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:
“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.