We left Japan in June. There was so much I wanted to write here about our experience, but with full-time teaching and commuting I didn’t get around to it.  So as I blog in the future I may post about places I have ties to but I’m not currently living in (we moved to Brazil this summer, but I may post about NYC sometimes, too).

One silly post I’ve wanted to write for awhile is about two Japanese products I love: 1) erasable pens and 2) black cotton swabs (they are q-tips in my mind, but I suppose that’s really a brand name).

I’ve always been a pencil person. I love the feel of the wood in my hand, the process of sharpening my tools before I start, and most of all the ability to change my mind and erase things. My thoughts are not necessarily linear and complete when I put them down on paper! So I always figured I’d be a pencil person for life: teaching easily assimilates such people. However, Japan has erasable pens! I know these must exist in the US but the Pilot Fixion Ball pens are really effective. You can get all kinds of colors and pen sizes, including ones that write as thinly as any pencil. You can buy ink refills so at least you can reuse the main part of the pen. When you erase you don’t get annoying eraser crumbs like you do with some pencils — the rubber or plastic ends just makes it disappear like magic. Perfect for thank you cards.

Two examples of these awesome erasable pens.

Two examples of these awesome erasable pens.

Students I’ve taught in China and Japan have serious writing utensil collections in their pencil cases, and kids in Japan seem especially well-stocked with these options. You can probably buy these elsewhere as well, but I always got them at Tokyu Hands.

Basement entrance with elevators. There's a sweet cafe on the top floor.

Basement entrance with elevators. There’s a sweet cafe on the top floor and all kinds of random things to buy on other floors.


Japanese Invention #2:

Coolest thing ever

Coolest thing ever

Have you ever seen cotton swabs that are anything but white? There’s nothing better than a good ear cleaning when they’re feeling itchy or uncomfortable, and it seems like ear cleaning is even more highly valued in Asia. Though I’ve never been to a professional, I’ve seen old men sitting on chairs in parks in China while practitioners clean their ears with special tools. Tokyu Hands sells ear-cleaning electronic tools, including an expensive one with video so you can see what’s happening inside your ear. They really do not mess around. So I shouldn’t have been surprised that they would give you options when it comes to cotton swabs, but coming from a country that only seems to make white ones (can anyone find another color? I’d love to order it) I find this awesome. See, I’ve read there are two kinds of ear-wax: wet and dry (This link may tell you more than you’d like to know, and also seems to get my ancestry wrong). I seem to have the dry kind, so excuse the possibly gross image, but if you use a white cotton swab you can’t really tell if you’re making any progress freeing earwax. Not only is this color better for me, they’re also thinner than the US ones usually are, which I find more effective (though they’re probably just trying to protect our ear drums and avoid law suits) and they come with different shapes on the ends, like you can see here. A word of caution if you’re in Japan — I wouldn’t buy the ones from the 100-yen shops. They seem to be a lot weaker than ones you can get in regular drug stores.

So there you have it. If you want to give me a gift from Japan, bring me black cotton swabs, because I’m nearly out. And maybe refills for my erasable pen. If you’ve lived in abroad, any inventions that were new to you and made your life better?