jueves, 25 de agosto de 2011

Free Food and Food for Thought

Still life from only one section of a single bounty of dumpstered food.

Both Yama and Mitchi work what some might consider a regular job, which govern their lives in a way almost stereotypical of the Japanese. That is to say, the image of the hardworking Japanese tourist who travel only on a very limited holiday. I don't mean any offense to either Yama or Mitchi, both of whom I respect tremendously. Yama, despite working a full time job, finds time to write and play some incredible music. And Mitchi is a good friend and always up for an adventure. What I mean to say, is that it is this lifestyle that was my introduction to the Japanese and therefore made my stay with Taku and his roommates the more strikingly different. First off, sharing a house is uncommon in Japan, where personal space is highly valued and many landlords refuse to rent to multimple tenants. All three flatmates, Taku, Magi and Takashi do hospice work with the disabled, which requires no more than 2 days a week time and is sufficient to sustain them. It's a good thing he doesn't have to work a regular job, because Taku doesn't have the time: a million other projects more important than money occupy his attention, such as community building, activism, and building tall bikes. Coincidentally, he has been working on kick starting a Tokyo bike initiative for some time now and I found his experiences culturally enlightening to say the least. He had approached the city about a recycled bike program and even had the support of a green party politician, but Taku came up against roadblocks of a rigid system of bicycle registration and corporate licensing and contracting agreements. Taku told me a story about how he once found a bike in the garbage and built it up. A police officer stopped him and ran the bike's serial number. Needless to say, the bike didn't belong to him, as far as the computer was concerned, and Taku was brought to the station where he was fingerprinted and the bike was confiscated. Taku complains that there is very little space in Japan for those who wish to live outside mainstream society. The blue tent communities I saw in Yoyogi park, he explains, are an anomaly in today's Tokyo. They are holdovers from a bygone era and are sort of "grandfathered in". An outsider couldn't just go and set up a tent, as they are under constant surveillance. There used to be many more in fact. That is why it was such a big deal when Miyashita-Koen evicted the homeless there. The homeless are being pushed out, as neighborhood after neighborhood become more and more gentrified. Maybe it's a losing battle in Tokyo, but I'm glad there are still people in Japan like Taku, Kay, and Megu, who fight for the rights of the underdog here and generally march to the beat of a different drum.

Who said there was no good dumpstering in Tokyo? In the morning Taku took me to a supermarket he knew that doesn't padlock their dumpster and we found a heap of really good food: one chocolate eclair wrapped in plastic, one container of some kind of delicious seaweed wrap, 5 peaches, a case of bubble gum, a 2 1/2 lb bag of rice, lettuce and cabbage. Megu came over later that night and I cooked us a big feast; my turn to share in a cultural exchange, it was the first time any of them had tasted fruit in a salad before and they loved it.

I've spent so much money my first couple weeks in Japan and it is comforting to know that I have options. Food in supermarkets here are meticulously organized and fruits and vegetables, which are astronomically expensive (more than ¥350 or $4 for a single peach), are individually displayed, almost on a podium, and without blemish. This inevitably means that supermarkets throw out a lot of really good food! However and for whatever reason, most lock up their trash. Japanese are very hygienic and even trash bins on the street are covered in green fly paper, so it isn't a surprise that supermarket waste would be held in special storage containers, not necessarily for security. However, this makes dumpstering a little tricky, because breaking into a storage locker is slightly more dubious than just crawling inside a garbage bin. I have however, found supermarkets with accessible trash dispensers and my efforts have been well rewarded. The still ife pictured here was assembled from one such dumpster excursion from a supermarket in Akiya. We have come to refer to it as the magic dumpster, because every night it is refilled with ripe fruit and fresh vegetables, fresher than some fruit stands sell on discount, and all carefully arranged in a single trash bin only for produce. This particular arrangement of fruit in the still life included blockchoi, peaches, mizuna lettuce, goya (a bitter summer gourd that looks much like a warty cucumber), a peach and bananas.  

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