Okigusuri

| Jun 18, 2013

Okigusuri

Dear Alice, I was on a two-week home stay in the countryside of Japan when a visitor came to the house. I don’t think he was expected, but my home-stay mother greeted him like an old friend and fetched a plastic drawer-box from the ...

Postal symbol

| May 21, 2013

Postal symbol

Dear Alice, This may seem like a stupid question, or too trivial a subject for you, but what the heck is the symbol that precedes the post code on every piece of domestic mail I receive here in Japan? I’m sure you know what ...

Early photos of northern Japan capture a time of change

Apr 18, 2013

Early photos of northern Japan capture a time of change

Although photography entered Japan in the mid-19th century, it took time to spread beyond the few port cities permitted to engage in trade with the West at that time. As a result, it was several decades before this imported Western technology reached outlying districts, ...

The 5 p.m. bell

| Apr 16, 2013

The 5 p.m. bell

Dear Alice, I live in a medium-size city in Saitama Prefecture and am puzzled by a speaker system mounted on a huge pole right outside my apartment. Every evening at 5 p.m., music plays from the speakers for 20 or 30 seconds and then ...

White gloves

| Mar 19, 2013

White gloves

Dear Alice, I’m curious about the prevalence of white gloves in Japan. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, all sorts of people wear white gloves on the job here, including taxi drivers, police officers and elevator girls. I have no idea if this is true, ...

Nori

| Feb 19, 2013

Nori

Dear Alice, I was out for a walk with my camera the other day and came across a puzzling scene. I saw people putting what I thought were squares of dark paper onto easels in the sun, as if to dry. But when I ...

Warōsoku

| Jan 15, 2013

Warōsoku

Dear Alice, My Japanese mother-in-law is very traditional and spends at lot of time maintaining the family butsudan, the cabinet-like Buddhist altar in the main room of her home. It is part of her daily routine to light candles, pray and make small offerings ...

Senkyo postā keijiba

| Dec 18, 2012

Senkyo postā keijiba

Dear Alice, Thank you as always for your interesting column. I have a question about those temporary bulletin boards that crop up from time to time, the ones with the blank squares with numbers in the center. One appeared recently near my home, soon ...

Emergency announcements

| Nov 20, 2012

Emergency announcements

Dear Alice, I’ve lived in Japan for four years and although I speak a fair amount of Japanese, I can’t make out what the heck ambulance crews are saying on their loudspeakers when they’re trying to get through traffic. Are those set phrases or ...