Hunger Paens

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

The definition of trust in human society is taking food from a complete stranger and eating it voluntarily. I have repeatedly found myself at the mercy of hunger and illiteracy, resulting in some acts of faith I would never have performed at the local Applebees.

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My first full day here I walked for over 6 hours before I realized that the promise of food at the top of this park I was visiting was an illusion; the promised sidewalk vendors arrived for the Cherry Blossom

Festival and left soon thereafter. All that was left was an old man in a truck that seemed permanently affixed to the ground

and his 50-something friends who sit around and smoke and watch the feral cats

and dogs that live at the top of this park. He spoke in a thick Kyushu dialect and it was all I could do to read the Katakana menu and find an item I could pronounce. What I got was this:

Can't decide between a hotdog, a hamburger, or a cheesteak? Why not get all three in one? This would be banned immediately in America, but I'll say this - it was freakin' amazing.

Trust, then, is walking into Lawson's convenience store and asking what the items are in the hot food case (sort of like the 7-11 hotdog case). When the clerk explains that the 3 varieties are "regular" "hot" and "cheese," I pick "hot." On the face of it, this is total madness. Really? Just bring me the hot thing. I don't know what it is, but I guess it will be spicy.

Whatever it is, it's my new favorite food, and I found out that 2 other students live off it too.

Or my night of Kendo-exhaustion, when I decided to visit the restaurant across the street - hell, it's always busy, so it has to be good, right? Upon receiving the menu I realize I can't speak Japanese at all. So the waitress take my order: "Please, just bring me anything." "How many anythings?" she asks? "3 please" I reply.

In for a penny, in for a pound.

Look, she tried to explain what the food was, but I kept thinking, "Lady, I speak enough Japanese to tell you that 'My apartment is....' but not enough to know how to say '...on fire'. I think that's in Level 3. Anyway, either you bring me something or I'll pass out on the floor in your restaurant."

I still couldn't tell you what I ate, but it was fattier than anything I've eaten in America, and there was a picture of a pig on the menu, so I guess it was pork. Except I don't think there are pigs in Japan...

Or yesterday, when I read the word "Ramen" on the sign to this shop and decided to give it a try.

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This should be easy.

The inside looked totally normal, and quite relaxing.

I know the words for various types of ramen, so why not give it a shot.

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I try to order, and the woman politely points to the vending machine. She knows the English word "ticket," for some reason, but no other english, but that's enough to make me realize that I have to buy a ticket from this machine to order my food. Now that makes absolutely no sense.

But this ramen was awesome.

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My school doesn't give me a lunch break - damn Japanese and their "Gambatte!" attitude. Gambatte, for those of who who don't know, means "Life is pain, suck it up, loser." So I took my 5 minute break between classes to run to the grocery store under the school. No time to read labels - I watched two men in the prepared food aisle stare at the selection for a minute and then grab the same thing. Well, I'll take that. It has to be good, right?