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Yummy Yummy - Happy Tummy

Living in Japan has made me experience something that I would experience no where else. When I say this- it applies to many aspects- life style, people, culture etc. But "Food" stands out among the all. When I went back to Canada for completing my studies after staying in Japan for a year, there were times I would be seriously nostalgic. What I missed the most was of course my husband who was left behind in Japan for his job; but Japanese food was not less missed. I am glad to be back. I can now treat myself to all the foodies I craved for. Let me share some of my personal few favorite food items in Japan; and of course these items are not available easily in other parts of the world. Even if found, not with the same authentic taste, texture and aroma. 1. Crab ( Japanese home cooked)- I picked crab as one of my favorites not just because it tops my list but also for its relevance in this chilled winter. "Crab keep you warm"- Okhasan from Joetsu, Niigata told us when she invited my husband and I for lunch. I had tasted crab before but nothing like Japanese home cooked crab. The amazing soft texture of the crab along with slight fishy taste (not too strong though) made them irresistible. The crab was boiled that probably added softness to it. The crab served at this lunch was splendid also because a bit of Japanese sake was poured over the crab that enhanced the taste of it. I am very less confident that I can prepare crab the same way but I have taken memo for the special crab recipe. Waiting for a special occasion to give a try ! 2. Oden- Another winter food that is included in my yummy list is -Oden. Honestly, I have only tried Oden from convenience stores. To some one new to what is Oden- It is a broth/soupy food with boiled eggs, radish, Konyaku. Tofu, Surimi ( ground fish items- like Chikuwa, Ikamaki, Sausage wrapped in Surimi) . Oden is considered a very healthy food as it is mostly boiled items with hot soup made with dashi that can help you beat winter. I have heard that Konyaku is popular among girls in Japan as this is a zero calorie food that makes you full but without you gaining weight. Isn't that awesome? Usually on the order of Oden, they will add you few tiny pouches of mustard that adds rich flavor to the broth. I am not sure if most of the people find Oden appealing because it looks very plain and too simple in appearance; but to me it is too delicious. At least my taste buds can't resist me ordering a combo-bowl.Pic. Courtesy- Flickr 3. Horse Sashimi- I am also sharing something rare I ate in Japan so far, Horse Sashimi, It might sound like Eww..Yuck..for a foreigner who stays away from raw meat items. Even I used to be the same; A little reluctant, a little hesitant to try new food. But lately, I have realized that once you are in a new country and if you don't embrace the local life style you are missing the beauty of being an expat. So I could not dare miss the golden opportunity to try the horse sashimi which is believed to be a rare, delicacy in Japan rather than an everyday food. There are restaurants that prepare it but I had no idea about it and I wouldn't probably have ordered this item if a Japanese friend hadn't mentioned. Once the order arrived on the table, I excitedly I tried it. I disliked the appearance of it because I had a prejudice that it is a raw meat. And, Yes, it looked raw but tasted fine. I remember vividly that it was served with grated ginger and sweet soyu. I am not sure if I will order this food again ; but I don't regret the moment I tried. 4. Natto- Natto is the last but not the least of my favorites here from food in Japan. Natto is a traditional food of Japan made from fermented soy bean. It is very easily available in grocery stores. You add some mustard/ washabi and soyu to the Natto and beat the mixture to produce the slimy sticky strings. To warn, Natto has a very peculiar smell. Don't be upset with me if you try this on my recommendation and dislike the odor of Natto on first try. The chances are high that people find the smell too strong and pungent. Japanese people eat Natto with rice and it is a very healthy protein supplement for your body as it is made of Soyabean. I have a very unique way of earting Natto that Japanese people find very weird. I use Natto as a sprad over my bread and have for breakfast. Wanna try my way??

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

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 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 !!!!

Uriwari waterfall in Fukui

Fukui is one of the most unknown prefectures in Japan. Even it is not far away from Kyoto or Gifu prefecture, many people never heard of that area. During my journey to the biggest lake in Japan, Lake Biwa, I decided to make a small stop in Wakasaka (Fukui), to visit a small waterfall there.From Tsuruga, one of the biggest city in Fukui, I just took the Obama line to go to the station “Kaminaka” in Wakasaka. It took around one hour in a very cute small local train through the mountains of that area. The station itself is really countryside, no shops or even a kombini, just local houses. I walked around 15 minuts from the station to a small park with a teahouse and a few shrines. At the end of the park was a small forest, where you could find a small waterfall.The waterfall was very beautiful and had a mysterious atmosphere. Especially I was totally alone there and I could only hear the sound of the water and the birds around me. I felt a little bit like I´m in the anime of “Nausicaä”. Just right next to the waterfall was a small house for resting. It was lunchtime, that´s why I used the chance to make a small picnic alone in the forest. I was very surprised to find this amazing place in that area, especially  I´ve never heard of it before. The way to go there is very long, but if you have a little bit leftover time it is a very nice spot to visit.

Jessica Tsuzuki's 2016 Review (Lots of Pictures!)

We're more than a week into 2017 and it is finally time for me to take a look at all that went on last year.My little family at Dontosai, the ritual shinto bonfire, in 2016.    Last winter, I lost a student, which isn't a big deal when you're teaching at a big school or have dozens of private lessons. I had 1, and her lessons were keeping us in diapers and with the option of actually starting to save up money again. She'd been happy/insistent to share time in our lesson with my daughter as her only grandchild is a boy who is a few years older now.     Then we had a bad lesson. A really bad lesson. I couldn't get Julia to calm down. There was no one around to help watch her. We went from park to play ground, searching for a way to get Julia to calm down, and it was just no good. She was wild, and we had to end the class a few minutes early from all the chaos that 2.5 year old could throw at us.     A week later my student sent an email explaining essentially that she was quitting. Because she has known me since I came to Miyagi 6 years ago and was one of the first students in the area to take to me well, a lot of my teaching confidence came from that bond. Having it severed through me for a loop. I wrote about it in my personal blog, here.     Even now, a year later, I'm not sure exactly how to take her parting words, in which she insisted that she was distracting me from taking care of Julia; that she was the reason we weren't on a good schedule of meals and naps. From anyone else, I would have seen this easily as a criticism of my parenting. But she knew me so well...    Julia with the blossoms at a park in Sendai    Spring came and I spent a significant amount of time under the cherry blossoms at Shiogama Shrine and in Sendai. This usually comes right around the same time as Golden week, which in years previous meant parties with tons of my friends, but not this year. Most of my friends had left or were planning to leave soon. I spent Golden week this year relaxing at home with my kid mostly.     About a month later, my husband's grandmother died. She spent most of the last year of family gathering complaining about her impending death. We tried to stay positive with her, but she was ready to go. The funeral service marked my first ever Japanese funeral, and I spent the majority of the time chasing my child around in the quietest way possible, usually outside of the room where all the other relatives sat. So I missed most of it, but I wouldn't have understood much anyway. I am not that fluent. Not by a long shot. On the upside, I spent less than $20 on Julia's funeral ensemble (thank you, thrift shopping) and my in-laws were impressed with my ability to keep Julia from destroying the ceremony. That said, during the bone-handling portion of the event (after cremation and lunch, when the family picks through the deceased bones and ashes, choosing the biggest chunks to inter at the family grave), Julia screamed for "MamaPapa", the one word used for her two grandparents, and we had to go walk around outside the building.    This marks one of the very few social occasions in Japan in which I did not fail my in-laws completely. That's my life here. My husband's family is great and they love me and generally are very accepting of my differences, but I also think that they frequently look disappointed. That was not the case this time. They actually thanked me after the services were over for taking care of Julia as well as I had. Another relative commented that I reminded them of the deceased as I chased my kid around the same way she had chased my father-in-law around when he was Julia's age.    In the following months, I started a Patreon (monthly crowdsourcing for artists) in which I create sock monkeys and other sock creatures and raffle them off at the end of the month. Mostly this pays for the other artists I want to support, but I still get a few more dollars a month into my Paypal account, and that's not a bad way to go over all.Julia with a pad-na, Panda made of sanitary pads during GISHWHES.Summer happened. 3 highlights:     I started writing here on city-cost and won the Summer Blogging Contest (in a 3-way tie). I also won some delicious grapes in another campaign. This site gives me reason to go out and experience new stuff in a place I've been living for too long while also supplying me with an ability to buy a few more odds and ends off of Amazon.     GISHWHES (The Greatest International Scavenger Hunt The World Has Ever Seen) runs around the first week of August and I participated for the third consecutive year. We didn't win anything, but we had a lot of fun. My brother gished for the first time ever and loved it. He even made some new friends, but he's better at that sort of thing than I am.     My daughter turned 3 on the 30th of August. Some friends came out from Sendai and we blew bubbles in a park for a few hours. It was wonderful.     Then there was fall. Having a 3 year old means seeking out a kindergarten and getting all of your paperwork organized ASAP so as not to lose out on these first crucial years of education and social indoctrination. Luckily, the city I live in has six kindergartens and not nearly enough kids. I researched as much as I could using google translate as necessary and limited it to three choices. Touring the closest on our list with a friend led mostly to me chasing my daughter while the Japanese ladies talked amongst themselves. Our tour guide would not even give me paperwork of my own to take home and look over, instead having me copy what I could onto scratch paper while she reminded me that I should really tour other schools as this location already had more than enough (fully Japanese) kids on their waiting lists.     I don't think they were being racist or anything. I just also didn't feel like we were wanted or even really welcome.     When my husband had time to look over the remaining options with me, his choice was rather clear. He wanted our daughter to go to the same school he had, and when we went to check it out, I had to agree. It is a nice little school, and the office workers were more than happy to walk us around the school, and even tried to engage me in conversation. When we returned for their open campus session, the kids were as excited to play with Julia as she was with them.     Then came "orientation" which I did not realize was code for "test the kid/mom" in private schools. The only private school I went to was my college, for which I filled out an "uncommon application" worksheet that was sent to me in the mail. My acceptance letter came in the mail before any interview/orientation could be scheduled.     My husband had not helped my nerves on this, insisting on working through the questionaire together the night before. Could she use chopsticks and dress herself? No. I had not been teaching her that. I had been focussed on surviving and getting her to eat regularly while also peeing on the potty. She's learned a lot of English phonics and can almost read by herself. She knows a bunch of songs and dances. She knows a lot of nursery rhymes. She knows so much...but nothing that was on any of those sheets. She's not on a regular schedule.     So I started having serious doubts about my parenting skills, feeling completely worthless and like I might have just ruined my daughter's life simply by being a lazy, exhausted jerk. It felt like I was failing at tests I didn't realize I'd signed up for.     Then we went to the interview and they took our questionnaire. Then they asked Julia some questions in Japanese, the same questions her grandma uses with her all the time, and she got nervous and looked at me instead. I translated the questions to English and she answered in complete sentences. Shocked and amazed, I turned to the lady asking the questions who knew enough English to accept the answers. A few weeks later, our acceptance letter came. The last time I was this relieved was probably when she came out screaming, without the lung complications so common in preemies like her.     Immediately following this, we had to start working on 7-5-3 stuff, starting with arranging a day to go to a professional photographer, which is difficult given my husband's work schedule. Once that was straightened, we had to get her into a kimono and find ways to convince her to be photogenic and behave as well.    Then came the actual shrine day, which we allocated for a Monday that my husband had off, and it wound up being really nice actually. The leaves were changing around Shiogama Shrine and a few tour groups were going through for that but wound up taking pictures of Julia as well on account of her adorable-ness. Or because they never see half-foreign kids in kimonos. or at all. not really the point though.     It was gorgeous, and she was mostly really well behaved.       Then we had done the things and I felt that I could breathe a sigh of relief for just a second, but then it was winter.     Cold, obnoxious, lonely winter. This has been the hardest winter for me in all my time in Japan. In 2008, I had young love and a trip to the states. I was back in the US for at least a week in 2009. 2010 saw me living with my in-laws with a new job and new friends and was my first holiday season staying in country. After the quake in March, bringing my guy to meet my folks in May, and getting married in November, I was happy to stay home in winter of 2011. In 2012 we'd just had our belated honeymoon and were trying to start a family. 2013 was our first Christmas with Julia. In 2014 I had a dozen friends to celebrate with, most of whom have now moved on to bigger cities or back to their homelands. A few were still about for 2015, and I'd gone back for a week for my brother's wedding.     Now I still have a few friends in the area, but they all have their own things going on. My kid is big enough to cause problems but not big enough to solve them. I'm tired, and I'm sad.     But you know what? I'm working on it. I've already made plans to have lunch with a friend for next week, and I am making a point to spend time with people I love as often as I can. Winter will end again, and the cherry blossoms will come. Then summer and fall and all the things that go with this.It's going to be okay.

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