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Wow…has it really been two years already?  The last two years in Japan have been amazing, and it’s definitely safe to say that we have fallen in love with this country and the Japanese people.  It’s difficult to believe that time is going by so quickly and we only have one year left in this amazing place.  Even with a year left, I find myself beginning to miss things.  I have randomly said to James “How are we going to have a house without a tatami room?” “How am I going to survive without a heated toilet seat?” “What am I going to do when I can’t pick up sushi at 7-11?”

So I think it will be a difficult transition when we leave Japan, but the memories will be with us forever.  And in our last year, I am making a huge effort to not focus on what I will miss, but to instead cherish every moment here and enjoy all of these amazing experiences.  When I begin to look back on this last year, it has been filled with such great friends and moments that I just realize once again how blessed we are.

Some of our favorite moments from this last year in Japan:

Learning all of the traditional Japanese Bon Odori dances and performing them in various festivals around our city.

Hiking Fuji-san (again?!?!) with a great group of friends.  And while it was also miserable, I am so thankful we did it again.

Decorating our Christmas tree in our first Japanese home.  The tatami room made for a great Christmas room.

Visiting Hiroshima and Miyajima Island in southern Japan.  It was quite a moving experience.

Relaxing for a few days in Kyoto and really getting to know the city.  Finding these adorable geisha lattes!

Drinking green tea with my mom in Tokyo

You only have one year left to come and visit us!  We’d love to have you.

I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve been snagged.

The content isn’t funny, but this picture makes me laugh.

By far my favorite escalator sign ever!

I am AMAZED that I haven’t written a blog about using the bathroom in Japan.  Where do I begin?  There is so much to share about Japanese bathrooms.  Heated toilet seats?  Yes, I’ll begin with heated toilet seats.  The definition of heated toilet seats should be AWESOME!  There is nothing quite like a heated toilet seat during the winter.  We have TWO heated toilet seats in our home, and they are fabulous.  The toilet seats alone were worth the move off base.  Although, we have them unplugged at the moment to save energy.  After the earthquake, the Economist published an article about how Japan could save energy, writing that 4% of house-hold energy use is from toilets! Four percent?!?  That was enough to encourage us to unplug our toilets.  You can read the article here: Economist Article

Of course, there is more than just the heated toilet seat.  Japanese toilets provide a great deal of luxuries, including bidets, sprays, and air dryers (all things you can experience in the comfort of our home when you come to visit!).  I don’t even want to think about how much toilets in Japan must cost.  In public restrooms, you can press a button to create a flushing noise or music if you want more privacy, though our home toilet does not give you that option.

And then there is the traditional Japanese toilet.  Imagine a hole in the ground.  That’s basically it, but with a nice porcelain exterior.  I don’t really like to use them, but occasionally, it’s all that is available.  Most bathrooms have both, as many people feel it is more sanitary to use the traditional toilets.  In most restrooms, there will be a small sign on the outside of the door telling you what type of toilet it is.  Or, if you are at a classy rest area, there will be an electronic sign telling you which toilet is available, and what kind of toilet it is.  Classy Bathroom Sign  In small towns, sometimes the only western style toilet is the handicapped one, but I will wait for it anyways.

The other thing I love about Japanese bathrooms are the signs explaining how to use the toilets.  Please enjoy these three signs.

If you are looking for a reason to come and visit us in Japan, look no further!  You need to come and experience the Japanese bathrooms.

Japanese homes don’t come insulated, so whatever the outside weather is, it affects the inside to a greater degree than in America.  There is also no central air, each individual room has their own remote controlled heat/air conditioner unit.  While very efficient as you only use energy to cool/heat the room you are actually using, it has caused some lifestyle changes.  In the winter I would wake up from a warm bed and shiver as I ran downstairs to shave.  Now it is summer.  In the Kanto plain we experience “super” humidity as the winds shift to bring in moisture from the ocean, becoming trapped here against the mountains ringing the flat lands.  With the air so moist, and having no insulation, our house is nearly as sticky inside as it is out.  We have been using the A/C sparingly, trying to save power as the region has lost significant electrical capacity due to the Fukishima Nuclear plant being offline, but still use it in at least one room at all times to keep AJ cool.  This has resulted in the copious use of damp rid products and whatever the Japanese equivalent is.  Our home has been invaded by damp rid in every room, stair well, and closet.

We know they are working as they started collecting water immediately.  The damp rid we bought on base (in English) said they work for 60 days, but after two weeks the bags are nearly full.  We also have tried Japanese products, and those are working very well, though we aren’t sure we employed them correctly.  Cannot wait for dry air again in Fall, but until then we are fighting natures desire to turn us into mushrooms!

To be official in Japan, you must have a signature stamp, or official seal, known as a Hanko 判子. Instead of signing documents, you simply apply your family stamp.  No signatures needed. I recently discovered that one needs a Hanko to open up a Japanese bank account, which I needed to accept a teaching job.  I had no idea how difficult it would be to open up an account, but it took me an entire week.  On Monday, I walked to a local bank and attempted to open up an account by myself.  After a failed attempt at describing what I wanted in my horrible Japanese, the bank worker came back with a picture of a hanko stamp and a passport.  Ah….I needed both of those to open up an account.   Not knowing how to order a hanko, I contacted a Japanese friend who was fabulous, and helped me with every step of the process.  She called a local hanko shop that could complete the task in two hours, wrote my name in Japanese for me, and then translated what I needed over the phone when my google translate app wouldn’t work.  She is amazing and I am very thankful for her!  We went with the cheapest hanko possible, but many in the shop cost between $200 and $300 dollars, with some costing upwards of $500!!

Based on extensive Wikipedia research, we learned that special hankos can be passed down from generation to generation, and many people will get new ones when their life circumstances change, like after a divorce, or a string of bad luck.  But this is Wikipedia of course, so you can never be sure.  We simply needed a banking hanko, so a cheap and quick material was fine for us.  For banking, you always use red ink, but for personal mail, you can use a variety of colors.  Back in the day, red ink was reserved for samurais and nobility, but today, red ink can be used by everyone, and it is used for all official documents.  Armed with my hanko, I went back to the bank and opened up an account.  I smiled the entire time I was stamping official paperwork.  Very exciting indeed!  I feel very Japanese now with our very own stamp.

That’s right folks! The 30 Day Blogging Challenge. As many of you have noticed, James and I have been extremely slacking on the blog over the last year.  It’s not that we want to be slackers, but we’ve lost a little bit of motivation in keeping the blog updated, so we are challenging ourselves with the 30 day Blogging Challenge. We are committing to blogging every day for the next 30 days, so hopefully we will keep it up! Get ready for an exciting 30 days of life updates!  I may or may not count this blog, so it might actually be 29 days. 😉 Depends on what’s happening in our lives in 30 days.  And on a final note, please don’t be confused by the strange order of serious blogs and fun quirky things in Japan…we are just trying to get the blog up and going again. And besides, the strange order is actually much closer to how my brain functions, so enjoy!

Wow!  Has it really been a year already?  Happy Japanniversary to us!  A year ago today, James and I were stepping off of a plane into an unknown world, wondering if anyone would be picking us up, or if we would be figuring out how to get to our new home on our own.  As I was about to have my first breakdown, we saw someone holding a little piece of paper with our name on it.  My answer to prayer! A two hour car ride later, and we were crashing in our hotel room, too exhausted to think about the adventure that lay ahead.   It seems like just yesterday that I was waking up at 4:00 am (due to the time difference, of course) and exploring our new home.  And now here we are, a year later, starting to piece our lives back together after the March 11th earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown.  Leaving Japan during the evacuation definitely gave me a greater appreciation for everything I loved about this great country, and I am excited and happy to be back!  It has been such an amazing year, and James and I have been able to experience so much.

And just to give you a sampling of everything I love about living in Japan…..

I love the people, the culture, the food, and hot coffee out of a vending machine.  I love drinking green tea and eating sushi at the sushi-go-round with amazing friends.  I love traveling on the trains and visiting shrines and temples.  I love ordering off of menus I can’t read and I love cooking my own meat at yakiniku. I love celebrating at festivals and watching everyone dress up in traditional clothes.  I love teaching English and I love getting to know all of my students.  I love that my washing machine does everything for me, that I still can’t figure out our solar panels, and that I can boil water in under a minute.  I love our tatami room, our cherry tree, our Japanese maple, and our Japanese plum tree. I love that you see the tip of Mt. Fuji from our balcony.  I love heated toilet seats and Japanese Kit Kats!!  I just LOVE so much about this awesome experience we have been blessed with, and I am so thankful to be here.  So happy Japanniversary to us!

A few of our memories from the last year:

Hiking Fuji-San

SUSHI!!

Golden Pavilion, Kyoto

The Imperial Palace in Tokyo


Yokohama at Night

The Great Buddha in Kamakura

Enjoying the Fall in Japan

After nine months of living in Japan, I am noticing some things I am doing differently now.  Please enjoy these slight, but significant changes in my life.

  • I pick out shoes based on how easily they slide on and off.
  • I bow (head nod) at other drivers when I am in the car.
  • I wait for the walk sign to turn green even if there are no cars coming.
  • I prefer chopsticks to a spoon.
  • I always ask what train station something is near when getting directions.
  • I judge distance based on time, and not actual distance.
  • I think paying your bills at a gas station is completely normal.
  • I get unnecessarily excited when I see Mt. Fuji.
  • I take naps on the train.
  • I line up behind people, just because they are standing there.
  • I rely on road mirrors to make turns.
  • I don’t walk and drink.
  • I answer with “maybe” all the time.
  • I am not surprised when there are cartoons on our electric bill.
  • I count out exact change.
  • I put two fingers up when I take a picture.
  • I say “konpai” instead of cheers.
  • I get excited about ferris wheels.
  • I buy trinkets at shrines.
  • I don’t get confused when a stranger gives me their kid to take a picture with.
  • I will eat anything green tea flavored, including noodles.
  • I don’t drive after a sip of communion wine.

I’m sure there are many more, but life in Japan seems very normal now, so they are difficult to think of.

Living off base has been very exciting for us, though it has come with some interesting challenges.  A great example would be New Year’s Day.  In the spirit of our southern tradition, we hosted friends for some black-eyed peas (for luck) and collard greens (for money). Great idea!  It would have been a better idea if we had tried our stovetop and oven before having people over.  After an hour of deciphering the Japanese directions and pictures, we were able to figure out our convection oven. We ended up baking our ham on the cake setting, and it turned out great.  However, the stovetop was a different story, and unlike the oven, it did not come with directions. We played and played with the buttons, and two hours later, we were still unable to boil water.  Lights were working, and the pot seemed to be getting warm, but our closely watched pot refused to boil.  Dismayed, we threw out the beans and resorted to canned ones!  We needed the luck for 2011 whether we could figure out the stovetop or not.   We have since found that we were doing everything correctly, but our pots were too thick, and required special ones.  And sure enough, we found the pots at our local home store, with a picture of our stovetop on the sticker.  What a huge difference!  Equipped with new pots, we can now boil water in a little over thirty seconds!  Every day in the new house is an adventure, but we love living in a Japanese home.

When your bed (or box-spring) doesn’t fit up the stairs, you have to think outside the box.  Or perhaps outside the house through the bedroom window.

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