One thing you learn when living as an expat in Japan is how global the world can be. Recently my family sat down to have some Mexican fajitas, grilled beef and chicken with onions and bell peppers wrapped in flour tortillas I’d picked up at a nearby import food store. These weren’t your garden variety tortillas, however: they were Old El Paso brand made in Melbourne, Australia for export to places like Japan, China and India, and they tasted perfectly authentic. (For extra strangeness we added cheese from Norway, which was all they had at the Japanese Costco near J-List.) Once I decided to have an American style Thanksgiving in Japan, and managed to find a frozen turkey to cook, not an easy task since the Japanese have almost no tradition of eating turkey, or of cooking in ovens for that matter. I was surprised to see that the bird (also from Australia) has been “killed in a single stroke with a sharp knife in accordance with the laws of Islam,” which was done so they could export to countries in the Middle East. Yes, we definitely live in a very global world.
Another aspect of life in Japan is occasionally interacting with foreigners from countries you’ve never thought deeply about, or in some cases even heard of, like the time I met a guy from the Kingdom of Tonga and had to apologize for not even knowing where his country was located. In the same way that people in the U.S. tend to blend Japanese, Chinese and Korean cultural images together, especially the farther you get from either coast, Japanese aren’t good at parsing the subtle differences between various gaijin, and it’s not unheard of to find yourself grouped with foreigners from Scotland, Sri Lanka, Iran and Peru. One odd phenomenon is the “Three Stages of Gaijin Eye Aversion,” where people who have recently arrived in Japan become overly aware of other foreigners they see in public and make sure to avert their eyes from them at all times. They then realize this is stupid, so they nod to the other foreigner or maybe go make conversation, perhaps using Japanese if the other person doesn’t speak English…until they realize that this is stupid, too, so they just act normal in the future. There’s a similar tension when I go to an Indian restaurant and order food from an Indian waiter, with both of us speaking Japanese. The guy almost certainly speaks English, so why don’t we switch to that language? But we never do for some odd reason.
Mexican food can be a surprisingly global affair.