Friday, January 15, 2010


Recently, I went on a trip with Lily's fifth grade class to a local ice skating rink. By trip, I don't mean a little jaunt. I mean a caterpillar-toking, falling- down-a-rabbit hole adventure. You might wonder: Can ice skating really be that different in a foreign country? After all, it mainly consists of skates and ice and falling. Deep tissue bruises pretty much look the same on everybody.

As we entered the facility, I immediately spied a row of vending machines. This is common. The Japanese have an abiding love for this invention. In public spaces, there is one literally every 5 feet, stocked with strange drinks, piping hot and ice cold, with equally odd names such as "Pocari Sweat" or "Qoo". I think I read somewhere that there are more vending machines than people in Japan.

The weirdest seem to reside in ice rinks. The first vending machine I came to alerted me that perhaps this might not be an "ordinary" skating rink. It held a charming display of 64 crayon-colored gloves. I guess it's embarrassing to be lacking gloves that match some day-glo color in your outfit whilst skating in Japan. Although it's ingenious to sell gloves, a frequently forgotten/lost item in a skating rink, utilitarian black just doesn't cut it here. Maybe the garish colors are easier to see on the ice and fewer finger dismemberments occur as a result. I am sure I'll never know.

The next machine caught my eye because apparently men often forget to bring (or lose?) their jock shorts, too. Now, I know for sure that you CAN actually buy anything in a vending machine in Japan. I've seen jello juice and corn soup and fresh vegetables. But never men's underpants. I didn't even know that you needed jock shorts to skate. Intriguing.

After some neanderthal grunting and pointing to charts, all the kids found their Japanese ice skate sizes and strapped them on. I headed off to the cozy snack room to get some hot coffee from the vending machines. I can't tell you how disappointing it is to go looking for an elegant canned beverage/snack, only to find, "24 Hour Casual Frozen Foods."

Later for lunch, Lily and I enjoyed some of these frozen-to-cooked foods, such as chicken nuggets and french fries. They were really hot and surprisingly delicious but yet, so depressingly...casual. What a shame.

When I wasn't engaged in vending machine gawking, I studied the skaters. I noticed a few oddities, i.e. the 75 year old woman effortlessly gliding down the center of the rink. Although it doesn't seem wise to tempt the hip gods, older folk here are in excellent shape.

Also, several Japanese yochien (preschools) had come to play for the day. As I watched them suit up, I mentally beamed out a message to the other skaters, "Good luck finding a spot on the ice that doesn't have a three-year-old splayed out on it." I imagined a hundred marbles dropping onto a hard surface and bouncing in wild directions.

Did you know that you can organize preschoolers in ice skates? Like fish in a hatchery, their leaders penned them in a corner and released them into the stream every few minutes. Then, they all skated like madmen around the circle twice and returned to their "tank" to wait their turn to start over. The little girls all skated hand-in-hand, their little pig-tails bouncing. The boys pushed each other or fell down purposely like they were sliding into second base. One little guy spent the whole time throwing his gloves and hat on the ice and skating away from his handler, all the time laughing maniacally.

Lily had a great time, too. She told me later that she felt free and joyful on the ice, like she was flying. I felt the same way, but my feet were planted firmly on the grimy,rubber mats.


Darlene Miller said...

Many years ago, I came across a VM that sold items for adult enjoyment including fishnet stockings, magazines and flavored oils.

My favorite VM's are the ones standing alone on a quiet road somewhere between the daikon fields and edemame.

Nancy B said...

Cool...where exactly in Tokyo did you "come across" this VM, Mrs. Miller? :)

When you mentioned the VMs in the middle of nowhere, it reminded me of Okinawa. I remember driving back from the beach at night and seeing a random drink machine with a street light overhead, tottering near a ditch beside a sweet potato field.

That's Japan! Traditional and modern--all mixed up in the most delightful way.