26 March 2011


I don't need to tell you how tough things are in Japan right now. Instead, I'm just going to share some things I love about that country and its people. I've never spent time in Japan (although I grew up in Hawaii, which has a huge Japanese population), and I know some of the items on this list are trivial, but believe me when I say that my purpose is to celebrate a wonderful culture.

In no particular order...

1. Hello Kitty...and her bunny friend, My Melody:

Having spent my childhood (until I was ten) in Hawaii, I practically lived at the Sanrio store (the only place for Hello Kitty wares at the time, before she was licensed to Target and other places). I could never afford one of those supercool pencil cases like so many other girls had, but I loved (and still love) Hello Kitty pencils, pens, erasers, etc. (Even the Sanrio website -- whose motto is "Small Gift, Big Smile" -- describes the fanciest pencil case currently available as the "super coolest"...and it's not even as fancy as the ones I used to long for.) I try not to buy myself Hello Kitty items anymore, but friends sometimes do, which always puts a smile on my face. My friend Ursula even painted this sign for me when we went to a triathlon in Alabama in 2009:

When I can't resist the urge to buy Hello Kitty things, I get them as gifts for young friends, and it tickles me to see that little girls still love her.

2. Shirokiya. Waikiki's Ala Moana Shopping Center has had this Japanese department store for as long as I can remember (probably longer than I've been alive), and it's fantastic. The My Melody apron pictured above is from Shirokiya.

3. Sushi. Surprisingly, I didn't eat much of it growing up (there were so many different kinds of Asian food everywhere, I think we spread the love and ate lots of different things). But I grew up with all manner of Japanese food and just can't get enough of it. Which leads me to the next thing I love about Japan....

4. Fun snacks. Japan makes the best little candies and savory treats. In fact, when my dad recently came from Hawaii for the marathon and asked what he could bring me, this was my one request:

This candy takes me right back to my childhood. I thought it was the coolest thing ever that unwrapping the clear plastic wrapper reveals a second, similar clear wrapper...but that one is made of rice paper, and you can eat it. Crazy but true! (BTW, the "amusing toy" inside is always a sticker. I guess that's all you can expect from a box the size of a business card.)

5. Mochi. This technically fits in the "fun snacks" category, but I'm listing it separately because I like the idea of it more than I actually like eating it. Mochi is made of rice and has a jiggly consistency (like jello, but dry, if that makes sense), and it comes in neat colors. These days, you can get mochi ice cream all over Hawaii -- a thin layer of mochi frozen over a little disc of ice cream. You can even get it at Shirokiya.

6. Japanese cars. Honda, Toyota, Acura, Mazda...it's hard to think of a Japanese brand that my family hasn't owned, or a car we've had that wasn't Japanese (although my first car was a Saturn). I learned to drive on a Subaru, and my current car, a Saab 9-2x, is actually a Subaru Impreza wagon that I bought during GM's employee discount sale in 2005 (at the time, GM owned a stake in Fuji Heavy Industries, Subaru's parent company, and "borrowed" the Impreza while Saab developed its own smallish wagon.) Which leads me right into...

7. Japanese cars masquerading as farm equipment.

Most recently, we invested in another Subaru last week -- our tiller, which I'm digging (no pun intended) so much, I'd drive it to work if I could. (I suspect it wouldn't get good gas mileage, though, and although it doesn't have a speedometer, I'm pretty sure it maxes out somewhere around 1-2 miles per hour....)

8. Japanese plumbing technology. During the selection process, we searched high and low for the best toilets and landed on the Japanese brand Toto (which, incidentally, we bought in both high and low varieties -- taller for the master bathroom and powder room, lower for the bathrooms guests are likely to use). Toto is pretty much the Cadillac of toilets, and their performance bears that out. A very demure co-worker actually stopped me in the hall one day toward the beginning of construction to sing Toto's praises. And we're happy to report that the WaterSense version is equally dependable.

9. My friend Yokko. (I can't believe I don't have any pictures of Yokko.) She, her husband, Joc, and their amazing daughter, Asia, are like family. We have Thanksgiving dinner with them, she loaned Joc to me on marathon day to run several miles with me, and I really couldn't ask for more wonderful friends. Yokko first came to Austin as an exchange student several years ago, but her family is still in Japan. They made it through the earthquake and tsunami okay and are doing what they need to to stay safe from the radiation threat.

Those are some of my favorite Japanese exports. Oh -- one more. In the aftermath of all the devastation, I've heard on the news that Japan is always one of the biggest contributors to relief efforts after disasters in other countries. It's time for the world to repay that generosity.

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