Updated 30 Jan 2011, and I have now have a whole blog on the topic here.
As someone who did the ”total immersion” thing when I was in Spain and almost died from the boredom of an all ham diet, Spanish ska and Cine del Barrio on Sunday afternoons, I have learnt the art of balance in my old age and am now not embarrassed to supplement my sushi with some Sainsbury’s baked beans (although not in the same meal yet). So here are my tips for those, like me, who have a chemical dependancy on builder’s tea and Marmite
You can get it in Meidi-ya (sometimes spelt Meiji-ya, and always pronounced that way), very posh international supermarket in Ginza etc, and sometimes Seijo Ishii. Very small jars, however. I usually just go for Vegemite instead (does that mean I have to give up my passport??), which is available at the import food chain Kaldi Coffee Farm for 378 yen.
A Nice Cuppa Tea
PG Tips available at Seijo Ishii, a slightly posh chain of small international supermarkets, e.g. just outside Shinagawa station. 600 yen for 50 tea bags, which seems a lot compared to Asda until you realise it works out less than those revolting Daily Club or Lipton thing-bags (I won’t call them tea). You can also get Waitrose tea in some Daimaru Peacock supermarkets, e.g. Shibaura near Tamachi or Mita stations- along with some other random Waitrose products, I’d love to know what the connection is if any.
Out and about, the closest thing you can find to a cup of Tetley is Assam tea in Excelsior. Bring your walkman if you don’t want to hear the Girl from Ipanema every day of your life, though- I’m not exaggerating!
Fish and chips, pie and chips, haggis and chips, chips and chips
Most of the non-chain pubs do half-decent British food. I’ve heard very good things about the Sunday roast at the Tavern in Yokohama (great pub, but be careful where you sit when the Marines are in). My personal favourites, though, are the haggis pizza and Raj Chicken at the Warrior Celt in Ueno, a pub with real character and real characters. Also very good happy hour, with Spitfire on tap (but have a feeling they don’t get through the barrels as quickly as they should as the beer is variable- stick to Guinness or one of the many bottled beers if you need to achieve anything the next day).
A decent pint
My very local local off licence has bottles of Theakston’s Old Peculiar, one of my all time favourite British beers. And yet somehow I have never indulged. What with the great selection of beers from the smaller Japanese breweries and a good selection of Belgian and German pubs, there’s not really any need to pay 1000 yen for something that will taste better at home. Popeyes in Ueno recommended for all these. I do have a pint of happy hour Spitfire down the Warrior Celt sometimes though.
The Sunday Times
Not a Times reader myself, but just seemed the most typical one to pick. I’ve seen it once, and seeing as it is thick as a brick it not surprisingly cost more than a book. Some of the local papers do highlights from the Times and Observer at the weekend, and then there’s always the internet…
The shipping forecast
…which is usually the best way to listen to BBC radio as well, of course. The other option is to get BBC World Service or Virgin Radio on the USEN piped music system when you move into a new flat or if you want to ruin the mood in a love hotel.
Meaning with Ronnie Barker, of course, as the oats you can fairly easily get, e.g at Hanamasa in various obscure corners of Tokyo. Apart from Youtube, my local Tsutaya video shop in Kawasaki has Bergerac, Life on Earth, League of Gentlemen, Miss Marple, The Office and whatever that newer comedy about the two geeks and one girl in an office is called. Only Fools and Horse doesn’t seem to travel very well though… If you want to venture out slightly more, the number of videos with 英語字幕 （えいごじまく- eigo jimaku） written on the back are so limited that it is well worth just choosing two or three from that and giving them a go- I have since found that 3 or 4 of the ones I chose that way are all time classics that I really should have chosen for more discerning reasons…
Marks and Sparks undies
Nearest Marks and Spencers is in Hong Kong, which is where I got mine.
Chocolate flavoured vegetable fat bars
The EU never did get round to relabelling English chocolate as such, but this is another example where you are better sticking with the Belgians when you are in Japan- Godiva stalls everywhere. However, you can get Kit Kats, Marathon bars, McVities biscuits and Walkers shortbread fairly widely. Be warned, however- things in convenience stores can come and go very quickly, so if you are an addict stock up while they are still available. The ground coffee shops Kaldi (e.g. in Kurihama and Shinagawa) also do Cadburys and Fisherman’s Friends.
A decent curry
The curries in the more expensive shops in Japan (e.g. the Sri Lankan place in Shinjuku) are just too damn authentically Indian and nothing like a good Brummy Chicken Balti. Sorry. You can get Patak and Sharwoods, e.g. from Kaldi, and do your own, however. Ditto with kebabs (e.g. Roppongi), real Turkish ones that are better sober than drunk. What to do, what to do??
A fry up
I have tried to do an English breakfast. Yamaya does baked beans, but be warned that most sausages turn out to be frankfurters and in Japanese “bacon” means it is already cooked when you buy it. You’ll be better off getting some spicy South American sausages from a Peruvian or Brazilian shop (e.g. in Gotanda) and adding some Japanese tomatoes and mushrooms instead. Best beans are from Tesco.
White cliffs, drizzle and grey seas
For some reason the Japanese have never come up with a British theme park with these magic ingredients to compete with the Windmills of the Dutch themed park etc. The Japan sea can be quite grey and choppy in the winter..
Graffitti, barbed wire and shopping trolleys in canals
Not even Kawasaki can supply me with these!