Underpants, thank you please

Many years of traveling has taught me one thing; no matter how much you prepare for a trip, you’ll always end up forgetting something.  Having once left my phone charger at home, I am now diligent about double checking that its in my bag.  I triple check that I’ve packed my asthma medication, as forgetting those would be problematic indeed, and the memory of misplacing my passport on my last trip to Japan means I check for it compulsively whenever I go out.  And yet of all the things to fret about when embarking on a trip, there was one very important thing that I never even considered.

I forgot to pack underpants.

How such an important inclusion slipped my mind I can’t even guess, except that it’s such an obvious item that I must have thought I had already packed them.  In any case, on my second day in Japan I found myself out shopping for underwear.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, really.  The day started with McDonalds.  My friend, who was due to fly out later that day, woke up with a hunger and asked if I’d like to join her.  “But that would involve getting dressed,” I complained, quite comfortable in my pajamas and blanket.  “Nah,” she replied, “Just throw a coat over your pjs.”  And so I did.

Some may say that going to McDonalds while in Japan is a cop out; what these people don’t realize is that McDonalds in Japan is a whole different experience from McDonalds in America.  Sure the color scheme is the same, the Golden Arches shine above, but once you step inside it’s like you’ve entered an alternate universe.  The workers behind the counter, far from ignoring you, actually greet you on arrival, and are endlessly patient with those who don’t quite speak the language.

“What do you want?” My friend asks.  I frown thoughtfully at the menu.  I’ve never actually been a breakfast person and, yes, there’s the Egg McMuffin, the hash brown oval.  I ask her if they have hot cocoa.  “Ko-ko-a?” She asks.  The worker looks confused so my friend switches track.  “Cho-ko-re-to?”  The worker points to some sort of brownie.  I give up on the cocoa and order hotto keki, pancakes, and my friend gets a filet o fish, which is considered breakfast in these parts, apparently.

Our food comes shortly.  I’d upgraded to a meal, and so my pancakes were accompanied by a hash brown and a tiny cup of grape Fanta.  We went up to the second level to eat.  It was empty and impeccably clean, and at the far end a sliding door led out to a tiny balcony– the smoking area.  The food was good, not particularly unexpected but still delicious, and once we finished I got to experience the complicated chore of trash disposal.

In Japan trash is sorted out into a number of different categories.  I dumped my ice and leftover syrup into the liquid container, then the plastics went into the plastic receptacle, and finally the remainder went into burnables.  With my friend now out of town, I’m in charge of taking out the trash at her place, which involves specific days for specific items and sorting everything out just right.  I hope I’m doing things properly.

After the very exciting breakfast adventure we returned back to the apartment and I returned back to my warm and comfy bed.  Sleeping in is such a wonderful experience on a cold day, and I may or may not spent the entire morning in bed.  But eventually I did have to go out.  I needed underpants.

The thing I love about cities is that you don’t necessarily have to do anything special to have fun.  My favorite activity is just exploring, enjoying the sights.  I’m not a hardcore shopper, but I love to browse, to go from store to store, especially in a foreign country where the offerings aren’t quite what I’m used to.  I had the greatest time just browsing the grocery store, seeing familiar foods in unfamiliar packaging, or trying unfamiliar ones.  But alas, the grocery store did not sell underpants, so I had to go elsewhere.

My friend had suggested a nearby department store, but before I had even arrived there I was sidetracked by the presence of a 100 yen store, the equivalent of an American dollar store, only in Japan you can find anything and everything there– including, yes, underpants.  I purchased my dollar panties with no shame, but the clerk perhaps wanted to save me further embarrassment because she wrapped then in a brown paper bag before placing them in a plastic one, transforming them from semi-innocent purchase to the same shadiness as an adult magazine.

Despite having found what I wanted, I continued on to the department store, and as soon as I entered I had to remove my coat and hat, as it was boiling inside.  It was also a lot larger than I’d expected, and not entirely organized in a way that made sense to me, but I wandered up and down the floors.  Truthfully I’m not big on department stores, and I was soon rather hot and overwhelmed so I left without exploring fully.  I may go back, or I may not.


I arrived home hungry and decided to do some cooking.  I’d picked up some sliced beef and mushrooms at the store and thought I’d try a stir fry. Unfortunately the bottles on my friend’s stove were all labeled in Japanese, and uncertain as to which was the oil I just made a guess.  The experimentation was a smokey affair, and I momentarily panicked as I tried to figure out which of the buttons over the stovetop read ‘fan’ and what I would do if I set off the smoke alarm.  But in any case, there was no disaster, and I produced a dinner that was visually appealing if not entirely tasty.  It seemed the meat I’d purchased was intended more for soups, because it turned out very tough and chewy and not particularly flavorful, and the mushrooms didn’t really do much for it either.  The bread though, the bread was delicious.  Japan has some wonderful breads.

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