Japan? What’s the Difference?

Rising Sun. Blossoms.

Samurais, sumo, sushi.

Mountains. Japan’s breeze.

Closed eyes, pinched fingers, and crossed legs, your first thoughts of Japan may paint a picture similar to the one above. But they are unlikely to be your first encounter. One of my favorite things about cuisine is the story it tells of the culture it belongs to. I’m back in Japan. And already, I recognized I’ve missed it. I’d like to share with you some of Japan. The bits I’ve missed. Beyond the food- a journey that will inevitably bring us right back to the table. I tried approaching this logically but the ink dried up. So here’s what comes to mind.

Transportation

Tokyo train station sign
Japan’s trains are celebrated for their cleanliness and their timeliness. They are the most efficient I’ve seen. (The first train I’ve ridden was in the New York subway on the MTA.) But you can expect the train to show when the board says it will. And when it’s approaching, it’s announced with a lovely tune, unlike New York’s monotonous ding.

My brother traveled with me and when we got to the depths of the subway here. he asked me,
“Do you smell that?”
I widened my nostrils, tilted my head slightly back, and precariously took a sniff.
“Smell what?!”
“Exactly.”
Oh. And I missed riding my bike; it’s my daily commute. Georgia makes it easy to leave the bike, if you own one, on the kick stand. Bikes and scooters run the streets here! Well, sorta.
Also, before we move on, I thought I should warn you, they drive on the wrong- the right- well the other side of the road here. So be careful when you’re crossing the street, or if you dare to sit behind the steering wheel.

7/11

711 sampler- kariage, sushi, inarizushi
7/11s are everywhere here! Perhaps as many per square foot as Boston’s got Dunkin’ Donuts. But what’s Chef Taste Bud doing at 7/11? It’s just not the same. Growing up, 7/11 was a fortress from the summer sun, cooling my tongue from fountains of icy slurpees, chilling my hands as they gripped the big dome topped cups with the melting treat sliding from the same hole that the colorful straw leaned out of. (If you followed it to the bottom, you’d find the little spoon tip.) But that’s about all I remember 7/11 for. I wouldn’t have thought about grabbing a doughnut, nachos, or any other prepared food they offered.
They don’t offer slurpees here but that doesn’t matter when the display case is stacked with steamed buns- filled with pork, bean paste, potato, marinara and cheese, curry…Agh! The shelves have all sorts of snacks. Let’s just say I’ve got a long way to go. The convenience foods seem to be brought in daily- spaghetti and sausage, gyoza, soba, ramen, rice bowls, fried rice, beef teriyaki- and they’ll warm it up for you, handing it to you oftentimes with chopsticks and a toothpick. And then there’s onigiri- a triangular mold of rice with any range of ingredients stuffed in its center wrapped with seaweed.


7/11 deserves a post of its own.

Vending Machines

Forget about all the snacks they sell in these things. Probably the biggest deal about the vending machines is that the buttons to select your drinks are either in red or blue. Red indicates warm, and blue indicates cold! How cool is that? And conveniently so, you can use your transit card-in the cities I’ve been to, I’ve heard MetroCard, Charlie Card, Marta Card; but they call them Suicas or Pasmos here. Anyway, you can use your card to buy your drink.

Showers

Modern Japanese shower hose with tub beside it and water heater remote on wall.
Not every shower here is the same, but the ones I’ve used since I’ve been here are WONDERFUL! Almost like a sauna. I think it fair to call the shower a bathroom of its own. You open the glazed folding door to a room equipped with a hose and a shower head, hanging from the wall to point and shoot as you please. Shoot! The water pressure is fantastic. The shower is about the same length and with as the tub beside it. The tub is often covered when not in use. But make sure before you turn anything on, you snap the door shut and that the hot water is turned on!! There’s a controller on the wall to turn on and off the water heater. That can suck if you forget to turn it on, especially in this weather. While at first it’s a little strange to shower in such a big space, outside the embrace of a shower curtain or some other close containment, once that steam gets going, it is awesome. I really am working on becoming a better writer; but this you just might have to experience for yourself. I’m gonna go hop in now!

I’ll keep you posted throughout the week on more of what’s so different, or perhaps all the same, about Japan. If I’m not here, catch me on Facebook or Twitter @ChefTasteBud. If you’re waiting for the Soul Food or Tokyo Tour, I’m working on the compilation. Restaurant visits in the meantime are posted on Facebook. If you’d like to know something in particular about life in Japan, let me know! If I haven’t experienced it yet, I’ll be sure to do so for you. Thanks for joining me on the journey! See you soon.

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