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!

 

Giving Thanks

In honor of Thanksgiving, I decided to write about some things I’m thankful for in both countries that I’ve lived in. Now that I’ve had the opportunity to experience two different countries, I have a heightened appreciation for the things are that unique to each place. So here we go!

Things I’m thankful for in America:

1. Family. Top of the list, hands down. Because family can’t be replaced, no matter where you live!

2. Central heating.  Yes, I have a wall-mounted heater/air conditioner. And a kerosene space heater (which I haven’t pulled out yet because I really don’t like the fumes). But central heating is not as common over here as in the States. There are heaters in my office at work and in the classrooms, but no heat in the hallways. And let me tell you, when I’m washing the windows with a wet rag in an unheated building in the morning…my fingers get COLD.

3. Real ovens.  I had grand visions of baking wonderful American treats (like pies!) for Thanksgiving. But I gave up, partly due to lack of ingredients, and partly because trying to bake for a crowd in an oven the size of a large microwave is a little daunting. Yes, I can bake one pie at a time, but I’d be in the kitchen for a long time!

Things I’m thankful for in Japan:

1. Efficient public transportation. Having come from a state where there is very little public transportation – at least in the area I live – I really appreciate the fact that I can hop on a train to just about anywhere in Japan, and expect a safe, speedy ride that arrives on time.

2. Heated toilet seats. Because if your house can’t be warm, at least your bum can be.

Oh, and deep tubs. I hardly ever take a bath in America, but I actually do sometimes here, because the tubs are deep enough to take a proper bath in. Meaning that I can sit upright and still have the water come up to about chest level. They’ll make a good Japanese bather out of me yet!

3. Japanese food. I feel like I’m always talking about the food that I miss from America. And it’s true, there are several things I really miss, especially as we come upon Thanksgiving. But I’ve also discovered new favorites here that I know I’ll miss when I return to the States. Persimmons (my new favorite fruit!), plates of 100-yen sushi, and daifuku, a wonderful confection of filled mochi (chewy rice dough). Yum…

So, there you have it…a few of the things I’m thankful for this holiday season. What are YOU thankful for??

Yamagata, Part 3

Presenting the last episode of the Yamagata Adventures!

First, the story of the search for a hot spring! As I mentioned in my previous post, Kaminoyama Onsen, the town we visited on our second day in Yamagata, is known for having hot springs, and we were hoping to visit a hot spring bath while we were there. We had a map featuring the location of several bath houses in town, so after we were done exploring the castle and other historic sites, we started wandering the town looking for a bath.

Before we started our search, though, we took time to enjoy one of the free foot baths that were scattered throughout town. These are large basins filled with piping hot water, with seating around the sides so all you have to do is whip off your shoes, have a seat, and relax your tired feet! The foot bath we chose was at the top of the hill right near the castle, so we had a fabulous view!

Next, we tried hunting down a good bath house. The first place we went to looked promising – but we were confused by the fact that it looked like a fancy inn. There was even a woman in a yukata standing near the doors, waiting to welcome people! We thought that maybe there was a bath house inside that we could use, so I walked to the door and asked about it. The lady that we talked to, with very typical Japanese elegance and graciousness, said something to us and pointed outside, then proceeded to walk down part of the road with us even though she was wearing the precarious traditional Japanese shoes! We thanked her and continued down the road in the direction she had pointed. We stopped and looked around. No sign of anything that looked like a bath house. Hmmm. Well, our map said that it was here, and we didn’t dare to go back and ask again, so we set off in a different direction.

After some walking, we discovered bath house number two. It was tucked down a side street, and the building looked very old and unimpressive. In my head I had visions of the wonderful hot spring we had visited at the Hawaiians resort earlier in the summer, with the beautiful baths that included an outdoor bathing area. No, I decided, this rickety old place wasn’t going to cut it. So we kept walking.

Bath house number three probably would have been a great possibility if we had decided to go there. As we were walking down one of the main roads, I saw a building with a sign that identified it as an inn, but with public access baths. A Japanese man saw me looking at the sign and happily informed me that we could bathe there. It looked promising, but I still had some idealistic visions of resort-style baths in my head, plus the price was a bit more than I wanted to pay. (In retrospect, it was very reasonable, especially if the quality of the bath house was decent. Sigh for me and my skinflinty ways).

By the time we got to bath house number four, we were quite tired of walking. “Is this it?” We looked at the building. It looked just like bath house number two, the same one that had given me the creeps earlier. Just a nondescript old building, definitely with no outdoor bathing area.  I figured we didn’t really have much stamina left to look for a new place. As we were trying to figure out what to do, a lady walked out. She saw us standing there uncertainly. “Douzo,” she said. “Go ahead.”

We ended up deciding to go in. In the building was a little vending machine, where you buy a ticket for the bath. There was another button that said something about hair, so I figured it was for shampoo. Happily for my stingy little heart, the bathing fee was very cheap. But was this really where we wanted to go? Everything looked sad and tired – the worn-down shoe cubbies, the dusty old pay phone. Hesitantly, we bought our tickets.

Into the main building we walked. We looked in the window of the ticket counter, which was right in the middle of the building, strategically placed so that the person inside could collect tickets from both the women’s side and the men’s side. (We were on the women’s side, in case you were wondering.) We handed our tickets to the old guy behind the counter and walked into the undressing area. Shabby. Very, very shabby. There were wooden cubbies (no lockers) and an old vinyl couch mended with duct tape. The bathing area looked old, too, and only had one bath. “Do you really think we should do this?” my friend said.

Of course we should! When else will we have the experience of visiting an authentic Japanese bath house that probably hasn’t been updated since the sixties? Nobody else was there, and we could have it all to ourselves! I was a little nervous, though, about the guy at the ticket counter. I checked to make sure that he wasn’t actually able to see us from the counter. Nope. We were safe! But first…”I don’t see any soap in there!” Since we didn’t bring soap, that meant we’d have to buy it. Oh well. I took a 100 yen coin and went back out to the ticket machine, then gave my ticket to the guy at the counter. I expected him to hand me some soap. No. He gave me…a faucet handle. I must have shown my confusion because he explained something to me about putting it on the faucet. I carried it back into the dressing room. Maybe it was to turn on the hot water, my friend suggested.

Anyway…time to undress. We took our washcloths and our faucet handle into the bathing room. My friend was still apprehensive, but I was determined to get my money’s worth out of the experience. She looked at something on the floor. “That’s a cockroach!” she said. I looked. Well, I didn’t have my glasses on, but I did see a bug. Hmm. We looked at the faucets. Yes, the handle we had procured did turn on the hot water. That didn’t solve the soap problem. Oh well. We rinsed off without soap, then got into the steaming hot bath. Ahhhh. Nothing beats a relaxing soak in a dingy, bug-infested bath house. In all seriousness, it wasn’t that bad, but we were both kind of weirded out by the decrepit conditions, so our relaxing soak soon came to an end. We got dressed, got our things, and gave back our faucet handle, deciding that a shower was high on our priority list when we got back to the hotel.

Thus ended our not-so-glamorous experience looking for onsen. Which brings me to a happier topic: food! Yonezawa, the city that we stayed in overnight, is famous for beef, so we made sure to visit an upscale beef restaurant so we could try some high-quality beef. That in itself was an experience; the menu items were so pricey that we ended up buying a full-course meal and splitting it between the two of us. We also had some nice meals at the hotel; breakfast was included in the cost of our stay, and we got a really large meal each morning! Since we were there for two days, we tried the Japanese-style breakfast one morning, and the Western-style breakfast the next. They were delicious!

To cap off this final post about Yamagata, here are some pictures and videos illustrating today’s stories. Enjoy!

Ye olde bath house
“Are we really going into that tub?” “Yep!”
Hotel breakfast, Japanese style! Rice (of course), soup, egg, pickles, fish, and nattou!
Hotel breakfast, “Western” style – eggs with ketchup, semi-cooked bacon, broth, very thick toast, fruit, yogurt, and salad.
Different beef cuts at the gourmet beef restaurant.
Yakiniku – grill-your-own beef!

And two videos of the beef delicacies we tried at the fancy restaurant. We took these with my phone, so I apologize for the questionable audio quality.

Thus ends the lengthy account of our vacation in Yamagata. Although not everything went as planned, I felt like we got to experience a lot of authentic cultural activities, and it was a great way to spend our long weekend!

Keeping It Real: Six Months

Has it really been six months?

Yes. Yes it has.

Wow.

In the past six months, I’ve moved to a new home, tried new foods, worked to absorb a new language, met lots of new people, and made new friends. I’ve experienced the frustrations of culture shock and the confusion of trying to figure out my identity in a new context. But overall, it’s been an enriching and satisfying experience.

In the process of reflecting on my six-month anniversary, it’s time for one of my favorite activities: making lists!

Things I miss about America:

1. American camaraderie. Specifically, in the workplace and in more formal interactions. I don’t have a ton of varied work experiences, but I feel like in America there tends to be a more level playing field and more informal interactions. The hierarchy, politeness, and sometimes almost groveling present in work/business relations and among strangers can seem a bit stifling to my American mind. It makes me nervous to know that I might be found offensive if I forget to thank someone for a favor done, or to greet someone at the appropriate time. On the other hand, it’s all a matter of what you’re used to, and sometimes I wonder how rude we Americans must seem, with our brash talkativeness and our nonchalant attitudes about authority and formality.

2. Shopping in English. Of course, it’s fun to shop in a different country. I love going to the grocery store and buying new products to try – or continuing to buy favorite products I’ve found, things that I can’t get in the States. The frustrating thing is trying to read the labels, especially if I’m checking for a specific ingredient or nutrient. Luckily, the technology on Smartphones these days allows my friends and me to use electronic dictionaries and translation apps. It’s all part of the adventure, and it’s a good way to learn new words and symbols!

3. American scenery. This area has some beautiful scenery – sharply sloping hills, dense forests, and wide rice fields. For all that, I still miss the familiarity of American scenery. There’s something comforting about being surrounded by the nature you’re used to. For me, that’s the gentle hills and wide fields of home. And especially sunsets over the lavender patch!

Things I love about Japan:

1. Customer service. The extreme politeness I mentioned above? Well, it makes for a great customer service experience. Of course, everyone is human and not all cashiers and customer service workers are bright and bubbly. But still, overall I would say there’s a much better customer service experience here than in America. For higher-end services, the standards are even better. For example, the few times I’ve taken the shinkansen (bullet train), I’ve noticed that the attendants and the conductors all excuse themselves when entering a car and bow when leaving it. I was a little surprised when I first saw it, but not really, because after all…this is Japan.

2. Walking everywhere. I guessed, when I moved to Japan, that I wouldn’t miss driving that much. And I don’t. I do miss the convenience of it – and granted, I haven’t had to walk during the winter yet, so I might change my mind! But I like having a good reason to get outside and exercise. Nothing like toting a backpack full of groceries home from the store to (hopefully) build muscle and get some aerobics in.

3. Kind strangers. People here are amazing. I’ve had different opportunities where I’ve had to ask strangers questions, or ask for help. And every time, I’m met with kindness, attentiveness, and often actions that go above and beyond what I originally asked for. Their kindness and hospitality – especially if they feel a sense of concern about you, as with our employers – is unparalleled!

Six months gone, eighteen more to go. It remains to be seen what the next year and a half holds…

 

Japan vs. America: Grocery Stores

I’ve been wanting to do a post about Japanese grocery stores for awhile, so…this is the week for it! Of course, many aspects of Japanese grocery stores are the same as American stores, but there are lots of differences, and it makes every grocery shopping excursion an adventure! Please excuse the quality of the pictures, as I took them with my phone on the sly so I wouldn’t look like the weird photo-taking tourist. 🙂

First up: the cereal aisle! The cereal selection here is MUCH smaller than in the U.S. The entire length of the cereal aisle spans maybe three or four feet. When I think of the HUGE selection of cereals at home, it makes me want to laugh. Or cry. However, I do like the kinds of cereals here. Most of the varieties are what you see pictured here: a mixture of puffed cereal, crunchy bits, flakes, and/or dried fruit (sort of similar to granola or Honey Bunches of Oats). They also have…

CORN FLAKES!!! Kellogg’s, no less. And yes, they do carry Pringles!

Next, let’s visit the fresh foods section. As expected, there are lots of different kinds of seafood. There is also chicken, beef, and other types of meat. But there’s way more fish than I’m used to. For example, whole fish with eyeballs:

You can also get your choice of octopus/squid delicacies:

There are lots of trays of sushi to choose from. One thing that I find interesting is that the sushi and other prepared foods are left out at room temperature or only slightly chilled. For example, there are many precooked lunch plates and entrees that are just displayed on tables with no refrigeration, left to hang out at room temperature. And eggs. No refrigerated eggs. It made me a little nervous at first, but I haven’t gotten sick yet. (I do try to be careful of what I buy, however.) It’s just so weird after coming from America’s “refrigerate everything” mentality!

Luckily for me, there is pizza in Japan! Unluckily for me, it usually tastes a little different. Often the crusts are thinner, the sauce tastes a little sweeter, and there are sometimes weird toppings (although usually there are options with pepperoni). This one has corn (a popular pizza topping here) and something else that I can’t identify.  Sometimes I’ve even seen a little dab of potato salad in the middle!

Did we cover desserts yet? Ah yes, here they are! Pastry-type desserts are actually pretty popular here – cream puffs, cream-filled rolls, etc. There are always cakes, although they are usually light and spongy, with mousse-like frosting. Pudding cups are also popular. I didn’t take a picture of the bread aisle, but there are a surprising number of sweet pastries and rolls. The bread selection is quite limited, though. The packages are mostly one size, with four, six, eight, or ten slices, depending on the thickness. (You’re still getting the same amount of bread, but the fewer the slices, the thicker they are!) No heels, though – the slices are all uniform and ready to eat. And yes, you can get wheat bread – if you want to get a tiny bag that only contains three slices!

OK, produce time! The nice thing about summer is that there’s a bunch of local produce offered at very reasonable prices. You can see some of it in the background of this picture. In the foreground is what I THINK is a warmer for packages of roasted sweet potatoes, which are quite popular here. The veggie and fruit selection is similar to the U.S., but usually smaller, especially for the fruits. Ah, I miss the inexpensive fruit from the States!

A lot of the fruit is packaged neatly and/or decoratively. These melons have pretty ribbons, and might make a nice gift…

…for only 1,800 yen ($16) each!

OK, last stop: the wrapping station. You bag your own groceries here; after you pay the cashier, you tote your basket to the wrapping table, where you can find extra plastic baggies, a wet cloth to dampen your fingers with (so you can open your plastic bags), and other miscellaneous things you might need! Apparently I only got the middle of the table in my photo, since I snapped it in a hurry. 🙂

Well, I think that about does it for the grocery store tour. If you’re ever in the area, come visit and I’ll show you one in person!

Japan vs. America: Schools

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for awhile, but have been saving for a weekend that I didn’t have any new events to write about. Well, that weekend has come, so here is my first post comparing some of the differences between Japan and America. This time, it’s about schools!

#1: No shoes allowed! Yes, in schools, as in homes, you take off your shoes in the lowered part of the entry way, stepping up onto the main floor before putting on your indoor shoes. That means that when we American teachers visit elementary schools for our morning classes, we have to tote our indoor shoes with us. Slippers are provided for guests, but it’s really not all that comfortable to scuff around school in a pair of slippers. Just sayin’.

#2: Ritualized greetings. There are ritualized phrases for everything here.  When we first arrive at school and step into our office, we greet those inside with a cheerful Ohayou gozaimasu (“good morning”). When we leave mid-morning to go teach at the elementary schools, we say Itte kimasu (“we’re leaving and coming back”) and receive the response of Itte irrasshai (“go and come back”). When we come back after our lunch break, we use Konnichiwa (“good afternoon”) to greet our coworkers again. When we leave at the end of the day, we say to those left in the office Osaki ni shitsurei shimasu (“excuse me for leaving before you”). The usual response is Otsukaresama deshita (“good work” – or, more literally – “you must be tired”).

When you walk into an office that’s not your own, the rules change. That means, every time you step into or out of the office, you have to excuse yourself. Therefore, at the elementary schools we visit, when we go into the principal’s office to visit over a cup of coffee before starting classes, we say Shitsurei shimasu (“excuse my rudeness”) when entering and Shitsurei shimashita (“excuse my past rudeness”) when leaving. The teachers who pop in to go over our lesson plans with us, and the students who come in to pick us up, also abide by the same rules. In other words, there’s a lot of excusing going on. But it’s all a part of the unique culture of politeness.

#3: Ritualized cleaning. First of all, Japanese schools have no janitors. Well, I’m not sure about no janitors, but I know that students and teachers do some of the cleaning.  At the school where I work, we have someone who does a lot of the cleaning, but the other teachers chip in as well. (Students don’t clean at our school because it’s just an after-school program.) On the mornings that we don’t have as many elementary school classes to teach, we American teachers help with the cleaning, too! Usually, the task assigned to us is cleaning windows. The classrooms all have sliding doors with windows on at least one side of the room, so there are a lot of windows to clean. It doesn’t matter whether the windows are clean or dirty – on our days to clean them (usually once or twice a week), we clean them! The mentality seems to be that there is a time for doing certain things, and during that time – you do them.

#4: School lunches. Obviously, there aren’t school lunches at the after-school program where I work. In fact, I haven’t been to any at the elementary schools, either. But we have eaten lunch with the kindergartners a few times. At the kindergarten, they bring their own rice, and then each get a small tray of food to accompany it – usually meat, vegetables, a small piece of fruit, etc. The bento boxes (lunch boxes) here are the cutest things imaginable – some are double decker, and include space in the lid for a fork, spoon, and/or chopsticks.

#5: Cold water, no soap. Ah yes, public restrooms. Although the toilets can be high-tech (the one that I used in the mall yesterday made running water sounds when I sat down), the washing facilities are not what I’m used to in the States. There is often only cold running water, and many times there is no soap. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen paper towels, and hand dryers are rare. In other words, you’re responsible for figuring out how to get the water off your own hands. Generally, I believe people keep a personal towel or tissues with them. Unfortunately, I still haven’t gotten into the habit of it, so sometimes I end up shaking off the water and patting my hands on my pants. Also, my school, being small, has a restroom more like a private bathroom than a public one – which means I have to change out of my shoes and into bathroom slippers before entering!  Keeping the dirt compartmentalized is what it’s all about!

#6: Lack of adult supervision. This aspect of Japanese schools has probably been the most surprising to me. After being part of an American school culture that requires constant supervision of all children at all times, it’s a little strange for me to see children with no adult present. Of course, there are always teachers around, but it’s not a given that there will always be a teacher supervising students. For example, at the kindergarten where I work, students often will be playing in the halls with no adult in sight; and at the elementary schools, we will occasionally walk into a classroom where the students are waiting for us without a teacher present. It’s different from what I’m used to, but in some ways I like that the students can be more independent.

Well, that’s the end of my recap of some of the differences that I’ve found between Japanese and American schools. If there are any topics you’d like to see in future Japan vs. America posts, leave me a comment!