More than likely if you are new to Japan you will have to invest in some kitchen items when you get here. If you come solo chances are (hopefully) that you will score a “furnished” apartment, but since my husband and I came together, this option wasn’t available. We had to furnish our empty kitchen on our lonesome, and I learned a thing or two about Japanese appliances. If you find yourself in this situation, here’s some advice on the basic necessities to purchase for your kitchen.
I’ve lived with some pretty small and crappy kitchens in my time of apartment dwelling, but nothing can top the restrictiveness of my “kitchen” here in Japan. I hesitate to even use the word kitchen, since the area shares its space with the bathroom and the entryway. The sole “prep” area consists of a small spot next to the sink where I must also dry my dishes.
1. A refrigerator: Depending on your budget and the space in your apartment, the bigger the better. I have a tiny fridge because it was the only one that could fit in the kitchen, and now I regret not just getting a bigger one and putting it in the living room. Bigger is better because it enables you to keep more than two days worth of meals at a time, which limits the amount of times you have to go to the grocery store. Since I have no car and a small fridge, I go to the store almost every day. The bigger the fridge, you can also store leftovers which means you won’t have to cook new meals every day. But since I don’t have one, all the cooking tips I will be giving you will be for small dishes.
2. Microwave: I don’t have a microwave, mostly because I don’t have anywhere in my kitchen to put it. But if you are blessed with the space, I would recommend one if you intend to eat leftovers or processed food. Since I can’t store any leftovers, I don’t think I will need one. Also fresh food is always cheaper than the prepared packaged stuff.
3. Stove-top burner: My Japanese kitchen was also not be equipped with a stove or an oven. Actually the only thing that does designate it as a kitchen is the sink and a few cabinets. If you want to cook anything, including hot water for tea, you will need a burner. Having a gas line and being a huge proponent for gas cooking, I opted first for a gas burner. Once hooked up, this sucker is ridiculously powerful and super hot, so be sure to keep it on low even for things you’d cook at high heat. I bought a unit with only one burner, as the double burners were much more expensive, so I spent the first few weeks only being able to cook things one at a time. If you see a reasonable two-burner range, pick it up. But make sure you check with your landlord about which type of gas your apartment uses! If you have natural gas you are in luck, because it is very inexpensive. But if your apartment hates you, like mine does, you may have liquid propane, which is terribly expensive. Not knowing anything about this, I was very discouraged to receive my first gas bill for $133. This was not all cooking-related, the gas is also what heats the hot water. Living with two people who need showers, laundry and dishes washed obviously added to this total. But geez! I was not expecting that. Which brings me to begrudgingly recommend…
4. An electric burner: While never as effecient for cooking as gas, the electric burner can be useful for most basic cooking needs. If you decide to go all electric, I would recommend a unit with two burners, as it will expand your meal options considerably. Also assuming you have the counter-top space for this. The electric burner I purchased has four settings, each a different wattage which I assume roughly translates to low, medium, medium high, and high. I find that like the gas burner, the “high” setting is ridiculously hot. The more options the better, so if you see a burner with more settings opt for that one. I think my single burner was around $30 so it shouldn’t brake your bank. I purchased this at a home goods store, but always check the used goods stores first, this goes for every appliance. They are much better qualilty than any thrift store back home and usually come with a limited warrranty.
5. Rice cooker: Since we live in Japan, this is a no brainer. Sure, you can cook your rice on the stove, but since we already discussed how precious the limited stove top space is, get a rice cooker. They are great for setting and forgetting, so that you can multi-task in the kitchen. Any used goods store should have a plethora of rice cookers on sale. You will only be cooking small quanities of rice, so small is fine. Some rice cookers have extra functions for steaming food and vegetables, so if you want this and can read the labels, go for it.
6. Toaster oven: Like I mentioned, Japanese apartments don’t seem to come with ovens. A small toaster oven will be very useful for many reasons. When you go about purchasing a toaster oven, be sure to examine the settings and try to find one that does more than simply toast. The day I bought my toaster oven was also my first day living in Japan, so I was a bit overwhelmed and did not look carefully at the toaster oven we bought. I assumed it was like every toaster oven in the states. Wrong. All it does is toast, with one knob for the timer. The temperature cannot be controlled and it does not have an option for just the top burner for broiling. But there are toaster ovens here that have these options, so make sure you see more than one knob with diffferent temperatures and “bake, broil, and toast” settings. This simple differential will give you heaps more options with your menu, so don’t be cheap if you want to eat anything besides toast.
Most likely you will be blessed with a furnished kitchen, but just in case you aren’t I hope this is useful!