I live in Kyoto, Japan, and have over the years here traveled pretty widely, most especially in the greater Tokyo area. Traveling in Japan is pretty easy, as long as you have just a little spoken Japanese and can read a train map. Japanese trains are famously efficient and connect a great portion of the country, including all the major cities. I have not driven a car here for more than fifteen years, and don’t miss having a car at all. Trains and taxis get the job done just fine. Overall, I enjoy traveling in Japan, love exploring Tokyo, which contains worlds within worlds, and have no complaints about Japanese travel. Except for one. It is nearly impossible to get a good breakfast, or really any breakfast at all, when you are traveling.
Now, it is not true that Japanese people don’t eat breakfast. In fact, the archetypically standard breakfast of rice and miso soup is as well known in its way as the “full” English breakfast of sausages, toast, and beans. But the Japanese breakfast is most often eaten at home. For the traveler, the basic options are only really two, or two and a half.
I. The Hotel Breakfast
Mid-price and nicer hotels will have a breakfast option, usually a buffet with “Japanese” (e.g. rice and miso and maybe fish) and “Western” (bread and jam, possibly eggs) choices. Except in the very nicest hotels, these buffets are uniformly overpriced and also basically bad. The traveler is lucky to get away with an ¥1500-¥1800 (15 dollars or so before the recent yen devaluation) price and often has to pay north of ¥2000 for a pretty partly showing. And, budget hotels will often not have any breakfast options at all. Overall, Japanese hotel breakfasts are among the weakest I have encountered around the world, and I believe this to be symptomatic of the fact that Japanese people just do not care about breakfast when on the road, or really at all.
II. The Convenience Store (“Combini”) Breakfast
When I have raised the issue of the lack of decent breakfast in Japan, Japanese people will usually refer me to the convenience store. And, it is true that one can purchase food and coffee at any of the ubiquitous combinis, Family Mart, 7/11, Daily, Lawson, etc. Most combinis are open 24 hours a day, and they do stock a range of food items that theoretically could pass as breakfast. Hard boiled eggs, yogurt, rice balls, steamed buns, fried chicken, sometimes bananas, and hot and cold coffee are usually available in the early hours, and I have certainly been in a position to have to fall back on the combini for breakfast when traveling. And this is OK, to an extent, however most combinis don’t have places to eat said items, and in any case you can’t really call a combini breakfast “nice.” But most Japanese folks seem to regard a combini breakfast as just fine and dandy, desirable even. It is possible to admire the low expectations to a certain degree while still wishing for more.
III. Starbucks or a “Local” Coffee Shop:
Starbucks are pretty common in big cities and usually open at 7 AM (if you are lucky) or more commonly 8 AM. The food selections are overpriced and really Starbucks has never figured its food out, which is baffling; however one can grab a few combini items and smuggle them in to Starbucks, or settle for a 4 dollar piece of quiche with your Americano. I would not classify Starbucks as really having breakfast per se, however they are pleasant enough to sit in and one can create a simulacrum of breakfast there.
Then there are the local coffee shops. These, fortunately, often do open at 7 AM or even earlier, and serve strong coffee, often hand made at the counter with a drip filter, and breakfast which nearly always consists of a piece of white toast and an egg. White toast, egg, and handmade coffee with old guys reading the paper around you is, I have to admit, at least an approximation of breakfast, and I have certainly had this sort of breakfast while on the road. However still, it’s not really what we are looking for if we want a hearty and balanced breakfast. Here is no French Toast, no fruit bowl, no omelette, only very occasionally a piece of bacon, none of the staples of what we might expect in a decent and full breakfast.
And that’s about it. You can also find 24 hour beef bowl restaurants, however these are cheap as and really not the most appetizing start to the day. Other than the above options, most restaurants don’t open until 11:00 or 11:30 for lunch. The concept of brunch, dicey at the best of times, doesn’t exist outside of the swankiest of upmarket hotels. It is just really, really hard to find a good breakfast in Japan outside of one’s own home. And this, to me, is pretty strange. I mean, I acknowledge and accept that most folks in Japan have their rice and miso at home or settle for the convenience store, but metropolitan Tokyo, for example, has like 30 million people. None of these 30 million wants a full breakfast around 7 or 7:30 AM? This just seems incomprehensible. Incomprehensible as it may be, this appears to be the case. There is just no market for breakfast in Japan. I mean I’m in the market, but apparently I am not the demographic, or at least one man does not a demographic make. Go figure.
Now, I have covered the issue of Japanese breakfast, or lack thereof, to the best of my ability; however I want to say a few more things that may seem unrelated. Let’s see if we can get them to connect. Because the truth is, I dream about getting breakfast in Japan, and a number of these dreams feature the Trumpster. More precisely, they focus on the fact that the Trumpster and I share a birthday (June 14th) and are therefore both late Gemini. Late Gemini, I have good reason to believe, are uniquely dangerous and slippery, but in my dreams the Trumpster is not dangerous, and in fact he shows up in my dreams as basically an empty suit.
Trump/ Breakfast Dream I:
I am at a breakfast buffet in Japan. This is at a hotel that I am not staying at, and I may indeed be attempting to crash the buffet while masquerading as a hotel guest. Trump is there with an entourage, and he sees me staking out the buffet. I make a comment to him that we are both late Gemini, and he nods, curtly but with some minimal consideration. He sees me trying to steal the breakfast, does not care, and would probably provide cover if it came to that. He and I are not aligned, but nor are we enemies.
Trump/ Breakfast Dream II:
I am outside in the morning, standing on a dock or something of that nature. I am looking for breakfast, and not finding it. There is a commotion above me to the east, and I realize that Trump is being rolled out, literally on like coaster wheels, for a speech. He is on some kind of sliding seat and when this seat hits the balcony he stands up and postures about like Mussolini. I am watching and he sees me watching, but continues with his Mussolini act. I realize quickly that this is a total act and that he doesn’t even want to be there. He is not dangerous in this moment or in this speech, just faintly ridiculous. Still, no breakfast.
What do Trump and breakfast have to do with one another? I’m not sure yet. But I do know that Trump, although maligned by nearly everyone I know (I know a bunch of liberals), and apart from being an egotistical, mafia-adjacent, easily flattered, shape-shifting sociopath, is also pretty funny. Before I lose half of my readership, I’ll just nod to the comedian Shane Gillis, who made this point several months after Trump left office.
Has enough time passed that we can admit Trump was funny? Can we finally admit that he was funny? (…) He was funny (…) I saw it. I’d show my friends I’d say look at that. They’d be like “what?”
“There’s nothing funny about Donald Trump.”
I don’t know, during Hurricane Dorian he was like “maybe we should nuke it” (…) Like that was a real suggestion from the President (…) “Hey we got a big storm coming, you want me to blow it up?”
They were like “no, what the fuck are you talking about?”
“I don’t know, I fuck around dude. It’s what I do.”
“I fuck around, it’s what I do,” is a great summary of Trump’s whole approach to governing. Now, is there anything funny about his terrible immigration policies, his attempted pressure of the Georgia secretary of state to “find” 1800 votes, his total disregard of democratic norms? No, not really. But is there anything funny about his speculation that maybe a little light and a little bleach could cure COVID? Why yes, there is. Is there anything funny about his noting that Frederick Douglas is getting bigger and bigger these days? Yes indeed. Is the way he pronounces “huge” funny? It’s funny to me anyway. And in my dreams, the two above being part of a series of about four or five total Trump breakfast dreams, he always shows up as semi-defanged, basically neutered, and non-dangerous. I think this is because, as a fellow late Gemini, I kind of have Trump’s number. It takes a late Gemini to know one, and I know this guy. In fact, I see right through him, to the extent that I know he’s not even there.
One other salient piece of data, there is an indie rock band called Japanese Breakfast that is getting bigger and bigger these days (they tell me “sir, this Japanese Breakfast is getting bigger and bigger these days, and I say look at that, wow, this Japanese Breakfast is really getting huge”). I don’t know them well, but they sound like the kind of band I would like. I do wonder though if their name is not an ironic nod to the fact that Japanese breakfast is not a thing. Is the band name self-effacing, or even self-erasing? Does Japanese Breakfast the band exist at all? Does Trump? There is a way in which the Trump presidential term has come to feel like a fever dream or collective delusion, a set of events that cannot really have occurred as we recall them. In this sense, the Trump presidency may in the future be subject to Phantom Time Hypothesis speculation. And he and his handlers have already played right into this speculation what with their first lady doubles, the totally unhinged press conferences with the ubiquitous helicopter waiting in the wings, and the classic Trumpism, “we’ll see what happens.”
Here is what I think. Japanese Breakfast as a band exists. The Trumpster exists, but his wife spent most of her time in the White House being doubled. Trump and I are dream doubles, and I have his number. Japanese people don’t care about breakfast. And I am always starving at around 9 AM when on the road in Japan. Someone should look into the matter. I hear the Trumpster is free these days, maybe he’s the guy for the job.