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BAKING SODA hahahaha

BAKING SODA hahahaha published on 20 Comments on BAKING SODA hahahaha

And now, a story about buying baking soda in Japan, recorded in detail,

1) for the benefit of others who might need to do this, and

2) in the hope that someone will someday explain to me why the vocabulary necessary to buy baking soda in Japan makes no damn sense.

For lo, though I have achieved my goal of buying a box of frigging baking soda, I am linguistically even more bewildered than I was when I first initiated the project.

Today, feeling for the first time mostly recovered from my jet lag, injured back, and hurt feet (self-inflicted wounds assisted by Tuesday and some hilariously perforated insoles), I went out in search of baking soda again, this time determined not to give up. I have been in at least one grocery store every day since I got here, but always ended up just getting whatever more immediately necessary thing I’d gone in for, and then, after a few minutes of vain searching for the baking soda, leaving in exhaustion.

So this morning, I consulted the internet, and went out armed with some notes on the identification of baking soda in Japanese stores. “Baking soda” can be either “juusou” (重曹) or “tansan” (タンサン), with the term “juusou” apparently (going by the respective Google image search results) being used more for baking soda that’s sold as a cleaning product, and “tansan” being used for baking soda being sold to cook with.

(Though the kanji for “tansan” is apparently 炭酸, which my dictionary defines as “carbonic acid,” and which, indeed, appears to be an ingredient in all those lovely beverages in which one expects to find carbonic acid. Unless I have been grievously deceived by my middle school science classes, baking soda is a base, and is definitely not carbonic acid, so apparently there’s a problem here. But, then again, judging by those Google image search results, “tansan”-as-baking-soda is always rendered in katakana, so maybe that carries some kind of obscure change in meaning with it. I don’t know the etymology, all right? I’m just looking for some baking soda for my filthy pagan rituals.)

I wrote all this down very carefully in my little notebook. Thus familiarized with the whole concept, I set out, prepared.

After examining every single non-refrigerator aisle in the store, I gave up and asked an employee.

I had to show her my written notes before she understood what I was looking for (I’m not sure whether this was my pronunciation, or whether the words just aren’t used much), and then she said, “baking powder?,” looked about wildly, and ran to ask someone else. Suspecting that baking soda would probably be in the same place as baking powder – even if this wasn’t just another exciting new name for the substance – I just followed them. The chain of consultation acquired a third link when a man who had been shelving in the appropriate aisle, hearing the exclamation of “baking powder” several aisles over, carefully removed a box from the bottom shelf it had been on and set it prominently on a higher shelf.

This is what my baking soda looks like:

Japanese baking soda - "Home made CAKE ??"

“Home made CAKE” consists of two little packets, each containing maybe a tablespoon-and-a-half of baking soda. I could probably complain about this, except that it was 68 yen, which is not exactly exhorbitant.

The kanji on the front says “juusou.” The furigana, however, says “tansan.” So does the receipt.

So, except that I am definitely not supposed to call it “baking soda,” I still have no idea how to say “baking soda” in Japanese.

Also, do not pee in the composter, EVEN if you read online that it’s a good activator.

Also, do not pee in the composter, EVEN if you read online that it’s a good activator. published on

Yesterday there was a long orientation, in which we were told:

1) If you jaywalk, you will definitely be hit by cars. This is Japan. The Japanese are in a hurry.

2) One person got murdered nearby three years ago, so you need to always be careful about “suspicious characters.”

(There are also little signs around the city with warnings to this effect, depicting the suspicious characters doing suspicious things like standing near women while wearing hats and coats.)

3) Male students must not bring Japanese girls back to the dorm. Given the number of extremely fashion-conscious high school boys around, the low motivations and untrusty nature of the average student of the Japanese language, and the somewhat higher than average instance of non-standard sexual orientation in said group, I suspect that the gendered nature of this advice may be slightly myopic.

4) If you do not sort your recycling properly we will make several strategic cuts in your stomach and leave you staked out for the delectation of the local wildlife. For demonstration purposes, here is a crow. Observe its cruel curved beak, its razor-sharp talons.

5) It is extremely illegal to bartend in the dark, even if you do have the kind of visa that allows you to seek employment. Also possibly illegal is wearing an amusing animal suit for any reason that is not purely personal in nature.

(Some of the limitations regarding where foreigners can work seem to be aimed very specifically at sex workers, though it’s never actually phrased that way – foreigners can’t work in any establishment where the light is kept below a certain level, and can’t do any job classified as “entertainment.”)

6) Do not be loud at night. This is Japan. The Japanese have to be up at fucking five tomorrow, goddamn you.