Thursday, January 30, 2014

Dealing with Basic Needs - First trip to the grocery store

"I'd like to start eating healthier - I don't want all that pasta. I would like to start eating like Japanese food." -Lost in Translation

On Basic Needs 

In the first three days, we have attempted to attend to many of the basic needs of life like grocery shopping, finding and using an ATM, and going to the post office. Our efforts so far 
properly belong on a sitcom. 

Our first stop was the grocery store where we intended to stock up on essentials. 


While some things, like pasta, can be identified visually, other things are not so easy. Take for example this: 

My first thought was butter, this is definitely butter, but then I saw a fellow shopper empty the entire shelf of these items, of which there were approximately 12, into his shopping cart. 12 tubs of butter? Seemed unlikely, at the very least extremely strange. Could be cheese or a custard perhaps?

Ultimately, I had no clue. I took this picture with the aspiration of figuring out what it was. Hasn't happened yet, and one challenge of learning to read Japanese is that reading is a two step process, at least at my basic level.

  • Step one: you must be able to identify each character and the sound each character represents (for example,  is pronounced "toh"). Ok, I know that character. Check.
  • Step two: you must be able to string the sounds together and have that word in your vocabulary (for example, とりにく is pronounced "to ri ni ku" when strung together and  that means chicken) 

In case that wasn't challenging enough.... Did I mention that reading Japanese requires learning 3 sets of characters (like three sets of alphabets)? Yes, they are called hiragana, katakana and kanji. While hiragana and katakana are made up of a reasonably small and easy to learn system of symbols, kanji presents an epic challenge to literacy. There are 2,000 - 3,000 regularly used kanji and an estimated 50,000 - 80,000 kanji in existence.

3,000 characters! 

It's a monumental task, but I was feeling ambitious after we bought our groceries. I took the weekly grocery sale circular home and started to (try to) read it. Here are a few things I was able to dechiper:

(pronounced ko) indicates that a price applies to one item or "each one". This was used for apples and kiwis. 

(pronounced pakku) indicates that the specified price applies to one package. Used to price mushrooms.

indicates that the specified price applies to one sack, pouch or bag. 

I mean, if this sign weren't firmly planted 
in the middle of a  mountain of bananas, 
what would I really know? 


  1. Hmm. This is going to be particularly challenging for the girl who wasn't sure whether her veggie burger in the snack bar had meat in it - no language barrier there! :-)

    Good luck!!!!

    1. Those were very meaty veggie burgers, M! I'm so glad you are reading the blog, but I'm sending you an email because I want a download from you too!