Saturday, February 28, 2009

Out of the woodwork, into your reusable bag!

Welcome to March! I took a month off. I promised myself not to dwell if that happened, but apologies nonetheless. I still need something to get back into the groove of blogging, though. And, as a great man (or woman?) must have said in one of the cartoons or tween dramas I once coveted: When in doubt, stall.

So, a year ago. Over a year ago. I was 23, just out of college, working a job for which I was already overqualified, and ready to go back to a country that considers poisonous blow fish a major delicacy. (That and raw horse. Oh, you never hear about that one, do you.) A month before shipping off, I quit that job by the book, and made cookies for my infantile coworkers which they subsequently ignored, just as they ignored my leaving. Fortunately I also made those cookies for the super awesome coworkers who gave me cute chopsticks that I'm still using, and which have been surprisingly useful, even though countless forests have been sacrificed to ensure that I can always and whenever snag a free pair of wooden eating utensils. Wrapped in plastic, just to make sure Mother Earth feels it when you punch her in the gut.

Ooh, that sounds like a tangent I just can't refuse.

I know that the States are working on a Green movement of their own right now, with Whole Foods suspending plastic bags and all. There's something similar going on in Japan, of course - a number of supermarkets and food stands have come up with ways to encourage customers to eschew plastic in favor of a cloth or vinyl "My Bag" (マイバッグ) that the customer brings for him-or-herself. Said bags are often offered in exchange for points collected by buying certain products - the bread companies are huge on this. While the bigger chains will usually just take a few cents off your purchase, a sort of reversal of the Whole Foods method of charging for the plastic bags themselves, smaller stores offer another point card, giving out stamps or stickers for every bagless purchase of ¥200 or more. In addition, while these cards are generally the same for most stores, and can be used interchangeably, some of the national supermarkets give out their own, exclusive point cards.

Clothing stores and restaurants tend to have point cards, too. It's very easy to lose track of your point cards. And if you don't, and manage to remember said card twenty times or so, and salvage enough tiny, soiled stickers, you'll probably be rewarded with fifty yen or so off when you buy overpriced broccoli. Mazel tov! Moving on.

The "Eco" (エコ) movement, Japan's mandatory abbreviation for "Ecologically Friendly" (which English speakers further transformed into a mandatory metaphorical representation in its "Green" movement), doesn't stop with cloth bags that most people don't care about. You can also buy overpriced, eco-friendly thermos cups for coffee! And, the source of the tangent, reusable bamboo chopsticks, also known as "My Hashi" (マイ箸), which you are expected to tuck into your bag and carry on your person at all times, just in case you're struck with the munchies and need to nip into one of the three or four convenience stores on every block to buy a calorically unsound "bento" lunchbox. (Convenience stores and bento. There are two topics that'll be revisited fairly soon.) For the record? I still can't figure out how "My Hashi" are any different from the chopsticks that you can buy for 99 cents or so in bargain stores. Maybe they're imbued with extra smugness. That would explain a lot about the Japanese psyche. Or maybe, in this case, the ¥1000 yen bill that you exchage for two dull sticks is the equivalent of another point card.

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