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Little things #4: Cover Me!

Japan  has garnered a reputation for itself as a number of things: responsible for the rest of the world’s knowledge of sushi, exporter of animations and games for geeks everywhere, leading provider and founder of tentacle porn, and…oh yeah, they make some decent cars.

Japan is also a very modest country.  This modesty is apparent in fashion, in culture, and even in language.  Covering things up and shielding the truth is one thing the Japanese are very, very good at, and it’s one thing that can be boggling to the mind of a foreigner (especially if you’re trying to figure out exactly what it is your boss wants you to do).

While linguistically, the Japanese are expert bush-beater-arounders, they are also physically very good at hiding stuff.  Japanese houses are notoriously small and cramped, and making good use of space is important.  Disguising objects in containers or making rooms multi-purpose is a huge deal.  Many living rooms in Japanese style houses double as a bedroom at night.  A futon is literally pulled out from the closet and laid out on the floor, slept on, and then rolled up and put away in the morning.  Kind of gives a new meaning to the phrase “make your bed”, huh?

There are some “covers” I come across on a regular basis that I don’t think I ever encountered before coming to Japan.  I’m still not sure why some of these really need to exist, but hey, it’s Japan and sometimes it’s better not to ask “why?”.

Here’s a photo of my lunch from a few days ago.  This lunch is a soup and sandwich set with a side of potato wedges and a drink.

When I picked up this tray with my meal on it, the girl working at the cafe also added the paper pocket.  It’s mean for putting my sandwich in.  I believe this is for one of two reasons: a) so my potentially dirty hands don’t touch my sandwich and get it all germy just as I eat it (though typically wet naps are available at every restaurant to prevent this) or b) so the sandwich doesn’t fall apart and make a mess.  Whatever the reason, I can see the usefulness in this situation.

One thing I see just about everywhere I go is the toilet paper cover.  I know for a fact I have never seen this in the states.  Apologies for the darkness of this photo – the bathroom at my guesthouse is rather dungeon-like in terms of lighting.

This is a cover for the toilet paper.  It very often gets in my way because the end of the roll of paper is hidden under the flap somewhere, which is irritating to me as I really prefer not to have that many steps involved when it comes to accessing TP.  I have spent an absurd amount of time pondering the reason why this has been instituted, and again, I can only come up with 2 reasons: 1) there is potential for germs to get on the toilet paper before a person uses it in sensitive areas, so the cover helps prevent spread of germs.  2) the Japanese are paranoid about anyone knowing they are human and thus require the use of toilet paper from time to time.

Reason two sounds weird, I know, but hear me out.  When it comes to less-than-pretty aspects of being a human, the Japanese have made every effort to pretend they do not exist.  When women purchase feminine hygiene products, rather than just put them into a plastic bag along with the rest of one’s shopping, the checker will automatically put the products into a thick paper bag nobody can see through, fold the top down, and tape it shut before adding it to another bag.  I’ve had a checker look at me and ask: “do you need a bag for this?” When I answered “no”, the paper bag and tape was still added, and it was handed to me that way.

There are tiny bottles of spray available in hygiene sections of stores to spray the toilet with before it is used to eliminate any smells that may result.  Japanese toilets are even becoming famous for playing music or water sounds while someone is using them to mask any sounds that ones makes while in the bathroom.  I have mixed feelings about this – admittedly, hearing the sound of rushing water and walking into bathrooms that rarely smell bad (I’m only speaking from the women’s side here, fellas) are much nicer than alternatives.  On the flipside, however, I don’t want to pay a chunk more rent every month just because the toilet in my house happens to be a super toilet with bidet features and a heated seat.

Much to the chagrin of people all over the world, even Japanese pornography is censored.  Everything is viewable, save for the groin region of any participants – these areas are covered with a pixel mask, and it’s up to the viewer’s imagination to fill in the blanks.  Even TV is occasionally censored for what I’d consider little to no skin showing: I saw a preview for a show where several panelists were doing yoga-like stretches.  The shirts of some of the women dropped a little bit down their bodies, and viewers would have been able to see a teeny bit of cleavage (nothing like in the states, mind you), were it not for the same pixel mask applied over their chests.

The “covering up” continues into every day objects – there are covers for paper of every imaginable size. I’ve seen covers shaped exclusively for use by bananas (isn’t that what the peel is for?), a present inside a box inside a bag inside a bag, covers for books so people on the train can’t see what you’re reading (these are provided by bookstores), and women even still use parasols here in the summer (to keep their skin out of the sun).  I know there’s more, but after a while, one starts to assimilate, and things of this nature start to seem normal.

I like to think I’m not obsessed with hiding everything – I tend to keep my clutter out in the open.  Otherwise, I’m pretty sure I’d lose it all.  Besides, I think some things are much more worth hiding than others.

Like this stash of Reese’s Pieces I still have left over from my trip back to the states.

(P.S. – To anyone who arrived here searching for Japanese porn, sorry to disappoint you. :p)

6 Comments

  1. Gram Gram January 15, 2011

    Another good one, Alisha. I still think you should start to write your book. Love You, Gram

  2. Anana Anana January 15, 2011

    Hi Alisha,

    I just read all of your posts. You write amazing. I hope to hear more of your life in Tokyo. I hope to get there next year. I watched all of your youtube videos, too. Please upload some more 😉

    Greetings from rainy Stuttgart, Germany
    Anana

  3. Gweb Gweb January 16, 2011

    I never understood the reason behind covering your books up. I asked a friend about this and even they didn’t know. They summed it up to tradition. Which seems to be the answer to everything. I don’t think I’ll ever know. I’ll just accept it. Bring on the pixels.

  4. Taka Taka March 4, 2011

    Hi, I enjoyed your blog as a Japanese who’ve lived in US. Just in case you are still wondering what the cover of toilet paper for, it is likely a paper weight-like cover so you can tear a paper nicely! (you need to set a roll the way a end of paper comes up under a cover.) However, there are even (fabric) covers for this “cover” in Japan, so most people don’t care what it was for any more.

    I think this industrial design was imported from some Western country (perhaps US) where a toilet roll was invented. Indeed, I found a similar one in some shopping site.

    I’ve also never seen a Japanese-style toilet paper holder here US, and I no longer care an orientation of a roll and a cold seat.

    Good luck with your life in Japan!

  5. sacrilible sacrilible March 22, 2011

    Hey sister,

    I just watched a documentary called Freakonomics. It’s based on the book by the same name and maybe you’ve read it.

    Anyway, one of the segments in the movie was about Sumo wrestling and the cheating scandal that came out a few years back. The whole part of the movie talks about the Japanese culture of covering things. The film makers referred to honne and tatamae (I’m going totally off of memory on those spellings) and how they mean “the surface of things” and “the hidden truth”. Or something like that.

    If you get Netflix over there, can rent it, or have some desire to watch the movie, then check it out! I feel like it is related.

    bro.

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