5 Things I Love in Japan

The workload is slowing down and I have much more free time to do as I please.  As long as I get my work done well and in a timely fashion, my co-workers do not care so much about what I or anyone else does in their free time.  Some teachers nap at their desks, and some even do online shopping, having their items shipped to the school.  I guess, when you have the time available, everyone seems to understand exactly how the other feels when free time presents itself. As long as you don’t do anything stupid, no one will complain.


I thought I would take this opportunity, to discuss all the things I love in Japan.  These things are either difficult to find or non-existent in America.  Recently, I have been feeling very angry with Japan for refusing to use insulation until very very recently.  (Within the last few years recent).  Focusing on things that are positive would make a nice change and keep my mind off the piercing cold. 


1.   Kotatsu

If you don’t know, a kotatsu is a heated table.  It is typically the size of a coffee table.  The top comes off so you can drape a blanket over it, then place the top back on.  It does slide around if you push it, but the top is really heavy and won’t move so easily.  A heater is on the underside of the table. It is covered in some sort of vinyl, so if you happen to accidentally touch it, it won’t burn you.  It doesn’t even feel warm.  It is an essential winter item when living long term in Japan.  The winters are brutal.


Most kotatsus come with a standard low/medium/high heat setting, with the most expensive ones being equipped with a specific temperature dial.  I have the fancy one and it is fantastic.  Recently, we have needed to turn it up, at most to a medium setting.  It gets hot enough set halfway like that, so there has never been a need to have it be at max temperature. 


After I come back from ice-skating, my entire body is feels frozen solid.  Since our kotatsu is long, I will turn up the dial and crawl underneath it to warm me.  Seeing the orange glow as the table heats up is my light at the end of the tunnel.  When I say that I get under the kotatsu, I don’t mean that my head sticks out and the rest of my body is under it.  No sir!  I put my head under there too.  Of course, I take my pillow with me.  And a tablet so I am not bored.  After about 20 or so, it gets a little stuffy so I create a little peep hole of fresh air.  I typically stay under there for a half hour.  Or until my husband accidentally kicks me trying to sit and watch TV.


Kotatsus are amazing.  I cannot praise them enough.  I just know that America needs to get on importing those because who doesn’t love warm toes?


2.   Melon Pan

This is bread wrapped in a sugarcoated cookie.  Pan means bread in Japanese, and melon is for the etched pattern on the top of the cookie covering.  The bread just tastes like regular bread.  The only sweetness comes from the cookie coating.  I don’t know why this is so amazing, but I cannot get enough of them.  Every day, a baker comes to my school and sells many items from her bakery.  Melon pan is one of them.  I buy it from her so often, that she no longer asks me what I want, nor does she tell me how much it is.  She just knows exactly what I want, and knows that I know what the price is at this point.  Students even know I buy the bread.  If they see me coming, and one of their friends is going to buy the last melon pan, they will make them not buy it so I can have it.  It’s cute.


I have never seen or heard of it in the US.  Only when I came to Japan did I try it for the first time.  I fell in love.  If you come to Japan, please try the melon pan.  It is absolutely delicious and I have no idea why.  I can’t get enough of them.


3.   Skirts


Ok, I know that the US and the rest of the world have skirts, but the ones in Japan are similar to poodle skirts.  They are also made of light fabric so they flow nicely and feel cool during the summer.  Every time I go shopping, I want to buy all the skirts.  I love them. 


In the winter, they make thicker skirts with wool or some other fuzzy fabric as a lining and it keeps your legs nice and warm while still looking fabulous.  I have one of these skirts (only one because they are expensive and fly off the racks) and I love it.  I have never heard of winter skirts before coming to Japan.  I think it is a great concept for the cold months, and a wonderful solution for those who like to look girly all year.  You don’t have to wear layers and layers to stay warm; the skirt is made to do that for you.  Bless you winter skirts, bless you.


4.   Strawberries

You probably read the heading thinking “but there are strawberries in the US.”  Well, you are right, but also wrong.  Yes, there are strawberries in the US; no, they do not taste the same.  The ones in the US are tasty, but they tend to stay tart until they get mushy, then they taste sweet.  Well, in Japan they are always sweet.  Always.


The scent of them is so strong, that when you walk in to the grocery store during the autumn and winter seasons, all you notice are the strawberries.  They have them strategically placed by the front door so as you walk in, you cannot deny the strawberries’ luring call to purchase.  Their color is so richly red that it makes them even more enticing.  It is impossible to ignore their pleas.


When you do buy them, good luck making them last more than 10 minutes.  They will be consumed within the hour.  I have tried to make them last, I’ve honestly tried.  They are like a drug.  Once you take a bite, you are hooked, your mind goes blank and all you know is the sweet aroma and flavor of the Japanese strawberry.  The spell can only be broken once your hand touches an empty package once filled with savory strawberry friends. 


Try the Japanese strawberry if you dare.  You have been warned.


5.   Bread shops

You might be thinking that I mean bakeries, but I don’t.  Bakeries have dessert items.  Bread shops have bread.  And only bread.  Bread of all kinds.  Any bread you have ever dreamed of, thought about, or saw in the corner of your eye, exist in Japan.  Even strange ones that you think will not taste good exist in Japan.  There are bread shops EVERYWHERE.  They are almost comparable to vending machines.  It seems that every few steps you take there is another bread shop with the smell of freshly baked bread.  They probably have a vent outside to snag customers. 


The bread is cheap and very delicious.  Most of the time, they make their bread look really cute.  There is a bread shop near Ueno zoo, and they make all their bread resemble animals from the zoo.  It’s adorable.  And delicious!


The only down side is that Japanese bread is always made with milk.  ALWAYS.  So if you are lactose intolerant, in any sense of the word, you cannot consume the bread in Japan.  I wouldn’t risk it.  Especially since the heavy soy diet increases your symptoms.  I know that it might be difficult to not eat any sort of bread at all in Japan (or curry I might add).  If you love yourself at all, and you have an allergy to milk, DO NOT eat the bread in Japan.



Well, there you have it.  The top 5 things that I love in Japan.  If you think of anything else, please leave a comment, or make a guest book post telling me what it is that you like about Japan.  And if you find a place other than online that sells kotatsu in America, please hit me up.  I will need that for when I should return stateside.