A photo of trees lining a pathway, and leaves on the ground at the UTokyo campus.

When in Rome, do as Romans do

Whether it’s a favourite brand of facewash or a go-to morning breakfast, everyone has their ritual daily comforts. In preparation for my year abroad, I didn’t hesitate to load my suitcase full of favourite things from home. While packing up, my dad eyed my bag and murmured, “You know they have all that in Japan, right?” Despite knowing that I was headed to Tokyo, the world’s biggest city, I couldn’t resist the gratification of spending all my Shopper’s Optimum Points. It was a moment straight out of Extreme Couponing. Plus, I knew I’d have to wait a few weeks after arriving until moving in with my host family. Until then, I didn’t want to make a trip to the drug store.
Emi's suitcase, featuring a stuffed elephant, and t-shirts.
Hid my suitcase food stash for my Instagram shot!
For my first month in Tokyo, I relied on familiar goods out of my suitcase. But soon enough, I ran out and just as quickly learned that replenishing my supply of goods from home would be very expensive. While steel cut oats, my go-to breakfast, is affordable in Canada, as an imported item in Japan it is very pricey. A friend of mine on exchange from Sweden lamented about similar troubles. While she always cooked for herself back at home, she couldn’t make the same dishes that she was used to preparing without spending an arm and a leg in Tokyo.
Oats topped with blueberries in a glass cup.
Back at home this summer, I had this for breakfast almost every morning.
Rather than stick to my ways, I have learned to adapt. Instead of a bowl of oats in the morning, I opt for the more affordable and equally healthy option of tamago kake gohan– hot rice mixed with egg. Other days, I enjoy making a more traditional Japanese breakfast of fish and miso soup. While fish would be an expensive daily breakfast item back in Toronto, here in an island nation, buying a bag of pre-salted fish for the week is both easy and affordable. For days when I only have 5 minutes to get out the door, Japan is no stranger to Kellogg's cereal!
Baked fish, pumpkin miso soup, and a bowl of rice on a placemat.
This is a far cry from oats with fruit, but definitely delicious!
Branching out and trying new things, especially when it comes to food, is one of my favourite things about being on exchange. A trip to the grocery store back in Canada, especially after being a cashier all summer, would be uninspiring. But grocery shopping in Tokyo continues to amuse me. While I should be used to it after a few months, I still marvel at all the foods here that I never knew about. Grocery store shelves are lined with every kind of tofu you could want, varying thicknesses of soy milk, an endless amount of toppings for rice, and the best selection of miso paste. I guess I don’t miss my steel cut oats all that badly! Aside from new food, I’ve also ventured into new hygiene products. As someone with sensitive skin, I’m always paranoid about changing up my routine. But as my products from home have ran out, I’ve discovered new favourites from Japan. By the time I’m ready to go home, my suitcase will be just like when I arrived, but replete with Japanese products instead of Canadian! From being on exchange, I’ve learned that it’s best to live as the saying goes– “When in Rome, do as Romans do.”

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