Friends: If I ever return to, I will be sure to bring along my camping stove. The only semi-bargain food I have found so far in the grocery stores are the dehydrated noodle soups. They come in a dizzying array of cups and bowls and flavors, though they all pretty much taste the same. Even though they require boiling water, I am still able to take advantage of such fare, as most of the convenience stores have a at their counter, though operating them is sometimes a mystery. It wasn't until my third day in Japan that I discovered these dispensers, noticing another customer taking advantage of one. I was befuddled at first by which buttons to push to get it to operate. As with just about everything here, all signs and directions are strictly in Japanese.
I don't have to worry about running out of food or going hungry, as it seems as if there is always a small convenience store around the next corner. There are a few mom-and-pop versions, but the vast majority belong to one or another of several chains, including 7-Eleven and Circle K. They buy in such quantity that their prices are comparable to the supermarkets. The convenience stores are so plentiful, they seem to have strangled out the large supermarkets.
It is lucky that the convenience stores are so ubiquitous, as it has been an extreme challenge to find anything else I've been in search of. I'm still very early in the learning phase of orienting myself to figuring things out here. I just spent two hours meandering around this city of one million, the largest city north of on Honshu Island, the largest of the four islands that comprise the bulk of Japan, criss-crossing its many arteries in search of a landmark or street that corresponded with my map.
There were no signs recognizable to my Western eyes indicating the way to the city's downtown or tourist office or any landmark. I thought I was in luck when I came upon a large city map at an intersection, but there was nothing but Japanese figures on it, hieroglyphics to me. Few Westerners come to these parts, so they make no concessions to them. So far I haven't seen a Westerner since I left the airport three days ago.
Fortunately, the highways are identified by recognizable numbers and the pricing in the stores as well, otherwise I would really be up a creek. I have come over 200 miles and have another 250 ahead of me before I cross to Hokkaido, the northernmost and least populated of Japan's four main islands. The route I have followed along the coast has been mostly two-lanes wide and lined nearly uninterrupted with homes and businesses as if it were all an extension of Tokyo. There was a steady flow of traffic, all dutifully maintaining a moderate thirty mile per hour speed. I had a bit of a shoulder, so it was tolerable cycling, though not much more. I am looking forward to the far north where hopefully there will be less traffic and some wilderness.
All for now, George