Thursday, June 17, 2010

Daily Life

I feel like taking a break from writing about special occasions in Japan, which while very fun always feel like a "You had to be there [to appreciate the ridiculousness]" kind of thing. Don't worry, though: the DVD I'm bringing home of Jonathan performing Beatles songs with two senseis for the annual Culture Festival should give you a taste of that. For now, let's address some matters of daily life, shall we?

Cooking in Japan
I, and maybe some other people, tended to think of Japanese cuisine as rather refined, light, and healthy. But after buying some Japanese cookbooks, that has turned out not to be the case. Home cooking here is fairly simple and often yields pretty hearty stuff. The holy trinity of Japanese cooking is sake, mirin, and shoyu, which serve to up the sugar and sodium content of everything, and based on my daily bentos at school it seems that the Japanese can katsu-ify anything; there is a TON of fried stuff. I can get absurdly cheap (by New York standards) fish, sashimi, and sushi at the supermarket, but there's also karaage (fried chicken), katsu (fried pork cutlets), tempura, and so on. Another popular and easy recipe is curry, which in its Japanese incarnation is a sweet brown glop, and there is tons of white rice with everything. A lot of JET girls (apparently known as "land whales" by some of the JET guys, who frankly should not be talking) gain weight quickly. Winter means heavy stews or nabe, which is a hot pot you can put pretty much anything into.

I cook a lot of rice bowl dishes including gyudon (beef and onions in a sweet sauce) and oyakudon (minced chicken and scrambled egg.) I also have recently come upon the multifaceted wonders of my rice cooker, which can be used sort of as a crock pot or to steam vegetables and even, apparently, can bake cakes. I make my own Japanese curry with ingredients as odd as green apple and a dab of peanut butter (trust me, its good) as well as tempura and katsu. When I'm lazy or broke, the frozen meals options at the supermarket surpass what we tend to have at home; Jonathan is particularly obsessed with their champon, a Chinese noodle soup with seafood. Another easy thing we love is only three ingredients: a stir fry of the thin sliced beef or pork they sell here and kimchi over rice. Now that it's summer I'm trying to learn lighter things, such as a peppery seared tuna with wasabi dipping sauce that I made the other day.

Needless to say it's far easier to just cook Japanese. Favorite Western dishes have to be modified or Japanified, especially considering none of our apartments have ovens. I find myself most missing pizza, Mexican food, real New York deli sandwiches, bagels and lox, and anything with cheese. (The best you're going to do here are expensive and microscopic blocks of cheddar, or sliced cheese product [American cheese, basically.]) Probably the thing I'm most looking forward to for my upcoming visit home, other than seeing Catticus, is stuffing my face.

The heat
Now that it's June it's a steam room outside. Working at a high school means no skirts that end above the knee, no sleeveless shirts, and absolutely no cleavage. Also, Japan is so eco-friendly that schools turn on the air con by the date rather than the temperature (I had the opposite problem at the onset of winter) which means profuse sweating simply from sitting still until July 1. Because of the dress code, back sweat, underarm sweat, and the dreaded in-between-boob sweat is unavoidable. To deal with this I've found the best clothing policy is a tank top or camisole and a light flowy shirt over it; the under garment absorbs perspiration and keeps nicer clothes from staining. I also use these Biore wipe things that cool you off and leave a light powder behind on your skin to prevent your face from becoming an oil slick. Unfortunately they also take off makeup, necessitating a bathroom re-application trip, and the movement this requires of course starts the sweat cycle over again. Help. The craziest thing is that Japanese women are so deadly afraid of having any contact with sunlight that they walk around carrying parasols and wearing long gloves to prevent their arms from burning. AND they never look sweaty. If I didn't already feel like my Westernness makes me an ogre here, I do now.


  1. It sounds like you are becoming quite resourceful in the kitchen, Alanna! You will have to bring us some of your best recipes.

  2. Okonomiaki is kinda like pizza, isn't it?

  3. For some reason okonomiyaki is referred to as "Japanese pizza," but it's really not at all. It's basically a savory pancake doused in sauce and mayo. It's really really good.

  4. Ill have a nice juicy steak and burgers with fries waiting for you

  5. While all you have described above sounds delicious, do be sure to add a Hoffman's run to your must-do culinary experiences back here in the US. Perhaps several visits might be needed. Yes?

  6. HAHAHAHAHA love the "land whales" reference! Luckily you and I avoided the violent sudden onslaught of weight gain.

    I was talking about the sweating thing with some of the chippies the other day - they assured me that Japanese girls sweat a lot too, but I think they're liars because no one's bangs EVER look sweaty. Sympathy as I am the only member of the staff who drips visibly from her hairline.