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More Than Sushi
Just Another American in Japan
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29th-Jan-2012 09:53 pm - Check Yourself Out
If there is one piece of technology that I miss in the US, it is the self-checkout machines in grocery stores. I loved the automated-ness of it all.. scan my stuff, swipe my card and go. Human interaction required only for problems. I became a pro at these machines and could scan and pay for everything in a matter of minutes with usually no problem. They were especially nice when I only had one or two items. And it seemed to me that most people caught on to the way to use them quickly, which made the whole process of buying groceries much faster and more streamlined. This pleased me because I actually really hate grocery shopping (and shoe shopping, but that is beside the point here).

You might be asking right now, "So, Japan doesn't have those?"

Of course they do. This is Japan, the land of automated toilets and fridge doors that have warning sounds when the door is left open (much like cars have warning sounds when you leave your headlights on).


It drives me insane. It's such a simple process-- scan, bag, pay. Or at least it would be, if this was anywhere BUT Japan. Okay, maybe that's a bit harsh. But still, I have tried to use the self-checkout a handful of times at our local Aeon mall and every time, I am just completely baffled by the fact that the whole ordeal takes about the same amount of time as standing in line with a cashier. So many people have no idea how to scan, so they fumble with each and every item. Then they're confused if it scanned or not and they stand there holding the item, which then causes the machine to freak out because it doesn't detect the weight it needs to continue to the next item. So then scanning the next item is an even more confusing task.

Of course, you also have to factor in the fact that Japan is still a cash society. While these machines DO accept credit cards and even have the fast-pay option on it if you happen to be paying the mall's specific card, most people will be paying in cash. So the card-swipe part of it is kind of moot for most people, which adds precious time to the get-it-and-go clock.

Then there is the fact that Japan is big on the no-bag thing. Many people use eco-bags here, which is great. And stores will sometimes give you a few yen discount if you use your own bag. So before you even start scanning, you have to press extra buttons... Do you need a bag? No. Do you have your own bag, or do you want stickers on your items (which bear the Aeon logo so people know you've paid)? If you select stickers, you have the added pleasure of waiting for the one worker assigned to the six machines to come over and sticker your items. But she's probably busy easing the frustration of the people who haven't gotten scanning down yet.

And even worse... people will do heavy shopping and then use the self-checkout. This is ridiculous because the weighted part of the machines don't have enough space for maybe more than four bags. And it takes them FOREVER. When I lived in the US, it seemed like kind of an unspoken rule that the self-checkout was meant for quick purcahses or maybe some light grocery shopping. But not the kind of shopping where you're buying two weeks' worth of food.

So. That's my gripe. It's a small one, and every time I think, "I won't do this again." But I probably will, just hoping that everyone will figure this stuff out within the next six months.
I think that in every expat or long-stayer's life in another country, they miss something about their home country. And food is a pretty common thing. Me and Japan have a relationship like that too, sometimes, when it comes to fast food. I admit... I like to eat fast food from time to time. Everything in moderation, but I am a girl who likes a cheap burger when I can get one. Of course, American fast food isn't THAT available where I am living. Like, I'd about pee my pants if I ever saw a Chick-Fil-A here (or even heard of one in Japan). I've heard rumblings of Wendy's making a comeback in Kanto, but I have no proof of it. But of course, there is McDonald's.

But there is something that I still haven't gotten used to about the fast food experience at a Japanese McDonald's: the stingy nature of sauces. If you order fries, they will give you one or maybe two little dipping containers. It's not like the US where you go to the little bar and grab as many packets as your hand can hold (or even better, get the pump-cups!!!). If you want more ketchup than the measly amount you're provided, you have to ask, and they will most likely only give you one extra one. They are even worse about flavored sauces like barbecue sauces for my beloved chicken nuggets. I LOVE BBQ sauce, but they only give me one unless I specify two. I have been denied a third one once before. I don't get angry about it, but I just take it for granted because in general, no one cares how much sauce you use in the US.

But let me tell you about Subway... I LOVE Subway. In college and grad school, I probably ate Subway twice a week. I ate there so often that the manager knew how to make my sandwich without me telling him and he once gave me a foot-long for free because I was in there all the time. I love light food and I was living on a work study or my graduate stipend, so it was always the perfect meal for me. So when I saw a Subway in Osaka, I was pretty jealous that big cities had the luxury of a subway sandwich. Then about a year ago, Subway opened at the YouMe Town near my house. Excitedly, my husband and I went there for a foot-long turkey breast sub (because it's the only place I can readily find turkey meat on this island...), but I was disappointed with the overall experience. While the taste is like I remember (but missing overdose of banana peppers that I typically like... I LOVE banana peppers), so many things I took for granted at Subway don't work in Japan and sullied the homey feeling I was expecting. Here is a list:

1. No banana peppers (For me, this is really the #1 problem. I'm not being funny.)
2. Cheese costs extra
3. No specialty subs... I loved the buffalo chicken sub, but they ONLY have the standard list here.
4. Asking for extra anything will make the staff person really uncomfortable. We were told they are limited by how many veggies they can put on one subject and if they were to get caught, they'd get in trouble. So you literally get three tomato slices, three pickles, etc. unless you BEG them. (We have every time, but the most recent trip, I found myself feeling guilty about it because the poor girl looked like she was smuggling drugs into my sandwich.)
5. It's EXPENSIVE! The cheapest three foot-longs are 780yen (about $10.13 at current rate) and other ones like the chicken teriyaki are 990yen ($12.86). There are no $5 subs here unless you're getting a six-inch.
6. By the way, ordering two foot longs makes the staff's head spin as well. My husband tried to order three once (one for him, one for me, and one for us to split for the next day's lunch) and they initially said he couldn't do that because they wouldn't have enough bread for other customers.
7. The drinks are teeny-tiny and there are no free refills. Also, there is no set that includes chips, although they have steak-cut fries for sale.

Despite all that, they are happy to slap about a ton of mayo on your sandwich if you ask them too. Japan and their mayo... honestly.

So all in all, Subway is a let-down for me. I put up the cash and deal with the frustration of it simply for the turkey and taste of home every so often, but Japan has made it an experience that is uniquely Japanese. Damn them.
16th-Jan-2012 03:41 pm - A Rose By Any Other Name
Let me tell you about how bureaucratic Japan really is. There is a legal process for EVERYTHING. For example, Japanese people use a special seal or stamp to sign official documents. Many people have stamps they use casually, but the one that is SUPER OFFICIAL has to be registered at the city office, who the issues you a card to prove the authenticity of your seal. There are also legal processes for establishing residency within a town or city and you may be asked to provide a government document to prove residency (whereas, in the US, as far as I know, you're not required to prove residency with much more than a voter registration card or bills addressed to you).

But here is a legal process I underwent today that makes me laugh. First, some background.

After I came to Japan, my husband and I were legally married. For various reasons, although we had a small religious ceremony in the States, we chose to wait to do the actual paperwork until we got to Japan. So we got married here. But of course, my passport has my maiden name on it, and if I want to change my name in Japan, my passport has to reflect the change first. So this requires a series of steps:

1. Translate marriage certificate
2. Take it to the American consulate in Osaka to be notarized.
3. Use the notarized translation to prove my marriage and then apply for a change in my passport and have it reissued
4. Have my current visa reissued in the new passport
5. Change my name in the official family register here in Japan, as well as reissue my alien registration card and everything else that is currently in my maiden name (bank accounts, housing contract, etc).

It's a process that I do plan to undertake starting maybe next year. But for the time being, we just figured we didn't want to deal with it and we're fine with having different names. I do know when we have kids, I want to have us all with the same last name because people will possibly give my child a hard(er) time if my name is different than theirs.

Recently, my husband was filling out a form that required me to place my official seal on it. Except I don't have one. I mean, I have one that bears my husband's last name that I use casually, but I don't have a government-certified seal. And I cannot use one, officially, with my husband's last name because it's not officially my last name. But the people at city hall told us that I can register [Husband's Last Name][My First Name] as my official alias, THEN I can apply to have my seal made official.

So today we did that but I couldn't help at laugh at the fact that I had to undergo a legal process to officially unofficially use my husband's last name.

On the other hand, I am now allowed to use his last name on pretty much anything I want that isn't government-related, which will make the actual process of changing my name next year much easier.
14th-Nov-2011 08:38 pm - Preemptive shock
Expats and others who have lived outside of their native country long-term know about culture shock. And they know about reverse culture shock... that is, re- processing all the things that are normal in your country that are not normal in the country you've been living in. You have gotten used to one way and now you have to get used to the old way again.

As some of you may already know, I will be going back to the US at the end of December for a little less than two weeks to visit my folks. This will be my first trip back since I moved to Japan (which, at the time of my trip will be nearly a year and a half ago). Today I went to immigration to get a re-entry permit so that I can leave Japan and return without invalidating my current visa. And so this kind of got me in the "I'm really going!" mood and I decided to look up restaurants in the airport where I will be re-entering the US and think about what my first meal will be. I was even excited because I have enough of a layover that actually sitting down somewhere will be possible instead of just going to a fast food place.

...But then I started to feel anxious.

Why? Because there are too many choices. Do I get a steak? Seafood? A sub? A burger? Pizza? Mexican? A salad? THERE ARE JUST SO MANY POSSIBILITIES. And then I thought about what I will order if I pick X place. And if I order a burger, how will I have it cooked? If I don't like the sides it comes with, what will I substitute it with? And then I thought about how I will be able to communicate fully with everyone, but it's been so long since I've been able to do that. And after all that, I really was anxious. Things like how to cook your meat or what sides you want are pretty much never asked here and even if I wanted to take the trouble to make a special request, I'm likely to just not be able to do it given my current ability with Japanese.

It's a funny thing how we humans get used to certain environments and situations. In this country, food tends to have a similar flavor since everything is based off of one of maybe four or five staples. That is to say, everything is based on miso or soy sauce or some other variant of soy. Everything is carb-loaded... noodles, rice, fried things. There are few salads that aren't just loaded with meat or consist of more than shredded cabbage and the occasional corn. And after a year and a half, I have accepted this. So when my husband asks me what I want to eat, I rarely have a preference because it all kind of tastes the same to me. So now that I will have a varied flavor palette available, what will I do?!

Likewise, I've endured a year and a half of (at best) on half-understanding others and being only ten percent understood. It was really frustrating for me in the beginning, but now it's kind of a fact of life. So the fact that, for the first time in over a year, I can express exactly what I like... well, I'm not sure how comfortable I will be doing that. it makes me nervous. I'm fairly certain that I will be tied from the sheer volume of input I will get upon returning to the US. I've gotten SO GOOD at drowning out stuff!
24th-Oct-2011 04:28 pm - MOVIE REVIEW: 一命
Last night I saw the movie 「一命」(Ichimei AKA Hara Kiri: The Death of a Samurai). This is (duh) a samurai movie that just came out. It is the first samurai movie to be in 3D and the first 3D film to premier at Cannes Film Festival. Anyway, there was only one 3D showing, so we went to it at 9:50pm last night and it was just me, Dai and three other men in the theater. And of course there were no subtitles.

It was a bit difficult for me to follow some of the nuances of the story because the Japanese used in samurai movies is so old. But I understood enough to get what was happening with a little bit of help from Dai. Anyway, if they ever subtitle it and you get the chance to see it, it's really a great movie but it's REALLY sad in that way that you can only fully appreciate what the main character is saying at the end because of the sheer volume of tragedy that happens in the span of one day. And there is a scene early on in which a young man commits seppuku with a wooden play sword and it is SUUUUUUPER graphic. I managed to make myself keep my eyes on the screen for most of it. Dai did not fair so well. Aside from that though, it's actually not a very gory movie. It's a character-driven plot in my opinion.

Spoilerific plot overview behind the cutCollapse )

Japanese cinema is all about tragic ends. But it's a great movie about the uselessness of pride. Also, despite recent scandal, I have a major crush of Ichikawa Ebizou... he's a nice-looking man and he's a great actor. HE HAS CRAZY EYES AND I TOTALLY BELIEVE IT. Maybe he's not acting though given recent scandals which include the accusation that he drunkenly forced a man to take a shot out of an ashtray... BUT ANYWAY.

Four and a half stars out of five.
18th-Oct-2011 08:38 pm - THIS IS COMPLETELY ACCEPTABLE.
For as many small rules as there are for what is and isn't considered polite in Japan, there is one thing that baffles me.

Talking loudly on public transportation: NOT OK.
Eating or drinking on public transportation: NOT OK
Using your cell phone to make a call on public transportation: NOT OK
Blowing your nose in front of someone: NOT OK (instead, you're supposed to sniffle it back up... gross)
Pointing at someone with chopsticks: NOT OK
Going on a trip and forgetting to bring a gift back (preferably something edible): NOT OK
Peeing out in the open: TOTALLY OK

... I guess that latter one applies to men specifically. But there is no shortage of men peeing on bushes, rice fields or buildings in Japan. And I'm not talking the kind of thing where you're walking around for a while and you duck down a back alley or behind a tree (especially if it's dark) to do your business. I'm talking about straight whipping it out on a public road in broad daylight.

My first incident was while riding the train to Okayama. As the train passed by, I noticed a man standing on a small road next to some farmland giving the good 'ole jiggle-and-zip.

My husband witnessed a high school student pee in a bush outside a dessert shop that is on down the road from us (the street itself being a major road). What was worse was that he was facing the street and the bush was on the corner of the stoplight, which was red. So everyone was just idling right there while he did the deed.

A few weeks ago I saw a man peeing in a bush outside a pachinko building. That was the first time I got an eyeful more than I'd bargained for.

Then this morning, as I was biking to work, I was going along this narrow paved footpath that goes around the perimeter of a rice field. I noticed an old man standing on the road (where the ditch that separated the road from the rice field) and I thought he was looking at something. But then I realized I saw a stream coming from him (And landing in the rice field). And then he saw me, and I saw him seeing me. And we had that awkward moment which only an old dude peeing and a young foreigner on a bicycle can have.

Oh, and he was standing right next to a small shrine hile he was peeing. Not that I believe in Shinto gods or anything, but that still seems a little.... well, you know.
25th-Sep-2011 04:54 pm - Ika Obachan
I have a dream.

I have a dream that one day I will be old in Japan.

I have a dream that one day I will be old in Japan and able to speak fluent Japanese.

I have a dream that one day I will be old in Japan and will run a squid shop.

It's a kind of sick dream, actually, because the sole purpose is to see how much I can weird out unsuspecting Japanese people. I have this vision of selling freshly-dead squid on packed ice in a dark, dank hole in the wall down some alley of a shopping arcade. I will sit in the back of the shop with my crappy 30-year-old television watching terrible Japanese dramas, fanning myself and making only the occasional comment to my once-in-a-blue-moon customers. These things will include (in Japanese) "Welcome" and "It's hot, isn't it?" The latter comment will be said regardless of the time of year because it will either BE hot, or I will make the shop hot. And people will freak because I am obviously not Japanese, so what the heck.

Also, I will sell cell batteries. Because of course when you're buying squid, you might also have use for batteries.
It's tough to be a housewife in Japan. Not that I am a housewife... maybe someday in the future, but not now. But every so often I find myself doing a very specific housewife task while grocery shopping. Most grocery stores in Japan have a section of freshly made foods... these include things like croquettes, tempura, sushi, etc. It has all been boxed and makes for easy lunches and dinners. And every day, toward the end of the day, these items (which also include cuts of beef and fish and other meats) start getting marked down by a little old lady or man who carries stickers denoting the various discounts. This person walks along the aisle and puts a sticker on every box. And then after an hour passes, he or she goes back to the start and marks them down even further. About half an hour before close, pretty much everything is half price. The sticker reads 半額. Finding it is like finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Every once in a while, my husband and I go stalk at the local mall's grocery store to score some late night deals, mostly so that making lunches to bring to work is less time consuming. But we're not the only ones who do this. We're in the company of budget-minded wives, salarymen and others who tend to do their shopping at night or on the cheap. So this means that, in order to have any kind of success, you have to do two things:

(1) Follow the sticker obaachan around and watch which stickers she's pulling out of her apron pockets. But you must always keep a respectable hovering distance, because she has been known to stop putting stickers on boxes when she's being crowded. This is counterproductive to your aims.

(2) You must be ready to shove your way by whatever means necessary between those wives, salarymen, little old ladies, Yankiis and so on. Because EVERYONE is crowding around Sticker Obaachan just waiting for her to put the half price sticker on the box they all have their eye on and as polite as Japanese people are (seriously, they apologize ALL THE TIME) they can be downright cut-throat about cheap grocery shopping.

I admit that I am not very good at the second one because I dislike feeling like I'm being rude, and I am generally pretty obliging when it comes to letting other people have first pick even if I really want something for myself.

Tonight, my husband had the idea to go to the local mall's store and buy sushi cheap for dinner. So we went and we found THE BIG BOX. It's something like 34 pieces of various sushi for what amounts to about $25. Granted, this is already cheap, but it hadn't been marked down yet. And it was THE ONLY ONE LEFT. So we looked at our watches and we had about five minutes before Sticker Obaachan emerged from the back to begin her final markdowns. She sure enough emerged and began her stickering at the other end of the aisle. We knew we'd have to wait for her to make her way down, box by box, so we lurked around the sushi section. But so did many others. Sticker Obaachan was taking a LONG time getting to us though and we saw some people eye OUR sushi box and maybe even consider paying full price for it. After a good fifteen minutes of just waiting, we were about to give up. We walked away and decided to at least take a look at the things that had been stickered when I turned around and saw it: Sticker Obaachan had skipped over an entire section and was standing over the sushi, stickering away.

I LITERALLY ran, dodging around people like an offensive football player and then skidded in between Sticker Obaachan and another woman who was considering the box and I snatched that thing up like a child on Halloween.


That said, that sushi box is sitting here in front of me and there are three pieces left that neither I nor my husband can even fathom eating because we are so stuffed. Such a waste of my victory.

On a related note, I recently decided that when I am old and crusty, I want to be the kind of obaachan to have my own hole in the wall squid shop where I just sit and watch J-dramas all day and make the occasional sale while complaining about how hot it is. Failing this, I want to be a Sticker Obaachan who has the power to make or break a night's dinner plans. And I will be sporadic in my stickering just to mess with everyone. And then I will half price everything I want to bring home... even if it's like, a really nice bottle of wine or an expensive bag of rice. Or toilet paper.
24th-Jun-2011 01:11 am - よろしく!
Hey everyone! This isn't so much an update as a cross-platform announcement. In addition to this blog, I make regular YouTube videos about my life in Japan at morethansushiLJ. I've been making videos for a little over a year now and I passed 100 subscribers last week. So I'm holding a contest in which you can win free crap from Japan. If you have a YouTube account, please feel free to enter! Video is below!


7th-Jun-2011 09:39 am - FLiP
In Japan, I am hard-pressed to find bands or musicians that I genuinely enjoy. It tends to be the case that I find a song I like, but much else from that same artists doesn't really tickle my fancy. As such, the songs that make up the Japanese sector tend to be a mixture of everything from enka to 70's folk music and a few pop acts here and there.... some Utada, some Amuro Namie, some Monkey Magic, some songs I got from anime... a lot of Perfume. But the category that I keep coming back to to accident is punk/rock music.

The two bands I tend to like are GaGaGa Special and MONGOL800. But then I have a few individual songs from punk girl bands, and I love these the best. Anyway, the other night I was awake at a very awful hour and happened to catch a program in which David Specter (a famous gaijin) and a female cohost were introducing music videos and I heard my first song from "FLiP," a girl punk band from Okinawa. I am in love. It offers everything I like about this particular niche in the musical industry in Japan: catchy songs, good guitars and girls whose voices aren't sky high. And so far, I've loved every song I've been able to come across since I found out about them.

So please enjoy along with me, ナガイキス (Long Kiss):

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