Cost of Eating – Japan (Part 2)

OK, as promised, another look at eating in Japan! Last week I went over the selection and prices of some of the food staples that can be found at grocery stores here. This week, we’ll delve into some fun foods.

Snacks

First and foremost, of course, are…SNACKS. My favorite meal of the day! I tend to eat small meals but snack a lot. I’m trying to learn to minimize the amount of sugary snacks I eat, but it’s a bit difficult, because my sweet tooth is just so…sweet.

Anyway, there is no end to the types of crackers and cookies that you can buy here. These are some of the cookies tucked away in my cupboard right now. YUM.

As in America, it’s the unhealthy snacks that are the cheapest. I suppose sugar and additives are a lot less expensive than real food. I can’t remember how much the strawberry flavored cookies cost – probably around ¥200 or so. I bought the cookies on the left from the ¥100 store, so they cost…you know…¥100.

There are lots of different crackers here! In addition to American-style chips (potato chips, select kinds of Pringles, and a knock-off brand of Bugles), there are chips/crackers with all sorts of flavors that we don’t have in America. Senbei (rice crackers, usually disk-shaped and lightly flavored) are very popular as well. I have some interesting lemon-flavored senbei right now, and some shrimp-flavored crisps (kind of like Cheetos, but…not). I bought them on sale, so each bag was less than ¥100.

One thing that I was happy to see in the stores here is fruit gummies. Not the huge boxes of serving-size packages that they have in the States, just small pouches containing maybe 2-3 servings (depending on how many you eat at a time!). They have a nice variety of flavors, though. They’re normally around ¥100 a pouch, give or take a few yen. The ones below were part of a promotion, so they were on sale for about half that. The writing on the front says “Delicious collagen,” which was one of the ingredients in this brand and which is apparently good for you. I bought three pouches, so I should be all set on my collagen intake for awhile!

And yes: there is chocolate. Not much American chocolate (no sign of a Reese’s anywhere), but lots of Japanese chocolate. And hey, when it comes to chocolate, I’m not picky. It’s about the same price as in America, too; around ¥100 or so for a bar of cheap chocolate (like the “Black Chocolate,” or dark, in the photo below) and ¥200-400 for a bag of individual chocolates. I’ve found some new favorites here, like the Look chocolates in the picture. These are filled with a creamy mousse-type filling of four different flavors: strawberry, banana, caramel, or chocolate. Although this bag contains individually wrapped pieces, the same type of chocolate is also sold in bar form, with a row of each flavor. SO DELICIOUS…

OK, OK, enough with the snacks! We’ll take a look at the next category of grocery items, which is…

Beverages

There’s lots of variety to be found in this area! Milk is around ¥200 for a liter (no gallon sizes here!), although in my opinion it tastes different than American milk, so I usually add some chocolate powder to mask the flavor. There are different kinds of juice, too; I usually buy a fruit/veggie mix which has added sugars and is not 100% juice, so it tastes pretty sweet. It’s the one standing proud and tall in the photo below:

There are also sodas, although I think the flavors tend to differ from American varieties. Bottled green tea is big here, as green tea seems to be the drink of choice. As far as I know, it’s usually straight-up green tea, without any added sugar. On the other hand, the bottled “lemon tea” and “milk tea,” which are black teas with different  flavors, are quite sweet. The milk tea, or “mee-ru-ku tea,” as they call it here, has come to be a favorite of mine.

Condiments

Last but not least, we come to the final food category: condiments. Luckily, there are some of the same condiments (ketchup, mayonnaise, etc.) that we use in the States. In fact, I was surprised to find out how popular mayonnaise is here, and it’s always sold in squeeze bottles. Butter is also available, probably for a price similar to that of American butter.  Regrettably, peanut butter is not nearly as popular here as in the U.S. The Skippy brand below is the ONLY kind sold at my local supermarket, and it only comes in that one size. It’s about ¥500.

I was interested to discover that maple syrup is available, albeit in small quantities, and so is honey. Most of the honey I looked at was expensive, but I did find a large jar of honey with added ingredients for about ¥500. Jam is available too, and so are whipped spreads of different flavors.

Not sure if this is technically a condiment, but it’s a seasoning to sprinkle on rice, just like the ones the kindergarteners put on their rice at school (although theirs come in cute single-serving kid-friendly packages). This one is sukiyaki flavor.

One final food item, which probably falls in the snack category but is going to be allowed to hang out awkwardly in the condiments list is…YOGURT. This has always been a favorite of mine, so I buy it no matter what the price, but I do try to keep my eye out for deals. I’ve always eaten sweetened yogurt, but am trying to gradually shift over to unsweetened. The unsweetened yogurt on the left below was around ¥130 for a box containing about four servings. The flavored yogurt cups on the right are normally around ¥160, but I bought them on sale for ¥118! The yogurt flavors here are generally similar to the ones in America – blueberry, strawberry, mixed fruit, etc. – but there is also aloe flavor (the two green cups in the middle are aloe). I actually really love this kind – it has small gel-like chunks, similar in consistency to the inside of a grape, and it’s quite delicious!

Well, that’s the end of the very long food tour. If you have any questions about food or prices here, leave me a comment below. Or come for a visit, and you can try some of these foods for yourself!

Cost of Eating – Japan

Hello, readers! Today I bring you a post about one of my favorite topics – FOOD!! This trip to Japan is the first time I’ve ever had to come up with and grocery shop for my own meals here, so I thought I might give you a peek into what it is like planning (and paying for!) meals in Japan. I’ve also been trying to incorporate healthier foods into my diet, so we’ll  explore what healthy eating here looks like, too.

First, we’ll deflate a couple of common myths that Americans seem to have about food in Japan. One is that food is not NECESSARILY more expensive here than in the States. It really depends on what you are buying. Some things are significantly more expensive, while other things are significantly cheaper. We’ll go into more details about pricing later on.

Second, food is not NECESSARILY more healthy here than in the States. Again, it depends on what your choices are. There is a lot of seafood, and other “healthy” foods such as vegetables, tofu, and fermented foods. But if you’re looking for a lot of the foods that we consider healthy in America – multigrain items, whole wheat flour, low-carb snacks – forget it. There are LOTS of lightweight, nutritionally empty crackers, cookies, breads, and pastries here, but not many good options in the way of healthy snack foods.

Also, one final note: I’ll be writing prices in yen, but for the purpose of comparing them to American prices, 100 yen is ROUGHLY equal to one dollar. That is, 1 yen = 1 dollar. In reality, the yen has been strong compared to the dollar lately (I think that’s how you say it LOL) – for example, the exchange rate today is 100 yen to 90 U.S. cents. But for doing mental calculations, thinking of 100 yen as one dollar is pretty convenient.

So, without further ado, let’s explore some of the food items that you might find at the grocery store (or in my fridge!):

Protein:

  • Eggs. I eat a lot of eggs. Mostly because they’re fairly inexpensive – maybe around ¥160 for a carton of small eggs. They sell them in packs of ten here, though, not twelve!
  • Tuna. Yes, they do have canned tuna here. It’s not very cheap, but sometimes I can catch it on sale.
  • Fish. They have lots of fish varieties here – even more than I want to explore. (“No thanks” to the squid, eel, and fish eggs!) I usually do the easy thing and buy frozen fish that is already coated with bread crumbs. Then all I have to do is fry it up!
  • Beef/chicken. Ground beef and chicken, as well as other cuts of beef and probably pork, are sold here. Honestly, I don’t pay a lot of attention because I don’t eat a ton of meat. It seems a little pricier here to me (and the packages are generally smaller), but if it’s on sale, I buy it.
  • Tofu. I don’t know how much tofu costs in America, but here it is cheap, cheap, cheap! Usually around ¥60 per carton. I don’t normally go for tofu, but I’ve taken to eating it here occasionally just because it is so cost-effective. Plus, I hear it is healthy for you, too. 🙂

Vegetables/fruits

  • Root vegetables. Like this miniscule bag of potatoes. (No 10-lb. bags of potatoes to be found here!) Root veggies like potatoes, onions, and carrots are about the only types of vegetables I’ve found that seem to be consistently cheap (at least of the types of vegetables that I eat). This bag cost ¥100.

  • Other vegetables. Sadly, many vegetables here are pricey unless it’s summer and the stores are selling the local produce. I do the best I can to find veggies on sale, but I’ve noticed the prices getting more expensive and the selection becoming more limited as we’ve moved away from the harvest season. I still try to buy a variety, though. Right now I have a package of spinach I bought for ¥200, a yellow pepper which was around ¥130 yen, and an avocado that was on sale for ¥100. I also have occasionally been finding spaghetti squash, which makes a cheap and healthy meal!
  • Fruit. I can’t really talk about fruit here without feeling rather desolate. Oh for the wide selection of fruit in America, imported from all over the States (and the world), with prices that enable me to indulge my fruit passion! Sadly, here the selection is much more limited, and unless it’s in season, it’s nearly always pricey. Bananas are reasonable, but that’s about it. I do buy apples pretty consistently because I’m so fond of them, and I can usually get a bag of six or so for about ¥500. Citrus fruits are pretty plentiful, at least this time of year, but berries (except for strawberries) are a rare sight. Forget about frozen fruit, too. They have all of two or three varieties – generally options like mangoes, blueberries, and mixed berries. All in packages not much bigger than the palm of my hand. Sad, sad, sad…

Grains

  • Bread. If you like white bread, this is the place you should live. You will have no problem finding regular white bread, as well as all sorts of fluffy and flaky rolls and pastries. But wait! They do sell wheat bread, yes they do! In a package containing three slices:

This package, happily, was on sale for ¥80, ¥20 off from its original price. The slices of bread are quite thick here as you may (or may not) be able to tell from this photo:

In fact, you can actually choose which thickness of bread you want depending on the package you purchase. They sell packages of eight slices (more similar to the thickness of American bread), packages of six slices (probably similar to the piece in this photo), and packages of four slices – which, as you can imagine, are very thick!

  • Flour/oats. They do sell white flour here, but I haven’t seen wheat. Although I admit I haven’t looked for it specifically. I’ve been wanting to eat more oats, so I bought some of those the other day. They had exactly one kind, for a price of about ¥400:

  • Cereal. The cereal varieties here are very limited. They carry cornflakes, and usually frosted flakes as well. Beyond that, most of the cereal is a granola/puffed rice type cereal, with bits of dried fruit and other goodies. These are two in my cabinet right now:

The one on the left contains strawberries, raisins, and sunflower seeds, while the one on the right is maple-flavored and has bits of dried sweet potato, raspberries, raisins, and walnuts. Delicious! They were both on sale, for about ¥600 each, which is about as cheap as you can expect to find cereal in a package that size.

Since this post is getting frightfully long and I still have some food items to share, I’ll cut it short and resume it in the next post. I’ll go over some snack items and I may or may not be talking about chocolate :), so stay tuned!

 

Lunchtime!

So this week’s post is about the best time of day…lunchtime! Actually, it’s about lunchtime at kindergarten. My coworkers and I teach at the local kindergarten about two times a week, and every week or two we stay after our regular class and eat lunch with the students. The students eat in their classrooms, so each of us chooses one class to eat with.

I’m not always in the classrooms for the whole getting-ready-for-lunch process, but from what I have observed, it goes like this: First, the students all go out to the sinks in the hallway and wash their hands. Then, they come back in their classroom and each child takes his or her chair and puts it at one of the low tables in the room. They also each take one of the “bentos,” or lunch sets, from the box that has already been delivered to the room.

This is where the process starts to deviate even more from the typical American lunch. Two of the students stand in front of the tables and “introduce” themselves (I think this is to get practice giving self-introductions?). They lead the other students in a lunchtime song, then in a prayer giving thanks for the food (probably very unusual for Japan, but this is a private school owned by a Christian). The students all fold their hands and chorally repeat the prayer, then unfold their hands and continue a long recitation of something else. I’ve only been able to catch part of it, but from what I can gather it’s some sort of appeal/gratitude-giving to parents and others who prepared the meal.

The process is ended with the word “Itadakimasu,” which literally means “I receive” in a very humble form. This is one of the key phrases used in Japan – if you go to a meal at someone’s house, or if someone gives you a snack, this is a phrase that you should definitely say before you eat!

After all these preliminaries have ended, the students can finally eat. School lunches here are much more uniform than in the States. From what I understand, even at public schools students usually eat the school lunch instead of bringing their own. Here at the kindergarten, each student brings his or her own container of rice, and the school provides the rest of the meal – a small divided box filled with a variety of meat or fish, vegetables, and fruit. The lunch option changes from day to day, but from what I’ve seen it always contains food from these three categories.

Here are a couple of pictures of the school lunch (in the yellow box), with the containers of rice that the students bring themselves. The specks on the rice are from seasoning packets that the students sprinkle on to make their rice more flavorful. They also each have their own fork/spoon/chopstick set (the reason you can’t see the chopsticks in these pictures is because the students have them in their hands!). They also usually have their own packet of wipes, and a bottle containing – what else – green tea! There might be some exceptions, but most of the students whom I ask tell me that there’s green tea in their bottles. They are surprised when I tell them that children in American don’t drink green tea!

One thing that always surprises me is how the children gobble their lunches with gusto. I very rarely hear complaints about the types of food in their bento box. They chow down on their rice, meat, fruit, and veggies until they’re gone. When I think of the picky five-year-old eaters in America, it kind of amazes me.

After polishing off their lunches, the students pick up their dishes and go out in the hallway again to brush their teeth at the sink. Then they pick up their chairs and make rows, choose a book to read, and sit down. The completion of lunchtime is fairly open-ended; as each student finishes, he or she follows the clean-up procedures and then reads, alone or with friends, until all the students are finished. So, all in all, the whole lunchtime process takes about an hour or so. I usually stick around and read with the kids for awhile during this time. Much to my shame, most of them can read the kindergarten-level books faster (and with much better intonation!) than I can. I guess I need to keep practicing my elementary reading skills!

So there you have it – a peek at lunchtime in a Japanese kindergarten. Makes you want a bento box and some chopsticks of your own, doesn’t it? 🙂

 

 

Happy 2018!

Hello everyone – I’m back! I can’t BELIEVE it’s already a week into the new year! I had a fabulous time spending the holiday with my family in the States, and now it’s back to work!

My visit in America felt way too short, especially considering that I had a long travel time (two layovers) each way. The initial flight from Japan to the U.S. is around 11-12 hours, so my time on the plane is basically filled with watching movies, eating, and sleeping. Luckily I had no super long layovers this time! In any case, the trip was definitely worth it – I got to see my grandmother, spend time with my siblings and parents, and eat some greasy, salty, sugary American food. Yum!

Now that a new year has turned and I’m back to life in Japan, I’m feeling a bit introspective. I’m curious about what the year ahead holds. 2017 was a year of big changes, and I know that 2018 will also hold lots of new experiences and growth. In some ways, the past year was a lot more difficult than I had anticipated, which makes me contemplate how life has a way of turning our expectations on their heads. Life carries a lot of beauty and joy, but due to its frailty and our fallible human natures, there’s also a lot of pain mixed into the joy. The irony is that the pain, as excruciating as it can be, is what makes us better people (if we let it!) and gives God the opportunity to do awesome things in us and to make us more connected to Him.

So, with these thoughts in mind, I’m trying to enter 2018 with fairly open expectations. In a lot of ways, my life here in Japan will be easier than last year, since I’m more familiar with my job and the culture. We’ll also have a turnover of about half our team, so we’ll be getting some new teachers this spring. I don’t have any new year’s resolutions per se, but I definitely want to focus on learning more Japanese and perhaps try to pass one of the levels of the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) that is offered here.

Well, I’ve talked a lot about me, so it’s your turn. Any big plans for 2018? Any great (or small) resolutions, or cool ways that God has been working in your life? Leave me a comment below! And to all my family, friends, and valued readers – I hope you have a wonderful upcoming year. Savor the joyful times, and use the challenges as springboards to develop grit and to grow a thriving relationship with God. Happy 2018!