This year's trip to Japan went by as quickly as ever, but maybe with a stronger force. I was mildly exhausted from a non-stop schedule for fourteen straight days. There were at least two days where I walked for hours temple-hopping and I was surprised that I didn't pass out. What this all means is that I need to spread out my energy more wisely and rest, or in other words, I am getting older. But there is so much to buy, so much to eat, and so many good places and wonderful people to see!
Since the earthquake and tsunami, the most visible effect of the disasters is the cutting back of electricity. Owners of large buildings and corporations have to cut back 15% of their normal usage to avoid a fine, and the general population seems to be doing their part voluntarily at home. There's solidarity, but there's also the practical matter of avoiding scheduled blackouts. In the summer, maybe the most noticeable consequence of cutting back ("setsuden") is that the air conditioners are weak and the escalators don't operate during off-peak hours. When everyone else around you is into setsuden--whether it's felt in conversations with neighbors, on the trains, in the stores, or even when watching commercials or glancing at skylines--it's easy to fall into the habit of cutting back. I've been unplugging unused things at home since returning to Chicago (at least more so than when I saw "An Inconvenient Truth" and saw those poorly drawn CG polar bears drowning and felt faintly bad about wasting energy), and I've even considered minimizing the use of the laundry dryer. However, I am having a hard time even thinking about giving up the dishwasher (heaven-sent) and increasing AC temps (Mitsu has two coats of fur! [Or 1.5, as she's blowing the undercoat out right now]).
After observing Japanese women's fashion (and men's, to an extent) and reflecting on past observations, I've concluded that I must be more American (Midwestern?) in my approach to fashion. I tried, with my collared shirts and not-cut-off-denim-shorts (I cannot wear them stylishly like the Osakan girl above); I even wore heels twice (Birks or Top Siders were on standby in an extra tote). But I just cannot keep up with them! In my eyes, the Japanese know how to dress impeccably, from head to toe, as if every move were not only calculated, but also perfected since, say, junior high. I get the feeling that people over there are also aware of what looks good on them, and what doesn't, which I think this is an impressive, if slightly vain, accomplishment for any person. I remember one girl pinning her bangs on the train to maintain an ever-so-subtle but important curl, and by the time she got to her destination (Shibuya), she unpinned them and they indeed curled out to the side in a delicate, airy, magazine perfection sort of way. Anyway, it just seems like there is so much detail-oriented care put into every single decision regarding clothes, accessories, hair, and makeup. One of my cousins suggests that everyone does it because everyone else does it, which I think is a similar spirit behind everyone setsuden-ing with one another. I wonder if I would pick up on the "society > individual" mentality if I was ever in Japan for a longer period of time, or if I would grow tired of it. But I did catch the shopping bug, especially since it was "soldes"/"bargain"/"sale" season right when I was there, so I have some new outfits, as well as a somewhat renewed sense of caring how I look. We'll see how long this lasts, because it's hard to care about anything when it feels like a sauna when you step outside even for a brief moment.