After a certain point in my travels, I think I stopped being shocked by some of the things I saw. Japan certainly is not the weird and bizarre place that a lot of tourists assume it is, although there is a likelihood you’ll notice some stark differences.
Some big contrasts are; the odd chance of seeing blurred pornographic videos playing on a television screen through the window of an adult store. School children with their mothers walk blindly past, quite used to it. Then if you’ve decided to visit somewhere that is really trendy, you’re going to see some outlandish and uncomfortable looking fashion (think Harajuku). The food is always delightful, if a little bit too thought out (think Hello Kitty sushi rolls). And there a vending machines absolutely everywhere! Not just one or two dotted around the place, but sometimes ten of them in a row, in bright flashy colours. This wouldn’t be so strange in itself perhaps, except that you can purchase anything, or nearly anything from them; drinks, food, clothing (underwear!), cigarettes, hair products, condoms, you name it!
Now before I go on to the next part, I want to explain a bit; I am not a big meat eater. I eat a lot of crumbed chicken, the occasional seafood (more than usual when I visit Japan), but hardly ever any red meat. I eat it less when said meat is not chopped up into little pieces and added to dishes like pasta or salad. I simply cannot touch raw chicken, I cannot cook a steak because of the red juicy bits left in the pack, and prawns staring at me from inside the deli fridge freak me out to no end. I cannot eat an animal that still resembles it’s original form, or if it is bloodied up. You usually don’t expect to worry about that kind of stuff at breakfast time though.
Breakfast is always different for me in Japan. It depends where I am staying; in a hotel the breakfast is usually complimentary, in a guest house I duck out to the shops to have brekkie from a convenience store and when I’m with a host family, they offer to cook me traditional meals (or I cook them bacon and scrambled eggs… something which is quite rare for breakfast apparently and always goes down a treat).
One particular morning with a host family, I was seated at the breakfast table, waiting for my host “mother” to cook something up (the family took turns cooking). At home in Australia, my family would make one meal and eat it together. It was strange to be in an environment (almost like a restaurant), where you would say what you wanted, and it would be made for you specially. My host “sister” was only having a bowl of cereal and my host “brother” was having something with noodles and meat. When asked what I wanted, I presumed scrambled eggs would be easy enough to make.
“Scrambled eggs?” asked my host mother.
“Err, yes. Scrambled eggs.” I answered.
“Eggs that … scrambled?” Her English wasn’t all that good, not as good as her husband’s.
My host mother didn’t know how to scramble eggs. Being Australian and young, I didn’t understand why. Isn’t scrambled eggs kind of self explanatory? Never mind. I showed her how, and she scrambled them vigorously. They tasted pretty good, in fact. Just as I was smothering my last bite (yes, smothering), my host mother sat down to finally eat as well.
She sat down with a bowl of squid.
No, not like calamari. Actual whole squid. In a bowl. Something like this;
It was staring at me. I wasn’t about to say anything offensive, this was a different country where I was the outsider and whole squid is normal food. But the shock got me first. That last bite of scrambled egg was out of my mouth and across the table before my brain had time to compute what was happening.
I closed my eyes. “I am so sorry! Gomen*! Gomen! I am so gomen! I am Go-sorry!” I couldn’t keep my English and my Japanese straight. I opened my eyes and my whole host family were looking at me, save for my host mother, who was wiping off spit-up egg from her cheek.
She said, slowly looking up at me; “I don’t think I will scramble the eggs tomorrow.”
No… I don’t think so.
*Gomen or gomenasai (ごめんなさい) is “I’m sorry”.