It has always surprised me how so often in Japan, the beauty of the countryside loses out to the convenience of the city. To most Japanese people, the countryside is backward and just not suited for everyday living. Nature is like a video to be watched for a few hours during your free time, preferably from the car window. To live among nature is too inconvenient — too far from work, too far from the convenience store. Like freedom is always a good thing in America, convenience is always a good thing in Japan. No one stops to question it.
Enjoying a bus stop in the countryside with all the conveniences of home: beer, a sofa and pornographic DVDs.
The Japanese should be happy to know that the countryside is getting more convenient. So convenient, they just might be able to live there again. Even on my little island in the Seto Inland Sea, every night I go to sleep to the sounds of nature and the glow of vending machines.
You’ve got to wonder why, especially in the countryside, these machines need to be lit up all night long. Is it so reassuring to know that if you can’t get to sleep you can get a cup of coffee from the vending machine in the middle of the night?
With 2.6 million drink vending machines in Japan, you have to wonder if there isn’t some other purpose for so many machines to be glowing all night long. Like the Nazca Lines in Peru, perhaps vending machines are like lanterns for the gods, or beacons for night-flying migrating birds. And why is there a vending machine at the top of Mount Fuji? For Santa Claus, of course.
Japan also has beer vending machines, something I have always enjoyed the freedom — I mean convenience — of. But by law, beer machines have to be turned off at 11 p.m. I’ve never understood this, though. It seems to me this is the time the beer machines should open, not close. But beer machines are slowly disappearing in a national movement to curb underage drinking. Instead, let’s encourage people to wander around at any time of the night looking for a vending machine where they can drink caffeine, then continue walking around the neighborhood because they’re wide awake.
Recently, I was surprised to find a stand alongside a country road, at a place where you’d normally expect to find a fruit stand, where they were selling something even juicier: porn. From vending machines. Apparently countryside peeping Toms need reading material too. But even more surprising was that these machines selling porn DVDs and magazines were on a bus route. You can actually take the bus to your favorite porn vending machine. Talk about, um, convenience!
Perhaps this is a way to get the perverts out of the city. Or maybe the machines are a service for those who forget to bring their porn with them on their way out the door to work, or for those who might need some reading material on the bus. I don’t think I’d want to ride the bus with someone who gets on at this bus stop — especially if they sit in the back.
As foreigners, we are often shocked by such freedoms in Japan. Because our own countries just aren’t so convenient.
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The Japan Times: Sept. 3, 2005
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