Thursday, April 30, 2020

Wave of the Future

Please Stay Home is undoubtedly going to to be extended, probably until the first of June, at least, and will likely become PLEASE Stay Home, with more types of businesses being asked to close and more park playgrounds closing -- some are doing it on their own. My own little park is full of kids almost all day, if it's nice out. They do stick in very small groups (usually a child or two and one or two parents, who are living together anyway) but it's very hard to keep 3 and 4 year olds from running over to see each other. Whether this kind of park will close is yet to be determined. Whether my BIG park along the river will close or not, I have no clue.

While there is much promising research going on for COVID treatments, and those may be usable in just a few months, a vaccine is out in the future somewhere.  The way we live now, with no non-essential trips, with those businesses who can do so moving on line, with schools teaching on-line and doctors seeing people -- especially for routine appointments -- on line, and making it possible for people to work at home and do business at home, is going to be something we're going to get used to.

We might like it. I always loved working at home. No commute? That's wonderful!  School on line would be harder, but I think it's possible. Schools contribute more to children's growth than what's in textbooks. Exercise? People, including families, are walking and biking and there are routines on line for those who want yoga, cardio and probably more in a structured environment or to learn something new.  A Kendo school group is now meeting on line, and I think more such groups will start doing so. All to the good.

I want parks and museums back. I want to go to the Kabuki-za, although I am thankful for their on-line performances, which I enjoy. The Globe Theatre is going to show Shakespeare performances. I can't wait! And I don't need a plane to go!

But I lied.

I needed something -- organic non-toxic cure for black spot on my rose -- and I do know where to get it, I think. It involves a trip on a train to a big garden store.  I didn't really want to do that. Not now. So I went back to Amazon JP.

They did eventually send the missing lentils. And I did update to show that the missing money transaction was reversed and my order cancelled. I was able to place the order again using a credit card this time, so there is a set of grievance procedures that might actually work, layering the not at all helpful automated systems of Amazon and PayPal.

I had to go to the dentist -- the never-ending saga of my ongoing and massive dental work -- and while there, I went to a branch of the best bakery in Tokyo, where I can get organic French bread that is REAL French bread, with a nice crust. I stocked up. But the bakery is on limited hours now and the stock was down, with only one person working. This bakery has branches all over the country; same deal everywhere. The high-fashion boutiques owned by the same company are likewise closed or on limited hours. They'll be moving more of their operations on-line I expect, but shopping and eating out are recreational activities in urban Japan. Almost all restaurants are closed, but offer take-out (even for those walking by) and delivery. I wonder. What's going to happen to restaurants and retail?

What's going to happen to clothes? Though I get dressed every day and go for a walk if nothing else (we're allowed), I am just not wearing as many clothes. I look at clothes and think I have more than enough clothes! I don't need more clothes! I don't think I'm alone in this.

So many things we just aren't going to need.  So many things we're not going to do. Entertainment is already going on line, even things like concerts and live theater. How will entertainment change?

Will we ever go back to living the same way?

Not commuting, not traveling, not "maintaining a wardrobe", not going out for entertainment, but organizing on-line activities instead have all cut pollution. The planet is healing. This is FANTASTIC. This is something we want to encourage.

So I hope we don't go back. I'd rather go ahead.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Shopping Expensively On-Line -- UPDATED

I was thrilled when I hooked into Amazon Japan. I've been hearing horror stories about Amazon US, both in terms of shipping dates -- way out in the future, or not even available for food except for existing customers -- and in terms of writers' recent experiences. Royalty statements aren't coming. Data isn't showing up where and when it should. Royalties aren't coming. Help usually doesn't, but now it doesn't respond at all and it's taking much longer than usual, according to about half of those reporting, to get a book put up for sale there. Reviews are screwy but they always are.

Surely Amazon Japan would be better.  Well, sort of.

I found the selection disappointing overall. But I DID find oatmeal, extremely expensive organic oatmeal in a 2 pound bag! Given that what I usually buy comes from France, in small quantities, and is already expensive, this seemed OK.

Dill pickles! I've been wanting dill pickles forever! And I haven't been able to find them here. Gherkins, yes, but they don't taste quite right. I decided to take a chance and order what I thought was a large jar of them. They were very expensive, but there are something I just can't get. What arrived was a small jar. This makes them the approximate cost of Beluga Caviar. They are good, though.

A big bag of brown lentils (which has yet to arrive) was cheap and they had a good hand cream and a face cream I like to use. The face cream was about three times the cost of the same product in the US, but at least I could get it without waiting for a friend to bring it from the US. I am sure there's something similar by a Japanese company that's equally good, but I'd have to go to a department store and seriously shop to find it -- and I can't do that now: they're closed.

UPDATE: The lentils never did arrive. They were said to be in the box with the oatmeal. They weren't. There is no way to tell Amazon that something was omitted from a shipment. After about an hour, I tried to RETURN the lentils I never received, and they said they would send them again, and I could keep the ones I had (not received) because I had said they were "defective or missing a part." When there is no effective customer service and the possibility that they screwed up is totally absent from their universe, I find this unsatisfactory. In the future, ONLY if there is no way to avoid it. 

They didn't have vegetarian baked beans, but they did have what is supposed to be very large cans of English-style beans-on-toast beans, and even without an oven, I can fake it.  I ordered what is supposed to be (not here yet) two huge cans of these. You have to buy two. Also expensive. UPDATE: The cans are not huge. That makes the cost not quite in the Beluga Caviar range, but pretty darned expensive. So...I can get salt-free Italian beans in cans at One Specific Store. When these are gone, and that won't take long, I'll see if I can fake it from a can or from scratch on a single burner. Time to get creative!

Then I ran out of some spices and can't find some others, so I tried iHerb. I found what I needed and tried to pay. Something glitched and somehow I have been charged by PayPal about ten dollars more than I should be. They haven't been responding to anything for quite some time except with unhelpful form letters. I have asked them who exactly gets that ten dollars, but I predict I will never find out.  Fortunately, spices last.  UPDATE: Somehow, magically, PayPal reversed the transaction and iHerb cancelled my order. PP denies it ever existed. Perhaps the magic happened before the denial, when it had already vanished from their universe. I went back to iHerb and ordered, for the correct amount, with a credit card. I am NEVER going to do PP again without running it through a credit card, because those have separate dispute resolution processes that occasionally work.  But I will get my spices.

Shipping is fine here. In fact, shipping is great here! It's fast and I have been spoiled. Usually, they tell you the day and you get to pick either a before-noon slot or your choice of two-hour windows during the day. If they happen to arrive when you're out, you can call or go on-line to schedule a window, usually the same day, when the carrier will return. Amazon gives you the day, but they are guaranteed to have to reschedule or wait all day long. Spoiled, like I said.

My conclusion: Shopping on line is a bust. It is far too expensive and I'm not going to do it any more. What I save on oatmeal is more than exceeded in the excess cost of everything else. I probably won't need to buy these spices for another year.  I am doing a lot of cooking, all amazingly healthy because I can't bake, but even in normal-sized spice jars, they'll last for quite some time.  When they run out I hope I can find them or order them from one of the FOUR major stores I can easily walk to, or from the one gourmet market I can walk to that remains open, or the other gourmet market I can walk to will be able to reopen (it's in the food floor of a closed department store.) UPDATE: Or I can pay iHerb, which I have always found reliable, a different way.

Please Stay Home is almost certain to be extended and become PLEASE Stay Home, with more classes of businesses asked to shutter, and possibly some penalties. Right now, there is the carrot of compensation for lost business, rather than a stick. Still, I saw two barbershops and one hairdressing place open, and saw a few small restaurants that were open for business, not just take-out, when I explored a different shopping street. We've been asked to shop only twice a week, by Mayor Koike. Since I have been shopping once a week, if that, no hardship there.

It IS working, but just not as much as they'd hoped, and there were people out on the Tamagawa walk and bike paths on this sunny Sunday, and on this new-to-me but close shopping street. It's supposed to rain tomorrow and Tuesday. Tonight's news said crowds were down further than last week. Infections in Tokyo are also down to 130. Pachinko parlors I have seen (only two around Kamata station) were closed, but I hear that's a problem in some places.

I have seedlings coming up: tomatoes and peppers. I think I know which previous seedlings are shiso and which are eggplants now. I have five sugar pea plants (all I planted) and they are coming along well. I My rose is going to bloom. The itty-bitty lemon tree that I grew from a seed is now about 8" tall and sending out new growth. No green beans or cucumbers yet, but they'll come.

The Eagle and the Sparrow, Book 7)  is going to come out a month or more early because I'm staying home, thank you, and working away. The Lotus-Foot Assassin Meets the Dragon King (a Sideways Story) is taking me into interesting old works about China in the 1820s.

All is not lost and much is well.

But I will start keeping track of what I can get where and alternate store trips, use up what I have that I forget about, hoard those spices and stay away from the computer when it comes to shopping.

Monday, April 13, 2020

A very Japanese lockdown

Today, I had a dentist appointment. Since this is a work in progress, I had to go.

My hairdresser's across the street. Prime Minister Abe exempted hairdressers from closure, although Gov. Koike (who, I couldn't help noticing, had just had her hair cut) wanted them to close. I also needed to go the Immigration office. I'd run out of black pepper. I wanted bread. I could, and I thought should, just knock these errands off one after the other so I wouldn't need to get on a train or a bus or leave my nice neighborhood again until my next dentist appointment. It was pouring rain, but that shouldn't affect people who have to go to work.
The train to the dentist should have been a sardine can, with everybody sucking it in and crowding together, as usual. Nope. There were even seats. People were spacing themselves. Everybody was masked, many wore street gloves.

The dentist has all kinds of protective measures in place, and says she has to stay open for works in progress like mine and for emergencies. All was well until my insurance card didn't work! It had expired. It was probably my fault -- I thought they'd just send me a new one -- but I had to pay the whole bill, which will be refunded next week when I present my new card at what I hope is the final appointment of Part One: Dentistry 2020. Add another errand, to go fix the insurance card.

I went across the street to get my hair cut, but they were closed and will remain closed. All restaurants and shops were closed, though they should have at least been preparing to open. Banks were open. A real estate office was closed. A station coffee bar was open. Because it was pouring, I didn't go two blocks farther to an organic bakery I frequent. Instead I hopped a bus to get to the train plus bus that would take me to Immigration. The first bus had about 7 people in it. The train was busier but there were enough vacant seats for people to be spread out no closer than alternate seats. I had a three seat bench to myself. The second bus, usually packed, had plenty of vacant seats.
Although many people have automatic extensions of their visa expiration dates, that's not true for everyone, and there are other things people (like me) have to do there. Remember, it's blowing hard and pouring out, but this is another thing that maybe can't be put off! For once, the weather folk were not quite accurate.

Immigration has a new system. Outside the building, you get in line to go into the lobby and get a card with a time on it. Then you go back outside to wait, somewhere, until your time and then you get in line to get into the building in small groups. For me, that took 45 minutes. You must be masked and you must use hand sanitizer or you don't get in. Upstairs, people line up to be admitted to the "get a number" line in small groups. The floor is clearly marked with where you stand. You get your number and go...somewhere, to wait. Alternate seats are blocked off. Tape on the floor shows where you are to stand. People were pretty good about keeping their distance. I waited an hour, but once my number came up, I was out of there within 15 minutes. Staff are all masked and gloved. All told, this adventure took 2 hours, not counting transportation, but on a normal day it would have taken at least 4, maybe 5.

Back to Shinagawa station, where all the department stores were closed as were all the restaurants I saw. Dean & DeLuca, City Bakery and many other small ground floor businesses, even those with take-out food, were shuttered. The train to Kamata station was, again, all but empty. Kamata station was like a ghost town, with the department stores shut, and many of the food businesses, too, except some of the ones specializing in take-out. I popped, damply, over to the city office to fix the insurance card issue. Three Chinese teenagers didn't keep their distance from each other in the elevator, but they kept it from me. A Grandma Glare was entirely effective. Again, barriers between staff and customers, masks and gloves all around, and please stop at the nice sanitizer station. 15 minutes and that was efficiently fixed.

The East side ground floor bakery I like was open so I was able to get bread. The gourmet store called "Supermarket" was also open so I got black pepper. The convenience stores I saw were open. Everything else was closed. It was raining harder still, so I treated myself to a cab to get home.

Conclusion: Tokyo doesn't need ORDERS. I saw no need for fines and jail terms. People respond to suggestions and recommendations. The culture of Shame plus a serious quantity of common sense have added up to Don't Go Out Unless You Must.

I'll take another look next Tuesday, at the end (I hope) of Part 1, Dentistry 2020.

Friday, April 10, 2020

My Tiny Tokyo Garden

I feel very fortunate to have this light and airy apartment (small though it is) with not merely a balcony but also a very small backyard attached.  I can do whatever I want with this little garden. Some people do nothing; others do a variety of things.  This is what I've done so far.

These are Rosemary and Thyme, with some cucumbers in between. You can see that I put down a "grass" rug, designed for just this purpose, to get rid of the incredible weeds out here. It lets the water through and should last for several years. This is a very common way to deal with weedy patches and provide a surface for outdoor living. Plain weed-block cloth, which I had down over the winter and still have around the edges is also widely used here. Just as long as it drains, and these do.

This is the entrance to my actual what -- balcony? Terrace? Deck? The sheltered place where I can dry clothes and keep outdoor supplies. I have a chair to put out here when it's warm, and it will be soon. The pot on top of the brick pillar has narcissus in it, still blooming, though they're little ones and hard to see.  To its left, you can see my rose! It has two buds!  It is a climber and should cover the entire translucent barrier in time. It's scented. I like that. When it blooms, I will show it off.

These are snap peas. I planted 5 in a container. Three are now up! There is a fence to serve as a trellis running down either side of my little patch. There is a vine that isn't kudzu that wants to take over the world growing all through here. I don't know if it will make room for the peas or the beans, squash and morning glories I planted in the narrow space underneath. I met an earthworm, so the regular soil is probably pretty good.  The weeds are VERY happy!

The back fence is lined with azaleas. Aren't they lovely? The 5 plants in my area aren't too happy, except for this one, so I got some secateurs and cut off as much of the deadwood as I could manage. Daiso 100 yen secateurs are worth about what you pay for them! As I filled more pots for peppers and tomatoes, I found I had enough compose to give each of them a nice dose of fertilizer, so I hope they will be happier with the deadwood gone and some nutrition. Little space, great fun, and amusement for months as I see what comes up and how it does. I hope you have some outdoors and that you can enjoy it both while we're all confined to quarters and long after.

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