I know there are many of us here in Tokyo..
arriving here and starting to get confused, lost, frustrated, excited, bewildered, overwhelmed, culture-shocked…
about almost everything in this number-one populated global city.
But we might all agree that one of the appeals that draw us here time and time again is unarguably “the” Japanese food.
It’s the phrase that evokes some kind of images in your head and let me guess…. sushi, ramen, curry rice? But what about kombu, kouya tofu, or daikon oroshi? (okay…translated as kelp, freeze-dried tofu, and grated daikon (which is a large white Oriental radish))
Living here for several years, I have found that the secret element of “health” in Japanese cuisine is actually NOT commercialized but kept as common knowledge among Japanese housewives who are very savvy grocery shoppers. What is advertised and marketed to the world is only certain kinds of food (if you could pause and think about your awareness towards it) that sometimes are remotely far from healthy. Japanese food seems to have a nuance or context of healthiness which is not all it has to offer.
Walking down the aisle in the Japanese supermarket can be one of the greatest fun of mine. True that most of the normal-price-range ones don’t have so many imported food products, and being forced to live next to a small grocery supermarket without any familiar language to provide explanation required me to start studying about the local offers.
What I discovered and finally sunk myself into is the fact that there is a whole lot more to Japanese food lifestyle that deserves to be revealed to all dwellers – be them native or not. How many times did we walk past sections after sections of weird-looking items that kind of look the same but differently priced? Maybe it is easier for some to go straight to something that is easiest to understand and has a clear usage rather than spending ten minutes reading the label, coming across several difficult kanji characters that you couldn’t let go until you find the meanings, getting your phone out searching for the kanjis, couldn’t find it, installing another dictionary app, having problem with it, trying another app, getting carried away, reminded that you’re doing all this for the kanjis on the label of the product you’re holding……Alas, you might give up all together and just move on to the register and decide to call it quit for today’s shopping trip.
Yes, it can be quite frustrating.
That is exactly what I encountered but since I have a deep interest which has become my semi-mission while living a life here in Japan to figure out what else is there in the market that is yet to be revealed but may hold amazing potential to be the next health trend boom in the Western market. Tofu and shirataki did so! Before that big-scaled wave could happen, though, I think we could do with a little more convenient lifestyle if only supermarket can be more comprehensible to us.
You may find every shopping trip more exciting as time goes by. Just follow my posts and I will walk you through all the crazes that Japanese food culture accentuates in a specific holiday, season, and/or special occasion that doesn’t exist else where.
Even until now, Japanese reporters are still hunting down streets of Tokyo interviewing foreigners – both tourists and dwellers – about their favorite aspects of Japan and the answers they get remain exciting enough to make them go “oooo….sugoine….sou desuka…” most of the time. Discovering something in your culture in you’re unaware of unless pointed out by someone from different cultures can be a lot of fun. If you live in Tokyo long enough, it is not difficult that feel like you have become a part of the Japanese culture and embrace it as your own to some extent. If Japanese themselves can still be excited about their own culture, I think we could also join them in discovering new item at a time in every trip to your nearest food shelves!
Share your finds here, too, in tokyofinder!