October 5, 2008: “Day #2: My Adventures in Japan”

Sunday, October 5, 2008: “Day #2: My Adventures in Japan

It is currently 6:00AM Sunday in Japan.  I managed to sleep in an extra two hours today and didn’t wake up once in the middle of the night, which was quite an improvement from yesterday.

Japan is an amazing country and they have such a respectful culture.  In addition to learning “arigato” which means “thanks,” Lisa taught me the more formal version which is “domo arigato gozaimasu ” which means “thank you very much.”  Of course I always have to stop after saying “domo arigato” because I want to follow it up with “Mr. Roboto!”  Why I would have a Styx song stuck in my head is beyond me, but it’s pretty catchy.

Rice Harvest

Yesterday we had quite a day.  First, we took Lisa’s large lab for a walk around the neighborhood.  The Japanese love small dogs (they even purchase $250+ dog strollers to walk them in) but they’re terrified of large dogs.  They seem to think he resembles a small horse since we weighs more than the average Japanese woman.  The Japanese are amazingly clean.  There is no litter strewn in public, no gum on the street, etc.  They take so much pride in their homes and neighborhoods that they sweep the road in front of their homes every day.  Later we went into town (near NAF Atsugi where Lisa’s husband is stationed) to tame my craving for soup.  We went to a ramen house for lunch where we met an old friend and her two sons, also from the states.  Now, I must explain this is not your typical under-a-buck-college-ramen.  This is the real deal.  First, we made our order at a vending machine.  We pressed what items we wanted to order, inserted our yen, and then it printed a ticket.  We then went inside the restaurant and handed our ticket to the chefs who prepared our food for us while we watched.  We were given “napkins” which was a box of tissues (Japanese napkins are not durable or similar to what we are used to in the states).  I ordered pork ramen and gyoza (Japanese pot stickers).  I must tell you that the food was AMAZING!  The ramen was fresh and incredible.  The Japanese eat their soup with chopsticks.  They hover very close to the bowl and “power shovel” the soup in their mouths.  In Japan the louder you slurp your noodles, the more satisfying the meal is believed to be.  The gyoza was to die for!  It is nothing like I have ever had and cannot compare to the soggy, tasteless pot stickers we are so familiar with in the states.  (Side note: it is considered disrespectful to leave your chopsticks in your food – you are expected to rest them on the side of the bowl or on the table.)

Afterward we went to a Japanese grocery store.  I adore grocery stores since my passion is cooking.  This was one of the most amazing experiences for me.  In Japan, everyone takes great pride in his/her jobs.  Everything in the grocery store was PERFECT.  Every fruit and vegetable was beautiful, vibrant, fresh, and well, PERFECT.  The quality and freshness of their food absolutely cannot be surpassed.  It honestly made me embarrassed that as Americans we don’t take more pride in our grocery stores and the food we sell.  We made our way to the fish section of the grocery store and once again, it was quite an Andrew Zimmern experience!  Fish heads, dried tiny eels, fresh tiny eels, tripe (stomach), mashed fish, lard (yes, they use chunks of lard), and too many other bizarre foods to begin to mention lined their refrigerated shelves.  We saw a cantaloupe – which Lisa said was quite INEXPENSIVE – and it cost 2,000 yen, which is equivalent to approximately $20 US Dollars!  Melons are considered the Japanese sacred fruit.  If someone is on his/her deathbed, it is appropriate to bring a melon as a gift.  This cantaloupe was perfectly round, perfect texture, and perfect color.  It honestly looked so perfect I questioned if it was real.  I purchased some Japanese ingredients – Japanese curry, sesame dressing, super spicy (not usually sold in the States) wasabi, black sesame seeds, and a sushi rolling set.  The biggest surprise is that the Japanese don’t sell ice cream in gallon containers – not even in pints.  I’m sure you remember those tiny applesauce containers our parents used to pack in our lunch when we were kids?  They were so small they had probably four bites in them?  Well, that is how big Japanese ice cream is!  I guess they really believe in portion control.  Also, their bread is not sold in traditional loaves like we are used to.  Their loaves contain only approximately six slices of bread!

Last night we took the subway.  That was an experience all its own!  You buy a pre-loaded card from a machine you scan every time you enter or leave the subway.  We took the subway to a 5-story craft store.  I was in heaven!  There were so many different things to choose from that it was honestly overwhelming.  I settled on handmade paper.  The sheets were approximately 2 feet by 3 feet for 680 yen (or approximately $6.80 USD).  The handmade paper was thick and of the highest quality.  They also had the largest selection of cow stamps I have ever seen in one place!  I managed to settle on only buying three cow stamps – one of which has a picture of a cow and says, “cow” in Japanese.  (Another side note: Japan is a very cash driven society so many places do not accept credit cards.)

Afterward we got back on the subway and went to Yokohama.  They had a 5-story mall there that was completely overwhelming.  We ate dinner there (I was still suffering from jet lag) and just walked around window-shopping.  Nearly every restaurant in Japan displays their menu choices outside the restaurant … with plastic food replicas.  It’s strangely bizarre and quite unsettling.  It honestly makes someone want to lose their appetite more than increase it!  Clothes and accessories are incredibly expensive in Japan, too.  The Japanese are all about expensive brand names.  The women get extremely dressed up every day and they wear super high heels that they can barely walk in but appearance is far more important than comfort in Japan.  Lisa and I were walking around wearing your typical west coast clothes and we honestly looked like bums.

It is quite rude in Japan to stare.  People are expected to “be in their own zone” and not make direct eye contact with strangers.  I started to notice that I would turn around and some people would be staring at me.  I mentioned it to Lisa and she said it is because I’m blond.  The Japanese are apparently in awe of blond hair.  Sure enough after that I started looking around more and realized that I’m a minority in Japan!  Not just because I’m super fair-skinned but also because so far I have only seen two other blond-haired women my entire trip!  It feels a little strange to have people stare at my hair, but Lisa ensured me it is a compliment.

We are taking the train to Tokyo and staying in the military hotel there overnight.  It is approximately a one-hour train ride to Tokyo.  We also plan on visiting the kitchen district of Japan.  I am elated to visit the kitchen stores and can hardly wait!

I also have to mention that the showers in Japan are temperature controlled.  You turn on the hot water and on a digital reader you select the exact temperature you would like the water to be.  What I don’t understand is why we don’t have that in the States!  It’s quite ingenious!  Not to mention it saves a lot of water because you can select the precise temperature.  Also, if you ever visit Japan remember to bring your own small hand towel.  The Japanese usually don’t provide paper towels or air dryers in most of their restrooms – each person is expected to carry their own hand towel for sanitary reasons.

I’m off to get ready for our adventures today.

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