Lynn observed that Japan is a country of many contrasts, one of which is the aesthetic of simplicity when it comes to interiors. Traditional Japanese rooms tend to have nothing but a table and chairs, an alcove with two or three items like a vase with a flower arrangement in it, and maybe one piece of art on the wall. This is us in a reception room (what we in the US would call a living room) we visited in a traditional house in Nara:
By contrast, Japan is also awash with stores and vending machines that sell little plastic things. My last moments in Japan consisted of trying to spend down my yen in the airport gift shops. On the top floor of Haneda airport there is a mall with one store after another selling everything plastic. It was all about “characters.” Pokemon. Godzilla. Anpanman. Hello Kitty. Totoro. Kiki. Sirotan.
Sirotan is a cute baby seal. Cute is big in Japan and is charming in small doses.
Charlie has a Sirotan stuffed toy. In the Sirotan store at the airport, one could buy innumerable stuffed Sirotans of every size, along with accessories and costumes. There were Sirotan towels, hats, aprons, toothbrushes, key chains, pencil cases, lunchboxes, backpacks, sippy cups, chopsticks, pens, fake food, and on and on. Ditto for every other character.
So there’s this contrast between the traditional simplicity and the tsunami of cutsie plastic things. There were even toy vending machines in the train stations, in case you can’t make it to your destination without a plastic toy.
I succumbed to the cutsie charms of the shops and bought two Sirotan soy sauce plates and three Anpanman plastic cups. I told myself, “I need these for when the kids come over.”
In case you aren’t familiar with Anpanman, the animated character who is even more popular than Hello Kitty, here is what Wikipedia says about him:
During WWII, Anpanman’s creator Takashi Yanase faced starvation, which made him dream of eating anpan (a bean-jam filled pastry). Anpanman’s head is a bun made by Uncle Jam. His name comes from his being a man whose head is made of an anpan. When translated into English, Anpanman means “bean bun man.” He doesn’t need to eat or drink, as the bean jam in his head allows him to sustain himself in this manner. His weaknesses are water and anything else that makes his head dirty. Anpanman was born when a shooting star landed in Uncle Jam’s oven while he was baking an anpan. When Anpanman comes across a starving creature or person, he lets them eat a part of his head.
Sometimes I feel like my head is stuffed with red-bean jam. If only I could eat it and feel refreshed, or give it to starving people.
It’s easy to notice things like the epidemic of plastic things when you travel. Charlie and I ate mostly takeout food from convenience stores, and we generated piles of throwaway plastic ramen containers, cellophane wrap, and plastic cups at each hotel. I avoid most but not all plastic waste at home by cooking with real ingredients.
But as I write this I am sitting in my son’s kitchen while the two girls watch TV in the next room and, lo and behold, there is a TV show about shopping for plastic things. It’s just a mom, dad, and two girls who are playing with Shopkins, a plastic toy, and saying over and over, “Go to Target by July 19 to buy the new glitter Shopkins!!!”
I guess all these toys and accessories can go live on the Great Pacific Plastic Island when children become tired of them. Maybe a new superhero—Garbage Dump Man!—will arise to purge the world of plastics for our children and grandchildren. The plastic island is currently twice the size of Texas, so I hope he (or she) comes soon.
Today I am back in my own home, after a month in nine hotel beds and four nights at Vince’s. I’ll begin to tackle the trip in retrospect now, as is my way.
But first, I’m having some red bean jam on toast for breakfast.