More Grocery Shopping…


I haven’t done this lately, so I wanted to post a photo of what I brought back from the supermarket today. After living in Japan for 13 months, the grocery shopping has become fairly routine. Not always easy mind you, but we have figured out where to find most of the food items that we want or need to buy. As I have said before, we eat pretty simply here, so I am not stressing out over being able to find obscure ingredients. I have adapted my cooking to a small kitchen without an oven, and our diet is becoming a sort of meld between American and Japanese. I try to cook somewhat Japanese — and YouTube videos have been my teacher — but I am not very skilled with Japanese ingredients yet. This shopping trip didn’t really have too many unusual things in it… most things are pretty straight forward.

  • Eggs — Most of the eggs sold in the stores are brown eggs. All the eggs here are delicious and rich-tasting, with orange (not yellow) yolks. Japanese eggs are safe to eat raw… yes… they actually are. Japanese people eat raw or just slightly cooked eggs in a lot of dishes. Oishii desu.
  • Milk and juice are only sold in 1 liter containers in my supermarket… which is the main reason that I have to go to the store almost every day. They sell products in small containers to fit into small refrigerators in small houses and apartments. No supersize here.
  • Yes… a box wine. We are still trying to find good options for inexpensive every day table wine. This is — right now — our favorite. Not that it is especially good, but it is drinkable. This one is from Australia, but a lot of wine is brought in from Chile and Argentina. I have seen some from California, but not much in the supermarkets. There are many wine stores that import from all over the world, but those wines are pretty pricey $$$.
  • Chocolate and other sweets. Japanese people don’t eat as much sweet stuff as Americans do. The snack and candy aisles in Japanese supermarkets are much, much smaller. There are different snack foods… most made from rice flour, sesame and soy. You can buy American snack foods, but again… $$$. The little bag of pastel-colored “candy” is actually puffed and sweetened rice. The Japanese like to eat a small sweet with their tea. If you go to a traditional Japanese tea house, they always serve the green tea with two or three of these tiny sweets. You are supposed to eat the sweet, then drink the tea without any sugar or sweetener in it.
  • Soba noodles. I have purchased soba (buckwheat) noodles back in the US. Nothing unusual. Next to rice, noodles are the most common starchy food in the Japanese diet. Bread is becoming more popular here, but I don’t like the grocery store bread. It has a very bland taste, and kitchen sponge-like texture. We go to an artisan bakery when we want bread. Soba noodles, though, are delicious. My favorite Japanese noodles. And in Japan, it is A-OK to slurp your noodles! In fact… they say by slurping the noodles you take in air that spreads the aroma of the soup and noodles, and makes them even more delicious. And yes… we eat noodles with chopsticks… much easier than twirling on a fork.
  • Japanese Long Onion. Descriptive name for what looks like a very large green onion back home. Negi in Japanese. These are used more as a condiment here — and eaten thinly sliced and raw. I have used them in cooking though. Very tasty in noodle soups and sprinkled over curry. They are so long, I have to cut them in three pieces to get them to fit in my tiny refrigerator.
  • Oranges — mikan in Japanese. These are wonderful, and grown here in Japan. They are actually little mandarin oranges, easy to peel, sweet, and seedless. They are in season here during the winter. A little sunshine for your mouth. Yummy.
  • And last but not least… “Strong Zero.”  Sold in the beer aisle, it is what they call a “highball” here. Kind of like a Sprite with a kick (9% alcohol.) Especially good in the summer when it is hot. Comes in different flavors… lemon, lime, grapefruit, and a few other fruits I am not familiar with. Kind of a strange name — whatever Japanese name they came up with for this product just didn’t translate well into English.

All this came to about 2700 yen (about $25) and fit into one reusable grocery bag. About all I can manage on the 1 kilometer walk to and from the store, but some people use little wheeled shopping carts to carry their groceries home, or carry them in bicycle baskets. Most everyone shops daily or nearly every day, and most stores prefer cash rather than credit.

See you next time…

More mail woes…


Are you tired of the”Lost in Translation” issues yet?  I am… but here we go one more time! You would think that after a year of living here in Tokyo, we would have worked through all the possible issues we could have with getting our mail. But once again, I got that dreaded “Undeliverable Mail” notice in my mailbox. Right in the middle in bold print is a phone number to call, but we have already tried that route with limited success. It is difficult to find someone who speaks enough English to help us… and though we are definitely improving, our Japanese is still rudimentary at best.

As I looked at this notice, though, I also saw that there is an online option (Option 1. “PC” in the photograph), so I got on my computer to see if I could resolve it that way. As it turned out, when I put in the URL and got to the Japan Post website, there actually was an option for English! I clicked on the button, and (sugoi ne!) the homepage was translated for me. I even found the button for “Schedule Re-delivery” and thought I was home free!

But, alas, it was not so easy. All subsequent pages were in Japanese, with no option to switch to English. Well… why not?

Armed with Google Translate, I slogged my way through the form that had to be filled out in order to get my package. Apparently, the USPS Priority Mail envelope that our daughter sent to us requires a signature, and since I missed the original delivery day, it was necessary for me to go through this re-delivery process to get the package.

I finally did manage to translate most of the page… at least well enough, I guess, to put in all the correct responses to somehow manage to schedule delivery for today between noon and 2 PM. And… promptly at 1 PM, the JP man rang from downstairs with my package.

Success, yes… but still tempered with the same uncomfortable language difficulties. Baby steps. Yes, the Japanese is getting better, and we are feeling much more at ease with it. But we still only understand a fraction of the language they speak to us. I am starting to feel hope, though… maybe… that one day, I will no longer be… Lost in Translation.

Oh…  and just FYI, sending packages to and from Japan is really, really expensive. $$$$$ Best not to, if you can avoid it.



The Japanese have a great love and appreciation for beautiful things — be it art or nature — and they love making even ordinary things beautiful.  They also enjoy giving gifts. Putting these two things together, we have furoshiki.

Furoshiki is the art of wrapping something in a cloth. The furoshiki cloths sold in the stores for the purpose of wrapping can be large or small, silk or cotton or synthetic. They can be plain colored, or with elaborate designs. You can buy many shapes and sizes, but the most common are square cloths about 18 to 24 inches on a side.

I like this idea… a sort of reusable wrapping for gifts. In the US, a lot of people have switched to using pretty decorated paper bags for gift giving. At our home in the US, I have a stash of these gift bags — some that I have purchased, but many that I have reused from gifts I have received. It is the same idea here. When you give a gift, you choose a pretty cloth to tie it up in. The wrapping becomes part of the gift. When you receive a gift, you have as part of that gift this pretty wrapping cloth to keep, or to use for giving another gift.  I like that you get to collect these pretty things and then share them the next time you give a gift. I like that you get to choose the wrapper that seems most appropriate for the gift, and the person receiving the gift. Maybe that seems silly, but it is like putting a little bit of yourself into the gift.

Anyway, the practice of using wrapping cloths here in Japan dates back a long time. Originally they were used as a dressing mat and to bundle ones clothing together at the public baths — furo means bath. After that, peddlers and merchants used them for bundling their wares together, and people used them for carrying packages. You can read more about the origins here:

The cloth in this picture was actually given to me as a gift. It is a pretty textured silk cloth, with a simple graphic design. I used this cloth to wrap a birthday gift for my husband. I added the ribbon — which came on another gift. Most furoshiki-wrapped gifts don’t have ribbons. the cloth as it is tied around the gift makes its own sort of “bow” on the gift.

You can buy books about creative ways to tie these furoshiki cloths around gifts of all shapes and sizes. There are ways to tie them around wine or sake bottles, and methods to wrap just about any odd-shaped object. You can also buy handles to tie the cloths to, to make it into a purse-like bag. Very creative!

I plan to buy many of these pretty cloths while I am here, and use them when I go back to the US.