Thursday, May 21, 2009


It's been a month now since I left Japan, settling in Boise, Idaho, after more than 32 years in Tokyo. To call it reverse culture shock is unfair, but there have sure been a lot of surprises. Today, for example, I wrote my first paper check in God-knows-how-long, to pay my phone bill.
It reminded me of what I thought I would miss about life in Japan and what I thought I might or might not find back in the U.S. So, yes, doing paper payments is a surprise. I had expected to handle it by Internet or card, and, to be fair, most daily purchases, such as supermarket and other retail shopping, is by card, which is cool. But I pay my rent by check. I pay my phone bill by check. Some smaller shops only take checks or cash too.
I was correct in thinking I would miss the washlet. For those of you who don't know, a washlet is a combination of Western-style sit-down toilet and bidet. Push a button and a little nozzle slides out and squirts warm water on the part you want to clean (there are two positions, so ladies are covered for both functions.) The washlet is a Japanese invention (Check the informative Website at that has been around since the early 1980s, and one I thought would have surely caught on in the States by now. Indeed, it is widely available, but, alas, not easy to find in use, such as in public toilets or in either of the two bathrooms in my apartment. (As an aside, I also miss the separation of commode and bathing equipment that is common in all but the tiniest Japanese apartments. To be fair, I do have a nice tub for a soak, but still... )
Having lived in Tokyo for so long, with the convenience of predictably reliable commuter train and subway and bus services, I am not impressed with a 20-minute wait for a bus (an hour or more on weekends and holidays), but I get around that by having a commuter bike with saddlebags, so I can do most shopping for daily needs by bicycle. And some government offices are virtually inaccessible by bike, which must be hell for the elderly and disabled.
On the other hand, I am still gobsmacked by the choices available at supermarkets, including the kinds of produce like organic veggies or shiitake or ginger, which I half expected would be hard to find. Here in the high desert of the Northwest, I am not sure how much to expect in the way of fresh seafood, but there is at least one market that has fish flown in daily, and I had pretty good sashimi at one of the Japanese restaurants in central Boise so far, which is a positive thing.
I have also been able to keep up my Japanese language at least in casual conversation with people I've met around town (Japanese people).
So far, so good.