Friday, August 22, 2008

Between then and now 2

It's hard to find a young lady today who hasn't been manicured, pedicured, and coifed. 20 years ago the women I knew found it far too daring to apply more than a light pink to their fingernails, an unremarkable skin tone that could easily go unnoticed. Only punks had their hair dyed – or their bodies pierced. The most common type of earrings were clips. Mutsumi, for example, didn't have her ears pierced until she was in her 20's. Today you'll see youngsters of both sexes with an ear-full of piercings, some also with body piercings, and more than a few bold enough as to have tattoos, formerly the decoration of only gangsters and punks.

It's still not as common as in Europe or North America, but recently we've begun to see more young couples making public displays of affection, the most common being an arm around the shoulder or holding hands. 20 years ago couples of any age would have been too ashamed to do even this.

Sorely missed by the immigrant community in Japan is sodaigomi day. Many a foreigner's apartment was furnished by the leavings and discards put out on the street for collection on big garbage day. Good stuff, too, not just banged-up trash – functioning televisions, stereos, bookcases, tables, dressers, bicycles, books, records. For the foreigners sodaigomi day was shopping night. Sometimes if we found something good we didn't need but knew someone else could use, we'd phone them up and let them know where to find it. It used to be a lot of fun, like a free monthly flea-market. But then the politicians got the idea that citizens should pay for disposal of each item of trash and the city switched a few years ago to a collection-on-demand system and sodaigomi day was no more. Credit the city, though, with taking a more rational approach to garbage collection in general. It used to be we put out only two kinds of trash, burnable and non-burnable. Today we still have those categories, but the city now also collects pet bottles and glass separately, while private initiatives in our area collect cardboard, newspaper, clothing, and aluminum.

It's so much easier now as a foreigner to get in and out of the country. This used to require a visit the immigration office every time you wanted to leave in order to get secure a reentry permit, a little stamp in your passport allowing you to renter on your current visa. The permit is completely unnecessary; it's nothing but a tax on foreigners. You still have to pay it, but now you can get a multiple-reentry permit that allows unlimited returns for up to three years.

Used to be when you did get back, you then had to stand in line at the immigration counter with all the tourists. Today foreigners with reentry permits can use the counters for citizens, which still causes some confusion among the locals who don't travel much. More than once I've been directed to the line for tourists by a well-meaning Japanese who hasn't carefully read the sign above the immigration counter.



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