Last Saturday I went down to Tokyo and went bread shopping.
In general, in Japan, bread comes in three varieties: plain white, processed wheat, or bakery style (white with nuts or berries or butter or corn thrown inside).
Like many Americans, I grew up with an abundance and variety I did not appreciate until I did not have it any more. I would carelessly squander the crusts and crumbs of my dark rye bread sandwiches thinking, perhaps carelessly, that there would always be more.
I wasted entire halves of bagels, discarded various fruit breads, snubbed lesser breads like sourdough and pumpernickel.
Then I came to Japan. I have searched the length and breadth of the islands in search of a decent deli. I have found nothing. I have looked for sandwich shops, Russian bakeries, little old German women selling bread out of their kitchens, and still, I have found nothing.
A few weeks ago, a good friend of mine moved from our sleepy, middle of nowhere town, to the big city. I received an e-mail a few days ago: "They have a real German bakery! It's good!" I bought a train ticket the next day, and, well, last Saturday, I went bread shopping.
I bought three loaves of German rye bread, made by real Germans in a small bakery near Ogikubo in greater Tokyo. It is good bread. Soft inside, with a hard crust, and oats and flour. And with an actual flavor severely lacking in the Japanese processed breads.
It may seem a small thing, but it has made me very happy this New Year's. I hope yours is equally happy.