Food habits

Almost 2 months in and I think I’m starting to get a hang of the food here. Sort of.

 

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Whenever I go out I’m still pretty confused by everything. I have no idea how to eat many things. Usually I just wait for someone else to start eating and do that they do. If it’s a group outing I just have other people order things, and then silently blink back the tears as I realize that i have no idea what I’m eating and therefore it is unlikely that I’ll have it again since I don’t know what to order.

 

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But in truth, I don’t eat out all that much. Not even at the cafeteria. I just had my first bento lunch last week, which amazed everyone. I’ve not had tempura yet; I don’t think I’ve even seen a place with tempura. I’ve eaten at the cheap cafeteria about 5 times, almost all of them in the very first week. This confuses many people.

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And I can see why, frankly. 300-700 yen for a meal out in town sounds really cheap, especially for  Japan. It’s delicious. It’s also ridiculously fattening, sodium filled, and in huge portions (no idea where the  “Japanese people eat low-fat small portions” myth started from, but trust me, it’s a lie). If I eat out, it’s only for social reasons; there is just no good reason to do so otherwise. Going out in Japan is crazy expensive compared to staying at home, and food is no exception. Seriously, how do these people get social lives? One coffee at a cheap cafe costs more than a bag of coffee that lasts you a few weeks, one beer in town is roughly 7 beers in the supermarket, and one meal in town is tenfold compared to buying it frozen. Image

And I’m not talking conbini fast food here. Nor about crazy sales-hunting habits. Not even about being extra picky. You don’t even have to be a good cook. You just have to adapt a bit and voila, everything becomes cheap.

Everything Western is expensive and most likely low quality. I have already accepted the fact that I won’t feel taste of sour cream, cheese or tomatoes again anytime soon. Seriously, this thing was supposed to be sour cream. It was pretty expensive too.

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Cheese is low quality and highly expensive (and hard to find); tofu is 45 yen for 350g. Western sausages are 500+ yen for a small kinda tasteless bag; fish sausages are 40 yen a pop. Tomatoes, bell peppers, etc. are 100 yen a pop, and they don’t pack much taste (this is highly subjective, by the way, as people from the US haven’t complained about it much but for someone growing up on a farm they might as well be made of plastic), but cucumbers are pretty damned good. And 200 yen for about 6-7 big ones. Apples are ridiculously expensive (haven’t even tried one because I am *not* paying that much for an apple), but bananas are as cheap 90 yen for a hand. rice averages at 300 yen/kg if you buy it in bulk. 200g of beans is under 100yen. Western pasta is about 200 yen for a small bag, but yakisoba or udon is affordable. Things get really cheap really fast (though it’s ridiculously easy to overdo it). Lots of my meals are less than 100yen, and they’re not exactly cup ramen (had it once; it was like an explosion of salt that left me hungrier than i was before I ate it).

Of course, there is that problem of everything is different to what I know, I live in a dorm room equipped with a single-burner-kitchinette, so I have to relearn cooking from scratch. After a few more-or-less successful experiments with food that I used to know how to make, I’ve decided to redo it from scratch. My cooking style, that is.

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(these sarmale cost me a fortune, but they were delicious)

It was a bit weird at first; I still don’t really know what I’m buying half the time. As in, I know what they are but not how to cook them. I recently bought a bag of kintoki beans and spent quite a bit of time googling how to cook them before realizing that they were already cooked and could be eaten as such. They were absolutely delicious, by the way. I’ve basically given up on recipes completely. I just throw some rice in the rice cooker and throw a bunch of stuff on it to see what happens. It’s rare that the result isn’t pleasing. Very not-washoku style, though. I like to joke about how I’ve turned into an everything-is-yasai-itame kinda gal, where I just throw a bunch of stuff together and call it yasai itame to make it sound legit. For the record, every Japanese person that I’ve told this to said that they do the same, but with yakisoba or curry. It’s all good.

That being said, I definitely have a problem. I am fairly sure that I eat more sweets in a week here than I used to in a month. It’s just so easy to go to the conbini and want to try out a new type of pan, maybe some funny looking candy, a new kind of pocky, and get a delicious daifuku while you’re at it. But it really piles up, and I think I’ve built a sugar addiction =/.

By the way, to put everything into numbers…

Money spent on food this month: almost 16.000 yen. 6000 were spent eating out 8 times, 3000 on various ready-made sweets, and the other 7000 on groceries.

 

 

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Life the Universe and Everything

It was pretty amazing when I got here.

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I mean it. I’m not sure whether it’s all that media that I’d read and seen that featured sakura trees and their beauty, but I was simply enthralled. I think I spent all my days walking and just feeling that mono no ahare take over. It was pretty much a dream.s,

I mean, don’t get me wrong. Trees are pretty anywhere when they’re in full bloom. I had been a pixie for weeks due to blooming trees season. I had spent my last weeks in Romania walking through parks, frolicking, reciting poetry and reading in the park. I was such a pixie that I had planned a Pathfinder adventure in Andora just to have our characters walk through the forest. It featured zombies stuffed with flowers of red, orange and yellow. When the PCs would cut a zombie, it would bleed flowers.

Poisonous flowers, but flowers nonetheless.2014-04-05 11.02.30

At first I hung out with people who were mostly beginners, and had some sort of seniority. It was good to know that even after such a long break I could communicate with people. I had forgotten many things, and I can’t speak that well, but I can manage. It is good enough, I guess? I’ve been having mixed feelings about my language skills lately.

2014-04-04 07.43.33I mean, I stopped practicing my English at one point, you know? I want to do that with japanese. I figured that moving here would make studying weirder, and it has. I confront the language every day, must I really SRS it? (for the record, I am. I’ve started this limited reviews a day plan to get up to date with my anki reviews, and after a few weeks of it I’m still not even half-way there. Thousands and thousands of reviews. Retention rate fairly decent, but it could’ve been better. whatever)2014-04-03 13.16.22

Plus, there’s the language course at school. Unsurprisingly, I got placed in the 上級 group. Mostly Asians. I also picked up some introductory lessons in Japanese.

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Having all-Japanese classes is weird. It’s a really weird experience. I’m doing alright for the most part, but it is very problematic if I run into something I genuinely don’t understand and can’t find on my own. Very problematic. Some teachers just aren’t that good at explaining things, and i get it, i really do, but at this level they expect me to know this stuff. It can be stressful. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be one of the weakest students.

I’ve also started eating a considerable amount.

2014-04-10 22.28.31 Since the whole “let’s take picture of the food before we eat it, instagram style” is pretty hard, I usually only take pictures of stuff at home, though. I don’t know how hipsters manage to do this on a daily basis. 2014-04-12 22.14.38

Anyway, yeah. Eating a lot. Japanese food is so delicios. So sweet. Much umami. Many flavors. Such cheap. So variety. Wow. Somehow I’ve not gained the freshman 15, which can only be explained by the gargantuan amounts of walking that my sakura-dazed self has been doing. Either way, dear god. The people who said that Japanese people don’t eat that many caloies and their food is healthy and low fat and not filled with junk? Where the hell were those people coming from? Japan is a place where I could easily eat 2-3 days worth of calories at a single course and not realize it. I’ve actually started counting them ever since I accidentally looked at an anpan package and realized that I’d just had 1000 calories for second breakfast.

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I’m pretty normal when it comes to food these days, though. My first few weeks were a crazed oh-my-god-the-food-from-anime!let’s-try-everything! kind of a thing. As I was having 70 yen yakisoba pan under a blooming sakura tree with light gusts of wind messing up my hair and making leaves flutter gently to the ground, I realized that the animes might actually be inspired by reality.2014-04-05 14.27.53

The people are also remarkably nice. While I know that often times it is sheer politeness, I just get the feeling that everyone is so goddamn positive about everything. Even their complaints seem positive. It’s amazing. Hidamari Sketch suddenly makes sense to me.

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That being said, i still mostly hang out with expats. And that’s ok. Befriending people because of their nationality is racist :P.2014-04-17 20.59.05

But yeah, back to the Japanese. To my great surprise, I’ve forgotten most of my keigo. I can’t believe that i used to be the keigo girl. I can’t even make proper requests when necessary (did you know that when you’re sick, you can forget even a basic set phrase like 休ませていただきませんか… and they make you feel really bad for it, too?)

Basically, my entire experience with the language here has been a yoyo between “this is going better than expected” and “shit, I’m lost”. There seems to be no middle ground between the two. One day I’m having a perfect conversation entirely in japanese with my senpais and my confidence goes up, the next day I can’t understand a thing that the conbini guy is trying to explain regarding my Amazon package and my confidence shatters into a million pieces. I’m trying to not care as much since the confidence-breaking moments really take their toll on my self esteem, which makes me less eager to use the language, which make me speak worse…and so on. Working on it. I’ve taken to calling all my moments of confusion 外人モード. It’s become an inside joke. I’m trying to not let it get to me.2014-04-19 21.15.19

I have no idea how people can move to a country without speaking the language. I hate even visiting a country if I can’t understand people. Yet somehow people who don’t know the language seem to get by pretty well. Sometimes even better than I am. As I painstakingly read every label in the supermarket, they just look at the pictures, maybe asking me what something is. They finish quicker, and get what they wanted. I leave with a million mental notes about how to cook something that I had found interesting. For the record, I can read and understand most labels. Even the ingredients part. The SRSing so many words really pays off when you’re this much of a control freak.  2014-04-26 13.31.13

In fact, vocabulary wise I’m pretty good. Comprehension wise it depends on who I’m talking to (there is this one guy at the Lawson and this one girl at the Family Mart who tend to talk impossibly fast and mumbled, thus making me dread any moment at the cash register). Kanjis are ok. Writing kanjis are not so ok. My teachers keep correcting my hiragana, since apparently I’m a sloppy writer. I am definitely missing that magic that makes all my skills combine together to get a good level, and am not a natural talker yet, but I am getting there. I really am.

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And yet, every time I make a mistake or have a lapsus, my confidence just goes down the drain. I got 98% on a test and was down because of the red marks telling me to improve my hiragana. I got 60% on a test which I was expected to fail (I had missed the introductory lesson so I had to basically imagine what the table I was filling in was about), and I was bummed out. Every time I have a linguistic barrier I start panicking. My anxiety level has definitely gone up ever since I’ve moved here, since I’m awlays afraid of making some major mistake. Which is weird, because as I previously mentioned, everyone here has been ridiculously supportive.

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And then, at one point due a misunderstanding during a Facebook discussion, it hit me. I had been prepared for failure. The talks about how Japanese is impossible. The constant reminders from the internet that you’ll always be a gaijin. The reassuring pats on the back “it’s ok, you’re a gaijin, you’ll be forgiven” when I don’t know the social protocol for something. The guides to how to be a good gaijin. I always remind myself to be a good gaijin. It’s all coming back and pressuring me. I feel as if complaining about being poor at Japanese when having the N1 makes me feel like I’m being modest, when I complain about English despite getting being C2 level for years (and a European certificate means so much more than the JLPT as far as skills are concerned). I make a mistake in Japanese, it’s because Japanese is impossible; I mispronounce something in English? Frustrating, but it’s English, what can you do?

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It’s weird, because especially after having spent so much time with sociology and institutionalized marginalisation and what not, you’d think I’d know how to fight this. But I don’t. It’s really confusing, as I’ve just switched to a completely different kind of pressure, and honestly, it’s not the Japanese people’s fault this time. So weird. IMG_0056

But maybe I should talk culture clash. One thing that I’ve been complaining about, and thought I’ve gotten accustomed to it I refuse to accept it, is the lack of physical contact. See, where I’m from, people hug. All. The. Time. Seriously. A night out drinking was basically 90% made of hugs and hanging on to people and was really damned affectionate in a platonic matter. I really miss that. These days I get weirded out if someone accidentally brushes against me. I’ve started using the change trays. Sometimes I’ll instinctively shake hands with someone and instantly feel the awkwardness. It’s taking me a while to get used to this.

IMG_0070One of the more interesting habits I’ve noticed was when i was late for class. I normally make a point out of the fact that I don’t run when I’m late since I think it’s really awkward. But this time I was really late, so running to class it is. As I raced through the crowded campus I noticed that other people also quickened their pace, if not outright began to run next to me. As soon as I’d pass them, they’d stop, and the people who were in front of me would run after noticing me. It was amazing. And it made me feel bad for inconveniencing them, so I’m definitely not running again when on my own, but that’s a story for another time.

Seriously, just think about how amazingly thoughtful this is. You see someone awkwardly running, you run next to them to be awkward together. It encourages them to not run out of breath and keep going. It’s so nice. I used to jog with my friend, so I know how having a running buddy can definitely improve your stats. I started doing this when I have other colleagues running from the dorm, and it’s such a random moment of togetherness <3.

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I also went for karaoke. Karaoke was always the kind of thing that a tone deaf person such as myself would avoid, but again, as long as I’m singing with someone I can do it. I’ve started really appreciating the unison feel around here. IMG_0109

Also, the innocence of it all. Most people I’ve met so far don’t drink, and when they do they do it in ridiculously moderate amounts. And there’s always food nearby. Seriously, an outing that consists of only 3 beers? o.O. And usually not even that. I’ve met maybe 2 smokers; quitting smoking here has been a breeze since there just isn’t anything to tempt me. I’m fairly positive that this is highly subjective and it’s quite likely that I’ve just landed with a strange crowd, but it’s definitely a welcome detox from the Romanian lifestyle. IMG_0132

But yeah, back to Japanese. I’ve been wondering what to do with this blog, as aside from my lessons and occasional supplements I plan on letting my life take its course and stopping the study of the language, per se. Turn this into a “random thoughts about Japan” blog, maybe? Abandon it forever? さぁ~IMG_0134

And that’s about it. This was a random moment of procrastination since I really ought to start writing my essay for tomorrow’s classes.

By the way, I took up a modern Japanese poetry lesson, and decided that modern poetry has its charm. In fact, I’ve fallen in love with most poems we’ve studied so far. I always thought that 短歌 was the pinnacle of poetry for me; it’s good to see that I was wrong =). Here, this is the first modern poem we studied, which changed my opinion of Japanese poetry as soon as I’d finished reading it. It’s pretty amazing.

秋の夜は、はるかの彼方に、
小石ばかりの、河原があって、
それに陽は、さらさらと
さらさらと射しているのでありました。
陽といっても、まるで珪石か何かのようで、
非常な個体の粉末のようで、
さればこそ、さらさらと
かすかな音を立ててもいるのでした。
さて小石の上に、今しも一つの蝶がとまり、
淡い、それでいてくっきりとした
影を落としているのでした。
やがてその蝶が見えなくなると、いつのまにか、
今迄流れてもいなかった川床に、水は
さらさらと、さらさらと流れているのでありました
(中原中也/ひとつのメルヘン)