Friday, May 10, 2013

Hey, That's Not a Water Fountain!

As part of our continuing series, “You Can’t Fix Gaijin," I recently had a moment at my current placement at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I could tell you about what I’m doing or how it feels to balance work and a baby, but my discovery of another personal hygiene contraption is far more interesting.

After lunch the other day, I stopped for a sip of water at the water fountain.  I didn’t question why the water fountain was in the bathroom, rather than the hallway – lots of things are different here. Don’ t worry, this story isn’t that gross.

No sooner had a strange minty flavor hit my tongue than I realized that the water was an equally strange, frothy white color.  I yelped, certain I’d poisoned myself, and then noticed the English sign saying that it was a gargle fountain. Of course, the other women in the bathroom asked if I was ok and I had to explain that I didn’t know it was a gargle machine and not water. 

If you want a quick refresh, you can gargle the faintly mint liquid and spit it out in the basin. The remains will be washed away by a separate water spout. Just don't drink it and, for god's sake, don't spray it on your eyeball. I routinely wash my eyes at a water fountain, don't you?

Under the picture of the garglers, it says, "Not for drinking or  eyewash." 

I’m never at a loss for new experiences here. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Ranchi Setto

A few visitors are coming our way in May and June, prompting me to think about recommendations. If I could give only one recommendation, it would be two simple words, lunch set. Or in Japanese, ランチセット (ranchi setto). Whether traveling with kids, by yourself, on or not on a budget, the lunch set is the way to go in Japan.

Why? 1) It’s a complete meal, often including a drink and /or dessert, or at least the option to add those things at an insignificant cost 2) There is usually a display or photos of the available lunch sets, making it easy to choose without knowing much Japanese. A la carte menus are less likely to have displays, especially at smaller places 3) It’s a shockingly good deal. Below are a few recent lunch sets that are on the normal to small side. You can find far more elaborate lunch sets. 

840 yen for a bowl of tempura over rice, homemade soba noodles, and some tofu.

On the smaller side, 780 yen for bibimbap and miso soup.
The chopsticks are for the soup and the spoon is for the rice bowl.
I think this heavy plate of food weighed more than her.
Drink, bread bar, and dessert also included.

The lunch set is so popular that people often try out lunch first at an expensive, new restaurant before going back for dinner. Many of Tokyo’s Michelin starred restaurants offer amazing set lunches, often just smaller portions of their dinner menus at a much reduced price.

Are these filling? Absoluteley. It would be easy to make a more elaborate lunch set your main meal of the day and then enjoy an izakaya (Japanese pub), a yakitori-ya (grilled chicken and meats-on-a-stick shop), a ramen-ya (ramen shop) or other casual options for a lighter dinner. If you’re not travelling with children, the benefit of going to one of these places for an easy dinner is that the salarymen are often several beers or shochus into their evening, relaxed, and wanting to strike up conversation, or maybe even share their bottle of shochu with you. You might encounter this less in Tokyo where foreigners are more commonplace, but it’s surprising how often people do try to strike up even limited conversation with you.