Secrets Abroad is an ongoing series that explores the hidden sides of cultures from around the world.
We just arrived in Hiroshima a few hours ago and decided to post up in a nearby Starbucks for the day to get some work done. I’m currently sipping on an absurdly priced Tea Cream Frappuccino and watching the guy across from me try to eat a baguette with a fork and knife.
Our month in Japan is quickly coming to a close. The last few days will be spent exploring Hiroshima, Miyajima, Okunoshima, and Fukuoka. Our itinerary has been pretty packed and so I have a lot of experiences and places left to write about. Get ready for more updates soon!
But first, here’s your second round of insights for Secrets Abroad, Week #2.
A Portrait of Japan
1. During our first week in Tokyo, Joel and I were wandering around the grocery store when I picked up a stack of mini pancakes in clear plastic packaging. They looked boring and dry, but I was hungry and in need of dessert, so I caved. They turned out to be one of the best foods I’ve had in the past month. The pancakes are full-on restaurant quality: moist and fluffy with a surprising layer of maple syrup and margarine layered between them. You read that right, you can literally get a stack of diner pancakes for ¥100 from the aisles of your local Japanese grocer.
2. Japanese love their sake and they love their beer, but they also love this drink called chuhai, which is essentially a flavored shochu or vodka soda. It usually clocks in at about 9% ABV and tastes similar to a Smirnoff Ice (but only comes canned). Our friend Keika introduced us to it and Joel has been hooked ever since.
3. Clubs have astronomical cover charges. Which is strange, considering almost every major city I’ve been to charges $10-20 to get in. But we ended up at a club during our first weekend in Tokyo that charged ¥3500 (about $30 in USD) for entry. Apparently, this is the norm. No clubbing in Japan for us I guess. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
4. It’s well known that Japan has an abundance of vending machines (1 for every 23 people, to be exact). It’s one of the first topics you’ll hear about in any “wacky Japan” themed article. So when we first landed in the country, I wasn’t surprised to find that there was at least one machine staked out on every corner. What did surprise me was that none of them sold food. It turns out that all of the quirky bread-in-a-can and udon dispensers you hear about from Buzzfeed are just as unusual to Japanese people as they are to your average tourist.
5. Instead of packets, soy-sauce-to-go comes in miniature bottles. The best part—other than how adorable they are—is that they’re resealable. Don’t be surprised if you see me bust one these little guys out of my purse one day.
6. They’re very open about porn here. Unlike the 18-and-over sections of seedy film stores in America, sex magazines are widely available at most convenience stores, with risqué covers at the eye level of your average 6-year-old. Because nothing complements a bento box lunch like your latest edition of Naughty Librarians Weekly.
7. Japanese clouds are beautiful. Like, stop-in-your-tracks-and-point-to-the-sky kind of beautiful. Sometimes I find myself taking pictures of clouds instead of famous temples on the days that they’re particularly striking.
8. Have you ever seen those pictures of tiny, fluffy Pomeranians over the Internet? The ones that almost look fake? Well, they’re real, and they come from the streets of Shibuya. The one we ventured into sold each one for several thousand a pop and only did business with Japanese customers. Dreams were crushed.
9. Japanese rice is amazing. I’ve never cared much for rice (my Chinese ancestors are probably rolling over in their graves as I admit this), but Japan has changed the game completely. I originally wasn’t going to write about this, since the quality of Japanese rice isn’t exactly a secret, but it’s struck me time and time again just how universal this quality is. Whether it’s on the tray of a Micheline-starred kaiseki dinner or at the bottom of a discounted bento from the grocery store, it’s impossible for Japanese people to make bad rice.
10. Japan has an absurd amount of prepackaged coffee brands to choose from, and almost all of them are beautifully packaged. I keep taking pictures of all the labels I see and have no idea what to do with them, so I’ll just leave a few here for you to enjoy:
That’s it for this week! Until next time, I’m curious to hear what makes your own country interesting. Leave a comment below to share, and be sure to subscribe so you never miss a post.