Ashley Goes to the Konbini

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As I was eating my food, I realized that I could do a segment on the things I buy and try out. Unfortunately, the items I’m going to share with you today have already been ingested and are now succumbing to my acid. Wait… that doesn’t sound right. Let’s try that again!

Unfortunately, the items I’m going to share with you today have already been impounded and are currently going through processing.

ShockingPowerfulAardwolf-size_restricted

…moving on!

7-11 is a thing here and it is quite different than my American counterpart. Two words: NO. SLURPEES. Despite not offering the snacks and hot foods I grew up eating, Japanese 7-11s are dope in their own way. The main reason is the above. If I could live off fried chicken and rice balls for the rest of my life, I would but I’d hate to see what my body’d look like after 10 years.

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The Jell-O dessert.

First up to bat is this “cream soda jelly.” Yes, Jell-O is called jelly here. Which is easier for you to say? Honestly, my mind gets stuck on the #ujelly schtick…

Topped with a cocktail cherry (sorry, it’s not a maraschino), whipped cream, and lemon mousse, it’s actually pretty tasty. I was transported back to my childhood. Story time! Furr’s was a buffet or cafeteria-style restaurant my family would take me to every once in a while. It has since been closed for many, many years. But I distinctly remember their green (lime-flavored, maybe) Jell-O with whipped cream. I think it became one of those must-haves a child always looks forward to.

 

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Once upon a time, there was a place.

VERDICT: 7/10. The dessert here was extremely pleasant. The Jell-O wasn’t overpoweringly flavored. The whipped cream was light. The lemon mousse was en point. It’s probably one of the few Western things Japan is doing better than their competitors. The only downer was that cocktail cherry.

 

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Tuna salad and rice. Who’da thought?

Up next, we have the humble rice ball. Why it’s called a “ball,” I have no idea because in Japanese, it’s called おにぎり (onigiri, oh-nee-ghee-ree). The number of things you can wrap rice around is just about endless, but let’s talk about this particular one: tuna mayonnaise. The mayonnaise in Japan is not Best Foods. Whatever their egg to oil to whatever ratio is, it’s tasty cold or warm.

The rice is fresh and springy; not cold and hard. The tuna is your typical, flaked variety. The mayo is mild and I swear it’s seasoned with something. VERDICT: 8/10.

 

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Goodness on a stick.

Last, but not least is the fried chicken (called 唐揚げ [karage, kara-age]). Made from thigh meat, the chicken is marinated in some kind of soy sauce, sake, ginger, and garlic combination or simply dipped in seasoned flour and fried until golden brown. Instead of nachos or a hot dog, you can buy these babies for about $1.50 each. Their crispy, juicy deliciousness will not leave you disappointed. Just don’t let it get soggy. VERDICT: 9/10 (Maybe I have low expectations, but wait until you try it.)

Honorable mention: Popcorn is popcorn. I’ve yet to eat bad popcorn that I didn’t make myself.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my account of konbini food. Stay tuned for the next episode!

What do you mean ‘I’ll get lonely?!’

Disclaimer: Any advice given or situations are from my own experiences. Please take what I say with a grain of salt when comparing it to your own situation.

typingWhen you type into Google “teaching in Japan” or “ALT jobs in Japan,” it may not cross your mind that you’ll be lonely. You can only think of all that fresh, juicy anime you’ll be able to get your hands on, or the delicious foods you can finally try that’ll knock the socks off an instant noodle cup. Japan! Temples, beaches, cute boys, adorable women, fashion, music! YEAH! You find a company you like and click that “Apply” button.

Now it’s time to buckle up and brace yourself for the ride.

im ready

Fast-forward to a month in. Everything is uncertain. You’re uncertain of your choice, you’re uncertain of yourself; so, you call your family and cry. You complain of the prejudice. You complain of the lack of friends. You complain about how the food isn’t what you thought it was. The strings of malicious words are non-exhaustible. Most of all, you’re lonely. Oh-so oppressively lonely.

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Wait… what? “But Ashley, loneliness wasn’t on the agenda.” It never is. “How do I deal with it?” I’m still learning and searching for that answer myself. Ultimately, you have two choices: healthily or unhealthily. Do you want to save yourself from the agony your emotions will cause or tackle it head-on? As for myself, I feel it’s like walking a tightrope. Some days, I’m above my pettiness and others… well, I drown in it.

For the first 7 months of ALT-ing, I felt I was doing fairly well if I took out all the weekends I called back home sobbing. I was connecting with my school and connecting with my students. I was becoming a regular at many of the shops and even made a friend here and there. I certainly won’t knock my time in my original placement. However… but… a part of me kept listening to the niggly peanut gallery. The devil on my shoulder was getting louder. “You could have more friends. You could have more relationships. You could have more sex. All it takes is for you to log on. You’re a pretty girl. Think of all the attention you’ll be getting!” it would whisper.

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Call it confidence or call it stupidity, but I listened to that voice and stepped into the world of online dating in Japan. Yeah, I know. I can already hear your scoffing and see your eye-rolling. Why couldn’t I have been stronger and found other things to put my energy towards? Well… the answer is “Loneliness will do that to you.”

Being in another country with this newfound independence creates a drug-like effect in your brain. You’re free. You’re away from the judgment of your friends and family. I mean, what they don’t know won’t hurt them, right? I can guarantee that there’s so much going on in my daily life that doesn’t end up on my social media.

Without going into detail about that messy thing, I will tell you that life alone in another country is hard. Battling internally with myself has led me to question, has led me to doubt, has led me to self-hate, lowered self-esteem, a bad body image, and has led me to this ugly, clouded room of choices that look lifesaving but are actually there to hurt me. I am literally stuck within my own mind most of the time. “Ashley, you think too much,” you say. Yup, and I’m not ashamed of my problem.

Self-hate

I have discussed my issues with my friends and family attempting to find some kind of answer as to why. Why do I subject myself to this nonsense? This the advice I’ve received (as best as I can remember it):

  1. You need a pet or someone to take care of
  2. You need to ignore what everyone else is doing
  3. It’s normal. Don’t worry about it
  4. You should date more
  5. Concentrate on your hobbies
  6. Stop being so concerned about everyone else

Let’s address each of the points mentioned, shall we?

  1. In regards to pets, I live in a LeoPalace whom of which doesn’t allow animals in their buildings. Whether it’s because of noise or because of filth, I cannot have one on the premises. I did sneak fish into my place though but they don’t have the cuddle component one would look for in a dog, cat, or bird. As for having someone to take care of, that has backfired miserably and I want no part in it.
  2. Ignoring people is successful to an extent but keeping that up 24/7 is exhausting and once that barrier comes down, the world barges in. When I do this, I usually end up having an emotional breakdown. I’m surprised that there are less holes in my walls.
  3. Loneliness is normal, yes, but bone-crushing, fatigue-inducing loneliness with a side of depression is not. It is especially not normal when you’re thinking of ending it all during one of these episodes. (If you know someone who is suffering from suicidal thoughts or are suffering yourself, please do not hesitate to call a friend, a family member, your next-door neighbor, some randomly dialed number, 911 [110 for Japan], or the Suicide Hotline @ 1-800-273-8255 [or for Japan, +81-035-774-0992])
  4. Just… no.
  5. I have way too many hobbies but this has worked a bit. Lately, I’ve been trying to develop a caricature art style and it’s been fun. I’ve also invested money in coasters with the intent to design embroidered Sailor Moon themed sets to sell to the hardcore anime fan. Unfortunately, remaining interested is a struggle.
  6. Being concerned about everyone is in my DNA. For some reason, I’m always extending help to someone in some way. My heart is too big to not to. The downside to this is that I end up not taking care of myself. When I become worried over what everyone else is doing and thinking, it sends me into a funk that takes days to shake out of. I plummet right back into the Negativity Room. When I’m there, I don’t believe anything anyone says. I hear them but I don’t listen

I truly believe that rooms absorb our feelings. Being trapped in my apartment during the day or in times of rest when I’m not sleeping leads to ugly thoughts. I turn into this… awful, disgusting, vicious, spiteful, bitter woman. It becomes hard for me to relate to anyone or anything. I shut off. So, what do I do? I get out. I ride my bike to nowhere in particular. I take pictures of things I find interesting and share them on Instagram. I give my surroundings stories and characters. I let these small moments fuel my artsy-fartsy side and before I know it, I’ve emerged from the gloom renewed.

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Loneliness is tough and it should be taken seriously. Most of all, my advice to you is to analyze why you feel lonely. Finding the reasons while help you in punching the emotion in the face. You and I are smart. We are valuable to someone even if that someone is ourselves. We can overcome this.

Hurry! Get your curry!

What do you think of when you hear the word “curry?” Ann Curry? Tim Curry? Curry with naan? I bet you weren’t aware that one of the staple dishes in Japan is curry. That’s right! I’m not talking about a stereotype here. Curry in Japan is a soul food – kids roll up their sleeves for it, adults sigh contentedly when they eat it, and foreigners even have their go-to chain restaurant for it.

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Katsu curry from a restaurant in my town. The curry itself was vegetable-less.

Let’s compare and contrast the curry you know vs. the curry you don’t know. Without the excruciating etymology and historical details, the table looks a little like this:

Indian Curry

Japanese Curry

Comes in a wet or dry form Less seasoned
Yogurt, coconut milk, cream No creams or milk
Goes back a couple of hundred years Brought by the English in the 1800s after the Japanese seclusion
Has sub-types depending on the region More of a stew
Originally a sauce to go with rice but became a stew with rice in it Invented in 1912 and uses onions, potatoes and carrots
Contains garam masala, ginger, chili and so forth 1923 saw the first Japanese curry powder and in 1954, the first sauce
Wasn’t originally spicy but due to ship routes, chili peppers were introduced Comes in a wide range of flavors and spice levels

Curry in Japan is a serious business. When I type “curry” into Google Maps, 20 restaurants in a few-mile-radius come up. They include both Japanese-style and Indian-style places. Even restaurants that have a main attraction like hamburg or pizza have curries or curry-flavored things 95% of the time.

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A box of curry roue. This one says “Vermont Curry.”

But I’m not here to discuss its popularity. I’m here to tell you how it’s a go-to for first time Japan-livers. It will be your best friend if you don’t know how to cook but can boil water. What’s wonderful about it is that it’s so versatile with no set filling recipe. Here’s what I throw in mine:

  • tiny bits of chicken
  • pumpkin or potatoes
  • carrots
  • daikon or kabu (i.e. radish, turnips)
  • mushrooms (sometimes)
  • green beans
  • peas
  • chigensai (called “baby napa” in English)
  • chrysanthemum sprouts (sometimes)

Do you see a pattern? Usually, I go for white-orange-green colors. As nutritionists will tell you, the more color you have, the better you’re eating. Seriously, curry will fill you up. In hotels, it’s even served for breakfast!

When you come to Japan, take a look around your local grocery and convenience stores. Oh! Before I go, here’s a word of warning if you can’t read Japanese. 甘口 (amaguchi, literally “sweet mouth”) means sweet or “no heat,” 中口 (chuguchi, “middle mouth”) means it’s hot and 辛口 (karaguchi, “spicy mouth”) means it will melt your face off. You can see these cute warning labels on the front of the package in the corner somewhere.

Happy eating!

P.S. If you ever get around to eating a dish called hayashi rice, you can find the roué in the curry aisle, but look hard! I almost missed it the first time I wanted it.

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Hayashi rice. I like to put scrambled egg on top of mine for added a breakfast benefit.

A Weekend Diary: The Backwoods

Once upon a time, there was a sporadic blogger who disappeared. She was found a year later, quietly rotting away from overwork and self-imposed stress. If you listen closely, you can hear the tapping from the keys on her laptop and the frantic clicking of her mouse. She now serves as a living reminder to the young and carefree to not be so serious about life.

Just kidding.

Really, though, where has the time gone?! I suppose the stars have fallen from my eyes after almost two years of living in Japan. The adjustment time has ended. The urge to visit the places I saw in anime and other kinds of pop-culture has vanished and has been replaced with a desire to explore locally. As a challenge to myself, I will attempt to detail my weekend adventures instead of trying to remember everything I do on actual vacations. Mom, Dad! I’m sorry I’m such a failure!

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First, I have to say thanks to Niantic for bringing out PokémonGo. When I first moved here, I thought my area was a PokéStop desert – nothing to be seen or gotten. The oasis was an hour’s bus ride away if I wanted any action. So, having had a falling out with running, I decided to put my worn-out shoes back on and start walking. Luckily for me, my town has proven to be decently laden with Stops.

After passing through the local shrine a couple of times and seeing11325043_1559328200989984_1491583606_n a sign for “Hosoe Park – Welcome! Let’s walk together!” I got curious about what was actually up there in the woods. As a side note, I’m terrified of closed in spaces because I have no idea what will jump out and get me. The desert is much kinder and kills you faster.

Walking up the damn mountain was a bitch. After 5 minutes, I was huffing and puffing my way through dense foliage, rugged concrete paths, and glory-seeking spider threads. A glimmer of white finally greeted my vision and… wait! Is that a place to rest?! Do I spy a water fountain?! I’m SAVED! (‘cause, y’know, I’m a dummy like that and don’t hydrate). Oh… no. It’s just an observation deck with sour water.

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The view from the observation deck. You can see Lake Hamana on the far right side and the Miyakoda River leading to it under the landmark bridge.

As I continued trekking, I realized I’d come across a municipal hotel. No, joke, that’s what 国民宿舎奥浜名湖 translates to. Japanese lesson, go!

Japanese Lesson 1

I remembered an acquaintance told me there was a restaurant up here (coupled with seeing signs – am I psychic?!), I braved the front doors. As I walked in, unsure if the place was open to public patronage or not, I was greeted warmly and allowed to look around. Of course, in traditional Japanese capitalist fashion, a small shop dedicated to the local foods and souvenirs drew me deeper into the depths of a broke life. In case it wasn’t mention before, Hosoe is famous for tangerines (i.e. mikan), eel, and miso products. As it is March, there were also seasonal treats available. Anyway!

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My lunch. Rice, pickled vegetables, dipping sauces, red miso soup, a salad and fried shrimp.

I spotted a book titled “The Town’s Princess Road.” In Japanese, it’s 姫様道の町 (himesama dou no machi). Hosoe’s top festival is the Princess Road Festival and this book details important locations within the town that are relevant to the history of the area. Naturally, I had to have a copy despite the need to translate it.

This leads me to my next discovery: The Dual-Weight Saint. Thank you again, PokémonGo, because this place was listed as a gym. My original goal was to get to it and put a Pokémon in. (Tangent: the one I placed there stayed there for 2 days. No one battled it out.) But instead, I found a small shrine with a bunch of red-dressed monk statues commonly called Jizo* there. One in particular was singled out and protected with a bunch of origami cranes. Coincidently, the book I had purchased told the story of this place. Fast forward two days and here you go!

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The Dual-Weight Saint. It has since been enshrined.

おもかる大師
昔、おきぬという信心深い老婆が木の実を拾おうと気賀の裏山をさまよっていると、萩の下にお地蔵様のような形をした変わった石を見つけました。
「これはこれは、御大師様だ。何かのご縁に違いない」と、おきぬは、その石を近くの木の下に据えました。
その後、おきぬは毎日水や花を持ってお参りに来ていましたが、ある日、道順の良い所へ石を動かそうとしたところ、重くて動きませんでした。ところがある日、急に雨が降り出してきたため、石が雨にぬれてしまうと思い、動かしてみると、今度は軽く動くので、大きな松の木の下に移してやりました。そのうちに、おきぬは、この石には重い日と軽い日があるのを知りました。
この話が人々に広まり、多くの人が参けいに訪れるようになりましたが、願いをかけてそれが叶う時は軽く、叶わない時には動くて持ち上がらないことから、いつしかこの石は「おもかる大師」と呼ばれるようになりました。

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Jizo’s true appearance. He holds a wish granting jewel in his hand. (Props to you Inuyasha fans who get the reference.)

The Dual-Weight Saint
                Once upon a time, an old devout woman by the name of Okinu was wandering around the backwoods of Kiga when suddenly, she came upon a stone under a bush of clover in bloom. It looked like the saint, Jizo!
                “This… this is a saint!” she said, as she placed the figure under a nearby tree. “This must be fate, make no mistake.”
               After that, Okinu brought flowers and water for it every day. It became a ritual for her, when one day, she decided to move the stone to a better place. Upon trying to lift it, she discovered she couldn’t! Suddenly, the rain began to fall and she hurried to get it out of the way. It was light! She could move it! Quickly, she placed it under a pine tree. It dawned on her that the stone had its heavy days and its light days.
               The story became widely known by the townsfolk and they visited with their wishes. If the stone was heavy and they couldn’t move it, their wish wouldn’t be granted. If the stone was light, however, they could rejoice! Their wish would come true. It was from then on, it was called the “Dual-Weight Saint.”

I didn’t try to move it.

**According to Wikipedia, Jizo is a Buddhist deity. His original name is Ksitigarbha. He guides people through the 6 Realms of Existence. More information was found in The Japan Times article “A guide to Jizo, guardian of travelers and the weak.” Because Jizo is a protector of those who travel, he is often found at boundaries, physical or spiritual. Dressing and caring for this saint allows the soul to accrue karma for the afterlife.

 

 

100-yen Splurge

Hello! And Happy New Year! In Japanese, we say, 「明けましておめでとうございます。」(akemashite omedetou gozaimasu) and is often shortened to 「おめでとうございます。」(omedetou gozaimasu).  When you see a friend or a family member for the first time in the new year, you are required to say it. You’re also welcome to extend the politeness to strangers but it’s not necessary. No one has told me what happens when you don’t say it… It uses the same character as “bright.”

In the theme of the day, here is a bright, shiny, new post for you after a month of hitting the deck and kissing my ass (and sanity) good-bye.

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I told you once upon a time you can find just about anything at 100-yen shops, right? First, we have organizers. My rolling dresser that I was storing my hair things on wasn’t cutting it anymore after I purchased a small bookshelf, so now I have something a little more handy and accessible. What’s awful is that I hear my mom in my head whispering to me, “Y’know you’re going to have to bring all of that back.” Moms always know best, don’t they? It’s a shame we don’t give them enough credit most of the time.

The white bucket-looking thing is my pseudo-trash can for the bath. Japan prides themselves on convenience and I’m right on board with it. Using the small trash bags (in another photo), this will provide me a place to toss and amass dirty, slimy, minty-smelling dental floss.

Next, we have a tape roller and refills. Japan is big on reusing things and will often charge less for the refills. You definitely know you’re paying for the plastic here. Next to the refills, there is a silver-ion air filter for my aircon unit. Part of the reason for my inconsistent blogging is because I came down with a cold. I’m striving to keep myself from further marinating in any kind of contaminants while I sleep by utilizing this item.

Lastly, there is the filter for the exhaust fan I have above my tiny stove. That air filter is now firmly lodged in the darkness of a trash bag and awaits its fiery death. It caused me so much grief and prompted a panicked phone call to my ever-so-patient father at 1:30 in the morning Las Vegas time and a rapid skim through the manuals I never bothered to look at when I moved into this apartment. I swear he needs to be inducted into the Sainthood Hall of Fame. Thank you, Grandma, for raising such a wonderful son!

Moving along…

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Boom! Cosmetics, smelly things and… my feet. I’m so sorry. I seem to have unintentionally subjected you to a profound horror. Excuse me.

In this photo, we have Disney themed oil blotting paper for my face, Halls throat lozenges*, hair elastics (since I seem to be running out of the ones I use to tie the ends of my braids with)**, shower caps, nail cream that I intend to use for cracking cuticles and crusty nostrils, hand lotion and a body cream I was hoping to try out as a facial moisturizer (a note to the people who are used to using soft water: Japan has NO soft water. Prepare for flakage).  Oh, yes, and the aforementioned trash bags.

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A disclaimerthe pop-capped bottles on the left were not purchased from the 100-yen shop. I don’t know how or why I put them in this picture.

Snacks: cup ramen, cookies and popcorn. Last night, I got into the bag due to laziness in regards to dinner making and I decided that Family Mart definitely has better popcorn. It must be the oil (or they use MSG).

In the back, there’s a small box for sending packages. If you’re looking for much larger boxes, save the ones you get from Amazon or ask the post office.

Next is the Tupperware. The plastic used for these is relatively thin and I wouldn’t recommend microwaving them for too long even if the label says they can tolerate it. Use a plate and save yourself the grief.

Another miso bowl. Mini broom and dust pan (Remember: flakage. Every time I brush my hair, I shed this ungodly disgusting pile of human waste). Futon attachment for the vacuum. Vacuum bags. Crochet thread. If you go to a well-equipped 100-yen shop, you’ll find a decent selection of yarns and threads. They also stock various other craft goods for us folks who like to use our hands. There is an extra soft yarn they have that is oh-so-alluring and I’m tempted to buy it in a “Why not?” moment, but that’s how hoarding starts and my poor Japanese apartment can’t handle that kind of stress.

Anyway!

I hope you are well. I hope you aren’t sweating the small stuff and adding gray hairs to your scalp library. Breathe deep and be grateful for every moment you’re alive to experience. I’d like to think our thoughts and adventures will keep us company wherever we go after The Big One.

Happy New Year.

*If you’re used to the strong Halls in America, buy the black wrapper when you get here. Take my word for it.
**Japanese hair elastics, if they are unbaubled, require you to tie them yourself. For the longest time I thought all of my female teachers and students were having problems with their bands breaking but after buying mine, I understand. You will, too.

 

In the Haunted Hallows of the Hyaku-yen Shops (PART 2!)

Welcome to Part Two of my Haunted Hallows of the Hyaku-yen Shops! This will be designed to give you some insight into how quickly your money leaves your wallet.

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Winter clothes! You can easily purchase gloves (some with touchscreen capability), scarves, and neck warmers. One night was especially cold and, if you’re like me in that your nose starts carving Snot River down your face and you suddenly can’t remember where you left your ears, you’ll be on the lookout for something warm.

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There’s nothing like knowing your grasp of the Japanese language can easily be beaten by a grade schooler. If you want to get a jump start on your kanji (漢字) practice, please use these books. They offer stroke order, Japanese and Chinese readings, and common words the characters are used in. Also, if you like Sudoku, they have loads of these. I’ve even been tempted to look on Amazon for more kanji textbooks/workbooks like what my students use. When all else fails, learn how to speak and ask someone where something is. There’s no better tool than to learn through association.

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Some weeks ago, I purchased a Christmas tree from Amazon sans star. Now I have one plus smaller ornaments. I also bought a tinsel boa to brighten it up. This year, since I can’t be with my family, I did my best to capture what we couldn’t do for the last couple of Christmases (damn dogs). I can’t tell you what I’m going to do with the embroidery hoop and hot glue other than I’m working to make a present for my grandmother. Shh! Don’t tell!

The hyaku yen shops sure are wonderful sometimes. I wasn’t kidding when you find things you didn’t know you needed. It seems like every time I walk through the aisles, I see stuff that I didn’t know was there.

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The first thing to address is the plunger. You will thank me when I tell you again how important this puppy will be in your life. It should go down as one of the Top 10 Essential Tools for Adulthood. Second is the plastic doo-dad next to the plunger. This allows you more space when you’re hanging things in your bathroom to dry. I figured I could use this for pants… or something. Anyway, you slap it into your showerhead holder and you’re done. Next, you can never go wrong with humidity absorbers. This time around, I was on the hunt for smaller units I could stick into my dressers. These are mandatory if you don’t want your shit to mold.

Also, glass cleaner. You’ll be surprised at how much of your bodily fluid ends up on your mirror when you’re consumed with nervous anxiety and are suddenly determined to rid your face of its blackheads and pimples. Oh, and make-up. I’ll never figure out how I got mascara smeared in two places.

The last item is a pack of hand warmers. You know those beans that get warm when you crack the package? I haven’t seen how long these last but I know you can buy some that work for up to 10-12 hours at the drugstore. When the weather turns chilly, you’ll thank your past self for buying them.

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In this picture, we have drain cleaner/odor absorber. When you come to live in Japan, you will see garbage disposals are non-existent. Instead, there are food catchers that sit under the rubber lip in your sink. You will either have a kind of steel net or a plastic cup. I have the plastic option and it gets scummy (especially when I choose to live off of cereal and ignore my pile of dirty dishes). Next is the sponge. This allows me to clean my thermoses since my hand is sponge-‘tarded. Thirdly, there’s the spoon rest. I was simply fed up with wasting my paper towels and dirtying up my limited counter space (pfft, who am I kidding? I don’t have a counter).

The measuring spoons are closing in for the finish line! I recently purchased cookbooks so I can save more money by using ingredients that are in season and well… I quickly learned the difference between a teaspoon and tablespoon. Just so I could save myself from the guesswork, I bought these. Next to them are soup spoons. You’ll notice these are often used with Asian dishes. I don’t know why I didn’t use them sooner. Finally, there’s the spice shaker. I got this for my sugar so I wouldn’t make a mess trying to get it out of the bag I keep in the freezer.

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In this final picture, the contents are self-explanatory. Since I’d rather use purified water for my drinking water for some stupid reason, I waste my money purchasing a bottle. I also happened to find some popcorn. That was exciting since I was craving it but don’t expect to find butter for it. You’ll have to go old school and pop it in cold stuff or use flavored oils. Be careful, though! Flash fires are serious. And because I tend to graze at work, I bought the noodle soups to hide in my desk just in case I couldn’t survive until lunch.

And there you have it! If you have any questions, feel free to holler.

In the Haunted Hallows of the Hyaku-yen Shops

こんにちは!今日のトピックは百円ショップだ!行こうよ!
Hello, everyone! Today’s topic is 100 yen shops in Japan. Let’s go!

There are multiple videos on YouTube describing the shenanigans you can get into at Japanese 100 yen shops (100円ショップ, hyaku-en shoppu). This is just one example from Sharla in Japan. Vouching for Las Vegas, there is no Daiso but we do have plenty of Dollar Generals and Dollar Trees. Both offer the same general assortment Daiso (and other hyaku-en stores) has. In Gotemba, we have several Daiso’s, a Seiryu, and the “orange” store that is a Daiso in disguise (literally called 百円ショップオレンジ, hyaku-en shoppu orenji). Sharla happened to go to her store during Valentine’s Day. All stores will have some kind of seasonal area and will also have larger or smaller sections depending on their location. Just yesterday, I went into the Daiso that was on the Express Way and was amazed at their fake flower assortment whereas the small one I usually visit only has, maybe, a 4-foot section smooshed in between the zipper pencil cases and home-smelly things.

Because I’m too afraid of disturbing the peace by making a video, today’s entry will give you an idea of how badly you needed these things without realizing it.

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Walking into Orange, I was immediately greeted by a Costco-like display of snacks. Crunchy, soft, savory, sweet… they’re all there. They also have the largest assortment of instant noodles I’ve ever seen. Drinks, too, are abundant. Each store will have varying degrees in the amount of what they have. In comparison, the Daiso I frequent has a small cooler for common drinks while Orange has a whole wall; cold and warm alike.

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One thing about Japan is that you’ll see American products with flavors that appeal to the Japanese palette. I’ve found green tea flavored Oreos and I have a friend that swears the sake flavored Kit-Kats are weird.

Condiments are numerous and highly varied. For common things like soy sauce, mirin, and marinades, you can easily find them at a 100 yen shop. You may also find oddities such as salad dressings and flavored oils. On this trip, I noticed they had small bottles of extra virgin. If you like to cook or bake, please consider looking for your ingredients here before you visit a full grocery store. Japanese recipes are designed to only feed 2-3 people. You won’t need much.

If you’re really lazy and don’t want to make your own curry base or clam chowder, guess what! You will find what you’re looking for here. There are different flavors, makers, spice levels… In this particular shop, you will find canned foods next to the available selections. Because I packed myself a care parcel full of canned salmon and tuna before coming to Japan, I’ve yet to really look through this portion. I’m going to assume you can find what you’re looking for because I have an acquaintance that recently told me about his dependence on tuna fish sandwiches (which reminds me! If you have a MaxValu near you, you can easily locate sweet gherkins if you dig pickles in your tuna). This is where you’ll most likely locate noodles and pasta sauce. Sometimes you might get lucky and discover tomato paste if you want to for that homemade flair.

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Moving along, I was almost lured into the dangerous world of Tupperware. A whole wall was dedicated to the microwaveable vs. the non-microwaveable, clear plastic vs. designer plastic, ease of use vs. risking carpal tunnel, and one container vs. several in one pack. When in doubt, please use ceramic if you’re not sure whether or not what you’re buying can be heated. Some packaging will not provide an easy-to-read picture for us mentally hindered.

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Again, before you buy something from a fancy home improvement store, please check with your local 100 yen shop. As you can see, there are a lot of utensils you can get to suit your needs.

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Earning an ALT salary keeps these stores close to my heart. My mom will verify that I’m a Scrooge with my money until I absolutely have to buy something (or I want something). Then I’ll go all out to make sure I don’t have to do it again until next year.

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Also, if you’re looking for Ziploc bags, you’ll come across them here along with plastic wrap and aluminum foil. It all really boils down to how much you’re going to use. I’m big on freezing the fresh vegetables I buy from the grocery store (which I highly recommend you do before prices skyrocket and your stock goes out of season).

The great thing about Japan is you’ll eventually need an umbrella or, if you ride a bike, a poncho. Because these umbrellas are cheaply made, I don’t recommend you use them if the weather is predicted to be very tempestuous. I’ve seen the horror they become as they hang forgotten, rusted, and bloated with old rain water on the fences by the freeway. Save up for a good umbrella. You can usually buy these at any home improvement or DIY store (i.e. Cainz Home, Jumbo Encho, D2, Seiyu [which is really a Target]).

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As I cruised through Orange, I came across the gardening center. I didn’t even recognize half of what was available aside from the shovels and watering pales. More than likely, if you’re thinking of becoming an ALT, you’ll have a cramped apartment stoop that is only big enough to house your air conditioning unit. Secondly, if you hate bugs, I wouldn’t advise the use of plants out-of-doors. Resist purchasing that beautiful rose bush! Resist it! Do a little research on house plants instead that help with oxygen levels and act as bug repellent if you absolutely need a little green in your life.

Then we have the pet section. Most apartments will not allow animals, but if you happen to move and can bear leaving your pet alone for more than 8 hours most days, know that this exists for you. Puppy pads, leashes, snacks, watering bowls… I feel Japan is dog-biased. Unless you walk your cat regularly, you may have to take some time perusing what’s on the shelf.

In the next aisle over was the home improvement section. If you’re going to remain in your apartment, don’t go down this road. Most landlords will not tolerate redesigning and will charge you a pretty penny for the “damage.” Just don’t it.

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Moving on, we have the bathroom aisle. Because baths are ritualistic here, you’ll find endless amounts of things to use. The numerous shoes, brushes, scrubbers, hair catchers, odor absorbers, shower caps, and bathtub heat shields will keep you occupied for a while as you debate whether or not you really need them. One thing I will highly suggest you buy is a plunger because Japanese plumbing relies on a reservoir. If you don’t think you’ll need to clean your drains, be my guest and find out what happens after several months. Lastly, Japanese water is hard. You can obtain these pumice-like stones that will chip away the deposits in your ceramic sinks and tubs.

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If you intend to have friends over, it’s customary to provide a set of guest slippers for them to wear. Again, because your apartment is not your own, please save yourself and your floors (unless you have carpet) from damage and either wear your socks or slippers. You’ll notice most 100 yen shops have cushions. Although Japan is quickly upgrading its building codes, you may come across apartments that have tatami mats with low tables. Because I’m fortunate to have a table and chairs provided in my LeoPalace, I’ve never had to buy a cushion. Keep in mind they’re cheap. If you intend for your butt to develop a long-term relationship with one, please save your money and look elsewhere.

You’ll also stumble across wardrobe malfunction fixes and emergency stashes of ties, belts, and stockings here. I’ve never bought anything from this aisle but I’m glad to know it’s available. Orange apparently was hosting a black tie shindig that I wasn’t aware of.

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Goodness! This store is huge! Up next, we have what I call “The Party Section.” Paper and plastic plates abound! You can also buy to-go containers here. I will not pretend to be ignorant of restaurants stocking up on these from 100 yen shops. (I’ll let you find out how much of a bitch they are on your own. Two things: “rubber band” and “grease.”)

Ah, yes! The seasonal section! As soon as Halloween was over, the Christmas stuff was rolled out. Ornaments, wall decorations, banners, bows… you name it. They’ll more than likely have it. This particular store had LED desk ornaments. I’m sorely tempted to buy a wreath or make my own and be that obnoxious neighbor. I’ve yet to see a large assortment of lights, though. Japan may not be big into decorating their houses. I know I’d love to have my little stoop sparkle and glitter during those chilly nights. You may be lucky to find greeting cards but don’t expect the packs of 20 or more like you can find in America or Canada.

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If you discover your phone charger or stylus has mysteriously disappeared, you’ll be able to buy a replacement at 100 yen shops. Don’t fret about them being cheaply made. Demand is so high these for these things that the supply has brought the price down. Office supplies are also commonly available.

Of course, no amount of words or videos can replace your own personal experiences. I feel 100 yen shops are truly valued here whereas, in the States, dollar stores were reserved for the lower income brackets. Don’t think you are demeaning your worth by shopping here. Allow me to show you what you can find through my own purchases.

Signs I’m Becoming Comfortable

This list was started two days ago during a quiet evening as I was chewing on my dinner. Adaptability is definitely an animalistic trait and I consider myself proud of it. Have you ever thought about how you cope in new surroundings? These are the signs I’m slowly becoming used to being in Japan.

1. Accumulation of convenience store (コンビニ, konbini) chopsticks and spoons

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Okay, so I only have 2 pairs of chopsticks and 1 spoon but still!

2. Getting excited by the baseball games on TV
3. Letting the dishes pile up in the sink
4. Braving late night trash take-outs

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I’m convinced there’s a dead body in there every time I go out at night.

5. Saying 痛い! (itai) instead of “Ouch!”
6. Borrowing umbrellas from school
7. Leaving rice in the rice cooker
8. I don’t think 50ºF is freezing anymore
9. I have humidity absorbers everywhere

10. I carry plastic bags in every pouch “just in case”
11. I have a bag for collecting said plastic bags

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I’ve even thought about organizing them by size this morning.

12. I attempt to replicate school lunches
13. Buying cookbooks

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I have 9 of these fuckers.

14. I have a regular grocery store (with point card)

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I can redeem the points for cash.

15. Starting to scope the sales ads for deals
16. Any notes I take are in English and Japanese
17. Getting used to hanging my laundry outside to dry

And just last night, I went to eat some peanut butter and was confused as to why it wasn’t Japanese peanut butter. There’s a big difference and I’m finding I’m preferring that over American peanut butter. Blasphemy!

School Lunch

Behold, the school lunch! Called kyushoku (給食) in Japanese, it beats out what I used to eat growing up. I’m already recalling the nightmares about the microwaved grilled cheese sandwiches and leftover Special K.

The meals pride themselves on being balanced.  Carbs, fiber, and meat are what make every child in this country fired up and ready to go. That day just happened to be chicken curry, rice, edamame salad and some kind of pickled vegetable. I often find myself trying to emulate what I eat so I can escape from the grocery store with more money in my wallet.

Every day, the beverages are the same: green tea (for teachers only) and milk. Remember me telling you how fatty Japanese milk is? The proof is there on the carton. In the area my local lunch factory operates, I’m served the same lunch no matter which school I’m at during the week. All of Japan, though, dishes up its food in various ways. No tray is the same.

As an ALT, I can either eat with the students or in the teachers’ lounge. I’m lucky because I get the chance to experience both. I wish I could say hanging with the staff is an exciting time for me but I usually turn my thoughts inward and attempt to focus on not falling asleep. Being with the young ones proves to be a similar thing but every once in a while, they will surprise me and ask me questions or chatter about me amongst themselves.  Through this one-sided interaction, I’m slowly becoming approachable. Miracles don’t happen overnight!

Here is the breakdown of my lunches with the teachers:

  1. Sit down to the meal presented on my desk.
  2. Quickly analyze if there’s anything I’m unfamiliar with.
  3. If there’s anything wonky on my tray, I’ll ask about it and attempt to eat it.
  4. If I’m confident about what’s staring up at me, I usually scarf it all down.
  5. When there’s something of obvious foreign origin, there is a giant soup pot in which I can dump my food (if I eat it and don’t like it) or I can leave it for someone else to eat (if I haven’t touched my food yet).
  6. There is no “Thanks for the food!” (いただきます, ita-da-ki-masu) or “That was delicious! Thank you!” (ごちそうさまでした, go-chi-so-sama-deshi-ta)

 

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Shishamo fish: eggs and everything. Courtesy of David Cox.
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Herring. Courtesy of David Cox.

 

Here is the breakdown of my lunches with the students:

  1. Walk into the meeting room.
  2. Find my tray (I know because it has my name on it).
  3. Journey to whichever class I’m assigned to eat in and sit quickly.
  4. Wait and…
  5. Wait and…
  6. Wait some more while the students on kitchen duty serve everyone.
  7. Finally! All the students have their food!
  8. The class leader says “Let’s eat!” and it’s a race to the front to get whatever leftovers that are well… leftover (I’m usually grabbing more rice because I think they think I don’t eat much. They can tell my butt that).
  9. We all chow down.

Clean up is the same no matter where I go. Soup bowls go with the soup bowls, rice bowls go with the rice bowls, and the head bone is connected to the neck bone. I never did figure out where everything goes after that.

A post about busy nothings, there are more to come.

Home Sweet Home

Autumn has come to remind us that winter is not too far away. The wind and rain has become a bitter a lover – biting at my skin instead of caressing it. Lately, however, the sun has been shining. Like the bipolar weather, I too am experiencing times of happiness and times of bleak depression. Two times this week I have found myself in tears as I battle the raging torrents of self-doubt. Some days it feels like it will carry me away and I will give up the fight to find myself and what I stand for. The stress of wanting to show these kids I’m not an alien is really weighing down on me and has, unfortunately, caused me to come down with a cold. The fact that I have no Daddy or Mommy to baby me makes me all the more depressed.

To take my mind off of my tiny troubles, I will talk about what I’ve been meaning to do for a long time: my apartment. I live in what’s called a LeoPalace. They are a franchise that provides furnished apartments for single people. Each place is provided (basically) the same things: a folding table, bed with storage space, TV, mirror, two chairs, microwave, and washing machine. I was anticipating something that would fit in my bedroom back home but was pleasantly surprised. I will tip my hat off to the Japanese. They know how to utilize space. My only complaint is that I wish I had more cupboard/shelf space. This desire is even more pronounced due to the arrival of care packages from home.

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Thank you, Google Streetview.

My building is seemingly out in the middle of nowhere when it is, in fact, surrounded by several houses. There are just rice fields taking up the space in between. It’s a nondescript thing painted in blue and white stripes. Over time (with a bit of help from Toby), I have discovered the secret to the lights upstairs. One unit sits on the ground floor while the unit next to it is the one situated upstairs. It’s the door that’s on the foundation that leads upwards. My scaredy-cat self can only imagine what it’s like coming home in the dark of the night and having this spooky, gaping mouth staring you in the face.

Walking in, I’m greeted by the quiet stillness of the hallway. My shoe box is on the immediate right. The small doorknob that permits me access is often the place of rest for my wet umbrella. I used to have a pink rug edged in lace there until I got paranoid there was mold/bug eggs embedded in the carpeting. All of the floors, with the exception of the bathroom, are made of wood. I want to find the idiot that put the laminate down because he could have cleaned better beforehand. My parents already know how much the dust drives me crazy. What’s nice is that I feel a little more at home after noticing the dust bunnies behave in the same manner as at home.

After a few feet, you’ll notice the sorry cubbyhole that is my kitchen and pantry on the left and my laundry “room” on the right with the bathroom being immediately next to it. I can’t stress the amount of times I’ve stepped out of that place and almost killed myself slipping. In home improvement stores, I see small benches and chairs specifically for the bathroom, but I may just use one as a stepping stone from the tile to the laminate. At least the space is cramped enough I won’t have far to fall.

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Before the “remodel.”
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After the “remodel.”

The kitchen space, as previously mentioned, comes with a microwave, fridge and storage space. I don’t care too much for the storage because I’m used to such luxuries as a garage and mass amounts of shelving that allow me the opportunity to organize and avoid burying things that need to get eaten sooner rather than later. Microwaves cook hotter in Japan and they don’t light up when you open them. (I suppose I could count that as a blessing. I don’t have the chance to see the funk and gunk splattered on the inside.) At the time this picture was taken, I was recently moved in. Now, the following is crammed in there:

  • Panko bread crumbs
  • Tuna fish
  • Canned salmon
  • Sweet potato syrup packets
  • Instant miso soup packets
  • Pancake mix (I use this flour when I’m breading things)
  • Consommé soup packets
  • Hot chocolate mix
  • Rice seasonings (ふりかけ)
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Beef tomato soup

The fridge itself is very similar to an office unit but the freezer is more spacious. Unfortunately, during the writing of this installment, the fan on it decided to go out. The landlord was nice enough to offer English-speaking assistance and, between my company and theirs, my new unit should arrive this week. (I just hope my kitchen wagon still fits in its space. It’s where I store my dishes.) I’ve quickly discovered that, if I shop like an American and act like the world is going to end, things go bad in there startlingly fast.

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The infamous kitchen wagon.

I have issues with the cooking range and not because it’s electric. Coming to Japan, I didn’t realize I would be asked to go from a full four-burner gas-powered stove to a dinky two-burner contraption. Again, I shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth because if a natural disaster happened, I wouldn’t have to worry about the stove blowing up on me. The sink is nothing special; nor is the tiny cabinet above it.

Across from the “kitchen” is the W.C. I can’t say bathroom anymore because the toilet room is definitely not where I would take a shower. It’s interesting how quickly I got over the novelty that is the Japanese toilet. All units differ in the options and features available. Mine comes with a sink that uses the water from the tank and a bidet that will clean my backside whenever I desire. My favourite feature is the heated seat.

After the short journey through that half of the apartment, we come to the anti-climax of my story: the bedroom. The only cool thing about this place is the outside monitor. It’s the “only window to the outside world.” (Did you catch that reference?) Beats peeking through a peep hole. Also, I hate the storage space under the bed. It’s dark and spooky and, when I first moved in, this was the spiders’ favourite place to hang out. I now have my luggage under there and make sure to move them around when I clean.

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This is probably the cleanest the place has been.

I do my best with what I have and can see myself becoming comfortable. Now, if only I can get over this cold/flu/whatever the hell it is. (Side note: nothing is scarier than looking for cold medicine when you can’t read the characters on the boxes. So, I’ve been treating with ibuprofen and vitamins.)