Saturday, March 04, 2006

The Green(er) Life

At the end of lunch today, Maureen directed my attention to the top of the microwave, where sat two small packages containing Japanese desserts. She opened hers to reveal two small pancakes pressed around a sweet bean filling (a common delicacy here). I opened my package to reveal: another package.

Japan, it would seem, is a country addicted to packaging. Walk into any convenience store and order a single dumpling. The dumpling is plucked from its heated case on a piece of heavy paper. It is then placed on another sheet of paper big enough to cover it at least three times. Wrapped and taped, this package is dropped inside a small, plastic dumpling bag, which is then placed inside a larger plastic shopping bag, along with the receipt and a big “Arigato gozaimas” from the clerk. This all happens very, very fast, and too quickly to do anything about it unless you remember to shout “Ie desu, ie desu!” (It’s okay!) at the top of your lungs immediately upon asking for the dumpling.

Since I’m slow and rarely remember to shout “Ie desu!” in time, I often find myself in the parking lot eating a dumpling that had already grown cold by the time I finished unwrapping it and trying to stuff a wad of packaging with a total land mass only slightly smaller than Rhode Island into the nearest garbage can. A few such episodes can do wonders for raising the level of one’s environmental consciousness.

After lunch today (this started with lunch, remember?), I stepped back into my boots and waded back into the muck in the bathing room. In a moment completely lacking in foresight for my own well-being, I had given Maureen an I-O-U to clean the bathing room as a Christmas present. Today was the day to put my money, or, rather, my mop, where my mouth had so foolishly been.

However, my sweet wife is not without sympathy, and knowing that misery loves company, she spent the day cleaning up her papers littering one of our two currently unused tatami rooms. With the temperatures growing ever so slightly less cold, and with the help of a small space heater, the idea is to move the desk and computer into this room so I can have my own space to write. I’ve become so excited by the idea that it’s given me a brief craving for organization. Striking while the iron was hot, Maureen encouraged me to go to the store and get a bookshelf and plastic filing cabinet as soon as I finished in the bathing room.

I caught the 4:37 local train to Higashi-Muroran and setoff through the slushy streets and icy sidewalks for the stores. Maureen had suggested Second City, a recycle shop selling used everything, from clothing to cameras to filing cabinets. Japan is an absolute goldmine for used merchandise. The dwellings are small, the basements non-existent, and the storage space incredibly limited. Whenever almost any household item is replaced in Japan, it either goes out with the trash or off to the recycle shop.

You might think the recycle shops would be easy to find, but they aren’t. Second City is located in a far corner of the shopping district, in back of and dwarfed by the big-box Home Amenity Center. But I found it, and along the back wall I found a bookshelf. It was nearly as tall as me and almost twice as wide. It wobbled and swayed back and forth, but for only Y1980 (about $18US), I was tempted. Until I picked it up. There was absolutely no way I was carrying this bookshelf the kilometer back to the station, taking it on the train with me back to Muroran, and then lugging it another kilometer up the hill to our apartment. Next to the bookshelf was a much sturdier shelf. It was also even larger – and heavier. Beside it was a similar model with glass doors. Neither cost more than $40US. Neither were going anywhere without anything short of a minivan. A couple of Maureen’s fellow English teachers here own cars, but they’re small cars, their owners are away skiing for the weekend, and besides, we already feel like we impose too often for rides. We came to Japan planning to get by without a car, but times like this leave me wondering. Frustrated, I walked outside to the Big Box.

Inside the Home Amenity Center (Homac), I found dozens of particle-board, wood-laminate bookshelves (some assembly required). I picked out a small one for Y998 in a box that I could easily carry under one arm. I also found a small, plastic, three-drawer filing cabinet for Y780. These I took to the checkout area, where three cash registers were opened and none of the lines were moving very fast. While waiting, I looked at my bookshelf. It wasn’t quite what I wanted. Not enough shelves, too deep and not wide enough. Then, as if for the first time, I noticed the cardboard box that it was in, the plastic wrapped around the cardboard, and the plastic wrapped around the filing cabinet. And I thought about stuffing them all into the dumpster on Tuesday when the trash is collected. I left my place in line and returned them to their shelves. Dumplings can do that to you.

Back at Second City, I saw that no new bookshelves had arrived while I had been away. However, I noticed a large plastic filing cabinet that hadn’t caught my eye before. It was fully assembled, five drawers high, lightweight, sturdy, in perfect condition and without a scrap of packaging. It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, either, but my books and papers will fit in it. I paid my Y1580 and carried it back to the station, just in time to catch the 6:15.


Anonymous said...

I could swear that, while the trek from the station TO Second City might be only a kilometer, it was at least two MILEs back to the station. The step into the train was at least a foot, as opposed to a fraction of an inch usually, and the hike up the MOUNTAIN to the apartment was nearly straight up, at probably another 2 miles.

Put another way, when I left Second City with a shelving unit with some glass doors (which kept falling off their tracks) I could take about 250 steps before stopping to rest and shift positions when I started again. By the time I reached the apartment, the glass doors were in the bottom/back of the unit and the count was down to about 16 walking and 32 resting.

Did I mention that my arms ached for 2 days afterwards? Did I ever tell you about carrying home the chairs from another second hand shop in Muroran?!

What about lunch and you are my hero for cleaning out the bathing room.


Tim said...

Hi Scott, and thanks for your comment on my blog. I enjoyed browsing through your posts, especially the ones from China. I had a crazy uncle who was obsessed with trains - he had memorized time tables going back to the 1930s. Not saying you're crazy, but the train-talk triggered a memory of Crazy Randy wandering around Thanksgiving in his bathrobe and slippers, talking about locomotives.

And you're right that the Japanese are mad about packaging - here's an article I wrote about the trials of choosing (and unwrapping) convenience store onigiri.

Hope to get a chance to meet you sometime -