Thursday, June 29, 2006



Summer has finally arrived in Tokyo. Everywhere on the street there are posters of neighborhood summer festivals flying around. Community consciousness and solidarity are so easily seen in these posters. It doesn't matter if it's a tiny little town with just one street of business venues, parlors, 100-yen shops, or what not, there is a festival for the neighborhood people to participate and to claim their local pride. Last year I went to a small, local summer festival near Asakusa. The festival took place along a tiny little alley, but even days before there were people decorating the alley with plastic bamboo/flower branches and paper laterns. On the day of the festival, all the neighboring elementary schools and men's or women's associations presented their own traditional dances and dressed in costumes hand-made or custom tailored. All neighborhood restaurants lined up benches and picnic tables along the tiny alley, and all the local delicacies were prepared as if that was the biggest festival of the year. It was something that reminded me of a neighborhood baseball game in the U.S., except that this is something that someone like me, who cares nothing about baseball or sports in general, could still participate and have a good time. Just for the food itself was worthwhile.

I had lunch at a Japanese fast food restaurant today, something that's similar to Yoshinoya selling regular beef/pork rice dishes. I personally enjoyed the food there given the reasonable amount of price. With 6 dollars one could get a big bowl of rice topped with stir-fried beef/pork + miso soup + a salad on the side. WIth an extra dollar one could also get a bowl of cold tofu or change the regular-sized soup to a big one. Except that I never like the moment of walking into the store and being stared at all the male customers in the restaurant. Traditionally this is a quick eatery place for poor students, construction workesr, or salari-men who ended up working up late and wanted to grab a bowl of something on the way home. Very rarely would a female OL go to this kind of shop even though the food really is quite decent given the price.

So where do the women go? Cafes like Doutor where they could get a sandwich set for around the same price or perhaps just cook at home. Not to say that there are absolutely no women's customers visiting these cheap eatery places, but in recent years these places have "upgraded" the interior and diversify the menu much that it's pretty great for a quick bite for anybody. Restaurants like this, when migrated to other countries like Taiwan or Hong Kong or even the U.S., they become quite popular places, regarded as "Japanese foreign export" and attract a lot of young customers and working professionals. But apparently the original nature of such places connotes different meaning here in Japan.

In any case, I'd rather get a hot bowl of pork teriyaki at these places than a tiny tiny little sandwich at a cafe in front of the station. Perhaps my poor grad student living status will continue for another few more years that eventually they will outlive the change of social tides here. Maybe next time when I visit Japan, more women will be able to eat there without being seen as strange. We shall see.

梅ちゃん at 4:49:00 PM



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