I wrote before about the fact that as much as I enjoy living in Japan and being with my husband, I still miss America a lot. One thing I think a lot of people don't realize is that America, for all it's problems, has an absolutely amazing standard of living. Japan is an economic powerhouse, the 3rd largest economy in the world, and yet, the way that the average person lives is so very different than in America in terms of daily comforts (Although of course, it's very hard to succinctly summerize what an average person's life is anywhere because...what's an "average" person anyway?). Anyway, Japan is well-known for being expensive, and it is in many respects. Food (especially meat and vegetables) is expensive no matter where I've traveled in this country. For example, one apple here in Okinawa will go for around 250 yen, which now, is over 3 dollars. The price was more or less the same in Tokyo. A double cheeseburger meal at McDonalds is, I think, 610 yen or so, which would be about 8 dollars in the US. The typical US family will have a washing machine and a dryer....most Japanese still line dry their clothes because electricity is expensive and dryers are expensive as well (I will say though, that any Japanese people seem to be more environmentally conscious than many Americans, so that's another reason too). When I studied abroad in Japan, my host family had a dryer and I was the envy of all the other students in my program. I've yet to see a house or apartment in Japan with central heating and air conditioning. Even my host father, who is the president of a very successful company in Tokyo didn't have that. I now understand that when I stayed with them during my first visit to Japan that I was living in what was basically the lap of luxury. I didn't realize it at the time, but the more that I heard from other people and the more I saw after coming back again, the more I realized that my living experience (in terms of food and housing) while studying abroad was not at all typical.
Anyway, since To-ki nor I are are presidents of any company, we are definately far from many of the material comforts that were common for me in America. I miss western style beds, towels (big fluffy ones!), ovens (not popular here AT ALL), large trashcans, sinks, dishwashers, big couches, high tables...etc. all of which are either just not available or crazy, crazy expensive. And even though I'm not a chef (or perhaps BECAUSE I'm not), I miss a lot of western style food.
In Japan, people are not as into the processed/fake foods that reign in America and provide sustenance to lazy and/or untalented cooks across the coutry. The idea of an overfilled cupboard (which was commonplace in most American households I've been in, including my own growing up) is almost non-existent, and most people go food shopping daily or every other day in order to get the freshest ingredients. Seasonings, sauces, soup bases and rice are about the only things that I
see perpetually stocked instead of bought daily here in Japan. It was an adjustment for me to go from shopping once a month or so, freezing my meat, ziplocking my vegetables and stocking the cupboard to suddenly being expected to plan out a menu and shop for the ingredients everyday. So basically...I don't do it. My husband cooks (which he's GREAT at) and I just enjoy the fruits of his labor...sometimes I'll wash the dishes though.
Yesterday though, I got the chance to "revisit" America by going to the military base! One of my teaching co-workers (who is basically like my overseas mother <3 ) has access, so she took me there since she new I was yearning for a taste of America for quite some time.
I got there and I was floored. I used to work on a military base in America so it's not like I didn't know what they were like. But to go from "Japan" to "America" in seconds was mindboggling to me. The streets were wider-like in America. The architecture was different-like in America. Even the grass was cut American style. It was totally weird, because when you are a gone for a while, you tend to think things aren't "that different" because in your head, you simply forget the small details that actually make up the whole of the world in which you live.
We went to the commissary and I was just amazed at the hugeness of the building. It was nothing at all impressive by American standards, I'm sure, but having been in the comparatively tiny stores in Japan for so long, I was suddenly overwhelmed. Apples there were 3.29 dollars...A POUND. That's like...maybe a less than 100 yen an apple. And there were all the American vegetables I missed...salad packs, varieties of spinach and asparagus...cheese available in more than the 3 flavors I find in Japan, and canned foods and boxes (aka do-able meals for me) were everywhere. The frozen food section was three aisles long instead of three paces, and the selection of bread seemed endless when I compared it to the 4 types of bread I can usually find in my Japanese grocery store. It was food heaven. So I just threw things into the cart like a mad woman. While I shopped I kept thinking back to the things my husband enjoyed eating when he came to America and somehow and before I knew it, half the cart was full of stuff for To-ki. I guess that means I kinda like him....
After that, we went to the BX (which is the "everyday items" focused store for military personnel) and I just went crazy. My favorite make-up in all shades... was even on sale for only 10 dollars! The conditioner and shampoo I've missed for months selling for less than 3 dollars...it really made me think about how seriously cheap every day things are in America. We are very very lucky country to have so much, available so widely, and for so cheap. You truly cannot realize the extent of it until you travel abroad.
We topped it all off by going somewhere I had yearned and wished for several times since coming to Japan...a trip to TACO BELL!!! Japan has a number of American fast food restaurants-McDonalds, A&W, KFC, Subway and maybe a few more, but sadly, tragically, almost unbearably, Taco Bell has not made it's way over here. I don't know if they ever tried, but if they did something went terribly wrong because now they have basically no presence here. So when my co-worker asked me where she could take me to dinner, she couldn't believe that I chose Taco Bell instead of some other, nicer restaurant on the base. But I feel that Japan has a number of very diverse and delicious restaurants, so there is no void in my taste buds in terms of fine dining. But as far as junk food goes, there is a lot to be desired by the sugarcoated fatty American palette that lies beneath the healthier, more sophisticated tastes I've acquired in Japan. Some habits really die hard, kicking and screaming to the very end, and if my love for Taco Bell ever went away I'm sure there would be a number of casualties.
I was so grateful to her for taking me on base. I feel a lot of comfort simply being surrounded by things that make me feel closer to home...even if none of them can talk to me and most of them will be ingested. It was also great to spend time with a friend, even if she is in her 60's. Relating to each other isn't always dependent on age, and being alone simply isn't good for most people, despite how introverted or hermit-like some of us may be.
I love Japan. But I REALLY love America. Both places are wonderful and special, but there is only once place that will always and forever be home to me, so I'm glad I had the chance to stop by, say hello, stay for dinner, and remember how much I love it.