My Japanese Diet

With two notable and disappointing exceptions, I have eaten only Japanese food since I arrived in Tokyo.  I have tried the Chinese restaurant one more time – it may taste good, but the food has not agreed with me so I will not be trying it again.  Other than that, really I have stuck to local cuisine.

I started trying to lose weight – that is to say, truly changing my eating habits – about a month before I left Canada.  One of the things I had been doing is logging everything that I ate.  I used a tool called My Fitness Tracker (www.myfitnesstracker.com).  It helped me to not only track but also be aware of what I was eating, including fat, sugar, protein, and carbohydrates.  It allowed me to enter everything into my Smart Phone, and even had a barcode scanner so that I could just scan the code of what I was eating and be done with it.  If you spent any time with me at all in September you probably saw me use it.

DSCN3962It is a lot easier to keep track of what you eat in North America for several reasons.  In Japan I can’t figure out the food labels, and anyways I am hardly eating any pre-packaged foods.  However my typical breakfast looks a lot like this picture, and for good reason… that is a picture I took of my breakfast this morning.

My hotel includes a buffet breakfast which in the past would have meant my gorging myself, but I am trying to change my habits so that is out.  Yes, those are corn flakes in the top left corner, but add to that a bowl of miso soup, a couple of pieces of grilled fish (I am not quite sure what it was today… maybe mackerel), some Japanese omelet (tamago), and some grapefruit slices.  You may have noticed the glass of water in place of either tea or coffee… I have not had a cup of coffee in nearly six weeks, and I am really trying to minimize my tea/caffeine intake.  I am, however, trying to maximize my water intake, and this is a great opportunity to do so!

Incidentally there is a decent salad available with breakfast; some days I partake, others I do not.  Today I was running late so I skipped the salad course.

Lunch is served every day in the cafeteria at Rakuten.  There are several choices, and I usually opt for something rather healthy… although truth be told I am not always certain of what I am eating.  I am not eating a lot of beef, although Tuesday I opted for the beef dish because the others did not seem as appetizing.  It was good, and as with every meal at Rakuten it was accompanied by a bowl of soup, two side dishes (salads of some sort), and a dessert – yesterday it was a black bean and sesame pudding that was outstanding.

DSCN3875There is a restaurant down the way – maybe five hundred metres from the hotel – that I found out recently is called Sakura.  I have eaten most of my dinners there.  It is quite good and reasonably priced.  For the fist few nights my fare was the same: an order of sashimi, a plate of edamame, and a bowl of miso soup (see a pattern forming with the soup?  I thought so…) but I have started to change that up a little now that I am a little more comfortable.  While I had given up white rice entirely in Canada I have come to realize that it is a futile battle in Japan, and so I have caved.  Some evenings I will opt for the sushi (nigiri) instead of the sashimi.  As well I have tried the fried chicken (it is wonderful, and does not seem as greasy as in North America, the seafood pizza, and a few other dishes.  I had dinner with a colleague last week and he ordered for us… including deep fried chicken cartilage, and a plate of squid jerky (I am not making that up).  Oh, and the deep-fried octopus was also wonderful.

If it seems odd or boring that I am going to the same restaurant every evening let me assure you that a) I am not bored, b) I am not on vacation, and c) it really is wonderful food.  The most expensive meal I have eaten there was under $20 per person (remember I am not drinking alcohol).  It is very convenient though, as it is just a quick walk from the hotel.  It is also a few doors down to the gym where I have started training – more on that later.

On the weekends I am venturing further out.  Last weekend I had lunch at a restaurant in Asakusa which served a soup dish which wasn’t bad but wasn’t my favorite.  This week-end I will probably end up downtown for at least one evening, and will experiment somewhere new.  As for weekdays, I am more concerned with getting my work done, working out on the nights that I do, and walking on the nights that I do not.  I am also trying to get to bed at a reasonable hour which means getting onto a train and exploring Tokyo may not be a great idea.  On the weekends though… Oh, I will explore!

An interesting note about lunch at the cafeteria: it is free, but they are very observant about what you take – there are signs at every station telling you how much of which you are allowed, down to the number of cherry tomatoes you can take for your salad.  I suppose it makes sense – the company is paying for lunch for over ten thousand employees, and letting people go free could cause cost overruns… and when they saw me coming they must have freaked 🙂

Incidentally, if you are wondering how well it is working, I am probably down 5lbs since I got here.  I didn’t mention all of the fruit I am eating, but that is part of the diet too (and counted.. when I figure out how to input the rest of my food).  Tonight I’m heading to the gym again, followed by Sakura (which by the way means Cherry Blossom).  See you tomorrow!

Pictures from Day 2…

I have been in Japan since Wednesday evening, and it is now Saturday morning.  For my readers in North America the time shift is simple… this morning in Japan is yesterday evening for you, and this evening in Japan will be this morning for you.  I think…

I have been promising that I would start taking pictures, and I am true to my word.  Here are just a few from yesterday.

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The sashimi was absolutely wonderful, and as the night before much fresher than I had ever had.  However I also love the elegance with which it was served.  I am not entirely sure what fish I was eating, but it was all scrumptious.

 

 

 

 

 

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I have eaten tempura in many Japanese restaurants in North America, and it is always the same… some is better than others, but the concept is almost always identical, as is the batter and the sauce.  This was my first Asian Tempura plate, and I was amazed.  The batter was completely different, and notice that in lieu of sauce they gave me a plate of salt.  It was a new way for me to eat it, and it was delicious.  As with the sashimi, I did not recognize a few of t he pieces… especially the thing with tentacles (which i suspect may be squid).

DSCN3847I do not know if this is the Japanese equivalent of a hot dog stand, but as I walked along the street at 11pm I came across this cart.  The man in the white shirt appeared to be a regular Japanese salaryman who had stepped out for a bowl of fast food noodles on a street corner.  In contrast to so much bling and neon ads, I loved the elegance of this vendor’s cart, with only the lantern advertising what he is selling, and what I assume is a menu posted at the top on a sheet of plain white paper.

 

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In contrast to the next photo, this was quite obviously an eatery… people were enjoying themselves after a hard day at work.  There was food and beer on the tables (which appeared to be beer barrels with a table top).  The beer was not in tiny elegant glasses by the way… these were very generous sized steins.  I do not know what the lanterns and signs say, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they read ‘You want to be where everybody knows your name.’

 

DSCN3851 It is hard for me to identify what a lot of businesses are unless they have the pictures in the window.  It was late and I was exhausted, but I thought the staircase leading to this business stood out; I would have had to step into traffic to photograph it as well as I would have liked, but I hope this is okay.  I assume that it is either a restaurant or a bar, but in truth I do not know.  Maybe the next time I walk by (it is only a few blocks from my hotel) I will venture upstairs and see what wonders await… or will I be disappointed after setting my expectations too high?  We’ll see…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today I am venturing out for lunch at a colleague’s house, which means I am getting onto the subway for the first time since I arrived.  After lunch I will probably hit downtown Tokyo… tomorrow’s pictures will be plentiful I promise!

A Stranger in a Strange Land…

Sashimi Moriawase

Sashimi Moriawase (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you ever walked through a grocery store and not known what anything was?  I had that experience this evening.  Although there are pictures on a lot of things, the only items (aside from fresh fruits and vegetables) that I could clearly identify were Frosted Flakes, Coke Zero, and Cote de Rhone.  It might have been daunting if I had to fill my fridge and feed my family, but as that was not the case I was just in it for the experience.  There’s lots of everything… I just don’t know what anything is.  There was one item that intrigued me… a bag of what appeared to be whole dried worm-like fish, eyes and all.  Although I assume it is a delicacy of some sort, it looked to me like freeze-dried fishing bait.

Although I have been told there is a bank machine where I will be able to use my debit card to withdraw cash, I have been relying solely on my Visa card.  As impressive as that may sound, it has thus far amounted to four purchases, two of which were transportation from the airport (train then taxi).  I paid for dinner this evening in a lovely little restaurant down the street, which in Canada would have been a five-star restaurant, but in Tokyo was little more than a glorified fast-food restaurant.  I had the best sashimi I have ever imagined, and the meal cost about $12.  They refused my tip.  I then went back to the grocery store and bought a little fresh-fruit cup and some dried mango for dessert.  No joke, including the food in the cafeteria at lunch, I have not had a morsel of food that was not among the freshest I have ever tasted.

I have not gone out to experience ‘the real Tokyo’ yet, but I will this week-end.  So far I have ventured out from hotel alone three times: once for my morning stroll, once for dinner (along the same route as the morning stroll), and once to go back to the office after my siesta.  I have to admit that I got lost that time, but I found myself quickly enough.  When you know you are within a block in one or the other direction it is not hard to find your way.

The weather here is not too hot, but it has been incredibly humid.  I’ve been sweating a lot, especially with all the walking I did today.  It cooled down in the evening to the point that I could have worn a jacket if I had wanted to, but it still wasn’t necessary once I started walking.

It’s time to get some sleep… See you tomorrow!

Japan: Day 1

Akachōchin lantern outside an izakaya; the cha...

Akachōchin lantern outside an izakaya; the characters read “izakaya” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I arrived at the hotel thoroughly exhausted yesterday, which I suppose is to be expected.  Fortunately the check-in process was smooth and simple, and I got into my room within five minutes.

If I had to pick a single word to describe Japan so far it would be Efficient.  Certainly it is clean and everyone is polite, but those could both be turned off in a heartbeat.  The country just seems to be designed with an efficiency second to none, and from the ground up.  Most of that is wonderful; as it pertains to the size of the guest rooms in hotels, less so… but that is fine, because it may be small but it has everything that I might need.

I have had my first two meals.  Dinner last night was absolutely delicious – Mark-san met me at the hotel shortly after I got settled (okay, maybe settled is the wrong word; after I dropped my gear in my room), and took me to the Izakaya in the lobby for dinner.  Fortunately he ordered… everything was delicious, but there was no indication that anyone there spoke English, nor was the menu translated.  It’s a good thing there are pictures on it!

I was asleep by 9:00pm… I could have stayed up later, but it would have involved using toothpicks to hold my eyes open.  I woke up refreshed after eight hours plus, but that still had my eyes open at 5:30am.  I got onto the computer and caught up on my emails, then called my wife before showering and heading down for breakfast.

I have said many times before that the only three things I need in a hotel are a comfortable bed, a good shower, and decent Internet.  This hotel absolutely delivers on all of those.  Something I might add to my list however is sufficient place to unpack my suitcases, which this hotel is severely lacking.  I have never been in a hotel without a chest of drawers… or even a useable single drawer anywhere.  Okay, everything that hangs has been hung, but for everything else it looks like I will be living out of a suitcase for the duration.  Not a cheery thought, but not terrible.

I had heard weird stories about the toilets here, but sure enough it is a contraption unlike any I have ever seen.  I won’t go into detail, but let’s just say that it is very hygienically helpful.

Breakfast was (and will be every day) in one of the hotel restaurants.  It was a simple but complete buffet (making it easy for me to not make too much of an ass of myself).  The food is excellent.  In addition to the things I cannot begin to identify, there is also cereal, yogurt, sausages, croissants, juice, tea, and coffee.  I skipped all of that today and had a bowl of miso soup, some grilled salmon, a couple of dumplings and meatballs.  Yum!

Following breakfast I went for my first (of many) Japanese walk. People were right – I am by far the tallest person I have seen since I arrived.  It was raining but I didn’t mind – I wasn’t going too far.  I walked about a kilometre out and back down one main street – it wouldn’t do for me to get lost when I have a 10:00am meeting – and just enjoyed watching the people, looking in shop windows, and stretching my legs.  I even found one of the Rakuten Towers – I don’t know which one I will be working in – and Mark was right… it is definitely a close walk.

I don’t know why I was surprised to see people smoking in the restaurant last night… I know the non-smoking craze is chiefly North American.  However I was more surprised to see that there was not a single cigarette butt on the street anywhere.  As I mentioned, this is a VERY clean city.

I haven’t been able to get any Yen yet… I am told there are CitiBank machines that i will be able to use, the two that I tried this morning very apologetically could not use my cards.  Fortunately my Visa card worked at the train station yesterday!

I spent the morning at the office meeting what felt like everyone… Japanese offices, or at least the ones at this company, are very different from the ones I have seen.  They have an open concept – no cubicles.  Every floor has rows of tables, and people seem to work with their team, with the manager sitting on the end.  I will not be discussing much about the company, but I am told this is typical here.

The lunch room was jammed… wow, all I can say.  I had a great meal with miso soup, noodles, fish, salad, beans, and orange yogurt for desert.  It was great, and yes, I did eat it all with chopsticks without making a fool of myself!  (Okay, the yogurt I ate with a spoon… as did my Japanese colleague.

More tomorrow… the advantage of having a hotel right next to the office is that when I have two hours between meetings and am suffering from jetlag I can come take a nap.  More tomorrow! –MDG

P.S. For those of you waiting for pictures I assure you they are coming… I haven’t taken any yet, but this week-end I will!