Near Yellow Mountain

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Size Matters


I am in the Kansai area for a few days. I like the straight forward no frills style of the Osaka area. I got a great view on Mt Fuji from the Shinkansen on the way to Kyoto where I had my first meeting of the day.  It is very humid in July so I was anxious to get my suitcase packed away in a locker at the station before carrying it around caused me to sweat though my clothes. Memo to self – remember to wear white shirts when it is over 30 C……..
Normally I check into a hotel before going to meetings but since I am staying in Osaka and my first meeting was in Kyoto, I had to go the station locker route. My new roller bag isn’t that big but I was at a small station and it took three of us force my bag in the locker. Two pushing on the door and one to put the coins in and yank the key out.  As sweat poured off the three off us after we got the locker door shut, I started to remember how the scale of everything from meal serving sizes to parking spaces in Japan were so different than the US.
My daughters were seven and ten when we arrived in Kobe. They were used to large American portions so an “S” meaning “small” size on the Japanese menu seemed to be the right choice when we visited a Wendy’s in Kobe during our first month in the city.  I will never forget the look on my younger daughter’s face when she was served her first “S” size drink. “Well Dad, I guess  ‘S’ means “sample” in Japan.  Although she was not technically correct; she was absolutely right – from then on we struck “S” from our ordering vocabulary. Even an “M” was risky. “L” was the only safe bet.  Japanese “L” almost equals American “S”.
The next shock came when my wife decided to take me to Teppanyaki for Kobe beef on my birthday. We were aware that Kobe was known worldwide for the quality of the beef so when we each ordered the $100 Kobe Beef set menu, we were quite sure we would sated on the signature product of our adopted city. Unfortunately, we didn’t read the fine print. $100 got you a small shrimp starter, salad, miso soup, dessert and coffee or tea plus 100 grams (weight before cooking) of Kobe beef. I was not raised on the metric system but I was aware that a pound was 454 grams which when I did the math meant I was getting less than a quarter pound of Kobe beef (before shrinkage). It actually looked like even less as I looked at the tiny cubes of meat on my plate.  Another day another “sample” – life goes on.
Our next surprise was when our car was delivered by the leasing agency. We were impressed by the sonar based parking assist feature and the retractable side mirrors although we thought it was a little odd how much was spent explaining how the mirror folded back. Once we started to drive and park the car, we understood that the folding back mirrors were not really an option - without them we could not have parked in many of the tight parking spaces. My wife quickly mastered the difficulty of parking in Japan - I did not.

Another parking oddity was the fact the someone from the local government came out and measured our parking spot. We lived in a high end apartment building with an ample number or reasonable sized assigned parking spots. The government knew the situation but each time a new resident registered a car, two people came to our parking garage to make sure the size was correct.
I guess they were afraid some criminal element was repainting our parking lines at night.

My time in Kansai was short. As I usually try do when I am in the Kobe area, I met my Japanese sensei for breakfast near my old apartment. I ordered a standard Japanese set breakfast (no "super size" option here)  and we spent an hour catching up - I was hungry again before I left the restaurant.............