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Grocery shopping with a rucksack

Middle-class South Africans live in big houses with big kitchens, and the average family has two cars in a double garage that's bigger than the average studio apartment in Tokyo.

Many houses have pantries, or at least a spacious food cupboard and a ginormous refrigerator. I'm 1.58 m; my refrigerator was taller than I am.

Grocery shopping is usually done once a week, by car, at the nearest supermarket. You walk around with a shopping trolley the size of a Hummer, buy in bulk and fill your car's boot (trunk to Americans) to the brim. I did it as well, even when I lived by myself, although I seldom had more than three bags in my boot.

Then you eat. That might be why 70% of all South African women (all races combined) above the age of 35 are overweight. Men fare better, with 40% of all men above the age of 35 being overweight.

My sisters, their kids and I are all relatively skinny, but we're not exactly normal in any way.

Then there's Tokyo. You could probably get two Kei cars into this living room where I'm sitting, provided you chucked out all the books first, but I most definitely don't have a pantry. I can rest my elbows on my refrigerator.

I have a very dilapidated mamachari which I seldom use. When I want to buy food, I walk 15 minutes to the nearest LIFE supermarket. I buy a basket full of food, which I transfer to a rucksack, which I carry back home. When there's no food left, I repeat the process. I do this because I have no storage space and no big oven (to bake) and freezer (to freeze whatever I've baked). I also don't have enough money to buy enough fruit to fill a car boot. Egad, why is fruit so expensive in Japan?

Rucksack full of food. Yes, books are wallpaper in this apartment.
All the walls are lined with books floor to ceiling.
You should've seen the place after the big quake.

This means:

You don't eat more than you can carry, i.e. what's on your back eventually goes into your stomach. If it's too heavy for the former, it's definitely too heavy for the latter.

Everything is always fresh, except staples like brown rice and soy sauce.

You think twice about eating a second portion because then you have to schlep to the supermarket again.

You treat food with respect and use every scrap possible. You don't lug food around just to throw it into the garbage bin!

Here's my rucksack after a recent excursion, plus some of the stuff that was inside: fresh fruit, oats, bath salts.


I'm so glad I discovered a nearby LIFE supermarket. I love the shitamachi, but it's not exactly a Mecca for European food. Plenty of Indian, Chinese and Korean restaurants and food stores, but if you're looking for decent cheese, peanut butter or whole-wheat flour … forget it.

I have a choice of several supermarkets: the expensive Matsuzakaya, the über-cheap Takeya, Yamazaki, LIFE and three privately owned supermarkets that are small, dark, cheap, smelly and nasty.

The shitamachi isn't wealthy, and there are thousands of very poor or very old or both people who can't afford anything that's not cheap, smelly and nasty. Don't you believe Abenomics hype for one second: it may be benefitting his corporate cronies and wealthy friends, but it causes untold misery when a local obento shop increases its lunch price from ¥250, where it's been for four years since it opened, to ¥267.

LIFE is the only one that offers a fairly decent variety of not only "Western" food, but what I would describe as "alternative healthy Japanese food", for example brown rice and zakkokumai (雑穀米, rice with a variety of grains added) instead of the ubiquitous white rice.

I've just realized it's almost 7 am. Today is my day off, and I have a train to catch because I'm going on a hunt for red leaves. My rucksack will be full of camera, not food. So. Very abruptly. Goodbye. Have a lekker day.

Arbitrary photo 1: Happiness is Godiva. This was a thank you gift from a colleague.

Arbitrary photo 2: Happiness is books. This was a gift from Cecilia.

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