My introduction to Japanese food came in two forms – virtually via the Nintendo DS game Cooking Mama, and IRL via the British chain Yo! Sushi in the mid 2000s.
And while not a truly authentic experience, sushi belts do invoke a nostalgia from when I was just a baby weeb.
Kaitenzushi (conveyor belt sushi) is very popular in Japan with tourists and locals alike – especially families, which makes sense as there are many options for fussy little eaters.
The major chains are Genki Sushi, Hamazushi, Kurazushi, Sushiro and Kappazushi – the latter of which we have in Hamamatsu.
Kappa only very recently offered English support, however many places don’t.
If you’re like me and your Japanese is sub-par you can just stab away at the tablet until a little train delivers your sushi to your table. Although before the English text was added – twice I pressed the wrong button which calls staff to your table, and twice I had to apologise in garbled Japanese for being a nuisance.
Smaller mom-and-pop belts likely won’t have a tablet, and you can either pick off the belt or order from the chef or waitstaff.
(While of course – in normal circumstances – you can pick dishes off the belt, I actually prefer to order every time via the touch screen because then you know it’s made fresh. I’ve also noticed since opening again after Japan’s non-lockdown, there’s been ONLY made-to-order sushi available.)
It’s also very reasonably priced, with plates starting from just ¥100. There are also special events, such as all-you-can-eat for ¥1500 promotions to seasonal items – such as the beef, urchin and salmon roe plate in the video.
If you have a sweet tooth, their desserts are surprisingly pretty great too so don’t forget to check them out!
Is it the tastiest sushi in the world? No. Is it the fanciest establishment in the world? No.
YOUは何しに日本へ？ or ‘Why Did You Come Top Japan?’ is a very popular TV show here that has been broadcast since 2012, moving to a prime time Monday slot in April 2013 and on the air ever since.
The premise is very simple: people are interviewed when arriving into various airports (mostly Narita International in Tokyo) and around tourist spots around Japan and are asked the very simple question: “Why did you come to Japan?”
I hadn’t heard about this show until my second time visiting Japan in 2015. I had NOT had a very good flight and had spent most of the descent throwing up, much to the disgust of the mansitting next to me.
Walking through arrivals weakly rolling my suitcases behind me I was suddenly nearly knocked out by the deafening shout of “AHHHHH PINKUUU GYARULLL!”(I had bright pink hair at the time) and a camera and microphone shoved in my face. “WHYYYYYYY DID YOUUUUUU COME TO JAPAN?”
Slightly stunned, groggy and gross after a thirteen hour flight and my face an interesting shade of green, truth be told it wasn’t my finest hour. I can’t quite remember when I said, but I remember mumbling something about the Kyary Pamyu Pamyu concert I had tickets to, and vaguely“woooo so so cute Harajuku fashion!” Cringe.
I have no idea if they broadcast it or not, but my guess would be no. I was barely making any sense in English so how they would have a go at translating whatever came out of my mouth is anyone’s guess.
Still, Japanese people are always impressed when I tell them I was interviewed. And it’s nice to say I’ve been on the same show as Benedict Cumberbatch. It makes us practically besties now.
WARNING: I’m apologising in advance – this one’s a bit NSFW but nevertheless interesting. (Family – give this one a miss!)
The Japanese word for a certain part of the female anatomy is クリトリス (“Kuritorisu”) written in katakana. A cute play on words in that the first two syllables クリ (“kuri”) is ‘chestnut.’ So it’s often referred to as this.
However my “sources” tell me it is also called a 豆 (“mame” =bean) the same as in most English-speaking parts. (This kanji is on all soy-based products including milk, so if you are lactose-intolerant it’s an important one to know.)
Finally クリトリス also translates to “chestnut and squirrel” and until quite recently there was a gaijin-friendly “girly bar” in Shibuya called this.
My neighborhood Ebitsuka literally translates as Shrimp (エビ ebi) Burial Mound (塚 tsuka).
A local told me it got the name because in ye olden days, people used to catch shrimp in the Shinkawa river that runs through the area, remove the intestinal tract then throw the faeces into a giant heap. How nice.
He was very drunk at the time though, so take that story with a pinch of salt.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has become somewhat of a meme in Japan and her phrase 密です! (Mitsu desu!”) is frequently used during her COVID-19 updates.
“Mitsu desu” (“It’s mitsu!”) is in reference to the“three mitsu” ( 三密) to avoid:
密閉 (mippei)= Unventilated rooms 密集 (misshu)= Crowded areas/clusters of people 密接 (missetsu)= Proximity to other people
This apparently began when Koike said it to news reporters back in April when they crowded around her. 密です! means you are violating one of the rules.
The state of emergency was recently lifted in all prefectures on June 1st – one week early from the projected date of June 1st and most schools and businesses are open again. However everyone is still (in theory) practicing social distancing.
While my junior high school has this pretty much down, it’s more troublesome at my elementary school – ever tried telling little kids to sit still and not chat to their mates? Nee chance.
However the kids are well aware of the phrase and enjoy screaming “MITSU DESSSSSSSUUUUU!!!” at the top of their lungs to their pals if they stand too close to me during a demonstration.
Finally, a video game featuring Koike separating people who aren’t practicing social distancing made the rounds on Twitter. Because of course it did.
This is a new series I’ll be starting here, stolen inspired by my friend Grahame’s blog Japanter from when he lived in Japan in 2011/2012, and was a huge inspiration for me starting my own blog in Japan in the first place. I’m even stealing borrowing the ‘Bite-Sized Japanter’ series name directly from him – with permission, thank you Grahame-chama!
Japan + banter = Japanter! (Grahame pre-dated PPAP before any of you start.)
These will be short posts in the style of my Japan Keeping Me Humble series of funny, banterous and Japanterous things to happen. In Japan. Unsurprisingly.
Let’s start with one of my favourite things in the the world to do: swearing.
Swearing and profanity doesn’t exist per se in Japan. At least as far as swear words go. As with so many things here, it’s not what you say it’s how you say it. Tone and intent is everything.
For example you could say “sumimasen” with a smile and a bow and it means a polite “I’m sorry” or “Excuse me.” However snap it or shout it at someone and you’re basically telling them where to go.
There are also some common insults – as in English, these are often in reference to someone’s appearance, background/personality or skill level:
くたばれkutabare – drop dead しんじまえshinjimae – go to hell このやろうkono yarou – you piece of shit 馬鹿 (ばか)baka – idiot/fool でぶ debu – fatso/fatty ちびchibi – runt/short-arse 意地悪 (いじわる)ijiwaru – malicious/spiteful/bitchy
However due to their exposure to American TV and films, many Japanese people are aware of swear words but are mostly oblivious as to what they actually mean. Even the teacher’s don’t so much as flinch when some good ol’ cursing is casually heard in the classroom.
My junior high school boys in particular love flipping each other off. One of my third graders during a nice, friendly game of karata handed a card to his pal saying “for you, motherfucker.”
A fellow ALT recently shared that one of their classes has words they shouldn’t say written on a poster at the front of the class and at the top of the list is “fuck you” written in katakana. (ファック ユー)
However if you really feel like helping your Japanese friends out in learning the subtle art of swearing, you can always give them this:
I bought a copy for my friends Imada and Haruna for Christmas with clear instructions that they can learn the words and phrases, but it’s perhaps not wise to use them around someone they don’t know.
My time has also been spent this month following the fallout of George Floyd’s murder and the protests around the world. It’s important that we all keep learning and listening.
I’ve been in two minds whether to begin posting here again right at this moment in light of the current situation – however this blog is more than anything a personal diary for me to look back on when the time comes for me to leave Japan. (And if I can give any advice or words of wisdom in the process, well that’s just a bonus.)
On May 12th I celebrated 31 years since I emerged from the birth canal. Sadly the ‘rona scuppered my chances of having a birthday party in an American themed bar on the coast as was the original plan.
However the weekend before – social distancing rules starting to relax, so my friends Felipe, Matt and Ashley threw me a little birthday party. It was pretty close to what I had planned tbh – I mean there was a party. And a super-girly purple and pink drinks bar. And Americans.
We ordered pizza, Ashley made brownies and they surprised me a beautiful strawberries and cream cake.
However due to it being mid-week I spent my actual birthday completely on my tod.
It actually wasn’t too bad at all – I made sure I filled the day so I wasn’t just a SAD GORL moping around. Although I did have a little photoshoot in my tiny apartment where I at least pretended to be a SAD GORL.
It was a very food-centric day, which is only ever a good thing right?
In the morning I ordered a McDonalds breakfast (they now deliver to my area!) and in the evening I ordered the hugest pizza Dominos had on the menu. It was sensational.
I had a few birthday beers with my pizza and Skyped my family and my best-friend Sam at home. Sam even put her pet budgie to the camera to say hello.
The following weekend I broke into my gift for myself (a bottle of Aperol – I’ve been pretending I’m on holiday somewhere) and went to my friend Marcel’s online RuPaul’s Drag Race viewing party.
My parents were kind enough to send me some money and told me to spend it on a nice present.
So although I know they’re a bit 2016 I treated myself to a Kånken backpack. They really are worth it – so comfortable, even when it’s full of textbooks.
However possibly the greatest gift I recieved was from Lauren who sent me this video. The internet has peaked, it’s all downhill from here.
It’s going to go down as one of the strangest birthdays I’ll ever have, but it was definitely memorable.
I’ve been back to work for two weeks now. Japan is slowly getting back to normal (as normal as can be) with schools, offices, shops, cafes and restaurants opening but still enforcing social distancing rules. (For example we went for yakitori last week and every other table was left empty.)
Most eateries are still offering takeout options, and UberEats is coming to Hamamatsu from June 16th which I hope will help local businesses. I personally can’t wait to start ordering a bunch of delicious food at the weekend and report back to you!
So ‘social distancing’ has become the buzzword of the past few weeks, as people – voluntarily and involuntarily – start barricading themselves into their houses for the foreseeable.
I’ve seen a lot of social media posts from couples and families back home in the UK seeing the silver living in a terrible and unprecedented situation by using it to spend quality time together – reading, watching films, cooking, playing board games.
This is of course lovely – but what if you live alone? And what if you live alone on the other side of the world? Eeep.
A happy life as an expat for me revolves around my social circle, as I’m an extroverted introvert (also known as an ‘omnivert’ but that sounds too much like ‘omnivore’ to me, which always reminds me of dinosaurs for some reason…).
While I crave social interaction, I find myself exhausted and overstimulated if I’m around people too long (especially in larger groups) and feel the need to hibernate and recharge. But in the same vein, if I’m isolated for too long I find myself irritable and depressed.
Being away from home just amplifies this – I can’t go and chat with my mam, meet Lauren for pints, have a night in with Claire or get a train to visit Sam in Glasgow whenever I like. Living abroad you really have to work hard to put yourself out there to make connections – potentially friendships.
So what happens when that’s taken away? Again, eeep.
However as an asthmatic I am classed as ‘high-risk’ and so I made the decision to self isolate as much as possible, only leaving my apartment for essentials such as trips to the supermarket/conbini and short walks in quiet areas.
So here’s what I’ve been doing while social distancing:
♥ Keeping in contact with family and friends back home. While I do text my mam every day (if I don’t she assumes I’m dead – Italian problemz) I’m making an extra effort to Skype. Seeing their faces keeps me going, and reminds me that they are keeping safe and well.
♥ Blogging. But you should know that by now! From curating photos to even brainstorming ideas, I’m loving keeping my little diary about my time here to one day look back on.
♥ Reading. Back home in the UK I have a decent physical collection of books, but knowing I’d be moving into a tiny apartment I bought myself a Kindle. (My sister has a MA in English and refuses to even look at it.) I have a hefty reading list to get through – though I’ll probably end up re-reading Harry Potter for the billionth time.
“Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”
♥ Watch something familiar and comforting. For me: TV: The Office, Friends, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Spaced. FILMS: Harry Potter, The Princess Diaries, Tangled, Pride.
♥ Watching something new! Time to get through that Netflix list. (And resist the urge to watch season 6 of Drag Race AGAIN.)
♥ Spa time. A long bubble bath, face mask, painting my nails etc.
♥ Drinking lots of tea. Because I’m British and tea runs in my veins. I actually have a nice little collection of teas built up over the last few months. ♥ Cooking. I mentioned in this post I don’t really like cooking, and living in the city I prefer to eat out. But now I’m kind of forced into cooking, so am trying to flex my skillz. Back home, baking is a huge stress reliever for me (I don’t have an oven in my apartment and there’s no room for a mini one) – and although I still can’t say the same for cooking – I’m really trying!
♥ Redecorating. Well, I’m using the term a bit loosely here – there’s only so much I can do with my little rented Leopalace. But I’m doing what I can to make it feel more homely – especially as I’m going to be staying her at least another year. I ordered a cute pink sofa from Amazon for only £80 and was able to put away my dining room table and chairs which has already made the space look a lot bigger. I have a new rug, which is much nicer than the rough carpet that came with the apartment, a new fuzzy pink blanket and I’ve been re-arranging my photos, prints, books and other knickknacks I’ve accumulated over the past seven months.
♥ Journalling. Because I’m so extra I actually have THREE journals – an everyday journal, a journal for streams of consciousness/creative writing etc, and a Hobonichi for more art-style journalling. For me, it helps to set time aside to write down my thoughts for the day so they aren’t going round and round my head at bedtime. Speaking of which…
♥ Keeping to a routine. I’m a night owl and could happily go to bed at 3am and sleep until noon. But frankly it’s not healthy to spend my days like this, so I still set an alarm and try to go to bed around midnight at the latest.
♥ Playing video games. I’ve been enjoying spending time once again in Skyrim (my all-time favourite game – I even have a Skyrim tattoo) for the first time in a long while. I’ve also been playing Breath of the Wild, Fire Emblem Three Houses and online multiplayers like Mario Kart and Splatoon on my Nintendo Switch. With most of the world in isolation you’re never short on people being available to play!
Speaking of which…
♥ Four words: Animal Crossing New Horizons. I don’t need to say anything more. It’s the game the world needs right now.
♥ Treating myself. I believe everyday is “Treat yo’ self” Day, but on a particularly dull, grey day – I opened the fancy chocolates my pal bought me for White Day and watched Space Jam. When I do venture to the supermarket or conbini, I’m making an effort to try something new – difficult for me as a creature of habit!
♥ Improving my Japanese. Because it’s still embarrassingly bad. With all my Genki textbooks gathering a little dust on my shelves, the thing I’m actually making most progress with – for now – is the Duolingo app. I’m an interactive learner and struggle with textbooks alone. I’d love to take some classes (when everything has calmed down) but my schedule simply doesn’t allow it. I’ll eventually go back to my textbooks when I’ve progressed a little more with Duolingo.
♥ Practicing mindfulness. I recently converted from Apple Music to Spotify, and you can get Headspace a reduced rate if you sign up to a paid account(and even free for the first three months!). So I’ve been trying to make time to meditate every few days. ♥ Open the windows/spend time on my balcony. I have a tiny balcony in my tiny apartment, and really it’s only meant to hang your clothes out. But as the weather warms up, I have no problems with bringing a chair outside and reading, playing my Switch or meditating outside. Get that vitamin D, guys.
♥ Stretching/working out. I fucking hate exercising, I fucking hate it. But I don’t mind yoga and pilates. It’s on my list to do more, I promise.
♥ Practicing my ukulele. A few years ago after a night out I went on Amazon and drunkenly bought a ukulele. Last month, I did the same thing again – I even managed to buy the same make and colour. Well done, drunk Carla! While instruments are technically banned in my building, if I do it on the down low people don’t have to know. It’s not like I’m being a dickhead with a drum kit.
No! Is that the only word you know? No???
♥ Crying. Wah wah. I’m a really sensitive and emotional person, and know that it’s OK to just be sad sometimes. It’s OK to feel sad, lonely, homesick sometimes as an expat – there’s a lot of pressure on you to be happy, excited and doing amazing things every single day. But in these scary times, being honest with yourself and how you are feeling is of the utmost importance.
But for whatever reason during So Close I just sat and wept like a baby – huge racking sobs – for the full duration of the song. No idea why, I just did.
Anyways, whatever you are doing I hope you are keeping healthy and as happy as can be. Remember, during these stressful times there is NO pressure on you to be productive. If you want to get up, work, enjoy your hobbies then that’s great. But it’s also totally valid to stay in your pyjamas all day and binge Drag Race.
I’m there with you, everyone.
*Although I’ve used one of her quotes here, I do NOT endorse or agree with JK Rowling’s harmful stance regarding trans women. The Potterverse has always been a safe and welcoming space for so many of us in times of both joy and hardship, and learning that your childhood hero harbours views like this is frankly devastating.