Anyway, I can only imagine what a mind-fuck it is for Kenyans to arrive in Japan and find themselves surrounded, sometimes literally, by a sea of plastic. Because when it comes to being proudly able replicate everything on earth with its plastic counterpart, Japan rules the world. In front of the ramen shop, there’s a plastic bowl of plastic ramen. The curry shop has plastic plates so real you’ll be tempted to smell your fingers after you dip them in. I can’t always remember where my fingers have been, but anyway they don’t smell like curry, that’s for sure. And where else can you go to the checkout counter with six pieces of sushi in a plastic tray, complete with a little plastic shiso leaf, a small plastic bottle of soy sauce, two plastic packs of ginger and wasabi, the whole thing shrink wrapped in plastic, and have the store clerk put it into a plastic bag, and then another plastic bag? Not too many countries, one would hope.
Japan, Nation of Harmony
Somehow before I lived here, I had this image of Japan as a country in harmony with nature. This was reinforced on my first visit by a cute girl with crooked teeth who took me to a wooden tea house in the middle of a bamboo forest. We sat cross-legged under a thatched roof and drank cool green macha from ceramic bowls. It was like dying and going to Shinto heaven. As opposed to real Heaven where actual God lives, of course. Whatever, after that we went to a wonderful beer garden in the basement of some horrible concrete Ginza high rise and had a powerful bunch of booze, but somehow the image of the bamboo forest is what persisted.
The takeaway is that the human brain is entirely composed of stuff, fluff, and cotton candy, all lubricated with copious amounts of alcohol. Few people outside the scientific community know this, but for reliability you’re better off consulting Winnie the Pooh.
But I digress. ’s all the polyethylene in my bloodstream. Anyway, if you’re worried you might miss strolling on a Shizuoka beach without seeing a shoreline strewn with plastic bottles and fishing nets, or that you might cut open a fresh tuna and not find a plastic bag…hey, Japan to the rescue. This great nation is doing everything in its power to ensure no sea turtle goes without ski boots and a Tupperware set.
I didn’t really consider the scope of the problem until I showed my new apartment to my mother via Skype.
“Wow, that’s a lot of wood,” she said.
Words Ken Seeroi loves to hear, although coming from one’s mother, rather unsettling.
But she was right: the floors, doors, windowsills, and countertops were all perfect, solid wood.
“Must be expensive,” she said.
“Yeah…,” I mused, “kinda funny about that, actually.”
I have this great talent for ignoring the obvious. Probably a lot of malt liquor helps, but suddenly something didn’t add up. The floors were smooth as glass. The wall trimmings showed no signs of warping despite Japan’s fishbowl humidity. I put on the plastic glasses I got at the 100-yen shop and examined the flawless floors of apparent spruce, which turned out to be an unholy laminate of sawdust and glue, printed to look like wood and set to biodegrade ten years after the sun explodes.
Is Nothing Real Anymore?
Then, other things. Metal doorknobs, the shower head, the shiny kitchen spout—-they weren’t metal at all. The slate and ceramic bathroom tiles. The entire one-piece bathtub/shower unit, not even trying to pretend it wasn’t molded plastic. I live in an apartment constructed of space-age, prefab components where George Jetson would feel comfortably at home.
What happened to my image of a Japan of wood, bamboo, and rice paper? Which Kill Bill did I get that from? Plastic Japan is a dystopian present of concrete, fluorescent lighting, and mountains of plastic, with David Carradine flying around like Blade Runner vainly trying to dispose of Hefty bags full of hair dryers, DVD players, and Coleman coolers.
Worship the Plastic Japan
While tourists line up for shrines and temples, the citizens of the nation spend Sundays at the 100-yen shop, lost in aisles of colorful buckets, clothes hangers, plates, and non-stick spatulas. Clean, economical, and disposable, plastic speaks to something deep within the Japanese psyche. We absolutely worship the stuff. If there’s a country that uses more Saran Wrap, Marco Polo has yet to find it. At festivals throughout Japan, tens of thousands of families spread out massive blue plastic tarps, then sit eating plastic-wrapped onigiri from plastic bento boxes while sipping from plastic bottles disarmingly referred to as PETs. At the end of the night they’ll blithely toss everything into Buddha-sized piles, before it’s carted off to the incinerator. Japan’s real zen like that.
One Very Soggy Japanese Festival
Last month, I went to a festival with three Japanese girls, despite the impending rain. Ken Seeroi never lets a little weather come between him and an imaginary foursome. So we dropped by the 7-Eleven and had a debate. Plastic raincoats for the day, or vinyl umbrellas for one-time use? Fuck it, why not both? Then we went to get cans of coffee, but they’d all been recently replaced by plastic PET bottles. Not sure why, since they still taste like something you’d grab at a roadside Texaco stand. But anyway beer still comes in cans, so we got a few of those too, plus plastic packs of edamame and others of pickled daikon. Then some shrink-wrapped eclairs and a couple plastic sheets to sit on and we were set for the evening. Everything into plastic bags.
And as we rode to the festival, I couldn’t help noticing how much of the taxi was made of plastic. The doors, the dash, even the seats. Apparently, oak-trimmed autos are a thing of the past. Who knew? Plus maybe pleather doesn’t count, I don’t even know. Whatever, I’m sure it’ll all work out great for the earth once armies of cute, white plastic Asimo robots take over. No matter what, they’d be hard-pressed to do worse than humans. So might as well relax, drink a beer, and leave everything to the robots. Someday they’ll find a way to turn it all back into trees and grass, I’m pretty sure.