One of the weirder side-effects of living in the country is my obsession with to going to grocery stores in other cities. Because, oh, my god, they might have TREASURES!
Treasures are basically anything I can’t get in the grocery stores in town. We have three, but you’d be surprised what’s easy to find and hard to find out here. I wasn’t expecting to find big jars of honey, German peppermint tea, Canadian maple syrup or additive-free laundry detergent out here. But when I go shopping in the bigger towns, I’ve also found dried cranberries, German chocolates, Haribo gummi bears, and cheap almonds in the regular grocery stores; in the specialty stores, I’ve bought whole coffee beans, Twinings, and canned chick peas. While I do stick to Japanese ingredients and fusion cooking 95% of the time, it’s fun to find something from home when you aren’t expecting it.
Having said that, I do make an order from the Foreign Buyer’s Club about once a month. You just can’t get rolled oats or whole-grain pasta in this area to save your life, and I go though a LOT of pasta and oatmeal. But the FBC, for all its awesomeness, lacks the thrill of the hunt.
On my roadtrip to Fukui, I dragged some of friends into Fukui-shi’s Serio grocery store. It did indeed contain treasures: granola and multi-grain bran cereal. The liquor store was full of treasures, too, and by treasure, I mean real beer. Japan is famous, of course, for its domestic alcohol–日本酒 (nihonshu), popularly called sake in the US; 梅酒 umeshu, a plum-based liquor; and 焼酎 (shouchuu), hard liquor made of rice that contains 25% alcohol (so, between wine and whiskey). That’s all very well and good, but what about when you want a beer? Japan, of course, has beer, but because of liquor laws basically restricting microbreweries to the extent that they are few and far between, there’s not much to drink than Asahi, Kirin, and Sapporo’s yellow fizzy beers. I do not drink yellow fizzy beer. Hana Liquor in Fukui came to the rescue by stocking at least 4 brands and 10 type of Belgian beer. Real Belgian beer, imported from Belgium! Good thing I brought my マイバッグ (“my bag” – eco bag).
As for non-food shopping, Fukui-shi also has a Jumble Store (part of Second Street‘s second-hand store chain), a Uniqlo, a Book Off and a pretty decent Indian restaurant called Gangaa (ガンガー, Ganges). You have to understand that the nearest Book Off and Uniqlo are about 40 minutes by car from where I live and the nearest Indian restaurants and Second Street are in the capital, over an hour away, so, as you might imagine, I don’t spend a lot of time shopping in town. Much like the grocery stores, I get really excited when I see signs of civilization, and so I was bouncing around in the backseat going, “Oh my god! You guys! YOU GUYS THERE’S A BOOK OFF! AND IT’S OPEN TILL MIDNIGHT!” And while I guess this is a little less weird than my obsession with grocery stores, my traveling buddies who live closer to the capital started asking, “Just what kind of town do you live in?”
I think the real question is “When I eventually go back to the US, how am I going to entertain myself while grocery shopping?”