Convenience stores

Me: Japan, you like convenience stores, don’t you?

Japan: No, not really. I need convenience stores.

Me: But they’re everywhere. You’re addicted to them. It’s amazing. In any of your cities i reckon that you can’t be more than a five-minute walk from one of them. They’re taking over.

Japan: I like being convenient. It’s helpful.

Me: But these places are almost too convenient aren’t they?

Japan: How do you mean?

Me: Well, they’re not just stores.

Japan: Yes they are. They are “just stores”.

Me: Stores that you can buy magazines, newspapers and comics in.

Japan: Yes.

Me: Where you can buy hot food, cold food, frozen food and ready to eat food.

Japan: Yeah.

Me: You can buy food that you need to microwave…and then microwave it in the store. Or food that you need to add hot water to…and then just add hot water to it in the store.

Japan: Yep.

Me: You can buy snacks, chocolates, sandwiches, tea, coffee and every flavour of juice that exists. If, for whatever reason, you’ve ventured out of house that morning without socks, a vest and a tie you can buy them too.

Japan: Yeah, look, I already know this.

Me: You can buy stationary and umbrellas and instant curry and concert tickets and gas canisters and matches and ice creams and shaving foam and waterproof ponchos and condoms and razors and tampons and paper plates and gloves and plastic forks.

Japan: This isn’t news.

Me: You can photocopy something, fax something, print something. Or mail something to another city or another country or another time zone. You can charge up your phone if the battery is low. You can pay your gas bill and use the ATM.

Japan: Anything else?

Me: They’ve got toilets. You can take a shit.

Japan: …

Me: Not to mention the fact that you can stock up on as much alcohol, tobacco and pornography as you can physically carry.

Japan: Erm, is there something you’d like you tell the class?

Me: And they never ever shut. They are open continuously. Forever. You’ll never see a convenience store with opening hours advertised outside it. They don’t have them. They never say “Open 24 hours” because that’s just a given. It’s a convenience store. Of course it’s open 24 hours. That’s what they do. They’re like a constant in the universe. 2+2=4. Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius at sea level. The earth goes around the sun once every 365 and a quarter days.  Your convenience stores are open.

Japan: You don’t need me for this conversation do you?

Me: Well, to be honest, you’ve done all you needed to do.

Japan: What do you mean?

Me: You’re not impressed by any of this are you?

Japan: No.

Me: No, none of us are. That’s my point. We take the thankless, little, neon glowing, infinitely stocked local corner shops for granted. We pass dozens of the things everyday and never give them a second thought or look. We don’t care much about them because we see them so much.

Japan: It’s not a big deal. They’re just convenience stores.

Me: Exactly. But, really, can you imagine life without them?

Japan: Life without convenience stores…?

Me: Yeah…

Japan: Hang on. You’re saying that you’re going to take away my convenience stores?

Me: No, i wouldn’t do that even if i could.

Japan: Don’t touch my convenience stores.

Me: I’m not going to.

Japan: But i can see how you like them now. I know other countries don’t have them.

Me: Yeah, look, just imagine for a sec-

Japan: Stop getting ideas foreign boy. You can’t have them. They’re mine.

Me: I thought they were just convenience stores?

Japan: They are. And don’t you forget it. That’s exactly what they are. Stores of convenience. And if there’s one thing i crave it’s excessive, borderline useless, slightly over-the-top, massive, never ending convenience on a national scale.

Me: Right, so, Japan, you like convenience stores, don’t you?

Japan: I absolutely adore them.

Me: Thought so.


February 24, 2012. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Straight face

Me: Hi Japan.

Japan: Hello again.

Me: What’s wrong?

Japan: Nothing.

Me: Really?

Japan: Yeah, why?

Me: You just look a bit glum. That’s all.

Japan: Glum?

Me: A little, yeah. Well, to be honest, you often don’t really look like you’ve got any emotion at all. You sometimes look completely detached from yourself. Almost automated. It’s as if your face has forgotten that the rest of your body is alive. You’ve got the ultimate dead pan poker face.

Japan: Poker? That’s illegal.

Me: I never have a clue what you’re thinking. You could be deliriously happy or woefully depressed and you’d look pretty much the same. You’ve won a million dollars? Straight face. Somebody’s taken a shit in your handbag? Straight face. Have you ever thought about doing some facial exercises to get things moving a bit more up there?

Japan: You live in Tokyo, don’t you?

Me: Yep.

Japan: And you spend a bit of time each day on public transport, don’t you?

Me: Yep.

Japan: Well, that’s your problem right there. If you want to see happy friendly faces don’t go to the middle of Tokyo on a train. It’s all elbows and blank looks. Nobody’s got anytime for smiling. You want to get yourself out to the countryside or down to Osaka.

Me: I’ve been there.

Japan: And?

Me: You’re right actually. There was a bit more emotion on show. I felt as though as was amongst people rather than surrounded by black suited workbots. What’s wrong with Tokyo?

Japan: Nothing.

Me: But the people always seem to wear plain, windowless expressions, constantly trying not to make eye contact with anybody else in case they have a moment that reminds them that they’re not dead.

Japan: It’s easy for Osaka. It was the trading centre of the country. The traditional places to do business, buy, sell and, as a result, socialise.

Me: But Japan’s the capital.

Japan: Exactly.

Me: What?

Japan: Exactly. It’s the capital. Osaka is the traditional place to do business and socialise. Tokyo is the traditional place to do politics.

Me: So it’s full of politicians and self conscious image and people putting on a straight face and masking any trace of feeling?

Japan: That’s right.

Me: Well, this can’t go on.

Japan: How do you mean?

Me: No, this is no good. People need cheering up a bit.

Japan: No they don’t. It’s fine. Everybody is well aware of the differences. It’s ok. You can’t change a few hundred years of culture and commerce and millions of people just because you’re a foreigner who thinks they know everything.

Me: We should launch a campaign. Cheer Up Tokyo.

Japan: Stop.

Me: We could put a monkey on every train. Hand out free lollipops at metro exits. Custard Pie Tuesdays!

Japan: What?

Me: It’s perfectly legal to chuck a custard pie in a strangers face. But only on Tuesdays. Funny Hat Friday. Space hoppers for everybody. Water Pistol Wednesday. Topless darts!

Japan: I’m calling immigration.

Me: OK, OK, OK. I guess i’ll just have to bury my head in a book or a smart phone instead and screw my earphones into my head and pretend that 30 million other people don’t exist and shuffle from one box in the suburbs to one box in the office and back again and generally just try and master some form of urban camouflage where i appear to notice nothing and nothing appears to notice me but everybody is secretly checking each other out and sizing each other up in a constantly evolving social surveillance mechanism.

Japan: Exactly. Thank you.

February 15, 2012. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.


Me: Japan?


Me: Hey! Hey Japan!

Japan: Huh? What? Sorry, i was just having a nap.

Me: Yeah, you seem to like doing that.

Japan: Who doesn’t?

Me: Sure, we all like a good sleep but you just seem so damn good at it. You’re a world leader in the field of dreams and the land of nod. Everyday i see somebody having a little siesta on the train.

Japan: I’m tired. I mean, when i’m a kid i spend 12 hours a day with my head in books and my ears being bent by teachers and parents and that’s if i’m not playing baseball, softball or a musical instrument. When i’m a student i’m hungover and i’ve got to write an essay before yesterday. When i’ve got a job i commute to work on a packed train and spend at least twelve hours in an office before getting drunk with the boss even though he’s an arsehole with an ego. Then when i’m old i’ve got to exercise and look after the grandkids and play pachinko and do the shopping and try to avoid death as often as possible. It’s non-stop life action. I’ve got to snatch some sleep when it’s available.

Me: Sure, i understand. But you seem to be able to satisfy this thirst for sleep at any available opportunity. It’s like you’ve got some kind of switch inside you that you can flick at any moment and be snoozing within seconds. It doesn’t seem to matter where you are. Bus, train, car, table at McDonalds, train station floor, waiting for the lights to change at a pedestrian crossing, they’re all potential sleeping chances for you.

Japan: Sleeping in public is easy for me. I’m safe. You can sleep where you want because you know you won’t get your wallet or your new phone stolen.

Me: But even though i know that, i can’t seem to sleep on a bus or train unless i’ve had an evenings’ worth of alcohol poured into me before hand. How do you fall asleep so easily on a train and bus everyday?

Japan: Well, the motion of the train and bus is so soothing. It rocks you to sleep. It feels so natural.

Me: But you’re sat down.

Japan: So?

Me: So, it’s not natural to sleep sitting down. It seems strange. Sleeping sitting down is like taking a shit standing up.

Japan: That’s weird.

Me: Exactly.

Japan: And gross. Really gross.

Me: Yeah, maybe a bad example.

Japan: That would take a while to clean up.

Me: Yeah…

Japan: You’d have to get a shower and everything.

Me: Okay, yeah, enough, you get my point. I was in India a few years ago on a bus. Indian roads are crazy. The music was blasting out of the speakers and the driver was leaning on the horn as were all the other taxis, trucks, cars and motorbikes on the road. The traffic is relentless. There’s a baby crying.  There’s a goat tied up on the roof. The bus swerves to avoid cows. The music keeps blaring, the horns keep beeping, the people keep chatting. We shudder to a stop to drop people off and the engine grunts and roars again when we’ve picked people up. There’s a continuous non-stop cacophony of noise and colour and dust and smells.

Japan: It sounds absolutely horrible.

Me: It’s amazing. And guess who was sat two rows in front of me whilst all this was going on? Two Japanese people sleeping like contended children. How? How do you do that?

Japan: I don’t know. It’s just natural for me.

Me: I’m jealous. Really i am. I wish i had that sleep switch inside me. A kind of controllable narcolepsy. It’s wonderful.

Japan: Thanks. I think. Are you complementing me or taking the piss?

Me: Bit of both.

Japan: Same as usual then.

Me: Yeah, see you later.

February 8, 2012. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.