Saturday, December 28, 2013

You've cat to be kitten me right meow

   A little while ago I went to a cat cafe in the city. Scarred from the last time I attempted a visit and was told there was a three hour waiting list, this time I called ahead to try to make a reservation. They wouldn't let me, but we managed to get in anyway.
   It was a pretty small room on the second floor - maybe the size of the average American living room. There were about a dozen cats packed inside. They kept the room a balmy one hundred degrees, and the floors were covered in heated electric carpets. The room was one hundred percent cat oriented: lots of contraptions for them to climb or jump inside, lots of cat beds, and tons of cat-sized hammocks and shelves nailed into the walls. Thanks to the heat, or maybe due to whatever kind of kitty zoloft they had them on, the cats were completely out of it, ranging from zonked out to barely awake.

   The thing that really cracked me up was how polite all the customers were to the cats. In general, I've noticed that Japanese adults (not children) are more respectful of their pets' personal space. People cautiously scratched their ears, tentatively pet them, and apologetically tried to get them interested in the cat toys. Nobody picked one up. Most of the time they just watched them and said things like "So cute! So pretty! Whoops, I woke it up!"
    For their part, the cats were totally uninterested in the humans. They didn't mind being pet or stared at, and one or two even half-heartedly batted at the toys the humans were dangling in front of them, but aside from that, we might not have existed. 

   The other thing that surprised me is that the other customers were mostly couples. Maybe the mere bond of friendship isn't strong enough to persuade the average person to accompany a crazy cat person to a cat cafe.

   For seven dollars, we got to stay for half an hour. There were a couple interesting breeds of cats. One had one of those squishy pug faces like the cat in Babe, and another had really short stubby legs like the cat equivalent of a corgi. When I wasn't saying hi to the cats, I drank some hot cocoa and leafed through the weird cat comics they had lying around.

   As we left, some of the younger cats raced downstairs with us and tried to get out, leading me to wonder if they spend their entire lives in that weird, overheated room with a dozen other cats.

   I've been meaning to write a blog post full of ugly pictures of Japan. The trouble is, I usually think even the objectively ugly parts of Japan are interesting-looking. I took the photos in this post as I was strolling from my apartment to the river walk. I live right next to a factory, so there are a lot of warehouses and crummy housing for the factory workers nearby. But if you just keep walking for another couple hundred feet, you find a gorgeous view of the river and mountains.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


   Waking up in a building without central heating can be really rough. And it's only going to get worse.

   For some reason, Japan doesn't think insulation is very important. Most houses and apartment buildings have paper thin walls, and people tend to heat one room at a time to save on money.

   On the plus side, Japanese toilets have heated seats, and no expense is spared in this department.  The bathroom may be icy cold, but your toilet seat will be toasty warm.

   Recently, I went to the Culture Festival at one of my schools. It's a fancy name, but it was really just a Chorus Festival, with each class performing a song. Music is a required subject in Japan. Starting in kindergarten, kids learn to play little melodicas: two octave keyboards that are actually wind instruments; you blow into them as you press the keys. 

   All kids, in theory at least, learn how to read music and decipher the musical terms for volume and tempo. They're also all required to sing. The teachers tell me it's good for class unity. If you listen to 8 year olds sing, it sounds more like semi-coordinated shouting. But by the time they hit puberty, they're pretty decent. 

   Japanese schools take Art seriously, too. Students are taught specific techniques, and I've seen actual worksheets on how to shade 3D objects: they'll be given cubes, for example, and expected to shade each face varying levels of darkness. They're also taught perspective. At kindergarten, I've seen teachers sit with kids and tell them, "Draw an eye here. Bigger. Like a circle." In America, I think that would be considered crushing the child's self-expression, but here, they just think of it as teaching the kids how to produce a respectable piece of art.

   Coming from America, where most people will tell you they don't know how to draw and plenty of people have no idea how to read music, I think there's something to be said for how they do things here. 

   Students also take "Home Economics." From what I've gleaned, they seem to learn about health and nutrition, and maybe a few other things. But the really cool part is that they learn to cook. There's a lab-like kitchen at school, and sometimes I'll walk past and find myself assaulted by delicious cooking smells. When I peer inside, the kids will be wearing aprons and flipping burgers. If you ask any small child if they know how to cook, they'll happily answer, "Yes!" because they do. They learned it at school.