In Search of a Japanese Lemon

Jun 01 2012

There are more agents than crew swarming the boat soon after we
arrive.   A medical officer, immigration with his bandoleer of
passport stamps, and the guy with the Geiger counter to see if the
trash tied to the back of the boat is radioactive.  We’ve been at sea
for three weeks, and all I want is some fresh fruit.

I jump to land and find my first evidence of fruit, a little plastic,
lemon-shaped tag, with “LEMON” written in green over it.  I’ve no idea
what it is, but now I’ve reigned in my hopes on something citrus.
There’s a 7-11 across the road from the marina.  There’s a 7-11 across
every road in Japan.  There are more 7-11’s in Japan than the rest of
the planet combined, but they don’t have citrus.

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A coffee shop a few blocks away serves up a cup of iced tea.   The
thought of biting into a lemon slice pulled from the rim of my glass
sends a signal to my salivary glands to squeeze. It’s that reflexive
response we have to bitter-sweet thoughts.  But bitter, more than
sweet, is the reality of no lemon. “Do you have any lemon?” I ask.
She nods her head.  Scouring the condiment bar I gloss over the lemons
three times until I realize that the Japanese have already squeezed
the lemon for me.  There is a little bin for single-serving creamer in
a foil-covered plastic cup. There’s a little bin for single-serving
sugar water in a foil-covered plastic cup.  The next bin is a
single-serving, probably 10 drops of lemon juice, in a foil-covered
plastic cup.  That’s not it.

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I must find a lemon.  It’s a good long walk into Yokohama,
stretching my legs for the first time.  In the supermarket I walk past
the display of plastic sushi modeling the real sushi wrapped in
plastic 5 feet away.  The vegetable isle is evident only by the giant
floor to ceiling refrigerator, not for the farm-style display of a
cornucopia of produce.  A single apple sits on a single Styrofoam
tray.  Polyethylene bags of carrots come three to a pack.  I scour the
shelves for something yellow.  Had I blinked I would have missed it.
There in a neat row are lemons, each with a sticker on the rind to
tell you it’s a lemon, then in it’s entirety it is wrapped in a PET
film to keep that citrusey freshness all to itself and the lucky
customer that takes it home.  It’s not me.

I settle for a banana, the one thing left in it’s own package.

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