3 Things in Japan That I Can’t Live Without!

1.    Besides Sushi, Japanese Food and Staples are Surprisingly Inexpensive and Healthy!

Ever since coming to Japan, I’ve been cooking breakfast and dinner on most days. That way, I can eat healthy foods that I love and save a bit of money. Thankfully, I adore the food here. It’s healthy, mostly gluten free (except the ubiquitous soy sauce condiment and most noodles), and contained in well-designed packages.

Konnyaku / shirataki noodles with natto and chicken liver! Plain and simple, yet delicious. 

Konnyaku / shirataki noodles with natto and chicken liver! Plain and simple, yet delicious. 

One of my favorite foods — natto­ (fermented soy beans) — is less expensive here than in San Francisco’s Japantown. Here, I can buy a small stack of three, 100-gram natto containers for about $0.60; whereas, in San Francisco, it costs at least $1.25 for the same amount.  Plus, these little packages of bliss contain 47% of your iron needs per day if you eat 100 grams, 212 calories, and 18 grams of protein. It’s definitely a worthy protein that I absolutely adore and eat on a daily basis.

Konnyaku / shirataki (jelly noodles) with fish flakes, Komatsuna (Japanese mustard spinach), and tomatoes. 

Konnyaku / shirataki (jelly noodles) with fish flakes, Komatsuna (Japanese mustard spinach), and tomatoes. 

My second favorite food is konnyaku, a root vegetable that you can buy in noodle form. In America, some highly intelligent person started marketing it as a diet noodle, as it contains 10 calories for one package. And even better, I can buy it at my local grocery store for $0.25. Although heavy, I buy at least four every time I go grocery shopping.

Staples and foods such as rice, vegetables like moyashii (bean sprouts), regular soy sauce, nori (seaweed), etc., are significantly cheaper. I won’t go into all of the options, but a good rule of thumb is, things that are made here and not imported, are generally cheaper.

Unfortunately, I’m used to eating tons of fruits and vegetables every day, which are widely available in California, but quite expensive in Japan. For example, a typical apple and orange costs at least $1 and 3 to 4 small bananas, cost around $1.25. Recently, I bought a bag of ~9 tiny clementine oranges that were not organic, and it still cost $3.60.

Thus, I spend most of my money on fruits and vegetables, eating out, and buying super convenient drinks such as coffee and water from ubiquitous vending machines.


2.    With Captivating Bathrooms That Include Heated Toilets, What Else Could You Ask For?

A topic of much conversation among bloggers visiting Japan, heated toilets are exceptional. When I purchase my very first house in the not-so-distant future, I will definitely install at least one. Not only does it clean your private areas, but it can also be heated to just the right temperature, so that you can sit on a nice, comfy seat while doing your business.

In public areas like department stores or even my school, most of the toilets have fancy functions, but are generally not heated, as it’s approaching summer. And practically all public toilets have an emergency button that people can press, if need be.

A few of the options that are available with many Western-style Japanese toilets!

A few of the options that are available with many Western-style Japanese toilets!

Another captivating factor is the ability to mask any sound with a flushing noise. When you are about to make significant noise, whilst on the toilet, you can press a handy button that is not attached to the toilet, to mask the sound. Generally, it’s a flushing sound, but I’ve also heard sounds that mimic nature such as chirping birds.

In Japan, women find it embarrassing (a.k.a hazukashii) to have other people listen to private noises. So I end up hearing that flushing noise all the time, which has a distinct noise from a normal flush. Prior to arriving in Japan, I knew of its existence, but didn’t realize how prevalent it was. Truly, women here want to cover up any potentially embarrassing noises.

In a similar manner, young women also cover up their mouths when they laugh, as it’s embarrassing to show their teeth. While there may be other reasons that I’m not aware of yet, I will continue to ask questions and learn more as I go along.

Most young women — not all— are also embarrassed to show bare legs and arms, so they always wear stockings with a skirt, or a light jacket over a sleeveless shirt. When you shop in Japan, you’ll also notice that display models have tank tops over t-shirts.


3.    A Super Convenient Bus System

Disclaimer: I’ve only ridden the bus twice since moving here in early April.

A high-tech bus schedule near Kyoto Station!

A high-tech bus schedule near Kyoto Station!

Near Kyoto station, while waiting for a bus, I snapped a picture of this incredibly efficient bus schedule. Not only does it inform you exactly where the bus is located and exactly when it will arrive at said destination, but it also tells you the number of the bus and where it is heading.

In fact, I think the bus system is better than the train systems, as the kanji can be very difficult to decipher quickly. I’ve boarded the wrong train at least 3 times now. In the future, either I will improve so much that I will never make a mistake again, or Japan will improve its tourism industry by making everything extremely easy for foreigners. As of now, foreigners can definitely get around using apps, Google maps, and research, but it’s definitely not as easy as Seoul.

As the bus system is not translated to English, if you know the name of the destination station, you can ask the person next to you if that train or bus goes directly to your stop. Not all trains stop at every location; some are express, or semi-express, meaning that they stop only at specific locations.

Even better, take a picture of the station name in Japanese, and show it to the person next to you. I’ve done that a few times, and got to exactly where I need to go! #traveltips101

By the time my two years in Japan is over, I’m sure my list will have become enormous. Because I already miss so many American staples, which are exorbitantly priced, and impossible to find locally.

 I miss the following:

  • l   Crunchy, Salted, Almond Butter;
  • l   Extra Watermelon Gum;
  • l   Gluten Free Pretzels; and
  • l   My Blender (I used to make delicious, green protein smoothies.)

I miss them so much that I’ve actually asked friends to bring me some goodies, when they come. Eventually, my taste buds may change, and I may no longer crave certain American foods. Or, I will have to either find relatively inexpensive, American goods online, or suck it up and pay a high price. Regardless, if it’s just specific foods and tools that I am missing after living in Japan for a month, I’d say that I’m off to a good start!