Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Sunday, 5 Jan 2014: Grocery Shopping at Universe

Woke up hungry and got up searching in the dark for the light switch. Some of my stuff was on the floor and I kept tripping until I finally found the wall and hit the lights. My sleeping schedule is still off and during the night I constantly wake up. During the day I'll suddenly become tired and in the night wide awake. By next month I will try my best to sleep soundly (as long as my body lets me). The kitchen was in the next room so I ventured over and grabbed a brown sugar pop tart packet and threw it in the over. My apartment has many appliances like a refrigerator and microwave but not a toaster. I made do with the oven as a temporary large toaster. Pop tarts are just not tasty if they are not warm and throwing them in the microwave makes them too soft. To start the day I sat in bed studying the Japanese alphabet. It was too dark outside to venture out and I needed to brush up on my language skills. After a while I showered, got ready for the day, walked to the post office.

My mail box is quite small and unique. A dial with a 3 turn code using numbers allows me access to any mail I may have. Every time I turned the dial to the correct spots the second dial for opening the door would not budge. After messing with it for a while the door finally opened and I took a look at the gears on the door from the inside. Turning the dials would spin the gears in a specific fashion. The code I was given by the mail women earlier in the week didn't seem to align the gears well. It only took me a few minutes of tweaking the sequence and codes to get the perfect combination.
Perhaps when I leave Japan in 2 years I will tell the people at the post office to change the code for the next person. It would be a shame to allow any unnecessary frustration onto the next airman. Again, I needed to find something to fill my time. I walked to the Cafe Mokuteki (open 24/7 with free wifi and awesome, delicious food) to continue to practice Japanese. Apparently, there are 3 alphabets in Japanese: Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. I'm working on Hiragana which has 46 basic characters transcribing Japanese sounds (like the english alphebet). Katakana has equivilants in Hiragana, nevertheless, they are used for words that are borrowed from a foreign word. Also, Katakana is used if a word is an onomatopoeia (a pronunciation imitating what is represents like a barking sound) and to emphasize the meaning of a word. Kanji is derived from the Chinese. It can have many different strokes, pronunciations, and meanings. Most Japanese adults know 3000-4000 Kanji (crazy!). Many foreigners (such as myself) rely on the Roomaji-writing system using roman letters to write Japanese. An example would be the word sushi. Researching about basic information on Japanese takes a lot of time and patience. I couldn't even imagine the energy and time needed to understand other important information about Japanese culture, food, religion, ect. One o'clock was coming fast and I needed to get ready to meet my friends from my Right Start class (orientation onto the Misawa air base). We drove straight to a noodle restaurant near the base gates. It was small and cozy. A window allowed us to peer into the kitchen where the cooks worked hurriedly. The waitress brought us to our table. The floor was slightly elevated and we took off our shoes to sit cross-legged on the thin cushions next to the small table.
We were served small glasses of water (as all the Japanese restaurants do). In fact, everything in Japan is 2 times smaller than in America. The cars, cups, clothes, people, tables, and more are smaller. The menu again was in Japanese and we had to rely on the pictures to determine what we wanted. The waitress came back and we pointed at what we wanted to get our point across. American music was playing overhead emphasizing the american influence on the Japanese. My order of fish soup with noodles came with a half boiled egg. It definitely tasted fishy!
Everything tasted more fresh than food from back home and I was enjoying every bit of it. The smells, textures, and tastes were foreign to my inexperienced taste buds. Next we drove to a mall in the next town. The whole building was pink on the outside (Japan is into cute stuff). The inside was mind boggling. Japanese culture was everywhere and we were the minority. The shops had peculiar foods, objects, clothes, and more. At one point I had to go to the bathroom and when I was in the stall I saw the toilets were different.
The seat was heated and connected to the side of the toilet was a panel with buttons. One made a flushing noise (without flushing the toilet), another adjusted the heat, and antoher actually activated water that would spray your butt to clean it!
 I could spend hours just starring at all the different things that confronted me. The group decided to buy food at McDonalds in the food court. An ice cream store was nearby and I went there to satisfy my sweet tooth. The lady didn't really speak English. She understood the word ice cream and I asked her what flavors she had (that is when the language barrier came up). All she told me was "green tea" and I said ok. In the kitchen she prepared the ice cream cone and handed me a swirl of green and white ice cream. The flavor definitely tasted like tea! The white portion was regular vanilla. We drove back to Misawa to shop more at a big grocery store called Universe. I have never seen so much food that I have never seen in my life. The group helped me pick out items that looked ok to eat and seemed like they were easy to prepare. I bought fruit that was absolutely foreign, noodles (of course), sushi, Japanese ice cream, milk tea, ect. It was a long endeavor and adventure looking in every aisle and seeing foods we could never have fathomed. In the sweets aisle there was packaged Minos (i'm guessing they were a common snack for kids). For the really crazy items like squid and octopus I avoided, but I tried to buy a variety of groceries to get the full experience.

 Everyone had to help me bring my groceries into my room since I bought a lot (spur of the moment shopping of course). Night had already come and we all called it a night. I skyped with people back home for a while until I became super tired. It was another amazing day and I felt like I couldn't get enough. 2 years would not be enough time to soak in all the amazing and exotic stuff around me. It was then my goal to get out and live life like there was no tomorrow because tomorrow couldn't wait, at least, not in Japan.

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