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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.

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.

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.

The Adventures of Banana Teacher- 03 Boss Queen

One of the most rewarding things about living and teaching in Japan is seeing how much progress your students are making and how proud they get when the can communicate with you effectively. With that being said, there are...times... when things don't quite make sense or words that you don't normally use every day are thrust at you with so much enthusiastic force that it makes you pause a bit. Here are some of my favorite phrases that my students have come up with.1. "It's 3 hot outside."It was a hot summer day and my students were changing from their swim clothes into their uniforms. I made the comment, "It's too hot today," while wiping the perspiration from my brow. My quietest student Ko-kun looked up at me with a deadpan face and said, "No Banana-teacher. It's 3 hot today."2. "My an*s hurts."One of the requrements for my upper level students is to write a weekly journal. I let them choose whatever topic they want. This gives them an opportunity to tell me things that they normally don't have time to tell me in class. Ma-chan decided that for her weekly journal she would tell me in vivid detail that, "My an*s hurts because I diarrheaed all night." It was definitely unexpected.3. "You are a boss queen."I was reading a story to my kindergarten class when the word "boss" came up. I explained to them what a boss was and how it is an important job. Yu-chan looks at me and says, "Banana teacher, you are a boss queen." Yes, yes I am Yu-chan.crown + power suit = boss queenSituations like these always add a little extra fun to my day. Have your students ever said any interesting phrases?

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.

I used to run...

I used to run. I used to run two hours nearly everyday along the river by my old apartment. Before I met my husband,I ran anywhere I needed to go and could get to on foot. This was not something I would have ever done in my home town. For one, even if I ran for an hour from my highschool home, I'd never reach anything more than a gas station or cow pasture. But also because the idea of someone seeing my sweat dripping, red face huffing along the side of the road terrified me enough to stay inside and watch tv and eat microwave popcorn instead of even think about exercise. Moving to Japan gave me a new perspective. Long out of high school and far from the kids who spat at me during p.e., I was finally in a culture that embraces sweat. The students I taught at school encouraged me to get out and move. They were ecstatic that I was red faced and out of breath when I accidentally ran into then on my runs through the neighbourhood. It was a very different cultural perspective on a plus sized woman tackling her own body. Running gave me inner strength I never learned was there, because the mentality I was brought up with taught me that if I was big, it was my fault, and therefore I was too weak to do anything.Japan taught me that I am strong enough to pull passt my weight and keep going.But I can't run like I did back then.  I've also learned something else while here. That my running was actually destroying my body. Due to an injury to my spine, my body secretly started to degrade as I started to feel stronger inwardly. As I  lost weight, gained confidence and looked better, I felt more pain and fatigue than ever. This is an actual image of my spine. One of my discs has all but withered away. Running for exercise, for strength, is not possible anymore. It's now time to focus on gaining real strength in my muscles. After injury and pregnancy and being hit by a car, giving birth, breaking my ankle and now raising three children, I'm more determined than ever to build myself up. I used to run nearly everyday, but now I'm looking to run every day, head first into my life and tackle my body and all it's problems. I will run every single day, even if my body can't run like it did before. But first, I've got to learn how to exercise, how to strength build, how to fit this life into my life.

The Adventures of Banana Teacher - 02 Do You Wanna Build A... What is That?!

    I think I'll call him Fred!One of the biggest downfalls of living in Miyazaki prefecture is the lack of snow. It gets really cold here, but we never see the white stuff. Snowball fights, snow angels, and snowmen are only distant dreams. This year was different. This year we built a "snowman". It snowed! Not down in the valley where I live of course, but up in the mountains! So, what can you do if it won't snow where you are? You bring the snow to you! Our school has this super sweet old man who drives the bus to and from school. He went all the way to the top of the mountain and brought down a box full of snow for the kids to play with. It was so much fun to see their happy faces. We had a snowball fight and made a snowman. Well, I made a snowman. The kids made some sort of snow creature. It wasn't perfect, but they sure were proud of it. It's amazing how something as simple as snow can bring so much happiness!               My name is Elsa! 

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