I love Japan — the people, the food, the beautiful mountains, rivers and seas. But, and I swear it’s not just the jet lag plaguing me this week, there are many aspects of Japanese life that strike me as very unusual (and I‘m not alone, the following examples were head-scratchers to my Japanese colleagues too).
I’ll start with car names, which are always in English. There are all kinds of shapes and sizes of automobiles here we don’t see in the US among the dependable Toyotas, Hondas and Nissans we get.
During a single ten-minute taxi ride in Nagasaki, here are the names of some of the cars I saw on the road:
Carol (woman’s name or type of song? Both?)
Serena (for tennis players, naturally)
Cedric (my favorite, a solid, boxy taxi, very dependable I‘m sure)
Voxy (the commercial writes itself, with Jimi Hendrix’s “Voxy Lady” overdubbed)
Splash (needs an exclamation point, yes? Splash!)
El Grand (not that big a car by US standards)
Latte (the one I saw was a Mediterranean pale olive color, looked cool)
Life (He likes it! Hey, Mikey!)
Familia (a station wagon, naturally)
(My baby, she wrote me) Aletta
California (Dreamin’, though hopefully not while driving)
Logo (which oddly enough lacked one)
Crew (no “J” in front of it)
Rush (another one that needs an exclamation point, and presumably the Canadian art-rock band of the same name gets royalties for every car sold)
Japanese trains are probably the best in the world, always on time, clean, efficient, fast (the Shinkansen “bullet trains“ go 285 kilometers per hour and the regular trains zip along at a fast clip too) — in other words nothing in the least little bit like Amtrak.
So I was shocked (along with my Japanese hosts) to pass a train upon entering the station at Nagasaki called, I kid you not, The Hyper Saloon. Presumably that is just a bar car on the train frequented by stressed-out business travelers and off limits to the crew, but who knows? Could be fun, or really dangerous.
And finally, an Asparagus Missile. Each year, our good friends at the Japanese peace group GENSUIKIN have a new design for t-shirts, posters, buttons and other merchandise and branding for their annual conference around the Hiroshima and Nagasaki commemorations. Evidently this year’s is the product of a famous designer. It’s a missile with leaves on it so it looks like an asparagus. Really, an asparagus missile. I couldn’t make that up. I’ll try to find the image so you can see for yourself.