Saturday, June 28, 2008

Beginning of week four and zombies!

One thing point that almost every Japanese person I've met who has also lived in America always brings up is how nobody in the US uses umbrellas. Now, this is something I have really never considered before. That being said, they're right. Here (because of the "lovely" weather) people carry umbrellas with them everywhere--and when they don't have umbrellas, the ladies have parasols to protect their complexions (I've never seen ANYBODY with a parasol in the US). What I always answer to them is that in the US, people tend not to be outside for as long when it's raining--they drive everywhere. But when you are walking to a subway stop, you are outside for longer. They always agree but point out that Americans are content to put on a baseball cap or flip up a hood and be soaking wet. I can't argue that--I never carry an umbrella in America. Does anyone else? It's really something I've never thought about!

The number one photo I get asked for: the vending machine in the restaurants. So here you go:

You pay, press your button, and get a ticket. The waitstaff takes that ticket and you wait until they bring your food. If you are lucky, the buttons have pictures on them, but sometimes they don't.

I decided on Friday that I was hungry for another Black Pepper Whopper so I decided to go to Akihabara and back to the Burger King. Apparently, BK's closed down for years in Japan and only reappeared last year--plus, there only six of them, so it's a real oddity that I managed to stumble upon one. That being said, I couldn't find it when I was looking for it. I wandered and wandered--no BK. So finally I gave up and went in the McDonald's. The McDonald's here have a Teriyaki porkburger and a Salsa burger of some sort--I went for the pork. It was pretty good but a little too sweet for my liking. And INCREDIBLY messy.

Of course, as I was leaving I found the BK, but by this time I was full. So I journeyed back on Sunday before meeting my tutor to get that delicious good.

But then I bit into my Whopper Jr (that's what I order at BK here--don't want to waste stomach room with fries, only Whoppers)--it was a Teriyaki Whopper Jr! Not what I ordered. And it was gross. WAY too sweet. I wrapped it up again and tossed it--life's too short to eat icky burgers.

Wait, you say, what was that about a tutor? I've decided this is the perfect time to increase my Japanese knowledge so I'm meeting with a tutor once a week. It's not perfect--I know I won't learn much in three hours a week--but it's better than nothing :)

I swear, I saw a zombie in Akihabara and it was shambling after me. Fortunately, a shamble isn't very fast, so I was able to get away at a brisk walk. He also wasn't saying anything about "brains" that I could hear, so that was a good sign. Other than the possible zombie, I saw a number of other interesting things.

The first--why does this hello kitty have a goatee and moustache? Does anyone else think that's strange? If you enlarge the picture you'll see--definitely a beard and mustache. Hmm....

I thought this was kind of cool--it reminded me of something my brother Sam would have liked. I'm not exactly sure how the game works but it has to do with trading cards, you slide the cards around on the board.

When I was in Hong Kong I saw a game called "the typing of the dead" and Josh told me that to play that game you ACTUALLY typed into a keyboard to defeat zombies--it was supposed to teach typing skills. While, last week I saw this: the English of the Dead. I don't imagine the dead speak very good English. They certainly never have in any movie I've watched! So I don't know what good a zombie tutor would really be.

Lots and lots of things amuse me in Japan. For example, I walked into the 7-11 on Sunday and heard the iconic beginning of "Freebird" start to play--now that's just funny! And today, I ate at TGI Fridays. Other than the fact that the waitresses still wore "flair", it could have been the Friday's in Des Moines, which was disconcerting. That being said, I was really happy to get my chicken fingers with honey mustard AND a bottomless iced tea (drinks here are EXPENSIVE! Usually 400-500 yen and that's with NO refills).

This weekend's excursion was all over Japan. I met up with someone from Craigslist who said he would show me around. We walked for four hours! I thought I was going to die.

I saw the National Diet, which I was told was similar to the White House. Although not shown in this picture, there are cops EVERYWHERE in Tokyo right now--the G8 summit is right around the corner and they are afraid of attacks (validly, wasn't the G8 around when the London subways got bombed?)--so send nice, safe thoughts to Japan :)

Tokyo Tower. As to why it looks like the Eiffel Tower, well, that's anyone's guess. You can go up to the top but it's about $20 so I didn't do it.

Near the tower, there were lots of people painting. I thought that was awesome!

At the bottom of the tower is a set of statues of dogs. When I asked what these dogs represent I was told it had something to do with an Arctic expedition (South Pole maybe) and all the dogs but two died. Apparently, a Disney story was made about this--but it doesn't ring a bell for me--anyone else know it? Personally, I found that to be a really depressing story. Couldn't they just have put a more uplifting monument to the two that made it?

You almost didn't get to see this picture because it isn't particularly flattering!! But remember--by this point I've walked for about 3.5 hours. This is Hibiya park by the Imperial Palace (which actually has a MOAT!! I HAVE to take pictures before coming home).

The flowers in Tokyo are really pretty. There are lots and lots of peonies--gorgeous blue peonies. And I like these flowers (whatever they are)-they have a really strong scent:

In food news:
Here is one of the most amusing items I've bought in Japan--Sparkling Oxygenwater. It has 35 TIMES THE NORMAL OXYGEN IN WATER! So it's like H2OOOOOOOOOO (35 of them)! And it was about 4 bucks for a tiny bottle, so it must be good. Right? Right?

I was expecting to be so oxygenated I could hardly stand it, but no luck. Frankly, it tasted just like seltzer water. And when I spilled half of it on the floor, it did not do a superior cleaning job.

*disclaimer: bottle filled with normal, boring H2O for the picture*

Monday's haul from the produce market included potatoes, zucchini, asparagus, and more mikans. I'm convinced that citrus so expensive must be good, so maybe I just had a bad set. I go to three produce markets--all on my way home from the subway station--but my favorite is the one with the teenage boys who try to flirt with me in English and give me discounted produce (a free zucchini!).

I've been asked how I know what I'm getting at the restaurants. Short answer--most of the time I don't. I know quite a bit of kanji (Chinese characters) but not enough to easily read a menu, so my method is to read what I can until I see something I recognize, and order that. It's a good theory, but it doesn't always work.

For example, I read down a menu until I saw "tomato". I like tomatoes, so I'll get that, I thought. I thought I saw the work hamburger too, so maybe a hamburger with tomatoes?

Nope. A hamburger covered in tomato sauce. It was good though! The vegetable in the little bowl is daikon--if you come to Japan and don't like daikon, you are going to be in trouble because it's included (in some form) in almost every meal.

Sushi rice wrapped in seaweed is a really really common lunch or snack in Japan. I decided that I should try something so popular--it's waiting for me in the fridge.

I'm constantly hearing about how expensive Japan is. Well, that's probably true if you want to stay in a high-end hotel, eat in hotel restaurants, take taxis everywhere, and go to Disney. If you are willing to stay in a more business hotel, eat in smaller venues where they might not speak English but the food is authentic, take the subway, and go to cheaper places--it wouldn't be very expensive. For example, I ate soba on Sunday. The whole meal cost 255 yen--less than $2.50 for a full meal. How is that expensive? And it was a LOT of food.

So what did I think about soba? I'm glad my boss told me how to eat it. One thing that always confuses me is if something is a dip or a soup--which could be a very embarrassing error. With soba, it's a dip. You dump all side items that you want into the sauce and then dip the cold noodles in. They are made out of buckwheat and are pretty good, although I think they have a strange aftertaste.

I ate at a bakery last week too. After watching people for a while, I figured out (too late) that you can take all the bread you want--I saw some people with about fifteen pieces. I got the beef stew and it was tasty. This kind of meal is more expensive--probably around $15.

In snack food news:

I've actually tried most of the things I've bought so I'll have to do a round-up later. But new items include:

I LOVE tiny ice creams! My mom says these are being sold in the US (probably not the same flavors though). They are just the right size. I haven't tried Azuki Milk (which I don't have high hopes for, I don't like azuki, which are sweet red beans--beans are never dessert in my opinion). The Macadamia Nut was DELICIOUS!!! Wow was it good. If it's sold in the US, go and buy it. The vanilla ice creams is smooth and sweet and contrasts really well with the almost salty flavor of the nuts.

The cassis and orange ice cream--not as tasty. The cassis part was almost a sorbet and I just plain didn't like the flavor or texture.

More mango treats! These are a sort of jelly. They are pretty mangoy but I wasn't a big fan. They are pretty much wiggly little squares coated it cornstarch or something.

I have no idea what these apple snacks are--I haven't tried them yet. But another flavor of kitkat--strawberry! I think I have five or six flavors to try when Josh comes, so look for that blog this weekend :)

Let me know what you think! As stated before, feel free to forward this blog to anyone you think may enjoy it :) Comments are always welcome (unless you're a jerk!).

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

End of week three and my excursion to Denny's!

First off, a big thanks goes to my mother, my father, and my boyfriend for tirelessly promoting my blog :) Apparently I have a lot of new people reading. I would love to know who you are! So if you are reading these, either leave a comment or email me at and tell me what you think! Also, I love getting comments and accept anonymous you don't have to join to leave your thoughts!

Why didn't I post last week? Because I have a terrible confession to make. It rained ALL weekend so I spent most of weekend hibernating. I know, I know, I'm in Japan. But it's hard to go out in a two-day long downpour! As I keep saying, no one would move to Japan for the beautiful weather. The few times I did leave the apartment, I forgot my camera, so I had almost nothing to report. It's so dreary and all the rain at night makes the alleys that I walk through kind of creepy.

So I decided (on Sunday) to punish myself for barely leaving the apartment--I was going to eat the convenience store sushi that I see every day. I have a problem with the idea of sushi from a 7-11, it just seems kind of gross. I don't know if they have raw fish in them or not (the word sushi refers to vinagered rice, not raw fish), but it still seems risky. On the other hand, millions of Japanese people eat these every day, so it can't be that bad. Right?? Right?? The sushi I find the most interesting has Spam on the top but that isn't sold by my house (but it is sold by my work!). I bought a 3-pack.

It was okay. Not terrific, not bad. Had some sort of tasty sauce in the middle, almost a mayonnaise, that was pretty good. I also bought a hard-boiled egg. I like hard-boiled eggs, but only the yolk. I don't know what they do to the eggs here but they taste different--and not good different. One bite and in the trash.

I also went on a search for butter. You know, sometimes things that are so easy to find in the US are surprisingly diffiicult to find when you have trouble with the labels. I found what I thought was butter in the convenience store by the cheeses. I stood there for a while--butter or cheese? Could be either...finally, I spotted the word "butter" (well, in katakana, but butaa is pretty close). It was expensive but should last the two months, easily.

Another thing I find really interesting in Japan...gum syrup. If you get a cold drink they hand you gum syrup to sweeten it. I've never received gum syrup in the US--has anyone else? It mixes really well but I think it has a slightly strange aftertaste.

I find Japanese fruit to be--actually, fruit outside of the US--to be interesting. There is a lot of fruit that grows in the Philippines or Thailand that isn't hardy enough for the trip to the US. And there are fruit stands around my subway stop.

I bought a yellow fruit, not knowing what it was. It was a mango! Apparently there are a lot of types of mango, one of them being this yellow variety. It was the most ripe and tasty mango I've ever had.

I also like the oranges here. The sad thing is that they are Florida oranges, yet more ripe and juicy than I've ever had--even in season (winter) in Florida! Oddly, they tend to be striped inside.

Last weekend I bought what I thought were oranges--and they weren't. The fruit pictured in the back were very sour, almost like a grapefruit, but the inside was orange. Any ideas? The package says "sunfruit" --assuming I translated it correctly--but that doesn't really help me.

The fruit on the right are oranges and on the left...well, I'm not sure. They are extremely expensive (Almost 1000 yen for 6! That's $10 for 6 tiny fruit!), which interested me. I'm thinking they are Mikan but I could be wrong.

My weekly American food excursion was to Denny's! Every week I pop out of the subway station in front of the Denny's and it's so interesting (and busy). But I've been told that it is NOTHING like the American version. I really wanted to find out for myself but it's not really the type of place I could bring anyone else--I (rightly) assumed they wouldn't be interested.

The menu was full of Japanese food. Not a single Big Slam breakfast OR Moons Over My Hammy to be found!

And "Denny's restaurant sauce"--no idea what that is. It smelled like A1 sauce.

The French fries were very tasty even though they came with a strange pink sauce. No idea what the sauce was--it was almost sweet and had little granules in it. I ate it anyway.

The mysterious fish balls were less impressive.

American black cherries are popular here and Denny's was no exception--they had a whole "black cherry" part of the menu. So I ordered what I thought might be a crepe. The picture in the menu sure looked like a crepe. It was creme brulee. Pretty tasty, although heavy on the "brulee" and light on the "creme", which is opposite of the way I like it. That being said, I don't think I've ever seen a creme brulee on a Denny's menu.

I have a few new snacks to add to the growing list of interesting Japanese snack food (and I've eaten some of the featured items from previous weeks, I'll try to do a roundup this weekend).

Sometimes you come upon foods and have NO idea what they are. This was one of those foods. It had a picture of a processed meat product on the left hand side, so maybe it was supposed to taste like that? It tasted like an overinflated cheeto--really light and airy, and surprisingly good. Still don't know what it was supposed to taste like, but at least it was good!

This on the other bite and in the garbage.

First off, the package is creepy. Why is that guy so excited to eat the talking corn? If I saw talking corn, I'd run away from it--probably straight to the psychiatrist. But this guy, he's excited. It tasted EXACTLY like corn on the cob, if the cob was a Cheeto, which really grossed me out.

On one of the junk food blogs that I read, the reviewed Tubuto caramel corn and I though...I could try that! Apparently, my package is enjoying a nice ice cream float, which looks much tastier than the caramel corn, which I haven't tried yet. On the right side is a mysterious product that I'm thinking will taste like steak, considering the kid is carrying a piece of meat that is about the same size as his head.

If you've been reading this blog, you know that I think Japanese fashion is very interesting. One of the things that makes it interesting to me is the fact that American fashion standards have almost nothing to do with Japanese fashion choices. For example (and I apologize for the picture quality), this guy:

He obviously thought he was quite fashionable, he had the spring in his step of somebody who thought he looked HOT. And he had a mullet. Totally had a mullet. And I've seen so many mullets in Japan, you'd think I was at a giant Journey concert (sorry Ben)!

In non-food news, one of things that confused me the most when I moved into my apartment was how to turn on the main lights. Nothing seemed to do it. I spent a while without them before figuring it out. It wasn't that big of a hardship--the lamps worked and so did the bathroom lights, but it was still annoying. Eventually, I noticed a button that looked like an emergency button. I was getting desperate at this point, so I pushed it. It wasn't a button at all, but a hole. So I took the stick on my keychain and shoved it in--and the lights came on! It's apparently a way to make sure you turn off the lights (and the AC) when you leave the apartment.

I'm not the only one confused about it--in the middle of last week I saw a very confused Indian lady. She stopped me and asked me how to turn on the lights--and I was able to help! So at least my idiocy helped someone. And it's an easy way to remember your keys when you leave the house.

I was fooling around with the buttons in my apartment trying to make the AC work. I finally got sick of not having an AC (it is super humid here) so I decided to push buttons all over in an attempt to make it work--and I finally did! But, unrelatedly (to me at the time), I couldn't get any hot water. And when I say there was no hot water, I mean there was NO hot water. It felt like ice was pouring from the spout. I suffered through a few ice showers, but it was terrible. The problem? While in my button pushing frenzy, I had hit a button (outside of the bathroom, by the fax machine) that controls the hot water. Silly me--I thought all buttons dealing with the bathroom would be IN or NEAR the bathroom itself! At least this problem got fixed fairly quickly.

My last thought of the blog...I love love love these lucky money cats. You see them in almost every shop in Japan, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. A raised right paw brings you money while a raised left paw brings you customers. The colors even have meaning, with white cats usually meaning purity and tricolor/calico being especially lucky.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Japan, end of week two, and MORE FOOD!

First things first, I've been asked if it's okay to forward my blog on to others--of course! Frankly, I'm excited that anyone wants to :) Another common question is about new posts--I'm guessing 3 or so a week--one during the week, two on the weekends. Pretty much on the weekday's I go to work and then come home, which isn't that exciting.

This is going to be a mostly food blog again becuase that's what I do during the week--eat! That being said--I think I'm losing weight. I walk and walk and walk and walk and am constantly climbing stairs. I have this terrible vision of stepping on the hem of my pants (because they are loose because I'm losing weight) and have my pants fall off! And then, because every single person in Japan has high-tech cell phones, it will be videoed and on YouTube within minutes as "Gaijin loses pants"...terrifying!

Another story that, unfortunately, is pictureless is an adventure to Bob's International Lounge for lunch. You know, a place in Japan that has cartoons of a cowboy...not usually a great sign in my opinion. The place...well, that's a story for the ages. There were two waitresses. One was about 150, and had one tooth and one eye. The other had a baby on her back. One of my coworkers said that he thought that's what family dining in the United States was like. I replied...only in the deepest of the deep rural areas, where you hear men squealing like pigs and banjo's dueling. That being said, it was bizarre enough that the women in the office want to see it, so I'll probably go back--and this time, I'll get pictures. My favorite part was the dartboard on the balcony, so that if you missed, your dart would go flying over the side from 8 stories up.

But I will start off with a non-food picture. It was requested that I take a picture of the hated Japanese keyboard. It turns out that keyboards are surprisingly difficult to photograph. The problems are not immediately noticeable--until you notice that punctuation signs are ALL over the place, especially items like apostrophe's, which are not used by the Japanese. Another huge problem? The space bar is half the size that it is on the English model, and the button to the right changes the language. So I was CONSTANTLY changing the language accidentally. I haven't typed so slow since I was 13!

So, whenever I said I was going to Japan, people in America tended to bring up mochi. "Oh, I love mochi" they'd say "I'd eat so much mochi if I was in Japan". I had a bad feeling that the Japanese called something different mochi than the American's do...and I was right. In America, mochi tends to refer a tasty dessert of ice cream wrapped in a dough made of rice. In Japan, it appears that the word "mochi" only is referring to the rice dough that's it. So what does that mean in practice?

It means instead of cupcakes, people bring mochi balls to work for treats.

Hmmm...the green, sticky part is the mochi. The purple part is...I actually have no idea at all what the purple part is. Really, could be anything. It was sweet, that's all that I know. And this thing was HUGE. There was no way I could eat it all. It wasn't bad but I won't be trading in cupcakes for them. And it would be better filled with ice cream.

Because I'm foreign and willing to try any food they hand me (once or twice) I got multiple treats. This was the other one. I have no idea at all what it is but it appeared to be filled with the same purple stuff. They told me I was suppsoed to eat the leaf so I did. It was a strangely salty food. Again, not bad...but I wouldn't cross the street to get one.

As I was wandering the block I found a shop that sells nothing but apple products. Very strange. And a HUGE range of apple products--dried apples, apple jelly, apple alcohol. I bought some dried apples. They were cut really thick and they were as dry as I've ever seen dehydrated fruit...that being said, they were really quite good and I think I'll go back.

I haven't tried the mango kit-kats yet but I have invested in two new types. One is banana flavored and the other (which seems to be very patriotic and in tune with the upcoming 4th of July) is berry flavored.

I have stumbled upon a snack I really like. The skeleton chips are EXTREMELY spicy little rings...and they are compounding spicy. So the first one, not so bad. The second one, wow, that's some heat. Eventually, you are tearing up and sweating. But in a good way! And the little bag next to it--I don't know why I took a picture of the back of the bag rather than the front. But they are really tasty soft little cider flavored candies. Yum!

I'm sure the red vs. green bags means something and it's probably that one is more spicy than the other, but I don't know which is which. The spicy rings have a competitor though made my frito-lay. They taste like rings of Cheeto's that are incredibly hot. Like I couldn't eat more than three hot.

Things that remind me of Cheetos are plentiful in Japan. I also ate what tasted like a chocolate cheeto dipped in chocolate--it was surprisingly good.

The award for the cutest candy has to go to Hello Kitty in Panda suit candy. I think it's supposed to be some sort of Coke float hard candy. Frankly, it doesn't taste very good and has a strange aftertaste. But it's so cute, who cares! I eat a lot of these little cider candies and the one on the right is a kind of almond caramel that is really good. They are individually packaged, which makes me happy--I only like to eat a little bit of candy at a time (which is why there is so much untouched candy in my apartment!).

On Wednesday I ate at a ramen shop. It's been asked how I pick which resturants to go to. Well, I look for a push-button ordering system (it's easy and I don't clog up the line), a menu with pictures, or plastic models of the food. If it has one of those things, I'm set. Otherwise, menu's tend to have WAY too much kanji for me to be able to read them. The ramen was good, espacially the broth. I'm not sure about the slice of pork floating in there but it was fairly tasty too.

Every morning I go to get a Coke to drink during the day and some sort of healthy drink for breakfast. This is the one I've been getting lately. It has a LOT of fruits and vegetables in it including carrots, pumpkin, corn, eggplant, daikon, several differant types of lettuce or cabbage, mango, tomato, banana, and the kitchen sink. It MUST be healthy :)

Sometimes after work I go to a coffee shop named Tully's. Tully's is obviously a non-Japanese chain (I mean, come on, Tully's?) but it's close and I like to sit there, drink honey lattes and eat some cheesecake. The Japanese are always SHOCKED when I can count money out correctly. It has the same numbers on it that we use--it doesn't exactly take a brain trust to figure out.

Embarassing American Food I've Eaten This Week Award goes to: SUBWAY! It looks exactly like it does in the US doesn't it? It was okay but the mayo was strange and they put exactly 4 pickles on a foot long sub. And she placed those FOUR pickles very carefully. So there wasn't exactly pickle in every bite, which means it wasn't all that it could be.

To be added into the "bought but I haven't tried yet" column:

Blueberry Pocky and what appears to be chestnuts. At least, I think they're chestnuts--any other guesses?

I started getting homesick not so much for American food but for cooking--I miss cooking. My one burner and zero counterspace doesn't so much lend itself to cooking though. I decided that my favorite dish, potatoes and garlic sauteed in copious amounts of olive oil and then salted, was doable even in the tiny kitchen. All the ingredients were easily obtained between the produce shop and the 7-11. Ah, delicious. Not healthy at all but delicious.

In other news, I've been trying to use a translation website, and I've decided that it makes all websites better. For example:

UNIQLO The Ome 今寺店 4-4-2, Imadera, Ome-shi, Tokyo Ome 今寺店 is allowed to consider it as closing with 6/26 (Thurs.), though very selfish, and it transfer-opening-does as an Ome store at 6/27 (Fri.).

Uniqlo is a Gap style store that is common in Japan. And you know what? It is selfish for wanting to close :)