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COMMENTARY: Paving the Way with Gimmicks
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CNB Archives MAY 2009




Commentary By Hank F. Miller Jr.122107_1948_WHENEASTMEE1

Over the past couple of years here in Japan aspects of Japanese life as seen from my point of view. My glasses aren't exactly rose-colored, but neither do I have the evil- eye. These are just some friendly peeks and pokes at what I have come to like and not like in my many years spent here. So here we go... One more list--but probably not the last -- of the best and worst in Japan.

Underrated- Dried Squid

Now this I have enjoyed since my very first Tokyo beer, about three decades back.

Dried squid can be as playful as string cheese and as addictive as a bowl of chips.

Sometimes it's so hard to put that next tentacle down. 

Plus you can chew on it forever,I have name for dried squid,"Japanese chewing gum". Unlike Juicy Fruit, the flavor never seems to go away,it just lingers around for hours. For years I used to carry souvenirs of dried squid to America whenever I returned to give to some friends, 

Everyone absolutely hated it. Which meant that I had to eat it all myself. Making dried squid, to my mind a perfect souvenir.

Overrated-train station bento

I admit there is something cute about the typical train station lunch box bento.The tiny compartments of assorted food and the red plum in the white rice make for a nice photo. But while a picture lends a thousand words, here the one word left out is this..."Belch". I would rather eat my shoe than most station lunch boxes or bento. 

To start, the mass of cold rice hits my stomach like a size 9 1/2 Santa in a size 8 chimney. It'll sit there for days before working its way through. Such bento or lunch box are renowned for their variety, I find them all pretty much the same. 

I'm gonna get fish, I'm gonna get egg, I'm gonna get seaweed, and I'm gonna get bored. So I always take a pass on the lunch box or bento when I travel. Give me a beer and a sandwich instead. And oh yeah ! Some dried squid to go along.


Setsubum is the folk holiday in early February in which families traditionally fling beans out of their front door while shouting,"Good luck enter ! The devil vamoose! "

(Loose translation .)The place to be is at a shrine where  the affair becomes a party atmosphere. Here shrine officials- quite often celebrities alongside -toss beans, peanuts and other munchies as well as fruit to the festive crowd. Kids stand up front and are the main targets, but aren't we all kids at heart? If you're lucky, you might catch a mikan Tangerine thrown by a movie star. But be careful. If your hands aren't quick you might catch it in the kisser. 

Overrated-flower-viewing Setsubum or Hanami


All Japanese festivals-Setsubum included-are adventures in crowd control. No matter the occasion, what you will see are mostly other people.Which defeats the purpose of viewing flowers right from the start. That's OK because for many looking at flowers is only an excuse to drink. Sometimes it seems the entire Japanese calendar is a hunt for a similar excuse. Well, hunt no more. Hanami or flower-viewing is overrated, unless you like tanked up crowds.


The land development in Tokyo Bay is looked upon with disdain by many Tokyoites  and not because it is largely built on garbage landfill. Buckets of tax money went into that ground as well, at a time when many thought that money should go elsewhere.

Still others regard shiny Odiaba as a tourist trap. So...consider being trapped. For Odiaba is fun with cyberpunk buildings, youthful malls, beaches, fine museums

(Go to the futuristic Miraikan.WOW!) and even a Statue of Liberty welcoming Tokyo's contemptuous masses. How can you beat that ?

Overrated-Ginza Area of Tokyo

Someone should tell the guidebook people that Ginza glitters no more. The main attraction-like much of Tokyo-is shopping, only here you get to pay a lot more money.

There are also some fine galleries,but you need to have your finger on the art pulse to know where to go. After that, the most pleasant experience might be drinking at the

Doutor coffee shop for about $4.00 for a medium size cup the shop is located at the 4-chrome traffic crossing, while you watch the people go buy. I mean, go by. If your lucky, you might even get a seat.

Just two more quickies ...

Underrated-The Rainy season or monsoon season

Coming soon, but in June to July. Sure the season of Japanese showers also keeps off the bright summer sun and humidity. A fair trade, I think. Plus, if it doesn't rain, the days are comfortably overcast. And if it pours,we get happy farmers. Another fair trade. 

Overrated-Golden Week 

The beginning of Golden Week, comes on April 29th and ends May 5th with Children’s Day. And sure, I love holidays too. We just experience this holiday recently.

There is nothing I would rather do more than not work anywhere else but in my garden. Now that is a great pleasure and pass time of mine.The problem is not working at the same time as anyone else.The only quiet non-crowded place to go in Golden Week is my garden.  

Luckily, it's the one spot that I can afford here in Japan. So my wife Keiko retires to the garden and she lounges at the garden table under the umbrella with book in hand, and of course to my pleasure I work among the flowers, shrubs and trees. Now that is a pleasure to experience a nice quiet extended holiday at our home with my wife.

Warm Regards From Sunny Kitakyushu City, Japan, Have a really great Spring !

Hank , Keiko Miller & Family

EDITORS NOTE: Harry Miller Jr., of Kitakyushu City, Japan died August 19, 2012 from lung cancer. He was 75 years old.   A former resident of Gloucester City NJ, Hank was the author of the semi-weekly CNBNEWS column When East Meets West which featured stories about the customs of Japan. He began writing the column for CNBNews in 2007 and continued to write it until two months before he died. He was also the founder of Miller English School of Japan.  -

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category When East Meets West