It may sound strange, but odd-numbered years always bring me better fortune than even-numbered years. Sorry, I won't elucidate.

I've returned to the United States for the holidays to visit family and friends. Having spent the previous 9 months living in Japan, I've wondered how this experience has changed my perception of the US. What would I see differently with outsider's eyes?

First thing that struck me is the disproportionate amount of over-the-counter/prescription drug commercials on TV. No matter what ails you, it seems there's a drug to help.

If English is the national obsession of Japan, then dieting must be the national obsession of the United States. I realized this when drinking some diet orange juice for breakfast. Diet *orange juice*? It seems everything comes in a diet form these days. Furthermore, newscasts report the latest findings on diet science, diet technology, diet success stories, etc., etc. Don't forget the commercials for exercise equipment, dieting books, and dieting drugs (see above).

Speaking of diet, American cuisine is drenched with dairy products. Not that I'm complaining; I love dairy. Fried cheese anyone?

It seems 1 out of 10 cars has a magnetic "hero-ribbon" or "flag-ribbon" stuck to it.

In Japan, the ambient noise is loud and the people will rarely tell you exactly what they think. In the US, the people are loud and usually tell you exactly what they think (about you).

America contains people who think voting for George W. Bush was a good idea. As far as I can tell, Japan does not.

Finally, the American lifestyle is luxurious. Living spaces are huge. Transportation is super-convenient, assuming you own a car, and cheap (if I wanted to drive 45 km on the highway in Japan, it would cost me $14 in tolls). Food is cheap and portions are large.  Also, houses can be heated all day long. In Japan, I can afford to heat my bedroom, but not my kitchen or bathroom. This makes for some really cold showers in the morning (which perhaps partly explains why Japanese prefer to bathe at night).