Monday, May 2, 2011

Free Breakfast with Coffee

Japan has been home for nearly two years. Though I am unable to claim familiarity with every custom, by now, there are scenarios where surprise is unexpected. For example, ordering a beverage at a coffee shop.

Last year I took my first trip to Nagoya, Japan's 4th largest city. Just before going, friends told me something pleasantly unusual about the area coffee shops; upon ordering a cup of java, breakfast was free.

Inconceivable–a free drink, with purchase of a meal, might be expected anywhere, but in Nagoya, the reverse occurs? On my first trip there, I saw signs advertising the free-breakfast-with-coffee phenomenon, but was unable to partake of it, due to time constraints.

Recently, I had occasion to go to Nagoya again. It sounds silly–and it was not at all the focus of my journey–but, I was looking forward to getting something for nothing in breakfast-form.

Finally, I had my chance. I went to Komeda's Coffee in Nagoya Station. Holy mackerel–the legends were true–and it was better than I ever imagined. The meal came free with the purchase of any beverage–a pleasant surprise to this coffee-hater. There was a wide array of choices available including teas, shakes and soups.

For my beverage, I ordered corn soup. I was delighted at the wonderful taste, especially as it initially looked lackluster. They also brought a hard-boiled egg, still in the shell, and a half piece of toast. In Japan, bread is cut quite thick. The portion may not sound generous, but it was equivalent to about 1 slice of bread in the US, making the meal perfectly sized for breakfast. It was delicious, and indeed, all for the ordinary price of a drink at a coffee shop.

WHY is there free breakfast with coffee? I wondered the same. Apparently, there was stiff competition between cafés. Komeda's Coffee, the very chain where I experienced bargain-lover's bliss, started offering free breakfast. Other shops followed suit.

I could not find out why it localized mostly in the Nagoya Metro area. (Although, there are Komeda's locations nationwide; you may be able to experience breakfast, the Nagoya way, in a prefecture near you). Free breakfast should catch on everywhere. Indeed, Japanese out-of-towners were in line with me, excited to try the famed special. For now, its geographic exclusivity remains a mystery. If you find yourself in Nagoya, wander into a coffee shop and see what surprise comes with your drink.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Oh, How Embarrassing...

I did not complete my last entry. It was merely an incomplete first draft. When attempting to save my draft, I accidentally posted it. It's down for maintenance, but a few of you may have received it in error... Oy. I will have to be more careful from now on. ><()

Saturday, March 12, 2011

I Am So Lucky

You have all no doubt been made aware of the devastating earthquakes in northeast Japan, as well as the tsunamis along the Pacific coast. I am so lucky to be doing completely fine right now. Knock on wood. Sorry-I hate to reveal this, but I am not exactly unsuperstitious. I do not want to give myself an ahora. (The Yiddish word for the evil eye).

I might've been as surprised about the disaster as family and friends at home. Having sprained my ankle last week, I have only left my apartment as much as necessary. Hence, I have been much less aware of the world outside it than usual, of late.

On Friday, I was shocked to learn the news; I spent much of the day in disaster mode. Lacking a TV, I watched the coverage on NHK online. Simultaneously, friends and family worried about my safety via postings on Facebook. My wonderful friend in Northern Kansai called multiple times to let me know about the tsunami coming my way. I was so lucky to have close friends in Seattle and San Francisco call to check on me.

"I know you're not near the earthquakes up north," my friend said. "but what about the tsunamis?"

"Oh, those?" I replied mock-casually, letting my dark humor mask my genuine concern. "No... I'm not near the earthquakes... but the tsunamis...Yeah... I'm right in the warning area for those. The map is all lit up in red."

My parents in Metro Detroit called at 3:30 in the morning, Eastern Standard Time. I told my dad that the tsunami was supposed to be 3 meters or more.

"What is that again?" my dad asked.

"Let's see... I'm 152 centimeters (5 ft.), so, about two of me."

"That's pretty tall." he replied.

I couldn't have agreed more.

I was extremely worried about the tsunami. The (I assumed) tsunami warning announcements were not much help. The announcer mumbled as the megaphone ate half the syllables, rendering it like a Charles Schultz warning system. I'd hear "Shingu, tsunami, mwamwaaaa mwaaa mwaa mwaaa mwaaaa!" Not knowing what was being said, as a result, was more than a bit unnerving. I'm a huge fan of The Peanuts, but there's a time and a place.

The Metro Detroit area does not have much in the way of natural disasters. It has irritating, cold weather, but not much to worry about. The most difficult of that ilk is snow. Of course, tornadoes occur, but not very often. A friend and I consoled each other on how because we were from there, we had no idea how to deal with unwanted natural occurrences which were not snow; certainly not earthquakes or a tsunami. We have learned.

As for the tsunami, it did hit. I was only certain of that because my friend alerted me. There is no damage outside at all that I can see. I am beyond fine and beyond lucky. There have been a few tiny shakes, but nothing to be concerned about. I am so fortunate to have been here and to have had so many concerned for my well being.

While it seems completely fine here, aftershocks continue to happen in the north. I am quite worried for them. Buildings have completely disappeared, and people cannot find their loved ones. My heart goes out to them. If you want to help, there are many organizations giving donations. You've most likely seen these links, but here are some again anyway:

MSNBC's Technoblog with multiple organizations for donations to Japan

A video tutorial on making donations from ATMs within Japan

If you are looking for someone, please take a look at Google's people finder.

The photo at the top of today's blog was taken today at the supermarket. I chose this to show that it is business as usual in Shingu, Wakayama, Japan. Everyone here is fine, so please do not worry about us. If you would like to extend your concern, please do so for the north.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Giant Pineapples and the Kumano River

Yesterday, I went bike riding around town and into Mie Prefecture. (The next state/provence over). I would love to regale you with tales of my arduous journey, but alas, it only took about 20 minutes to get from my apartment to the other side.

I decided upon three directional options once I reached Mie. Judging by the scenery, I picked the wrong one. It's not that smoke stacks and a Circle K weren't fantastic, but I already had both in my own area. Fortunately, there is always next time.

After I returned to Wakayama, I continued riding around the Kumano River. I enjoyed the scenery, the pink clouds which softly glowed over the mountains as the sun set, then passed by a temple, and of course, a giant pineapple-shaped palm tree.

Wait; what?

Yes, that's right; a giant-pineapple-shaped palm tree. Although it seems such trees are sub-tropical, and, as such, make as much sense in Japan as the other types I've seen, I have never seen that kind before. It was so very whimsical. Just another of the wonderful things I am able to stumble upon as I live in Japan.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Japan Hates my Left Leg

Yesterday, while riding my bike home from the grocery store, I was hit by a car. I was knocked off my bike, I hit my head, landed on my knee and my hands. My grocery bags flew out of the bike basket; it was a grand kerfuffle. Luckily, I landed away from traffic, in the parking lot of a convenience store. Convenient? Oh, how right they were!

I was so happy to be a girl as I sat on my bum in the lot of Lawson, crying my eyes out over my skinned knee. It hurt like &#$% and I had no need to pretend otherwise. I had not merely fallen off my bike, I had the assistance of a moving vehicle to jolt me! I was not comfortable.

In truth, though the pain was cumbersome, I was more bothered by the symbolism of it coupled with my terrible week and the fact that I had plans for the evening. I really did not want a car accident keeping me from the gym! (*sigh* But, so it goes...).

I was all jumbled as the bystanders asked me about an ambulance; it happened very quickly. I nearly refused one, because it didn't seem necessary, but, recalling that my head was hit, I decided it was worth getting checked out.

Verdict: Clean bill of health, but my knee is going to hurt for a while. (Apparently, so is my head and neck... -_-)

The women who hit me, to my surprise came to the hospital to pick me up and take me home. They also retrieved my bike for me. This was on top of paying my medical bills as required by Japanese law. I was quite touched.

I was extremely lucky. When being hit by a car on a bike, it certainly could have turned out worse! I'm so lucky to have ended up with only a minor injury!

However, I have now ridden in an ambulance thrice; all times in Japan and all times because of my left leg, so, Japan, my dear friend, I must ask you: Why no love for Lefty? Has it done something to wrong you?

I know "left" means sinister in Latin, but I haven't found any problems with Lefties here. I am a Righty, actually, but my leg, my leg... for some reason they want my leg!

Coincidentally, yesterday was Setsubun. It is the first day of spring in Japan. For Setsubun, people throw beans out of their houses, or at demons to get rid of the bad luck from the previous year. 2010 had me feeling like a bit of a schlemazel, so, I bought some setsubun beans, complete with demon mask! (Relax, it's for kids―sheesh). Since they did get thrown, albeit from my bike basket, does that count for the ritual? Oh, good gods, I hope so!