I didn't just consume a bunch of western media on my trip to Japan, I consumed a lot of culture, albeit not as much as I wanted to. I missed my connecting flight from San Francisco to Osaka and had to spend the night in San Francisco. As a result, my jetlag acclimation/cultural exposure day was mostly consumed by my flight the next day. I never had a big block of free time to travel around the prefecture, so I mostly made brief field trips around my hotel. This limited my cultural exposure to shopping centers and train stations, but I think I developed a fair understanding of day-to-day life in the Kansei region based on what stores stock and thus what people buy. Here are my favorite mundane aspects of southern Japanese culture.
It's perfectly acceptable to carry, and use, a washcloth in public
Osaka is really fucking hot and humid in the summer. So much so that even people from India travel to Osaka and step outside from the airport into the Osaka air for the first time they say "Oh hell no, this shit is way too hot and humid." At least that's what my cabbie said.
It's so hot that everyone sweats their asses off constantly, even inside. Women carry fans and parasols. Men carry washcloths, sometimes even bar towels, everywhere including the office. It's remarkably common to be in a meeting with ten other sweaty dudes, all wiping their faces with small hunks of terrycloth. Aside from Jerry Tarkanian, John Thompson and Ford Prefect, you just don't see towels in the workplace.
After sitting in two days of meetings like this I went to the mall across from my hotel and got myself one of these washcloths. They're technically considered a handkerchief--one side of the washcloth has this gauzy cotton material called tenugui sewn onto it, but it's still a washcloth. Here's mine.
Yes, those are bears. Yes, one of those bears has "ZZZ" next to him indicating that he's asleep--I guess the bear doesn't speak Japanese because he doesn't snore in katakana symbols. And yes, another of those bears is wearing a small green fedora. All my other choices were more preposterous, this is what you get for ¥400.
Anyway, I can't say enough good things about these super-absorbant handkerchiefs and being in a place where it's socially acceptable to constantly mop your forehead with one.
Everything is connected by underground tunnels
Because it's so stupidly hot in Osaka in the summer, they built a series of tunnels to connect just about every important location. Sort of like how places like Montreal and Rochester have tunnels to avoid the winter wind and snow, Osaka has tunnels to avoid the summer humidity sun. Now, navigating these tunnels is no bargain. Here's an example.
The main tributaries mercifully have English signage and my iPhone worked everywhere (thank god for Google maps), so I was able to avoid the scorching sun without getting hideously lost. Unfortunately the tunnels are not air conditioned so I still had to constantly wipe my face with my bear washcloth. Nevertheless, being able to get around completely underground is a source of pride among Osakans, and when I told one of my friends that I traveled to a venue over a mile away and back using only the tunnels, he smiled and said he was proud of me. He then fed me some ridiculous food and drink, which I'll describe another time.
They still have record stores
There was a Tower Records 50 feet from my hotel! And it sold actual records! And it had a whole section dedicated to A Tribe Called Quest!
It also had a very very deep selection of hiphop CDs. Here's just a snapshot from the K's:
KMD, Kool G Rap, Kool Keith, Kool Moe Dee and Kurtis Blow!?! I don't know if there's a record store in Brooklyn that has a CD in stock for all of these artists. I was impressed.
The 69 bus is everywhere
Or so it felt. I saw these bus stops all over the place.
The bathrooms are fantastic and the toilets are divine
Japan is spotless. No litter, no gum on the sidewalk, no dog shit on the curb. Immaculate. This includes all the bathrooms, including public bathrooms at the train station. I have suffered through circumstances requiring me to move my bowels at the old Yankee Stadium, an Amtrak Northeast Corridor train, and the worst gas station bathroom in Cape Cod (even Ryan Lochte wouldn't shit there--filthy, no light, the door had no knob mechanism so it wouldn't close, and no toilet paper (which I discovered after I had shat my emergency shit, so I had to wipe with the discarded Marlboro Reds box I found on the floor--had Marlin been there I would've used my underpants but it didn't occur to me at the time).
By contrast, defecating in Japan is a pleasure. Think of the nicest bathroom you've ever used. That's what they're all like. But better. The toilets all have features to make shitting better. They have a fan that sucks away shitty smells and a noisemaker that covers your shitty noises. They have heated seats. And most importantly, they have a washlet, a faucet that pops out of the seat and washes your bung with warm water. It's like taking a shower after every shit, and it's divine. The toilets also have fans to blow you dry after the washlet does its thing, but the fans are often too weak to really dry you so you still need some TP to finish up.
We're redoing zbathroom soon and I'm getting one of these toilets. That's how life-changing they are (and who knew we'd use the "toto asswash" label again?). Anyone who lives without a Toto toilet is a filthy animal.
They love the Simpsons
I don't know if that's true, but I saw these socks at a department store that carried stuff from Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, and all those other fancy brands you see at high-end US malls.
They love sneakers
This wasn't a surprise. Tons of cool kicks. Here's a small sampling.
I should've bought those Takumi Sen joints but I didn't.
They love tchotchkes
Not Chochkie's, tchotchkes. Many stores have these things that look like bubblegum machines, but instead of bubblegum they dispense tchotchkes. For example, are you into Minions? They have a tchotchke machine for that:
Note that Dave, Tom, Jerry, Tim and Stuart (well, Stewart) are also the names of several of our brothers.
Are cats in beanies or babushkas more your thing? Japan has you covered:
It's a great way to get rid of your pocket change before you leave the country.
The greatest regret of my trip, and perhaps the past 10 years of my life, is that I used my last ¥100 coins buying Minions for zson and pink raccoons for zdaughter (they love Minions and raccoons, respectively) only to turn the corner (they have rows and rows of these things at Yodobashi Camera, which is a batshit crazy store deserving of its own post) to find this:
Sorry rob. Next time I'll get you some fingertip-sized flying squirrel tchotchkes.