Mustard and Taco Shells: 5 Things I Miss That I Didn't Think I'd Miss When I Moved to Japan

Send me taco shells, please.
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Publish date:
October 8, 2014
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food, travel, japan, mustard, tacos

All I do is buy cat litter.

When I think about the many glorious delicacies and oddities available for my hard-earned yen to buy, the first items that pop into my head are not the tart and tangy little plums I have an unnatural obsession with (though they are a close second), one of the many varieties of smoked cheeses that the Japanese are so fond of, or even the adorable teeny, tiny, purse-sized, colorfully printed umbrellas available for purchase around every corner at Yokohama station.

Nope, it's cat litter.

And no, I haven't developed some weird craving worthy of "My Strange Addiction." It's that the cat litter I buy, just like everything else here, comes in dainty little packages.

Each bag of pellets is not much larger than the average sized bag of flour one would buy in the US. And since I clean my cat's litter box every single day -- tiny apartment living, very regular kitty -- I go through those cute little bags FAST. I don't know how Japanese people do it. Is there kitty litter wizardry I'm not aware of?

Admittedly I'm spoiled. I was raised in the US where everything is LARGE. I used to buy 20 or 30 pound bags of cat litter pellets (yes, partial to pellets which doesn't help my case, but in my opinion they track around the apartment less, and my cat likes them) without batting an eye and my home was an oasis of odorless simplicity.

But now, if I don't stock up when I'm at the store, I'll be back three or four times in a week. Woe is me, right?

But cat litter isn't the only thing I miss. As I find myself closing in on my six week anniversary of living in Japan, and life becomes more "normal" and less "OMG look at that! Now look at that! Now look at -- (head explodes)", I find myself longing for some of the more mundane things I took for granted as an American gal.

So here is my list of things I miss that I didn't think I'd miss. These are mostly little luxuries, but in my experience it's the little hints at your former life that are comforting, and make home seem less far away.

OK, fine, this is also kind of an unapologetic plea to send me taco shells. And mustard. All the mustard.

Taco Fixin's

A couple nights ago I saw a packet of taco seasoning on special at the import market. How did they know I'd been yearning for a good ol' fashioned Taco Tuesday?

I grabbed my husband, saliva flying, and said, "It's Taco Time." We grabbed a packet of the seasoning, some fish for me, some ground beef for him, lettuce, a tomato, then...we stopped.

Um. Taco shells. Tortillas. Lo siento, amiga.

We searched high and low. Nada. Betsu ni. Not even a soft tortilla.

I considered frying some eggroll wraps to try and McGyver my own taco shells, but in the end we had taco salad. Not the end of the world, but even now I hear the phantom "crunch" of a delicious, crispy taco taunting me.

Hold your tacos close, friends.

Sunscreen/Tinted Sunscreen

I'm already picky about what I put on my skin (a few years ago EVERYTHING started irritating my face), and I'm religious about putting sunscreen every single damn day.

I stupidly only brought a nearly used-up tube with me of my current favorite Andalou Naturals. About a week in, I realized my error.

I went to the "nice" drugstore by my house, but was only able to find travel-sized tubes of "sun protection" with no SPF, and what looked vaguely like off-brand Banana Boat. I found one little tube that looked promising, but then it turned out to be "whitening" -- a popular addition to many Japanese skin care products.

I've since learned that finding sunscreen in Japan is not the easiest feat. I looked everywhere from the regular grocery store to the fancy "Organic Market," but found either nothing or just more itty, bitty tubes that cost anywhere from 12 to 30 USD. Plus, translating the ingredients was a beast.

This site helped, but I was definitely the cranky, perspiring woman -- I'm a stress sweater -- standing in the skincare aisle for WAY too long mumbling to herself about the kanji for "oxybenzone."

In short, if you're coming to Japan BRING SUNSCREEN WITH YOU. The Japanese are a more the "wear a scarf, wear a hat, wear long sleeves, wear a veil, wear gloves" types when it comes to sun protection.

I finally found a way to order a sunscreen I like, Desert Essence, through Amazon Japan, but it took some patience and more money than I'd have liked to shell out.

Clothes That Fit

I tried on dress the other day -- a raccoon print! -- and I got stuck in it.

It zipped up pretty easily, but I decided against it because it was baggy in the armpits (???) but tight in the boobs. I got it partway off when my shoulders became lodged in the bodice. Nothing is more terrifying than being stuck in a dress, and not being able to aptly communicate to the uber-helpful sales person that "OH SWEET CRIMINY I MIGHT DIE IN THIS RACCOON DRESS, SUMIMASEN!"

Alright, clothes shopping for women ANYWHERE can be a pain in the ass. We're all at the mercy of what clothing companies decide are "The Sizes Women Are/Should Be."

This could not be more evident than while clothes shopping in Japan.

I don't know what size I am here. I think it's really more proportions than sizing. I suspect my ass is one size, my waist is another, my "B-cup on a good day" boobs are incomprehensible, and my limbs need a tailor of their own. In short my proportions don't quite fit the Japanese standard.

A gracious saleswoman at a store I was attempting to buy a top at had the unenviable task of explaining to me through pantomime, uncomfortable laughter, and repeated use of the words "sorry" and "not bigger," that I was just too large for that top. She apologized as she pointed to my shoulders.

I know the Gap and Uniqlo have larger sizes, but the really unique prints and textures I'm drawn to are all sized, sadly, very small.

I've seen women on the subway who are well dressed and my size or bigger, but I haven't quite figured out a non-creepy way to approach them about their clothes. I don't think walking up to a woman on a crowded subway, pointing at her shirt or dress, and saying, "I like" is at all an appealing way to start a conversation.

If nothing else, clothes shopping in Japan has been a reminder, an eye opener. I admit I'd started to take for granted how easy it was for me to find my size in the U.S.

Doggy Bags

Okay, please, nobody send me their leftovers from Sizzler or Tender Greens or wherever. But you know what I really miss about eating out? The leftovers -- the doggy bag.

Taking home your leftovers from a restaurant is just not really done here. I've read that some efforts have been made to encourage diners to bring a reusable take-home box with them to restaurants, but even then most establishments will just say NO.

Why? From what I gather there's a fear of people getting food poisoning from old food and then blaming the restaurant or, the more pressing matter, the potential waste created by extra containers and uneaten food. Japan is very environmentally conscious.

Honestly, I can get behind that. I HATE wasting food, as well as all the containers that go along with it. But, if I bring my own reusable, "doggy bag" container, can I please take home my leftovers? Please?

To me, nothing is more satisfying than when your stomach rumbles late at night, or the morning after a dinner out, and you remember your leftovers in the fridge. And there they are: ready, waiting, LONGING, to be reheated or (if we're being real) eaten cold, ravenously, straight out of the take-home container.

Condiments That Aren't Soy Sauce, "Restaurant Sauce," Sesame Oil, etc.

I miss yellow mustard.

Yellow mustard in a yellow squeeze bottle that you put on burgers, and cheesy sandwiches, and forks to eat it by itself like you do.

And COLMAN'S MUSTARD! I miss the sinus clearing powers of Colman's Mustard.

I also miss ketchup that isn't super sweet, and both pepper AND salt on the table. Though I am fond of the fact that I sometimes find curry powder on my dining table at restaurants.

I've found tiny little tubes of mustard here, but it just isn't quite right. A little gritty, a little too salty, a little too chunky.

You know how sometimes you just NEED that taste of home? My home tastes a lot like mustard.

As much as I love pretty much all Asian foods, there are times I'm at a restaurant that serves "western food" and where I would normally reach for my "comfort condiments" I find soy sauce or "Restaurant Sauce."

And that's what I'm pining, and whining about. Like I said, woe is me right?

But if nothing else, all this makes me that much more appreciative of the things I miss from home. All I want for Christmas is a taco and some dipping mustard.

What things from home or far away do you wish for? What little luxuries are you surprised you miss?