Waste and avoiding waste in Japan 2

The Japanese wrapping cloth or Furoshiki is sold all over Kyoto as a souvenir and there are simply gorgeous prints available all over central Kyoto. Less often, indigo or other plant dyed furoshiki are available.  the furoshiki is the kind of multi purpose staple item surely basic in many cultures where once, having a piece of fabric to use would have been so significant it would have had many uses. The furoshiki is still in use and maybe even having a resurgence in Japan. See one tutorial about how to wrap your lunch box here. I did not see them in use a great deal while in Kyoto, but I did see them being used: most notably one evening when I saw a middle aged man riding his bicycle in a yukata, with two packages the size and shape of framed paintings wrapped in furoshiki in the back basket. I went to one shop several times where the charming and generous  woman who was serving in the shop had an extraordinary show and tell, demonstrating how to use furoshiki. She said she had made YouTube videos and I hope this one is her!

One day my friend was trying to explain something she wanted to buy in a chemist and I spent that time roaming around looking at all the things. Wondering over depictions of Japanese manly attractiveness and womanly attractiveness, for instance. Wondering what it is like to live in a place where cosmetics are advertised with pictures which include the good looking young woman whose appearance is being improved by the advertised product (I’m guessing) playing violin (top right image in the right hand photo below).

Imagine my surprise (because a lifetime living in Australia) to discover that in Japan, cleaning your ears doesn’t necessarily involve cotton buds (Q tips). Here are two different models of ear pick.  My eyes popped out!  But once I knew what they were I realised I was looking at bamboo ear picks as a low price point item in a knife shop. Then I saw them in the museum of traditional arts and crafts, complete with a silky tassel.


Yes, I brought one home. Yes, I’ll be careful.


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15 responses to “Waste and avoiding waste in Japan 2

  1. Ingenious.
    Now that you mention those alternative cotton buds, I seem to remember seeing someone using a hair pin…. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. elizabeth streeter

    Do you read fig jam and lime cordial she is from sydney and is using her furoshiki for most of her shopping now and uses and makes beeswax wraps plus i have seen the earpicks at Dasio love your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The ear picks are safer and more effective than the buds if you’re careful. The buds push everything together and further into your ear canal which can cause serious problems. My package has a warning on it. “CAUTION: Do not enter ear canal. Use only as directed (!?!). Entering the ear canal could cause injury. Keep out of reach of children.” And then it says: “To clean ears, stroke swab gently around the outer surface of the ear.” (yeah, right….)
    It’s funny, the Japanese have such beautiful reusable packing methods, and obsessive recycling, and yet they still wrap every single thing in plastic. I was appalled when I saw footage of grocery stores where EVERYTHING is already pre-wrapped….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Doesn’t that sound just like the text on the outside of the cotton buds container? I have to say that I went into a lot of supermarkets in Kyoto (my partner has pernickety digestion, so finding specific things and being sure of their ingredients was a bit of a palaver with my not speaking Japanese). I was riveted by entire seaweed aisles and such. But I have to say there was no more packaging than in an Australian supermarket–which is to say way too much, of course. I was able to buy fruit and vegetables without packaging and mastered the gesture for ‘no bag thank you’ coupled with the universal sign language for ‘I have my own bag right here in my hand’ quite quickly! I could see that, much as at home, some people serving in a shop were concerned to make sure they had done their duty and offered me a bag. Others understood immediately and smiled warmly.


      • sorry, I wasn’t clear – that is the text from an cotton swabs package! I’m glad to know that not all Japanese markets are like the one I saw on tv where every single veg/fruit/herb/everything was wrapped in plastic….That must have been quite the endeavor with the shopping! A neighbor is currently in Japan for her husband’s work and she wrote that it is distressing being “functionally illiterate”. Apparently her obviously non-Japanese appearance at the neighborhood coffee shop would send certain of the employees into a “hide in the back” panic because they were terrified they’d not understand her.


      • That explains why it sounded so familiar!! It is indeed distressing being functionally illiterate. This experience has made me think a lot about how things are set up (usually not) in my country for people with limited or no English. I have to say Japan (where we were admittedly visiting an international tourist destination) was incredibly generous in its provision for non-Japanese speakers. People serving me did look scared at times, especially in places where I was the only non-Japanese person in view so presumably an uncommon sight. But we always managed and it did make me wonder whether people who look like me get angry when people in Japan only speak Japanese–or whether it was simply the social stress of being unable to deliver the polite and efficient service they would usually be able to supply to this unusual customer. I was in awe of people’s patience with me at times, and did occasionally have to retreat to a non social space to regroup when I’d been more heffalump than usual! One day I decided on an icecream and a quiet sit down and had not grasped that there was a (to me) complex ordering system involving entering my order on a machine with multiple steps and buttons I could not read, paying separately, a ticket I couldn’t read… then every time I sat down I dropped something or bumped into something and was SO LOUD and BIG and WHITE…


      • I can just imagine that feeling…oh horror! The more inconspicuous you try to be, the more the opposite happens….
        : )

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s exactly my experience! Luckily, not all the time 🙂


  4. There is so much going on here, both in your post and in the comments. I will try to economize on my comments.

    I love the idea of using the scarf for shopping, because you can untie the whole unit and wash it. Much more sanitary than the “reusable” bags they sell you at the grocers. It solves that age old question at the checkout: “Paper or plastic?” Why are we not doing this here in the states?

    I spent a whole month in Costa Rica with my friend (she is from there). I helped teaching in her school in Monte Verde. Trust me, they taught me more than I taught them, but the big takeaway for me was – what it was like to be any student in my predominantly English speaking classroom. I, like you, found it overwhelming and exhausting trying to listen, understand and respond. Suddenly the shoe was on the other foot and I had so much understanding for what it was like for them. It changed my approach in teaching second language learners. We all wore more smiles and had less stress.

    Liked by 1 person

    • More smiles and less stress sounds good all round Lynda! I don’t like the reusable bags either and always take my own. I just turn them inside out and throw them in the wash if they need it. I am often tempted to offer one to the person ahead of me in the queue if they are buying plastic bags at the checkout.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Rebecca

    I am pretty sure the vikings used ear picks too. It seems to be a very old practice.

    Another fascinating read.

    Liked by 1 person

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