Happy New Year from Japan

Happy 2014 everyone!  I hope you enjoyed the many holiday festivities with family and friends. Frigid Wisconsin wind-chills are keeping us home bound today, so I hope to relax, blog, and take a nap while my kids test out their many Christmas gifts. We’ll see how that goes…

Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a package from my dear Japanese friends yesterday.  I wrote briefly about them in my Memories of Japan post.  Since first meeting the mom eleven years ago, I have received a New Year’s card and package of goodies so I keep my taste for Japanese cuisine EVERY YEAR.  It is so sweet of them to remember me and my family (and reminds me that I need to do a better job sending my own holiday card and U.S. treats in return).  I certainly hope our families paths will cross again with a trip to Tokyo someday, or I could host her family members on any U.S. travel.

Here’s part of the card, including pictures of her daughters, who were six and nine years old when I first met them.  Aren’t they beautiful young women now?!

New Year's Card from my Japanese friends

New Year’s Card from my Japanese friends

This was the first Christmas where I truly felt my age, as younger cousins and relatives really seemed to be so much bigger and look so much older!  I am somehow THAT person who says to the younger generation, “Wow, you are getting so big!” This statement also applies to my Japanese friend’s girls.  Where does the time go?!

Here are some of the goodies that we received – mostly savory, salty crackers with some bean paste candies tossed in (and not pictured as my kids DEVOURED them).

Japanese treats and Green tea I received

“Candy” to remind me of true Japanese cuisine.

With fond memories and a gratefulness for their friendship after all these years, we’ll enjoy these treats as a family. Happy New Year!

What American goodies should I send to my Japanese friends?  I’d love to hear your suggestions!

I also included a few related articles, so you could learn more about New Year’s traditions in Japan.  When I asked my friend about Christmas, she said that it is considered more of a holiday for couples, who commonly dine on Kentucky Friend Chicken!!  Certain elements have been adopted in Japan, as noted in the second article.

Memories of Japan: Part II

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.


Old School Blogging

My blog friend Melissa over at Motherhood is an Art recently tagged me in a post that consists of lists of 5 things about myself. This is an easy, quick-hitting list to share a little bit more about each other. Below you will find my answers to these questions. Enjoy!

Five Things I Have a Passion for:

  1. My family
  2. Learning, growing, and trying to simply be a better mom, wife, friend, and all around person
  3. Reading & writing
  4. Cheese – specifically a 5 – 6 year old aged Cheddar
  5. Chocolate anything!

Five Things I Would Like To Do Before I Kick the Bucket:

  1. Hug a koala bear
  2. Eat sushi at Tsujiki Fish Market in Tokyo
  3. Learn a few basic ballroom dance moves with my hubs (so we can look cute as old people dancing together at weddings)
  4. Become a better baker (I’m currently more of a cook)
  5. Go on a Habitat for Humanity international service trip (or another vacation combining a service project)

Five Things I Say A Lot:

  1. No hitting. No wrestling. No running off.  (These rules are also repeated back to me, but are not always followed.)
  2. Be right back.
  3. Listening Ears on
  4. Use your inside voice please!
  5. I love you!

Five Things I Read Recently:

  1. Currently reading: Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis
  2. Rediscover Catholicism by Matthew Sweet
  3. Mad Women: The other side of life on Madison Avenue in the ’60′s and beyond by Jane Maas
  4. Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
  5. TOO many amazing blogs to count!

Five Favorite Movies:

  1. Dirty Dancing – such a classic!  “Nobody puts Baby in the corner!”
  2. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – it’s a total tear-jerker, but so amazing. Very very brief synopsis: a man dictates his memoir by blinking to communicate!
  3. ARGO
  4. The Shawshank Redemption
  5. Run Lola Run (auf Deutsch: Lola Rennt)

Five Places I Would Love to Travel:

  1. Australia (see koala comment above)
  2. Alaska
  3. Peru
  4. Japan with Daddy O. – Tokyo, Kyoto, Takayama, Nikko
  5. Hawaii (do I really just have 5 lines…there are so many more places on my list – India, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Africa)

Five Bloggers I’m Tagging For This Thing:

  1. Ice scream mama
  2. Do Gooder Mama
  3. I will have my Cake
  4. Little Miss Wordy
  5. Breadwinning Mama

All you ladies need to do is get to answering and writing, so we can all learn a little more about you! (I know this is kind of chain letter-like, so if you don’t answer, I won’t hold it against you!) Have a great night!


Memories of Japan: Summer Reading Challenge

In the spirit of the Do Good, Read More Summer Reading Challenge (the brainchild of the Do Gooder Mama), I decided to search for some blogs that reminded me of my own 3-month stint in Japan over TEN years ago!

Do Good Read More Summer Reading ChallengeWhen I started searching for blogs, I would save them in a draft, and then I’d keep finding more! This is quite a popular topic!

My Time as an Intern in Tokyo

I was a college student in my 20’s interested in going to Japan, since I had studied it all four years in high school.  When I arrived at college, I THOUGHT I could major in business, German and fit in some Japanese, but when they suggested placing me in a 6-credit Japanese class, I balked, thinking about how long my college career would take if I tried to be such an overachiever.

When I learned about an internship program with a railway company, I jumped at the offer to submit a proposal, and I WAS CHOSEN!  Through my three month stay, I would create a marketing plan and assess the ease of riding the train for English speaking passengers.  One other intern also participated in the program (mostly motivated by his ability to live in Japan and see his Japanese girlfriend).  Still, it was an incredible experience – full of A LOT of self-discovery and culture shock!

Clean & Efficient

One thing that I really noticed was how clean & efficient Tokyo was. The train system was among the finest in the world, providing high-speed travel on well-maintained, state of the art, and clean trains. All staff really takes pride in their work and their appearance.

I had the opportunity to “work” at Tokyo station for one week during my internship – complete with a uniform that was a cross between McDonald’s and a flight attendant that included a pencil skirt, hat, AND tie.  One female station employee noticed that I was trying to re-use the tie from the previous day (since I didn’t know how to tie it myself), so she quickly came to my rescue, re-tying it to look immaculate. I enjoyed teaching the employees English, and actually had to help an English speaking passenger find his way!

I was thanking passengers as they exited the train at Tokyo Station

I was thanking passengers as they exited the train at Tokyo Station – Arigato gozaimashta!

Similar sentiments on cleanliness were described in this post: 20 Things I Love About Japan from rhythmofthoughts

I LOVE Engrish!

As mentioned in the blog post above, you frequently see English words that don’t make a lot of sense printed on shirts, signs, billboards – EVERYWHERE!  This phenomenon is known as ENGRISH!  Check out these hilarious examples from Everything Anna:

For the love of Engrish

Georgiana in Real Life – also has some Engrish examples and beautiful photography.  My time there was SO LONG AGO, that digital photography really wasn’t around.

Life in Tokyo

As described in Daily (w)rite – Writing about Tokyo, it IS a little intimidating to navigate Tokyo.  On my first day coming home from work, I ended up getting lost. Fortunately I knew enough Japanese to ask for directions back to my tiny apartment.  Many people will say they don’t speak English, and while this MAY sometimes be true, I found that many more work colleagues spoke English – they were just too shy and modest to say it outright.  During my time there, I was approached a few times by random business men (or salaryman), who asked to practice their English with me.  I politely declined!

The subway and train systems CAN be difficult to navigate.  When my dear mom visited me, she had to take the train by herself from the airport to Tokyo Station.  She didn’t really know how to use the system (being from small town Wisconsin), so for two agonizing hours we waited for each other on opposite sides of the train’s exit turnstile. In comparison, my older sister and her boyfriend visited, and were champs navigating the system without ANY knowledge of Japanese.  I remember being very visual – remembering the look of a street or building, and matching up the kanji (Chinese characters) and hiragana (Japanese alphabet) when I couldn’t read something outright.

in uniform at Tokyo station

Me, Japanese Station Staff Manager, Other intern at Tokyo Station

My commute to my internship was a 15 minute subway ride, but my fellow intern had a 45 minute commute on the train.  At his station, they have workers who PUSH people onto trains to help make room for more passengers. It is ironic for the Japanese culture: for people who keep a lot of personal space and bow vs. shaking hands, they tolerate being crammed onto trains. It is disgusting to be so close to someone else that his sweat drips on you.  YUCK!

Public Bathing

I came across this beautifully written post: Venus in Japan by Nina Nakamura.

I can relate to feelings of insecurity in public baths.  I went to some with a family that I befriended through my best friend’s cousin’s friend (got that connection?), and I felt a little awkward squatting by a faucet and washing myself before submerging into the heavenly waters of different types of pools.  On another occasion, I went with my colleague’s girlfriend in Kyoto, who picked up on my discomfort, and left me alone.

More to Come!

I have enjoyed reflecting on my summer in Japan, and finding other bloggers who have ventured there as well.  I’ll be sharing more on this topic – and hopefully sharing some priceless pictures (maybe scanning?) or my stay.  Sayonara for now!

Have you ever been to Japan?  What do you remember most from your time there?

Living Vicariously Through Other Travelers

Summer reminds me of travel – road trips, flights, or discovering things closer to home. While we road tripped to North Carolina for a wedding over Memorial Day weekend, we do not have any immediate plans to travel out of state with our family.  Shorter, kid-friendly trips are what work best for my almost 2 year old and 3.75 year old, though I DREAM about the time when I can take them both on an overseas flight to visit friends across the pond.  Right now my son has really found his voice, and is using it VERY LOUDLY!  I know airplane passengers would LOVE that.

Back in my college days I spent an entire summer in Tokyo, Japan, came home for ten days and flew to Vienna, Austria to study there for a semester.  My time spent abroad was nothing short of amazing.  I loved meeting some wonderful friends, being immersed in the culture, exploring and traveling to new places.  Since then, I have been on a few trips, though it’s difficult to find the time and funds to do so.

To satisfy my overseas travel dreams for now, I am going to be living vicariously, or should I say viKERRYously through my friends Kerry & Matt, who left yesterday on their flight to Lima, Peru.  They sold their home, cars, and severely downsized to become ex-pats in Peru, where Matt will be working as a school principal. I’m am so excited to follow their journey, as they acclimate to their new surroundings, culture, and language.  You should check out their blogs too:

I once met a colleague during a summer internship, who had an opportunity to move his family and work in France for a few years.  He described it as the “most exhilarating experience ever.”  I truly hope Kerry & Matt find their experience to be the same!

This leads me to my next question – could I leave everything in Wisconsin and the U.S., pack my family, and move to another country for an extended period of time?  At one time in my life (before kids), the answer was unequivocally YES, but now the answer is a big MAYBE.

What about you – would you want to live / work in another country?

I featured Kerry On and Untethered as part of the Do Good, Read More Summer Reading Challenge.  Check out the link to read Tricia’s latest finds.  I can definitely relate to her latest post on parenting young children.

Do Good Read More Summer Reading Challenge

What great blogs have you read lately?  Read more & share what you found! I’ve really enjoyed checking out the variety of voices and making new connections in the blogosphere, and I’m sure you will too.