Reunited: 2012-2017

I visited Japan for the first time when I participated in a 10 day exchange program in 2012. I stayed with a host family during those 10 days, and my host sister, Chika, came to live with me in my hometown for about a week. Chika and I spent every day of that exchange together and I came to think of her as my little sister. The day that we said goodbye, I promised her that we would see each other again.

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Upon applying to JET, I chose Osaka prefecture specifically for Chika because I’d learned that her family had moved to Osaka a few years ago. But after getting accepted and placed in Osaka prefecture, I contacted Chika and learned that her family had moved back to their original hometown near Tokyo – about seven hours away from Osaka by train.

But then I remembered that orientation would be in Tokyo and knew that I’d have free time in the evenings. I contacted Chika to see if she was available the weekend of my orientation. And she was! And her university happened to be only about 10 minutes away from the hotel I was staying at by train.

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We met each other on the night of my last day in Tokyo. We hadn’t seen each other for over five years, but I recognized her immediately! She still looked the same to me. Seeing her again was such a sweet, heartwarming experience! Five years passed, but it didn’t feel like we’d been apart for long. We got along as if we’d seen each other yesterday. She recommended Tavern for dinner, which happened to be a very “American” restaurant. We ordered a salad and bacon ratatouille (which neither of us was a huge fan of). We also ordered a cocktail each, which I thought was a little strange since the last time we saw each other, she was barely a teenager!

There was still quite a big language barrier between us, but her English and my Japanese has gotten a lot better over the past few years, so we were able to update each other about our families, the major events in our lives up until that point, and our plans for the future. I tried to explain in broken Japanese that I want to write stories and she tried to explain in broken English that she wants to help stimulate local economies in Japan. It’s exciting to see where life is going to take us and I can’t wait to hear about all of the incredible things she’s going to do.

During dinner, she handed me her gift to me. When I opened it and saw two bags of granola, I laughed. She’d remembered!

When I stayed with her family, I was obsessed with this granola cereal called Furugura – or Fruits Granola. I ate three bowls of it every morning and bought two bags to bring home to the states. I wasn’t able to find it in the U.S., so I hadn’t eaten the cereal after running out of the two bags. I’m not a big granola-eater anymore, but it was funny that she’d thought of my obsessive, unhealthy love for that cereal, even after all these years.

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And here’s a picture of the cereal, “Furugura,” taken in 2012.

We walked around Shinjuku for a little while after dinner, talking, enjoying the feeling of being with each other again. But around 8:30, we had to head back to the station. She commutes from her hometown to her university in Tokyo everyday – about an hour train ride one way – so she had a long train ride ahead. We hugged each other in front of the station gates. It was hard saying goodbye again, but she’s coming to Minoh in September, so we’ll see each other at least once more while I’m in Japan.

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A British Pub in the Middle of Shinjuku

After the first day of orientation, a few other JET’s I’d met (many of whom are also  in Minoh with me) and I went looking for a bar to to go to after a long day of training. We decided on a bar called Ben Fiddich, which was only a 4 minute walk away from the hotel we were staying at and had great reviews on Google.

Google Maps led us to Yamatoya building down the street, but there were no signs outside to lead us in the right direction. We wouldn’t have found the place if it weren’t for a bucket at the entrance of the first floor filled with empty bottles that said “Ben Fiddich” on the front, and an arrow pointing up. We walked forward into the building and up a spiral staircase which led us to a wooden door.


Stepping into the bar, I felt like I’d stumbled into an Irish fairytale. The furniture, the lighting, the decor, even the music – everything about the tiny 10-seater bar rang of a 19th century European pub. The bartender spoke English really well AND he was the most adorable bartender I’d ever seen. And of course, he knew everything there was to know about alcohol.

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How adorable is this bartender?!

Me and the girls wanted something sweet, so we asked him to surprise us. IMG_6394

He came up with the most unique, fascinating drinks! I don’t remember all of the ingredients, but one had watermelon and mascarpone, another had egg yolk and citrus juice, another had passion fruit and egg white, and another was made with cream and adzuki beans. The six of us passed around the drinks so we could try each and every single one was amazing. Sweet, subtle, perfectly balanced. (The lighting inside the bar wasn’t very good, so my pictures didn’t come out well, but to the right is a picture of the drink with egg yolk and citrus.) After trying each of the drinks, the three girls and I picked our favorite cocktail to keep. My favorite was the one with adzuki beans. The legal drinking age is 20 in Japan, so my adzuki-bean cocktail happened to be my very first legal drink! I couldn’t have chosen a more memorable one at a more memorable location. Definitely a good start to my first year in Japan.

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Proud father.

This is the address to the original Ben Fiddich, which is located on the 9th floor of the same building. (The Ben Fiddich we stumbled upon was an extension of the 9th floor location.) If you ever happen to be near Shinjuku station, I highly recommend stopping by either Ben Fiddich location for some high quality drinks. And if you happen to go to the location on the 2nd floor, definitely ask for an adzuki bean-tequila cocktail.

JET Program: Tokyo Orientation

I’m sitting at a McDonald’s eating vanilla soft serve, trying to take advantage of the free wifi – which I only have one hour of. I’ve discovered that wifi is almost impossible to find in Japan, and when it is available, there’s always a limit. I’m getting wifi installed in my apartment this upcoming Saturday, but for now, McDonald’s will have to suffice.

It’s only been a week since Tokyo Orientation, but so much has happened! I’ve set up a bank account, signed up for cell and internet service, moved into my new apartment and furnished it – all in a week. Today is the first free day that I’ve had to finally sit down and write, so I have a lot to catch up on.

I’ll start with last Saturday, the 24th: the first day of orientation in Tokyo.

Day 1

The first day started off with breakfast at 7am. The food was classic Western brunch – bacon, sausage, egg, yogurt, soup and salad, and lots of coffee. The scrambled eggs were some of the best scrambled eggs I’ve ever had! They were super soft, kind of like mayonnaise. It sounds gross, I know, but it was amazing.

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We moved to the ballroom after breakfast, making sure to be in our seats by 8:45. In Japan, being “on-time” actually means arriving 15 minutes early, which I’m not sure if I like or not. The ballroom filled up by 8:50. There were probably up to a thousand JET’s from all over the United States present, as well as JET’s from multiple countries around the world – including South Africa, Ireland, Australia, and Jamaica. Each country’s flag stood hanging on front stage, to the left and right of Japan’s.

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The morning consisted of 3 lecture-style sessions on important information – about the JET program, the structure of the Japanese education system, and other essential things to know about living in Japan. The material was mainly review for me though, so I had trouble paying attention. I’m sure the other JET’s felt the same, because I saw quite a few dozing off in their seats.

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It tasted a lot better than it looks, trust me.

Lunch was a 180 from breakfast’s Western-style spread: tofu stew with cabbage and bean sprouts, rice, and a wakame and carrot soup. (According to several conversations I overheard, lunch was definitely not as popular as breakfast.) I didn’t mind the food though – AND I happened to sit at the table with all of the Ireland JET’s, which probably doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but I was super excited about it (fun fact: the Irish are probably the sweetest bunch of people you’ll ever meet). I have a feeling that I enjoyed lunch a little more than others.

 

 

After lunch, more sessions. These were school specific, so I went to the sessions on elementary school. I learned about the textbook that’s usually used in class – “Hi, Friend!” and lots of different games and activities that are typically used to help teach the lesson to Japanese children.

That was when I started to feel really overwhelmed by everything that was happening. I’d been a student my entire life, until only a month ago. I still felt like a student really, yet there I was learning how to become a teacher. A real teacher! The reality that I wouldn’t be sitting at a desk anymore finally hit me, the reality that in a month I’ll be standing in front of a class filled students all looking to me, all expecting to learn, and I’ll need to be ready to teach them something about English.

I didn’t know if I wanted to start dancing or burst into tears and book a ticket back to LAX. I sat through the session and kept taking notes, feeling afraid and excited and upset and happy all at the same time.

Day 2

I woke up around 4am the next day. (Ah, jet-lag.) Got ready for breakfast, put on my business attire again. (Japan takes business attire very seriously – on the first day, the person in front of me didn’t have a suit jacket and he was escorted from the room.)

Breakfast was the same – I made sure to eat lots of the scrambled eggs.

The first session was a panel with three guest ALT’s who taught at elementary and junior high schools. They described their experiences teaching at their respective schools, gave advice, answered questions – probably the most useful session of the orientation. It was good to know what to expect for once, since I’ve been in the dark about what I’ll actually have to do on a day-to-day basis.

The rest of the day was a bunch of sessions on teaching techniques used in elementary schools, like using role-plays, telling stories, and making crafts – things that get the students engaged and involved in the material. It was all super overwhelming again, but I tried to reassure myself that once I actually start teaching, I’ll develop my own routine, and in time I’ll figure out what does and doesn’t work for me and my students. It’ll take a lot of practice, work, and quite a bit of trial and error, but eventually I plan to become the best elementary school English teacher I can be. ^_^

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Pre-Departure Checklist

  1. Eat as much cheese as possible (preferably Gouda – any kind is okay though)
    1. And fruit
      1. And also Mexican food
  2. Practice self-introduction
  3. Learn how to write new address in kanji
  4. Take sister out for pineapple soft serve ice cream
  5. Pick fresh strawberries from a strawberry field
  6. Enjoy California’s low humidity levels while I still can
  7. Order Thai food
    1. *Order Panang curry
  8. SLEEP
  9. Finally make that blueberry cobbler recipe I’ve had bookmarked since February
  10. See best friends one last time and tell them thank you
  11. Learn how to say the names of different cheeses in Japanese, just in case
  12. Have a barbecue with sweet potato fries and lots of pink lemonade
  13. Choose favorite photos of friends and family
    1. Print favorite photos of friends and family
  14. Go to the beach one more time and walk along the sand and listen to the waves
    1. Dip toes in the water
      1. Build a sandcastle with a draw-bridge and a moat
  15. Spend every one of the remaining six days with family

Pieces of Home

Last night I dreamed that I was at the airport, preparing to board. I woke up, terrified, remnants of the fear I felt in the dream lingering. Even in my sleep, I knew I wasn’t ready to leave. I don’t think I’ll be ready in seven days either, when I really will be boarding the plane. Not ready now, and not next week. The thing is, I doubt I’ll ever be ready to say goodbye to home – to the place that shaped me, to the place I belong.

I stayed in bed for a while, waiting for my heartbeat to slow, waiting for the panic to leave my fingertips. I lay on my side and stared at the cracks of light between the window blinds, shut against the 8am sun. I rubbed the linen bed sheets between my fingers, felt the texture of the pillow beneath my cheek. I sat up in bed and looked around, trying to pay attention to every object in the room. I traced the set of drawers across from the bed, then traced the mirror nailed above it, and then the canvases above that – two paintings of marigolds, dark blues and whites. I saw an empty glass, Love, Stargirl, my sister’s stickers on the floor.

I got up and went to the restroom. On the way, I passed by my parents’ bedroom and heard my dad getting ready for work – closet door sliding, dress shirts rustling, keyboard click-clacking. I heard my sister’s voice too from the bedroom, greeting my dad good morning. My mom was washing dishes downstairs, my brother tossed in his sleep. Little details – things about home that I’d never bothered to pay attention to before. Yet it’s the smallest details, the ones you’ve forgotten to notice, that make home special and so distinct.

I washed my face in the restroom, looked in the mirror. Alone, I suddenly felt very sad. One more week and I won’t be waking up to this place anymore, I thought, staring back at myself. In a week, (A WEEK!) the place I wake up to will be very, very different. In a week, I will no longer be in the house I grew up in. I’ll be in a one room apartment, with cotton curtains instead of blinds, blank walls. I’ll be standing in the middle of an under-furnished room, wondering where to hang my clothes, where to store my suitcase.

It’ll be hard, I know. It’ll be really hard not waking up to home anymore.

But I also know that, even in Japan, home will never be far away. Because I will always have memories to hold onto – the little details. Like the smell of my mom’s chicken broth bubbling in the slow cooker, the sound of my little sister’s soft “hello’s.” These are memories that I can continue to carry in my mind, in my heart.

Even after I’ve left, I’ll still have these little pieces of home to take along with me, to remind me that even on the other side of the planet, I am not alone.

“Momiji?”

“It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for!” said the first line of the email. I quickly opened the email, I scanned the intro, scrolled down to the body. In big, bold letters, I read:

Your Placement:箕面市 Minoh-shi,大阪府 Osaka-fu

I couldn’t believe how lucky I was – Osaka prefecture was my first choice! The minute I saw Osaka, I immediately contacted my host sister Chika, whose family I lived with when I first went to Japan for about a week in 2012. A few years ago, Chika told me that they had moved from Hanno to Osaka. So I originally chose Osaka because I wanted to be able to visit my host family again. When I talked to Chika again though, I learned that they had moved back to their old home in Hanno just last year. Sadly, Hanno is near Tokyo – about 8 hours away from Minoh by train.

Of course, I am disappointed that I won’t be able to visit my first host family as often as I would’ve liked, but I’m still very happy with where I’ve been placed and I can’t wait to make Minoh my new home!

Though my opinion of the city is only based off of pictures on Google and a few Japan-Guide articles so far, I have a really good feeling about Minoh already. Not only does it sound like a really pleasant and peaceful place to live, it’s also one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. (See below.)

So, I’ve been planning on creating this blog since I got accepted as a JET participant, but I put off coming up with a name because I wanted to incorporate my placement into the url. Since this blog is basically about my experiences living in Minoh, it deserves an honorary tribute. It took me a while to figure out how to make the name short, personal, and easy to remember, and to also weave Minoh into it somehow though. So I did little bit more research on the city.

Minoh is best known for its waterfall park, Minoh Falls. In autumn, the park is apparently one of the best places to see the autumn leaves change color.

I ended up learning that there’s actually a Japanese word to describe leaves that have changed color to red. It’s 紅葉, or momiji. I thought the word momiji fit the blog perfectly, because while I’m living in Minoh, I’ll get to see the seasons change – for a year I’ll get to watch the leaves change color from green to red to yellow to brown, and to red again. Also, Minoh’s signature dish, deep-fried maple leaves, is called momiji no tempura (もみじの天ぷら)in Japanese.

So in short, my blog is called momijigirl because I’m going to live in Minoh and Minoh has a lot of maple leaves. (And the girl part is self-explanatory.)

Here’s Minoh’s location on Google Maps if you’re interested in seeing it relative to other areas of Japan. (It’s close to Kyoto, Kobe, and Nara.)

And here are pictures of the city, in case you don’t feel like making the Google search:

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Oh, and here’s a picture of the deep fried maple leaves!

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Yum.

America (on Clearance)

If you could choose one object to represent your home country, what would it be?

I’ve been thinking about that question for a few weeks now. A football? A plastic hot dog? Ideas came to mind, but I had trouble deciding on an object that was not only “quintessentially American” but also small and light enough to fit into my suitcase.

The object isn’t intended for my own personal keepsake, by the way (I’m not that patriotic!) – it’s for my students in Japan. According to past JET participants, I’m supposedly going to be giving an introductory lesson about the U.S. when I begin working as a teacher during the first week of school. Along with a 50 minute presentation on U.S. culture and customs, I’m also supposed to present objects that are representative of “my home country.”

Lucky for me, I conveniently happened to go shopping for my presentation materials two days after the 4th of July – when stores were ripe with 4th of July clearance sales. Target’s $1 section was overflowing with American flag-themed everything – decor, stickers, cutlery, everything. I shuffled through the pile of neglected, half-off items, grinning and squealing under my breath. Who knew that I could get so excited over gel stickers in the shape of Uncle Sam’s hat?

And once I finally decided what objects to buy, it took even longer to persuade myself not to buy all 15 packs of flag-decorated pencils.

I ended up settling with two packs of pencils – not 15, stickers of course, a set of napkins that say “United States of America” on the front, and those handy little American flags that you sometimes see on people’s front lawns.

 

I’d say I’m pretty happy with my purchases (and the total price.)

And I hope that my future students will be happy with them too.

A Tentative Self-Introduction 自己紹介

Jikoshoukai 自己紹介じこしょうかい is the Japanese word for “self-introduction.” Self-introductions are very important in Japan. The last time I visited the country, I found myself having to give this “mini speech” to just about every new person I met. Luckily, self-introductions are simple enough – they’re meant to be short and sweet: you say hello, your name, where you’re from, a little about your country’s culture, and a little about yourself too. You only get one first impression though, so it’s important to do it right. I’ve written my intro out in advance this time and memorized it too because I already know that I’ll be reciting it quite a bit once I get to Japan.

はじめまして。私はジュリアエバーハートと申します。私はアメリカのロサンゼルスから来ました。ロサンゼルスはアメリカの西の方です。もう二年前に日本に来たことがありますが、箕面に来たことがありませんから楽しみにしております。私の趣味は本を読むことですが、日本にいる間は生け花に興味持って勉強したいと思います。皆様と一緒にお仕事が出来ることを光栄(こうえい)に思います。どうぞよろしくお願いします。

Hello! My name is Julia Eberhardt. I’m from Los Angeles, in the United States. Los Angeles is located toward the west of the U.S. Two years ago I visited Japan, but I’ve never been to the city of Minoh before, so I’m looking forward to it! As for my hobbies, I enjoy reading books, but while I’m in Japan, I’m interested in studying Japanese flower arranging. Overall, I’m really honored to be working with everyone here. Thank you for having me.

A Suitcase Story

In exactly two weeks (July 22nd) I’ll be strapped into a seat, sailing across the Pacific! It still feels so surreal, and disconcerting too. But I’m more excited than nervous, I’m a good kind of anxious. When I wake up, my first thought is always Japan: each day that passes brings me one day closer to departure. But each day that passes also means there’s one less day to prepare for the trip; one less day to prepare for the next 12+ months of my life.

Preparation has not been easy, it has not been simple. Surprisingly enough, moving to a foreign country isn’t as straightforward as travel writers and YouTube vloggers make it out to be. There’s a ton of things I’ve had to sort out, things I’ve never thought about before, like what to do about my phone contract – whether to port my number or transfer it over, or release it to cyberspace – what to do with my U.S. bank account, where to store my personal belongings.

But the greatest struggle by far has been packing. Packing well – packing light – is much harder than I’d imagined. I decided to only bring one suitcase, one flimsy duffle bag, one backpack, and a little pouch to hold my passport.

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My passport holder.

That means I have to fit my entire life into three pieces of luggage!

I’ve been to Japan before, so luckily I know what I will and (probably) will not need. But the list of things I’ll need to bring over to Japan is much longer than the things I won’t. With every item I add to the list, I grow more and more worried that all of the items I’ve deemed as “essential” won’t be able to fit – not to mention stay under 50 pounds if I do manage to pack them snuggly inside my suitcase.

Japan is very different from what I’m accustomed to – different resources, different customs, different lifestyles, which means that I have to prepare certain objects/resource in advance in case they aren’t available in Japan: three-pronged outlets, Advil, anti-perspirant clothing for the humid summer, shoes to fit my abnormally large feet, Yen, even deodorant! And on top of the essentials – travel-sized toiletries, business attire, omiyage, indoor shoes – I have to bring materials for my students too, like maps and photos and trinkets that “represent my home country.”

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My (pink!) indoor shoes.

In order to make room, to maximize what little space I’ll have, there’s a lot I know I’ll have to give up – a lot that I really don’t want to give up. I’m not looking forward to saying goodbye to the things I’ve grown to cherish – like old journals I’ve written in throughout college, my favorite paperbacks, the ceramic cow my grandma sent two years ago as decor for my first apartment. To me they’re more than just “things” – they’re snippets of memories, reminders of places I’ve been to and of people I love. I have to leave nearly every object I own behind for the first time, and it’s hard. Fitting my life into 50 pounds or less is a challenge that I never thought I’d face.

But, though this task hasn’t been a simple one, I do have to admit that packing has helped me appreciate what I’ve accumulated here, in the U.S. I know that what I leave behind will be waiting for me when I return home. And it’s encouraging to know that I will always have something to return to.

Why Japan?

The first time I went to Japan, I was 15. I was participating in an exchange program between my home town and a tiny city in Japan named Hanno. I knew nothing about Japan – its history, culture, language. The only thing I had going for me was a few months worth of beginner’s Japanese. I could spell out my name in katakana characters, maybe give a decent self-introduction, and that was about it.

It was also the first time I’d ever left the country before. Visiting Japan was like discovering a new world; I was all at once immersed in a new environment and had the opportunity to experience a rich and complex culture, a different way of life. The exchange program only lasted 10 days, but those 10 days had a tremendous influence on my life. I remember saying goodbye to my host sister before boarding the shuttle to the airport on the last day. I promised that I would visit her again.

Several months later, I figured out how I could go back to Japan. My Japanese language teacher, Mrs. White, told the class about JET – a program sponsored by the Japanese government that sends English speakers from around the world to teach English in Japanese classrooms. All you need to apply to the program is a Bachelor’s degree. So at 15, I told myself that once I graduated from college, I would apply. I knew that if I wanted to return to Japan, the JET Program would take me there.

Fast forward to my final year of college, 5 years later: I don’t know if I want to apply to the program anymore. I have new dreams and aspirations now, a different direction for my future. Do I really see myself leaving everyone – my family, my friends – and everything behind just to acknowledge my 15 year old self’s lofty, if not unattainable, goals? And do I really envision myself in Japan, for a whole year? 

As of the September entering this past academic year, I did not – I did not see myself departing for Japan upon graduation. But, I applied to the JET program anyway. Because I felt that if I didn’t apply, I’d be cheating my 15 year old self.

She wanted me to apply, so I did it for her.

After surviving a grueling 6-month-long application process, at the end of this past spring break I received the email offering me the position as an Assistant Language Teacher for JET. I accepted the position immediately. I remember running downstairs, hugging my mom, calling my dad. This is happening, I thought, I’m going to Japan.

I’ll be there for one year (or more, maybe!) starting on July 22nd.

This blog is dedicated to recording my experiences while living and working in Japan – not only as a way of keeping the people I care about updated, but also as a tribute to my 15 year old self.