Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Station Experience - Part 3

This is the last part in my sequence of observations and pictures of life in a few of the more interesting stations.

When we first came to Japan, it was called a "smoker's paradise". People could smoke nearly anywhere in the stations and in almost all restaurants and caf├ęs. Over the past decade, paradise has gotten quite a bit smaller as you can see by this designated smoking area.

The blue squares on the floor are clearly supposed to "confine" the space but you can see that there are a few people outside of the area. This is very common. Despite the notion in the west of Japanese people who follow rules (such as the mythical people who won't cross at a "Don't Walk" red light even if it's midnight and there's no traffic at all), you frequently see people completely ignore smoking restrictions as they please.

If you look carefully, you'll see a pay phone to the right and behind the smoking zone has a "no smoking" sticker. Pay phones are an especially popular parking zone for smokers and one of the areas they are most likely to blithely ignore signs prohibiting them to do so.

The promotional poster for Camel cigarettes on the pillar shows that Joe Camel isn't going to do the job of attracting more people to the black lung brigade. In Japan, they require a shirtless slacker/hippie on a motorcycle. There are other posters which show this same slacker with his hand practically on his crotch as he slouches in his cycle seat. I've seen those on the sides of cigarette vending machines. If I were the target market, I'd find such pictures make smoking look like a seedy, drug-using behavior rather than making it look cool and desirable.

These sorts of almost surreal yet bland-looking smoking "manners" posters are posted occasionally in a variety of places. They are sponsored by Japan Tobacco in an attempt to get smokers to behave a bit less selfishly when they toss away their butts. While smokers are to blame in large part, the lack of appropriate places to extinguish and dispose of cigarettes is also a factor. Like trash cans, ash trays in public spaces are quite rare and that absence encourages people to toss things into the streets whether it be butts, empty cans or food wrappers.

These two shops show relatively common Japanese sweets sold in stations. In fact, the little cake on the right with what appears to be white icing (it's not) and a raisin on top (it's also not) is one of the first Japanese sweets I ever tried when I first arrived. Unlike the places I showed in previous pictures, these types of shops are not primarily designed to provide passersby with refreshment, a meal, or an impulse buy. These types of places are mainly geared toward offering souvenirs or gifts. This is why you see wrapped boxes with multiple cakes in them on the counter.

These shops help people conveniently engage in the type of social gift-giving which is so common in Japan. When I was working in a Japanese office, salesmen who went on business trips frequently bought these types of treats and distributed them among the employees. They're also given to hostesses when guests visit their homes or to companies when representatives from other companies visit among other occasions. These sweets are generally well-preserved and packaged with "ageless eyes" to absorb moisture so they travel well. Western folks don't tend to like them overly much but I'm actually quite fond of them.

This is a poster for a Monet exhibit which my husband took a picture of because Monet is a long-standing favorite with me. It reminded me that I attended a few exhibits in Japan before my back became too great a problem. One of the ones I attended was a very interesting Peruvian artifact exhibit. In addition to formal exhibits, you sometimes see artwork on display at department stores or through-ways between shops and stations (or other shops). Tokyo is a really good place to live if you want to gain frequent (and relatively easy) access to culture of all stripes.

The Monet exhibit poster is on the side of a "Suica Poster" kiosk. I'm not sure what this is as it pertains to things I know little about in general (cell phones, in particular) but it appears to have something to do with using your Suica card and cell phone to send correspondence. I know what a Suica card is, of course, as they are used more and more these days. For those who don't want to go to the provided link on Wikipedia, it's a reusable type of debit card which is being used to pay for more and more services in Japan but primarily is used for automatic train fare payment at this time. One can swipe the card across a display on a wicket when entering or exiting the station to pay.

Lest everyone think that all of the stations are full of shops selling sugary treats, here's a picture of a place specializing in healthier fare though I'd bet anything that there is sugar in the blended fruit and vegetable drinks they offer. I find it somewhat ironic that there's a "soft cream" (a form of ice cream without the cream) seller just off to the right and to the back. It seems an invitation to reward yourself after a healthy drink with an unhealthy treat. ;-)

Besides the huge Pirates of the Caribbean posters, there were also huge Spiderman 3 posters which are sponsored by KDDI (a cell phone company). Both of them display the sort of weirdness one comes to expect in Japan on occasion but the lower one seems extra creepy because of the frog-like pose. I guess that the posters are memorable so they probably fulfill their goal if brand-name recognition is what they're all about. If it's supposed to make you want to use KDDI's service, I'm not sure that it's working so well.

This is a bento shop and is mainly geared toward selling people box lunches to eat on trains (ekiben) though you can get other things there as well (as you can see by the red "soft cream" sign). During my first several years in Japan, there was a series of bilingual programs on Japanese culture and one of them was all about ekiben and how various cities and regions had their own specialties. Apparently there is a real qualitative difference in such meals and discriminating buyers can get something quite special though I doubt that can be said of the place pictured above.

The poster on the right is of a children's bento featuring Pikachu. I guess this might be considered "something special" by some people but I'm doubtful of the quality of the food in something mainly designed to pander to the desire to eat food that resembles or portrays an anime character. Among other food items in this bento are egg macaroni salad, orange jelly, and kamaboko made to resemble Pikachu. It's not exactly stellar nutritionally despite being relatively low in calories.

I will wrap these long and long-winded posts with a couple of external shots of the saturation promoting of the two biggest movies being released in Japan at the moment. They aren't really related to the stations (unless you're talking outside of them) but they are timely. Above are posters for Pirates of the Caribbean III on a building outside of Shibuya station and below... a very impressive display of Spiderman 3 posters. The movie may suck but this is one cool display.


leo said...

My thanks to you and your husband for the these posts and pictures. Seems like a whole city in there.

Shari said...

Hi, Leo. I hope the lessons are going well. :-) It's always nice to hear from you.

Thanks for taking the time to comment. It's very appreciated, especially after all the work. ;-)

Sean P. Aune said...

You've done a fabulous job of describing "station life", as I call it. They are such a unique microcosm of Japanese society. I admit I tend to hang out in them whenever I am in country as they are a fascinating place to people watch.

Shari said...

Hi, Sean and thanks for your kind comment. :-)

I also think the stations are a good place to people watch. The only down side is the lack of a comfortable place to sit. ;-)