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Eating in Japan....Part I

I know you're all looking forward to this adventure.  Its really nothing like 
you'd get at a Japanese restaurant at home.  Except maybe the sushi.  There's 
lots of that.  Basically anything that crawls, swims, squirts or slithers around in
the sea is fair game for food.  I hope you like seafood.  There is plenty for the 
non-seafood lovers though.  For example, rice, noodles, taco pizza.  

Okay, its not that bad, there is really a lot of variety in the food available here, 
it just takes a little adjusting.  Many of us lose weight when we come here, 
but I am sure there are also those who gain weight.  This is particularly easy
if you live down the street from a 24 hr. 7-11 that stocks French pastries and custards.  mmmm.....  

If you don't want to be living off the rice balls and chocolate bars from 7-11, 
I suggest braving the grocery store early on and experimenting.  Luckily, vegetables 
are pretty popular and fairly cheap, so although there may be some fairly 
unfamiliar ones, they provide some safe territory.  I was nice enough to include 
a list of some common items you'll run into.
Japanese cooking also uses a lot of sauces, so its easy to just cook up some veggies, 
add some sauce and rice and get a good meal.  

    Junior High ALT's, however, will get the extra experience of  school lunches. 
mwahaha.  Actually, I like school lunches.  They are much better than anything we 
ever got in school.  But its usually chock full of seaweeds and fried fish paste, 
which can take a little getting used to.  It may also be a little rough on the first
day, to sit down to the mystery sea salad with several fellow teachers waiting 
for that first bite to see if you can use chopsticks.  My theory is, if they haven't 
died from it, then I can probably handle it.  I compromise and eat anything that 
isn't an animal, regardless of sliminess, but I don't eat shrimp.  You might hear 
that you are expected to eat everything on your tray, because the kids have to. 
Luckily, we are not kids, and we can eat what we want.  As long as your willing to 
try stuff, don't feel bad if you really don't like it.  Just leave it aside.  I see 
teachers all the time who pick their food apart and leave extra.  

If you have an allergy to some common food, its probably a good idea to write it 
down and tell someone.  Find out if its served frequently in the lunches.  You may 
have to opt to bring your own lunch, which many people do.  They do make school 
menus, so you can ask for a translation if necessary so you know what's being served.  
There is a dietitian at school who plans the lunches, and keeps track of what days 
you'll be eating lunch.  So you don't necessarily have to bring lunch everyday.  
You can probably work it out ahead of time with little trouble.  If you only visit 
a school occasionally, let the dietitian know what your dietary restrictions are, 
she might just plan around you for those days.  Become her friend.  
(Some schools have lunches brought in from a central location and may not have a dietitian.)

One thing about school lunches is that, although they have fairly healthy ingredients, 
they are frequently slathered in something fatty, like mayonnaise or cream sauce.  
The portions are reasonably small, so if your normal diet is okay, I wouldn't worry
about it.  But if you have to worry about cholesterol I'd be careful.  Milk, for 
example, is always served,  and the fat content is 3.5%.  So, lactose intolerant people 
should also be careful.  Most of the milk they use is at least this high in fat, 
so anything made with milk is just as bad.   I like it, I like it a lot.  But you might not.  
If you like to drink milk at home, the stuff at the grocery store is also fatty.  
I don't think they have skim milk.  Sorry.

If you are a vegetarian, I am doubly sorry.  If you are not entirely set in the 
conviction, then you might consider adjusting for seafood or other meat.  If 
there is no choice, you should plan on always bringing your lunch.  They don't 
frequently feature meat as a main dish, but its often mixed into stuff so you don't 
notice it right away.  This is also true for other foods too.  Most dishes have an 
average of twenty ingredients, so look closely before you start slurping.  Most 
Japanese people feel that being vegetarian means you do eat seafood, so you may 
find yourself repeating yourself about not eating something.  If your schools 
have a lot of experience with ALT's, it won't be as big a deal.  My predecessor 
didn't like seafood, so the teachers weren't shocked at all to see me picking out 
the little shrimps in my soup.  It may be a novelty for a while, but it will probably 
wear off.  This also goes for those who only eat kosher meat.  It doesn't exist.  
Ham is very popular and pork is often mixed into soups, or served in fried cutlets
(tonkatsu).  It often looks and tastes like chicken or even beef.  Pork is probably 
the most popular of the land lubbing meats.

You'll also be going to a lot of welcome parties, where everyone is ordering 
food for everyone, and sampling from many small dishes.  This is why its a good
idea to tell your supervisor in writing of any legitimate dietary restrictions
so they can let others know.  

Japanese people do like to play this little game where they see how much weird 
food they can get you to eat.  I realized this one day when my JTE swore that 
pickled plum was sweet, not sour like the other pickled plum I'd eaten.  hmmm...
I recommend being open to trying anything at least once.  Otherwise, you'll never 
hear the end of it, they'll keep after you until you eat something gross and put on 
a show by gagging.  So just get it over with quick, if you don't like it, make a face 
and diplomatically suggest its okay....but..., they'll usually get the point.  
You may also find you really like something.  

You may be daunted at the prospect of so much seafood, but its really much 
better quality than what you'd get at home.  If you just don't like the taste 
of fish, you should still try some.  If you still don't like it, there's really no 
harm done.  Tuna is quite popular, in steaks and raw as sashimi.  I couldn't eat 
fish before without choking, but now tuna sashimi is one of my favorite foods.  
Just keep telling yourself, 'I won't die, I won't die'.




  Hey! What time is it in Japan?

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