One of the loudspeaker trucks
was circulating this morning. Its announcement was different from the others because it had traditional-sounding music playing in the background ¡½ similar to the ramen truck
, but peaceful rather than creepy. It turned out to be a guy selling watermelons from the back of a covered truck. Naturally, we had to take advantage of this totally Japanese experience and buy one.
Totally worth the 900 yen.
A couple of months ago, we went on a mountain vegetable-picking trip with some of our local friends. Because we had no prior experience cooking almost everything we picked, we solicited cooking tips as well. For one plant, koshiabura, a friend recommended tossing it with cooked spaghetti and pepperoncini. Japanese cooking borrows a lot from other cuisines, so I didn't think the suggestion to combine a humble mountain plant with imported Italian peppers was too offbeat. I certainly didn't think to ask whether she meant something entirely different.
Before dinner, I headed off to the store for ingredients. Regular grocery store: no pepperoncini. Booze and imported goods store: no pepperoncini. Posh department store: no pepperoncini. I was running out of time, so I made a lateral flavor jump to capers instead. The spaghetti was good, but I wondered how different it would be with the pepperoncini. It was only much later that I started wondering whether our friend had meant pickled peppers at all.
So I asked recently. "When you said 'pepperoncini,' what did you mean?" "Garlic and togarashi (Japanese red pepper). Why?" I explained the futile hunt for small yellow pickled peppers, and we both got a big laugh out of it. But next time, I'm asking what she means if she says something Western.
During dinner at the local Okinawan joint, we ordered a new-to-us dish that came with a mystery seafood topping. We asked about it, and got an answer we didn't understand: shi-chikin
. While the owner's son disappeared into the back, we consulted the electronic dictionary, but couldn't find anything under a listing for shi-chikin
. It all became clear when he brought out a small can and pointed to the mermaid on the side. Sea chicken. Chicken of the Sea. Canned tuna.
Canned tuna has an odd place in Japanese cooking. We find it where we'd expect to: in sandwiches and salads. We also find it where we wouldn't
expect to: on pizza, in those prepackaged, unrefrigerated sandwiches with the edges pressed together and the crusts cut off, in onigiri
(rice balls). It reaches the pinnacle of awesomeness in onigiri
. There's no better convenience snack than a tuna-mayo onigiri
¡½ the creamy, salty tuna, the sticky, slightly sweet rice, and the crisp, ocean-y nori are perfect together.
Additionally, tuna keeps company with an unlikely sidekick: yellow corn (corn in Japanese cooking is another subject entirely). They're a surprisingly tasty duo ¡½ corn and tuna pizza is far from the worst thing I've ever eaten. Salads now seem to lack something if they come with one or the other, but not both. Which raises a question: does the normalization of the tuna/corn partnership mean we've been here too long
? It's likely that question will only linger until the next discovery of canned tuna in a completely unexpected place.
When you attend a business meeting in Japan, your outfit has to be appropriate: a business suit and tie, a proper briefcase (one appropriate to your position within the company and meeting), and of course, a cheap pair of slippers. At many large companies, business guests are expected to take off their expensive business shoes at the front door, and exchange them for slippers. Regular employees also change their shoes, but most of them have "indoor shoes" (sneakers) to change into. So the image of the businessman wearing slippers or tennis shoes is not that unusual here.
It lends a nice casual touch to the business day, but — if you're from a culture that associates slippers with relaxation time — it can make it awfully hard to get in the proper frame of mind for work. Taking off your business shoes means you're home for the day, right? That's how it seemed to work for Mr. Rogers.
There's a little puffery involved in any kind of advertising, but I wonder if Suntory hasn't gone just a leetle
bit over the line here:
The Miracle is more delicious than the King, and both are far superior to their compatriot, the less extravagantly named "Sweet Lemon
." Maybe Suntory is on to something, although I haven't developed superpowers or anything after drinking the Miracle.
Traffic safety is very important in Japan, for bicyclists as well as drivers. All cyclists are required to have headlights on their bikes. It's also illegal for people to carry umbrellas or talk on cell phones while riding a bicycle — ordering a pizza while riding your bike down a crowded sidewalk isn't likely to end well. So we were pretty amused by the guy we saw riding his bike a few nights ago. His bike had no light, save for the penlight in his hand, which he bobbed side to side as he rode. Not a legal solution, but one that got the job done — we could all see him coming.
On my way back to the office last week, I had an unusual cabbie. For one thing, he was chatty, unlike the other Japanese cabbies
I've encountered. For another, he looked very much like one of my bosses back in Washington, if my boss had been Japanese rather than of Mediterranean descent. It was the second time he'd been my driver, and both times I noticed the resemblance immediately.
Occasionally, we come across Japanese versions of familiar faces from back home. What's interesting about these occurrences is that they cover a wide variety of Western features. My boss looks nothing like an old client, American Idol
-era Clay Aiken, or Steven Spielberg, yet we've seen Japanese versions of each of them. And, as a general rule, Japanese features are pretty homogeneous, so it's not like we're keying off of similarities in hair or eye color. It would be easy to say it's a trick of the mind, that it comes from needing some connection to home, but the first J-Clay sighting occurred while we still lived in America. The likenesses must come from somewhere more fundamental than that.
Anthropologists and ethnologists probably have researched this phenomenon and come to some conclusions about why we see the familiar in the apparently unrelated. For us, the non-scientists, it's just a part of the ongoing adventure — who are we going to see next?
If the Shoe Fits, Make Sure It's Easy to Get Out Of, Too
Even though I've lived here for almost a year, I'm still dealing with my stash of completely impractical shoes on a daily basis.
You see, while my Doc Martens combat boots, open-toed strappy sandals with three-inch heels, and knee-high zip-up boots are perfectly fine for an American life, they're not so great in Japan. Living here means taking your shoes off whenever you enter your house, someone else's house, and many restaurants. Most Japanese wear simple slip-on shoes or low shoes like oxfords that can be tied loosely enough to slip off and then on again with the aid of a shoehorn (everyone has a shoehorn). Mules and ballet flats are popular choices for women. They're often worn with very short socks so that when you take them off, you're not walking around in your bare feet or sticking them in community slippers.
I, on the other hand, am usually the last one into or out of the house or restaurant because I need to unzip or untie my boots. "I'll catch up" is my new mantra. The three-inch heels are generally fine, but being open toed, they don't really lend themselves to even tiny socks (although that doesn't seem to stop the Japanese). After an ego-destroying trip to try buying pants, I haven't tried to purchase any kind of clothing in Japan, so I'm still working with what I brought, practicality be damned. Also, I love my shoes, so they're staying.
a car wash be tiny and pink?
In Japan, nothing says "Now Open for Business" like a big colorful target-on-a-stick:
These signs were announcing the opening of a new hair salon. Seeing them always makes me want to play Katamari Damacy
so I can roll them up.