Japan 101


It’s Monday night and I have made it through my first week living abroad *cue applause*.  The above picture is the result of quick grocery run so I could fuel up and tell you all about said first week.  Now before you judge me on the contents of my dinner I must inform you that I have been trying all…umm…’most’ of the food presented to me with the exception of raw eel and fermented beans.  Considering my history as a picky eater I’d say that’s progress.  I also must say that I fully intended to bring home some take-out sushi (I’m serious), but they did not have any “lunchboxes” (that’s what they call them…well…in Japanese, but I don’t know how to say that) without those red fish eggs that look to me like bath beads and I’m just not quite ready for fish juice squirting in my mouth.  Maybe next week.   As I perused through the aisles wondering what strange concoctions reside behind the cardboard cartons and plastic containers, I stumbled upon the salami and cheese and I couldn’t resist.  You can’t blame me right?  I guess I needed a little piece of home…I won’t mention the Pringles and PB and jelly…oh shit, I just did.  The triangle thing is actually a rice ball with some salmon inside wrapped with seaweed.  It is soooooo delicious!  Can’t have a good meal without a good beer and a bottle of sake.  Oh, and I’m not sure if you can tell, but there is a pack of 50 chopsticks because I couldn’t find any forks…haha!


The first thought that comes to mind to share with you is that my inner compass is completely out of whack…not that it was ever 100% accurate.  It is very unsettling not knowing where I am or having reference points.  In Reno, I always looked to the mountains.  In San Diego, I looked to the sun and knew where everything was in reference to the ocean.  Here…I never know what direction I’m heading to and I get things backwards ALL the time.  I try to focus on the sun, but it just doesn’t seem to be helping.  The streets are narrow, curvy and don’t seem to follow any pattern at all.  Many are dead ends.  I was asked in what direction the windows in my apartment face and I literally could not figure it out! South…I think that would have been Guess #4. I know how to get to school from my hotel and have figured it out from my apartment as well.  It’s a start.  I know that eventually I’ll be able to navigate myself around and I so look forward to that day.  I feel like a rat in a maze right now.


This is a two lane street…


I bought some shiny new wheels the other day.  Oh yeah…she’s a beaut for sure.  So I took her out yesterday and we explored the park (Nogawa) next to the school and the cemetery (Tama) which is a few blocks from my apartment.  I’ve have a couple of videos that I took, but am having some technical difficulties.  I’ll get them when I can.  Both places were absolutely beautiful and I felt at peace for the first time since I’ve been here.  They are my new Balboa Park; a place to get away and find a reprieve from it all.  I’ve been told that when the cherry blossoms bloom in the spring that the cemetery is illuminated.  Can’t wait!





Tokyo is a city of about 35 million people, but it is so quiet.  Ok, so yes…I totally live out in the ‘burbs, but there are still a helluva lot of people out here.  My neighborhood is just houses upon houses in between all shapes and sizes of apartment buildings….yet it is eerily quiet.  Nobody raises their voice for any reason it seems; the trains are quiet, the streets are quiet…even the stores are quiet (except for the poor guy who has the horrible job of standing in the middle of the department store announcing a sale).  In addition to the quiet there are many unsaid rules in which everybody follows.  Nobody walks and eats, no one talks on their phones on the trains, no one ever speaks in a loud voice unless they’ve been out drinking and then it’s humorous, you always walk on the left, you let people off the trains before getting on (duh), in crowds you get through via a line formation…It seems very regimented, but everything flows very well and I really think I can get used to that!  Right now I’m just observing constantly to see the proper way of doing things.  When I was purchasing tonight’s wonderful dinner, I noticed that the cashier shifted the food items from my basket to another basket after scanning them.  After you pay you take your basket of food to a little counter just past the cashier and bag you shit yourself.  I thought that was so clever!!  How many times have you waited while the cashier has to finish bagging the person’s items in front of you??  We all have and this system made it so quick…although you do have to do your own bagging. 


Vending machines everywhere!!


So far my experience with the Japanese people has been incredible.  They are VERY customer service oriented…so much so that I almost can’t believe it!  I’ve had to purchase a lot of things and have needed a lot of help since I have arrived.  Every time people have literally bent over backwards to help me.  You walk into an establishment and everybody greets you!!  I have no idea what they are saying. but they seem so happy that you are there…and when you leave they do the same thing.  At restaurants, even the cooks will wave and bid you farewell.  I can’t articulate how wonderful and refreshing it is just to have some kindness bestowed upon you by a stranger.  The other day I went into a bakery (oh yeah…fuck the whole veggies and fish diet…these people LOVE their sweets!!)  and I bought a few pastries to take to a dinner I was attending.  The woman literally walked me back over to the baked goods and made me pick out two more…she just gave them to me!  Today when I was buying my phone, I received a free Apple TV device as well as a digital picture frame just for being a customer.  I can easily get used to this. 


I mentioned a bit about the food, but I want to wait until I experience some more and I think it will deserve its own blog.  One thing I learned very quickly is that I am going to have to learn to tolerate many different textures.  That’s my biggest challenge when it comes to food.  Sushi consumption is going on strong and I’ve actually really been enjoying it.  I have actually put things in my mouth without knowing what they are! The Japanese like to put meat on a stick and grill it.  It’s called yakitori.  This past weekend I went out to Kinchijoji with our new AP and her husband and we found a restaurant that had pictures on the menu (seriously…this is how we choose!).  It was a great little place where we sat on pillows with a sunk-in table.  We actually called our waiter by banging on a wooden gong.  When anyone banged the gong, all the waiters and cook staff would yell in unison.  Pretty cool.  Anyway, we ordered some yakitori based on the pictures thinking we had one chicken, one pork and one beef as there were many to choose from.  Ummm…we don’t think any of them were actually what we thought they were..  Then we ordered these friend things that maybe we thought were popcorn fish because there was a lemon in the picture.  Again…not fish, but a super tough substance that I would have hoped was octopus, but when I talked to one of the teachers and used the analogy that it had a consistency like cartilage, he said, “oh, it probably was”.  That made my stomach turn a bit.   One more thing; I mentioned that Japanese love their sweets and one of the most popular sweets is a sweet bean puree.  At first I thought this sounded disgusting.  Who would ever associate beans with dessert?  At one of the many bakeries, I purchased what I thought was a jelly donut.  It was actually filled with this bean puree instead of jelly, but I thought it was delicious!  I’m willing to try it!


Roasted eggplant


Miso soup…with shrimp 🙂




As for me…a dear friend gave me some great advice to find a routine and to figure out how to have some comforts from home.  I downloaded Season 6 of Dexter and have been anticipating my alone time at the Hotel Mets to watch a new episode each evening (ok maybe 2 episodes but who’s counting?).  Having this to look forward to helps with the alone time.  Don’t get me wrong; anyone who knows me knows that I love my alone time, but its different here.  When I come home in the evening it is sleeping hours for those that I would normally talk to.  I can’t just call and chat if I want to…that piece is what makes the alone here so alone.  I know I will meet people and form some great friendships, but this transition phase is tough.  Another factor is that most of the teachers here are married. This makes me feel very single.  Being single is what allowed me to embark on this journey and I truly hope that being single will not dampen my experiences here. Singledome is a whole other blog, but I’m definitely feeling it. 


Check out the sign on top…7-11.  They are everywhere and even have superstores!


That’s plenty for now.  Please ask me anything you are curious about.  I will give you my thoughts an observations as well as I can, but I know that in time they may change.  I can’t believe it has only been a week!  It seriously seems like forever…most days have been quite busy with simply the tasks of trying to establish a household.  It’s been a lot of work.  Thank you all for reading and supporting!  I love hearing from you and even if I don’t get back right away (internet time is limited) please know that your communication truly warms my heart…


When heading to school, I know to turn right when I get to this shrine.



Musashisakai: home of the Hotel Mets…my temporary home.




6 thoughts on “Japan 101

  1. I really loved reading about your first week, Karena!
    I know those fermented beans! Ugh! I can’t remember the name, but a former Japanese roommate of mine used to eat them. It was the one thing that I drew the line on, so I don’t blame you for passing on those.

    • Haha! t’s nato and many Japanese love it. I can’t even get close enough to stand the smell…they are awful!! Miss you, dear friend…give that cuddly bundle of joy some extra love from his aunty 🙂

  2. Salami, cheese and beer….Hoooray! I guess you should have packed a fork in your carry on – wonder if it would get through security? I love reading your blog, makes me laugh….and cry. So…any idea what you were eating if not chicken, pork and beef? That’s scary, but what the hell, “when in Rome”, right? It’s probably best if you don’t know what it is! Love you and miss you! Keep up with the great adventure….

    • Yes, I’ve definitely adopted the “when in Rome” mentality. Some of it I love and some of it is disgusting! Salami and cheese wasn’t even close to the scrumptious delights from our summer abroad. Miss you and love you mucho! xoxoxo

  3. I have enjoyed reading this entire blog, you have done a great job! I wish you luck in your travels and experiences! I’m envious of you. I hope sometime we can get together for a drink, or a cup of Joe when you make it back! Miss ya! Take care of yourself. XOXO

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