Friday, December 7, 2012

Gaijin: Life on the Outside

Japanese culture is, obviously, really different from Western culture. There are a thousand little differences you encounter everyday that remind you how far away from home you are and can induce culture shock. Like being expected to pay in cash everywhere you go, no matter how big or small the purchase (this is a biggie when you come from a credit-card loving country like America.) Or when you order steak and potatoes at a famiresu (family restaurant) and the potatoes are three, sad, borderline anorexic little things that you eat just to put them out of their misery. (And that's not really a biggie unless you come from an Irish-American family like I do, where we eat potatoes like Asians eat rice.)

It's like the potatoes are trying to hide their sad, shriveled little selves behind the chicken. It kind of makes me want to cry.
The thing is that the longer you live here the fewer surprises there are, and the more these little things just start to seem normal to you. Now I actually like corn on my salads and speaking in a polite, indirect way when the occasion calls for it. Even being naked with a bunch of old ladies and small children at the onsen is not the awkward experience that it used to be.

Looks nice, right? Now imagine it's full of obaachan...

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Disney-ist Halloween Ever

I've always liked Disney's Sleeping Beauty, because it was made before kids' movies had to be "kid-friendly" and is genuinely a bit dark and creepy. (And obviously as a Kindergarten teacher I approve of kids' movies that leave the children just that little bit traumatized after-- it builds character.) Another thing that makes Sleeping Beauty a classic to me is Maleficent, the evil witch who is one of Disney's more memorable villains.

I've had the idea for my own version of a Maleficent costume in the back of my head for awhile, so that was my choice for this year's Halloween. I was pretty excited about the chance to celebrate here in Tokyo, and the weekend definitely lived up to expectations.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Hokkaido Backpacking Adventures! Part II

Ha! Think you can kill me, crazy mountain storm with super powerful winds? I laugh in the face of, uh, my own very messy death. Um. Yeah.
The first half of our trip was dedicated to doing the Grand Traverse, a pretty hardcore backpacking course that hits a number of the major peaks in Daisetsuzan over a period of 4-5 days. Not being the most physically in shape people, we decided to only do about 2/3 of the route, covering all but the final day of the actual Traverse. We also made things a bit easier by using rope-ways. We camped the first night in Asahidake, then caught the rope-way up at 7am the next morning.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Hokkaido Backpacking Adventures! Part I

First of all, to anyone out there who may've been following this blog, I'd like to say that no, I didn't hop on the wrong train in Tokyo's labyrinthine metro system and somehow fall off the face of the earth these past couple months. I've actually just been working a lot-- we had a special Summer School program in July that involved a lot of four hour train commutes, un-air-conditioned schools and hot, crawly kindergartners. I did do some fun things as well: I visited Disney Sea with my friend Kenna, which was awesome and I'll try and do a full post about that soon. Sadly I had to say goodbye to Kenna who has now returned to our native land, Oregon. She will be missed!

See you soon, Kenna! :'(
The other thing I did was backpack my way around Hokkaido for two weeks. If I was ever curious what it might be like to be homeless in Japan, I now have a very intimate understanding. 

My partner in dirty, park-living homelessness was my friend Anna, a fellow English-teacher from Sendai, originally from Bristol, in the UK. We spent most of our copious amounts of free time making tea in odd locations, sneakily sketching unsuspecting citizens in cafes and parks, and I slowly but inevitably began unconsciously picking up British-isms. (I still can't believe I repeatedly referred to the flashlight as a "torch"; I feel I've let America down, somehow.)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Exploring Tokyo: Theme Cafes

I'd like to start a new series of posts about the cool places I've discovered in Tokyo. Each post will have a particular theme, such as museums, crafts, fashion, etc, or be about a certain neighborhood. I thought I'd kick it off with a post about theme cafes.

Coffee Prince - Shinokubo 

More info here
Shinokubo is Tokyo's Korean district, where you can find lots of delicious food, K-pop idol stores and crazed K-pop idol fans. One of Korea's older but still well-loved TV dramas is "Coffee Prince", which also happens to be my favorite Asian drama. I checked out the Coffee Prince Cafe, themed after the one from the drama, two years ago when I first came to Japan. It's very cute and looks a lot like the one from the show and the drinks were a bit expensive but good. Since then it's gotten on TV and become super-popular, so look out for crowds.

Friday, April 27, 2012


Every year when the cherry blossoms bloom in the spring, Japanese people come out in droves to drink and eat beneath the trees. It's called "ohanami", and it's one of my favorite Japanese traditions. This year I got to do a few hanami in various places around Tokyo with my new coworkers and friends. Here's my review of a few of the popular spots we visited: 

Ueno Park

Ueno is a great park to spend the day in, with lots of fun things to do, and they set up a number of food stalls and street entertainers during the hanami season. Unfortunately, as you can see in the photo above, it's pretty crowded and Ueno doesn't have many good places to sit and have a picnic. Most people just put tarps down on the side of the sidewalks. I wouldn't recommend Ueno for a traditional sit-down hanami, but it was very nice to eat some festival food and go visit the zoo while admiring the sakura.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Trains, Toddlers and Tiny Apartments: My Life in Tokyo

Last month I made the move from Sendai down to Tokyo. I had an awesome going away party with my friends and one at work where I received many wonderful hand-made presents from my students. I already miss the great community of people I knew up there, but fortunately some of them have already made good on their promises to come visit me here in Tokyo.

My new apartment is a Leo Palace, an apartment chain throughout Japan that offer small but cheap and relatively nice places to live. It's supposedly "furnished" but by that they just mean a table, chairs and basic appliances (fridge, microwave, TV, washing machine, etc.). I ended up spending a bit more than expected on stuff for the apartment when I moved in, which made me realize just how spoiled I really was in my spacious, fully stocked Sendai apartment. 

New Leo Palace Kitchen: About as spacious as an airplane bathroom.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Winter Hiking in Yamagata

My friend Anna and I are pretty outdoors-y people, so even though it's been snowing regularly here in Tohoku the past couple months, our cabin fever drove us out to the mountains two weeks ago. In our ignorance, we thought it might be possible to do the little canyon trail that leads from Omoshiroyama mountain to the small town of Yamadera in Yamagata. Our first clue that this was ridiculous came from the shocked and concerned faces of our Japanese passengers on the train when we got off at the Omoshiroyama station out in the boonies. Clearly everyone was expecting to see us on the news the following night with the headlines, "Crazy Foreigners Disappear in Japanese Wilderness."

Their concern may have been well-founded.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


I'm sorry to say that the crazy workload, traveling for the holidays and life in general basically destroyed my will to blog these past few months. But better late than never to get back into it again, right? First of all, some very important and exciting news!

As of this March, it will have been two years since I came to Sendai. It has been an absolutely amazing, crazy, unforgettable experience. My contract with my school will soon be coming to an end, and I will be starting a new job as of March 21st. The new job will be as an English teacher for a kindergarten in Chiba and I will be living in Tokyo near the Ueno area. I am so excited about moving and starting a new job; living in Tokyo will give me a wide variety of new places to explore in and around the city and will make it a little easier to travel during my last year in Japan.