Tuesday, October 20, 2009

It's off to the races!

So, as you can see, my first entry occurred in July, and not much has happened since then. (Except Santi commenting to tell me what a sad, sorry blog it is. Haha.) I had issues getting a picture on the heading, and getting it the right size, et cetera et cetera. I just gave up for awhile, and on top of all that I’m just not very good at starting things.

BUT. But. Then Michelle, way over yonder at grad school at LSE, came up with a brilliant idea – a way in which the two of us can keep up-to-date on each other’s lives, while more or less compelling the other to do the same. A blog challenge of sorts! We both have to post at least 3 times a week. Any sort of entry, as long as we post. I believe Michelle will have reliable internet soon, if she doesn’t already, so may the games begin! It is my pleasure to officially say….

Welcome to my blog! I have no idea how many people will actually read this, so I suppose it will be for my own benefit (I’m sure someday I will be grateful someone made me write down all my adventures and shenanigans in the Far East) as much as for the amusement of those who care to follow said adventures and shenanigans. If there is anything in particular you are curious or have questions about, please don’t hesitate to comment or email me! When the shadowy specter of writer’s block strikes (dun dun DUNNN!) I’m sure I will be glad for the inspiration. J

Rather than starting off with something heavy and long and throwing you right into the middle of my life in Japan (such as it is), I thought I would start off with something I love very dearly. (As does Michelle, and since she’s the one who finally prompted me to do the blog thing, I dedicate this first entry to her! J)

What else but a list?

Things I’ve Learned in Japan (So Far) (In No Particular Order)

1.) Turn on the porch light before opening the back door at night. It gives the cockroaches ample warning to scurry away before I set foot outside to rescue my laundry from their dirty little clutches.

2.) Humidity is not my friend. It makes my hair frizz, my skin go crazy, my food go bad way sooner than it should. And it seems to have none of these effects on Japanese people! I just don’t get it.

3.) On that note – There are many things that I just won’t get in this country, no matter how long I live here. Whether it’s a deathly fear of the flu combined with no soap in public bathrooms, or leaving classroom windows open and then complaining about how cold it is, nothing will change the cultural and personal experience I had growing up, and thus some things will always seem very strange, if not outright backward, to me while living in Japan.

4.) Public transportation is nice for a while, but then the shine wears off. Even the half hour commute to Kyoto from where I live has gotten to be irritating. At first it’s fun and exciting, woohoo, I’m part of the commuter culture, I’m saving the environment! And then, the millionth time you’ve made the same series of motions of getting on the train, riding, switching lines, waiting, riding, it is very boring. Japan has a whole market catering to this, with stalls selling magazines and newspapers and books at all the train stops. But I can’t just pick something up for some light reading on the way home – it would require too much effort to slog through the Japanese, and would probably only succeed in irritating me more.

5.) I already experienced this once while studying abroad, but it’s nice to learn it all over again – in Japanese, it is okay if you don’t finish your sentences! In fact, it is even natural in some contexts. Maybe you’ve heard that Japanese customs and language are all about suggestion and indirectness, and while this can often backfire on us foreigners trying our darnedest to communicate in Japanese, it is also often a lifesaver. You start a sentence, but didn’t really think it through, and now don’t know how to finish it. Just let it trail off with a well-placed “…” and chances are your listener will be able to infer what you’re talking about.

6.) Japan is a drug-happy country. And I mean in the prescription drug sense. I’m sick right now, and they think it’s the flu. Influenza is a virus, so no real drugs for that, right? WRONG. I have I think 3 pills I have to take twice a day (one was something about “pro-biotics,” I don’t remember the second one, and the third is to counteract the nausea the first two cause), throat syrup and coughing pills to take as needed, and some heavy-duty acetaminophen to bring down the fever if it comes back. And all of this for less than $25! Wowza.

7.) Japanese convenience stores are amazing. Unlike their American counterparts, the food isn’t half bad, and it’s relatively healthy. So, when you’re on your way home from work and you realize you just don’t have it in you to cook that night, you can just stop and grab a nice box o’ Japanese food! And they charge so much for this stuff at restaurants in the States…

8.) Japan needs more sidewalks. Now, I know I don’t live in the Middle of Nowhere, Japan by any means, but people who live in Kyoto still tell me they consider Kyotanabe to be “inaka,” or country. And walking on one of the main roads heading downtown I often find myself jumping into the spider-infested canal/ditch/deathtrap to avoid being sideswiped by passing vehicles. (I’ll save the spiders and the deathtraps for another entry.) And what sidewalks there are, they’re pretty rundown. Most are passable for walking, but when I ride my bike on them and go from crossing a road back to the sidewalk, the consequent jerk as my bike vaults the none-too-smooth curb has often sent the belongings in my basket flying. Amusing, yes. But not when there are people around to stare.

9.) Elementary school kids are for the most part AWESOME. They are excited about English, excited about having a foreigner in class, and excited about whatever game I decide to make them play. And they LOVE “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.” They make me feel like I’m doing something worthwhile, not just in the abstract sense that someday they might have to use English and they should start learning now, but in that they actually have fun doing it.

10.) I can survive without many appliances I would’ve considered if not essential, at least something I’d really want to have around. I have no TV. (That’s what the internet is for.) I have no microwave. (The stovetop or toaster oven usually does the trick.) I have no actual oven. And I managed to survive quite a while without the toaster oven. Granted, I still have my computer and camera and fridge and whatnot, but I think it’s pretty cool that I can live a mostly normal life without these things that I’ve considered a given up until this point.

So for now, I will leave that list at nice, round 10. Especially since each item kept getting longer and longer. Let me know your thoughts, questions, anything! Feedback is nice. J And you will hear from me again soon! At least 2 more times this week, right? ;-)


  1. Do you see how excited I am!? :D A post!

    I tried the living without appliances thing for a while, and then I said no thanks, and bought an oven. For pretty cheap :)

    And I hear you about those elementary students. They are what this job is all about! :D

  2. So, I find it amusing that the comment intro says "Sarah said..." Makes me think of that Death Cab song. :)

  3. So...this is Ashleigh. It put in my livejournal name. There is probably a way to fix that....this is awesome but I need to leave for woooooork!!! :D

  4. Wee! Blog!
    i.. still like public transit. :p Moreso now than when i first moved to Seattle, since i'm not commuting for an hour every morning anymore, but i like not having to pay for insurance/gas/parking/repairs/etc..
    And my first apaato didn't have a microwave either. They are convenient, but it's neat to see that you can really get used to living without some things. :)
    And conbini!! i miss them. i wish there were at least a Famima up here to keep me satisfied..

  5. 1) I dislike cockroaches and hopefully there won't be any in my future apt in Japan.

    2) This my friend, is due to the fact that Asian hair tends to have thicker structures that hold onto enough moisture so that the hair won't get haywire... Caucasian hair tends to be finer, it does not absorb moisture... Hence, it explodes once faced with humidity... You can test this by asking your Asian friend to wash her hair at the same time as yours, air dry them, chances are your hair will dry faster... that is an example of adaptation to climate and weather...

    3) No soap in the bathroom is indeed disgusting, but then ashamed as I am, I would have to admit that Asian which ever part you go... Do not usually wash their hand... Why? because they tend to wash off their butt with water versus toilet paper (or nowadays water bidet followed by butt dryer)... when one's hand does not directly touch one's under(part)... why would one need to wash one's hand.. Is I think the argument for no soap in most of the public bathroom...
    In addition, Asian restaurants usually offered sanitized clothes or water basins before they served food... Furthermore, Japanese, especially, do not usually shake hand... They bow!

    3) In conjuction with leaving windows open while it is cold outside, I do the same thing most of the time... Because I believe that without air circulation a room will get stuffy and smelly... Especially when living things are contained in the enclosed room, consequently it attracts virus and bacteria ... Thus, it is much better to suffer from chill than from the cold and/or flu meh! ...

    4) I know what to get you for Christmas... Conservative books such as Sarah Palin's biography for your fun read in the bus or train :p... Believe me ... I feel your pain... But even if you're driving... You will feel the routine regardless...

    5) I love this! If you have not realized... I tend to speak in incomplete sentences... But now that I have Japanese bosses... I finally feel your frustration... Since these peeps including me speak in codes ;) We just need to get use to it yo!

    6) Drugmakers charge more here mostly due to the fact that they need to recover their capital and R&D expenses they spent while inventing the drugs... Japanese, on the other hand, bought these drugs at a much lower fees since they did not have any initial investment in the drugs... Most are patented in U.S.! Anyhoo that is why drug is more expensive in the U.S. since the formulas are invented right here...I learned this in Health Economics Yowza ...

    7) Couldn't agree more...

    8) You know other than in NYC... Most of the States here in America has sidewalks that stopped in the middle of nowhere as well... So well I think Japanese is better in some ways....

    9) Hehe you make me grin...

    10) Awww you live a good life ne...

    All and all... Hope you are feeling well Al!