Japan Things: "I Ate Bread for Breakfast"

When I first started teaching English in Japan the easiest questions to ask students were about food.  “What is your favorite food?” “What did you eat for lunch?” stuff like that.  Then I got about a hundred of the same grammatically strange/incorrect replies from the same question, which made me start to wonder..is this a cultural thing or something else?
Me: “What did you eat for breakfast?”
Student: “I ate bread for breakfast!”
Me: “Like a loaf…or a slice? Just bread?? What??!!”
Student: “…..”
When I  arrived in Japan I was so scared and worried for my students.  All they were eating were slices of bread????  Weren’t they hungry!!??
So for most of us Westerners, when someone says they ate bread, usually a slice of white bread comes to mind right?

And usually this is paired with like the main course, not alone, that would be crazy right?  I’m always brought back to the Disney Movie where Aladdin and Abu are fighting for a loaf of bread to battle starvation.  Or how in prison all you get is bread and water (this is just my imagination btw).  It seemed so bleak to me.
Sometimes I  used to imagine my students gnawing on a baguette like this…at least this seems to be a bit more filling….so I’d either imagine the slice or this baguette.
Then I realized that my student’s definition of  “bread” actually was freshly baked delicacies from local bakeries and bread shops, or even connivence stores.  OR, slices of bread wth a variety of toppings (egg, red bean paste, jam, butter and so on). 

Your mouth is watering already right?

These types of shops are literally EVERYWHERE in Japan.  And because there are SO MANY different types of bread, how could one possibly explain in English what they are?
Bread shops like these are becoming increasingly popular in urban areas in America, but still most people would just call the breads by their specific names rather than just “bread”.
And so, I then tried to and tell students it would be better to just explain what their bread was, for example: “I ate a sausage bread” or “I had a sweet lemon pastry” but honestly, it’s too much to ask for students especially since their whole lives they’ve been conditioned to just call it “bread”.  Even though yes it is bread, but they are all different thus we need to know what kind of bread it is, so we know its not just a damn loaf! GAAH!
I had a hard time accepting the statement “I ate bread for breakfast” because it just sounds so weird and awkward, but these days, I even use it myself.
If you are new to Japan, and find your student’s, colleagues, or friends saying this to you, cut them some slack because honestly, it’s hard.  Also, if you ever find yourself in one of these fantastic bakeries there are few things you should know.
Japanese Bakeries: Things You Should Know
  • Do not take the bread with your hands.
  • Near the entrance of the shop there are always trays and tongs, take those and use the tongs to grab your bread. Put your bread on the tray.  Once ready, take your bread to the register.
  • You can take the breads to-go or sometimes if the place has chairs and a seating area, you can have them in the restaurant.  This is usually the first thing they’ll ask you so be prepared to say “here ここで”す (koko desu) or “to-go もちかえりです(mochi kaeri desu) “.
  •   Enjoy your bread!
Thanks for reading! 

Michele Tanabe