Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Golden Week

This week marks the start of Golden Week, the most important holiday in Japan. It's the longest public holiday in Japan, and it celebrates a few different occasions, such as the Emperor's birthday and Children's Day.

Golden Week is also the week when most families take trips to different parts of Japan to visit relatives or to go sightseeing. In other words, it means crowded trains, no-vacancy hotels, and well, people everywhere. I decided to live on the edge and hit my favorite spot in Japan...


I have the best excuse to go, as two of my friends from Montreal are coming to visit, so we'll spend a short weekend together in Tokyo. And oh, Tokyo on a budget for me... overnight buses, no shopping and staying with friends! I think it's all worth it, just walking around Tokyo gets me high, and gets me into a frenzy. I'm so excited to see my friends from home, it's been so long, and it will be amazing to show them my world.

Oh, Tokyo, how I've missed you!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

I survived my first Japanese haircut!

I was most worried about getting my hair cut here. I only cut it twice in Korea, and both times left me quite disappointed with the results. The styles are a bit different, and so is the hair texture. The language barrier can also be intimidating and confusing, but my mane was getting out of control so I decided to just walk into a hair salon and get it over with. Hair salons abound in Japan, so it's easy to just walk in without an appointment.

The girl who cut my hair was lovely, and I even chatted with her in broken Japanese. I showed her some pictures of my previous haircut and she did a great job, I was pleasantly surprised with the results. It had been six months since my last trim, and my hair was quite damaged, so it feels healthy again.

I realize I just wrote a whole entry about a haircut, but honestly, those kinds of small things can become a big challenge when you live abroad!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Daijobu desu

My finger may have suffered injury from cutting vegetables, but the rest of me is good. Thank you for all your kind comments and emails regarding culture shock, it was very heartwarming. It was nice and comforting to read, and definitely cheered me up.

Aside from wonderful emails, chats over tea, endless Friends marathons, and long runs around Marugame, a few other things made my life a lot easier those past few days:

{Getting dressed up for a wine tasting event}

{Only in Japan? A Marc by Marc Jacobs magazine, with a free handkerchief and pouch. Sweet!}

{Warm weather is here. Almost.}

Monday, April 19, 2010

Small living

Everything in Japan is cute and tiny.

I literally live in a square. My whole apartment is a square room, where I eat, sleep, entertain, work, study, watch movies, try on clothes and (sometimes) drive myself crazy. I got used to it pretty quickly. It's cute, cozy, and easy to clean. Also easy to get messy. It's also kind of intimate, so when I have friends over they have to sit on my futon, and stare at my open wardrobe. Hello, socks and underwear. When I have overnight guests and out of town friends, it can get a bit tight, especially when all three futons are lined up next to one another. Also, it's embarrassing when it comes time to change clothes: the bathroom is too small, so I have to quickly change near the kitchen, hoping no one will see me.

I do enjoy my living space, and I made it as cozy as I could, without an overload of furniture or accessories. Besides the futon, I have a low coffee table, on which I work and eat. I added an area rug from MUJI, with two flat cushions for sitting. A few lamps and Christmas lights make for a warmer glow than the original neon light. A pile of magazines and books on a corner, and that's all I need to feel at home. I was lucky to get a pretty big kitchen, and it's my favourite part of the apartment.

Japanese apartments are really made for smaller people. Counters and ceilings are lower, and the toilet room is so tiny it's hilarious. My male foreigner friends have been complaining about it, banging their heads on the the low ceilings and having to hunch over kitchen counters.

I do still love entertaining at home (something Japanese people never really do), and cooking for my friends and have brunches. Anything is possible, and I think it's even more fun when everyone is just cozying up on the floor... there's something kind of charming about it all.

My Wanderlist

The lovely Mina and Alex from Sending Postcards asked me for my wanderlist. I was excited to come up with some fun adventures!

Thank to you two, and I do hope we get to sing karaoke together in Japan!

Friday, April 16, 2010

It's here.

I knew it was going to creep up on me, when I least expected it. And I knew it was going to be mild, yet inevitable.

I've spent this past week moping around, feeling just sad and lonely, and I've had the hardest time getting out of my apartment. I came home crying from the supermarket because people were staring at me. I've been getting so upset at the sound of my students giggling, thinking they must be making fun of me in Japanese. Those things usually don't bother me, but this week has been bad, and I've finally figured it out.

Culture shock.

I hate to admit it, but I'm going through a mild version of it these days. It came upon me intensively in Korea, so I knew this time around it would be a bit easier, because I can at least acknowledge it and I know it will be okay. My stay in Japan has been going so smoothly, and I'm lucky to be surrounded by a solid group of friends who can relate and listen to my whining over ramen.

However, all this has motivated me to keep studying Japanese, and to look forward to all the fun to be had in the upcoming months, including visits from friends and family, and my first Japanese summer. I think all the rain and cold we've had lately hasn't helped, so cheers to the warmer weather.

And, as always, and as lame as it sounds, watching Friends has proved to be the most comforting thing. Never fails to make me feel better.

{Those sights are beautiful, but sometimes make you feel so um... isolated!}

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Learning Japanese

{My best friends... lately}

Learning the language is probably the most important part of immersing yourself in a new culture. Looking back, I realize that not learning Korean as probably a huge part of my struggle with the culture. And lately, I've experienced diverse situations where my lack of skills embarrassed me. For instance, not being able to communicate with my kindergarten students makes me so sad, especially when they excitedly tell me stories about their day.

Japanese is not the easiest language to learn. Written Japanese is made of three different scripts, and the kanji characters can take several years to master. Hiragana and Katakana are syllabic scripts, which are a bit easier, but still require some patience. As for spoken Japanese, it's actually easier than it sounds.

So here I am, tackling Japanese. I'm practicing my strokes in my kana workbook, I'm studying kanji flash cards on a daily basis, and listening to my Japanese lessons on podcasts. I'm also luckily surrounded by Japanese friends (and fluent foreigner friends) who provided me with amazing resources. And, I live out in the countryside, where English is not used, so it helps.

I'm actually having so much fun studying! It takes a lot of time and energy, but I am loving it. The best part is when words start to make sense, or when I blurt out a full sentence... and get my point across.

がんばって!! ("Do your best")

April, briefly

Things that are great:

-The cherry blossoms
-Rain, rain, rain. I just love the sound!
-It's finally getting warmer
-I'm eating all kinds of fresh fruit
-Sleeping with the window wide open
-Cooking Mexican food (thanks to import food store in Okayama)
-People watching on a Sunday afternoon at Starbucks
-Taking silly train pictures
-Perfect running weather
-Japanese lessons
-Kaiten sushi (conveyor belt) on a Monday night
-Living by the sea
-Going to shrines and temples whenever I feel like it
-Reading tons of books

Things that could be better:

-Hanafubuki (falling cherry blossoms... already!)
-Traveling to another prefecture for work
-Not finding any convenience stores in aforementioned location
-Biking in the rain
-Not being able to read my bills/letters
-My hair is a lion's mane!
-Small town inconveniences... enough said.

Not bad... not bad at all. If only I could get to bed at a reasonable hour.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The skinny on Japan

{Konnyaku jelly. No fat, no calories, filling, and cheap. Pretty good taste too! I love Japan.}

Japan makes me feel fat sometimes. Most Japanese girls are naturally tiny and delicate, and I occasionally feel like a graceless giant alongside. Truth is, I'm not very tall, and I'm the thinnest I've ever been. Being away from cheese, butter, and bread has done wonders to my weight. I still run a few times a week, ride my bike everywhere, go hiking, and eat healthy meals. I do love sweets and never say no to dessert, but I'm always keeping everything under control. I fit in all Japanese clothing sizes, and I'm not even the largest size. Despite all that, I've never felt so concerned about my weight, and self-conscious about my curves, which are considered unattractive here.

It's kind of sad, because I know better than that. I'm usually very happy with myself. Yet I'll have days when I just feel terrible (especially when I wear sneakers). I think girls are the same anywhere in the world, but honestly, being surrounded by tiny girls can be hard on one's self-esteem. Sigh. I think that's one of the biggest challenges for a girl, about living in Japan. No kidding.

Anyways. The fruit jelly is actually quite tasty. And, I'll never, ever stop baking my beloved cupcakes. On that note... I do have a brand new package of icing sugar, waiting to be turned into a yummy vanilla frosting.... mmmmmmm.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

You know you live in the countryside...

... when the most exciting thing to do at 1am on a Tuesday night is to bike to the 24-hour grocery store in my town. Isabel and I took our matching bikes for a ride, and picked up some tasty treats for breakfast: yogurt, a mango, apples, oranges, granola. We both grew up in big cities, so we think it's hilarious to have this kind of lifestyle now! Sometimes I think it's overwhelming that everyone knows about my daily activities and about everything I do/buy/eat (not only my fellow foreigner friends, but my Japanese neighbours and students).

Yet I think it's pretty nice and quaint, life is so simple, and I'm loving just riding my bike around town. Just little moments like that will create the best memories.

Monday, April 5, 2010


Sakura さくら, cherry blossoms, have fully bloomed and are here for a very short period of time. In all the parks across Japan family and friends gather for hanami, which literally means 'flower viewing' events. It's pretty much a picnic, and an chance to just relax and catch up with friends under the beautiful trees. It's been so nice to bike around my town, all the trees are pink and people just seem in a lighter mood. Like my Japanese friend described so well, hanami is more than just drinking and flower viewing- it's more about welcoming the spring and feeling more cheerful.

{Nighttime hanami was my favourite, with the lanterns lighting up the trees}

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Shikoku chic

{I need a haircut but I'm terrified. My hair has never been that long.}

I don't have a full-length mirror so I usually do my outfit checks at the Marugame train station. Sad, sad, I know. What else is sad is the fashion sense in Shikoku. I came to Japan thinking everyone would be sleek and stylish, but the truth is, the countryside remains... the countryside. I have to go to bigger cities to see the good stuff, but it never disappoints. Each city in Japan has a different vibe, and I'm loving all of them. Tokyo is definitely funky, Osaka more grungy (and the girls dress a bit more, um, provocatively there), and Kyoto, Kobe and Hiroshima are quite chic and sophisticated.

As for Shikoku... well. I've seen some horrible things here. Orange hair. Track suits. Hair clips on guys. Faux-gold chains. More track suits. Seriously, I don't know why track suits are so popular here. And mullets! There are definitely some stylish girls in Takamatsu, but even going to Takamatsu is a bit of a treat for me. Oh, countryside!

Hiroshima was a nice treat for my style-deprived self. I'm loving the spring florals and stripes, and love them even more mixed together. I also take such delight in reading Japanese fashion magazines, I'm so fascinated with them and their beautiful models.

As much as I love stylish garments, living in a bland place (fashion wise) kind of makes things easier. There is a bit less temptation to get the latest trends, and honestly, I'm happier spending my money on train tickets and weekend getaways. Even though I tend to go a bit nuts when I go to a big city and finally see some nice shops... oh well.