Restrooms Around the World
(Aug., 2000)

Superstitions Around the World
(April, 2000)

Date Spots Around the World (Feb. 1, 2000)

New Year's Around the World (Dec. 1999)

Popular Sports Around the World (Oct. 1999)

It's Your Funeral! (Aug. 1998)

Restrooms Around the World
(Aug., 2000)

”Russia -- Never sit down on a toilet seat in Russia!
You would be wise not to go into restrooms other than your own or those of someone you know. Old restrooms often have no toilet seats (it seems they are often stolen in Russia) and you have to use it in a semi-seated posture. Also, in the suburban areas there are still some "door-less restrooms", as in China. What is even scarier is that I always sat on the toilet seat whenever I could find a restroom with one. However, one day I discovered that there are always footprints and a sheet of spray on the public toilet seat, even in the high-class hotels. As you can imagine, Russian people stand on the toilet seat when they use it! A Russian lady has since told me, " You should never ever sit on a toilet seat other than in your own house."
-- Michiko, housewife, Petersburg.

” Italy -- How to use a bidet
Mention Italian restrooms and the bidet would probably spring to mind. In Japan, it's generally considered to be used for cleaning sexual organs after intercourse, but really it's much more than that. In Italy, it would be used on a daily basis more for cleaning the posterior after defecation. Or if you are a woman, you can use it during menstruation or after childbirth. Additionally, you can wash small items like socks or underwear in it, or put in some hot water and baking soda and bathe your feet in when it's cold. It makes the desiccated bottoms of your feet smooth. Nothing is more comfortable and convenient than this, once you get used to it.
-- Puccione, translator, Vicentino.

”Korea -- Please do not flush.
Korean people use flush lavatories the same as in Japan. The slight difference being that you can't flush the toilet tissue down the drain. You have to throw out the used paper into the wastebaskets provided, in private homes and even in restaurants or stations. Even in the famous Lotte department store! The poor quality of paper (insoluble in water) and the insufficient water pressure in the drains clog up the lavatory. Furthermore, since they don't clean the wastebaskets, the waste paper is usually piled up! Also, there are still some Japanese-style lavatories in some places, like department stores. Korean people seem to prefer Japanese-style toilets to Western-style because they think they're more hygienic.
-- Kyoko, interpreter, Osaka

”Germany -- A reflection of the national character.
You can often find luxurious "powder rooms" made of marble stone in Japan. In comparison, German restrooms are very simple and functional. Even the restrooms in respectable hotels are more like the ones you find in pubs in Japan. The ones made of bleached tiles and stark-white partitions. When you enter the restroom of a fancy cafŽ, you can see your reflection in a full-length mirror, under lights as bright as the blaze of noon. In this country, restrooms are considered to be just a place to wash and not stay too long. The condom vending machines, with which the ladies' rooms are equipped without exception, might also be a symbol of functionalism.
-- Erisu, translator & interpreter, Bonn.

Superstitions Around the World
(April, 2000)

(Moscow, Russia)
It's unlucky to walk on a street where a black cat is crossing. Spilling the salt at breakfast may make you quarrel. Look in a mirror when you fetch something from home, or you will be in for some bad luck. Students who are studying for an exam must not tidy their rooms. You can make a wish when two people with the same name are sitting on both sides of you.

(Sheffield, UK)
It's unlucky to put shoes on a table or to walk under a ladder. Some taxi drivers carry a matchbox full of straw as a lucky charm. A rabbit's foot is considered lucky. It's unlucky if Christmas trees and trimmings are not taken down on the night of January 6.
(Luzon, Philippines)
It's unlucky for a bride to try on her wedding dress before the ceremony. A baby under one year old must be kept at home, safe from evil spirits. If you absolutely have to take the baby out, pierce his or her ears with gold or red string. Socks, slippers, or shoes are unlucky gifts.

(Taichung, Taiwan)
Eating chimaki will help you pass your entrance exams. Children are told not to point their fingers at the moon, or they'll lose their ears. A girl with one line instead of two parallel lines on her palm is said to be lucky, except in marriage: her husband may die young.

(Ambositra, Madagascar)
Don't lie, or you'll give birth to a snake. Don't point at a grave. Don't eat and sing at the same time, or your teeth will grow long. Only children believe adhere to these superstitions. Superstitions such as "Don't cut your nails at night" or "Don't play with fire, or you'll wet your bed" are believed in my country, too. To stop his child from wetting the bed, a father in Madagascar yells at the boy's penis, "Why do you do that?" Do Japanese fathers do this, too?

Date Spots Around the World
(Feb. 1, 2000)

(Talca, Chile)
Most couples in Chile don't spend money on shopping or cafe. Teenagers meet their friends on street corners, where people gather to talk with neighbors and friends. Nightclubs are for wealthy businesspeople. As far as I know, in South America, men do not pick up girls on the street and girls do not accept invitations from strangers. This is much different from the way the Japanese make friends.

(Beijing, China)
Bars and discos that attract foreign visitors, such as the Hard Rock Cafe in Beijing, are popular among dating couples. In Sanlitun there are many kinds of bars, including a gay bar. Flavor Milk Tea Room is a trendy spot, where young couples enjoy milk teas of various flavors such as azuki bean or coconut. Most Chinese men treat their girlfriends like queens. I think Chinese men are very kind to women.

(Damascus, Syria)
In Damascus, we have a park like Odori Park, which attracts couples. We have 250 clear days a year, and the park is an enjoyable place for a date. Mt. Zabadani near Damascus is a popular summer retreat, where open-air restaurants serve delicious shish-kebab. Because Syria is close to Europe, bars and nightclubs are available even though the country is Muslim. Usually, men ask women for a date, but sometimes it is women who suggest it.

(Katowice, Poland)
Dating couples spend their time in the park or cafe surrounded by historic houses and streets. Because we don't need a passport to travel within Europe, showy couples may date in Paris, Rome or Venice. Polish men are very kind and treat women very well. They sometimes present a rose to their girlfriends on a date. I hear Polish men attract Japanese women, too. I also hear that those who have been in Japan a long time find it difficult to recall how to win a woman's heart when they return home.

(Moscow, Russia)
Gorky Park of Culture and Leisure is a popular romantic destination. Lovers meet in front of the merry-go-round near the entrance of the park. Maniesh Square near Red Square is another meeting place. There are many fountains, and in the center of the square you can see a crowd waiting for friends around an sculpture of the Earth, a scene that reminds me of Hachiko in Tokyo. Under the fountains is a three-story underground shopping complex, which has restaurants and game centers. Going to the movies was popular a decade ago in the Soviet era, but now it's passŽ. Dating couples do not go skiing because it's more competitve than romantic for us.

New Year's Around the World (Dec. 1999)

We celebrate New Year's three times a year in Thailand. We visit a temple for worship on January 1. At the Lunar New Year, we present offerings of sweet rice cake with coconut or bean paste to our ancestors. This is the biggest New Year holiday, because of the great many Chinese-Thais who live in Thailand. Mihsuwa and Anpao are well known as New Year's dishes. April 13 is a special day, the Thai New Year's day, when we celebrate by splashing each other with water for happiness and long life.

In China, we celebrate the Lunar New Year by feasting on meat-filled buns, fried foods, and dumplings. We put coins into dumplings for good luck, and everyone gets one since there're so many! We also eat rice cakes on January 15. Firecrackers are have been banned in cities, so we're not allowed to set them off now.

The New Year in Bulgaria is like a Christmas family reunion. The whole family gathers and feasts on roast pig, ham, pork, and duck. Champagne sometimes accompanies these. Visits are made to grandparents and other relatives. Some young people go out with their friends.

Australia celebrates its New Year in summer (in case you didn't know). Many people stroll around on New Year's Eve, drinking and partying from early evening. I used to go to my favorite bar and enjoy fireworks. The next day I usually spend sleeping. Sydney City Festival runs from January 1 to 26 and provides many entertainments.

Most Turks are Muslims, so we don't celebrate Christmas on December 25. Instead, our Christmas Eve is the 31st. Christmas trees are decorated all around town, and department stores have special events such as giving sweets to children. Family members exchange Christmas presents. Families gather for banquets at home or at restaurants the following day. We spend the rest of the day watching TV or talking.

Popular Sports Around the World (Oct. 1999)

Alexander Kotchev (Bulgaria)
The most popular sport is definitely soccer. People like to watch the game on TV while drinking beer. Among young people, martial arts like Karate and Kung-fu are also popular. I've been practicing Karate since I was 12. I don't know much about female sports, but folk dancing is one. Bulgarian folk dances have lots of complicated steps and require quick moves. You can say it's almost a sport.

Siripohn Sawamoto (Thailand)
Popular sports in Thailand are soccer and Muay Thai, Thai kick-boxing. Almost all Thai men have played soccer at least once. People like to both play and watch. Martial arts like kick-boxing and Muay Thai have been popular since old times. There are many success stories around these sports, like men who were born poor and become famous through these sports. Many of them are from northern Thailand. There are not many seasonal sports, as it's always warm in Thailand. One thing I can think of is boat racing, as there are always Regattas in the rainy season.

Pu Shunhua (China)
Popular sports in China are volleyball, table tennis, track and field sports and badminton. Volleyball is especially popular, as the Chinese national team is one of the most competitive teams in the world. Many people seem to believe that the government picks up talented children in sports and puts them into the special schools, but it's very rare. In most cases, parents bring their children to clubs or organizations for additional training. It may be the same as in Japan. Regarding traditional sports, each ethnic group has their own traditional sport, as China is a multiracial nation. Mongolian wrestling is one of them, but it's not as famous in China as it is in Japan.

Stuart Iles (Australia)
People may think of "Aussie Rules Football" as a popular sport, but it's only popular in Perth, Adelaide, and Melbourne. In Sydney, where I was born, and in Brisbane, rugby is much more popular. There is a professional league and people like to watch the game eating meat pies and drinking beer. Next to rugby, soccer is popular. These two are winter sports. In summer, the most popular is cricket. The season for this sport is from November to March. People also like to eat meat pies and drink beer at the stadium, where sixty thousand fans gather regularly. Once in several years, the world cup is held in one of seven or eight countries. Other than that, golf is popular and can be played throughout the year.

It's Your Funeral! (Aug. 1998)

Funerals: Shop Before You Drop
You plan your own wedding, so why not your own funeral? Since the early '90s, companies in Japan have been helping people to do just that.
Self-planned funerals have been gaining in popularity as an alternative to the traditional Buddhist ceremony and burial of ashes in the family grave, a trend funeral directors have attributed to increases in unmarried women, who may have fewer family ties, and decreases in multi-generational households, where distance may separate people from their ancestors' hometown.
Lack of choice is another reason people are moving away from tradition, another funeral director explains. Companies try to sell a prearranged funeral package which fits the bereaved family's finances but does not recognize the deceased's individuality. He recommends that customers shop around, just as with buying anything.
Some people not only plan their own funeral, they attend it while still living! This is perfect if you've been dying to know who would show up and what they would say.
Another way of arranging one's own passage to the afterlife is to have one's ashes scattered in a natural setting. Although this practice is legal in Japan, there are some restrictions on places where ashes can be placed. And though cheaper than the common Buddhist ceremony, it still involves costs and planning, for example, renting a boat for burial at sea.
For a personal touch, music may come into play, such as when Hide of the popular rock group "X Japan", passed on. Co-band members paid tribute to their departed friend by singing.
However, theatrical extravaganzas like Hide's have become expensive, according to one funeral director, who doesn't expect them to catch on for another five or ten years, particularly in Hokkaido.
Of course, thinking about dying means thinking about the living, and no final act is as selfless as organ donation, even though it remains somewhat taboo in Japan. One donor organization is Donor Joho-yoh Zenkoku Kyohtsu Renraku-saki (tel. 0120-22-0149).
No matter how one chooses to leave this world, preparation is the key. Reflecting on death now can make the transition smooth and allow us to cherish life that much more.

Funerals of the World

Fire, Song, Sex
The Kota people of Southern India mark death with a double funeral. First, the deceased is cremated and the skull is removed from the ashes. At a second cremation, the skull is burned with bone shards of other dead. The second cremation is accompanied by a four-stage funeral lasting 11 days. If the departed was a man, the family dances and mourns after the skull is burned, and the widow has sexual intercourse with her husband's close friends as a rite to reenter the flow of normal life.

Dapper Corpse
In rural Poland, the body is dressed in fine clothes to avoid shame in the world of the dead. Folklore has it that a shabbily dressed deceased risks becoming a vampire. Neighbors come to visit, and a wake and funeral are held. If the coffin feels heavy while being carried, it is said that the person's soul has gone to heaven. Unexpected death, such by accident or violence, is so feared that one Polish curse goes, "May you die suddenly!"

Last Seat
The Bontok tribe of the Philippines place the dead in a sitting position. Family members visit and sing. Elder women pour alcohol into the deceased's mouth to fasten de-composion. When the body has decomposed to the point of liquefaction, family members rub themselves with the excrescence, and the body is buried by young men.

Flowers for the Dead
In England, the family consults with a funeral director about cremation or burial. There are no laws restricting a family's disposal of the ashes. Flowers are sent to the deceased, not to the family as is done in Japan.

Fed to Birds
Tibetans carry the deceased to a special place and cut the body into pieces to be eaten by birds or other wild animals. Being eaten is seen as contributing to the world or bringing good luck. Sometimes, the bones are crushed and mixed with clay to make Buddhist statuary.

Exit in White
About 90 percent of Japanese funerals follow Buddhist rites. Traditionally, the body has been washed with hot water, dressed in white, and laid out with no pillow and with the head pointing north. A Buddhist name is given to the deceased by the Buddhist priest, and an all-night wake is held before the cremation. The bones are gathered in a small jar which is placed in the home for 49 days, before burial in a family grave.

Death, the Final Frontier
A space funeral service called Eathview has been started by Celestis Co. A rocket carrying lipstick-sized containers each holding 7 mg of ash departs the Earth for a final journey into space. The capsules will orbit for a year and a half to ten years, until they burn up in the atmosphere. In the first Earthview launch, in 1997, the ashes of 24 people went heavenward - including the remains of Star Trek creator Gene Rodenbery. A five-year boy and two other Japanese were sent by this service in 1998. The fee is 1 million yen, which includes a program, memorial video and magazine. Contact:

Picnic at a Cemetery?
In Japan, going to a cemetery originally was a custom for families to get together, praying for the deceased and dining afterwards. Tombstones and monks: that sort of thing. Cemeteries, after all, have just been cemeteries. But Makomanai Takino Cemetery Park is a horse of a different color. Reproductions of the enigmatically smiling Moai of Easter Island and Greek gods welcome you at the entrance. A Stonehenge look-alike stands on a spacious, neatly mowed lawn.

It was a beautiful day when Xene staff visited, and amidst couples and families picnicking, we had lots of fun running around, sipping wine and reminding about our departed friend. This is a new direction in cemeteries - and a welcome one! Makomanai Takino Reien, Takino 2, Minami-ku, Sapporo/011-592-1223.