Did a bit of Christmas shopping today – mostly of the window variety – at my favorite big-box electronics stores in Akihabara. Biggest item I actually purchased (rather than lusted after) was a hard-drive case, which hopefully I can use to hold the hard drive of my old (and now, non-booting) Apple G4 computer and recover some files.
On the way home, near Kawasaki Station, I also returned to a little store I’d stumbled across a few weeks ago while wandering through a nearby residential neighborhood. It’s across the street from LaZona, the huge and sleek new shopping center there, just a tiny storefront on the edge of side street: I discovered it as I was taking a shortcut through the neighborhood trying to get to LaZona. The store – whose name I don’t recall – had a Philippines flag on it, which is what got my attention. Curious, I went in, and sure enough it was a Filipino food store, presumably serving expatriate Filipinos.1 I browsed a bit, looking at the various offerings (adobo sauce mix, snack foods, Coca-Cola made with sugar instead of corn syrup, etc.) and bought some items. I’d come back today to pick up a few more items, including some gifts for a co-worker.
The co-worker, a mostly American-raised Japanese guy I’ll call T.H., is a heavy smoker, and when I go the States, he always asks me to pick up some packs of Marlboro cigarettes for him. Yes, they sell Marlboros here, but they’re domestically manufactured and according to T.H. they taste different from the U.S. versions. When I’d been in the Filipino food store the last time, I noticed that they sold Marlboros, with the labels indicating that they’d been manufactured in Manila. I asked the store owner if they tasted differently than the Japanese versions, and she shrugged and said, “I don’t know, I don’t smoke. But people want them, so I sell them.” I bought a couple of packs, and gave them to T.H. to try when I came to the office on Monday.
Later that day, T.H. came to my desk and simply said, “More.”
So, a few more packs today.
Dinner was inside the LaZona mall, at the local branch of California Pizza Kitchen – yes, they have them here – which I’d also stumbled over last month. I had a Five-Cheese Pizza, a cup of Tortilla Soup, and a Coke. I also got a coupon good for ¥500 off on future visits to this and other American-franchised restaurants in Japan owned by the same company, which, according to the list on the back of the coupon, turns out to include Tony Roma's, the Hard Rock Café – and the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. That's right, that theme-restaurant chain based on the movie Forrest Gump. Gad, there’s a Bubba Gump Shrimp Company in Tokyo? Why would a country that sets such store by fresh – even raw – seafood be in the market for the American-style deep-fried whatevers of an American seafood chain? The mind boggles, and I guess I have to check it out for myself. Not to eat, probably, just to look. Though given that I have – of my own free will and more than once – eaten at T.G.I. Friday's and Outback Steakhouse, I ought not be snobbish here.3
1As I understand it, Filipinos here largely work as domestics for the wealthier expats. The bulletin board at the expats’ favorite grocery store (National Azabu in Hiroo) shows a lot of that, based on the Help Wanted/Jobs Wanted postings there. So goes the economic progress of Japan: thirty or forty years ago or earlier, Japanese working as domestic servants for wealthy – or even not so wealthy – expatriates based in Tokyo would seem perfectly normal. Now, it’s unimaginable that any Japanese person would need to.
This was brought up for me when I browsed through a Japanese phrase book I bought from a bargain-book catalog and came across several pages on Japanese phrases to use with your domestic servants, including a section entitled “Interviewing a Maid” (including sentences like "Will you take care of children?" (Kodomo no sewa o shite kudasaimasu ka?) and "Can you cook Western food"? (Anata wa seiyō-ryōri ga tsukuremau ka?)).
“Buh?!?” was my instant reaction, because I knew, without even thinking about it, that it was wildly out-of-place. I looked at the copyright page, and sure enough, the book was copyrighted 1969, with a last printing date of 1991.
2I once told T.H. about this seafood theme restaurant chain, found across the United States, and he refused to believe such a movie-based restaurant actually existed, or that these places all have fake bus benches out front where Bubba Gump impersonators sit and pose for pictures. “Come ON, you’re making that up,” he said. I wasn’t, and I had to take a picture of the branch at San Francisco’s Pier 39 shopping center at Fisherman’s Wharf on my next visit to the States, just to prove it.
3Lest you think that every brand name of the American culinary arts here – including, of course, McDonald's, Domino's Pizza, and KFC (aka "Kentucky") – involves either pizza, burgers, or all things deep-fried, I should also point out that there are outposts of the food empires of Wolfgang Puck, Todd English, Roy Yamaguchi, and Lawry's The Prime Rib here in Tokyo.