Originally published on 23 May 2006. This is part of a series of letters to home that I wrote while living and working in Japan on my first trip abroad.
So I had the day off yesterday (a pleasant surprise). I decided I needed to explore and kinda see what’s here. Well you’d never believe all the stuff! There was a used clothing store I wanted to check out (I was thinking discount, sales, etc.), but as it turns out, used American clothing must be the “in” thing in Japan right now. T-shirts and skirts and jeans and stuff were 3,500 yen and up (roughly 40 bucks). So needless to say, I didn’t stay there long! I can find used American t-shirts in America for 50 cents! So that was a bust. Moving on!
I made some other discoveries, however. I rode my bike (my main means of transportation while I’m here) down the street quite a ways. I have no idea how many miles or kilometers, but the street and shops seemed to go on forever. There are bakeries out the wazoo (since homes don’t typically have ovens here, they get their baked goods from bakeries) with all kinds of cakes and pastries–French, Japanese, American, Italian, anything. They were all really pretty.
I went in some clothing stores and places that sell bowls and plates and chopsticks and that kind of thing. There are small grocery stores scattered everywhere. Some sell just meat, others just produce (purple potatoes included!). Some sell only fruit b/c it’s so expensive, and fruits are often given as gifts when you visit someone’s home. There was a cute little side shop where I got some post cards and stationery. Everything in there looked (and may very well have been) about 30 years old. The little lady and her husband who apparently own it were so cute. Attempts at conversation are pretty humorous. They seemed to get as much of a kick out of it as I did!
Around 11 I started to get hungry, so I splurged on an apple (148 yen–not per pound, but per apple–which is about $1.50 or so) and decided to look around at the restaurants. There was one I’d like to try some time when I have a Japanese friend with me (no pictures on the menu). It looked like a pretty nice place. You had to take your shoes off and sit on the tatami floor on pillows. I looked around at some of the other places and finally settled on one that had a menu posted outside–with pictures!
I went in and was pleasantly surprised to hear the hostess ask if I wanted smoking or non-smoking–in English! That was about the extent of most of the waitresses’ English, but thankfully all I had to do what point to what I wanted (see the picture in the previous e-mail). It was really good, except I’m not too big on tempura, but it didn’t taste as fried as American food. Oh, and the sushi had wasabi on it already. Imagine my shock and surprise when I discovered it nestled between the fish and the rice! In case you haven’t guessed, I don’t enjoy wasabi–at least not the generous portions provided at that particular meal! I picked it off the rest of the sushi. The little bit that was left on there perfectly complemented it, though. I think I decided that I like what I think was the eel best.
For dessert, I decided to point my finger at something unknown. So I pointed at this black jell-o looking stuff with whipped cream on it. It came out and I saw a little cup or cream next to it. My first thought was “coffee jell-o?” And sure as the world, it was coffee jell-o! Sounds kinda nasty, and it was until I mixed the whipped cream up in it. I probably won’t get it again, but I can now say I’ve tried it. 🙂
So then I dropped my purchases off at the apartment and grabbed my raincoat, just in case, then headed out in the other direction. Riding the bike isn’t so bad. Some of you have asked how my legs are holding out–I’m happy to tell you they’re loving it, thank you! I’m thankful for the exercise. All this rice and noodle stuff has to go somewhere! By the way, here’s my room in the apartment:
So then I took off down another road. I found MORE cafes, and there was this one shop with plates and bowls that caught my attention. All the stuff there looked so pretty and original. I enjoy just looking at that stuff. I was about to leave when the owner stopped me and showed me this covered soup bowl and two pretty chopstick rests. She said they were a gift. Can you imagine my astonishment? Well, of course I bought 4 more chopstick rests
after that. Even those were less than 400 yen all together, so I kinda felt like I was stealing! These people are so generous.
After that little adventure I explored some bookstores looking for a Dr. Suess book for Mom. No luck there, but I’m continuing my search! Then I went to the grocery to get stuff for lunches at work this week. I got some interesting tofu (I think) and a rolled up thing that I think is also a form of tofu with something in it. I plan to find out today! I’ve learned how to read most of the nutrition facts on packaged foods, so I’m getting bolder with my purchases.
So I dropped off that stuff and struck out for supper. I took a couple of side streets in the direction I took that morning to see what else was there. I planned to go back to the place where I ate lunch and see what other places were around there, but as I was asking a waitress in a little restaurant if I could see pictures of food, a man who was sitting at a table said I’d eat with him as a present. Such generosity, I tell you! He ordered this dish that’s apparently original to Ise called “Ise Udon.” It’s thick, long, white rice noodles in some kind of dark soup. I’ve been wanting to try rice noodles anyway, so it worked out! I probably wouldn’t get it again (extremely salty), but it was pretty good.
The man said his name, but I forgot it. It was Japanese and started with an M. He said he’s 58 and has a daughter my age. His English was limited, but better than my Japanese, so with the help of my Japanese dictionary and phrasebook, we were pretty successful at conversation!
So after that, I went in search of a Western toilet. I found several, but got lost in the process. It was interesting for the first hour or so, but the next hour and a half were not so fun. I asked directions at a convenience store, which was pretty entertaining and took about 25 minutes. God was watching out for me. He put humorous stuff out there (like the directions episode) to keep me calm and put people in front of me to show me the way. God will take care of you. That song’s been in my head a lot, especially when I’m riding at night. Oh, and this is the reason I wanted a Western style toilet:
Well, when I made it back to the apartment, I e-mailed my family and went to bed. It’s back to work for me today. I’m about to go make some lunch and something to take with me for supper at school tonight. Thanks so much for all the prayers and e-mails. I’m enjoying myself, and keeping busy is fun! God is providing so much for me. Thank y’all so
much for the encouragement. I love y’all.