Dear Alice,I have lived in Japan for almost a decade. Every fall I see in flower shops the most unusual and fantastic plant, and I would like to finally know what the heck it is. It is sold as cut branches that are laden with a totally implausible fruit in the brightest of yellows. To be honest, those fruits look like the breasts of a cow. I have never seen this plant in any other country, yet it is hard to imagine something so flashy being native to Japan.
Dear Alice,I want to ask about something that has bugged me the entire 17 years I have lived in Japan. It irritates me so much I am tempted to replace the "heck" in "what the heck" with something considerably stronger but I will be a lady and restrain myself. Anyway, what the heck are those little video bubbles that pop up on almost every quiz and variety show on Japanese TV, the ones that show a celebrity guest reacting to what's going on in the show? I want to view the video clip and experience it for myself, not follow the overdone emotions of some TV personality!
Dear Alice,As Japan sweats through this summer of inadequate power, many more people now know that there are different electrical supply systems in eastern and western Japan, and that the two systems are incompatible. This is such a crazy situation that I'd really be interested to know the history behind it. Can you find out how the heck it came about? Scott H., Tokyo
Dear Alice,I am fascinated by the elaborately decorated envelopes offered for sale in Japan. I know they are used for giving money, because the first time I came to Japan to study martial arts a friend taught me to put my lesson fees into an envelope, rather than just hand bills to my teacher. I'd like to use fancy envelopes on my next visit but I've heard some are only for weddings or funerals and I'm afraid I'll make a mistake. Can you explain the differences? Actually, can you explain why the heck money has to go into envelopes in the first place? Daniel A., Lisbon, Portugal
Dear Alice, I've noticed something that no one has ever been able to explain to me: It seems that absolutely every bridge in Japan has a name! Size, length and location don't seem to have anything to do with it: I once saw two tiny bridges out in the middle of nowhere, one after the other, and each had its own name on a sign nearby. Even bridges that span highways almost always have a name. If living in Japan has taught me anything, it's that there's probably a reason for this. The problem is that no one knows what the heck it is! Would you be able to help?Rosalind C., Hokkaido
Dear Alice, Everywhere I go now I see signs for setsuden (conserving electricity). There's a notice at my local convenience store explaining that the lights are down for setsuden. My post office has shortened its hours for setsuden. And the subway is running with fewer trains — you guessed it — for setsuden. So, what the heck is setsuden, really? Is this different from run-of-the-mill energy conservation? What should I be doing to help? Deborah N., Tokyo
Dear Alice, Last November, I went to Kyushu to see the Karatsu Kunchi festival. It was a wonderful spectacle, with huge, flamboyant floats pulled through crowded streets to the rhythmic accompaniment of drums, music and shouts of "Enya! Enya!" I loved it all, but if I had to designate one aspect as my favorite, it would be the handsome young men on every float who were playing some kind of flute with a high pitch. So, what the heck is that instrument? Philippa J., Hyogo Prefecture