I’d rather be alive and broke than dead and still in a functioning economy. In recent days as this whole new reality, this bizarre world of social distancing and quarantines and complete and total lockdowns, this thought has become a light sort of mantra, the general idea being that the economic sacrifice of shutting down restaurants, offices, and retail outlets to quell the spread of this new deadly virus (the result, I always finding myself thinking, of some dude somewhere in China deciding eating undercooked bat meat was a good idea) would be worth it in the sheer number of lives saved. Japan, it turns out, seems to operating under the complete opposite doctrine.
Really I’d compare living in current bizzaro state-of-emergency-in-name-only Japan after watching things unfold (badly, it should be said) around the world to watching Jaws and knowing that there’s a giant rabid shark (can sharks get rabies?) swimming in the water where those teenagers are gonna try to get it on. Since Prime Minister Abe declared a State of “Emergency” earlier this week, it’s become abundantly clear that what he had in mind lies somewhere between an “Emergency” in name only and some oddball reinforcement of the tried-and-true nihonjinron concept of Japan being safe from the worst of the coronavirus outbreak simply by being Japan. Yes, it is the 21st century and, yes, just like the rest of the world, Japan is still being run by morons.
I know, I know. This is a horse that’s been particularly beaten to death over the years and there are like five-thousand other articles out there on the internet with the exact same title, most of them probably better than this one.
But, ever since What’s Manzai?!!! went live on Netflix, I’ve started to receive a steady stream of the typical “Hey, I want to come to Japan but totally don’t know where to start so I just randomly decided to contact a dude that I saw in a random TV show on the internet” message (most of these for some reason landing in my personal email account, Facebook Messenger, and, in one case, through text message on my phone). Rather than answering each query one by one (while I appreciate the fact that you’ve taken the time out of your life to contact me, I don’t have the time or resources to come up with a satisfactory response that doesn’t make me seem like the total asshole that I probably am), I thought I’d kill thirty birds with one stone, something that should totally be an Olympic sport by the way, and start answering some of these questions somewhere everyone could see them.
Which brings us to our main course for today:
Five Things You Should Know Before Coming to Japan
Sometimes I see something and plan and plan to try it. Sometimes things randomly appear in the hot container while you’re waiting in line at the convenience store and you decide on a whim to try it. Tonight, while waiting in line to buy something that I also intend to test later, I came across a rather interesting choice for the contents of a Chinese-style steamed bun (bao): Hokkaido potato butter. Hokkaido, for the uninitiated, is the northernmost main island of Japan and known as the bread basket of the nation. Potatoes are tubers that grow in the ground and are in everything and apparently make you fat. Butter is the stuff you put on bread.
Anyways, quickly shelling out the 126 yen cost for the little round bread thing, I quickly dashed (okay, I walked) back to my apartment and dug into the surprisingly tasty vegetarian (as far as I could tell) bun.
The potatoes were somewhere in between mashed and cooked, some in a more solid state that others and tasted strongly of pepper and butter. There were also bits of minced carrots in there and, the theme of this bun being Hokkaido, a couple kernels of corn (Hokkaido cuisine in Japan is usually generalized as being butter and corn in everything). But the prevailing flavor was the unmistakable starchiness of taters which actually was a good combo with the sweetish bun bread.
So my final verdict on this one is a buy. Is it mind-glowingly awesome? No. Is it good for odd convenience store steamed buns? Yes. In fact, I think it’s better than the standard Sunkus niku-man (pork bun) that they usually put out there. So if you happen to find yourself in Japan and in a Sunkus convenience store, go ahead and try the Hokkaido Potato Butter Bun. There are tons of worse things you could spend your 126 yen on.