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Packing Truths I Wish I'd Known Before Moving To Japan

Don't pack it. All the things you think that you need, you don't. This is me packing for Japan. Every. Single. Time. Don't be this way, learn my lessons. I know, I know. You're feeling all the feels about your stuff. You need all the things. You don't know what you'll be able to buy here in Japan, let alone if products will suit you or if clothes will fit you. I'll let you in on a little secret:People live in Japan, if not happily at least successfully, every day. Every thing that you need for your new life in Japan is already here. Why not take the opportunity to embrace the Japanese lifestyle wholeheartedly? Let go of worldly possessions from your old life and start fresh when you arrive. In saying that, there are a few comfort items you may choose to pack...I've travelled between my home country and Japan quite a few times in the past several years. I always over pack. Always. Without fail. I am THE foreigner lugging the biggest suitcase (recently I discovered I was allowed to take two bags and OMGosh...) around the airport. However, over time, my packing priorities have changed. At first, I filled my suitcase with a whole new wardrobe. Why did I do that? Well there is this persistent rumour that foreigners can't buy clothes in Japan. So I packed everything plus doubles of my essentials. Brand new work outfits, gym clothes, party dresses, underwear, pajamas... Guess what? The shopping is better in Japan. Yes, sizing is different, things don't always fit perfectly and you'll need to shop around, but I need to do that in my home country anyway. What space was left in my suitcase I filled with toiletries; toothpaste, makeup, face wash, deodorant, moisturiser, sunscreen, etc. Do you know how much those things weigh? A lot! Know something else? You can buy them all online! Websites like iHerb, Amazon JP, and StrawberryNet are just a few that supply toiletries. That's if you can't buy your favourite brands here in Japan anyway. Better yet, you may discover new ones you love more. Don't go out and buy a whole new wardrobe. You can buy clothes here, obviously, Japan is not a land of naked people. If you wear larger sizes, check out international stores like H&M or shop online at ASOS. Clothes bought in country will suit the climate and for Australians, clothes are so much cheaper here!!! Do pack a couple of loved items or unique pieces to comfort you when you're homesick.You might be wondering, what, if anything, do I pack these days? Here is a my basic list. For my husband (who lives off nothing and believes that even putting butter on your toast with peanut butter is extravagant): ToothpasteJocksSocksDeodorantThe end.According to him...For my baby:Teething gelPain reliefFood sachetsEnglish toys and booksOnly bring these items for immediate use. You can order more from iHerb and Amazon JP, but it saves you needing to tackle the local baby store and drug store amidst settling into a new country.For myself:Pretty shoes (my feet are 28cm, but I buy men's joggers here because they're cheaper and really nice)Briefs (by choice for my comfort, you can buy briefs here, yes in large sizes too)One of each key beauty product; face wash, deodorant, foundation, shampoo and conditioner for curly hair (again, buy more from iHerb or settle in to your new country and try their products, my favourite face wash and foundation are now from Japan) Birth control (yes, you can get it here, but it takes up minimal space in your luggage and is one less immediate hurdle to tackle in Japanese)Cooking supplies! These are my new favourite essential. Pack items that are light, small, and go far; spices, gravy, marinades, powdered soup mixes, rubs, sauces, jelly crystals, etc. If you've got luggage allowance, throw in a couple of plain cake mixed too, cake is awesome in Japan, but not as awesome as people will think you are if you can produce a homemade batch of perfectly risen cupcakes. Snacks. You think you'll share them, but you won't. That 1kg box of Cadbury Favourites you packed to share around the office? I give it a week before you've convinced yourself that your Japanese friends and colleagues are happy with the touristy pens you gave them and that what they don't know they're missing won't hurt them. Go on, slip into your pajamas and eat your treats. That's it.According to me anyway. Thanks for reading! Be sure to follow my blog to hear more from my whitty, informative self. { Ashes }P.S. If you have any packing tips or favourite items be sure to leave a comment below this article. Better yet, note down anything you regret packing. Obviously for me it was clothes. Why on earth did I think I needed so many clothes...

Early Hanami in Saitama

Cherry blossoms or “sakura” are not just beautiful flowers but it brings me a certain kind of joy that no other flowers or trees do.  I remember my first visit here in Japan was during Spring of 2012. Together with my then-boyfriend’s mom (now my mother-in-law), I went to the nearest park where sakura trees lined up and we spent moments just admiring the trees.  We took lots of pictures, too.  I fell in love with the beauty of a fully-bloomed sakura tree on the first sight.  But getting a closer look on a single flower made me love it even better. Since then, I always look forward to Spring and witness sakura trees bloom.  This year, I got a pleasant surprise as some trees in our area already started to bloom.   And it's not even March yet.  I am so happy I didn't have to wait any longer.  Also, my mom who is on a one-month visit had a chance to experience cherry blossoms before she comes back home again next week.  Oh, what a joy!  ;) Here are some photos from our February 2017 “hanami” (flower viewing).  Also sharing some photos from my first sakura sighting on March 2012.

5 Tips to Ease Transition to Living in Japan

    I remember asking, "What is it like there?" to anyone who had made the leap across the Pacific the week before I arrived in Japan. I didn't really get any good answers. To one guy, a colleague at the same training gig, I even inquired the first thing he would do when he arrived in the land of the rising sun.    "Kiss the ground." he said, and I didn't really get it. I mean Japan is cool, but is it holy to you in such a way that ground-kissing is appropriate? I started thinking what I would do instead and could not come up with any ideas, having yet to leave my home country or continent. I'd be flying in, meeting my boss and taking the train to the middle of nowhere. I had no idea what to expect.    In many ways, Japan is like anywhere else, but those hard-to-define touches that make it so special also make it hard to fully predict. Combine that with each visitor's unique personality and perspective and you can come across a thousand different versions of Japan, some beautiful and some horrid but each with its own truth. This can make the preparation for living abroad quite taxing. What's it like to live in Japan? It's great, and horrid, and strange, but also boring. It's brilliant, and clever, and appalling stupid. It's as frustrating and blissful as life itself. Living in Japan is an adventure.    By the way, the first thing I did in Japan was buy an Qoo brand orange juice from a vending machine in Nagoya airport and rearrange my luggage. The first new thing I learned in Japan was that big bags can be shipped from the airport to your apartment for a fee, which is really useful if your destination isn't so close to the airport or train station. This doesn't help if that's where all your clothes are and you have to work before the bags arrive in 2 days, so if you're likely to arrive in a similar situation, put some yen aside for shipment and have your address handy.    Here are five tips for to help you settle in and make the most of your time in Japan.Things to remember:Bring What You Need.And who doesn't need attractive young men selling sodas and beer?    American style deodorant, toothpaste with fluoride, women's shoes above size 8, and bras larger than a US B-C cup can be hard to find out here, depending on where you wind up, and even when you can find some things at import shops, they tend not to be cheap. If you have friends or relatives back home who can ship you a few odds and ends, make sure to get them your address when you can. Waiting too long and/or not bringing a good supply can leave you feeling less than fresh and it is hard to be comfortable with your job-doing and adventure-having when you're trying to hide pit-stains.    That said, I had a friend who suggested I might need silverware, as he had thought chopsticks to be the only option available. This was very much not the case. You can get spoons, forks, knives, etc. from the 100 yen shops or the home improvement shops. If you're around a US medium, you can generally find clothes at most shops. If you're a bit bigger, that can be tricky, but one thing I recently discovered was H&M's plus sized section on their website, complete with a no-fee COD. Save When You CanNo, you do not need all the fun, crazy masks. Nor do your friends. Seriously. Put down the masks.    I wasted so much money my first year or two abroad, buying needless random things to send to people. You know what works better than this? Pictures. Take lots of pictures and tag your friends. They won't have to wait for a package and you won't have to worry about the cost of shipping. Occasional splurges are one thing, but if a significant part of your pay check every month goes to amusing people on the other side of the world, there might be a problem. If I'd come here on a budget, I would have been a lot better off, and a lot less scared when the company that brought me to Japan was bought out 2 years into my stay, taking most of a paycheck with them. I moved far north to live with my then-boyfriend's family and lucked out in getting a new semi-full-time teaching gig right off the bat. I was very lucky.    In today's economy, it is important to have a little to fall back on just in case things don't work out as you intended. Try Some New ThingsDid anyone else try these last winter? Delicious!    Don't forget to put yourself out there and try something new, even if it is just a candy bar with a season flavor or a snack you've never seen before. Have a little adventure in "new" on a regular basis. This can help alleviate the symptoms of Gaijin-itis (swelling of the foreign entity, also know as that intricate mixture of culture shock and homesickness every foreigner in Japan feels at some point) by helping you to find new things to love about live out here.    This might seem contradictory of the saving advice, but all things in moderation. Programming in your budget a little allowance for fun is probably a good idea, though at very least, it is unlikely that 150 yen worth of snacks will break the bank.Make It Your OwnNo one but us can be this excited to ride the train.    I always find it a bit bittersweet when I see new arrivals trying so hard to fit in. I want to congratulate them on the attempt-- they are speaking softly and carefully, trying to remember to use honorific forms and bow politely. Perhaps they haven't had that first slap in the face of gaijin-itis. Perhaps they still feel like paying attention to all of the rules and doing the cordial social dance as intricately as all the others will pay off, and maybe for some it does.  This however has not been my experience. Every time I think I have my oafish feet moving in the correct manner, another factor comes out of nowhere to throw me off.    These hidden factors, the societal norms so ingrained as to be natural, usually go without notice to natives, but trust a foreigner to only find the thing by screwing it up. It took me years to realize that I was supposed to dismantle the bathtub facing to clean inside the thing. Even now, I'm not exactly sure how I'm going to get all of the many bags and other materials necessary for Japanese kindergarten made/purchased before my kid starts school in the coming months. Living in Japan, I am frequently confronted by the knowledge that my instincts and basic understandings are inherently wrong about any number of normal Japanese things, and when I see how far I am from the goal, I tend to give up.    I am not saying you should give up, but do find a happy medium here where you can be yourself and express yourself in a way that you are comfortable. If you one day find that bowing so low and speaking so softly isn't for you, don't be disheartened. A lot of us out here don't do that so automatically anymore either. You're only human.    My point with all of this is that the Japanese experience you are having is your own, so make it work for you. At the end of the day, most of us can't help but feel occasionally like we really don't belong here, and if the only thing you want is to fully belong to Japanese society, you might not be gearing up for the best experience. Instead, find ways to make your home your own, even if it is only your home for a few months or a year. Find things about Japan (hobbies, cultural effects, events, places) that you love and enjoy them in a way that you only can in Japan.

Fever Fever!

I don't get sick very often. Even when I do, I can work through most things. This is probably due to my obsession with perfect attendance. I loved getting that certificate at the end of every school year that congratulated me for not missing one day. There were times when my mom suggested that I stay home for my birthday, but I would always refuse because the certificate meant more to me than a shopping trip or going to the zoo. #nerd  My desire for this prestige is only quelled by a stomach virus or food poisoning. It's really hard to work or study with your head in the toilet (trust me I've tried).  So when I call my Japanese boss  and tell him that I can't come in because I am sick, I am truly sick. A normal response would be, "I am sorry you're sick. Get well soon." In Japan, however, my admission of illness is met with, "Yes, but do you have a fever?" It doesn't matter the illness. It doesn't matter that I have just puked up the yakitori that I ate two years ago. No fever = ganbatte. Okay boss, but I might just "ganbatte" all over the floor while doing the Hokey Pokey.

Living In Japan Makes You Fluent In Japanese

What would I have like to have known before I arrived in Japan? Well...There’s this crazy idea floating around – kind of like when you step in dog poop and the smell lingers with you all day… It’s that nasty. The idea is that living in Japan magically gives you fluency in Japanese. Sorry to burst your bubble (how is it in there with the rainbows and unicorns?), but no, it doesn’t. Shall I lecture you about why?No expectations. Japanese people don’t expect you to speak Japanese. In fact, sometimes they are disappointed when you do! So, gestures and single words are enough to survive in daily life. Why study more? A quick look at my weekday routine; walk to the station, catch the train (buy my ticket at a machine), stop at the convenience store on the walk to work, teach all day in English, converse all day in English with my colleagues (as per the schools request to maintain an 'all English' teacher), walk to the station, catch the train (buy my ticket on the train because it's a small stop with no machine), stop by the supermarket on my walk home, arrive home to my fellow foreign husband with whom I speak English. Now not everyone will live like this, but how many times do I get to use Japanese in a day? I say good morning to my local convenience store staff and comment on the weather, buy my return train ticket from the conductor on the train, and say good evening and again comment on the weather to the supermarket staff. That's it. Each of these conversations can be avoided or completed with minimal Japanese. I have to really push myself to use Japanese even though I live in Japan. How do I learn anything? I spend my weekend with Japanese friends and talk as much as possible to them.  But... On to my next issue...Japanese people can speak English. Whether or not they ‘do’ is another story. But with the people who do want to talk to you, you may have to fight a battle of languages and wills to see which language emerges victorious. Basically, you have 30 seconds to wow them with your Japanese before they decide their English ability is higher and switch the conversation to English. Thus ensues your capitulation into the comfort of speaking English, or an awkward exchange between their English contribution and your stubborn insistence on using Japanese. Good luck…Active listening takes work! Yes, you are surrounded by Japanese all day but it is too easy to tune it out. You actually have to train your brain to recognise Japanese speech as words, until you do that it is no more than background noise like birds or cars driving past.Comfort of fellow foreigners. Because let’s face it, no one will understand your complaints, your humour, and oh boy your sarcasm like your foreign friends will. Try not to fall into the trap of the security and familiarity they offer. Put yourself out there and make some Japanese friends.So if living in Japan doesn’t make me fluent in Japanese, then why in the world am I trying so hard to get there? Because living in Japan provides you with the best opportunity to become fluent. It is up to you to use that opportunity. Just like any other tool, if you don’t pick it up and use it, it won’t do anything for you by itself. Unfortunately this particular tool doesn’t come with a user manual.If your goal in moving to Japan is to achieve fluency in Japanese, you may need to consider making a plan to get yourself actively learning and using Japanese. Here are a few strategies I find have helped me:SHADOWING:This method of study involves listening and repeating Japanese phrases after a recording. Whether it is single vocabulary words, basic greetings, or longer phrases and conversations, repeating after a recording of a native speaker can help increase your speaking speed, improve your listening skills, and also help you pick up on the nuances in tone and accent. You can begin shadowing before you come to Japan to be as prepared as possible to begin speaking when you arrive. I have used the 'Let's Speak Japanese' series and love it!TV:Don't underestimate the power of repetition. When you arrive in Japan, get a TV. There is a fee for owning a TV but aside from entertainment think of it as an investment in your studies too. Every day, listen to the same morning show and the same evening news program. You might surprise yourself with how soon you begin to understand greetings, the weather, locations, and other daily life vocabulary. Not to mention, you'll have conversation topics in common with your colleagues or students because you'll be watching the same TV shows they do.LABELS:Really. Label your house. Label your bathroom products, label your handbag contents, label your pantry contents, label everything. Before you come to Japan learn to read some basic products and items and it will make your daily life so much easier. Don't worry. there will be plenty of vocabulary words remaining for you to master when you get here.Overall, you will have more exposure to Japanese being IN Japan than outside of it. But I think many people arrive with lofty expectations and are disappointed. How hard I'd need to push to live in Japanese is something I wish I'd known before I came to Japan.{ Ashes }

Tulipfields around Sakura City

Every year at the beginning of march the tulip season starts in japan. In Sakura City (Chiba prefecture) you can find a huge field full of different tulips from around the world. In the middle of the field is a beautiful windmill from the Netherlands which has a small museum inside. If you going at the end of march to the fields, you might be lucky to see most of the tulips fully bloomed. But every tulip is different and has different blooming time.  I love to walk around the fields and see the big variety of flowers. Also for around 500 Yen you can collect 10 tulips from the fields and bring them back to home. The good thing about tulips is that they come back every year again. For your entertainment you can listen to a school choir or dress up in a typical Netherlands dress with wood shoes. Also you can have lunch at the nearby restaurant and food stands.I visit that place every year because I like the nice atmosphere of the fields in the countryside and it gives me a little feeling of being back to Europe.

Hunting for oranges

 My family LOVES mikan. They love fruit of any kind really. But for a family of 5 living in Japan, fruit can sometimes be a hard thing to come by. Sometimes fruit just does not fit into the family budget. With apples costing the equivalent of a dollar or more when they are in season, or strawberries close to 5 dollars for a small pack, this mother always has to scope out the ugly fruit section where the almost ready to mold produce is discounted down from the Japanese high market prices to more frugal , and just reasonable prices. Even then, the sweet stuff just cannot make it into the shopping basket, because our paycheck has to be spent on more important things like protein, carbs and another box of erasers for the school supplies. I swear my kids are eating the erasers, too. Fruit is certainly a delicacy for a poor family in Japan. Not out of reach , but hard to get hold of and with 5 of us, hard to hold on to. Sometimes when I am cutting into a pineapple I have bought with the yellow price down ticket still stuck to its tag, I get flashes from the animation Only Yesterday, where the family shares the not yet sweetened slice of pineapple.  . Nowadays fruit is easier to get, but still very prized in Japan. This is why I think the Japanese word for fruit-picking , Gari or hunting, is so appropriate. You get to hunt and pick out exactly the fruit that you want. The juiciest tastiest, most delicious looking piece of fruit you can find in the field. And this is why, every year, our family has begun to make it a tradition to go hunting. Hunting for mikan. Japan has a plethora of places to pick fruit, from strawberries to Japanese pears, to blueberries. Depending on where you live, and what time of year it is, you can find someplace that will let you hunt for your own fruit. The best part, depending on the place and fruit, you can eat your fill while there. Some places even allow you to take some fruit home with you. During my study abroad year, a close friend's family took me on my first ever ichigo-gari or strawberry hunt. As a birthday gift, they paid my way into a 90 minute all you can pig out on raid of a strawberry farm. The owners of the farm even provide you with sweetened condensed milk for a real dessert feel. It was a beautifully sweet experience that I really wanted to share with my family of fruit lovers. However, at 20 bucks a head, or 2000 yen should I say, a family hunt for strawberries looked very far off in the family budget. With gas and everything else needing to be figured in, the five of us would never be able to do it. But it didn't have to be strawberries. Any fruit would do, so I did a little search into Google. I just looked for fruit picking in my prefecture and this popped up, Fruit Picking . I started searching all the farms in an hours drive radius for pricing and deals to pick fruit. I even asked facebook groups I am part of for reccomendations and that lead me to This, it's in japanese but basically , it is all you can eat oranges for 500 en plus you get a bag to take home more. It was the luckiest find! At the time I was searching, it was exactly mikan season, and our family made plans to go the next open weekend we could find. Our only open weekend, however, happened to be the last weekend of mikan season. But luck would have it that because it was the end of the season, and the owners are super fantastically lovely wonderful amazing people, they gave each of our family members two bags to fill and take home, and did not even charge for our children. Needless to say, we stuffed our faces and had fun.  That first year was the best planned trip our family has had.  The following year was not. Thinking we would have the same luck as the previous year, everyone piled into the car, ready to gorge on citrus, sweet sticky fruit. After an hour's drive out, we approached the hillside in the little valley where the mikan orchard was and expected to see a line of cars like the past year, everyone stopping at the booth to pay their fee and receive their bags before driving up the hill, but here were no cars. the booth was covered in a blue tarp and not one person was outside. Had we come on a holiday? Is the season already over? There were oh so few fruits hanging on the trees. Trying our luck, we drove to the top of the hill and spotted a family with the clear plastic bags to fill with mikan. Hopeful, we asked if the mikan -gari was still ok to do. The family apparently knew the owners and despite the season being over, were allowed to come in and scavenge for what few oranges were left on the trees. Our family hunt for mikan then turned into a hunt for the orchard owners. Determined for our fill of fruit, something we rarely could afford in the first place, we search the neighborhood, knocking on doors for the owners of the orchard. After 45 minutes and no luck, we tried once more to phone the owners. Yatta!! Again, they were fantastic sweet and wonderful! we had full range of the orchard, for only 1000 en, and no time limit. The owner was merely sorry the fruit would not be sweet. But his kindness for letting us hunt for our fruit was sweet enough to mask any tartness in the fruit we ate that day. And the next and next and next because we also got to take home so many more.So if you are craving fruit, but do not want to pay the high prices, then just wait for November to early December and make a trip to Sakurayama. Hunt for some mikan. You will not regret it. Our family has not.

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