Shopping and Eating

What better way to explore a new culture than by shopping and eating? It provides opportunities for practicing greetings in Japanese, counting Yen and observing fashion trends. The day started out at a very special place - the 100 Yen store. This is the equivalent of the dollar store in America. Fred told me about a large 100 Yen store he had heard good things about. That's where we headed first. It had a huge assortment of random stuff. Everything from Hello Kitty underwear to dehydrated fish snacks. While we could have bought the whole store, we only had 1000 Yen and settled for a couple waste baskets for the house, an ice cube tray and some Hello Kitty facial blotting paper that I will carry proudly in my purse.

Next stop was the Japanese equivalent of IKEA called Today OK. We didn't need furniture, but were curious what type of furniture they had in case our home goods shipment crashes into the Pacific Ocean on its way here. Prices were reasonable but the couches seemed better suited for small Japanese people. Next door was a home goods store that had everything you could desire for the home - rugs, decorations, curtains, kitchen stuff, etc. Almost like the home section of Target mixed with a little Bed, Bath & Beyond. I'm a big fan. This is where I noticed more "fashionable" Okinawans (in my American opinion) shopping, so it must be a classy place.

Last stop on the shopping tour was the good ol' American commissary on base for groceries. It literally has everything you could want from America, and at reasonable prices. Fred suggested that the produce at our local Japanese grocery store is far superior to the commissary, so we just grabbed a could staples there. They also have a small Japanese section where I grabbed some green tea, Apple Tea (my favorite new Japanese drink - picture iced tea mixed with apple juice), and a cold coffee drink in a can Fred told me I had to try. Coffee drinks in cans are popular here. It was so good that I began visualizing our Japanese house filled with canned coffee drinks so I could have one everyday! Shortly after, one of Fred's American friends here told us there's nicotine in the drink and they can't sell it in the U.S. Darn you, canned coffee! Why has your delicious taste betrayed me??

After all the shopping came the eating. Fred has two American friends that live a few houses down from us - one of the few American houses nearby. Mark is an officer in the Marine Corps and Valerie, his wife, is ex Air Force and stay-at-home mom to their 1-year-old son, Michael. They invited us to a restaurant in our neighborhood that does not have English on the menus nor an English-speaking staff. Fortunately for us, this is their second tour to Okinawa and they speak some basic Japanese. I no longer felt like I was visiting the Japanese pavilion at Epot - I was in Japan this time. All the diners were Japanese men - smoking, drinking and having an apparent good time. Valerie translated the foreign menu and we ended up with a platter of Kimchi Tofu, some wanton wrapped fried cheese things, some sort of a seaweed salad, and most importantly, beer. Valerie also let us try her Goya Champuru, which is a traditional Okinawan dish. Champuru is the style of cooking - similar to a stir-fry - and Goya is the local vegetable known in English as Bitter Melon. It looks like a bumpy cucumber and has a taste that is difficult to describe. Slightly bitter aftertaste, but good. The nutritional value of the Goya is rumored to be why Okinawans live so long. Almost forgot to mention we were served hot towelettes before dinner again. I love this country.

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