Picture This…

Yes, I know…long time no post. I’ve been home in Australia for three and a half months now and paperdoll has taken a backseat to the adventures of resettling back into life here. I admit it…and I apologise. What can I say? I love being home and every time I sit down to write paperdoll I get distracted by…well…everything.

Having said that, lately the first signs I may be missing Japan have crept in (natsukashi)…it started with a craving for ramen…then there was an emotional reaction to a letter from one of my past students…and let’s not forget that living with my parents again has me pining for my 42m² Japanese apartment. Every. Single. Day.

Yes, I have begun to miss Japan and all of it’s crazy, quirky ways. But much like A Picture Says a Thousand Kanji, when I am missing Japan and need a fix, I can just picture this

Sleeping in Japan

Japanese student letter

English signage in Japan

Japanese dessert

Stretching

Dashboard

Takeout menu

Japanese antenna

Japanese fashion

Japanese Kit KatsEnglish sign in Japan

Japanese laundry

English in Japan

Japanese Hello Kitty Mask

Japanese shredder

Japanese Aquarium sign

Japanese glitter suits

Japanese Pepsi flavour

Japaese toilet paper

Japanese Clothing Engrish

Japanese fashion

Funny English in Japan

Japanese Architecture Osaka

Japanese Beauty Products

Japanese giant vegetables

Japanese sign

Train etiquette in Japan

Japanese gift explanation

Japanese fashion

Japanese trinkets

Japanese fashion

English textbook Japan

Japanese ice cream

Japanese toilet slippers

English in Japan

Japanese fashion

Japanese signage

Japanese cars

English in Japan

English in Japan

English in Japan

Japanese fashion

Japanese beauty products

Japanese toilets

The Good, The Bad and The Aussie…

In case you didn’t hear me shouting the news from the rooftops, I finally got off that island (Japan). I escaped from the bubble. I jumped ship. I got the truck out of dodge. After three years of life as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher), I hitched a flight home to Australia and those people who had begun to forget they’re my family. Some of you might be wondering what will happen to paperdoll now that I’m back? Surely without 400+ junior high school kids and the perils of culture shock to contend with every day, I mustn’t have much to write about now? I beg to differ…

I’ve only been back in Australia a month, but I’m already experiencing reverse culture shock after living abroad for six years (yes, there were another three years in the UK too…my addition skills aren’t that bad). So you see I’m home…but I feel like a foreigner in my own country. Even my family can’t believe I’m back for good and I swear my mother keeps pinching herself every time she sees me (which is a lot…since I’m living with my parents again…but that’ll be a whole other blog entry).

Right now, Japan and the UK are my most recent reference points for home and Australia is this strange land I am getting reacquainted with. As I get resettled, I will continue to write about my aventures in Japan (I still have so much to say about it all) and these new experiences of reverse culture shock…or as I’m now calling it…the good, the bad and the Aussie

The Good…

My family.

It’s the end of April…mid Autumn, with winter coming…and it’s around 25°C every day. Forget hellish Japanese winters!

NO MORE SQUAT TOILETS.

Squat_toilet_Japan_culture_shock

The Bad…

Green tea in Australia sucks. Period.

Red lights actually mean stop, not three-more-people-can-make-it-through-the-intersection-still.

No road cones to feed my weird addiction…

The Aussie…

People wave acknowledgements of kindness from their cars instead of bowing or flashing their hazard lights.

I can say spesh, noice, netty, chook, suss, arvo, sanga, Maccas, cuppa and all other manner of Aussie slang and be understood.

Meat pies.

The Good…

The earth doesn’t shake every day…or…well…ever.

I don’t have to eat rice.

I now work for myself and I love it (WARNING: imminent, shameless self promotion: threefold.com.au)

The Bad…

Australia stinks…literally. After living in Japan I can’t handle strong fragrances anymore.

The speed limit is actually the speed limit.

NO ORIGAMI PAPER.

koala2

The Aussie…

Everyone is up for a chat…the postman, the checkout chick and the pizza guy…

Men. With the ability to grow facial hair. With muscles. With height. With masculinity. Enough said.

Tim Tams, Vegemite, Caramello Koalas…nomnomnom…

The Good…

Anonymity. Sweet anonymity.

One word…organic.

I keep reaching for XL size clothing in stores…only to remember I’m not a giant in this country.

The Bad…

I can feel my Japanese ability leaching out of my brain with every English conversation I have.

Small showers.

No fan club of adoring teenage kids to stroke my ego every day.

The Aussie…

Competitive sport.

Fresh, un(less?)polluted air.

Thongs are things people wear on their feet and there aren’t many Kiwis, Americans or Brits around to refute the point.

The Good…

I can enjoy a restaurant meal without having cigarette smoke billowing in my face.

I don’t have to carry a wad of cash around in my wallet (though the card charges from my first night out in Australia might make this a moot point…).

I sleep on a bed…not the ground.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Bad…

No rainbow of KitKat flavours…though this might in fact be a good thing…

My Converse addiction will cost me double than what it did in Japan.

No amusing Engrish.

kinkakuji toilet sign

The Aussie…

Triple J music.

The Hills Hoist in the back yard…which virtually snap dries my clothing immediately.

This…

Still, Only in Japan…

…are VPL (Visible Panty Lines) acceptable in public…or at all.

…are Lilo & Stitch actually popular.

…are snowmen made of only two parts and not three.

Japanese Snowman

…are people only considered sick if they have a fever.

…are you expected to fully wash yourself before getting into a bath.

…are aprons a fashion statement for housewives.

Still, only in Japan…

…does sock glue need to exist.

Girl's gotta have sock glue...

…do shop assistants yell ‘irashaimase’ (welcome) at you repeatedly throughout the duration of your time in their store.

…do elementary school children raise their hand in the air to cross the road.

…does using your hazard lights give you the ability to break any traffic law without penalty.

The hazards of driving in Japan

…do most houses not have an oven.

…do construction workers warm up before starting work with a stretching routine that resembles the YMCA.

…do people’s car dashboards look like a Disney Store shopfront.

Shoe horn?

Still, only in Japan…

…is playing the pokies/slot machines deemed an enjoyable pastime for people under retirement age.

…is it considered rude not to slurp your noodles/soup/tea/any edible substance.

…is Christmas celebrated with KFC and sponge cake.

KFC Christmas

is dancing illegal.

…is there an irrational fear of bugs.

…is a 2.4km race referred to as a ‘marathon’.

Still, only in Japan…

…can peanuts appear on the school lunch menu at least once a month without a student going into anaphylactic shock or their parents suing the school.

…can a person face jail time if a stranger drinking in the same bar as them gets behind the wheel of his car and breaks the law.

…can you make a sport out of sumo and geisha spotting.

Sumo spotting

Geisha stalking

…can I step out of my front door, walk 100 metres in any direction and find a vending machine.

…can trying to heat your apartment become a game of Russian roulette.

…can you find cleaning products sold in gift sets.

Cleaning gift pack? Oh, yes please!

Still, only in Japan…

…will people send New Years cards, as opposed to Christmas cards.

…will you find people own cars bigger than their apartments.

Giant car

…will the movie title ‘This Means War’ be changed to ‘Black & White’.

…will a cars be given names like ‘moco’…which means ‘booger’ in Spanish.

…will you see teenage boys being more openly affectionate with each other than dating couples.

Still, only in Japan are there so many cultural quirks that I could write this threequel to ‘Only in Japan’ and ‘Again, Only in Japan’

Backchat…

Last week was the first week back at school after summer break…and a lengthy six weeks off. After the freedom of such a leisurely lifestyle, the start of school was probably more dreaded by ALTs than students (who pretty much still have to go to school every day  in that time). When school went back, Facebook became the soapbox from which ALTs could moan about the misery of hot classrooms, hours of sports day practice and early starts once again.

I on the other hand (surprisingly), was pretty excited about my first week back at school. I had actually missed the kids (well…not all of them) and was looking forward to catching up with my teachers after my ‘Soba Up‘ experience. With all this anticipation I must have been exuding some good vibes, because in my first week back, I have been rewarded with some interesting and amusing back chat both in and out of school…

First day, first lesson back…

Me: ‘How was your summer vacation?’

Student: ‘It was great!’

Me: ‘What did you do?’

Student: ‘I did sex!’

In the teachers’ room…

Me (in Japanese): ‘Excuse me, T Sensei? (who I haven’t spoken to since my bike had a puncture two months ago) I have a favour to ask you…’

T Sensei: ‘Yes, what is it?’

Me: ‘Well, umm, it seems as though my bike has a puncture again…and well…you look really busy…but I was just wondering…if you could…maybe…?’

T Sensei: Shaking his head and laughing, ‘You want me to fix it again?’

Me: ‘Yes, I’m really sorry! You don’t have to do it now, just whenever you have time is ok.’

K Sensei (who was listening in to the entire exchange decides to offer his two sents worth in English): ‘Carla Sensei, no problem!’ Pointing to T Sensei, ‘Professional!!!’ Laughing.

T Sensei: Gives K Sensei a death stare and immediately goes and fixes the puncture on my bike.

I felt so bad about T Sensei that I left this ‘thank you’ present on his desk the next day…

At the grocery store after school, a little old man sidles up next to me as I’m bagging my groceries…

LOM: ‘Konnichiwa!‘ Smiling broadly at me.

Me: ‘Konnichiwa’ Smiling back.

LOM: ‘Chikaku (Do you live nearby)?’

Me: ‘Hai, chikaku ni sunde imasu (Yes, I live nearby).’

LOM: ‘Aparto (In an apartment)?’

Me: ‘Hai, aparto desu (Yes, in an apartment).’

LOM: ‘Sayonara!’ Walks away smiling.

In class with my third year students…

O Sensei: ‘Ms.Carla, what did you do during summer vacation?’

Me: ‘I went to Morioka and did the Wanko Soba Challenge. I ate 60 bowls of soba.’

36 students simultaneously move their eyes from my face to my stomach.

At the teachers’ drinking party with the second year social science teacher (who may have a slight thing for me)…

SS Sensei: ‘If I could take you on a date, first we’d go for a walk in the park. Then we’d go and eat spaghetti. Then I’d take you to karaoke and sing ‘Karma, karma, karma, karma, karma, c’mooooooon Caaaaaarlaaaa.’

Lunch with Class 3-1…sitting next to Ayumi…

Ayumi: ‘Summer vacation. Australia.’

Me: ‘You went to Australia in summer vacation?’

Ayumi: ‘Yes, yes!’ Screwing up her face, ‘Hamburger, on, red vegetable…NO LIKE!!!’

Me: Giggling, ‘Ahh, you don’t like beetroot?!’

Ayumi: ‘Yes, yes! NO LIKE!!!’

In the third year hallway between classes…

Female Student: Pointing to male student, ‘Up, up!’

Me: ‘What? He got taller over summer?’

Female Student: Looking disgusted, ‘Noooooooo! Dick up!’

On the sports field practicing for sports day with Kazuki…

Kazuki: Grinning upon seeing me, ‘Ms.Carla, Ms.Carla!!!’

Me: ‘Hi, Kazuki!’

Kazuki: Looking very excited and gesturing a lasso above his head, ‘Ms.Carla. Cowboy game, c’mon!’ Dragging me out to the middle of the sports field.

Me: ‘Ok, Kazuki…teach me. What do I do?’

Kazuki: ‘Ball, guruguru’ Repeating his lasso gesture with a rope and ball in hand, ‘Hit!’ Pointing to a road cone sitting on a desk about four metres away.

I complete the task, knocking the cone off the desk on my first attempt. I turn around to be greeted to applause from the entire second grade…they had been watching the whole time.

At the teachers’ drinking party…schmoozing with the big guys…

Sports Sensei: ‘Carla, you’re drinking red wine tonight?’

Me: ‘Well, I was drinking beer, but now I’m drinking red wine. I prefer red wine.’

Vice Principal: ‘Yes, Carla is a strong drinker!’

During English class with 3-4…

Me: ‘Yudai, you have to write your name in English on your worksheet.’

Yudai: Gives me a blank look (Yudai is a jock and a low level student who is notorious for distracting the whole class).

Me: ‘Kengo, can you please show Yudai how to write his name in English?’

Kengo: ‘Sure!’ Writes ‘Youdie’ and grins at me proudly.

It’s now the second week back at school and as the heat continues I hope this back chat does too…

Soba Up

Regular readers of Paperdoll will know that I have become rather cynical about life in Japan of late. After two and a half years here, the culture has slowly worn me down and it has become easy to focus on the bad rather than the good. Despite being a realist and on occasion a cynic, I do try to make the most of my circumstances so this plunge into negativity is rather unwelcome.

It’s lucky for me then, that my favourite teacher at school, Tennis Sensei (from the tennis club mafia), asked me to join her on a two day road trip to the north of Honshu to partake in the famous wanko soba noodle eating challenge last week. Tennis Sensei is around my parents’ age, but has a great sense of humour and spirit for life so we get on famously. A frequent traveller and always up for an adventure, I really feel like she is preview of what I will be like later in life.

Our relationship is so easy and comfortable these days that I didn’t think twice before agreeing to take this trip with Tennis Sensei.  Despite having avoided speaking Japanese of any sort since being ‘Tried and Tested‘ just over a month ago, I had no fears about having to speak Japanese for a whole two days with her…in fact I found myself looking forward to it. I don’t like that I have become so negative about life in Japan and I thought this might be the perfect opportunity to Soba Up and be reminded of all the upshots of life in Japan…

Up and Away

On the journey up to Morioka (home of wanko soba), Tennis Sensei surprised me with a stop in Hiraizumi to see the UNESCO World Heritage site, Chuson-ji Temple. Having not done any travel since spring break, it was lovely to be reminded of the history and constructed beauty Japan has on offer.  The visit was made all the more special with Tennis Sensei there, happily explaining to me the significance of every building and statue, since my kanji reading ability is no match for the descriptive plaques found on site.

To balance the visit to Chuson-ji temple, we also stopped in at the gardens of Motsu-ji Temple. Sadly, the beauty of the lake was somewhat diminished with earthquake damage still prevalent, even 18 months since the event. A pertinent reminder that the areas north of where I live are still suffering the effects of March 11th, 2011 and that these people still continue to rebuild their lives and their country.

Soba Up

Already starting to feel more compassionate about the country I reside in and the people that kindly allow me to teach their children, our destination provided the food and fun portion of the trip. Tennis Sensei has been telling me about Iwate’s famous wanko soba for the better part of a year, so it was amazing to finally partake in the eating challenge with her.

To sum up the challenge for those that have never heard of it (or engaged in it): You are seated seiza style at a table with various soba condiments and a designated waitress. Said waitress is there to top up your soba bowl every time you empty it…usually spouting encouragements such as ‘mada mada (you aren’t done yet)’ and ‘jun jun (you’re getting there)’. The waitress stacks the empty bowls next to you in columns of 15 to keep count of your progress. When you are fit to burst, you have to stealthily get the lid on your bowl before the ninja waitress can dump yet another soba shot in for you to eat. This should give you a fair idea of what it’s like…

My suspicions that Tennis Sensei is as competitive as me were confirmed when we sat down to eat. Her previous record was 32 bowls…which she cleared easily when she saw I was nowhere near finished at that point. We had been told that women usually average between 30-40 bowls, but Tennis Sensei only politely bowed out at 55…looking rather green at the effort. But she refused to let me stop…taking my lid away and joining forces with the waitress in getting my bowl count up. At 60 bowls I managed to outsmart both of them and got the lid on my bowl…signaling the finish of my effort…and the end of my soba eating days for good.

I consumed 60 bowls in 60 minutes…a far cry from the record of 559 bowls, but not bad…considering 15 bowls equals one normal sized bowl of soba. I even got a little plaque to commemorate the effort…just because I am a foreigner.

Up sized

After the post soba grumblings of two people who ate far too much and an overnight rest to let all those noodles settle, we started the journey home. Once again, we had a stop on the way home…this time at Genbi-kei Gorge, for some more food. This time it was dango, a famous Japanese sweet made from rice, but delivered with a twist…across the gorge from maker to consumer!

The delivery team (having spotted my blond hair…even across the gorge), kindly displayed an American flag over their balcony, played the American national anthem and sent me a free dango set for coming to visit them. Tennis Sensei and I didn’t have the heart to scream out that I’m actually Australian and so humbly accepted the gift and the accompanying applause and photographs taken from onlookers. These complete strangers had managed to make me feel so welcome and special in the space of five minutes…and given me some memories to last a lifetime.

Speaking Up

Tennis Sensei is my favourite teacher at school because she is infinitely patient with my slow Japanese and always takes the time to explain difficult concepts or new words in easy Japanese for me. Not only that, she is always genuinely happy to take time out of her day to come and chat to me. I’m never nervous about speaking to her and these two days were a great opportunity for me to get in some much needed speaking practice.

The conversation on our trip was never stagnant…we talked about everything and anything. Most amusingly, because we are so similar, topics often ventured into territory I would never dream of broaching with most Japanese people. I got all the behind the scenes gossip from the teachers’ room (who hates their job, who’s pregnant, who wants to be pregnant, who is stressed to the max…) and Tennis Sensei and I even exchanged our ‘Top Three Most Attractive Male Teachers’ list.

Surprisingly, Tennis Sensei also told me that most of the teachers desperately want to get to know me better but are all too nervous to speak to me, in either English or Japanese.  She told me that our head teacher in particular is very envious of the relationship I have with Tennis Sensei and would love to have more conversations with me. Armed with this knowledge, and my new found excitement for speaking Japanese again, I will be making great efforts to talk with all my teachers when school goes back, and specifically our head teacher.

Onward and Upward

Last week’s trip with Tennis Sensei was so positive and has really helped me get back into a better frame of mind about my remaining months here in Japan. Most days I feel like I am swimming upstream in this culture and I feel like I am up against it more often than not. It’s easy to start ignoring the good and focus on the bad, but just a short break spent with a true friend, seeing all the beauty this country has to offer has helped me soba up.

I had forgotten the warmth and graciousness of Japanese people and this time away has helped restore my faith in why I am here, doing what I do. Japan is full of people who are generous of heart and truly want to make foreigners feel welcome. I feel ashamed that I had started to close off from life here, but thankfully Tennis Sensei helped me wake up to myself and now I can get back to enjoying Japan again…

You Know You’ve Been in Japan Too Long When…

…your body suffers withdrawal symptoms after a day without rice.

…you accidentally write ‘r’ instead of ‘l’.

…you’ve become obsessed with ridding your home of ninja insects.

…you own more chopsticks than cutlery.

You know you’ve been in Japan too long when…

…you have permanent RSI from filling out forms.

…you choose green tea over black.

…you get excited about curry rice for school lunch.

…you deem a trip to Starbucks or McDonald’s a ‘Western fix’.

You know you’ve been in Japan too long when…

…you’ve taught three kids…from the same family.

…you know the names of any Arashi members.

…you fold your rubbish.

…you’ve collected so many key rings you prefer to use your spare key instead.

You know you’ve been in Japan too long when…

…’Oh, Japan’ has become common vernacular.

…you forget that aprons should not be worn in public.

…you’ve begun to curse Ibaraki drivers.

…your list of hobbies include purikura, origami and misanga.

You know you’ve been in Japan too long when…

…sleeping on a bed has become a novelty.

…studying for the next JLPT is a way of life.

…you have in your possession an umbrella (or many) of unknown origin.

…you contemplate climbing Mt.Fuji for a second time. Or worse, a third time.

You know you’ve been in Japan too long when…

…eating Chinese food feels like a variation in diet.

…you’ve tried at least some of the buttons on the NASA toilets.

…your Japanese speaking ability begins to surpass your English one.

…you feel the compulsion to produce bunny ears in every photo.

You know you’ve been in Japan too long when…

natto and/or umeboshi become palatable.

…you can read katakana easily.

…you’ve contemplated buying (or have bought) a matching Adidas tracksuit.

…you lock your bike, but leave your wallet/phone/valuables in the basket.

You know you’ve been in Japan too long when most of your conversations end in ‘I need off this island’.

The Daily Grind

It has been one of those weeks, where Japanese life kicked my butt and every day felt like Groundhog Day. I’ve been living here for over two years now and sometimes daily life gets the better of me. It’s not the job…I really enjoy my job (once I learned to ignore the testing ways of the Japanese education system). In fact, my job as an ALT is probably my favourite thing about living in Japan. Well…that and the stationery.

No, it’s not the job…it’s those daily cultural differences that used to amuse me in my first twelve months here. Those things that I used to say ‘wow‘ to…the food, the customs and the people.  Everything that was so different to my home in Australia, and my second home in the UK. In my second year those differences weren’t quite so amusing…and now, in my third and final year, my tolerance for these things has decreased even further. I desire the comforts and familiarity of home a little more these days as I struggle with the daily grind of Japan…

7:00 – Wake up from a night of disrupted sleep with neck and shoulder pain from sleeping on a futon three inches thick.

7:05 – Have breakfast of oats shipped in from America (as oats are rare and expensive in Japan) with full fat, sweetened soy milk (because non-fat/sugar free anything is virtually non existent here).

7:20 – Shower using organic body wash shipped in from Australia (see reason for having oats shipped in).

7:30 – Dress in clothing deemed too tight/short/revealing by Japanese society (the exception being high school girls). Note: The same outfit would be called conservative in Western culture.

7:40 – Brush teeth using toothpaste shipped in from Australia (because Japanese toothpaste doesn’t contain fluoride…and well, if you saw the state of peoples’ teeth here, you wouldn’t use their toothpaste either…).

7:45 – Check Facebook, Hotmail, Twitter and Instagram for signs of life outside of the bubble I live in.

8:05 – Cycle to school, receiving no less than five stares from locals. Stares usually result in some kind of near miss traffic accident…for me and the perpetrator.

8:15 – Arrive at school, to hear no less than three comments from teachers about either my hair, my clothing, how tired I look or asking why I’m not cold (because I am wearing a short sleeved shirt which is too revealing).

8:40 – 12:30 – Have two or three classes with students. Die a little inside every time a student says ‘I’m fine thank you, and you?’. Teach students awkward English from textbooks written by Japanese people.

12:40 – Have lunch with students. Despair at whatever horrible mixture of deep fried mystery meat/seafood salad/bamboo soup combination appears on the lunch tray. Reminisce of the days when I used to eat rice once every six or so months. Receive the usual questions from students: ‘Do you dye your hair?’, ‘Why aren’t you married?’, ‘Do you perm your hair?’, ‘Can you use chopsticks?’, ‘Why are your eyes blue?’.

1:30 – Cleaning time in the teachers’ room…where the tea lady watches and disapproves of my cleaning methods and follows me around, redoing everything after me.

1:50 – 4:00 – No afternoon classes, so Japanese study ensues. Have at least four teachers make comments about my kanji writing ability (despite it looking like chicken scrawl) and compliment me (falsely) on my speaking ability.

4:00 – Cycle home to the same barrage of stares as the morning commute.

4:15 – Go running wearing shorts, polo shirt (with collar popped so locals don’t see my tattoo and assume I am part of the Yakuza), sunglasses and headphones. Get even more stares than the daily commute and will hear from students/teachers tomorrow that I was spotted running, and that I wear shorts when running (because despite the fact I haven’t had any action for a long time, if I wear shorts, I must be promiscuous…).

5:30 – Cycle to the supermarket for dinner supplies. Despair yet again at the depressingly ridiculous cost of fruit and vegetables in this country. ¥128 (AU$1.70) for a single kiwi fruit and ¥597 (AU$7.90) for two apples. Curse Japan’s awful food for my weight gain over the last two years.

6:30 – Attempt to make a meal (without an oven…Japan doesn’t do ovens) using entirely freshish (though not organic) vegetables without a grain of rice in sight.

7:30 – 10:30 – Decompress from the day of Japanese culture with western world TV, talking with friends or family on Skype, writing Paperdoll or reading. All carried out from the discomfort of my apartment floor…given the lack of proper furniture in this country.

With this daily pattern of repeated tediums, I’m surprised it took this long for my Japanese life to feel like Groundhog Day. I crave the simple pleasures of every day Western life all the time now…the ability to buy and eat organic, free range produce…the freedom to wear what I want, when I want without feeling guilty…to live in an apartment with proper furniture which won’t leave me in constant pain…and more than anything else, to have anonymity. Sweet, blissful anonymity.

Less than a year, and all these wondrous things will be mine. Until then, it’s the weekend…so two days’ break from the daily grind to enjoy all the things I do love about my life in Japan…

Edible Japan

Well Paperdoll followers…it has been a long 2 months between posts, I apologise. As most of you are probably aware, I sat for the N4 JLPT test at the start of December, which made for 3 months of grueling study, post summer holidays. As you can imagine, this somewhat skewed my view of this country for a brief while as I sacrificed onsen visits, apple picking and momiji (Autumn leaf viewing) in favour of cramming my brain full of kanji and Japanese grammar rules.

But now, a month post-exam and into 2011, I am back to loving Japanese life again. As such, to reflect my mood about Japan currently, this post is dedicated to all the special food I have come to love in this country. Taking a leaf out of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ this entry is about one of the things in Japan that brings me joy. You have all heard me rant about the pitfalls of living in Japan, but I think it’s time you heard about some of the good stuff…and there is a lot of it…especially when it comes to food!

Inari Zushi



I was first introduced to this special form of sushi by my adopted Japanese mother, Mieko. We were all at Mieko’s house, not long after my arrival in Japan, and she had us helping to make these (let’s face it) very unattractive, but apparently edible blobs. Explaining to me that it was cooked vinegar rice in pockets of sweetened, deep fried tofu pouches really didn’t help sell it to me, even if I could get past the look! But, in the interest of trying all new things Japanese, I did eat one and what has followed can only be described as pure addiction. If I don’t get my fix of inari zushi at least once a week now it’s not pretty.

Since then, I have come to love the selection of vego-type sushi at Hamazushi here in Omiya. Despite JJ and Jay’s best efforts to introduce me to the world of sashimi (raw fish), I still prefer my vego sushi options of tamago (egg), corn/mayo, cucumber rolls and of course, inari zushi…

Onigiri


Onigiri is basically lucky dip in the food world for anyone who can’t read Japanese. The equivalent of the Western World’s common sandwich here in Japan, your experience of onigiri can range from fantastic to downright disgusting. These little parcels consist of a seaweed outer, then a layer of cooked, sticky rice and then a filling of your choice (if you can read Japanese). The fillings vary from tame options (i.e. the ones I eat) such as tuna and chicken to anything like salmon, fish eggs, sour plum and who knows what else!

After you brave the process of deciding on which one you might take from the shelf, the next challenge is trying to unwrap the meal from it’s 3 step pull away wrapper without sacrificing half of it to the ground.

Ramen


Ok, so this is technically not a Japanese dish. Ramen originates from China, but boy, can the Japanese make a good one! I hear that Hokkaido has some of the best varieties, so I can’t wait to sample some of the local specialties when I visit next month.

Ramen is a kind of noodle/soup and comes in lots of varieties. The most common are shyoyu (soy sauce) and miso based ramen…but these are not my favourite. The other ALT’s and I have another favourite…Tan Tan Men, which is a sesame based ramen…with kick! In a country of people that abhor spicy food, this dish is a rare gift for us. We gladly rock up at our local ‘Denmaru’ at least once a week and order this same dish every time. The staff there are going to start calling us by name soon and will give up taking our order I’m sure of it…

Takenoko



Words cannot describe the love affair I have with these lovely pieces of biscuity joy! Tiny little biscuits in the shape of bamboo roots, dipped in chocolate for my eating pleasure. Enough said.

Edamame


In a country where finding decent fruit and veg at a reasonable price is, well, virtually impossible, these little green beans rock my world! For those of you who have not had the pleasure of the edamame experience, let me describe it for you. These little soy beans have been boiled and dusted in salt and will be presented to you, still in their shell. It is your job to suck the little parcels of yumminess out of their shell with some of the salt and munch away happily, discarding the shell when you are done.

Sadly for me, edamame is seasonal and only appears in summer. They serve them up here with beer in place of peanuts to enjoy in the summer sun. That’s my idea of bliss, bring on summer again!

Umeshu


In a land known for sake, I have taken on another Japanese alcoholic beverage as my favourite…umeshu (plum wine). Being somewhat of a sweet tooth (slight understatement there, I know), umeshu is perfect for me as some varieties are as sweet as dessert wine. The Japanese are welcome to their sake…because no matter how you try and disguise it for me, it still tastes like paint thinner.

I look forward to summer this year when I intend to make my own batch of umeshu for personal consumption.

Aquarius


This beverage appears in vending machines all across Japan, pretending to be a sporting drink full of vitamins and goodness. So far as I can tell, it’s just great tasting sugary water. For what it is, I love it. Though after forming a slightly unhealthy addiction to it shortly after arrival in Japan I have gradually weaned myself off the stuff for my general health and well being.

Just for the record, if you ever come to Japan and care to try an Aquarius, be careful not to fall for it’s poor cousin, Pocari Sweat. If the name doesn’t put you off, then the taste will…it has nothing on Aquarius, trust me.

Macha Ice cream


I love everything macha (green tea) flavoured, I don’t discriminate. However, Macha Icecream is hands down the best. A strange combination of sweet and savoury, it’s part vanilla icecream, but with the after taste of green tea. You can find it in Baskin & Robbins here and even in the frozen section of the supermarket. But my favourite is at the green tea shop at Uchihara Jusco…it was there I popped my ‘Macha Ice Cherry’ and I will remember that moment forever…

Kit Kats


Not just Kit Kats…every flavour of Kit Kat you could possibly ever imagine. Each prefecture has different flavours and each season brings another round of new flavours. This ever changing rotation brings me such indescribable joy. I liked Kit Kats before I moved to Japan…now I love them.

The flavours I have sampled are: macha, almond, creme brule, maple syrup, salt caramel (my personal favourite), fruit salad, strawberry cake, apple, wasabi, lemonade, cola, caramel pudding and blueberry. There are others out there that I have seen, but have yet to try…either because they just don’t sound so great (soy sauce, really?!) or because I have yet to discover them. But rest assured, I will…