I’ve done my best to understand the Japanese in the 20 years I’ve lived in the country, and while I’ve made progress, there are still some questions that nag at me. Why do they think that hot dogs are the perfect breakfast food? They’re a popular morning item at McDonald’s, and whenever I get a pack from the Costco that opened near J-List, my wife serves them to me for breakfast every morning. Why does pizza with corn, squid and mayonnaise exist? (It really does.) Why do Japanese think traffic lights turn “blue”? Finally, how can the Japanese be the cleanest and most hygienic people in the world, yet be okay with drinking from communal water cups at Shinto shrines? It’s something every foreigner who visits Japan encounters: beautiful long-handled cups of metal or bamboo…which hundreds of people use to drink from each hour. The communal drinking cup thing isn’t limited to picturesque shrines: most public restrooms will have an old plastic cup caked with calcium deposits that’s supposedly for everyone to use when they want to have a drink of water. At the gym I go to, they raise the “what?” bar even higher by providing a box of communal towels for wiping the sweat off your body if you want to work out but somehow forgot to bring your own towel. They’re laundered each day, but still, I could never bring myself to use one.
Drinking from communal cups in Japan.