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Dan's Adventure in Japan

Hello Kitty and other ramblings

I always like to comment on the social quirks I encounter here in Japan.
One of my favorite quirks is Hello Kitty. Though Hello Kitty is known in
the west, the sheer quantity of Hello Kitty merchandise available is
staggering. Many Japanese toy stores and department stores have entire
sections dedicated to items depicting her mouthless feline visage.

McDonald's stores in Japan use her as a logo. Every McDonald's store has
countless signs depicting Hello Kitty in her McDonald's uniform (including
the pink shirt and gray skirt that women wear), being a good employee,
carefully conforming to the rigorous expectations of Japanese restaurant

Because Japanese society emphasizes conformity and working with the group, I
decided to explore this phenomena on a more personal level. I went Hello
Kitty shopping. I sought an inexpensive item emblazoned with a colorful
depiction of this Japanese icon. I went to "the store" in Kamogawa--Jusco.
This four-story monstrosity would not let me down in my quest for conformity
(at least the level of conformity that can be achieved by a 6'3" caucasian
in Japan).

I was not disappointed. Here is a brief listing of the Hello Kitty items I
-A life preserver
-Plush toy in summer clothes
-Paper Clip
-Lunch boxes
-Lunch box wrappers
-Colorful t-shirts
-Bags, Backpacks, Purses
-Pens, Pencils, Markers
-Cellular phone ornaments
Alas, there were no Hello Kitty ties. I decided to get the plush toy in
summer clothes and the paper clip. My desire to conform to this social norm
was so strong that I was unwilling to hold out for the plush toy in fall
clothes, though the fall wardrobe was likely to be more tasteful than the
summer garb.

Todd Swanson, the graduate medical director at Kameda, left town on
Thursday. Mr. Wocher held a party for him at his house. We dined on salmon
salad, fruit salad, and stew. All of it was very good. We also had a few
beers and some excellent wine. At the end of the evening, we watched the
Everest DVD. Earlier this summer, I read "Into Thin Air," a book describing
an Everest climb. The movie was much more interesting to me based on
reading that book. Mr. Wocher has a region-free DVD player, so he can rent
DVDs here and import them from the United States. That situation is most

The following night (Todd's last night in town), Todd, Jon Collings, and Dr.
Charu (a doctor from India) and I went out for pizza. The name of the
restaurant was Stuffs. Pizza here is okay, but they haven't discovered the
use of tomato sauce yet. I really miss American pizza and plan to eat it
the night I return to the US.

Last Thursday was a holiday in Japan--Ocean Day. We all took the day off.
I spent it relaxing and trying to get some rest. I walked around and took
some pictures in the late afternoon. I have yet to understand the point of
having a holiday on Thursday and returning to work on Friday, but what can
you do? Thursday seemed like a Sunday to many people and threw off our
schedules quite a bit.

Increasing numbers of alcohol related revelations are coming down the
pipeline. Apparently, many stores sell two and three liter bottles of beer.
The bottles look like the clay jars used to hold moonshine that are
frequently depicted in cartoons and movies about the South. I have a morbid
fascination with this alcohol delivery instrument. I must sample it before
I leave.

Speaking of beer, I discovered yesterday that they give free samples of
alcohol products in the grocery store. They had Asahi beer and some wine
cooler drink available for sampling. I know Asahi well and passed on that
opportunity. The wine cooler drink was not very good. A cooler should be
identified by its Kool Aid-like flavor and lack of alcohol. This tasted
like alcohol. How are twelve year old girls supposed to get drunk on
something like that? Perhaps that's the point.

Those who have read these journals religiously will remember a drinking
episode I had with Dr. Kokubo. He is the pathologist at Kameda and can
drink sake like water. He took Mr. Wocher's English class out on Friday
night. As a teacher, I was included. After the last time I drank with
Kokubo, I made a vow to never drink beer and sake together. That vow was
broken quickly that night. Under the pretense of learning about social
arrangements in Japan, I was slamming down sake and beer. Without getting
into much detail, I will say that the reason for my vow was clearly
remembered the following morning. I was not hung over, but it was extremely
hard to get going. The combination really wiped me out.

Lacking an appropriate transition, I won't use one...Sumo has been on TV in
the last several days. I have developed an appreciation for the sport. You
basically have two guys weighing between 400 and 700 pounds trying to push
each other out of a ring or to the ground. The matches are very short,
usually less than 30 seconds. There is a lot of preparation involved before
the matches that they show--throwing salt and looking menacingly across the
ring at your opponent. A particularly large sumo competitor, Akebono (640
lbs) won the tournament after a long dry spell.

They gain their weight by eating a special stew. On hot days, sumo
competitors are not up to their full strength, because the amount of stew
they can consume is much more limited. The weather for this tournament has
been more favorable and few complaints have been registered about it.

Jon Collings' mother arrived in town on Friday night. Jon and I gave her
the grand tour of Kamogawa, focusing primarily on the Jusco department store
and places to eat. We spent much time walking around outside. I don't
think I have ever been sunburned so many times in one summer. It seems like
every time I go out, I end up with many lobster-like characteristics.

The Japanese desire to put English texts on the labels of products has led
to some interesting transliteration problems. On a Green Life brand
"User-friendly quality"
"Express your personality in a freer and more individualistic manner."
That seems a bit extreme for a flashlight, but what do I know?

I am leaving here in about three weeks. I looked at my flight itinerary and
noticed that I arrive in Oklahoma City four minutes before I leave Tokyo.
The jet lag implications are interesting. I didn't suffer too much on the
way over. I hope I am similarly blessed on the way back.

There is not much to report from work. The vancomycin resistant infection
project has been tabled. The poking around done on the project (or maybe it
was a coincidence) has yielded action. A new policy is being put in place
to more carefully control the use of vancomycin at Kameda. The work on the
web use is an ongoing battle, though I am working on setting up Front Page
2000 on Mr. Wocher's computer. The big project right now is the informed
consent project. I have done a pretty thorough literature review and have a
lot of articles supporting the wider use of informed consent in Japanese
hospitals. We are also going to do a survey to find out what factors might
cause a Japanese physician to inform competant patients of a serious
diagnosis. This should be a good paper.

This seems like a good way to wrap up.