Friday, August 15, 2014

Change in Japan

 I    noticed a few odd things about Japan on this trip -- stuff that's completely new, and quite frankly, I don't know the reason for.

But first, let me introduce you to a couple of words Tai-chan taught me that I had never heard or used before:

First, 単品 (たんぴん, tanpin). Apparently this means "à la carte," as opposed to a set menu. Always good to know! Like here, lots of Japanese restaurants have table d'hôtes (what they call "Set menus") where you get a bunch of stuff that you probably don't really want along with the one thing you really do want.

Then, there is 炭酸水 (たんさんすい, tansansui) meaning, basically, sparkling water. I found that in most convenience stores, sparkling water was usually actually just soda, although I'll have to admit I don't know what the differenence is between soda water, artificially carbonated water, and naturally carbonated water (well, obviously I know the last one, but no one has ever explained to me exactly how, say, Perrier water gets its bubbles.)

In the drinks shelves of most Japanese convenience stores, they have an amazingly astonishing array of beverages -- stuff you wouldn't touch with a bargepole (Calpis or Pocari Sweat) plus twelve different kinds of cold coffee in cans -- be careful when orderimg coffee anywhere in Japan, because more likely than not, if you don't specify, you will get an iced coffee -- and a whole bunch of other nameless, indescribable stuff that no Westerner would recognize as a beverage -- milky, sewage-colored, you name it -- plus the usual soft-drink dreck that we have.

Thanks for the new vocab, son!

Note LCD screen on left of customer
Another odd development for which I have no explanation is that most grocery-type or convenience stores now have an outward-facing LCD screen (at least 21") which seemingly lists your purchases and then your total, which is displayed in a large rectangle in the middle of the screen, surrounded by advertising -- for some reason you are supposed to tap on that total amount, but I found that nine times out of ten, the cashier just reached around and tapped it for me. Others just looked at me stupidly until I tapped it.

Also, most of the above-type stores have ATMs which take almost every card known to man (and a few to woman), and in a nice improvement over years past, 90% of all types of businesses take western credit cards, although it's always wise to inquire BEFORE you drag all that stuff to the cash. As far as I could see, no one uses debit cards -- 99% of Japanese use cash.

Another annoying thing is the persistence of the ichi-en dama -- the one-yen coin. It's completely worthless, of course, and even looks fake -- it's made from some extremely light alloy that could be confused with plastic. Even the go-en dama are annoying -- they also are completely worthless, being worth about a nickel here. They have a hole in the middle of them -- might make a nifty necklace. 

I just shoved back all the small change -- everything below ten yen -- because it ends up really cluttering your pockets.

That being said, however, if you are a spare-change hoarder, you can literally bring sacks of ichi-en and go-en dama to any bank and just pour them into a funnel of a counting machine, which will deliver your small change in larger change (hyaku-en dama or go-hyaku-en dama) or 1,000 and above yen notes (satsu -- issen satsu, gozen satsu, ichiman-en satsu etc.)

Believe it or not, I have indeed seen a 100,000 yen satsu (about $1,000) but you'd be nuts to carry stuff like that on you, although not from fear of being robbed -- more like accidentally dropping it somewhere. That would definitely be Ouch.

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