It’s easy to jump to conclusions and make broad generalizations about “Japanese culture” based on limited experience. For example:
Usually the construction crew Elsa and I walk past 3-4x/wk seems to ignore us. I found myself thinking, “Wow, Japanese construction workers are so different from American construction workers. They never make untoward comments or catcalls at a lady walking by.”
But one day this week, one worker stopped hammering and called out, “Ohayo!” (Good morning!) I nodded and kept walking. A full minute later, we were almost out of the line of sight when I heard, “OHAYO GOZAIMASU!!” from the bottom of the hill. Another guy had dropped his nail gun, clambered down the scaffolding, and ran out into the street after us to holler “GOOD MORNING!” in very polite Japanese.
When I related the incident to Evan, he laughed. He has witnessed much more, shall we say, “forward” behavior from Japanese construction crews towards female passers-by.
I’m thankful for the local guys’ politeness when the kids and I are on our way to/from the grocery store. But I’ll probably be less likely to make such sweeping cultural assumptions in the future!
Zounds! Ze zucchini plantz zeem to get zturdier all ze time!
Pardon my zilliness. I’m so excited to watch my little zucchini babies growing bigger and leafier every day. I’ve always wanted a vegetable garden, and this year we finally have the time and space!
Evan searched all over Hasuda for zucchini seedlings, but found none. So he bought seeds and we started six little pots of 2-3 seeds each on top of our fridge. When they got big enough, we transferred the four hardiest-looking upstarts to our tiny (2’x7’) garden plot. Come July, we should be harvesting green and yellow zucchini, and hopefully spaghetti squash, too. (In Japanese, “spaghetti squash” is “noodle pumpkin.”)
The kids are great at helping me water the garden, which also includes a couple mini yellow tomato plants. There don’t seem to be many bees in our area, so I may end up hand-pollinating once we see some blooms.
I have zucchini dreams. I’m dreaming of trying my hand at “zoodles” and zucchini bread. I’m dreaming of sharing a bountiful harvest with our neighbors. I’m dreaming of inviting people over to try spaghetti squash and hear a Bible story or two for the first time.
Every day I weed around my squash babies and whisper to their leaves, “Grow big! Grow strong! Make lots of zucchinis! Let’s share our harvest and our hope with our community.”
Hope to share stories and pics of an abundant yield in a couple months!
Learn from my mistakes. You don’t have to be as bad at grocery shopping as I was for our first few years in Japan. Here are a few pitfalls to avoid in order to ensure a smoother shopping experience. Try not to:
Push a squeaky stroller
The squeaky stroller’s curse is two-fold. Obviously, it squeaks. We first landed in Sapporo in winter. I didn’t know that the locals pull their babies on sleds instead of forcing them through snowdrifts in strollers designed to roll on clean, dry sidewalks. This resulted in moisture getting into the wheel bearings and squeaking every time I rounded a corner at the store. Or backed up. Or rolled forward. Or stopped. Or started. The squeaking was pretty much constant and obnoxious.
The second problem wasn’t the squeak, but the fact that I had to hang a grocery basket on my elbow to carry my selections. This doubled my width walking the aisles, essentially blocking anyone from passing me from either direction. And I may have knocked a cup or two of ramen noodles off an endcap display once or twice.
Forget your grocery bags
Since moving away from Sapporo, I have been in stores that supply bags with every purchase. However, most stores are bring-your-own-bag style. If you forget, you may have to pay 5 yen (about $.05) to purchase one.
Steal the milk
This is somewhat related to the “squeaky stroller” pitfall above. Because milk is heavy, I used to put it in the mesh basket under Gus’s stroller instead of in the shopping basket on my arm as I shopped. Several times I managed to get through check out and almost all the way outside before remembering I hadn’t paid for the cartons underneath.
Wait for someone to pack your groceries
Japanese grocery stores are strictly DIY when it comes to loading your purchases into bags for the trip home. If your giant bottle of soy sauce smashes your eggs on your way home, you have no one to blame but yourself. At the store, if you seem to have your hands full (like, you have two kids in tow), the cashier might carry your basket to the bagging area for you. It’s usually a separate counter not too far from the registers.
Recycle your bankbook
I don’t make a habit of this, but it did happen once. Just outside grocery store entrances, there are big bins for collecting recyclables. Our milk and juice come in cardboard cartons, which we rinse, cut open, and dry before stacking to carry to the store.
One particular day, I had the stack of flattened cartons in my backpack alongside our bankbook. (The bankbook is like a combo ATM card and check register. We need it to get cash at ATMs, and to keep track of how much money is in our account. Very important not to lose it.)
Walked to the store, pulled the cartons out of the bag, dropped them in the appropriate bin, and proceeded inside to shop. Realized when I got to the register that my bankbook was no longer in my backpack. Panicked. Mentally retraced my steps and figured I must have dumped it in the recycle bin. Went outside and started digging through the carton bin. By the Lord’s mercy, I found it and didn’t have to try to explain the situation to anyone in Japanese.
Leave your cash at home
If you walk to the store but leave your cash at home, you have to walk home again to get it, which makes your errand take four times as long. Checks and credit cards are quite rare. I’ve never seen anyone use either at a grocery store. So don’t forget your cash at home. It’s a big pain.
I hope these tips have prepared you to be better at buying groceries in Japan, should you ever find yourself in that situation. Or maybe you can just picture us in daily life here a little more vividly. Happy shopping!
In the beginning, the plan for Children’s Message was formless and void. A deadline loomed over the brainstorming. Then Evan said, “Let there be story-telling” and there was a plan and it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, Monday.
Then Evan said, “Let there be an expanse between the children and their mother, so that she can have extra time to work on her Creation story script.” And Audrey said, “And let us separate Genesis 1:1–26 from Genesis 1:27–2:3.” And it was so. The first half she called “Background Information” and the second half she called “Today’s Story.” And it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, Tuesday.
Then Audrey said, “Let us gather together some Japanese Bible story sources written in conversational Japanese. And let a script appear that is easily learned and understood.” And she used Gus’s Japanese/English kids’ Bible and the Japanese Living Bible to pull together a script. And it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, Wednesday.
And Audrey said, “Let there be a light above me so I can read and re-read this story and commit it to memory.” So Evan turned on the living room light so she could see. And a lesser light shone from the computer as the introduction and follow-up questions were checked and corrected on Lang-8.com. The script became clearer, and it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, Thursday.
And Audrey said, “Lord, let the street in front of my house teem with neighbors, that I might practice sharing this story.” And behold, the neighbors on both sides came out to play. And Audrey told of the creation of animals who wriggle and fly, filling seas and sky. Three times, to three people, she told the Creation story.
One woman went into her home and came back out with a Bible her son had gotten when he attended a Christian university. Audrey showed her where to read the story for herself and check the telling of it.
Upon hearing the whole story, another neighbor responded, “So that’s why we work six days a week and have Sundays off. God made a day for us to rest.”
And Audrey promised each of them that next month, she would tell them a story that explains why things are broken in the world. And she thanked them for the opportunity to practice, for it had been good. And there was evening and there was morning, Friday.
And Evan said, “Let us not forget that today I have to attend an all-day regional church association meeting.” So Audrey and the children played together, pretending to be wild animals or drawing pictures of livestock. And they had a good time.
Finally, Evan and Audrey were tired. They said, “And now, let us watch a movie in our own language. In English, let us watch something.” So they watched a movie in English, and it was good. They looked at all the preparations they had made for church, and they seemed very good. And there was evening, and there was morning, Saturday.
Thus the preparation for the Children’s Message was completed. On the seventh day, Audrey finished the work of preparation and delivered the Creation story in front of the congregation. And God blessed the telling of the story by calming Audrey’s nerves, helping her remember the script, and causing the church members to respond well to the follow-up questions.
Then Evan and Audrey rested from the work of story telling because it was Sunday, a day for rest. And they were grateful to the Lord for His enabling, and to all who prayed and encouraged them in these first steps. May God’s story bring Him glory!
While Gus plays with the Japanese grandma next door (actually, they were probably watching televised sumo wrestling), Elsa and I decide to enjoy the sunshine by taking a stroll to the grocery store.
As soon as we open the front door, we see a friend. It’s an older gentleman taking his severely handicapped grandson for a walk around the neighborhood. The young man is high school-aged, but cannot see, hear, or speak. Usually he’s quiet during his daily walks with Grandpa, but sometimes he rocks forward and back and makes sounds. On this day, he seems to want to propel his own wheelchair, running his hands along the wheels’ rims.
We’ve walked along with these two on several occasions, but this time they lead us back to their home, about three blocks from ours. Grandpa shows me his small garden and the tiny buds on the strawberry plants. He tells me all about his other children and grandchildren. One granddaughter is studying abroad in Australia.
He knows we need to go shopping, so he says goodbye, we’ll see you next time.
Elsa and I start climbing the hill that leads to the store, gaining ground on the backpack-wearing Japanese lady ahead of us. My long stride often makes short work of overtaking other pedestrians. We catch up to her and discover it’s a church member who also lives in our neighborhood.
Mrs. Deerfield is also on her way to get groceries, so we walk together. In her backpack she carries empty PET plastic bottles to dump in the store’s recycling bin. We chat and walk, and when we reach our destination, she bids us Happy Shopping. I think she was afraid we might follow her around the whole store.
We quickly find everything on our short list, check out, and set off for home. At the bottom of the hill, a mother and her little girl are saying goodbyes to another mother and daughter after the four-year-olds have enjoyed playing together. One pair are headed in the same direction we are.
We’ve met before, and Gus has an open invitation to come over and play at their house. Spring break is next week, so Mom suggests our kids get together while they’re out of school. Sounds good to me! She doesn’t know where we live, so I invite her to come along and see where our house is. It’s only a couple blocks. Now that she can find us easily, we bid farewell with promises to meet again soon.
Elsa and I carry our groceries inside. We could have driven to the grocery store. I’m glad we didn’t.