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What they did not tell you when you leave home

Ever wondered how your life would turn out had you not took that one brave step to conquer your dreams? That thought crosses my mind everyday while on a train packed of people on my way to work.My life in Japan is like a jigsaw puzzle. Everyday, you try to find the missing piece that would make your puzzle complete.Today marks my husband and I's 11th month in Japan. We came to Japan leaving everything behind and gambled for our future. Promising careers, pets, family, friends and even sold majority of our assets. We started thinking about this move wayback 2013 and finally had the courage to materialize everything in October of 2015. We did tons of research and paperworks for our school and visa application. We resigned from our jobs February of 2016 and prepared for the big move. Our families had our back but friends had second thoughts on our decision. They were not positive that leaving all behind to start a new life in Japan is worth it. We were half nervous and half excited at the same time. We were elated to the thought that we are going to live in Japan and would be soon calling ourselves as Tokyoites.Looking back, I sometimes think that they were right. After experiencing the life I once thought we want and need.My husband and I came to Japan as students. We had a solid vision and plan ahead of us. Study, find a job that can pay our dues and can support our daily living comfortably. We were ready for a few roadblocks and setbacks because we know it's not going to be easy and that we need to work hard for what we planned. But we did not imagine that living here can get really tough.Our funds started to deplete and we know that we need to find a job fast to make ends meet. There were lots of job openings but 95% of them would require you to speak Japanese on a business level. Which that time is impossible for us. We ended up doing arubaitos left and right. From distributing flyers to wiping tables, cleaning after someones left overs and cleaning hotel rooms and toilets.It was hard. We never imagined we would do those things that we never experienced doing back home. Nobody knew back home that we did those types of job because we don't want them to pity us. We tried our best to protect our pride at least. We were rather emotionally and mentally tired than physically tired.But like what other people would always say, nothing is permanent. I don't believe in the saying just go with the flow because only dead fish would do that. I'd rather swim against the current and fight hard to survive.I luckily found a decent part time job as a visa submission officer for one of the embassies in Tokyo. After 3 months, one of the full time employees resigned and they offered me the post. I did not even think twice and immediately answered yes as it will make our lives change.Things started to get better for us. We could now afford to dine out on weekends, go to the mall and explore places. Living in Tokyo is no different with other cities. Only that it's routinary. You get up in the morning, get ready, go to work, go out for a drink after work with colleagues sometimes (this is obligatory in Japan culture) then go home, go to bed and get ready for the next day.I know it has only been 11 months since we moved here but it felt like years for us. There are a lot of pros and cons but it would still depend on how you look at it. People here can be cold but if you get to know them, you would know the answer yourself.Japanese people tend to keep everything to themselves because they do not want to be a nuisance to others even to their own families. It is not normal here to open up their private lives and they are not comfortable being asked about it too. They have a high respect for privacy. They could come across as snob and discriminatory but they are not. They just mind their own business and be on their way. I learned about it by observing them and from a Japanese colleague. She is the unconventional type of Japanese. She isn't the shy type and has a cowboy personality.She said that she's happy not to work for a Japanese company where abuse of power is rampant and overwork is an understatement.I wish to inspire and enlighten co expats who read this that everything is going to get better. That we might not get what we planned at first but through hard work and determination, a bright future will unfold.Everyday is a journey. Dreams are meant to be lived. Just hold on and think Japan as a home away from home. :)

Mothering education circle

One day while I was watching my son play at the local community center, two oba-san approached me and casually started taking to me about how I'm raising my son in a country not my own. Little did I know that this small talk would turn into something that happened monthly and in a very formal manner. These two sweet ladies were both grandmothers and part of a group of women learning about how to raise children. Having already raised their own, they get together inviting any mothers they meet to join in and share stories and questions that most all women who have had to care for other humans have encountered. So far it has been a great experience as a foreigner to be part of this group. Not only does it provide me with Japanese practice, but it involves me in something I've never dealt with before from my own cultural perspective, formality. The meetings are very structured with an opening, introduction speech, topic reading, and then group discussion. While all of the mother's are gathered around discussing their trials and tribulations the grandmothers are in another room caring for children, giving the mothers an hours break from parenting. It's structured, but relaxing, allowing a small respite once a month from watching and guarding the small child.  But my favorite part about the group is how non judgemental everyone is. This includes the older women who truly seem to just want to learn how to better raise tiny humans. They give advice but also encourage different styles of teaching and raising children. I'm not sure if there are other groups exactly like this one around Japan, but if you are a parent looking for camaraderie in the works of fostering the next generation of the human race, I highly recommend asking around at local community centers for mother groups like this one. 

Frozen Fantasy at Tokyo Disneyland

As many things are seasonal changing in Japan, also Tokyo Disney Resort has changing events all over the year. At the moment the special event “Anna and Elsa’s Frozen Fantasy” is hold at Tokyo Disneyland. I visited there on February 11th and want to give you a small impression what is so special right now.  According to the name “Anna and Elsa’s Frozen Fantasy” this event is themed to the famous Disney movie Frozen and you can find a unique parade, decorations, food and more of it. Notice, the event is only held from January 13 to March 17 this year. 1) Frozen Forever – the highlight of this year’s event. At nighttime a projection lights up Cinderella Castle with famous scenes out of the movie telling a story about Anna and Elsa. Music is played and snow will fall down while even fireworks are shown in the air. 2) Frozen Fantasy Parade – Disneyland is well known for its parades and certainly there is a special parade while this event. See Anna, Elsa and their friends driving through the park on big floats and enjoy the atmosphere. 3) Anna and Elsa’s Winter Greeting – a show for only children. The villagers of Arendelle will teach them a dance and later Anna, Elsa and Olaf join them to perform the famous song “Let it go” together. 4) Food and merchandise – Japan is famous for themed-food and for sure there have to be some themed food at this event. A special buffet is offered for ¥ 3,090 which is quite expensive. But don’t worry there are some other cheaper food sets and snack available inside the different restaurants all over Disneyland. And don’t forget to take a look into the merchandise shops – many new goods of Frozen characters have been released for this event. 5) Decoration – all over the park you can find decoration referring to Frozen. Find Olaf smelling on flowers or little snowmen playing around. Keep your eyes open! If you are a fan of Frozen you should definitely try to go there and be a child for one day (^_~) Ready for a photo spam? Here we go!

Top 5 healthy, cheap and easy foods and meals for terrible cooks in Japan

If you're a terrible cook like me, you'll know that sinking feeling of walking into a Japanese supermarket and realising you have no idea what anything is, let alone how to fashion it into something edible. You will also realise that most of your tried-and-tested recipes from home either contain things impossible to find in Japan, or require an oven. And who has an oven in Japan?So you think "Okay. I'll try and find Japanese recipes in English..." and they include stuff like "You will need miso"! You will need MISO! Have you seen a miso aisle, recipe writer?! You're gonna have to be a bit more specific than that! Here are the top 5 things you have to look out for in any Japanese supermarket, that may just save you from starving.5) Key ingredient: Mixed vegetable bagsThese things are a lifesaver. Go to the supermarket and buy some, you won't regret it! Cheap (at around 100 yen), healthy, and go with any of the things I am about to show you. More importantly, all the preparation required is 1: open bag 2: put in pan 3: turn on hob 4: wait. (Washing the veg and adding a little bit of oil to the pan also help!)They contain ingredients like carrots, cabbage, Japanese mushrooms and moyashi (bean sprouts), but vary depending on brand and season. I like the brand above as they don't contain many mushrooms, but you can find ones that are mixed more to your taste. If you're really on a budget, you can buy bags of just moyashi, that will set you back about 30 yen. If you're using the veg as a main part of the meal, one bag is enough for two meals.Pair these veg with many types of noodle such as chinese-style (中華) and some pepper to get a vegetarian friendly, super quick meal. Add them to the top of ramen to fill it out a bit. Add mirin, sake and soy sauce when cooking these for a typically Japanese umami flavour. The possibilities are endless!4) Ready made nabe (hot pot)You will see these in the fridge section, in aluminium containers. Buy one and take the ingredients out from their separate packages, put them in the aluminium tin, put the tin on the hob and heat up. You have yourself a meal! No other ingredients required, but you can add extras like the veg in 5) if you wish. Beware! If you have an electric/IH stove, you may not be able to use the original tin, even if the packet says "IH 対応" or "IH compatible". ("IH incompatible" is "IH非対応") In this case just transfer to your own saucepan or frying pan.3) ChamponAnother really easy, healthy meal comes in packages that look like this. Search for ちゃんぽん written on the packet. This is a Nagasaki speciality which in its full-fledged, authentic version contains octopus, prawns, fish paste and all sorts, but works well with just veg too.Grab a bag of vegetables as in 5) and heat in a pan. (If you want to add meat or other ingredients, heat these up too) Add the noodles, broth powder and water, heat up and you're done! Quick and easy meal with the bare minimum of prep and washing up required, what's more to love?!2) Key ingredient: thinly sliced porkThinly sliced pork goes with anything! Chinese food, Japanese food, western food... anything is possible with this stuff. Pair it with the wondrous vegetables in 5) and you have a perfect noodle accompaniment. I guess it works with rice too. It may sound like "thinly sliced pork" is a needlessly long term for bacon, but the Japanese version isn't as salty or flavourful, is thinner, and has more streaky fat- than British bacon, anyway.  The more subtle flavour (okay, boring flavour) means it doesn't overpower the rest of the meal (okay, it doesn't really taste of much but gives you a more balanced meal). (I miss decent bacon) (Sigh)1) Sara udonThis is the ultimate in cheap, easy, and healthy meals. The picture above has those magical words 具いり (gu iri), meaning that the packet contains the main toppings. Add the vegetables in 5) and the pork in 2) to make it even better. Even the non-gu iri stuff just needs 5) and 2) to be ready- just add the included sauce, and maybe water if required. The great thing about Sara Udon is that the noodles are ready to eat- just stick them on a plate and bob's your uncle! The noodles are not like usual udon as they are thin, crunchy and almost snack-like, which also means that these things have a shelf life to compete with any emergency biscuits that may be hiding in your cupboard.Stock up on a few of these, and you will never go hungry in Japan!Do you have any super easy, Japan friendly food hints? What do you cook at home in Japan? Leave a comment!

There is much to anticipate while living in Japan

Starting life in a new country is often nerve racking.  There is a lot of getting used to; a new environment, new culture, new ways of doing things and of course for Japan, a completely new language.  Often, the simplest things you used to do with ease in your home country becomes immensely complicated and difficult here.  Couple that with a lack of friends and the responsibility to make sure life goes on normal for the rest of the family, the anxiety can often lead to grief and depression.   Yes, starting life in Japan isn't exactly a bed of roses but it is not always gloomy either.  For me, my experience in Japan has surprised me, there is actually much to anticipate in every day life here.  All these details has kept me going, keeping me sane and happy regardless of everything else foreign that I have to deal with.I personally think the change in seasons is what creates all the anticipation. The change in season brings about a change in temperature, change in way of dressing, change in choice of food, change in scenery, change in daylight, change in activities and much more.  Let's start with spring, the best gift from mother nature.  Flowers start blooming, leaves start spouting.  It is almost like nature congratulating us for surviving the cold winter.   Food choices suddenly open up, you get the fresh produce like strawberries, rapeseed, bamboo shoots, tangerines flooding the shelves of supermarkets.  Now you can bring the family out to the parks in weekends without the fear of freezing.  You also get to shed the thick gloomy clothes and change into something more flowy and colorful.  Of course, there is the plum and cherry blossom viewing, street festivals and hanami with friends.  All these just brighten up my days, at least until April.  Then comes golden week, the time when we go on extended road trips with the entire family, going to remote places, exploring Japan and her beauties, before the weather gets really hot.Summer is brutal here with the heat and the mozzies, but there's lots of fun too.  It is during summer when the river parks and splash pools and water parks start their business.  During the summer holidays, my kids and I would pack our bentos and head to the park or stream and spend a whole half a day.  Them splashing in the water and me sitting on the side soaking my feet and reading my book.  It can be very pleasant for everyone.   Summer you get amazing food too.  Corn from Hokkaido that's sweet like candy, watermelons, pears, peaches, tomatoes and so much more, all waiting to help cool you down.Fall comes as a relief to the unbearable heat.   Also, I can finally get the kids off my back and send them off to school and have some time to myself.  It is then I love seeing how the ginkgo trees lose their leaves and get pruned to the point of barren.  This is also the magical time to go soak in onsens as you admire the red leaves.  Hiking becomes more comfortable again.  You get to start getting your cold weather fashion ready for the next half a year.  A pretty busy time I have to say.  My favorite food also come by in the fall; lucious grapes, persimmons, oysters, sword mackerels and so many other harvests, getting the farms empty for winter!Finally we are back to winter, time to go skiing and onset again.  Now we get to feast on crabs and fatty fishes loaded up to survive the cold water (sorry fishes).  Going to bed in my fluffy comforter will then be my daily goal.  Getting ready for Christmas and New Years occupies much of this season.  Also, I get a chance to go home!See, there is so much to see, to feel, to touch, to eat throughout the year I often forget about the mundane difficulties.  It is almost like being a tourist in your resident country.  Not a bad thing at all!

My Favourite AFFORDABLE Plum-Wine

Drinking alcohol is very affordable in this country, as it is a lifestyle for many. My favourite drink of choice in Japan is most definitely Ume-shuu, aka Plum Wine. It packs a very sweet and thick flavour with a slight sourness that the fruit brings and it is one of the easiest drinks for people for those who aren't fond of the bitterness of alcohol. Out of all the ones I've tried from the supermarket, I have one that I purchase again and again.The Makkoi Umeshuu by Mercian is one of the richest and tastest ume-shuu I've ever tried. Mixing it with cold water, soda water, or my favourite, having it on rocks are all great options that doesn't take away any of its deliciousness. And the best part? The price. The 1000mL pack shown in the picture would cost you just around 600yen, and nowadays I store the 2L version at home, which is usually just under a 1000yen and it lasts me quite a good while.If you're looking to try an affordable ume-shuu or a delicious drink that's worth your buck, this is my recommendation and I don't think you'd be disappointed. Enjoy drinking (responsibly)! -----------------------------------------Follow for more everyday magic I encounter in Japan!

Japanese Food Experience: KIT KAT MANIA

When you are at the supermarket, have you ever noticed there are different sorts of KitKats? Did you even notice they change seasonally? Actually, Japanese people are really crazy for KitKat and there are not only a few different sorts, there are MANY different sorts. Let’s take a look at the KIT KAT MANIA.  KitKat was introduced to Japan in 1973, but as we know the Japanese people, it didn’t stay with a normal milk chocolate taste. Japanese people are creative when it comes to food and sweets and so within the over 40 years of KitKat in Japan more than 300 versions have been released. But how could KitKat become so popular in Japan? At least one reason is its name itself. KitKat is often pronounced as “kitto katto” in Japanese which sounds like “you will surely win" (きっと勝つ kitto katsu). Because of this the chocolate snack is seen as a lucky charm. Many people use it to get cheered up for university entry exams. Even special versions of KitKat are sold for this season of the year when special words are printed on the chocolate.  The regular versions of KitKat There are some versions of KitKat you can find all over the year in Japan. These are the regular milk-chocolate KitKat and a bitter chocolate version. For sure, it wouldn’t be Japan if there wasn't a Maccha KitKat version which looks pretty good in green and really tastes like green tea. Another version you can often find is strawberry KiKat. The new KitKat Luxury Every Day also seems to stay for a longer time. Mainly these packs with 12 chocolate bars inside are available at supermarkets and drugstores and cost around 200 to 400 Yen.  The seasonal versions of KitKat Japan is famous for the time-limited products which are only sold within specific times a year. For sure, this also goes with KitKat. Every year they have new ideas and release new products changing with the seasons. But take care, mainly you can have them only once and soon after the seasonal change they disappear – and won’t come back.  However, as example for an always-coming-back version you can see Pumpkin KitKat around two months before Halloween. There are some sorts of Yaki-KitKat which you can bake inside the oven, coming up regularly with different tastes.  Some seasonal versions are: Rasberry, Vanilla Ice, Sweet Potato, Baked Cheese Cake, Ginger and even more... Fun fact: the Japan Post is releasing a special designed KitKat every year for New Year’s greeting. However, it’s just a special look for the regular milk chocolate KitKat. The regional versions of KitKat Here you can find another reason why KitKat is so popular in Japan. The tradition of Omiyage lets people buy regional-limited products on their trips – why not to choose a regional KitKat? But don’t worry, you don’t need to travel everywhere to try the regional versions. Sometimes you also can find them at duty free shops and Don Quijote stores.  The regional versions mostly include some special products of the area, just like apples from Shinshu area, Maccha from Uji or Momiji from Hiroshima. Mainly it is a box of 12 KitKat Minis which costs 800 Yen (+ tax). Sometimes smaller packs with five chocolate bars are also available. Here you can see the recent regional versions which you also can find on the Nestle website. But don’t worry, there are even more versions. Tokyo – Rum Raisin Yokohama –Strawberry Cheese Cake Shizuoka & Kanto area – Tamauya Honten Wasabi Nagano – Shinshu Apple Tochigi – Tochi-Otome Strawberry Kanto Hokuriku area – Azuki Sandwich Kyoto – Itokyuemon Uji Maccha Kyoto – Itokyuemon Roasted Tea Kobe - Kobe Pudding Hiroshima – Momiji Manju Kyushu – Amaou Strawberry Kyushu & Okinawa – Purple Sweetpotato Kyushu & Okinawa – Green Tea of Kumamoto Also added to the local souvenirs are the Sake flavoured KitKat and Strawberry Cheese Cake KitKat which have a special box design. The last one looks like Japan’s famous Mount Fuji. You mainly can find these at the Kanto area. The airport versions of Kitkat Especially for foreign tourists, there are big boxes of KitKat which you only can get at the airport. These include ten smaller boxes each with three KitKats inside. That’s why it is perfect to take it home and present them to friends. Sure, sometimes you also can find them at other places. One example, which versions you mainly find at Haneda airport, you can see on the picture below. There they have Japanese Strawberry, Hokkaido Red Bean, Sakura Maccha and Uji Green Tea. Lately, they also added Hokkaido Melon with Mascarpone Cheese which is pretty delicious. So, take your chance to get these boxes at the airport. KitKat Chocolatory From 2014 the KitKat Mania went on with special shops which only sell exclusive KitKat versions. By now there are nine KitKat Chocolatory stores all over Japan, however four of the stores are located in Tokyo. The other you can find in Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Fukuoka and Sapporo. At these stores you can find KitKat Sublime versions, special fruit versions and gift boxes. They even have an online shop. Check out the website here. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - How about you – are you going with the KitKat Mania in Japan? Have you tried different KitKat versions? Which do you like best?

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