japan travel

Japan Trip Three: The Grocery Store

This is the third part of a many part series about my time on a Japanese tv show, and my trip to Japan. If you haven't read the preceding posts (one and two), I suggest you do so, or you might miss some important information. Also, I am hilarious, and I wouldn't want you to miss any of my witty pros. If you've already caught up, read on my good sirs and noble ladies!

I had been informed in the initial planning that they wanted to film me buying fish. This would be a big step for me. It's one thing to commit to being filmed at home, with only my family there to witness it, but it's entirely another matter to go to a public space with a film crew following me around.

The only reason why I was okay with all this was because it would only be airing in Japan, and therefore I wouldn't even know the thousands of viewers, so my self-conciousness could take some small comfort. I know people at the grocery store. I know the employees (they know me as the girl who's always buying those weird giant radishes). I don't think I've ever been in there and not seen a few people that know me, either because I've worked in town at so many different places, or because they know my various family members. In case you hadn't realized it by now, I'm pretty inhibited and self conscious. 

But hey, I didn't really have time to ponder all this. There was a small chance that going through all this madness was going to get me to Japan, so I was going to do it. Grocery store--smrocery store. 

So after the tour of the house was over, we had a meeting in the kitchen. Note that this is the first moment that the camera wasn't pointed at me. It was decided that Mari-San would get into my car and we would film us leaving, then I would turn around, come back and pick up the camera-man. He would then film me and Mari-San driving from inside the vehicle. After a few miles I could then stop and they would get into the car with Akane-San and film me driving from behind. Making tv shows is complicated. 

The first part went off without a hitch. Mari-San and I drove down to my neighbors, then I turned around, came back, and grabbed the camera-man (never did get his name). While we drove Mari-San and I chatted for the camera. This was a bit difficult, since Akane-San was driving in the van behind us, and she was the one who had been interpreting for us. As it happened, Mari-San did speak a little bit of English, at least, more than I spoke Japanese.

"Late winter, or early spring?" she asked indicating the outside. I said it was spring.

"You have deer?"

"Oh yes, lots of deer."

In broken English she explained that they had been looking for wildlife ever since they got off the plane, but they hadn't seen any. I said that the animals were around, but you didn't see them too often.

Incidentally, this is a bear I saw the other day on my way to work. Can you see him?

Incidentally, this is a bear I saw the other day on my way to work. Can you see him?

"Foxes?" she asked.

"Some, but you only see them occasionally."


"I've Seen a few."


"Very rarely."


"Lots of Raccoons!" I said, knowing this only too well since a group of the rascally raccoons had just caused havoc with our chickens. That was the end of the conversation since she indicated I should pull over for them to switch cars. 

Once I was alone in the car, all three of the crew following behind, I breathed a long held in sigh. My brain was still unable to really comprehend what was happening, but luckily my body seemed to have taken over, simply rolling with the punches. I turned on my audiobook (Half Blood Prince) and tried to relax while we drove the remaining twenty minutes. 

Sargentville is technically part of Sedgwick, and therefore isn't on google. You also can't quite tell, but to get from my house to Penobscot, Brooklin, Deer Isle, and Blue Hill you drive through Sedgwick, it's a really weirdly shaped town. 

Sargentville is technically part of Sedgwick, and therefore isn't on google. You also can't quite tell, but to get from my house to Penobscot, Brooklin, Deer Isle, and Blue Hill you drive through Sedgwick, it's a really weirdly shaped town. 

For those of you who do not live in the Blue Hill area, let me explain the terrane. We live on Cape Rosier, a cape (no duh) that juts out from Brooksville, a small town. Around Brooksville are several other towns, and by towns I mean rural areas with various neighborhoods. There is Sedgwick, which manages to be in your way no matter what direction you drive in; Sargentville, where the Mexican restaurant is; Penobscot, where the nursing home is; Castine, known for its historical battle; Brooklin, where Wooden Boat Magazine is located; and the island communities of Little Deer Isle, Deer Isle, and Stongington, famous for their lobstering culture.

Each of these areas has a small town center, most with old general stores, some with larger hubs. But the largest town in the area, and the center of all these communities is Blue Hill. It's where most people work, attend high school (besides the islands which have their own school), and where a majority of people do their shopping. This means that a lot of the amenities in Blue Hill are much bigger than the population warrants, because they also service all the surrounding towns. When we arrived at Tradewinds, the grocery store in Blue Hill, everyone was thoroughly impressed by its size. 

We filmed Mari-San and I walking up to the store, but then we had to pause so that Akane-San could get permission to film inside. Once more, I was left with Mari-San and the camera-man with a giant language barrier in the way. Mari-San noticed a large display of potatoes and got very excited by the price. "Is it really $2.99?" she asked, pointing to the bags. "Umm, yes," I said. The two of them started looking at the produce with interest. "$3.99!" said Mari-San, pointing at the grapes. She turned to me and explained, "In Japan, maybe $10." The strawberries and blueberries received the same treatment. The watermelon was praised as well. Mari-San picked up a container of golden berries, a type of fruit that had only recently come to my own attention. "Berry or tomato?" she asked me, a valid question, since they look exactly like cherry tomatoes. "Berry," I confirmed.

Akane-San came back and told us that the manager wasn't in that day, so we wouldn't be able to film. Still, the fish had to be bought, so I went up to the counter and ordered two pounds of Icelandic cod. This is the fish that I had determined works best for kamaboko. I had wanted to procure some Alaskan pollock, but unfortunately, due to a warehouse fire, it was unavailable. So, cod it was. The person at the fish counter, not to mention many of the shoppers, gave me curious looks while I ordered. I might not have been actively being filmed, but I was in the company of three people speaking Japanese. The area I live in is pretty rural, and especially in the the off season, we don't get a lot of foreigners, so they were bound to stand out. Plus, one of them was carrying a large camera at his side, clearly there was a story here. Amazingly, I didn't see a single person I know, not even the employees I know. 

Outside they once again filmed. I took out the cod, and told them what I had purchased. "And this is what we will make kamaboko out of?" Mari-San asked. 

"Yes," I replied. 

While we walked to the cars Akane-San told me that she had gotten the email address for the manager, and that they would try to get filming permission for the next day. Could I come back and do this again? Oh boy, I thought, while saying "No problem!"

Mari-San said something to Akane-San and she turned to me. "Is there a place nearby that has a good view? We need to film something that we do for every episode. Just something you need to say." I opened my mouth to reply but was distracted by Mari-San who had suddenly made a lunging motion, putting both fists in the air and shouting "Nihon ni ikitai!"

I blinked a few times as it slowly dawned on me that this was a demonstration of what would be required of me. My god, the horror. But, I said I would do just about anything they wanted, if it meant I might get to go to Japan, so I sucked it up, and gave a suggestion for an area to film this, no doubt, exceedingly embarrassing moment. 

But, that is a story for the next post! 

Please, don't forget to comment, like, and share! With your help, I hope to get my story out wide and far! 

Until next time, if you ever see someone at a grocery store with a Japanese film crew, keep in mind that they're probably feeling pretty self conscious, so try not to point.

P.S. Sorry about the lack of pictures for this post. Since my sister didn't accompany us for this leg of the journey I didn't have a lot to work with. The opening photograph is from the second day of filming, which you'll hear about later. 

Japan Trip Two: Filming at My House


Last week I told you about how I had gotten an email that would change my life. If you haven't read the first post, I would go and read that so you don't get lost. I also recommend reading my original post about Kamaboko, which is what caught the attention of the television program in the first place. 

All caught up? Good, let us proceed with this crazy tale. 

After the initial emails sent back and forth between myself and the representative of the program, I'll call her Akane-San, we spoke on the phone. I'm not a particularly confident phone speaker, always preferring emails and texts, so calling her was rather nerve-wracking. Thanks to this, when she answered the phone I totally butchered the pronunciation of her name (*face palm and internal groan*). But, I needn't have worried, because Akane-San was, of course, very friendly and polite enough to ignore my fumbles. 

We talked for around a half an hour, during which she asked me questions about my cooking, my interest in Japan, and my background. I in turn cleared up a few questions I had of my own, baring my one big question of "Is this really happening?". By the end of the conversation we had established that the film crew would be coming sometime in the next week. Not a whole lot of time to prepare, especially since I was house sitting that week, and wouldn't have a lot of time at home to practice making kamaboko. Because here is the thing, I hadn't made any kamaboko since the fall before, and I'd only made it a few more times than the initial attempt. I was confident that I had the recipe down, as far as my recipe went, but I wasn't about to make it off the cuff while being filmed. 

Our kitchen before the finishing touches. Not too bad, but in need of a face lift before going on television. 

Our kitchen before the finishing touches. Not too bad, but in need of a face lift before going on television. 

Another problem, we were part way through a renovation of our kitchen, and it wasn't really ready to be filmed. Walls needed to be painted, a sink replaced, curtains had to be purchased, and did I mention the sink? Luckily, my mom busted her butt over the next few days, painting after work, hanging curtain rods, and fighting an epic battle with the old rusted faucet to replace it with one that--gasp-- actually worked. My sister spent the week buying all of those refining items, like new lampshades, and throw pillows. 

By the time that we had nailed down Tuesday as our filming day (only a week and one day after initial contact), the kitchen was looking better than it had since we bought the house twenty years ago. My mother and sister are rock stars.

My co-worker who used to work in television had this to contribute. "You're totally going to be a victim of over preparation. We used to go to people's houses to interview them and it would be obvious that they had spent the whole day getting the house ready. Then we'd only film them standing in one corner." "Actually," I informed him, "they specifically told me they wanted to film in my kitchen, living room, and bedroom." 

The house was ready, but I was not. On Sunday evening, I finally got a chance to practice making kamaboko. It did not go well. Something went wrong with the process, and the finished product was way too moist, and it split down the center like a badly executed cheesecake. I was devastated. 

"Make it again," my mom said. 

"I don't have any more fish," I moaned, "and I have to work tomorrow. They're coming in the afternoon to see the house and talk about the filming!" Luckily, before I had to get the paper bag out for hyperventilating, I was able to get an S.O.S out and get my shift covered. I love my co-workers. Bright and early the next day I went into town and bought fish. When I came home I made two kamaboko loaves and they came out perfect. Phew!

The crew's flight got in around three o'clock, and since the airport is an hour away from my house we expected them at four thirty. At about two thirty I started to feel ill. One of the unfortunate things about me is that whenever I am feeling nervous, it goes straight to my stomach. As the minutes ticked by, and my anticipation and anxiety increased, by stomach began to feel like I was on a roller coaster after eating fried cheesecake. At three thirty Akane-San texted me to tell me that they had left the airport and would be there in an hour. "Okay!" I replied, while my stomach preformed a backflip or two. Ten minutes later I got another text saying that one of the crew wasn't feeling well. Did I mind if they canceled this afternoon and just came for filming the next day. "No problem at all!" My stomach sat back down in it's easy-chair and breathed a sigh of relief. Of course, that meant that in the morning I was thrown directly into filming with no warm up whatsoever.

Meredith was the first to notice. 

Meredith was the first to notice. 

They arrived at nine o'clock the next morning, confusingly, they did so on foot. One moment we were sitting in the dining room waiting for a car to pull up, and the next, we spotted a Japanese gentleman with a camera filming outside of our house. I leapt to my feet, slipped on my shoes, ran to the entryway, and tried to look calm as I opened the door. 

There were three of them, two women and the camera man. I barely had time to take this in, when the taller of the two women started speaking to me in rapid, and very enthusiastic, Japanese. Immediately every word of Japanese I know jumped ship and left me stranded. I mean, I couldn't have even remembered how to say good morning. That's a very easy word to remember because it sounds exactly like "Ohio". At that moment I probably would have said "Oklahoma" by accident. I deiced to stick to English. 

I don't know if you've ever been in a situation like this, dear reader, but I can attest that there's nothing quite like having a camera pointed at you while someone speaks incomprehensibly at you. Thank god Akane-San was there and quickly translated. "Hello Kipp-San," she said. "I have come all the way from Japan to meet you." I don't remember what I said in return, though it was probably something pretty asinine.  I did manage to introduce myself and invite them inside. 

Pictures curtesy of my sister. From left to right, the cameraman, the director, Akane-San, myself, and my mother (Mama-San, as they called her). Doesn't the kitchen look better?  👌🏻👌🏻👌🏻

Pictures curtesy of my sister. From left to right, the cameraman, the director, Akane-San, myself, and my mother (Mama-San, as they called her). Doesn't the kitchen look better? 👌🏻👌🏻👌🏻

Introductions were made all around, though nobody ever mentioned the cameraman's name. The director was Mari-san, a very upbeat woman, wearing a Bangor Maine sweatshirt. They in turn were introduced to my mother and sister Sihaya, who had graciously agreed to be filmed, instead of running for the hills as I would have done in their place. Oh yes, and of course the camera was still rolling. There was no pause, they just catapulted me into the spotlight, asking for a tour of the house. 

Aside from the continuous filming, they really were the perfect guests, politely exclaiming  with admiration at every aspect of the house. Our family farm is very nice, built in the 1770s, disastrously remodeled in the 1970s, and painstakingly bought out of that era's cheesiness over the last twenty years by us. Recently we had repainted it from head to foot and knocked down a few walls, making in more light and welcoming. Actually, it was perfect that they were filming now, and not a year before, when we were renting out the big house and living in a small, cramped, mother-in-law cottage in the backyard. 

I brought them upstairs to my office, which is where I keep all my books on Japan, and most of my other Japanese belongings. This includes my modest manga collection, stack of wooden sake set boxes, and copious amounts of origami paper. Also, my map of Japan, which I have hung on the wall, a pin stuck in it for every place I hope to go one day. I would have thought this was fairly common, but apparently no one else they had ever interviewed had such a display. 

"You must really want to go to Japan," said Mari-San with wide eyes. 

"Oh yes," I assured her. 

Back in the kitchen, we finally got to the point. Kamaboko. Again, if you want to know what Kamaboko is, you'll have to go and read my original post about it, because I don't have time to tell you now. What I can say though, is that Mari-San was very impressed that I made it at home. This is virtually unheard of in Japan, though most people eat kamaboko often. The fact that I was a European-descended-American who had bothered to track down a recipe and refine it was apparently astounding. 

Without further delay, we got down to making kamaboko. Or at least, we would after we had done one tiny little thing. We had to go on a trip to my local grocery store and film me buying the fish. 

And that my dear reader, is a story for another post, which I promise to give you in a few days. 

In the meantime, please share this post! Much of the traffic to my blog comes from word of mouth, so please, if you enjoy my writing, tell your friends and family! Share my posts and sign up for the Newsletter! Every little bit helps! 

Until next time, Oklahoma! 

Japan Trip One: The Email

Okay, what? You went to Japan? And you didn't tell us? How could you?

These are some of the thoughts that might be going through your head right now. I know, I'm sorry, but I really wasn't allowed to tell anyone until this week. You see, not only did I go to Japan, but I went there to film an episode of Who Wants to Come to Japan?. I wasn't allowed to post anything on social media, or my blog, about the trip until the episode aired, which it has now done!

If you think this all sounds crazy, just imagine how I felt. 

It all started on a Monday, May first to be exact, when I received an email from a representative of the program. I was at work and about to take my break, waiting to use the punch-out machine, which was blocked by a restocking cart. While I waited, I took my phone out and saw that I had an email on my business account. I took a quick look and felt my eyes grow to the size of saucers. 

"...I work for a Japanese TV production company in New York. I am contacting you on behalf of the Japanese TV program..."


I quickly scanned the email, none of it making any sense to me in my rattled state. The restocking cart moved and I quickly punched out. Instead of eating my lunch I sat down in the cafe and read the email more slowly. It explained how this program, "Who Wants to Come to Japan", looks for foreigners who have a passion for Japan, but have never been before. Check and check. A film crew come to their house to do initial interviewing, and if the producers back in Japan like the footage, they invite that person to Japan to film an episode. 

Each episode focuses on whatever the particular interest of the person is. So if you are a foreigner who loves, for example, traditional Japanese clothing, they bring you to Japan and film an episode where you work with an expert in traditional clothing. You might sew some, or go and see how they dye the fabrics, and of course they will film you wearing a ton of traditional clothing. 

So what was my particular interest? I have so many, I don't think I would have been able to narrow it down. Luckily, the email told me what had brought me to their notice, and that my the post I had written last summer about kamaboko. They couldn't believe I had taken the trouble to make it at home, since practically no one in Japan does this, let alone someone outside Japan. They also really liked how I gave information about the history of Kamaboko. If I was interested, they said, they would like to come to my house and film me making kamaboko in one week! ONE WEEK.

I took a screen shot of the email and texted it to my sister with one simple comment: "What the actual &*#@?" 

My break was only fifteen minutes long, so I quickly read the email perhaps fifty times, then went back to work. While I sliced deli meat, my mind wandered. Was I really prepared to be on a Japanese television program? I don't even like having my picture taken. I'm not a particularly emotive person and I was born with a bad case of RBF. I've never had any ambitions to be on television, unless you count when I was a little kid and used to pretend I was on a cooking show while I made my lunch. I wouldn't call myself shy, but reserved is a very good way to describe me. Could I really pull off being on a tv show? 

My phone buzzed with a reply from my sister. "Wow, cool! Are you interested?" 

My brain didn't know what to think. The whole idea was so overwhelming. 

"I don't know. I think so." 

Needless to say, I sent an email that afternoon to the representative, and by the next day I had talked to her on the phone. In only one week I had a Japanese film crew in my house. In one month I was invited to Japan, and in two months I was walking out of Narita Airport with a camera following behind me. The whole thing has been a complete whirlwind, and I still can't quite believe that I spent eleven days in Japan. 

I wish that I could have spent the whole time writing about my adventure and sharing it with you, dear readers. However, I was forbidden to tell any but my family and close friends about the program until it aired. And so, that is why you are only hearing about it now. There is so much to tell, but for today, this is where I will leave you. In the next post I shall tell you all about the filming at my house, and my trip to the local grocery store with a Japanese film crew in toe! 

Until next time, remember, you never know what will happen in life next.