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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:

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 ...

Kobe beef

| Dec 16, 2013

Kobe beef

Dear Alice, I’m making my first trip to Japan early next year, and there are two things on my “must do in Japan” list: see Eric Clapton play at the Budokan, and eat Kobe beef. (Actually, I want to be Kobe beef, spending my ...

Fender mirrors

| Nov 18, 2013

Fender mirrors

Dear Alice, I was a bit of a car nut when I was a boy, and while I’ve moved on to other interests, my eyes still tend to be drawn to automobiles. This is why, on my first visit to Japan just recently, I ...

Elevation signs

| Oct 21, 2013

Elevation signs

Dear Alice, Over the summer, a new sign appeared on the wall of the elementary school closest to where I live. The sign includes the English words “above sea level,” along with some kanji and numerals, so I assume its informing us of the ...

Oversized trash

| Sep 16, 2013

Oversized trash

Dear Alice, The other day, on the street outside the building next to mine, I saw a nice looking table with a sodai gomi (oversized garbage) sticker it. When I returned with a tape measure to see if the table would fit in my ...