As I really enjoyed reading blogs about Japan and sharing my own stories in Memories of Japan,  I felt inspired to break out my very first scrapbook of my summer in Tokyo.  I ended up taking pictures of my favorite pages (kind of lazy, old school, right?) since I don’t have a scanner.  Overall, I think you’ll be able to get the effect of my scrapbook along with my riveting informative narrative.

As I mentioned in my first post on Japan, I met a lovely family through my best friend’s, cousin’s friend. Here I am when I met them for the first time, when they kindly met me in Yokohama and drove me to their home.  I love the expression on their oldest daughter’s face – like “WHO are you?”  I stayed with them overnight and the mom graciously escorted through the HUGE maze of Tokyo station with my massive suitcase.  I was so grateful for their friendship.  They made my three-month stay so much more enjoyable!

meeting new Japanese friends for the first time
meeting new friends

Here’s my scrapbook page of my apartment in Akasaka, an area of Tokyo that is home to many embassies (and is very safe and conveniently located).  It was a tiny apartment for sure and the street leading up to it looks like many typical streets in Tokyo (which is part of the reason why I got lost on my first day going home – especially since it was already dark).  My sister and I pose by the address, and I show off the supplied utensils that the apartment provided. She and her boyfriend – now husband – visited me and were also able to stay at my apartment in a separate room. It wasn’t much – a pot, a spoon, a mug.  My mom, who also visited me, teased me that it reminded her of the song Anatevka from “Fiddler on the Roof.”

small apartment in Tokyo

Here’s a picture of my bathroom – complete with slippers that are strictly reserved for that room.

bathroom slippers and other customs

My sister poses by the squat style toilets that she really liked.  I didn’t mind using them either, though it was a PAIN to pull down panty hose on a hot, humid day to use this type of toilet.  Other toilets were super high-tech with built in seat warmers, bidets, and even music you could play, so others in the public bathroom would not hear your personal business.  Great, right?!

I also learned from our rather strict, conservative Japanese translator that it is incredible rude to walk down the street and eat at the same time.  He wanted to stop, so I could either finish, throw away, or put away my Starbucks scone.  I guess it can be a bit sloppy and sort of rude, but geez, can’t a girl get a quick snack with coffee?!

karaoke fun I LOVED doing karaoke in Japan – especially because you do so in your own private karaoke room.  You simply call on the phone and order whatever drinks or food you would like (think small plates of bar food, sort of like tapas but Japanese style).  Various karaoke places even had musical instruments or props you could buy / rent.  I didn’t exactly do a lot of ordering of food or buying accessories, as I usually went with Japanese speaking colleagues or in this case with my Japanese friend.

my last day in Tokyo

This last page is from my final day in Tokyo.  As you can see in part of the picture, I wrote a detailed schedule for myself, so I had everything organized for my last day.  I’m pictured with members of the marketing departments with which I spent part of my internship.  We formally did “greetings” and gave presents to five sections of the company, which took about thirty minutes.  Notice how NO ONE is touching in all of the pictures.  I’m so used to putting arms around other people in pictures – even if it is work people – but this certainly wasn’t the norm in Japan with larger personal space bubbles around everyone. I truly missed shaking hands and giving hugs – and desperately wanted to do so on my last day! Oh well…

When I paid my final bills at my apartment, I realized that I had inadvertently packed one of the provided spoons, so I had to pay for it!  Not a big deal, as I wasn’t going to rifle through my huge suitcase, but funny nonetheless and indicative of the fine attention to detail that is commonplace.  I was unable to navigate my luggage on the short walk to catch the bus to the airport, so I hailed a cab to drive me there!  By 11:30 – almost two hours after going to work, saying goodbye & giving gifts, taking the subway back to Akasaka and picking up luggage – I was on a bus to the airport ready for the return flight to Atlanta and then Chicago.

My parting thoughts in my scrapbook are as follows:

As I finished this scrapbook, I often paged through it wondering if these pages really captured all of the emotions and experiences that I went through during my three months in Tokyo. This was truly an unforgettable “growing” experience for me.

I came head to head with a new culture – one that I found fascinating & endearing at the same time. Fortunately in this high tech, neon-lit city I found friendship. The compansion of Yukie, Tokie, Mr. Hara, and many others truly made me feel more at home in a very different place.

Frequent reminders of home – whether a visit, phone call, letter, or email – also helped me through the ups & downs. I was so happy that my mom, sister, and (future brother in law) could get a taste of Japan and join in my exploration.

Most importantly, I learned that I can feel “at home” and still feel close to loved ones no matter where I am in the world.

I’m really excited to see that Tokyo won the 2020 Olympic bid – since I was there during the 2002 World Cup. Hopefully a return trip with my husband will be in our future!  Check out the related article. It includes a picture of my favorite view of the Imperial Palace: Nijyubashi.