America vs Japan: Food


Now let’s talk food. There are four major differences between American food and Japanese food: content, price, size, and flavor.


This one is pretty straight forward. American and Japanese food are obviously different. The dishes vary, but the common ingredients vary as well. It’s not at all uncommon in Japan to eat a vegetarian (not vegan) meal. Rice is what you typically fill up on, and meat typically acts as more of a side dish or accent flavor. In the good ol’ US of A meat is usually the main attraction and everything else is an accessory to it.

On top of that, there’s a difference in what meats are common. I think it’s fair to say that America gives you a wealth of meat options at varying prices. You can fairly easily find anything from chicken to buffalo if you look hard enough. In Japan, this doesn’t apply. Chicken is common in Tokyo as well, but possibly even more common is pork. Pork seemed to be the go to meat in my experience. Beef, an American staple, was woefully uncommon in comparison. The texture and quality of beef was, in my opinion, quite a bit different from what we Yanks are used to.

Another major difference is the price and prevalence of vegetables. In most restaurants in America you can pick up a (seemingly) healthy salad alongside your main dishes. However, that convention doesn’t exist in Japan mainly because vegetables are comparatively expensive. Meat and fish tend to run at cheaper prices for what you get.

Finally, dairy products are also pretty rare. Cheese doesn’t really have a place in Japanese cooking, and even the smallest pack of cubes in the grocery store is comparatively expensive. You’d be hard pressed to find a carton of milk, and more processed items like yogurt simply don’t seem to exist.


You may have noticed that I kept using the word “comparatively” in the last section. That’s because on the whole, Japanese food is much less expensive than American food. You can get fairly large meals for cheap by our standards. If you’re spending around ten dollars on a single meal, you’re in a pricier restaurant.

Gyoza, rice, and a salad cost me about six US dollars

Honestly, this point was my absolute favorite part of living in Japan for a bit. Anything from breads to a full meal were very affordable. However, this only applies to Japanese cooking. If you want Western foods like hamburgers or pizza the price goes up. Also, strangely enough, drinks were fairly pricey. Even something as simple as a fountain drink poured into a paper cup. To add insult to injury, you can’t get refills for free, so that was a bit of a bummer.


A medium pizza from Domino’s. Yes. A medium. And no. My hand isn’t freakishly large.

Before I got to Tokyo, I expected all the serving sizes to be considerably smaller. This is somewhat true in that Western food portions are significantly smaller than what we’re used to, but when you buy Japanese cuisine you can typically get a hefty amount of food. Hamburgers, pizza, fries, etc are doled out in minimal amounts. In fact, it’s rare to find more than two size options for our typical side snacks. The restaurants like to call them medium and large, but in my opinion they’re actually small and medium.

That said, drinks are always a lot smaller. Even the largest of sizes I’ve seen have been smaller than a regular sized fountain drink from Whataburger. Did I mention there are no refills? Because there aren’t.

My last meal in Japan consisted of ramen, gyoza, and a coke all for around eight dollars


A blueberry float from First Kitchen

You never realize how much sugar Americans use until you take a step back. That’s the first big difference I would point out between common flavors in American and Japanese cooking. The two styles share a love of salty and savory flavoring, but Japanese cooking usually doesn’t infuse as much sugar into sweets. I was often left feeling that the desserts I bought were almost bland. Even whipped cream from Starbucks has next to no sugar in it. I also noticed that sweets tend to be fluffier or lighter in flavor compared to their American counterparts.

The Other Chinese in China

My roommate for half of this summer was a PKU international student from Malaysia. But, she was of Chinese descent; even her name is Chinese. She told me her grandparents had moved to Malaysia from mainland China. I didn’t see much of her at first, but after a while I got to know her a little better. One week, I thought I’d take a break from Chinese food, and she knew a decent Korean restaurant nearby, so the next day we went out for my first (hopefully not last) Korean hot pot. Over glass noodles and BBQ beef, we talked about college and how we ended up at our respective institutions. I asked her why she decided on PKU, and she told me that she moved to China for middle school with the intention of going to a Chinese university.

“Was it hard to learn Mandarin in school?” I asked, ignorantly. She shook her head, and I nodded admiringly, until she finished her mouthful of japchae and said, “But no.. I grew up speaking Mandarin, at home all we speak is Mandarin. I didn’t have to learn it.”

“You can’t speak Malay at all?” I pressed. She shook her head again, and said that all she knew was English and Chinese. Her family was the same way. In some sense, my roommate was an outsider to all nations. She didn’t know much more Malay than I, and Chinese face discrimination in Malaysia, yet she was not quite a true mainland Chinese either. Privately, I thought this a sad place to be, essentially being a foreigner at home as well as abroad. Even at PKU, international students are put in living quarters separate from the rest of the student body. Of course in the U.S., international students regularly live and interact with the rest of the student body.

Through further conversation with my roommate and her friends, I learned that the Chinese-Malaysian community in Beijing is a tight-knit group. My roommate’s boyfriend is Chinese-Malaysian, as are most of her close friends. Again, looking for a break from Beijing fare, we went to a Malaysian restaurant, the owner of which she knows well. She told me that the owner not only gives Chinese-Malay student big discounts when they eat there, but at times even assists Chinese-Malay students financially.

Apparently, food names are the extent of my roomie’s Malay. Though, perhaps those are the most important words to know.

My roommate expressed intense frustration with the attitude of some mainland Chinese towards her, despite her 100% Chinese background. She mentioned that some people are condescending, and even downright rude when dealing with her. When she ordered us a Didi (essentially the Chinese Uber) to return home, there was a bit of trouble with getting the driver to come to the right location on a backroad because he kept asking, “How can I trust you?”, apparently because he picked up on her Chinese-Malaysian accent. Although my roommate’s first language is Mandarin, it is immediately obvious that her way of speaking is not a Beijing, or even mainland Chinese, accent.

I asked her whether she preferred her home in Malaysia to Beijing, she did not express a clear preference for one over the other. She’s a marketing major, and said that she would feel comfortable working in China or Malaysia. Foreigners aren’t a rare sight in Chicago, or even smaller cities like Indianapolis, but Beijing is a city unused to foreigners, and if it becomes evident that you don’t quite fit in with the rest, you’ll draw eyes and may be treated differently. In my roommate’s case, this has, at times, proven to be especially trying. Empathizing with my roommate reminded me to be grateful for the diversity that America allows and celebrates.

China’s Sweet Side

To my initial sorrow as a sweet-tooth, I found that in the East, dessert is a minor affair and sometimes is even completely passed over. Traditionally, sweet items are lesser players in the world of Chinese eats. Northern China in particular is known more for its preparation of meats and noodles rather than desserts but Beijing has more to its culinary name than roast duck. To my intense joy, halfway through the program, I discovered the Daoxiangcun (稻香村) company, which roughly translates to “village of rice fragrance”, one of Beijing’s oldest and most famous pastry companies. Daoxiangcun pastries are unique to Beijing; there is a different Suzhou Daoxiangcun company, but these pastries apparently cannot be found in Hong Kong, and even in Taiwan, people are not as familiar with them as in Beijing. Daoxiangcun is known for its mooncakes, which are a traditional dessert of the Mid-autumn festival, also called the moon festival. However, Daoxiangcun’s most popular products are its wide assortment of traditional pastries, and are eagerly bought up by Beijingers year-round. These pastries, which come in hundreds of varieties, are quite popular with the older folks, but people of all ages enjoy them. The company also sells a variety of cooked meats.

I visited several Daoxiangcun stores, and it seems that most are set up generally the same way. At the counter, you may choose from a wide range of pastry boxes, but you can also pick which pastries you want to put in your own, custom-made box. Some stores have several separate counters for meat, pastries, and other sweets. Set up in the center of the store is an assortment of individually wrapped candies, dried fruit and other uniquely Chinese sweets. If you’d like to try specific pastries without having to buy a whole box, you can also order them individually at the counter. It’s a heaven of goodies with something delicious for just about everyone.

I went to a Daoxiangcun bakery just a ten-minute walk down the road from our quarters at PKU to buy some pastries. I had visited the store before, and they had had prepared boxes of daoxiangcun pastries laid out on the counter. But this time, there were no such boxes, no one knew a word of English, and the only thing I could read were the price tags, so I had to figure out how to order pastries with my limited Chinese. I had no idea where to begin with ordering pastries (there are literally hundreds of options), I decided to befriend the staff and ask a few questions. Communication was a challenge; thankfully they seemed to understand me quite well but I had trouble making out exactly what their responses were. I went ahead, however, and started out with asking about the process of making daoxiangcun pastries. The staff informed me that the Daoxiangcun bakery company sends the pastries to its various branches around the city. And, it turns out that the company is a bit secretive about the process of making the pastries, so the staff did not know too much about the process, or even the length of time it took to make the pastries. So, I just talked with them a little about which pastries were especially delicious, and which are most popular.

One of the ladies was said that her favorite Daoxiangcun product are their meat products, and said that the pork was especially good. When I asked her if she had any favorite pastries, she said “They’re all great to eat!” The other staff member I talked to was very friendly, and gave me more specifics, but my limited Chinese made it rather difficult to follow. I did manage to catch that she enjoyed more traditional selections like the round lotus pastries. After she finished rattling off an incomprehensible list of “top ten” pastries, I decided that it might be better to get up to the counter and get a visual on what she was talking about. I explained apologetically that I really had no idea what any of the pastry names were, but was looking to order a box of pastries most unique to Beijing. To my surprise, and delight, she offered to help me order. The twelve types of pastries I ordered included pastries in shape of shells, pig heads, and flowers. Some were a little salty, others were very sweet, some were light and flaky, and others were very dense. The fillings ranged from jujube, to pumpkin, to red bean, to chestnut. I also learned from a few Beijingers that these pastries also play a role in social interaction. Like mooncakes, many pastries symbolize long life, good health, prosperity, or happiness, all of which are very important in Chinese culture. These often have characters marked on them.

The Chinese seem to prefer more subtly sweet pastries such as the jujube flower cake and the ox tongue pastry, but my personal favorite is the almost overwhelmingly sweet golden pig cake. It contains a dense pumpkin filling, is shaped like a pig’s head, and tastes even better than it looks. I suppose I’d really have to agree with the first lady I asked about daoxiangcun; you can’t really go wrong with any of them.

Set boxes of pastries waiting for the final addition of the salty-sweet “ox-tongue” pastry. These pastries are delicious, but one box feels heavier than 15 lbs..

Top 5 Things I’ve Learned – Food

Ask any well-traveled person (or even Google!) about differences to expect when you go abroad, and virtually all of them will mention something about food.  The way that food is prepared, served, and enjoyed varies widely among countries, and often even cities, and often offers a window to deeper cultural beliefs or identities. While I could logically understand this before traveling abroad, my time is China has truly revealed how food customs are a part of my identity, as well as how they offer an opportunity to observe Chinese culture. Here are five things I’ve learned about food culture in China:

1. Convenience. It seems that, in America, food is prepared and provided in such a way that it can get from the store or your plate to your stomach as quickly as possible. American utensils are designed to shovel in large amounts of food at once (I distinctly remember being disturbed when I visited an American frozen yogurt chain and was handed a shovel-shaped spoon to use to enjoy my cup of yogurt). Fish and meat are sold and served de-boned the vast majority of the time, but that is not the case in China. Food in America is available 24/7 – even in small American towns, you can find a place to buy food at virtually any time of day or night. I was certainly surprised to find that, unlike Notre Dame’s dining halls that are open all day from 0700-2130, Peking University’s dining halls are only open for two-hour periods during each meal time.

Of course Beijing has it’s share of fast food (as well as an extensive fast food delivery system), but looking at the culture as a whole, the Chinese pay a lot of attention to the flavors, preparation, and presentation of their food, not simply how filling it is or how quickly it can be eaten. Chinese people often take their time buying ingredients and preparing their meals by hand, in contrast to the ready-made, frozen, and canned meals and ingredients that are found throughout American supermarkets. Now don’t get me wrong, I love my Mom’s casseroles, but is dumping and mixing together the contents of several cans in a large dish and plopping it in the oven for an hour really a homemade meal? I think that this concept of American convenience vs. Chinese careful preparation can be clearly illustrated in hot pot, a very popular and traditional Chinese dining experience. When you go to have hot pot, you simply have a boiling pot of broth in the center of the table and are given different types of raw meat and veggies to share with others at your table. You cook the food slowly, one thing at a time, enjoying conversation and allowing yourself to eat slowly, one small plate at a time, enjoying the process of not just eating but also preparing your food. I do appreciate the convenience and ease of food in America, but there’s something more to the experience when you take your time and are forced to eat bite by bite.

2. Regional cuisine differences. Just as in America we have a variety of regional cuisine, from the fried chicken and apple pie of the South to the fresh seafood dishes of the Northeast, different regions in China also have distinct differences and types of food. However, in China, these variations are even more extreme – if you took a dinner spread from two different Chinese provinces, you might not even be able to guess that they came from the same country! Northern Chinese food (including Beijing food), is known to be saltier, simpler, and contain less vegetables and instead more grains (like rice or bread) as the staple food. I learned to love the steamed buns and mantou in the Peking University dining halls every day – while in America rolls are rarely served without a dipping sauce or accompanying dish, I came to enjoy the fluffiness and slightly sweet taste of the steamed dough.  Another of my favorite dishes I ate in Beijing was the traditional Peking duck – can you really visit Beijing without downing this specialty? In general, Chinese people seem willing to try nearly any dish, and while I couldn’t bring myself to ear a few specialties like crispy scorpion found at street vendors, I was lucky to be able to try so many different dishes while in China!

3. Food as community. In many ways, food is tied to the way Chinese people interact with one another – in fact, a common greeting in China is “吃了吗?”, which literally translates to “Have you eaten?”. The culture surrounding food and going out to eat in China is markedly different than that in America. I often felt uncomfortable going to restaurants and even cafes alone – eating in China is an extremely communal activity. When you go out to a restaurant, you never order one dish for yourself – rather, you order many dishes and share them by spinning the large lazy susan in the middle of every table. People serve food to one another, take little bits at a time, and don’t mind eating food that other people’s chopsticks have touched. There is also certain etiquette when you go out to eat – the host can never run out of food (that’s considered very embarrassing) so they often over-order; the way in which people are seated around the table is carefully considered based on honor/social standing; you are expected to “fight” over who pays the bill. Food and the way in which it is eaten is certainly a cornerstone of Chinese culture.

4. American Chinese food and Chinese American food. America really oversimplifies Chinese food – that General Tso’s chicken and lo mein you like to order from the Chinese place down the street probably doesn’t have many dishes you would actually find in China, and if it does, they are probably “Americanized” – extra oil or salt, extra sauce, fewer vegetables, etc. China has a vast array of American fast food, including McDonald’s, KFC, and Starbucks (the menus are often different from the American versions to appeal more to the Chinese customer). In addition to the fast food, China also has a huge delivery service network – using apps, you can order anything from a McDonald’s burger to a Uniqlo t-shirt and have it delivered to you. When I ordered my first McDonald’s delivery, I joked to my friends that Beijing was “out-American-ing” us! In addition to the fast food, Beijing did also have some pretty good Western restaurants (my friends and I went to one for the Fourth of July and ate burgers, salad, baked beans, coleslaw, and strawberry shortcake!), but generally speaking the authentic ones are few and far between. While I was impressed with the number of American restaurants in Beijing, I think it’s safe to say that both America and China oversimplify the other’s foods.

5. The importance of comfort food. After just a couple of weeks in Beijing, all I wanted was a home-made American comfort food like a plate of mac n cheese or lasagna, or a bowl of my mom’s turkey chowder. I missed even simpler American staple foods like grilled chicken and vegetables, flavored with familiar spices and rubs. More than that, I missed staple foods that I know how to mix and match – for example, in America, I know which foods are healthy and which to put on my plate to make a complete and balanced meal, but among all of the unfamiliar dishes and spices in China, I had a hard time knowing how things were cooked, what I would like, what would give me energy, etc. I missed American food enough at the beginning that I walked for 50 minutes to Walmart (granted, this could have been made easier by using the subways, but I hadn’t figured them out yet) just to buy some peanut butter and jelly! As I continued to try new Chinese foods, I found some things that I really liked; some of my favorite food experiences in Beijing were drinking warm soymilk, slightly less sweet than American soymilk, with breakfast in the morning (replacing coffee); yogurt bottles that could be found at nearly every street vendor (in Beijing, yogurt is extremely popular, but instead of eating it with a spoon yogurt is consumed through a straw!); and baozi, which is essentially China’s “fast food” – small steamed buns filled with different types of meats and vegetables. There was a baozi store about a 5-minute walk from my dorm that I frequented weekly; the service was fast, and you could buy 6 baozi for less than 2 U.S. dollars!

Visiting China certainly gave me an appreciation for the unique and varied cuisine of the country, as well as made me appreciate the food customs and dishes that are ingrained in me as an American. Now I sometimes find myself craving authentic Chinese food instead of American food – just one more reason that I will need to go back to China again one day!

Chinese Thoughts on America

It is always interesting to hear what people from other countries think about the United States. Sometimes people outside the US have the funniest things to say about Americans, and sometimes their opinions cause me to reconsider my own take on things. In China, a vast country of long tradition, most of the people you see are the Han Chinese. China is not as diverse as the States, or even the United Kingdom. As a result, foreigners, or “wai外 guo国 ren人”  in China visiting famous sites often themselves become attractions to the locals. In a sea of silky black hair and dark eyes, blue eyes, blond hair or anything that is evidently not Chinese is an unusual and interesting figure. Foreigners are sure to stand out a great deal more in China than many other nations, and so it is common to find people taking your picture. In better situations, they sometimes ask first, but stares and shameless picture-taking of foreign strangers is commonplace.

The first person who gave me his opinion of America volunteered his opinion without me even having to ask. He was about a middle-aged gentleman at a small street clothing store, or a xiao小 tan摊, where I was shopping around for a pair of pants. He was really a lively individual and never stopped talking; he seemed to be either praising every pair of pants I picked up as the perfect fit, or making very random, general statements about America. If I so much as eyed a pair of pants, and he’d immediately pick it up and pat it authoritatively, press it into my hands, and pace around me. While doing this, he would repeat three or four times, “This design is very beautiful, it would look very beautiful on you,” then would say in broken English, “America! Everything! Big!” or “America! Guns!”, and would conclude with a good laugh. Despite this interesting accompaniment, I managed to select my pants, and eventually turned to the conversational gentleman and asked if he knew anything else about America. He laughed a great deal, but made a remark about the States that to me, an American, was disappointing. He said that America was dangerous because of the many guns, and I later learned this view was not one unique to him. The vendor also added that Americans eat too much. He was not the last person to express disapproval for American eating habits.

Several weeks later, I had the chance to speak with a schoolgirl around 13 or 14 years of age. “What’s your opinion of America?” I asked. Her first response was one word: “independence.” This was cheering for about five seconds until she followed up with another word “lazy.” Her take on America seemed somewhat more favorable than the previous interviewee; she’d named the pros and cons. But then again, I thought, perhaps she named these two qualities as a way of saying that Americans enjoy freedom without taking responsibility. Chinese culture holds a high regard for faithfulness, placing duty above individual rights.  I pressed her for more information and asked her what she thought Americans did with their lives on a daily basis. Her answer was once again simple, but less complimentary. “Fat,” she said, with a giggle. I again urged her to elaborate. She finally said that we must be so fat due to living off of burgers and fries. I smiled, and thanked her for her time. So far, all my interviewees had knocked American health habits.

The third group of people I talked to were my Chinese teachers, a group of women from different parts of China, all very fashionable, all graduate school-aged, and all under 5 ft 3 in. Like the voluble vendor, they expressed concern over the amount of guns in America, but were also curious about the American fondness for cars, especially those on the larger side. “Why do you need such big cars?” was the question, which began a discussion of gas-guzzlers, Jeeps, and monster trucks. This “car talk” revealed that, for the most part, Americans don’t really need the big cars, it’s just that we like them, which then led to “Why do you like the big cars ?” And, despite almost never touching the topic of Chinese politics, the teachers are often ask our opinion on American presidents, both past and present. Like my first respondent, several teachers have an impression of America as dangerous nation because of the easy access to firearms. It was disappointing, because I would have hoped that America could project a more refined image to the world. At the same time, I could not be surprised; on the subject of guns, many from other nations express similar views, and mistake most Americans to be gun-toting citizens who like their cars like they like their food servings: big and full of oil.

Overall, I gathered that many Chinese have a rather poor regard for America. One of my teachers did note that American men seem well-mannered, in terms of opening doors. The only other thing that might be considered favorable was that most everyone seemed to have a high opinion of McDonald’s, which I do not share, to the great surprise of some of my teachers. “The burgers are so good!” she exclaimed, “How do you not like them?” I just wish I could’ve brought them a real, homestyle burger from a family-run cafe to show that there’s more to American burgers than just McD’s, and, perhaps, introduce a different side of the U.S.A.



วิถีชีวิต Ways of Life

Wat Rajamontean, two blocks from my apartment.

In Thailand, I became increasingly aware of the ways of life I had grown accustomed to in the states. I looked for some of the same creature comforts in Chiang Mai. The fact is, this approach of seeing and wanting things the way I am used to, is not a healthy way of living in another country. The more I was able to let go of these expectations, my experiences became much more interesting, rich and unique. Rather than comparing things or analyzing them, I started accepting that “this is how it’s done here…” (it is also interesting to understand why)

Many travelers, including myself, get too much information online about what to see and do, and how to act in other countries. After weeks of “trying on” behaviors that people had schooled me on, or learning from books and online forums, I realized that none of these were my own approach. As a newcomer to this area, I decided to take advantage (mindfully) of the fact that I don’t know all of the social norms. If I did something wrong, I learned from it. I made a conscious effort to let go of social insecurities or fears about how to act.

For example, I was unsure about social etiquette regarding monks. I visited many temples and regularly encountered monks. I had read that females are forbidden to initiate contact with monks. I made friends with an older Thai woman who introduced me to 6 young monks. They were all learning English and were eager to speak with me, but very shy. I was very nervous to talk with them too, and also to say things incorrectly, or disrespectfully in Thai. I soon realized that we were sharing the same fears. It was a great experience to exchange words and ideas with them. It simply required a courageous act to get it going. (I am now friends with a monk on the Line app!) 

I also began to see the clashes of old conventional thinking and new waves of thought. This is a common subject of conversation with Thais from all walks of life. We are all trying to adjust to change and deal with differences. I thought about what makes New York City such a great place, and it’s the cultural diversity. I think the same holds true for Chiang Mai. I was able to sample Chiang Mai’s culture here and now, yet simultaneously, I was adding to its cultural flavor as well.

Local artist drew my portrait!

I attended an Arts Symposium at Chiang Mai University which included panel discussions led by Asian art curators. I visited nearby exhibitions and artist residency programs and connected with local artists. One of the reasons I chose to study in Chiang Mai is to build an arts exchange program between Thailand and the USA. It was particularly interesting to learn about the diverse perspectives on the shifting and potential arts scene in the region.

Other social meetings, food adventures and indulgences:

  • Ate Thai ice cream at the Night Bazaar! It was made by mashing fresh fruit and cream on a cold metal slab. The frozen cream is spread out and then rolled up, looking like a bouquet of roses when put into a cup. Then it’s piled with whipped cream, nuts, and other delicious toppings of your choosing!
  • Took 2 Thai cooking classes and OMG I made curry from scratch! My green and masaman curries were out of this world! Also learned how to make my favorite Thai dish – Som Tum, green papaya salad. (pix below)
  • New fruit adventures trying snake fruit, long kong, sugar apple, and wood apple! Oh, and a green orange too!
  • Got a traditional Thai massage at an Ex-Prisoners Women’s facility. They help train women inmates and ex-prisoners to make a living and to reintegrate into society.
  • Attended my 3rd meeting of the Lanna Toastmasters, a group for people to practice their Thai public speaking. It is mainly attended by native speakers, but I have been encouraged to get up to the podium and make a speech someday:)

I’m Finally Here!

When you walk to your gate and see this waiting for you, you can anticipate a good trip

Or, if we’re being a bit more precise, I’ve been here for two weeks now. Flying in to Tokyo was one of the most pleasantly overwhelming moments of my life. Navigating international travel, currency exchange, and Tokyo’s intricate train system for the first time was challenging, though who can complain about flying on a BB-8 plane? My experience has been a mix of that daunting challenge and sense of wonder, so it’s taken me a while to finally sit down and write about it all.

Quite a bit has happened since my arrival, so I will split my first two posts between the liveliest points of my stay thus far: city life and campus life. This first post of mine will center around the city life and attempt to give a worthy summary of my experience. My friends and I have crawled the various sections of this vast metropolitan monster numerous times now, and it’s left a lasting impression with me.

Train tracks that seem to stretch on forever

As of July 20th, I have been to Shinjuku, Asakusa, Shibuya, Akihabara, Ikebukuro, Musashi-sakai, Mitaka, and, of course, the International Christian University. A lot, I know. I owe my travels to the wonderfully affordable Tokyo train system. I can’t imagine there’s anything quite like it. Once you become accustomed to the lay out of the city, the large swaths of people, and abandon the ticket system for a much more convenient Suica or Passmo card, the train system becomes your very best friend in Tokyo. This is a somewhat strange thing to rave about, but my hometown, Houston, has little in terms of public transportation. South Bend has a more extensive bus system. So, from my perspective, the train system is a work of modern ingenuity, even if it’s as common as morning coffee for the denizens of Tokyo.


Godzilla says hi

Another dazzling sight is the sheer size of the buildings in major shopping centers. Everything with the exception of large crosswalks and certain roads are much narrower than what I’m used to in the States. Due to the ground space being narrow, when you go to your large department stores, expect to look up. Way up. Some companies capitalize on this architecture in fantastic ways. The picture to the right is TOHO Cinemas and its overgrown guardian turtle. While not every establishment is wonderful enough to warrant this protection, it’s common to see giant screens playing advertisements or banners that are multiple stories high. You’ll see a lot more of that in my later posts.

So what other general impressions do I have after two weeks in Tokyo? Shopping and food. I could easily write an entire post about each of these, but I’ll try to limit myself to one paragraph each.

Directly in front of Shinjuku station right after sunset

Tokyo shopping is… Vast is perhaps the best word I can think of at the moment. You can find just about anything in the sprawling city. Sometimes, all in a single building. You might spend an hour browsing on one floor, head toward the escalator to look for a certain type of goods, and then discover nine other floors to search through. Sometimes more. Window shopping is fun in and of itself simply because there is so much to see. Often prices will be absolutely reasonable, and the more populated and popular areas are often tax free hubs where simply presenting your passport will exempt you from tax on anything over 5,000 yen (about fifty dollars). And, of course, plenty of areas are packed with people.

Delicious beef dish including miso soup, rice, and a salad

Now for the food. This could easily be my favorite part of living in Japan. I’m not a foodie or anything, but you really can’t beat the prices on food here. For 650 yen you can get a meal similar to that depicted on the right. And these meals aren’t McDonald’s quality “food.” They are delicious, (probably) nutritious meals that are very filling. No questionable quote unquote meat. No extra four to five dollars for leafy greens. No two dollar bottles of water. You can buy fairly large bottles of water at a supermarket for less than 100 yen and bottles of tea for a comparable price. It’s simply wonderful in my opinion. It helps that I love washoku or Japanese cuisine. I’ve also become accustomed to using chopsticks for anything and everything. Rice, the floating bits of miso soup, salads, and even chips. Yes. I’m very proud, thank you for asking.

So that’s Tokyo the city thus far. These are all the most general of impressions, but I hope to share more specifics later down the line, because I’ve already had some great times in the various sections of the city. However, that will have to wait. Next up is ICU campus life.

Jyaa ne! Until next time!