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On grocery shopping

Posted by Shaun

Wednesday, October 5, 2011 9:18 PM

So far, my strongest feelings of culture shock have been in the grocery store. If you’re ever in Japan, I advise you to check out a grocery store, because they really are fun to look at. There are all sorts of foods you just can’t find in an American grocery store, like whole squids or fish cakes with Pikachu’s face on them

But when it actually becomes time to buy your own ingredients and hopefully save money on lunch, things get tough. That’s when the culture shock sets in. The thing is, Japanese food is cheaper in Japan. Umeboshi (the pickled plums usually in onigiri rice balls) are really cheap compared to Asian groceries in the US. Tofu’s cheap. Fish and sashimi are cheaper than I expected. But my strategies for a cheap lunch no longer apply.

I want to pack a sandwich because it doesn’t require me to cook anything. First of all, cooking takes time. Second of all, even though I have permission to keep my own food in the refrigerator, I don’t know how to use any of the other appliances, and every time I make my lunch when someone besides my host mom is around, they ask her what I’m doing, which makes me feel like what I’m doing is strange. In Japan, the kitchen is traditionally the mother’s domain and it’s best to keep from getting in her way and messing up the way she does things. While my host mom might make a lunch for my host sister, our host families are not required to provide us with lunch. 

So, back to me, at the grocery store, trying to imagine a sandwich. I can get 6 or 8 slices of bread in a package. I don’t know how to say or read “fiber” in Japanese, but most of the bread looks like the white, fluffy, sweet Wonder Bread-type stuff. I found something that said “rai” in katakana today. It looked like it had seeds in it, so hopefully it’s rye bread. I couldn’t find cheese at today’s grocery store, except for the nasty Kraft Singles-type stuff, so I got cream cheese. Japanese cucumbers are cheap. Apples are not. Tomatoes are not. Oh well, I wanted apples. Maybe they’ll make up for the lack of fiber in the bread. So cream-cheese-tomato-cucumber sandwiches with a side of apples it is. Plus whatever bizarre trail mix I can cobble together from all the snacks I bought. 
A sandwich isn’t supposed to be a cultural challenge, but it is. I have to take my mental framework for what a “lunch” is and totally reset it. But there’s only so much resetting I can do without free reign of a kitchen.

One Response so far.

  1. I haven't actually been to a grocery store yet since I mostly buy my lunch at conbini or the dining hall. But I should definitely scout one out. I have a weird paranoia of being spotted spending too much time in a place and being called out for being lost and confused, haha. Like today when I wandered in and out and up and down the computer building twice looking for a free computer lab before finally giving up. Or like spending twenty minutes staring at different bottles of shampoo, and then getting worried about being judged by the sales people. ahaha. It's stupid I know.
    The Pikachu fish cake link didn't take me anywhere. Too bad, I want to see them!

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