A pick of some of best —and the rest — of the vox pops over the years, in chronological order:
Melanie Burton: What was your impression of Japan before you got here?
Mathias Gunz (dishwasher, 24): I heard that Japanese girls have their legs lengthened. They go to the doctor and he cuts their legs apart and puts more things in there. Also, lots of girls have their eyes made bigger. I think I read it in Playboy. (Sep 23, 2003)
MB: What was your worst holiday trip?
Gillian Clark (teacher, 27): My purse was stolen in Beijing. When I reported it, the police just laughed. When I said I was an English teacher in Japan and needed my gaijin card, they stopped. The next day my wallet arrived in a taxi with only my gaijin card in it. (Dec. 2, 2003)
MB: What’s your idea of the ideal work environment?
Naoki Daisho (samurai student, 22): I want to be working with cool people in Rome, to be able to smoke cigarettes, be somewhere near a soccer stadium, and surrounded by music — without drugs. (Feb. 17, 2004)
MB: Do you feel that Japan would be secure against a terrorist attack?
Blain Armstrong (teacher, 29): Anyone with a foreign face who looks like they might try something is going to be hounded so badly that they won’t even try. (May 5, 2004)
MB: How do you save money in Tokyo, one of the world’s most expensive cities?
Paul Soprano (performer, 33): Don’t buy alcoholic beverages from a bar in Japan. Instead, carry a backpack with budget supermarket drinks, and pour them into a glass inconspicuously. (Sept. 7, 2004)
MB: Is the word “gaijin” offensive to you?
Makiko Okawa (video editor, 29): I always use the word “gaikokujin.“ The word “gaijin” can have a negative image — like foreign men trawling bars in Roppongi for women. (Oct. 19, 2004)
MB: Should Japan compensate Korean “comfort women”?
Genni Williamson (military, 26): No. War is an evil, not a necessary one, but it’s part of life. I don’t think people should be compensated for things that happen naturally. I know that sounds messed up, but that’s the world we live in. (Dec. 14, 2004)
MB: What are you carrying with you today?
Thurston Moore (“sculptor,” 46): I have my record store map — it’s published annually. I only have the 2002 version, which is a bit out of date. I have subway and train maps, toothpicks, tissues, a bottle of water and “royal milk tea.” (March 15, 2005)
MB: Are women-only train cars a solution?
Mari Kaneko (student, 19): It’s good to separate the cars because women feel insulted when they get touched, but women also have to take responsibility when they wear very short skirts. In summertime, some are almost naked. (May 17, 2005)
MB: Do you believe in extraterrestrial life, and which film director has depicted aliens the best?
Hiroshi Hashimoto (office worker, 26): Yeah, I hope so. Maybe they look like us. I think they have already made contact with some people — some Americans. It might be like “War of the Worlds.” (Aug. 9, 2005)
MB: What would you do if you were Prime Minister?
Katherine Garner (English teacher, 23): I’d enshrine in legislation an order that dogs are not allowed to wear coats during the summer — essentially “Cool Biz” for dogs. And for big dogs, they are not to be adorned with pretty ribbons — it’s simply demeaning. (Sept. 6, 2005)
MB: Do you care about the issue of imperial succession?
Daisuke Senzaki (engineer, 24): It’s a Japanese institution, so it’s necessary. We hope the Emperor’s family will continue forever. But it costs too much. If we stopped having royalty, we could use their land to make good buildings like the World Trade Center. (Nov. 29, 2005)
MB: What are the best and worst things about Japan?
Anja Flower (student, 18): The best thing about Japan is the extended feeling of community around here. Either that or the ready supply of porn. The worst is the oppression of women, or the severe lack of garbage cans when you need them. (Jan. 10, 2006)
Thomasina Larkin: Is Japan a good country to raise kids?
Elliott Samuels (editor, 32): The cost of raising kids here would make me think twice. If I’m expected to shell out loads of cash on health and education, I’m going to make damn sure my kid gets something in return, and doesn’t end up thinking like (Tokyo Gov.) Shintaro Ishihara. (May 16, 2006)
TL: Would you pay more tax to stop whaling?
Masakazu Hirose (fish delivery, 44): I agree with whaling because the number of whales is increasing and we have to keep them in check to keep the balance. Also, recently a big ship hit a whale and caused an accident. If there are too many whales, it’ll be a big problem. (May 30, 2006)
TL: Have you ever had a racist experience?
Toru Ishii (HR worker, 30): In Texas, I was walking on the street and some guy came up to me, said “f—-in’ Jap” and punched my stomach. Once at a Nagano onsen, the entrance guy said “gaijin dame.” I told him “I’m Japanese!” and he apologized and let me in. (June 27, 2006)
TL: What’s the best gift you’ve ever given?
Kevin Sheft (architect, 24): It would have to be a subscription to the Jelly of the Month Club. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. You get a different jelly every month of the year delivered to your home. (Dec. 19, 2006)
TL: What’s your most dreadful joke?
Priscilla Berg (fashion designer, 34): On a crowded train, one man noticed that another man had his eyes closed. “What’s the matter? Are you sick?” he asked. “No, I’m OK. It’s just that I hate to see old ladies standing.” (Feb. 06, 2007)
Stephanie Hannon: Do people work too hard in Japan?
Masahiro Takeshima (PR account executive, 28): I work up to seven hours unpaid overtime a day. As part of your duty to a company and society, it’s expected. It’s been part of our culture since our parents worked long hours torebuild Japan after the war. (May 08, 2007)
SH: Do you think the Japanese police are effective?
Hiroki (student, 20): In Japan, only about 20 to 30 percent of criminals are caught. In cases where it’s reported the criminals haven’t been caught, the press stop covering the story and people forget. (May 22, 2007)
SH: What do you know about Japanese superstitions?
Kelly Bolton, 36 (roundeyeradio DJ, New Zealander): It’s bad luck to whistle at night, but I’m not sure why. Someone said that back when Japan was poor, if you heard someone whistle in the market at night it meant they wanted to sell one of their children. (June 19, 2007)
Jackie Hoffart: What’s the most important issue for foreigners?
Dana Beckelman (professor, 45, American): I’ll gladly trade my fingerprints and smiling photo for visas for domestic partners, more visas for extended family, more tenured university jobs, easier access to home loans and housing, and a cooler summer. (Dec. 04, 2007)
JH: What are your New Year’s resolutions?
Ryu Tsushima (retired, 72, Okinawan): I have no resolutions. Ask me about politics and I can share my opinion, but New Year’s hopes? These are only for young people, I think. (Jan. 08, 2008)
Jenny Uechi: Is it easy for foreigners to integrate into Japanese society?
T. Mutoh (dentist, 49): I think it’s easy; there’s not much prejudice here. When you consider some places, where people of certain backgrounds won’t even eat dinner together, Japan is almost like heaven, right? (May 27, 2008)
Julian Peters: In an ideal world, who would you like to see running Japan?
Hiroko (shop staff, 67): Yukio Hatoyama of the DPJ is kind and would take care of the Japanese people. Or (British ex-Prime Minister) Gordon Brown, as he has a good speaking voice. George W. Bush would be a bad choice. (Dec. 16, 2008)
Jared Newmeyer: Are young people today more disrespectful or rebellious than their parents were?
Naoto Igari (broadcasting, 48): Now, young people are more gentle. When I was young, people were raised to fight each other, like in “Rebel Without a Cause.” Today they try to cooperate. They are more naive. (July 29, 2008)
JP: Who is your favorite Japanese politician?
Julian Lambert (40, IT manager, Aussie): I like (ex-Prime Minister) Junichiro Koizumi because he has an endearing character, an inspirational hairstyle, and he defies convention. If your heart is on strike, he’s the strike breaker. (March 10, 2009)
JP: What do you think of the way SMAP’s Tsuyoshi Kusanagi has been treated since his naked romp?
Tim Williams (teacher, 38, Welsh): The way the media is pillorying him is awful. I heard that he has a huge bedroom with a green carpet, so perhaps his behavior in the park was just an innocent mistake. (May 5, 2009)
Antoni Slodkowski: What do you make of Japanese schoolchildren having to wear shorts all year round?
Kaori Ahara (20, Japanese): I think it’s normal. When I look at them I feel energized. They look very cute and lively at the same time, just as children should be. (June 30, 2009)
JP: Now that summer is over, what are you looking forward to?
Jimmy Smith (charity manager, 23, British): I want to see the Hadaka (naked) Matsuri. The idea of drinking beer with lots of elderly Japanese wearing only their pants is oddly intriguing. Until then, I’ll practice. (Sept. 22, 2009)
Matthew Chozick: What do you think of the Tokyo Metro manners campaign?
Keiko Suzuki (67, retired, Japanese): We don’t need manner posters! I only once saw a man doing pullups on a train in the 1960s, but I haven’t spotted it since. (Oct. 27, 2009)
Joe Carol: What do you think of the decision to move the U.S. Futenma base to Henoko?
Enid Lee (46, professor, Japanese): It’s a disgrace that Hatoyama broke his promise to move the base off the island. He seemed to think that if he kept apologizing, Okinawans would forgive and forget — that was not going to happen. (June 8, 2010)
Daniel Robson: What do you think of the new rash of motion-controlled video games?
Tencho (restaurant owner, 39, Japanese): I wish someone would make controllers that you attach to your various body parts — if someone made a groin attachment, you’d be able to have sex with a video game character! (Sept. 21, 2010)
Ray Franklin: What are your thoughts on the decision to cancel the Osaka basho?
Atsuko Fujimoto (retired teacher, 77): Match-fixing has been around since the Edo Period. What’s new is that they got busted due to high-tech mobile-phone text messages — in the old days there was no proof. I find that ironic! (Feb. 15, 2011)
JP: Who would you like to see succeed Ishihara as Tokyo chief?
Paul McInally (teacher, 38, British): Oscar Wilde. He’d pop a carnation in the buttonhole of every salaryman’s suit — provided he could stomach all the polyester. He’d cast his eye around the ugly concrete, declaring, “Either the flyovers go or I do!” (March 8, 2011)
Mark Jarnes: Where were you when the 3/11 quake hit?
Nahoko Fujisawa (administrator, 26): Outside my office in Ebisu. I stood there open-mouthed, staring at walls, electric wires and poles swaying back and forth. Suddenly I heard a young lady call me over to an empty parking lot. I ran over to her, thinking, “Thank God I’m not alone.” (March 22, 2011)
Charles Lewis: After the bout-fixing scandal and the March 11 quake, do you think the sumo Summer Basho should still be held?
Sansai Kunimatsu (producer, 38): If the sumo association donated proceeds to quake victims, it would be a great chance to win back the hearts of the Japanese people. The roots of sumo are a dance to pray for a good harvest, so the sumo wrestlers should perform for the rebuilding of Tohoku. (April 5, 2011)
Alexander Viehweider: What are you doing to save energy in these troubled times?
Simon Wood (theoretical physicist, 27, Kiwi): I like to think I saved a lot of energy by turning off the TV and no longer exposing myself to the total panic being spread by foreign news agencies. (April 12, 2011)
Jon Mitchell: Why have you come to Tohoku to help out?
Reiko Sakata (retired, 72, American): When I saw the tsunami footage on TV, I knew that — as a Japanese-American — I had to come and help. These are my people in trouble here. That’s why I came. (Aug. 2, 2011)