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Alice Gordenker

Alice Gordenker writes the “So, What the Heck is That?” column, providing in-depth, carefully researched explanations of the things foreigners find so puzzling about Japan. Her work has been modified as a textbook for Japanese university students called “Surprising Japan” (Shohakusha, 2012).

For Alice Gordenker's latest contributions to The Japan Times, see below:

Organ donation

| Jul 18, 2014

Organ donation

Dear Alice, I’m looking at my Japanese driver’s license and wondering if the form on the back has anything to do with organ donation. Years ago, I registered in the United States to be an organ donor, which was a simple matter of checking ...

Shocking baths of Japan

| May 19, 2014

Shocking baths of Japan

Dear Alice, On my first trip to Japan, my host took me to an up-market hot-springs resort on the island of Awajishima. There I was introduced to a small tiled “box” within the large soaking tub. I noticed there were small panels along the ...

Tetrapod

| Apr 14, 2014

Tetrapod

Dear Alice, I have always wondered about the curious cement structures you see up and down the coast of Japan, the ones that look like the toy jacks I played with as a child, except that they’re massive in size. I assume they are ...

Shimooka Renjo, back in focus

Mar 26, 2014

Shimooka Renjo, back in focus

It's not surprising that the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography has organized a retrospective on Shimooka Renjo, one of the first commercial photographers in Japan. What is surprising is that it didn't happen sooner.

Proof-of-purchase tape

| Mar 17, 2014

Proof-of-purchase tape

Dear Alice, I find the amount of unnecessary packaging in Japan shocking, and in an effort to live light on the Earth, I take my own bag with me whenever I go shopping. Yet, when I decline a bag at the register, the clerk ...

Coastal shipping

| Feb 17, 2014

Coastal shipping

Dear Alice, I spotted what I think must be a very unusual ship while riding my bike along the Tokyo waterfront near Wakasu Park. It was like a ferry, in that trucks were driving up a ramp right into the boat. But at the ...