Big in America

It is easy to be big in Japan, because everything tends to be on the small side.  But whether big is good or not I’m not so sure anymore.

My conception of what constitutes a normal size has been totally altered.  American is a land of big proportions, people, drinks even sky.  But biggest of all is the distance from point A to B.  Or, in the case of America it is more like A to Z. I was sitting in my parents living room downing a massive cola when, I actually thought for a moment, “I have to pee, but the bathroom is so far away.”  Now my parents house is not exactly San Simeon, but compared to my Tokyo living quarters it might as well be.  American homes aren’t big, as much as things inside it are far from each other.  I’ve stopped seeing big in a purely positive sense.  In Tokyo nothing in my house was more than a few seconds away.  Bowel movements didn’t include multiple doors and a flight of stairs.

Not just within the home either. Cooking dinner and you realize you need more garlic?  Supermarket and back in under 5 minutes.

Nothing in the fridge?  Grab a Dr. Pepper from the vending machine 20 paces from the front door.

Don’t feel like cooking?  There is a convenience store across the street.

“Big” has now come to mean inconvenient for me.  My entire Tokyo home was the length between chicken noodle and minestrone in the canned soup aisle of Walmart.  I had forgotten to some extent how far things are from each other in the US.  I went down to visit my brother in North Carolina over the holidays.  The driving time alone was about 16 hours over two days. Longer than my flight from Japan to New York.  When I got there I kept thinking, the couches in the living room are so far apart from each other I need to shout to be heard on the other side of the room.  Even the coffee table seemed more like a rest area on your way to the next sofa.

Explaining this to my family I realized how differently they viewed it. “Where would you put all your stuff?”  Simple answer, I just had less stuff.

An old YT video tour of an apartment.

Having shops and services so nearby there is no need to stock pile for Armageddon the way we do in the States.  My Tokyo “pantry” was literally a shelf.  An American family’s pantry could comfortably be considered real estate in Tokyo.  Small has its benefits.  My food tended to be fresher and I didn’t buy 2 liter size bottles of olive oil, although it is both cheaper and a great upper body workout.  But in Tokyo, I had no yearly purges of forgotten stored goods hidden in the back of the closet.  You tend to think more about whether or not you really need something when shopping and avoid buying crap that just takes up space.  A modest TV becomes a big screen when you aren’t sitting 30 meters away from it. Even utility consumption shrinks because you aren’t trying to air condition the Superdome.  My various apartments and houses were never small, just cozy.  Though I met many foreigners who hated the small accommodations, they were not the ones who ever really adapted to Tokyo.  These were the same people who would complain about pizza, parking and “if we were back home!” Apparently they had difficulty comprehending, they were NOT back home.

In the end, I can best describe it with nachos.  Imagine the same amount of yummy nacho cheese, meat, jalapeno and such spread out over ten times as many chips.   There is a lot more chip, but not much use for it.

Don’t get me wrong, big isn’t always bad.  Airline seats, backyards, closets, there are many times where it is really nice.  But “big” doesn’t have the same always positive feeling it used to have for me.  One of the hardest things to wrap my head around was a conversation I had maybe a thousand times in Tokyo.

Japanese: I went to America.
Me: How was the food?
Japanese: Bad, it was too big.
Me: I didn’t ask about its size, I asked if it was good.
Japanese: No, not good.  Too big.
Me: Arrrrggggh!

Big had always been positive by default for me.  But now I think I see size differently.  On impulse, I’d rather have the smaller steak.

What do you think, when is big good?