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Nihongo- Challenging, Ne?

When in Rome - Do as Roman's Do !! So when in Japan why not do as Japanese do ?? To do as Japanese do , first thing would be to speak Japanese. And this is where is a challenge !!  I'm not sure if the challenge I come across with language in Japan would qualify as a challenge for my readers. Definitely not for those expats who have acquired a level of confidence in the Japanese language. However, me being a beginner (for ever) have faced enough challenges with language in Japan. Let me share some of my observations and funny moments with an inappropriate use and understanding of the vocabulary. Sometimes it is just my tongue that does the wrong job and at other times it is just me making the moment either awkward or funny !! 1. Kawaii - Kowai : Even after living in Japan for couple of years now. I use Kawaii ( Cute) and Kowai ( Scary) interchangeably for some reason. In the beginning when someone told me- Anatawa Kawaii Desyou. ( You are cute) ; I would sometimes understand that as Anatawa Kowai Desyou ( You are Scary). I would question myself- Am I really? These words sound quite similar to me even now; May be I am the only one. Sometimes, in a morning walk with my husband- I'd say " Kowai" to compliment a neighbor's dog and my husband would stop me right there. Neighbor's face looked confused but he hesitantly smiled probably faking that he understood what I meant. After all who would want to hear that one's pet is a monster? 2. Okashi- Okashii : No specific example to share here but I totally use these terms " Okashi and Okashii" interchangeably even after knowing there meanings . The first one means snacks and the latter means weird. I face this challenge because my tongue does not allow me to pronounce them differently. I am not overly concerned here because people won't be much confused as these terms are used in different context or at least I haven't come across any such embarrassing moments using these terms.  3. Chotto : Though the word " Chotto" literally means " Little" in Japanese but I had to pay a price to figure out not always- but depends on when it is used. I worked for a University as a researcher in Niigata last winter. For my first meeting before I was appointed I took a train to the place. After I got off the train I wasn't sure how far was the university so asked a Japanese gentleman about the route. He explained me how to get there without indicating that it would be quite a walk. It was snowing outside but I started to walk thinking I'd get there soon. In the midst of my walk, I met another pedestrian and asked him how far is the place; He said with an unpleasant expression in his face- "Chotto Ne". I was like- Why would he make that face if it is just a little further? I only figured out that his " Chotto meant - A LOT -after walking half an hour in the snowy bone chilling day. 4. Naruhodo: I couldn't help share my personal experience of misunderstanding a term " Naruhodo"; and as I said it is personal in the sense that it was just me. It's not that the term is confusing or anything.I used to tutor English to a Japanese lady at my house. During our Japanese conversation she used a word - Naruhodo. I heard this word for the first time and the context of conversation was that we were talking about people in Japan. With her use of " Narohodo" somewhere in the middle of sentence; I related it to a person's name and I asked her back. Narohodo san wa dare desuka? ( Who is Mr. Naro Hodo ? ) Believe me her laughter filled the room!! Afterwards she explained me what it meant and I shared that with my husband in the evening. Such a fool I became !!!!!! Even now sometimes, my husband shares this joke with his Japanese friend and they laugh out loud !!!  Well,  even though challenges are always there when it comes to learning a new language; my journey with Japanese language has been bitter-sweet. I sometimes invent my own ways to remember the words. For example-  Not to confuse between Kuruma ( Car) and Kurumi( Walnut) - I borrow the learning style of my native language where " a" at the end mostly represents a male gender and "i" at the end is for female. Thus, for me a car is a " boy" and walnut is a "girl". It may be difficult for some one  to make sense out of this example but I believe there are indigenous methods in every language that will help you learn any language. Sometimes I find my methods very handy. 

New Year Resolutions in Japanese Flavor

Every year in the wake of New Year, I have made resolutions but with every resolution always came procrastination. But, again I am not going to give up my trend of setting the resolution. I have however very uniquely fabricated my resolutions for brand new year 2017 with the flavor of Japanese life style. No wonder, this land of rising sun has always inspired me in number of ways. I call Japan a spiritual country because every page of my life in Japan has been blissful. Over the time of living here, Japan can only make you better- it teaches you little things that polishes you every moment. Reflecting back, though my 2016 was a fantastic year; I am motivated to pull my shocks in the year 2017 with the blend the goodness of Japan to my resolution list. 1. Wake up early: I feel proud every morning that I am touched by the crisp rays of sun well before it gets to touch the other parts of the world. That is certainly a merit of living in a land of rising sun. I have always been a morning person. Yet this year, I am going to wake up early enough every morning to witness the beauty of sunrise. I am lucky enough that I reside in an apartment facing the hills. The sunrise out of the hills looks serene so I am plan to capture the beauty of nature every morning. Especially in winter, I feel fortunate because the paddy fields in my locality provide shelter to the migratory birds from Russia. Poor birds flew miles and miles to escape the cold and survive. Nature has so much to teach- anything for survival ! Waking up early therefore should not be a big deal when I truly believe that doing so maximizes my energy throughout the day. 2. Energy Walk: People in Japan being very conscious about their weight can motivate any one to look fit, I am no exception. "Being slim never goes out of style in Japan". Walking is my favorite fitness tricks no matter where I live. Well in Japan, I love walking more than any where else because the country is so clean and green- that walking is irresistible. I live in a country side where I am definitely more privileged to be connected more closely with nature. With my morning walks, I double my energy because what I see every morning is so inspirational. I see "Okhasans" ( Old Women/Mothers) in their eighties or nineties already up and working in the farms. They send a strong message that age is just a number; does age even matter ? I want to continue drawing this positive energy from those "Okhasan ( Mothers). Well, a toned body and healthy oxygenated mind will be an added bonus. 3.Clean/Organize : I have also lived in other developed countries for many years of my life but for cleanliness and being organized, Japan can hardly be competed. No litter, no mess! From a grocery store to a public toilet- no reason to complain about. It takes a lot of effort to keep an area clean but to maintain it; it is a matter of self awareness. If residents themselves are not aware in this matter; it is not possible to maintain a system. I am greatly touched by how things are so tidy and systematic in Japan. I have planned to make my daily life as organized as possible. I want to keep everything top notch from my kitchen, washrooms, wardrobe to my computer folders. An organized house can be a reflection of an organized city- just like Niigata City below in the picture. 4. Time management: Other important beauty of Japanese life is time management. Punctuality is a salient feature of a Japanese. Time Management is a key to Japan's prosperity and Japanese regard this skill as their pride. During my early days in Japan, I used to get astonished by the way- how people used to read in buses, how young girls would apply make up in a running train and I wondered why so ? Lately, I have learnt it is all about managing time. Living in a country where "time" is so highly valued; I am planning to maximize my productivity this year without wasting time in stuffs that are not important. I will invest more in what I believe in- help people, work to be productive, love oneself, care for friends and family.   TIME IS POWERFUL..VALUE IT !!! 5. Let Go: As a part of Japanese tradition, people get rid of old stuffs from their houses during the New Year. I totally loved this tradition. I did the same this year- I got rid of old , unwanted stuffs at home that we would seldom use. This helped me get rid of the clutter and opened up space for new materials and ideas. I am not sure if the deep seated logic for this practice connects with letting go with our old unwanted memories, negative feelings and unhealthy relationships in our personal lives. But, I perceived it this way and I decided to let go my hard feelings for people, own guilt that would be hard on myself and determined to open up space for positive energy in life. Unless you get to free up this space, you hardly get any space for new additions- be it goods, thoughts, ideas or relationships. I am truly convinced by the Japanese way of welcoming the new year ! HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE !!!!

Are You a Nengajyo Lottery Winner?

If you got any new year cards this winter, be sure to keep your cards and check to see if you won any prizes in the lottery. Most nengajyo are purchased with postage and a lottery number printed on them. The lottery numbers are six numbers long and usually at the bottom of the postcard along with the words, お年玉 (o toshi dama, the same name as the red envelope new year gifts kids receive with money in them). Japan Post is giving three types of prizes for the nengajyo lottery. The most common one (one chance in 50) is a set of two stamps, which is awarded to anyone with the last two of the six numbers matching either of the two numbers picked. The winning numbers for 2017 are both 45 and 51.The middle prize (1 winner in 10,000) is a 'furosato' or hometown prize, which is something like products made locally in Japan, sometimes for each specific prefecture. These are awarded to people with the (last four) numbers 6470 this year. The grand prize (one in a million) is 100,000 yen cash or a vacation set, awarded to those who have the numbers 293633. Winning numbers are announced around the middle of January (usually between the 15th-the 19th) and are shown on the Japan Post website here (Japanese only). You'll have around six months to take any winning nengajyo to the post office to claim prizes. Did you win anything this year? I won stamps! Woo, and that's only out of four postcards received, quite lucky.

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.

Visiting Yokohama Chinatown

Yokohama Chinatown is one of the largest Chinatown in the world.Sharing some of the street shots during my visit.Visit my website

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.

Counting the cost of surfing in Japan

One of the worst things about being a surfer in Japan, or any nation for that matter, are those days when there's no surf. Even worse than this are those days when close study of swell, wind, and weather charts tells you that they'll be no surf of a Saturday morning so you wake up late. But then you flip on the webcam out of curiosity only to find that there is, in fact, surf! It sounds petty (and it is) but it's enough to make a surfer weep.  So it is this Saturday morning that I find myself making matters worse by doing a bit of surf kit itinerary check and reflecting on how much it costs to go surfing in Japan.The timing isn't completely arbitrary. Last month I picked up a new wetsuit to get me through Japan's winter surf. After a session last weekend during which I could no longer feel the tips of my fingers and a case of 'ice cream' head that made it a bit tricky to focus, I promptly went out and bought gloves and a hood/cap. I was hoping to give them a run out today. Anyway, I'll add this to some of the other surfing bells and whistles that make up my surfing in Japan kit and wince at how much all of this has cost me. Starting from the top ... Wetsuit cap/hood I picked this up from a Murasaki Sports in Shin-Ochanomizu. They seemed to be having a 20%-off sale on a lot of their surf clobber (maybe a January sales thing). This is a 'large' size cap/hood from TABIE REVO (no idea). It's 3mm and has an extended neck that can tuck into the wetsuit. I felt like a complete plonker trying it on but it slipped on like a favorite sock and certainly feels warm. It's a little tight on the jaw but hopfully that'll prevent the teeth from chattering. Cost: 3,680 yen (with tax) Gloves Same store, same brand. 'Large' size. Black with a rather loud purple lining. These are 3mm. I recon I've got pretty winter resistant hands. I never wear gloves in day-to-day-life so I'm confident that I won't need to step up to 5 mm. Cost: 3,440 yen (with tax) *Surfing in Japan hack: I got 2,000 yen off the above due to points aquired from the purchase of the wetsuit below. Wetsuit I picked this up in December from a store called The Suns, again in Shin-Ochanomizu. The Suns has some sort of relationship with Murasaki Sports and they'll give you a point card that you can use in both. I'm not one for shopping around, it bores me stupid. I went in, said I had a budget of around 50,000 yen and was looking for something that could keep me surfing in January, maybe February, and then back again in March, in the central/north Chiba breaks. The kind worker picked out this Super Freak by O'NEILL. It's 5 mm on the legs and body. 3 mm on the arms. I love it! It's really easy to paddle in, gives me at least an hour of super warmth before things start to get a little chilly, and is nice and easy to slip on. The same can't be said about getting it off at the end though. Also, at 3 mm, the arms aren't the warmest. Still, I'm really happy with it. Cost: around 52,000 yen (with tax) Booties I don't know why we have to call them 'booties' instead of just 'boots'. Mixed feelings about these booties from Feel. I've had them for a few years now though. They start off warm but they don't half let a lot of water in. I can feel them weighing me down at the back end of a session. They're a nightmare to take off once you get back to the car. I have to 'peel' in stages which is the last thing you want to be doing when your freezing to death. Cost: It was a long time ago, but I think around 5,000 yen The stick I got this from a large secondhand store near the beach in Chiba (not one of the 'OFF' chain). It's a 6,2; a great all-round board for this part of Japan. It cost 15,000 yen. I've not idea how old it is but it works like a dream. Along with my smartphone (depressing, but yes), laptop, and electric blanket, it's one of my most valued possessions. The picture was taken in Bali (but I wish Chiba looked like that). Cost: 15,000 yen Leash The old one snapped last month. Just old age as, luckily, the waves that day were little tiddlers. I got this leash/leg rope from a local store here in Urayasu, Chiba. It's by CREATURES OF LEISURE. It's a 'standard' thickness and 2 m in length. I like the 'quick release' pully thing and the bright blue color. Cost: 5,000 yen Board bag A trip to Bali on an LCC airline forced me into buying a new, more streamline, board bag. I detailed that in a post here. The bag is from TRANSPORTER. It's light and slim and can only handle one board. I got it from The Suns. Cost: 7,000 yen Kit bag This was a gift, and I love it. It's got a water proof and insulated lining. The showers at my regular surf spot are cold so I can fill up some bottles with hot water and in this thing they'll still be nice and warm when I'm out after a session. Cost: It was a gift so rude to ask. Anyway, this is years old now but I found similar items online for around 5,000 yen Trinkets Key holder - can't remember and given the above costs, negligible Hot gel - 2,000 yen Board wax - 280 yen I've started so I might as well carry on with this cost of surfing in Japan business. Travel costs I'm about a 45 min drive from my regular break. I use one toll road/highway which costs me 880 yen (with an ETC card) one way. I'm not exactly sure but the buzzy little 'k car' Daihatsu that I drive requires about 4,000 yen to fill the tank with gas and I can squeeze four beach trips out of that. Parking is 500 yen (at the beach). While a lot of my Japanese surfer counterparts are lighting up pre-surf cigarettes I'm trying to give this spindly frame of mine all the help in the water it can get. Every morning before setting out I buy two packs of energy gel (weider ENERGY IN), a 4-stick pack of Calorie Mate, and packet of biscuits, all from the local Family Mart. This comes in at around 600 yen. On the way back I make a stop at a highway service station to ditch the rubbish and down a can of vending machine coffee (130 yen - it's a highway service stop after all). The cost of surfing in Japan: Budget summary Kit Wetsuit cap/hood  3,680 yenGloves3,440 yenWetsuit52,000 yenBooties5,000 yenThe stick15,000 yenBoard bag7,000 yenLeash5,000 yenKit bag5,000 yenTrinkets3,000 yen (est)Point card discount- 2,000 yenTotal: 97,120 yenTravel ...Highway tolls1,760 yenGas1,000 yenParking500 yenSnacks and coffee730 yenTotal: 3,990 yenOver the course of year, maybe I average four surfs a month and two bars of wax (summer / winter) Total: 191,520 yen Absent from this list are ... a very old, and thinner, wetsuit: 30,000 yen board shorts (they're redundant right now and are packed away somewhere): 7,000 yen the first board I bought in Japan (which I no longer use): 30,000 yen a car (not necessarily an essential for surfing in Japan, but this is more than likely going to be the case): not saying - this will make my eyes water I had though that doing this cost of surfing itinerary check was going to make me puke but the totals are actually not as high as I feared. Don't get me wrong, I could be buying a couple of flight tickets home to see the family with this, and around 4,000 yen for a surf session seems high. However, one could easily drink 4,000 yen away weekly in weekend drinks (which I rarely do). No, for me, surfing in Japan is emphatically worth it. In fact, I'm not sure I could put a real price on it. Well, no, I probably have a limit but I'm not sure where that is and given that work prevents me from surfing on weekdays, I'm unlikely to find it right now. Anyway, I hope this has helped any prospective surfers in Japan get an idea of how much it costs and what kind of surf gear you can get over here with what kind of money. More of my surfing in Japan stuff ... An Introduction To Surfing In JapanThe Best Surf Shops in Tokyo

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