Must mention food as a diary from a Westerner visiting Japan (especially a vegetarian one) wouldn`t be complete without some reference to what`s available. It has been pretty challenging to find places where there is any English on the menu and all three of us can find something to eat - e.g. Sophie prefers Western food, meat, stodge etc, but to her credit has been open to trying new things (despite subtly trying to encourage us into every KFC, TGI Fridays or McDonalds in our path); I am pescetarian (vegetarian that eats fish and thank god I am or things would have been impossible, as even vege dishes are cooked with fish sauce); and Naomi doesn't eat meat either but is not keen on fish. As you can imagine we have to trawl a good deal of eateries before we find something suitable, especially in a country whose cultural norm is to garnish dishes with a tentacle or half a raw fish. I love what I thought Japanese food was, based on the versions available in the UK (e.g. Wagamama's and supermarket sushi selections) and thought I would easily eat well. Over here there is more influence on meat than I expected and the sushi tends to involve a lot more raw/ rare fish and whole squid. Although we did eat very well at a delicious sushi restaurant yesterday, with one of those revolving belts which is ideal if you don't understand the menu and can inspect the rawness and presence of tentacles before committing.
We are sticking to 'less adventurous' things like tempura battered vegetables and prawns with plain rice, etc. A typical meal would be this tempura, bowl of rice, bowl of miso soup, dish of pickles and green tea or water to drink - healthy and filling but not necessarily cheap. (Everything is at least as expensive as at home, if not more.) Different types of noodles are common staples and can be cheap but unfortunately for me and Naomi often cooked in beef stock. Through trial and error I've found I don't like udon noodles (like thick slimey worms) and prefer soba noodles (more like super noodles).
Culinary 'delights` on offer include frozen squid liver, deep fried chicken cartlidge, raw horsemeat and shark fin soup (fin whole and recognisable). In the snack aisle of most corner shops you can find bags of dried tentacles to munch on, alongside the peanuts and crisps.
Japan's doing well to resist the advancing tide of junk-food outlets, a national preference for stodge and the obesity problems, which can only be a good thing for the nation's health. Despite Western influence the culture still seems to favour healthier, less processed foods - E.g. it is most noticable with packed lunches - whereas it is our culture to fill up on bread/ sandwiches and crisps, a typical Japanese person might eat a rice patty (tasty) or sushi and (one of Naomi's favourites) a 'mochi'. These are kind of a dessert type item - like a doughnut of white gluey rice-based dough with bean jam/ paste filling. The only thing I can liken it to is eating a lump of playdough with mushed up, slightly sweetened kidney beans inside. Naomi can't seem to get enough of them but I'm not sure I'll be buying another one.