After two months of living here I think I have finally gotten the hang of grocery shopping. Well... Let me just say that I have found a healthy rotation of food that costs me roughly 3000 Yen a week. I may not know how to read or understand the labels on the food that I am purchasing, but I do know how to recognize a piece of fish when I see it.
The first couple times I went grocery shopping, I was accompanied by some kind villagers who saw my need. Although their English was spotty, we were able to communicate enough to get me fed for a week at a time. Now that I have my own car, grocery shopping is a challenge that I courageously face alone. It may take me a couple hours of asking strangers around me to get all of my ingredients, but I get the job done and save as much cash as possible. It makes me feel so capable! Reading a different alphabet, speaking a different language with strangers, GROCERY SHOPPING! In and of itself, grocery shopping has always been a daunting task for me. I always want to save money, get enough food but not too much or it will go bad, make meals that are healthy, and have a rotation of more than just three meals. It's so hard for recent college graduates! But it makes me feel so capable to be tackling it confidently. The shopping and cooking process have required a great deal of planning and creativity, and it has been fun to learn all these new recipes. I can now make Okonomiyaki, Fried Rice, Yaki Soba, Katsu Don, Udon, Karaage, Teriyaki Salmon, Gyoza, and SUSHI!!!!! Not gonna lie, my cooking has reached the level of a Japanese restaurant in the states. My rotation of Japanese meals has become impressive, and I can always make the classic box of pasta.
Wow, there is so much fish in the pictures above. Although most of the recipes I mentioned above have a portion of meat in them, I have found that living here in Japan has naturally pulled me away from constantly eating meat. I'd say that half of the time I eat food similar to a vegetarian, if not vegan. THAT'S RIGHT HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Half. Of the meals I mentioned, I frequently make half of them without meat, and cheese is so expensive in Japan that it doesn't make sense to use it. Am I vegan? No. Am I vegetarian? No. Pescatarian? No. But the fact that half of my meals are naturally meatless has impressed me, and makes me think that it would actually be possible and enjoyable if I seriously tried. I was a weekday pescatarian over the summer, and it was pretty alright. That's right, a weekday pescatarian. Will I be one now? Nah, I need to learn how to read first. If I can't read then I may as well be eating delicious meat thinking it was tofu.
Let me tell you about the school lunches. (And sorry I don't have any pictures of them because I don't want to post pictures of my students online, so keep looking at pictures of the supermarket!) Part of my job is to take my lunch break and eat with the students. It's a great chance to get to know my students better, and practice Japanese. I usually don't understand the conversation, but sometimes I talk 1 on 1 with students and ask them about their weekend. It's fun. But, the school lunches are both incredible and terrifying. They are incredible because I can eat all the rice I want, and the lunches are usually high quality food. They are terrifying because I never know what I am eating.
Most of the food I eat at school lunches does not have an English name. Mostly delicious, sometimes disgusting. And if I want seconds on rice, I have to finish everything. I can't tell you how many times a couple mushrooms have kept me away from a second bowl of rice. MUSHROOMS!!!!! WE EAT MUSHROOMS EVERY DAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Every day. I recently posted a bunch of pictures of mushrooms in https://creativenate.myportfolio.com/running-through-the-misty-mountains, I didn't realize that I would be eating them for the next 3 months. It's because most of the ingredients for the school lunches are locally grown, so being in the mountains, we have a lot of mushrooms. The students always laugh at me when I ask them to take my mushrooms. They never do.
Perhaps the most enjoyable part of my daily routine is what happens following lunch. If you have never traveled to an elementary school in rural Japan then you probably don't know what happens after lunch. It's so funny. After lunch, everyone sits down in the cafeteria, and brushes their teeth. Teachers, principal, students. Everyone together. And not only do they brush their teeth, but they listen to a song on loudspeakers that gives them instructions on how to brush. It's the same song. And not only is it a song, but its a SEVEN MINUTE LONG SONG. Yes, every day, I sit in a cafeteria surrounded by my students, brushing my teeth for seven minutes to an instructional song with words that I cannot understand. The worst part is that the song has four points where you think it has ended. It has four false end points. So just as all the students think they are done brushing, they have to sit for another two minutes. Everyone is dead silent. Except me. I lose it every time. I laugh so hard that they must be about ready to fire me for setting a poor example. It still hasn't gotten old after two months.
Thanks for all of the support everyone, I am grateful to have you in my life. My journey here is constantly evolving, but I can be certain of one thing; my teeth will always be clean.