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How I stopped worrying and love Japan
So you`ve decided to move to Japan. Great stuff! Japan has a lot to offer and is full of rich culture, be it historical or anime in nature. But beware. There are many traps and pitfalls everywhere you go. You might be lulled into a false sense of security and before you know it, disaster strikes like an angry Charizard. Surely all of us who have lived and loved in another county have gotten into some hard times. This is a normal part of the experience and should be embraced rather than ignored or feared. What does not kill us makes us stronger and all that. I am by no means a master expat; I have only lived in Japan for about 4 years in total and I am constantly being challenged by the cultural and sociological differences that are inevitable when living over 8000km away from your own homeland. The advice I give here is merely based on what little information I have gathered (I majored in Japanese culture in university, albeit a “C student”), mixed in with a lot of predetermined ideas and a lot of help from a very patient Japanese significant other. If that is a recipe you can get behind, by all means read on. You might not think this information is relevant right now, when you are just entering the country for the first time, but it is better to be prepared. The Honeymoon period “Yes, this is Japan! I am finally here. Everything is perfect. I love everything. Even the bad things are good. The food is amazing. The people so friendly and polite. I could stay here forever.” Sound familiar? This is exactly my line of thinking when I first came to Japan. There`s a thing called “the honeymoon period", which describes the feeling above. Total euphoria and a complete disregard to any negative thing for the country. It varies from person to person, but can last from a few months to a few years. It happens to most of us and is pretty nice on its own. The problem comes when the period ends. When all the little negativities and problems arise and your perfect country doesn`t seem so perfect anymore. Although it`s really hard to give advice on how to deal with the inevitable collapse of this utopian idea in our heads, I just wish more people were aware of this so they could mentally prepare themselves. Which brings me to my second thing: Take it slow Sometimes, being reluctant can be beneficial. I understand the idea of wanting to try everything at once and loving it so much that you want more and more and more. Especially if you are her for a limited amount of time. However, just like with cake, which can be the most delicious thing you have ever tasted in your life, too much too fast can lead to some major misfortunes. Just.. I don`t know.. Try to see the whole picture before rushing into things you might regret. Try not to join the local Judo Dojo, only to be surprised they make you clean up everything and barely allow you to practice. (Uneducated anecdote) Heinlein's Razor So the guy in the train was pushing you. The group of girls in the coffee shop were staring and probably gossiping about you. Everyone is giving you the cold shoulder. Everyone seems to be against you; seem to despise you with their eyes. And it`s probably because you are a foreigner and different, right? Wrong! (probably). Let us look at it from another perspective. How many people do you look at on the train and think “hey, this guy is different” or “why is he wearing that?”. Is there any malice in those thoughts? Probably not. But you`ve been looking at them and judging them with your eyes, probably giving them the creeps. And then they forget about the whole incident in the next five minutes. Because that`s what happens. The guy on the train? Super late to an important meeting with the Big Boss. The group of girls? Wondering where to go during Golden Week. The cold shoulder people? Been doing unpaid overtime for the past thirty years and just want to get this document faxed as soon as possible. Everyone is simple, busy, neutral individuals who in 90% of instances are thinking about themselves. Realizing that, we can just ignore their unmannerly stares and continue on with our own lives. It`s a country with 127 million people. You`re going to get all kinds a number of times. Micro aggression. This is a big one (even though it has “micro” right in the title.). The waiter at the restaurant brings you an English menu, even though you speak perfect Japanese and the menu has like 1/3 of the information the Japanese version has. People at the supermarket get flustered when you arrive, forget you said “no” when they asked you if you need a plastic bag, try to speak what little English they can, even though you just spoke to them in your “pera-pera” Kansai dialect. The umpteenth time someone compliments you on your chopstick skills, asks if you can eat wasabi, asks if your country has four seasons, asks if you can read the simplest kanji, tells you your nose is long, tells you you are soooo tall ad nauseam. In short, it is the little annoyances in the day that later combine into a giant Katamari of aggression that takes you down a dark path. We don`t want that. The solution? Develop the memory of a goldfish and just let the little things slide. I know it is not as easy as it sounds, but let us be perfectly honest. There are 127 million people here. I am not going to prove to them all that, yes, other countries also have 4 seasons (although mine only has 2 as far as I remember). There are a bazillion other tips I can give to you. Here are a few runner-ups: Go to a Batting center and release the built up stress by pretending the ball is your boss. Go to an onsen or sento and let your worries melt away. Find the good parts of Japan and embrace them. I try to find at least one thing I am grateful to have in Japan. It`s not hard. (Today I am grateful for the half price deep-fried stuff in the supermarket after 10 P.M.) Learn the language. I am only conversational level and it helps me tremendously. I just wish I had learned more in school. You are going to make mistakes. It happens and you can learn from it. Do not sulk. Don`t believe the internet. Not even me. The internet is full of angry individuals with poo-brains. Watch Doraemon. He is fun, educational and I feel he clearly represents the sociological status of Japanese society at the given time. (Last week, Nobita created a country in his living room and had border patrols and when his mom tried to enter illegally, the guards shot her. Then his friend became a fugitive in the new country to escape his mother`s wrath). In any case, just remember to be aware of your mental state and keep an open mind about everything. Keep yourself safe and try to have fun. Good luck and Welcome to Japan!
Cake and flowers. What could go wrong?
Romance is important to the continuation of the species. (For more information, write to your local congressman). Western countries are no strangers to Valentine’s Day. With the flower giving and the red color and the awkwardness. But Japan took it a step further (where have I heard that before?) and made White Day as well. White day seems to have come from a confectionery company, originally marketing marshmallows and later white chocolate, as a way to increase Valentine’s Day sales. And man, did it work! I treat White Day as a sort of “Take-Two” for romance. I am prone to making mistakes, and it`s good to be able to re-do gestures without the faux pas that are inevitable in an international relationship. Japan has literally everything to offer if you look closely enough, so there is no shortage on things to do eat and talk about. So here are three ideas that pop up in my head when I think about Osaka and Valentine`s Day. (This applies to White Day as well.) 1. Osaka Station Osaka Station is a world of possibilities. It`s got everything under the sun for you to do. There is a plethora of restaurants to choose from in any level of romance you are looking for. The price goes up as well, I guess. Maybe making a home cooked meal is the way to go instead… You can meet your beloved in a romantic waiting spot outside Daimaru, in a place called “Toki no hiroba”. It`s the perfect place for a dramatic meeting, just like in the movies. 2. Nakanoshima If you are in Osaka anyway, take a stroll through the Dochika underground and come up on the end, you might be tempted to walk a bit further down and to the left to Nakanoshima. About five minutes from either Yodoyabashi station or Kitahama station (Keihan line) is the Nakanoshima Rose Garden. It is a lovely place to just walk around on a cold February afternoon………. Actually it is better to go in May when the roses are actually in bloom, but who can deny a good walk through a garden anyway, regardless of color. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder anyway, and you are supposed to be focusing on your date! It`s a simple idea and best of all, it`s free! 3. Make cake in the rice cooker Back in my home country, the oven, used for baking, cooking giant roasts and the like, is a staple in every building. It was actually built into the wall of my kitchen. In Japan, this is not so. You may have to shell out some tens of “man” to get a decent oven for something more than just heating toast. Instead of a cool oven, I have a very cool rice cooker. (I got it instead of a PS4 during last New Year`s Aeon gift card bonanza). The recipe I found on the internet explains a very simple way to make a chocolate cake. Well, things did not go as planned. The recipe said to use the normal rice cooker settings, but I guess I have to look at the manual a bit more closely. Oh well, lesson learned. I will be making this cake again on the 14th (and possibly next month too) and I really hope I don`t burn the house to the ground. 4. Flower language I am not afraid to say it. I would love to receive flowers some time in my life. I don`t think it has happened so far, as my memory fades with each year. I think everyone, even the most tough, hardy sailors would be at least a bit happy receiving flowers. In the olden times, people used flowers to communicate, just as we do these days with emojis. If you send someone a text saying “I am so looking forward to meeting your parents” and put a smiley face on the end, the message would be read as the truth. But if you put an eye-rolling yellow guy, a beer glass or even a sarcastic thumbs-up, guess what, you will be sleeping on the sofa for the rest of the week. It`s a mistake we all must face some day. During some ancient period, people sent flowers. The way it goes is you write a message to your long distance lover. This message is as vague as possible. But the real key is the flower that comes with the message. If the flower is, for example a violet, it represents “honesty”, but if the flower is an orange lily, it would mean “revenge!”. And of course if you send a cactus flower, you are looking for something more than a cuddle and a kiss on the cheek. Wink wink. The saying goes “you can`t go wrong with flowers”. Let me tell you, you can go completely wrong with flowers! So, a friend of mine (I must make it perfectly clear that it was not me**) brings his girlfriend a bouquet of flowers, selected because they are pretty, rather than what they mean. Yellow chrysanthemums look nice, right? WELL, it turns out, this genius gave his girl some funeral flowers! That was a nice conversation to have (not that I was there, of course). Whatever you decide to do during Valentine's and White day, remember to have fun. Make your lovey-dovey intentions clear and you will not be disappointed with the results. But what do I know. I`m still learning which flower is which. **I lied. It was me
Whose food is it anyway?
A country`s food culture is like a window into the heart of the people who live there. You can tell a lot about people from what they eat. Italians like to have longwinded conversations, much like the spaghetti they eat, Russians have heavy personalities, like stroganoff, and Americans are like tater tots. You can`t just have one. And if it wasn`t obvious before, I just made all that up. I am a simple man. I come from a small country with a rather limited food culture (amongst other scarcities). So my knowledge is limited in the culinary aspects. If someone tells me a food comes from some country, I will believe that with all my might. I will take that information to my grave. So imagine a 20-something man in his first ever ALT teaching job in an Elementary school. Bright eyed, full of hope and wonder, wanting to make a difference in the world of children. “Let`s do self-introductions” the homeroom teacher shouts and everybody thinks that is a great idea! The kids want to know what strange and weird and possibly horrifying likes and dislikes this Non-native, but still somehow innocent looking enough English teacher has. “What Japanese food do you like?” They shout in unison (because I made them to) and I answer with full confidence “I like Ramen!”. …Silence in the classroom. The longest three seconds in this new teacher`s life. Oh-emm-gee, have I said something to offend? Have I possibly struck a sensitive cord that will inevitably result in my expulsion? Has the Japan dream died before it started? …no. Of course not. But I did get a room full of 10 year olds explaining to me that Ramen is in fact not Japanese, but Chinese instead. So I learned a valuable lesson that day. Until I went on Wikipedia and read that ramen is a Japanese cultural icon! Now I don`t know what to think anymore. So here I want to explore some staple food of Japan, find out its origins and whether it can be considered Japanese food (Read: What I can and cannot say in front of 10 year olds) 1. Ramen (Definitely Japanese) As I said before, it most definitely is Japanese food, gosh darn it. Whatever the kids these days say. It IS true, however that the noodles themselves come from China. The word Ramen even comes from the Chinese word “lamian”. Now I don`t think I need to sing its praises or anything; I`m sure we all have a small, emergency ramen stash (or in my case, an entire full cabinet) but that`s just the instant stuff. The thing about Japan however, is whenever they get something new, they do not mess around with it. It is either fully in or out. So they took ramen, put it through its paces and created local varieties with flavors complementing the area. Don`t think you need to visit every small inaka town in Japan to be able to taste the variety however. (Well, you can, and if you do, please write an article in City Cost for each one). For example, on the 10th floor in Kyoto station, you can find a Ramen street, a collection of ramen shops from different areas of Japan. I recommend “Ramen Todai” since I love everything to do with pork. (The vending machines also have English language support). 2. Tempura (possibly Japanese) Before the Portuguese came to Nagasaki in the 16th century, the Japanese “tempura” was just deep fried food, without any eggs or even flour (sometimes rice flour). I don`t know about you, but the batter made from flour and eggs are what makes tempura the irresistible delicacy that it is. Never mind what is inside the batter. If the crunchy, oily stuff on the outside isn`t there, I wouldn`t touch it with a ten foot chopstick. 3. Curry (absolutely Japanese *terms and conditions apply) So I come to my Junior High School one day and half the school is missing. I ask the remaining teachers and they inform me that there`s a school trip. Kasajizo: Where did they go? Teacher:To the countryside. Kasajizo: Why did they go there? Teacher:To make curry. Kasajizo: Why curry? *teacher shrugs and walks away. Need I say more? (I also have a stash of curry roux in my other cabinet) Never mind the fact that the Japanese curry we know today was not available in supermarkets until the 60s. Today I think a household in Japan without at least one packet of curry roux is extremely rare. In short, Japan can call any food they want Japanese if they want. There is a certain separation from “Traditional” Japanese food, called Washoku and the western one called Yoshoku, but how far you have to look back for a food to become “traditional” requires a level of research that is beyond me. Post script: For the sake of weirdness, here is a picture of the strangest drink I have ever bought. Orange juice with rare cheese flavor. And yes, it tasted just as you would expect. Disgusting.
Universal Studios Japan on Christmas Eve
As I mentioned in my Christmas theme post before, we went to Osaka as a short trip for Christmas. On our second day there we visited the Universal Studios Japan (USJ). For sure many other people had the same plan, so the theme park was pretty crowded this day. But how is it like to be at USJ at Christmas time? Our first way brought us to the Harry Potter area. To enter, you need to get a timed entry ticket first for which we had to line up. Luckily, we could already enter the area around half an hour later. The magical village Hogsmeade was decorated with Christmas ornaments and it looked very beautiful with the fake snow on the roof tops. However, this was the only “Christmas special” at Harry Potter area we could see. We lined up for an hour to ride the Hogwarts rollercoaster, bought a souvenir, took some photos and went back to the main area. Around the park Christmas music was played around you all the time what really brought you into Christmas mood. The buildings had Christmas ornaments on their walls, too, and for sure, a huge colorful Christmas tree was set up in the park. Some unique Christmas dishes were offered at the different restaurants (however, we went to the Minions restaurant). Four special Christmas shows were held all around the day. We first watched “Santa’s Magical Surprise" which was held at the big stage close to the Christmas tree. The USJ characters like Elmo, Hello Kitty and Snoppy were preparing everything for Santa together with their friends. The show includes a lot of music and watchers were animated to dance. The around 25 minutes show was really fun. In the evening the shows “The Voice of an Angel” and “Joy of Lights” were held. Indeed, people were already waiting and reserving places for theses shows up to three hours before. That’s pretty crazy. We have been to a restaurant before the start of the first show, because it was cold and we were exhausted. When we came out to watch the show, the waiting crowd was so huge, we hardly could see anything. I have a good video camera, with this we could at least guess what is happening at the stage. At the end, the Christmas tree was lightening up with a firework – this was very touching moment. But we decided there is no meaning in watching the next show from such a distance. It was a great and memoriable day we spent at USJ on Christmas Eve, however, if you have a chance you should go there on another day. We just rode one rollercoaster (at Harry Potter area), because most others had waiting times of over two hours. But we could enjoy the some shows and Minions stuff. The Christmas event is held for several weeks before Christmas and even some time after. So it’s enough time to visit it on non-holiday-days.____________________________________________________________________________ If you want to see more of out day at USJ - I uploaded a video on my Youtube channel. English subtitle is available.
New year`s eve in review
The end of the year is apparently the biggest holiday of the year in Japan. People compare it to the western Christmas, as people go and visit their families and friends, drink, have fun and sing “ashita ga aru”. I have had some varied experiences when it comes to New Years in Japan. My first time in Japan, I was in university, I was in a strange country and ready for anything. So naturally I decided to go clubbing. I am not now, nor have I ever been the clubbing type of person, and I have no idea why I decided to go. The alcohol was expensive, the music was loud and I was an hour away from anywhere called home. Despite everything seemingly working against me, I actually had a pretty good time. I got mildly drunk, danced until I got self-conscious and had some deep, meaningless conversations with friends I don`t talk to when I am sober. All in all quite a successful night. I guess one of my biggest culture shocks happened that night too. After the countdown (big screen in the dance-hall and everybody dancing), we went outside to get a bit of fresh air. Right next door, there was another bar or club, but they had this big, wooden bowl and a cartoon-sized hammer just whacking a blob of mochi in the middle of the corridor. I was gaping in awe of this sight. I had never seen anything like this before in my life. So these mochi-people, seeing this foreigner wide-eyed stare, offered the hammer to me and for the first time in my life, I whacked mochi with all my might. And let me tell you, it was wonderful. I have GOT to get me one of these bowls! 2015-2016 was pretty interesting too. There I was with my partner in Osaka. We decided to go to Osaka Castle to witness the countdown light show. We went walking to the park and I thanked multiple deities that someone invented “Kairo”, the self-heating bags that you can keep in your pocket or glue to your clothes to keep warm. It was freezing cold, and it did not help that we had to stand outside, waiting for the countdown to begin. So we wait and wait and wait. Finally people start to count down. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Yay! Nothing… The normal lights of the castle turn on and life continues as if nothing had happened. No light show, no nothing. It. Was. Cancelled. Oh well, we went to the shrine next to the castle and did the whole “first visit to a shrine of the year” thing. There were people playing drums there and another group of people were giving out free hot soup. You know the feeling when you are really thirsty and finally get to drink a glass of water and it tastes like honey from the heavens? That is exactly what the soup tasted like. We were freezing by that time, so a hot cup of tonkatsu soup was just the right thing to kick start the body back from hibernation and get our good feeling back. We thought about waiting to see the first sunrise of the year. We thought about it for exactly one second before running inside to warm up. This New Year`s eve was a little different. One major difference is that, due to some … family matters … we cannot really celebrate. In Japanese tradition, when a family member passes, you are encouraged not to celebrate anything for a few months afterwards (even up to a year). That means, no shrines, temples, weddings, and no major celebrations. In light of these new circumstances, and looking back at our failures in the last seconds of 2015 what with Osaka Castle not lighting up and all, we did not make the same mistakes again. We refused to be fooled by cancellations and promises of lights when there are none. This time, we acted like the middle-aged couple we aren`t and stayed home. No going out in the freezing cold. No standing in line for 45 minutes to pray for luck and wealth to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and a definite no to all crowded areas. It was bliss! We stayed home all night watching endless comedy shows on TV and ate cakes. (That doesn`t count as celebrations, right?) Doing that, we managed to relax, save money (since we didn`t take any expensive trips) AND hopefully we gained some holiday weight. Who knows what next year will bring. There are plenty of events and shows in between Christmas and New Year`s eve. Light shows, concerts, dinners with distant family members whose name you conveniently fail to mention because you have no idea what it is. The possibilities are endless. Whatever will happen, one thing will be guaranteed. It will be interesting. It wouldn`t be Japan without a little bit of surprise.
The grievances of 2016 that weren`t
This year has been a remarkable one. With celebrities dropping like flies and America`s political biosphere on fire, it is good to look back and reflect on all the good and bad things these past 365 days have brought. Of course, living in Japan is a whole other story. When you stay here for long enough, the outside world starts to look like some distant memory; nothing can touch you. For some, this means the stress of war, turmoil and new presidents (not necessarily talking about Trump here. Iceland also got a new president this year, albeit one with less fabulous hair). Some people come to Japan to run away from their problems. The problem is that this country is not free from its own problems. Troubleshooting in a completely different environment is not for the faint of heart, and many well-meaning individuals buckle under the pressure and leave within a few months. There is a term I often refer to when discussing the expat experience: The Honeymoon Period. For those not familiar with the term, The Honeymoon Period is the time period in the beginning of your stay somewhere unfamiliar, where everything seems perfect. The flowers smell fresher, the air is cleaner, the people more polite, trains on time and the food. Oh my Glob, the food! Like an explosion of feel-good senses burst from your brain and permeates everything you see. Even the homeless people seem to be smiling. Now, as we hopefully know by now, all good things come to an end. It is sad but true. You wake up one morning and you find an uncooked rice in your bowl of gyudon. You drop your change from the conbini because the teller put the coins on top of the receipt again. Some kid yelled “Why Japanese people!” at you for the three-thousandth time and something inside you. Just. Snaps. This is when the honeymoon period ends. The time it takes differs between people. For some it takes only a few months. For others, a few years. The most common timeframe I`ve heard is two years. It seems that the second or third year for expats is the hardest one. I guess it has something to do with starting to see patterns in life. You`ve experienced the same things before, the veil of freshness drops and your brain starts getting bored. And when it gets bored, it starts focusing on the negative parts in life. And that`s when you`re in trouble. For myself, I have no idea where I am on the “honeymoon-period-curve”. I am on my third consecutive year in Japan, but my fourth in total. I have experienced some hardship and annoyances during that time, but never have I gotten close to saying “well, it has been fun. I`m leaving. See ya never!”. So for the difficulties of 2016, I would only count the minor grievances as a collective, rather than one big event. And even then, these annoyances don`t add up to me wanting to pack my bags. So, without further ado, I present the top 5 gripes of 2016 in no particular order. 1. The amount of people (hito-gomi). There are so many people in Japan. There are so many people in the cities. There are so many people in my train station. Why can I not get a seat on the train at 7:30 on a Wednesday in the most populated station in West Japan? Why is everybody pushing me? Why is that person running? What does he know that I don`t? Don`t you dare steal that seat. I saw it first! What`s that smell? Why is a school baseball team taking the train now? Despite all that, I actually really like riding trains. 2. Polite versions of already polite enough words There`s the plain form, there`s the polite form, there`s the super polite form and probably twenty more forms. I barely mastered using the desu-masu forms, and the teller in the Disney store just asked me something I couldn`t understand. I say “eh?” and the teller replies “puresento?” like I`m a damn fool. Even now, I cannot recall what she actually said, but I know it was not a “masu” form of any word I know. Or maybe it is. Now, the real reason I don`t understand is because I haven`t bothered to learn as much as I should have. That doesn`t make me feel any better, you know! 3. The lack of sleep Japan has such variety. There are so many things to do here. Everything is available almost any time of the day. 24/7 entertainment. Why would you want to leave? Why would you want to sleep? So what if you have to wake up at 6:30 to dance in front of hundreds of 6 year olds. You can survive on 3 hours of sleep and coffee. There is no escape. Sleep or boundless entertainment. Choose one and regret the other. 4. The variety Why buy this when you can buy that? This place has a discount, but this place uses point cards. If you sign up now, this place offers a free takoyaki machine with your purchase. Options, options, options! Sometimes I wish for a world that has just ONE STATE APPROVED TOILET PAPER TYPE. And then I remember that I actually like takoyaki. Oh well. 5. The weather It`s too sunny. It`s too cloudy. It`s too rainy. It never snows! It`s too cold! Why can`t it be summer in wintertime and winter in summertime? Why is the weather not like it used to be back home? What? It`s because I`m not home? What`s this nonsense? Now, as you may have noticed, these are extremely minor annoyances. Barely worth mentioning. And all of them can be summed up to my own personal view of the world. My own failures as a person, my own inexperience and my own irrational, egotistical ways. And that is the way of the world. We all get upset sometimes that the world doesn`t revolve around us. And that`s quite alright. As long as we recognize and deal with our feelings in a productive, safe manner (Batting center!), it`s alright to feel the way we feel. If you start feeling overwhelmed and alone, just remember that there are options (options, options, options!). We all get into a slump every once in a while. As Doctor Seuss said, there are plenty of ways to “unslump” yourself. 2016 is coming to an end. The next year will promise another four seasons and a whole lot of reasons to leave the country. It also gives us just as many reasons to stay. So let`s rejoice and count our lucky stars we`re not celebrities.
What to do for Christmas...
Christmas back home is always special. The entire extended family gets together, has a massive dinner with ham, turkey, goose, browned potatoes and an endless flow of gravy. Presents and pleasantries are exchanged, everyone is happy. This will be my fourth Christmas in Japan, and honestly, although it doesn`t have the same `homey` feel to it, I enjoy it so far. Different countries have different ways of expressing themselves. My first Christmas in Japan I honestly can`t remember. I was in university and was living in a dorm. Although New Year’s eve was memorable, with all its drinking and dancing and attempting to count down from 10, Christmas passed quietly by without so much as a peep. A few years later, after I properly moved to Japan, I had my second Christmas here. I was living in Kanto, with great access to Tokyo without the hustle of having to actually have to live there. So, naturally I went to Disneyland. On Dec 24th. Now, I know what you might be thinking. Is he insane? Nobody goes to Disneyland on Dec 24th! There`s too many people! Well, I was pleasantly surprised. I don`t know if it`s the park layout or the wonderful people who work there or some sort of Disney magic, but it didn`t seem as crowded as it should have. We even managed to go on a few rides and see Santa in the parade (yes, he waved at us!). I highly recommend going to Disneyland and Disney Sea (on separate days of course) during the Christmas season. You won`t regret it. The third Christmas was after my partner and I finally moved to Kansai. Naturally, there`s no substitute for Disney, but we made do with Universal Studios. Now, tickets to USJ are considerably cheaper than tickets to Disneyland, especially yearly passes, so we couldn`t …pass on that deal! (haha) I have to say, when you only have one chance to go to Disneyland, the pressure to have fun makes the experience a little bit frightful. So, when we have yearly passes to USJ, we go there, ride the Harry Potter rollercoaster, decide that we`re tired, leave and come back the following day. Or not. It`s our choice. And I think that`s one of the great draws of having a yearly pass. If you`re on the fence whether or not to buy the yearly pass, keep this in mind. If you`re pressured to have fun, you won`t have fun at all. This year is my fourth Christmas in Japan. What will we do this year? Well, there are a few options to consider. 1. For the traditionalist in me Decorating Christmas trees is a wonderful tradition that brightens up the house and brings out the hidden interior designer in us all. I usually try to spot the moment 100 yen shops start selling Christmas products (usually right before Halloween ends). My partner and I usually end up buying way too many decorations and have no idea where to put them. But being creative is just part of the fun. Now, right after Christmas is the perfect time to buy discounted decorations. You can find products for up to 90% discount in some stores. This is the time to buy in bulk. I buy a lot, put them straight in a box and put the box on a high shelf not to be opened until in November the next year. It`s a little present from me to me. 2. For the food lover in me There`s no shortage of good food in Japan. Getting all sorts of foods from other countries is a breeze compared to just a few decades ago. Although getting ham from Europe seems pretty difficult. But anyway, the old story about how Japanese people simply cannot celebrate Christmas without KFC chicken seems a bit off to me. The people I work with are more inclined to eat chicken from Mos Burger. This year, my partner and I decided to go all out. We pre-ordered Christmas cheesecake and chicken from our local Life Supermarket. I am very looking forward to seeing the results. In the years past, we simply went to the supermarket on the very last minute, so that we could feast on the discounts, rather than the food. I really recommend doing this if your wallet is lighter than a helium balloon. But the options are as many as there are people (and there are a lot of people here). 3. For the commuter in me The bigger train stations usually have something for everyone. There`s illuminations everywhere, the shops are decorated, the classic Christmas songs are blasted through every speaker possible and not to mention all the great Christmas bargains. I personally recommend either Kyoto station or Osaka station. They usually have some events that make going there worth it. Unfortunately, I always forget one important thing about Christmas in Japan. You see, back in Iceland, Christmas starts on December 24th. The entire thing is filled to the brim with celebrations and special days. Christmas officially ends on January 6th, the 13th day of Christmas. This is when you are allowed to take down your Christmas decorations. This is not the case in Japan. In Japan, Christmas begins when the stores decide to put up the decorations and it ends on December 25th. After that, they have to get ready for New years, which is more important to the native Japanese. What I`m trying to say here is, if you`re like me and wait until the last minute to do everything, please remember that the last minute is a lot sooner than you think. Whatever you decide to do this Christmas, just remember one thing. That last box of Christmas lights in IKEA is mine!