a few price lists from Japanese Web sites. I also asked my Japanese friends and relatives for information or receipts. I've gotten 24 samples in all. It's not enough for a national survey but more than enough for private research, I believe.

Following are charges of golf courses in Japan (average 18 holes on weekdays).

With caddie:                      Without caddie:  
Green fee (24 samples)       $130.00
Caddie fee (18 samples)       $35.00   Electric cart fee     $16.00
Others (24 samples)           $30.00
Golf tax (24 samples)         $10.00
Consumption tax (17 samples)   $7.00
Locker fee (7 samples)         $2.60
------------------------------------   ----------------------------
                             $214.00                        $195.00

Most courses in Japan provide a caddie for each foursome. Most hire farmers' wives in their neighborhood as caddies and they have to guarantee the wives a certain amount daily. You can't refuse a caddie. Newer courses began using (riding) electric carts as in the U.S. If you want a caddie you should call beforehand so the course manager can hire one especially for you.

Land is very expensive in Japan because it is so limited. This element makes golf a luxurious sport for Japanese people. I can understand the high caddie fee because the labor costs in Japan are very high. What's curious for me is the item, "Others," in the bills. What are "Others"? The price is higher than the total playing cost in Meridian!

One of my friends in Japan called a course and asked the same question. The manager suspected the call was from the press and just said, "It's fuel expenses for the bath" and hung up. Believe it or not each golf course in Japan has big Roman baths for men and women...which need a lot of fuel. But $30.00 each is ridiculous. One friend called a course in central Japan: "Others" includes 5 cents donation for handicapped people, 50 cents donation for tree-planting (this is from a guilty feeling for mother nature), 40 cents accident insurance fee for golfers and "Others" (again!) $29.00. This "Others" is for club house utility expenses; details unknown. Another friend of mine called and got this answer: "Others" contains fuel expense, accident insurance, course maintenance expense, expense for the caddies' accommodations and even unemployment insurance for caddies in winter (in northern Japan).

A businessman gave this explanation: "There is often such grey area in the business world. I have ambiguous overhead costs like golf courses. So I don't ask what they are." This is the Japanese attitude.

[Tiger Woods]

A few of my American friends responded to this topic. One said "I don't think a Japanese golfer should have to pay a large 'Other' fee. This fee should be broken down into smaller categories. If you use the clubhouse or bathing facilities then you should pay that part of the fee." Obviously, this is the American way of thinking. Another said "I never thought of it as a game of luxury. My father taught me how to play golf but my family was certainly not wealthy. As a kid, I was able to play 18 holes at Millsaps College (Jackson, MS) for 50 cents a nine. Of course we walked and carried our own bag. Good old days!" Even though it was about forty years ago, 50 cents a nine is amazing! In Japan golf is mostly a sport for adults. In America, kids can play golf easily. So, on weekends you can see a bunch of Tiggers (Have you read Winnie-The-Pooh?) at the golf courses.

Of course Meridian is not a resort town. So the golf fee is very cheap. Golf Digest (May, 1997) has an article: America's 100 Greatest Courses. It includes 17 public courses from Pebble Beach Golf Links (CA, $275.00) to Bethpage State Park G.C. (NY, $20.00). The average green fee for 17 courses is $125.40.

Golf Magazine (July, 1997) wrote: "Granted, in a few areas of the country--such as the upper Midwest and the Rocky Mountain states--affordable golf may still be found, but for 90 percent of the population that's a $20 green fee after a $300 plane flight."

Special thanks to: Shinichi Misono, Akira Inohara, Hiroshi Suzuki, Kazuaki Oshiba, Torao Kaneda, Hitoe Takano, Noboru Takano, Greg Maranto and Mike Nicholson.



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Bacon

[Bacon Cooker]

Japanese bacon makers' sales point is how their products are low fat. American bacon is quite opposite. There's no such advertisement, "Our bacon has rich fat!" but the fat looks very important to Americans. The American way of cooking bacon is frying for a long time. Frying pan is filled with fat from the bacon like a pond. It's looks like deep frying rather than a simple frying. They wait until the bacon becomes crunchy. Japanese people can't do this with Japanese bacon. It won't provide so much fat.

There are a lot of TV commercials for cooking tools for bacon. Their feature is how they can make a crunchy bacon. I prefer Japanese bacon because I can taste the original flavor. I don't need to cook it with deep frying. It's quicker and tastier.

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Public morality

Most of the Japanese travel guide books say, "Only Japanese people throw cigarette butt or spit on the street. American and European people never do that." Actually I've seen a lot of cigarette butts everywhere. I've seen Coke cans and fast food containers on the roadside of Interstate highways. Baseball players spit in public. When I didn't know they chew chewing tobacco, I wondered why they spit while they chewing gum. Nobody wants to swallow nicotine, so they have to spit wherever they happen to be. A young guy did it when I stood beside the teeing ground of Senior PGA Tour in Alabama. It's dirty and I thought he disgraced the legendary players' tee shots.

[Peeing dog]

Public manners are established by the culture and custom of each country, so they each differ. In Asian countries it's not rude to use toothpicks in public. Japanese people have to do it stealthily in the western world. The custom of taking off your shoes in Japanese houses is famous. Using toothpicks in public should be another famous custom and authorized worldwide as well.

Barbara was surprised when I told her, "Japanese dogs' vocal chords have to be cut." It's because of Japanese housing conditions in such small spaces. People are killed by neighbors when they have piano lessons. Noise in the neighborhood is a serious problem in Japan. I guess it's an unbelievable thing for western people because dogs are their friends not their pets. Maybe they hold their rights of bark in high regard. I have a lot of dogs in my neighborhood. They yelp all the time. American houses have enough distance from the neighbor but the noise of dogs is disgusting. American people might not think it's a noise.

No matter whether they came to America legally or illegally, Americans may say immigrants lowered the level of public manners. I don't think so because I can't think all the baseball players are immigrants. There's one exception--I haven't seen any peeing in public in America. The editors of the Japanese travel guides should change the litter issue to this topic.



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Car-oriented society

[UPS car]

Americans don't get out of the cars. Drive-through fast food restaurants are also popular in Japan. It was surprising for me to see the same service in banks. There's no such service at any Japanese banks. A hardware store has drive-through for lumber sales. A photoshop has a drive-through reception. We have no drive-in theater in Meridian but it's a famous American invention.

Barbara told me there was a drive-through funeral home in Hattiesburg which is two hour drive from Meridian. I called a funeral home and they said there still is the same system. They place the dead persons in a row before cremating and you can see them through a large glass window. When you find the one you knew you can say good-bye from inside your car. They also provide a guest book and you can leave your name. This system is unbelievable to me. Japanese funeral ceremony is the most solmn of any ceremony in Japan. You have to sit on tatami-mat floor on your knees in a temple for more than 30 minutes listening to Buddhist monk's un-understandable sutra. At the end of the ceremony all of the relatives and guests offer incense to the departed soul. You are lucky if you can walk to the incense vase. Most of the time our legs are dead. So, you have to carry yourself on your knees! Barbara told me, "The drive-through funeral home is good for the old and handicapped people." The Japanese system makes temporary handicapped people. What a difference!

One day we read a news article about an Amateur Ladies Golf Tournament in a local paper. Barbara saw the picture of the article and said, "You can't become slimmer playing golf after all." Japanese golfers don't ride in the electric golf carts. Carts in Japan are just for the golf clubs. Even caddies can't ride, they just control it. On the contrary American golf carts are for human beings. Hit and ride, hit and ride. It can't be an exercise any more.

The newspaper delivery system is quite different. In Japan newspaper delivery boys and girls run from house to house. They leave the paper in your mailbox.The American way is throwing the paper to your house from their cars. Japanese mailmen also run from house to house even though they come to your neighborhood by motorbikes. Barbara told me there is a new "driveby" regulation for the height of the mailbox and the distance from the street. The mail delivery person uses a special car with a steering wheel on the right side. He dosen't get out of the car at all.

The price of land is so different in America and Japan. American people build their houses with a car port. Most Japanese houses doesn't have one. Many Japanese people live at the far end of narrow road only bikes can go through. The Japanese government can't have any regulations for mail delivery in this condition. So, it's impossible for Japanese people to have this kind of car-oriented society.



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Greetings

When I saw the friendly smile of a woman at a supermarket car lot, I thought "Oh, does she like me? Shall I go to a coffee shop with her?" There're no coffee shops in Meridian, though. Anyway it's my misunderstanding or else everybody likes me. I now realize such a smile is only an American greeting. Japanese people just greet their neighbors, relatives, friends and co-workers. Not unidentified walking objects. I guess the American government has a regulation making people smile when they pass by others. Some people avoid looking at me when they don't feel like smiling.

[IMAGE]

When I pick weeds in the front yard most of people say "Hi!" or at least raise their hand to me. Some of them are my neighbors but some are not. Even drivers raise a hand. And dogs raise one of their... paws and stand still for a while:-)

To say "How are you doing?" is like a speed competition with each other. Sometimes Americans say it to strangers passing by in a supermarket. It's amazing to me. Japanese don't say anything even when their eyes meet.

I'm getting used to hearing "Have a nice day!" from shop clerks and to replying to them with "You, too." But I have to be careful. Some clerks say, "You come back!" If I follow the ordinary routine, the greeting exchange becomes nonesense--"You come back!" "You, too."(?)



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Lawn

[Lawn mowing]

A lawn yard is beautiful and is attractive to me. I have one for the first time. A lawn yard is just for parks, golf courses, big companies or rich people in Japan. To see the lawn is good, but to care for it is another story. The weight of lawn mower is too heavy. The trimmer also is very heavy. My neighbors use them very easily. Are they natural born mowers? Yes, you can buy a riding lawn mower, but it's expensive to me. When I finish mowing both front and back, I am always exhausted and feel tired for a few days. I have to do it twice a week now because grass grows very quickly in summer.

I think Americans waste their energy, time and money with this burden--lawn yard. You need to plant seedlings in the blank spots, spray fertilizer/ weed killer, fight with ants, mow twice a week and so on. If you can hire a gardener, it's good for you to have a lawn yard. If not, you have to waste your precious time. I prefer playing golf on the lawn, not mowing it.

Though it goes round in circles, to see beautiful lawn yards is nice. I can be calm and content.



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How to cook Tan-men

A better way to cook Campbell's or Maruchan Ramen


[Tan-men]

As you know Japanese people are geniuses at modification (or masters of stealing ideas, you might say). Ramen is originally a Chinese noodle soup with pork flavor. If you've seen a Japanese movie Tampopo(1986), you know how Japanese people are particular about the taste of ramen. Though Tampopo is a comical movie (a guy helps a widow who owns a ramen-bar and they create the ideal ramen taste), it's realistic in that all ramen-bar cooks go to extremes in the Zen and Art of Ramen.

The price of Campbell's Ramen and Maruchan Ramen is very cheap in America. I guess, from its size, American people treat ramen as a snack. For Japanese people it's a main dish. I tried both Campbell's and Maruchan but I was disappointed with the flavor. The noodles are OK but the soup mix is not so good. It contains some strange ingredients for ramen such as curry spice. I understand that the manufacturers localized it for Americans but the taste is far from Chinese or Japanese ramen.

I decided to modify such ramen for myself by not using the soup mix. For flavoring I use only salt. This is one of the menus in original Chinese noodles called Tan-men. The word "tan" means hot water and "men" means noodle. You can say it's the simplest style of Chinese noodle. Now, let's begin cooking.

1) Prepare vegetables: You can choose any kind of vegies--onion, green onion, cabbage, carrot, mushroom, spinach, bell pepper, broccoli, corn and so on. If you have bok choy (Chinese cabbage), shiitake-mushrooms and snow pea they are ideal ingredients for Tan-men. You can add any leftover vegies you want before they go to trash can. I don't think adding tomato, potato, celery and lettuce is a good idea, though.

2) Chop vegies and cook the hardest ones first in salted water. At this stage the salt is just for making green vegies greener. You don't need to worry about the amount of salt.

3) While the vegies are cooking, boil the noodles in another saucepan for three minutes.

4) While cooking the noodles, taste the hot water the vegies were cooked in. Add more salt until you feel it's tasty. I strongly recommend a bit weaker taste. If you are satisfied with the first sip of the soup, you feel it's too salty afterward. This is one of the tips I got from a Japanese cook.

You can adjust the amount of salt depending on how careful you are with it.

If you want a rich taste, you can add a piece of chicken bouillon to the soup. Or you may add a portion of the soup mix from the Ramen manufacturers. Use a small amount, or else the attempt at cooking better Ramen fails.

5) Three minutes later, strain the noodles and put in a ramen bowl. Add the cooked vegies and pour in the soup.

That's all. Isn't it simple? By adding the variety of vegies it becomes a main dish. It's healthy and cheap. Try it sometime.

P.S. Recently Campbell's released Baked Ramen (not fried) series. This noodle and soup are better than before.


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[Kudzu Jungle]

Kudzu

In my Macintosh game Hijacker! (HyperCard stack) there is a demand to Japanese prime minister: "Remove KUDZU vines from the U.S.!" This is one of Barbara's ideas. She told me some time ago the American government imported kudzu vines to prevent erosion. Now it's spread all over the South. I thought it was funny and put it into my game. Certainly I can see a lot of kudzu jungles around Meridian. When I drive with Barbara's parents they often say "Hey, look! Kudzu!" as if I were the very man imported kudzu to America. I'm not. I have a counter punch. "Please remove Golden Rod from Japan!" (* It was exported from America to Japan accidentally.)





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