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'Hmm, what to eat, what to eat? Lets see, there's some octopus, 
some whole dead fish, sea pineapple, maybe some of those mysterious
little fried things...'

Okay, you really do have a lot of options when it comes to feeding yourself.  
all you have to do is find them, which may be difficult at first.  Trying to find 
Western food here is really only going to make you fat, so don't be afraid to 
take some risks in the kitchen.  (with food, of course, don't go juggling knives 
or anything, please.)  If your hopeless in the kitchen, I'm afraid you'll have to
starve.  Or, you could try....

Convenience stores - Open 24 hours, some are better than others, they stock 
 a plethora of daily prepared meals.  You can get anything from a sushi bento 
 to a hamburger steak.  The cooked foods are gross and greasy, but if your
 stomach can stand to eat them, go for it.  They also have onigiri, fresh salads
 and sandwiches which are good for lunch.  Tuna, or shi-chikin, onigiri are the
 best.  The curry burritos are pretty good too.  In the winter, they stock
 delicious Chinese style dumplings with meat or pizza filling, as well as hot
 canned coffee.  7-11 seems to have the most consistent quality, Family Marts
 are good, too.  I've gotten some questionable rice balls at the other places.  If
 you don't go for rice balls or hamburger, you can still get some good soup
 mixes, rice dishes or pasta in the dried goods.  They also carry regular bread,
 milk, eggs, pizza sauce and liquor, which is great in a pinch.  Plus, conveni's are
 located everywhere.

Bento stores - Japanese style fast food, they sell fresh cooked meals to go.
 They are Japanese style, but that includes hamburger and fried chicken.  It
 comes with rice and a little salad or vegetable.  They're really pretty cheap
 and you can get some healthy stuff.  Plus, they have picture menus, so there's
 no reason not to try one.  You can recognize them by the single take-out
 counter and food pictures all over.  

Fast Food - McDonald's, Mos burger and KFC's abound.  Mos Burgers are
 really good and they also sell things like sea-katsu burgers, in addition to the
 normal stuff.  KFC's are as rancid and even greasier than back home.  During
 the day time, McDonald's has super cheap burgers.  Otherwise they are all
 expensive.  The sizes are also the equivalent of America's circa 1985.

Japanese Restaurants - There are lots of reasonably priced little restaurants
 hiding all over.  They sell set meals which can often be cheaper than cooking. 
 There are soba/tempura restaurants, Yakisoba and okonomiyaki places, and
 one's with a variety.  Most keep food displays in the window so you can figure
 out what you want before going in.  They often have daily lunch sets that you
 can get by saying 'seto A' or 'seto B'.  The yakisoba places have grills where
 you can watch them cook or make your own.  These places are really cheap but
 there are no pictures.  If you learn some basic food kanji and kana you
 shouldn't have any problems ordering.  They have great atmosphere, so don't
 be afraid to try it on your own.  If you have one close to home its a great
 place to become a regular and make some friends.  
 There are also Japanese style pubs called
Izakayas.  These places are open
 till the wee hours of the morning and often charge a sitting fee for  individuals.
 The food comes in individual dishes sized for two or three people, so parties
 can order a bunch and sample everything.  These places are cheap if there are
 a couple people or more.  These are the places where you'll be going for your
 welcome parties, so you'll get a feel for them pretty quick.
 
Ramen shops are also open after hours for the business men and ALTs stumbling home
 from 'meetings'.  They have giant servings of ramen which are pretty tasty.
 The curtains hanging outside the doors of these places mean they're open.

Western restaurants - Big Boy's has a several restaurant chains here.  
 Good for an occasional steak and fry fix.  Not expensive for Japan, but that
 doesn't say much.  There are also a disproportionate amount of Italian
 restaurants here.  

Lastly, you can cook for yourself.  There are large chain grocery stores in
 medium and larger sized towns, which actually have a pretty good variety and
 reasonable prices.  They also sell bento style food, or just certain prepared
 dishes, so you can piece a meal together.  There are small convenience store
 style markets, they are usually expensive.  There are also the local farmer's
 market type places, these are probably cheaper and better for buying
 produce.  I have noticed that some fruit stands are muy expensive, so compare
 prices before shelling out 500yen for an apple.

Most grocery stores mark prices down after 7:00 p.m.  Every couple of days
 they'll clear stuff out at half price or less.  This is a good time to stock up,
 just remember the produce won't last as long.  

Most cities also have foreign food stores.  I don't shop there often, when I 
do I usually end up spending way too much on food that doesn't last.  I do go
 there for Oatmeal or cereals sometimes.  Lately my grocery store has been
 stocking more and more imports, so there's not much I can't find.  But the
 grocery stores in smaller towns probably aren't so cosmopolitan as to stock
 Frosted Flakes or Oatmeal.  You might have to settle for Adzuki bean Flakes. 
 The foreign food stores stock foreign food from all over, so its a good place
 to get real Thai or Indian foods and spices.  And the packaging is foreign, so
 the serving sizes are much larger.

There is one more option for getting food, plus making friends and learning at
 the same time, this would be....

Mooching! - I get a home cooked meal every Friday in exchange for tutoring
 some kids.  (Of course I don't get money! That would be wrong.)  Technically,
 JETs aren't allowed to receive money for such services, but you'll be asked a
 lot to help tutor or teach English conversation.  Many people trade English for
 Japanese lessons, but to be honest, most the people I know who do this don't
 get much out of it.  Either the other person never speaks Japanese, or they
 just aren't able to teach at the right level.  Get your conversation practice
 when you go out drinking, there will plenty of opportunities.  If someone asks
 for conversation lessons, consider getting meals or cooking lessons in return. 
 If there is a small group of people interested in lessons, make it a
 conversation club.  You could easily do it at someone's house each time, with
 pot luck style dinners.  This will also give them the opportunity to teach you
 about other Japanese things that they are interested in, plus, they'd probably
 love to learn some 'Western' style cooking, or other meal related customs.  An
 informal setting is also more likely to get English and Japanese conversation
 flowing naturally.

Its probably a good idea to get a map of your town and have someone show 
 you where some different eating places are, and also mark good ones you find. 
 There are some great little restaurants hidden in back allies or in
 inconspicuous buildings.

@

                                                          

 

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