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 Whopper....mmmm....so 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!).