Whoa. It’s been quite a while since I blogged here. I’m sorry! I also have not yet uploaded any videos because … Time! I have already been here for almost two weeks now and I have the feeling that every day was filled with stuff. I haven’t even done any sightseeing yet, where has my time gone?!?
I arrived Saturday night and was totally done for after having travelled for uhm more than a day, basically. On Sunday morning I had my first test to see into which Japanese level I would get at my school. Surprise, surprise, it’s level 1. 😀 On my way to school I proved that I have the best sense of direction ever and at first took a train into the wrong direction and then, while I was already running late, I got out of the wrong exit of the station, which was on the completely wrong side, so the map I had printed out did not work at all for me. Therefore I got lost and then asked a nice older couple without any Japanese skills on my side and probably also no English on theirs – whether they knew which direction my school was. They didn’t, but Japanese people don’t let that stop them! After walking in circles for like five minutes the husband actually walked with me in one direction and then asked a random taxi driver in Japanese whether he knew the way. Thank god, that guy actually knew the street name, so after being helped by three people I only walked into one direction for 10 minutes, randomly chose to turn at one point and was actually lucky enough to have picked the right street. I arrived nearly crying, 30 min late, and discovered later that the way from the station to my school is actually 10min maximum and very easy. IF you go out of the right exit of the huge station, that is.
The language problems!
Unfortunately, I have to tell you that the steretypes are often true. Japanese people tend not to speak that much English. Later on, some people of my class went to a big electronics store (Yodabashi Camera) because one of them needed a new adapter to plug in their laptop. Asking for that was … interesting. I had mine with me, so I could point at it, but the two guys we asked were either too shy or did not know how to speak in whole sentences. Well, neither did we, since we were all in the beginner’s class, so I think we probably all felt a bit stupid. Overall, that is one of the most often felt feelings by humble me, while trying to find out stuff. ^^ Especially, if suddenly someone jumps out of nowhere and I try to speak in very basic English to them and they answer fluently without any accent and I’m like “Fuck, that sounded like I thought they were stupid.” Happened once in Yodabashi and one time a woman actually approached me while I was trying to scan stuff with google translate, but couldn’t do it since I had no wifi. So she came to the rescue and explained which stuff had animals in it and which didn’t. Thank you unknown saviour! 🙂
Additionally, I am not really good at listening comprehension, so people have to point at things quiiiite often to make me understand a very easy question. Imagine that in English:
“Would you like a bag, miss?”
“Wooouuld yooouuu liiike aaa baaaag?”
*cashier points at heap of plastic bags next to her and raises eyebrows*
“Oh. Oooh. Err … Iiee? A-arigatou!” *desperately points at backback*
Yeah. That’s my eloquence for you. But at least I can often make myself understood, when I want to buy things. Problems arise only when the teachers don’t speak English. We have a different teacher every few days and today we had one who almost never understood our questions and also explained new stuff in Japanese. That was kinda confusing, since “In which case do I have to use this way of counting things?” is not an easy question to answer, when Japanese is concerned. Whoever invented the Japanese counting system clearly was a fan of separating things into as many groups as possible. He or she would have loved the old British currency system, I’d bet a farthing, sovereign or crown on that – as soon as I’ve figured out how much those would be worth today.
What else could I mention? Oh yeah. I was told to expect to be stared on, but apart from one or two occasions, where people could also just have judged my eccentric way of dressing, I guess people in Fukuoka are just way too used to seeing foreigners to give them a second glance. Or I just look boring. 😀 In the countryside it’s different though! Last weekend we went to a festival in a smaller town called Yanagawa and there you really got the feeling that foreigners were something special that you don’t see every day. I only got the good part of it, since I was asked by three cute school girls whether I liked Star Wars (I was wearing a Star Wars shirt that day) and have not been randomly touched or talked to in an inappropriate way, which is something I have only heard about seldomly anyways. The foreign guys seemed to be very beloved though and were chatted up a lot by girls, fathers of girls, guys drinking sake and even old ladies. 😀
The food on the go!
If you stumbled onto this blog because of the “vegan” tag, then now is finally the time to tell you all about vegan foos in Japan. There is none. Sorry, I’m joking of course. But it is indeed quite hard to find something vegan when you go out to eat. In Hakata station there is a bento place (packed lunch) that sells vegan bentos, which are quite good and reasonably priced (¥400-700). It’s called “Evah Dining”, in case you ever go there. Besides there is “Co Co Curry”, which is a normal curry restaurant (Japanese people love rice with curry sauce and various ingredients, often including meat) that also serves allergen free curry rice which you can get with veggies. ^~^ There is an English menu, which is something restaurants advertise outside! Remember to check for this, if you want to make sure that you have at least a rough idea of what you’re ordering, cause the waiters speak as much English as everyone else here. Meaning you might get lucky and they understand you, get very lucky and have an English conversation with them or be faced with someone who stares at you blankly whatever you do because you are not gesturing in Japanese. ^^’
One of my favourite places at the moment is the Tully’s coffee chain thingy in Hakata station. There I can hog the free wifi of the train station, while alao enjoying good soy milk coffee. Which I could order with zero Japanese, because their menu is in English, it is called “Soy Latte” and the cashier can just point at the sizes or hold up cups if you don’t know what she asked or how to pronounce “grande”. Oh, and by the way, Japanese people love iced coffee, so you will almost certainly be asked “Hotto-or-isu?” (or simply “hot or iced/ice?”) by them. 🙂
Something that still confuses me though is bentos. Almost everyone buys some kind of packed lunch at noon – but apparently no one eats it directly there and then. So everyone takes it back to their office or home to eat it there, which is really inconvenient if you need two hours for your homework because you are stupid and you only have one soy latte while you’re finishing those worksheets. Did I also mention that I often only get one onigiri for breakfast and lunch can take until 4 or 5 o’clock if I don’t go back to school to eat it there?I have been running around starving almost every day now. Good thing though: water is free in cafés and restaurants, so I won’t die of thirst, at least. By the way, the tapwater here tastes rather ugh if it is not filtered, but it is drinkable. So you don’t have to spend a hundred yen for half a litre of water every few hours at one of those omnipresent vending machines. 😉
The food to take home!
I am still very much tempted to eat onigiri (those rice triangles with seaweed on the outside) while I am still in the station. One of these days I am going to try it. Hope nobody will arrest me, but since I won’t be littering while I’m eating it should be fine. As you might have heard, you can only find trash cans next to vending machines or inside convenience storea, but not outside. I have been eating onigiri everyday so far – there are some plain ones and some with Japanese mustard greens and chili and some with seaweed. The latter two are hopefully vegan, but I did not check the ingredients. But the plain ones are just salted rice, so they should be fine.
In addition to onigiri, I stocked up on cashew nuts and dried tomatos at the ¥100-store, since bread is almost exclusively made using milk and/or butter or even eggs. In general, I think the bread looks more like sweet bread than anything else, but I know I am snobby when it comes to bread. But maybe I will find a brand that does not use milk or eggs in one of the stores. Haven’t given up yet! Soy yoghurt, though, seems to be nonexistent in all the (three xD) department stores, I have checked so far. Well. Tokyo will have some, I’m sure. ^^
Did I mention that I love edamame? That’s cooked (or steamed?) and salted soybeans still in their shell (see title pic), which you pop out of said shell, preferably without shooting them across the room. They are considered snack food and often served with beer, but I consider them a great and in comparison to other snack foods here much more healthy snack alternative. Especially for people who have this veganism thing going on. Since I mentioned snacks already: Right now it’s mikan-season! Tasty Japanese tangerines for everyone! ^-^
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I have not mentioned cooking so far. That’s because I have only cooked two times in these two weeks. The reason for that is that I am always short on time and that vegetables and also fruits are way more expensive than what I am used to. Three carrots cost about ¥250-300 at the supermarket and apples are similarly expensive with ¥100 per apple being a reaaaaaally good deal apparently, which is only possible while they’re in season.* So I’m quite glad that pumpkin season has started and I can at least get a quarter of a small pumpking for about ¥250 … Though if you are into plain tofu or konjak (not the liquor, but a tasteless, hardish jelly made from plant roots), then you’ll love Japanese supermarkets. They sell these in any size, shape and softness. Unfortunately, the hipster tofu does not seem to be popular in Japan, I have yet to see smoked tofu blocks or marinated ones.
*As a comparison: For the money I’d pay for three carrots and an apple I can get a big bento with rice and four pieces of fake meat and one (!) small random piece of veggie at the station and for about ¥350 you get lunch or dinner at cheap restaurants here.
The waste and the convenience!
Packaging. Plastic bags everywhere! Everything is wrapped in at least one layer of plastic, it seems, and so everything produces tons of waste. At least I will never run out of plastic bags in which I can put all the other waste, yaaay …
I have to hand it to Japanese inventors though. They do know how to use space and work with few resources. Bathrooms often use the toilet flush as a source to wash your hands. Nooo, not what you think! The water tank gets refilled with fresh water, right? Before the fresh water gets in there, it flows through a small faucet into a sink on top of the tank, which you can use to wash your hands. In my bathroom, to save water pipes, I guess, you also have to switch the water flow between the normal sink and the shower. So no using those two at the same time, all water wasters out there! ^^
Those train card thingies are really handy. You can buy a monthly ticket or charge your plastic card with any amount of money you think you’ll need and then you just swipe it over the ticket gate when you go in and a second time when you go out. Really neat and almost always works, except when you are in a hurry and swipe the card too fast over the sensor and the automatic ticket gate blocks your path. But worry not! A guy whose job it is (I am speculating here) to stand next to the ticket gate and help customers with the difficulty of swiping cards and inserting fidgety paper tickets into the machines, will surely have seen your accident and duly nod while he presses the button to open the gate again. Though if you do not have a card and just attempt to go through without paying and the gate closes automatically, his job is probably to not open the gate again, but instead give you a stern talking to. Or a stern waving and making gestures at you, I suppose, when you don’t speak Japanese.
The language learning!
Oh yes, I am actually really having fun at school (some moments of confusion excluded) and so I’m thinking about booking another three weeks of language courses at the Tokyo branch of my school. 🙂 Since this article is already quite long, I will save the rest for my hopefully not too far in the future occuring next article.
As always, I’ll be happy to read all your comments! Take care and don’t starve! ^^
Your currently not too well nourished vegangirlinjapan ^-^