COMMUNICATIONSThank goodness there is now a lot of English signage in most places, and maps are usually available in English, because otherwise it would be very difficult - very little English is spoken, particularly in regional areas, although there is an abundance of goodwill and helpfulness. There are stories of foreigners (gaijin) being refused service at restaurants, although we have not found this, but certainly many restaurants have no English signage or English menus and we are reduced to pointing at pictures. It results in a feeling that we are forever floating at the periphery of life here - unless we learn Japanese of course!
Technological communication, on the other hand, is just fine. We have rented a mobile wifi device and are able to be online (on phone, ipad or laptop) any time we need. Google has a reasonable website translation function, and most people respond promptly to email communication, so we really don’t need to use our phones at all. Just as well as roaming is so expensive - Chris has made several 'pocket calls' in the first couple of days so I turn his phone service off. It gets turned on just once, so that we can text each other when I go shopping alone, and hey presto! Dave calls him from Sydney to chat about the footy. Grrr!
|... signs ...|
|... everywhere the signs|
One of the first food surprises is the amazing array of ready to eat meals available at every convenience store and supermarket in Japan. Japanese ‘bento’ (lunchbox) dishes such as sushi, katsu (crumbed cutlets of pork, chicken or fish) and noodle salads sit alongside pasta dishes, sandwiches and filled rolls, and all are super fresh and cheap. But the convenience store range pales beside offerings at a larger supermarket which includes great arrays of freshly prepared sushi and sashimi, freshly cooked fritters of all kinds, and a range of bakery items. When we finally reach the big city, the bar is raised again - amazing sashimi platter on grated daikon from our local supermarket for about $8. What I was impressed by at 7-11 looks pretty ordinary now. It’s a picnickers dream.
As well, there's the omnipresent vending machine. Most dispense an amazing array of cool drinks, some hot drinks, some alcoholic drinks as well, and some ice creams and sweets. We did not see any of the legendary (mythical?) pantie-vending machines ...
So how is all the ensuing rubbish dispensed with? Well, it can be hard to find a rubbish bin, and littering is definitely taboo. We realise that at many locations where fast food is dispensed (combini, tourist shops, railway stations) there is also an array of bins for sorting the rubbish - paper, plastic, glass, metal ... Japanese generate an amazing quantity of waste, but they are also amazingly conscientious about recycling.
GIFT FOODOne of the choicest takeaway items is the ‘ekiben’ (station bento) - a special bento box designed to take on train journeys. They are more expensive than a regular bento, but always beautifully prepared and packaged, and designed to be very easy to eat while travelling. But I was having trouble finding ekiben at the train stations - the shops are overwhelmingly stocked with ‘gift packages’ of food. Dried or vacuum packed local delicacies, boxes of novelty cakes, cookies and sweets, food made to resemble cartoon characters … none of it designed for picnicking. The Japanese have a strong tradition of gift-giving, and buying gifts for friends and family when travelling long distance by train is obligatory. Travellers could be seen boarding the train with big bags of beautifully boxed gift food. But where to find ekiben? Usually at a tiny little stall very close to, or even on the train platform.
|Gift food 1|
|Gift food 2|
|Ekiben lady, Toya Station|