Let’s say you live in Japan and you’re one of the millions of people who’ve been feeling the tug of this economic crisis. OR, let’s say you have terrible, terrible taste in cuisine. Where do you go for breakfast, lunch, or dinner? Za Meshiya, that’s where. “Za Meshiya” translates to “The Meshiya”, or “The Food Store” if you want to go all the way, but with an even humbler kick, so I guess you could even call it “The Grub Shack” or something like that. Also, Za Meshiya is huge, so you can’t miss it. It’s even got an enormous sculpture of a chain out front, presumably because it’s a chain store, but possibly because it’s run by the insane.

Za Meshiya offers a variety of traditional Japanese dishes, served at unpredictable temperatures ranging from ice cold to warehouse crate warm, and all for unprecedentedly cheap prices. I don’t believe I’ve seen anything there that was above the two-hundred yen range. The way it works is similar to a school cafeteria, in that you pick up your desired items, each labeled with a price tag, off a counter which is attended by a woman who is your grandma. But if you should find yourself at one of Za Meshiya’s many locations one day, be sure to note that those low price tags and humble decor bear on themselves a bit of foreshadowing; Za Meshiya is the school cafeteria of Japanese food.

I went there today (whenever that was) for the second time (so it’s not that bad). Boy was I hungry. “Meshi time!!!” I exclaimed as I burst through the door, terrifying my own grandma. I picked up a few items, and then cast my glance upon the bean sprout stir fry.

“Gee,” I said loudly, “I could eat that.”

The portion was large but it looked appetizing. And I’m no rookie when it comes to bean sprouts, I can tell you that. But then I saw the fried rice.

“Hmm, but maybe the fried rice is the safer option,” I announced. After all, it’s fried rice. There’s no way to mess it up. But is there any health value to it? At least bean sprout stir fry is mostly vegetables, with just that little bit of protein in what looked like pieces of beef.

Bean sprout stir fry it is.

With that decided, I took my seat, took my chopsticks, and took a bite. Awful. I could’ve stirred a better fry in my toilet. What spices did they use, oxygen and broken refrigerator condensation? It certainly tasted like oxygen and broken refrigerator condensation. Were they bean sprouts or long, slender strips of dirt?

I gurgled a bit as I choked down the first mouthful of disappointment. A table of hungry salarymen glanced over at me, smirking. Not good. Cheap, shitty food is like milk to these people. I can’t afford to show them any weakness. I’ll be the laughingstock of the Grub Shack. I choked down another bite. Okay. Maybe I can get into a comfortable rhythm. Bite, bite, deny reality. Bite, bite, deny reality. Luckily, there was a giant pitcher of tea on the table, which, though also dirt-flavored, was tea, so I didn’t even notice. I occasionally washed the horror out of my mouth with a cup of tea, trying not to look too desperate.

I just had to be the big man and pick up the largest entree available. Now I was responsible for dealing with a virtual mountain of excrement, with people’s leering gazes upon me from all sides. I knew just how Obama felt.

A group of high school boys watched me gleefully as I struggled. The seconds went by like centuries. “Look at that guy with the fully in-tact eyebrows. What a doofus! Snicker!” one of them said, actually pronouncing the word “snicker”.

“Totally radical!” another added.

A bead of sweat trickled down my face, cascading into my cafeteria dirt. Ah, some salty water ought to up the flavor a bit. Bite. Nope. Bite, bite, deny reality. Bite, bite, deny reality.

The whole lunch went more or less like this, for about three excruciating decades. I’m an old man now, but I’ve come here today to tell you that Za Meshiya is not a great place to eat lunch, especially when there’s an Indian restaurant a block away where your girlfriend works and you can probably get free chicken soup or something like that.