Three years ago today, my partner and I arrived in Japan on a flight from New York. Disheveled, disoriented and drunk, we made our way to The Oakwood Hotel in the Azabu Juban neighborhood of Tokyo, our home for the next month while we secured an apartment and waited for our furniture to arrive.

After flipping through the channels on the remote, inspecting the small but efficient kitchen and marveling at the washer/dryer contraption in the bathroom, we ventured outside for dinner. What a strange place this was. While the neon lights of the expat and tourist party center of Roppongi were just a short walk away, Azabu Juban was an oasis of calm, crooked streets lined with coffee shops, restaurants and embassies.

We ate dinner at a nearby Japanese restaurant that, at the time, served the only thing I knew I could eat in Japan–tofu. As a vegetarian, I understood that this country would pose enormous challenges. Little did I know that finding food would be the least of my problems in my new home.

The tofu was served with dried, crumbled, still waving and unrecognizable cracklings on top. Not wanting to be a poor sport on this our first meal in Tokyo, I threw caution to the wind and dug right in. I knew something was off but said nothing. It took three days for the fish flakes to clear my system. Let me tell you that once your body is not used to processing meat products of any kind (I include fish as a meat and I’m pretty sure the fish would agree), your body let’s you know it, violently and fast.

My partner went to work two days later and I went about my business as a supportive trailing partner: grocery shopping. During that first week, I would go to the produce markets, supermarkets and liquor stores, pick shit up and think, “What the fuck?” I bought things, ran to my partner when he got home and said, “You’ve got to see this!” Although he eats everything that once breathed, dreamed and screwed, he likes that we keep a vegetarian kitchen. Now, I’m not one of those fucking vegetarian fascists, but I do like to keep things clean and meat free.

Living in Japan has taught me that vegetarianism is my religion. That “do unto others” thing. The way I see it, I don’t want to eat something that tried to get away or was too stupid to flee. Not only is it barbaric, it’s gross.

When my partner and I go out to eat, I like to watch him consume things I wouldn’t even want to touch. It’s like my very own Fear Factor. Of course, going out to eat in Japan usually means me sipping some wine while I watch him happily devour something that was swimming about the ocean earlier that morning. I lie. There are plenty of incredibly good Italian, Indian and Mexican restaurant in town that are all veg friendly.

Living in Japan has also taught me more than I ever cared to know about myself, my surroundings and this life that I now lead. First, post offices here will drive you postal. I usually have a drink before attempting to mail anything, including Mother’s Day cards. Second, simple Japanese phrases like “hait” (yes), “diejobo” (OK), “sumimasen” (excuse me) and “Shin day kudasai” (Please drop dead) will get you far if not land you in jail. Third, being a foreigner “gaijin” here allows you to act inappropriately without social repercussions, but I wouldn’t advice it. Why uphold a negative stereotype in their eyes?

And lastly, living here, for all the bullshit you have to put up with, is great: the funky architecture, the outlandish fashion, the friendly service, the misspelled English signs, the temples, the shrines, the friends you make and the places you visit. Sure I miss New York. But whereas life there was a forgone conclusion of ease and serendipity, life here is one fucking chaotic adventure.

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