The Japanese Love Affair With Packaging

by Ed Lau on June 26, 2008

After a long day last week, I ate at a little curry place on the bottom floor of a department store n Shinjuku. It wasn’t as epic as our curry in Taipei (if Stephen will ever get around to showing people that video) but the rice omelette with curry was quite good. Afterwards, I walked around and saw an interesting dessert stand selling mochi, which are basically flavored rice paste. They were sold as three pieces of a skewer for 105yen so I thoght, why the hell not? I’m not big on desserts, really but for a buck I’ll try it.

In my poor gaijin-esque Japanese, I asked “One, please.” and pointed at the skewers. The cheerful lady behind the counter told me how much it was and accepted payment. Honestly, I thought she would just hand me one or put it in a small paper pouch or something. I mean, I don’t know what I’m buying…I just want to give it a try. Instead, she proceeded with what was probably the most elaborate wrapping scheme I’ve ever seen for such a cheap item.

mochi, Japan, Japanese, dessert, rice paste

She first put it into a small plastic wrapper, then into a small plastic box. The small plastic box is first taped once on each side and then once all around. With the small plastic box now impossible to open conveniently, I expected her to now hand that to me. No, instead the box goes into a small plastic bag and then bound with a rubber band. The box now more secure than Fort Knox…now goes into a disproportionately large plastic bag. All this for a 105 yen mochi skewer that I was going to eat near immediately.

Now I sort of know the reasoning behind some of this. Not only are Japanese people incredibly tidy and want all products to be sealed in ways that would survive the end of the world but you are expected to take things home before use.

Tip #1 for travelers going to Japan: Do not eat while you’re on the go. Do not eat while walking, while riding a bike and especially not on the train. Doing so is rude and while I suspect they don’t expect us silly foreigners to abide by these regulations…we shouldn’t do it anyways. It’s okay to stand or sit somewhere and eat but not while you’re moving. I found a nearby table to try to solve the impossible puzzle that was my mochi and…well, it tastes exactly how you’d expect, really.

mochi, Japan, Japanese, dessert, rice paste

It was okay…I liked that it wasn’t too sweet and the green one was actually pretty nice.

But aren’t we supposed to be trying to clean up our act here? What’s with all the excessive plastic wrapping in Japan? Whenever I buy the smallest thing, people want to put it in bags for me even though I’m usually carrying my messenger bag with me and seem puzzled when I request that they not give me a bag (which is usually taped shut…and then sometimes put into a slightly larger bag).

Please, people of Japan…I’m not exactly the biggest environmentalist on the planet but even I know needless waste when I see it.

That being said, I highly recommend that you all read the latest issues of Wired and GQ, which have some very interesting articles on the myths and reality of saving our planet.

in Current Events,Food and Fine Dining,Travel

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Eva White June 27, 2008 at 1:41 am

I think you should have pointed to it and to your open mouth. Maybe then she would have got the hint that you wanted to eat it not hold it.

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Ed Lau June 27, 2008 at 6:07 am

That’s just not done in Japan, though.

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Thrifty June 27, 2008 at 2:47 am

Well thats some serious packaging for such a small purchase!!! Ha ha ha

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slif July 1, 2008 at 4:35 pm

yeah that’s how the japanese have always done it – haven’t you noticed the japanese stuff they sell in yaohan? it’s absolutely ridiculous!

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