<em>Kokuwa</em> (monkey pear)

| Nov 18, 2008

Kokuwa (monkey pear)

Dear Alice, On a recent weekend, I joined the throngs enjoying the fall weather at Mount Takao on the western edge of Tokyo. Just before the top there was a man selling what I suppose was local wild produce, collected from the woods. He ...

JR gestures

| Oct 21, 2008

JR gestures

Dear Alice, Until recently I lived in Tokyo and commuted on the JR Chuo Sobu Line from Kameido Station. I made it a practice to ride in the last compartment of the train, just so I could enjoy the spectacle of the driver making ...

Jitensha odantai

| Sep 30, 2008

Jitensha odantai

Dear Alice, I recently returned to Japan after almost 20 years back in my native Canada. Among the many new things I’ve noticed are crosswalks with special lanes for bicycles. As an avid cyclist, I welcome anything that makes it easier to get around ...

Tanuki genitals

| Jul 15, 2008

Tanuki genitals

Dear Alice, About 20 years ago, I lived in Fukui. When I traveled around that prefecture, I often saw statues outside restaurants that appeared to be of giant hedgehogs. They wore traditional clothing and gave me the impression of being “overly friendly,” perhaps because ...

Idling drivers

| Jun 17, 2008

Idling drivers

Dear Alice, I live on a quiet, tree-lined street that seems to attract every taxi driver in Tokyo in need of a break. They pull up along the side of the road, drop their seat back and settle in for a good nap. I ...

Anti-crime color balls

| May 20, 2008

Anti-crime color balls

Dear Alice, I’ve spotted pairs of plastic Day-Glo orange baseballs sitting in polystyrene containers behind the counter at banks and convenience stores. My friend reckons they have them in police stations too. Can you please tell us what the heck they are? Nicholas C., ...

Kyodo Bochi

| Apr 15, 2008

Kyodo Bochi

Dear Alice, On a recent train trip to Nikko, I spotted several small cemeteries in the middle of rice fields. I’ve also seen this from a taxi window on the way to the airport in Kanazawa. I’m guessing these little groups of graves are ...

Pocket bells

| Mar 18, 2008

Pocket bells

Dear Alice, Coming back to Japan, one tends to notice things anew. For me, returning from a stay in Ireland, I picked up on what seems to be the constant tinkling of little bells. Of course, they’ve always been around, on souvenirs and the ...

Chuhai

| Feb 19, 2008

Chuhai

Dear Alice, Recently, while conducting some, uh, research into Japanese alcoholic beverages, I was surprised to notice that the alcohol content of canned chuhai cocktails varies significantly by flavor. The grape-flavored chuhai I was imbibing contained 5 percent alcohol, while the lemon version of ...

Bento grass

| Jan 15, 2008

Bento grass

Dear Alice, My sister just made her first visit to Japan. Before she went back to California, she made me promise to ask you about what she disparagingly referred to as “bento turf” — the little strips of plastic grass that come in practically ...