An overview of my trip to Japan this past winter.
One of my desired outcomes for the trip was to survey the alternative scene of Japan and network with like-minded people. There are a number of things I need to figure out as I move back to my birth country, like communities ripe for joining, financial opportunities to support my research and projects with, and innovative projects to channel my passion into. I also want to continue my function as a bridge between the English speaking world and Japanese speaking world of alternative sustainability-centered cultures. Cross pollination. What a joy!
Three points before you read
1. This entry, part 1, will be about Tokyo, and things that I thought might be interesting to share. Sort of like a cultural exchange. The latter entries will cover some of my research into sustainability related projects and places in Japan.
2. I am searching for similar minded people for potential projects in Japan that are explained in the second half of the entry. Lets find each other....eventually. I'm going to be in Japan from mid-Aug (2011) until mid-Sept (2011) or up to my death depending on various known and unknown situations. If not from this winter, by next spring I am planning to settle in Japan.
3. This entry is a sliver of my experience and perspective from my winter trip in Japan, so please take it with a grain of salt. I have strong ideas and feelings about urban and rural Japan. Don't be misled by my extremist mind:) In fact, this is a good warning for my whole blog!
TOKYO: the tripout
Seico gearing up for experiments about how environmental toxins (e.g. dioxin) affect our neural and endocrine systems. She works almost all day every day, collecting data and devising experiments. Its a fascinating life-style and the intensive lab community experience is quite a unique phenomena. I've heard of stories where students will work non-stop, forgetting to eat, and sleep on the floor of the lab when their bodies force them to. That is dedication.
What a trippy world.
Its interesting to hear her stories about taking care of mice, going to campus just to feed them and clean their cages on weekends (like a farmer there are no days off), and sharing about how cute they are or how they behave. Similarly, I am here on a farm taking care of hissing ducks, feeding them, collecting eggs, and keeping an eye out for "their well-being". Seico and her colleagues do their absolute best to keep the mice stress-free, so they do not contaminate their data which focuses on environmental stressors. They go through rigorous ethical training, something that most consumers of creatures and vegetables could benefit from.
I am not a conscious supporter of animal experimentation, and it feels inherently "wrong", but then again I'm sure I've benefited in many ways from research based on animal (including yeasts and fruit flies) testing. And who am I to judge, when I raise creatures for eggs, meat, and slug control?
I also want to mention as a related tangent the crazy industrial agricultural scene, like the soy industry, that is replacing whole ecosystems, wiping out whole populations of diverse organisms.
Check out the short article below
Train station in Tokyo during rush hour.
It's not always like this but the peak hours often look like this.
Employees will literally push people into the trains so the doors can close.
Like cans of sardines on a unstoppable schedule.
As the doors open, the train unleashes a flood of bodies.
Its hard not to be swept away in the current.
Exposed garbage in Tokyo.
I wonder if the visual impact of this pile of trash serves as a negative feedback loop.
Perhaps its just part of the Tokyo urban decor.
The giant plastic bins I've seen in the US are more pleasant and neat,
but conceals the evidence of our large volumes of consumption waste.
Most of this garbage here is probably plastic (lots and lots of wrapping) and will all be incinerated, releasing complex environmental toxins, some of which my partner is studying.
The roasted piping hot sweet potato truck!
These are common during the cold winter days.
The creamy yellow steaming sweet flesh warms you up from the inside.
I heard that some of these sweet potato vendors are actually run by the yakuza (Japanese mafia).
Other common food vending trucks are the late-nite ramen trucks.
I highly recommend a movie called "Tanpopo" which is a very creative and well-made Japanese film that explores the bizarre food culture of Japan, but primarily focused on ramen.
Very entertaining and will make you hungry.
Ramen is a very serious food, and people will spend decades perfecting a bowl of noodles.
Not to be mistaken with Top Ramen!
Typical lunch for 1000yen (about $13 at the moment),
we do not tip so 1000 yen means 1000 yen.
The food experience is excellent in Japan!
Flavour, presentation, ambience, and customer appreciation.
I remember being followed from the restaurant to the elevator by a waitress from a soba store, and she bowed deeply to me as the door of the elevators slowly shut.
In Japan we say, "the customer is god".
Rice (the soul of Japanese food), main dish (whole grilled fish, this one is Pacific saury), light soup, salad (unfortunately macaroni in this instance), pickled veggies, veggies with vinegar,
followed by dessert with tea or coffee, is a common lunch set.
The Japanese fruit scene is bizarre in so many ways.
1. Wrapping: each fruit is wrapped either in plastic, paper,
or Styrofoam baskets in the case of peaches.
2. Cost: About $7 per Mutsu apple on the left and $80 for the Musk melon.
I've even seen melons for $200! They are not always so expensive though.
You can get melons as cheap as $7.
3. No organic fruits: I have never seen an organic fruit from Japan in stores. Natural food stores will often indicate how much less their fruits were sprayed with chemical pesticides. Like six sprays on watermelons, which might be a third of the average spraying dose. I'm surprised that for people who obsess with mastery, and with a long history of chemical-free agriculture, nobody seems to have successfully produced organic fruits on a commercial scale in Japan. I wonder if this is primarily a result of our rainy hot humid summers and requirement for perfectly formed fruit. I must say, I'm always impressed with the uniformity of fruits that are often amazingly delicious and plump
with fantastic juicy texture.
Actually, I do know of one apple farmer in Japan who recovered from a suicide attempt in the forest and now successfully sells apples that are known as the miracle apple. I heard his apples sell out a year or two in advance. Supposedly, unlike chemical and organically grown apples, his natural farming apples do not rot and simply shrivle. He sells them for cheap too,
as he wants everyone to have access to good apples.
I'll write more about this "miracle apple" soon.
My favorite cake, Mont Blanc.
An adapted treat from Paris, made with chestnut cream.
For a chestnut lover like me, this cake is exquisitely delightful.
It requires skill to stew the chestnut (on the very top) without tearing the soft bitter skin,
which gives the chestnut a dark brown look.
Nothing like Mont Blanc with a proper cup of afternoon milk tea.
This is truly revolutionary.
Japan is extremely conservative about recreational drugs,
but I have always felt that cigarettes and alcohol consumption were encouraged.
Both were readily available in vending machines along the sidewalks and and my middle school friends would even go buy them at the convenience stores.
Students would find places to smoke at school,
and teachers would congragate in their designated smoking areas.
Most of my high school friends in Japan still smoke cigarettes regularly,
and that has been a major barrier in our friendship, as hangout spots tend to be enclosed areas hot-boxed with cigarette smoke.
Now, there are whole streets in Tokyo that prohibit smoking,
and most cigarette vending machines require a card only issued to those over 19 year old.
Some restaurants have smoke-free hours which is super nice since smoke masks the aroma of food, a crucial element in the experience of eating. There are more and more designated smoking areas in airports and cities too, some of which are small boxes that contain the smoke and look like a very unhealthy place to be. I can't imagine being on a flight from Japan to the US
when it was still ok to smoke in the plane.
Hundreds of pots on the sidewalk.
My mom told me that potted plants have been part of Edo culture.
Space is extremely limited in Tokyo,
and this is probably a barely legal way to indefinitely utilise "public" space.
Since my partner has no "land", I filled the apartment with pots of store bought plants and cuttings I collected. Gardening in pots is a very different experience from doing it in earth,
but I'll take what I get......for now.
The day I got to Tokyo coming back from the Bullocks Permaculture Homestead via Hawaii,
I noticed this papaya tree on the side of an office building.
It was a nice treat to bridge the gap between the tropics and freezing cold Japan.
The employee who planted it just spread seeds from a papaya he ate.
Thats the spirit!
A mango seedling is also in the mix here.
Neither will probably produce edible fruit,
but many people will benefit from a stimulated sense of wonder.
Definitely got me excited.
Next entry will go into the juicy projects ripe with opportunities that I came across in Japan.