My Wednesdays

  • 8:10am
    • Arrive at school entrance
      • Put shoes in shoe locker
        • Slip on indoor shoes
  • 8:12am
    • Arrive at teacher’s room
      • Take off coat and headphones
        • Put lunch in fridge
      • Say “ohaiyou gozaimasu” to every teacher that passes
  • 8:15am
    • Warm breakfast in microwave
      • Eat breakfast at desk
        • Feel self conscious about eating breakfast at desk
          • Finish eating breakfast at desk anyway
  • 8:30am
    • Greet English teaching partner good morning
      • Talk about the lesson for the day
        • Designate roles
  • 8:34am
    • Wash plastic bowl
      • Attempt to find a space for bowl to dry on overcrowded rack where teachers keep their mugs
  • 8:38am
    • If time, make tea
      • Disperse water from hot water heater
        • Place tea bag in water
    • Drink tea and wait for bell to ring
  • 8:46am
    • Walk to English classroom at far end of the 3rd floor
      • Question why the English room is the farthest class from the teachers’ room
      • Consider taking the elevator
        • Remind self about the importance of exercise
          • Take the elevator
  • 8:50am
    • Turn on the heater
      • Set to 25 degrees Celcius
        • Argue with partner about the temperature
          • Compromise at 24 degrees Celcius
    • Greet students as they shuffle into the class
  • 8:52am
    • Start 1st Period
      • Teachers: “Hello everyone!”
      • Students: “Hello, Julia-sensei; Hello, *partner*; Hello, *homeroom teacher*!”
      • Teachers: “How are you?”
      • Students: “I’m … (insert sleepy, hot, cold, tired, hungry, happy, good.)”
        • Student lead for the week: “What day is it?”
        • Students: “It’s Wednesday.”
        • “How is the weather?”
        • “It’s … (insert sunny, cloudy, rainy).”
      • Teachers: “Thank you!”
  • 8:55am – 9:30am
    • Review vocabulary on PowerPoint
    • Review vocabulary on large flashcards
    • Review target phrase
      • This week: I want to be a (insert profession) because I like (insert reason).
    • Practice target phrase with class
      • Optional practice in pairs
      • Optional song
    • Play game to practice vocab and target phrase
    • Play another game to practice vocab and target phrase
    • If time, play another game to practice vocab and target phrase
    • Award game winners with cute stamps
      • (Students loves cute stamps)
  • 9:30am
    • End class
      • Teachers: “Goodbye everyone!”
      • Students: “Goodbye, Julia-sensei, *partner,* *homeroom teacher*!”
  • 9:36am – 10:20am
    • Start 2nd period
      • Repeat 1st period
  • 10:20am-10:40am
    • Return to desk during the 20 minute break
      • Make tea again
        • Drink tea
      • Talk to partner about non-work related things
  • 10:45am – 11:30am
    • Start 3rd Period
      • Repeat 2nd period
    • End 3rd Period
  • 11:32am
    • Turn off heater and lights and computer
  • 11:35am
    • Return to desk
      • Finish tea
        • Check school email
  • 12:07pm
    • Watch lunch for the teachers get distributed
      • Sneak glance at the school lunch meal for the day
        • Wonder what one of the ingredients in the soup is
  • 12:15pm
    • Warm up lunch in microwave
    • Eat lunch
  • 12:41pm
    • Wash plastic bowl
      • Attempt to find a space for bowl on mug rack again
  • 1:25pm
    • Realize lunch break is over
    • Listen to students clean the school
      • Hand out trash bags to students who request trash bags
        • Wonder how the students in charge of cleaning the English classroom are doing
  • 1:40pm – 1:55pm
    • Go to one of the first grade classes for “English Time”
      • Review vocabulary
        • Play game to practice vocabulary
  • 2pm ~ 3:30pm
    • Prepare materials for Thursday classes (3rd and 4th graders)
    • Review lesson plans
      • Review and finalize PowerPoint slides
    • Print lesson plans for homeroom teachers
      • Place lesson plans on homeroom teachers’ desks
  • ~3:30pm – 4:57pm
    • Pass the time
      • Reply to emails
      • Work on a blog post
      • Attempt to study Japanese
      • Read book from the school library
        • (Currently: the cartoon version of Anne of Green Gables)
  • 4:57pm
    • Put on coat
    • Say “see you tomorrow” to partner
    • Say “osaki ni shitsureishimasu” to passing teachers
  • 5:00pm
    • Put indoor shoes in locker
      • Slip on outdoor shoes
    • Leave school

An Ode to Winter – My First Snowman

I was born and raised in sunny southern California, where the coldest it gets in the winter is 50 degrees Fahrenheit – if you can call that a winter. But over the past few months, the temperature in Osaka dropped to about 30 degrees at its coldest – which I was neither prepared for nor happy about. After growing up spoiled by abnormally warm SoCal winters, it hasn’t been easy for me to adjust to below freezing temperatures. I often find myself day-dreaming about 75 degree weather, checking the temperature in my hometown with envy, counting down the days until spring.

But there have been a few days this bitter winter that have made the endless shivering (almost) worth it… Like the one Saturday I awoke to the ground outside my apartment covered in a sheet of white.

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Fresh snow might not sound too exciting, but I’d never seen anything like it before!

Without even bothering to change out of my pajamas, I threw on a coat and a pair of gloves and hurried outside to play with the layer of snow that had built up during the night with one goal in mind – to build a snowman for the very first time!

Stepping out into the snow, I realized that I probably wouldn’t be able to build my snowman 6 feet tall (as I’d originally envisioned it), but I did have enough to make several snowballs, which I stacked together to form its body. Then I collected a couple twigs for his arms, some seeds for the eyes, a leaf for his lips. He was no taller than a foot, and didn’t have a carrot for a nose – which I’d always imagined snowmen to have – but I was happy with him anyway.

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Minoh hasn’t had another day like that since, and probably won’t for the rest of this year, but I’m glad I got to experience the feeling of waking up to falling snow – and to have practiced the renowned art of snowman-building. So I suppose winter might not have been that bad after all…

Though, I am still incredibly relieved that spring has finally arrived.

20 Minutes at Tom’s Mr. Hedgie

It turns out that cats aren’t the only animal to have earned their own line of themed cafes in Japan. There are cafes for puppies, for owls, for lizards, for birds, for snakes, and more. I even heard about a pug cafe in Kyoto!

Though I can’t say that I’ve ever been particularly interested in spending my afternoon with lizards, there was one animal – my favorite animal, actually – that I’ve been hoping to visit ever since my cat cafe excursion… Hedgehogs!

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On a day trip through Kyoto, my friend and I decided to stop by a hedgehog cafe called Tom’s Mr. Hedgie where you can hold, feed, and play with a hedgehog for up to an hour.

Apparently, most people make reservations in advance, but we arrived without a reservation and were seated within a few minutes. The staff member who’d led us to our table handed us rules and instructions for properly handling our hedgehog. (I asked for the English version.)

The cafe itself was immaculately clean, brightly lit, and smelled like flowers. And it was well-decorated with an impressive spread of hedgehog-themed goods: ornaments, photos, stuffed animals, and lots of miniature sized trinkets and accessories.

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By far my favorite thing about it were all the warm, smiling faces! Everyone seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the quality time with their hedgehog playmates.

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After choosing a time limit (we opted for 20, the cheapest option), a staff member brought us a yellow bucket, a paper towel, and a hedgehog of our own. His name was “Paido.” He was a baby and new to the cafe, so he scared easily and didn’t enjoy being held. I only got to hold him for a total of about 30 seconds by the time he’d made it clear that he wanted to be put down. My friend had a similar experience, so we let Paido be and watched him wander around the yellow bucket for the remaining time.

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After 20 (short) minutes, Paido was escorted from our table back to his glass-walled home – which, in all honesty, he was probably relieved about.

I can’t say that 700 yen for 20 minutes is a price I’d be willing to pay again, but I’m happy to have had the chance to hold my favorite animal for the first time! (Even if it was short-lived.)

 

My daily commute on the 92

The bus comes at 7:43 on weekdays. I leave my house at 7:30 and arrive at the stop by 7:40 at the latest, depending on how long it take me to jaywalk across the main road.

There’s a convenience store next to the bus stop, a Family Mart. Sometimes I’ll wait inside because it’s much warmer in there than it is outside and I can check to see if the bus is coming from the window by the seating area. I see the same staff at the Family Mart every morning and I’m sure they recognize me by now – probably as that foreign girl who buys green tea and lingers in the seating area, who runs from the store at exactly 7:43. 

There’s an elderly man who rides the 7:43 bus everyday too and boards at the same stop as me. He’s short and balding and limps on his left foot. He has a tired, weary look in his eyes and his breathing is heavy, like the air is weighing on his lungs. When he waits for the bus to come he stands a few feet off to the side, looking down at the sidewalk, as if he’s intrigued by something on the ground. I still don’t know what it is he’s looking at. He might not be looking at anything at all.

The bus is always full by the time it arrives at my stop – or, our stop (mine and the elderly man’s). Some days are worse than others; some days I need to shove my way on board just to squeeze myself in far enough for the door to close behind me. It’s like this on Mondays, which makes sense I suppose, since its the start of the work week. The bus is less packed as the week goes on. On a few Fridays, there have even been empty seats available. But that doesn’t happen often. I’m usually lucky to get a seat at all during the 20 minute bus ride.

For the most part, there are always the same kind of passengers on the bus – people on their way to work, students going to school. The students either sleep, sitting up, their heads lolling from side to side, or they study. I’ve seen some studying English before. I’m always tempted to comment on their homework, tell them the answers. But I never do – no one talks on the bus.

I don’t usually recognize the faces on the bus. But there are a few regulars – passengers I see everyday.

There’s this one girl, probably about my age. She gets on earlier than me and always stands at the very front beside the driver. When I get on we catch each other’s gaze and smile. Sometimes, she’ll wave at me too. I think of her and I wonder if you can call someone who you’ve never met a friend.

There’s a student who reminds me of my little brother. He has a baby face and glasses with frames that don’t balance well on his nose. His backpack is nearly half the size of his body and it looks heavy, too heavy for anyone his size to carry. I want to ask him if it’s heavy. And I want to ask him if he’s tired, if he’s overwhelmed, if he’s happy. In my head I ask him these questions everyday but everyday he says nothing and gets off with the rest of the students.

And there’s the middle-aged man who boards two stops later than mine, with the satin pants and shiny black shoes. He plays games on his phone to pass the time. Sometimes he plays Pocket Camp, a game where you take on the role of “campsite manager” and decorate your own campsite with the help of visiting animals. I play it too. I think it was designed for a young, female audience, so it makes me happy to see him play. From a few feet away, I watch him tap his phone, chatting with his animal friends. I try to imagine what his campsite looks like.

I don’t know anything about them beyond that. I’ll probably never even know their names. And they will never know mine. But they are familiar, constant, and they make the ride a little easier somehow.

 

 

Cream, coffee, and cats – my first cat cafe in Japan

For two weeks, a friend from the States came to stay in Japan with me for the holidays. She’d left most of the travel planning up to me, but there was one thing that she said she absolutely had to do while in Japan: go to a cat cafe.

Cat cafes are, well, just that – cafe’s with cats. For a small service fee, guests can watch and play with the cats for as long as they want. These themed cafes are super popular in Japan, and have inspired the creation of a number of other small animal themed cafes, like hedgehogs, and even owls! Apparently, cat cafes have become so popular that several have begun popping up in the States, though I’ve never been to them myself. In fact, I hadn’t been to one in Japan yet either despite their popularity, so this was my first experience. I wasn’t sure what to expect, especially since I’ve never owned a pet cat before – and never planned to – but I was curious to see what all of the fuss was about.

Luckily, I found out that there happens to be a popular cat cafe in Minoh, just outside of the train station. So the first weekend that my friend arrived in Japan, we packed our bags, ensured our phones were fully charged to prepare for the many pictures we were bound to take, and headed to Cara Cat Cafe.

We arrived the minute that the cafe opened – the owner had just come downstairs. She unlocked the front door for us with a wide smile and invited us to seat ourselves. As we moved toward the back of the cafe to sit at a table, a lovely white and tan striped cat walked between our legs. The other cats were still in their beds, some just waking up for the day.

After taking a seat, the owner handed us a list of pictures of the cats and general information about them to help us get to know the cats a little better. For example, underneath the picture of Daru (see below) are facts about him, including: “He likes snacks. He does not like being touched. He likes playing with the ゴム紙 (one of the many toys available to play with.) There were 5 cats in the cafe on the day we went, two male and three female, and theirs ages ranged from a few months to a few years old.

IMG_7988We were also given a list of rules, in English, for how to behave while in the cafe to ensure the cats’ – and guests’ – safety as a precautionary measure, like, “When being moody, treated in an unpreferable way, and/or over-excited, cats might scratch or bite you…”IMG_7989After reading the rules, my friend and I ordered our drinks – a latte for her and an iced coffee for me. The owner prepared our drinks in the kitchen and brought out our drinks on a tray within a few minutes.IMG_8002 Alongside our drinks was a little sticky note which indicated the starting time of our visit, since the total service fee is calculated by the amount of time spent in the cafe.

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Once our drinks arrived, we were free to roam about the cafe and play with the cats at our leisure. Luckily for us, the cafe was completely empty during the length of our stay, so we had the whole room – and all 5 of the cats – to ourselves.

Every one of the cats was friendly, affectionate, well-behaved, and very calm. One of the cats, named Beemo (who, by the way, was the softest cat I’ve ever petted in my life), did nothing but sit in one place and yawn occasionally throughout our entire stay.

The younger ones, named Daru and Tsururu, were a bit jumpier and not too fond of being petted or touched, but they were more active than the older cats and were more easily distracted by the toys, which made it easier to play with them. Because they were livelier though, luring them to our table at the back of a cafe was nothing short of a challenge. If we wanted to be close enough to the cats to pet them, we usually had to stand up and roam around the cafe ourselves, following in their footsteps, since they rarely came to us.

IMG_8007IMG_8044Behind our table were a few shelves nailed to the wall that the cats could jump onto. Occasionally, the younger cats would climb onto these shelves, giving us a chance to tease them with the toys the owner gave us to use. Though, they usually lost interest within about 30 seconds and set off to meander around the cafe again, forcing my friend and I to follow after them with handfuls of cat food – which we didn’t mind, since it kept us entertained too!IMG_8036After an hour of petting, teasing, and feeding the cats, and sipping our freshly brewed coffee, my friend and I decided it was time to say goodbye – mostly because we weren’t interested in paying more than the initial 500 yen service fee.

I’ve never been especially fond of cats, but after an hour in the cafe, I loved them! I even found myself tempted to take Beemo home with me. But I’m pretty sure the owner would do a much better job at taking care of Beemo than I ever could, so I suppose I’ll just have to plan a return visit to the cafe to see him again… which doesn’t sound all that bad to me. IMG_8042

For directions to Cara Cat Cafe, click here.

When fresh crabs came knocking at my door

I’ve lived in Japan for a little over 5 months now. As I’ve slowly and shakily grown acclimated to life in this strange and unfamiliar country – and somehow managed to survive one curve ball after another – I thought that I’d finally arrived at a point where nothing else in this country could surprise me.

Turns out, as is so often the case, I was silly to assume that.

This past Sunday, as I was just finishing up preparing dinner, I heard a knock on my door – a delivery from the post office. My mom had told me a week prior that she’d sent me a box of Christmas presents, so I assumed her box had arrived. I signed the receipt and the delivery man handed me a large Styrofoam box – I thought it strange that my mom chose to send the gifts in Styrofoam, but I didn’t think much of it. I carried the box into my apartment, excited to take a peak at the presents inside.

But instead of finding an assortment of gifts wrapped in Christmas-themed paper, when I opened the box I came face to face with a pair of frozen, beady-eyed crabs!

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After overcoming my initial shock, I realized that the delivery was not a mistake – these were indeed my crabs.

Because, you see, about 3 weeks ago I’d ordered them myself.

So, let’s rewind to 3 weeks prior: the day I noticed a curious new flyer in the teachers’ room that had a large crab drawn on the front. (My desk in the communal teachers’ room at the elementary school I work at is located next to the cabinets where staff members often post various announcements and events for others to check at their convenience.)

IMG_7774The sign reads: “It’s crab season! 1 is 800 yen. The better the quality the higher price. For those who want to order, please tell Mrs. Yamada (name changed for confidentiality) your address and how many you want to order.”

To give a little background info as reference, Mrs. Yamada is from Tottori prefecture, which is located along the Sea of Japan. Tottori is famous for its adult male snow crab, known as Matsuba-gani, which is caught between November and early March. Apparently, the prefectural Matsuba Crab PR Committee even sets the 4th Saturday in November as ‘Matsuba Crab Day’ and holds an annual event at the docks of Tottori City and Iwami-cho.

Now, I’m no expert on crab – I think I’ve only eaten it once in my life. And even if crab is on the menu, I never order it, since it’s just so darn expensive. I mean, why would I pay $32 for soft shell crab with just enough meat to satisfy me for the night, when I could be spending that amount on groceries for an entire week?

But 800 yen (about $8) for a WHOLE crab? And from a prefecture that’s known to have some of the best fresh crab Japan has to offer? That sounded like a pretty good deal to me.

I messaged two other JET’s who live in my apartment building and asked if they’d be interested in splitting a few crabs with me. They were, as I expected, and we agreed to split two between the three of us. I gave Mrs. Yamada my address and my order and she gave me a smile, a nod, and that was it.

Now, fast forward to last Sunday, when I opened up the Styrofoam box to find the crabs instead of presents. Not only did I have absolutely no idea what to do about them, I was also worried that they’d defrost, come back to life, and start crawling around my apartment while I took refuge on top of my loft bed.

I frantically called one of the JET’s who’d agreed to order the crab with me. Luckily, he was home, and rushed up to my apartment with a large stew pot which we then filled up with water. While we waited for the water to come to a rolling boil, we looked up articles online about how to cook crab, since neither of us had ever attempted to boil one whole before.

Once the water was ready, we lifted the crabs out of the box with a serving spoon and dropped them into the pot. We cooked them for a little less than 20 minutes.

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Once the crabs had turned a deep red color, we assumed that they were ready to eat. We  put the cooked crabs in the fridge, since by then it was too late to eat them right away.

The following evening, we brought out the crabs, melted some butter with garlic and parsley and had a delicious meal!

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The meat was delicate and super flavorful – it was even a little sweet, which I hadn’t expected. And the texture was so soft and tender that it melted in my mouth with every bite. My friends and I picked the legs clean; there was enough meat in the two crabs to fill the three of us. At the end of the night, we all agreed that the experience was a success. Though it was a bit stressful overall, I think it was well worth the effort.

But next time I eat crab, I’m definitely planning on ordering it at a restaurant – I’d rather not have my crab surprise me at my doorstep again in the future.

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Preparing for my first winter in Osaka (on a budget)

I was born and raised in sunny southern California – where the weather is about 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, year round. In January, the temperature can drop to the mid 50’s, but mid 50’s is about as low as it’ll go. So, I think it’s fair to say that I’ve never experienced a real winter before. And when I say real winter, I mean a below 30 degrees F kind of winter, a winter that turns stepping outside into a brave and daring feat – a winter I am grossly under-prepared for… But since I’m living in Japan now, that’s just the kind of winter I’m about to face.

December has only just arrived, and the temperature in Minoh has already begun to plummet. My 8 minute stroll to the bus stop is a challenge already, even with a heavy coat. And a scarf. And gloves.

But, luckily for me – and for the millions of other Osaka residents about to brave an unforgivable winter, Japan has found ways to make these next few bone-chilling months bearable, and I have made it my goal to take advantage of as many of these warmth-inducing solutions as possible.

The first task on my survival checklist was to redo my wardrobe, since all of the clothes I’d brought from home were intended to be worn in an Osaka-n summer, not winter. But, I’m on a teacher’s budget – restocking my closet with a brand new wardrobe wasn’t a possibility. And that’s how I discovered Heat Tech.

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Heat Tech is a collection by UNIQLO – a chain of affordable clothing stores in Japan. Heat Tech’s under armor is made from a durable fabric that supposedly retains heat really well. I’d heard positive reviews from several coworkers, so I decided to buy a few articles for myself. And I’m glad I did! The material is surprisingly thin, it’s light, and most importantly, it keeps me warm. And it’s cheap! A long sleeved crew neck T-shirt cost me less than $10.

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Though my pair of “ultra warm” leggings have been a big help so far, fabric too has its limits. Clothes can only help retain so much heat, and there are some body parts that need a little more warmth than others. And that’s where these lovely little packs come in:

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I got this particular pack of body warming stickers for 100 Yen from a local Daiso, but I’ve seen them stocked at nearly every supermarket and discount store around, often conveniently displayed at the front entrance. All you do is unwrap a package, peel off the back, and stick it anywhere on your body for instant heat. To my surprise, I could still feel a bit of heat from a sticker nearly an hour after I’d peeled it. No idea how that works, but I’m not complaining.

Next – food: I can’t talk about winter without at least mentioning food.

I could go on and on about seasonal winter foods in Japan – nabe alone deserves its own blog post – but I’ll stick with the two winter-friendly snacks that have helped me survive on a budget.

The cheapest, and most abundant, warming winter snack I’ve found is oden at conbinis (convenience stores). Oden, also known as Japan’s traditional winter fast food, is a stew of various ingredients simmered in dashi broth. Ingredients range from potatoes, to skewered meat, to acorn jelly. At conbinis, a large food warmer sits at the front counter, where customers can help themselves to individual oden ingredients – each about 100 Yen. Sometimes, conbinis will have weekly specials that lower prices to 50 Yen!

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Though a little pricier than oden, my most favorite cold weather treat is definitely the 焼き芋, or roasted sweet potatoes. Japanese sweet potatoes are a little different from the sweet potatoes you buy in the states. Japanese sweet potatoes have a purple skin and creamy yellow insides. I think they’re also smoother in texture and a little sweeter than U.S. sweet potatoes.

Like oden, they’re everywhere – and they’re always warm. Each sweet potato is fresh and sweet, just the right amount of soft, and quite filling for less than $2 a piece. I’d say that one could work well as a meal by itself. They’re usually near the front entrances of supermarkets, kept hot in a warmer or on a bed of charcoal, often wrapped in individual brown bags. Kind of like this:

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Yet another cheap, and quick, option for those in search of relief from the chilly outdoors are vending machines – now well-stocked with tons of hot drinks. In the summer, all of the drinks were cold, but as the temperature began to change, vending machine selections changed too.

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I’d say that 100 Yen is not a bad deal for a cozy beverage (or a can of corn consomme soup!). Sometimes, I buy a drink just to act as a hand warmer, when I don’t have my nifty body stickers with me.

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And finally, the main reason I’ve been able to survive the cold – my air conditioner, which as I was overjoyed to learn, is also a heater.

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I was planning on buying a separate heater for my apartment, which are pretty expensive, but a friend who has been living in Japan for two years now informed me that my air conditioner should have heating functions too. So after work that day, I attempted to decipher my remote control. And sure enough, hidden in the left hand corner, I recognized one of the kanji characters for heat – 暖. (In Japanese, 暖かい means warm.) So, if you ever find yourself needing to operate the dual air conditioning-heater unit in a Japanese apartment, look for 暖房 (pronounced danbou) on your remote control.

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Another cool thing I discovered as I was deciphering the cryptic maze that is my remote control is the timing function. All I have to do is set a certain number of hours, and my heater will start up automatically when that number of hours has passed. I set it to start about 30 minutes before I arrive back from work so that I’m greeted by a cozy, heated apartment right when I step inside.

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I can’t say that I’m looking forward to the next 3 freezing months, but I will admit that Japan does a pretty good job at trying to make the wintery season – almost – bearable. I might as well enjoy my ready-to-eat perfectly cooked sweet potatoes while I can.

My first Thanksgiving in Japan

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday – not only because you get to spend an entire day with the people you love preparing an absurd amount of delicious and terrifyingly fattening dishes, but you get to eat it all afterwards too! And there’s nothing I like more than a plate piled high with buttery, high blood pressure-inducing, marshmallow-y sweet potatoes.

I’ve looked forward to Thanksgiving every year ever since I was a child, for all of the reasons listed above and more, but this year as the holiday approached, I realized that I was dreading it. Because this Thanksgiving would be the first spent away from my family… (and without a turkey.)

Though I tried to ignore it, the thought of Thanksgiving lingered in the back of my mind all throughout November. I still wanted to celebrate my favorite holiday, but I had no idea how I’d possibly manage a proper Thanksgiving celebration in my tiny apartment the size of a walk-in closet, with a kitchenette equipped with little more than a blender, a tea kettle, and a few pots and pans. A 40 pound turkey – which, by the way, are nearly non-existent in Japan – was out of the question.

But luckily, I found a few other fellow JET’s who were willing to give Thanksgiving in Japan a shot, despite the fact that our living arrangements were not conducive to preparing a feast. Though our celebration wouldn’t be as traditional, extravagant, or as gluttonous as we were used to, we decided it couldn’t hurt to make an attempt. We agreed to have our own version of a Thanksgiving luncheon, even without a turkey and canned cranberry sauce.

Since the luncheon was going to be held in my apartment, on Thanksgiving morning I stopped by Daiso and purchased a few fall-themed items, including fake red-orange maple leaves, a plastic wreath, and purple grapes made of wax, to decorate my little coffee table and make the space under my loft bed a bit more festive. With a bit of arranging and the help of a floral-scented candle (also from Daiso), I managed to ready the “dining area” for our Thanksgiving feast.

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Each of us planned to contribute something to the luncheon, kind of like a potluck. So in honor of my adoration of sweet potatoes, I made mashed Japanese sweet potatoes, cooked with ginger and coconut milk. My friend prepared a salad with spinach, walnuts, apples, and fresh persimmons (which are in season in Japan right now). Another brought cheese from the local high-end grocery store, along with a baguette and fancy jam, and another brought bottles of red wine. And in place of a turkey, I roasted a few chicken breasts with a sprig of thyme – which I’d say is close enough, right?

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Though our luncheon looked nothing like the Thanksgiving feasts we’ve grown accustomed to in the States, we had more than enough food to fill the four of us – I’d say that makes for a successful celebration. But above all, on top of the satisfying meal and impressive cheese spread, we got to celebrate it together – which, in the end, is the most important and worthwhile part of Thanksgiving after all.

Of course, I missed my family immensely all throughout the day, and I’m hoping I’ll be able to celebrate it with them next year, but I’m grateful to have been able to enjoy my first Thanksgiving in Japan with lots of good food and with people who have helped make my experience in Japan thus far a positive one.

My favorite tiny farm

Everyday on my stroll to and from the bus stop, which is about a 7 minute walk from my apartment, I pass by a random little farm in someone’s backyard.

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And walking past the farm is always the best part of my daily commute.

I don’t know who lives there, and I don’t know what’s being grown – I have no idea what it’s even doing in the middle of the neighborhood. Back in the States, it’s not too common to find random rows of produce growing along the street.

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But I don’t really need to know why it’s there – I’m just happy I stumbled upon it in the first place. No matter how rushed I am in the morning, or how tired I am in the evening after a long day at work, this little garden plot never fails to brighten my mood.

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(Also, can anyone tell me what kind of flower these are?)

Japan just doesn’t do dryers

IMG_7438Yup, that’s a picture of my wet clothes. They’re clipped to a 100 Yen rack that’s hanging from the curtain rod in my room.

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Though I do have a washing machine in my apartment, I don’t have a dryer, so I have to hang up my clothes after I wash them. And according to my fellow apartment-dwelling friends in Japan, they don’t have dryers either. There’s just not enough room in our tiny, 16m2 homes.

At first, I assumed the lack of dryers resulted from a lack of apartment space. But then after a few days of walking around the city, I started to notice that houses (and big houses!) too had clothes hanging from their balconies. So it couldn’t be attributed to space alone.

It’s not just Minoh that happens to be a dryer-less community either – walk around any neighborhood, anywhere in Japan, and you’ll find apartment after apartment, house after house, even some shops and restaurants, with clothes hung over the rails and clipped to standing hangers in the yard.

Japan just doesn’t do dryers. Don’t ask me why, because I have no idea.

Not having a dryer has been a difficult thing to get used to. It’s actually been one of the things I’ve struggled with the most in getting acclimated to living in Japan. First, I don’t like the idea of putting my clothes outside. It kind of freaks me out. There are bugs outside! What if a cockroach or a beetle or a SPIDER wandered onto my balcony and found its way into one of my socks and then laid a bunch of eggs inside without me knowing? What if it starts to rain out of nowhere?? Then I’d have to wash my clothes all over again… And I’m not taking that risk! So instead I have to hang up my clothes inside my apartment, on the curtain rod beside my bed.

Another big reason why I’m not a fan of this dryer-less lifestyle is that my clothes get super duper wrinkly when they air dry – especially my cotton T-shirts. Which is hard, because my entire wardrobe is largely made up of cotton T-shirts. I’ve been trying to flatten them out before hanging them on the rack, but it hasn’t been too effective. Technically, I could iron my clothes after they’ve dried, but so far I’ve been too cheap (and too lazy) to buy myself a proper iron and ironing board.

And lastly, hanging up every single article of clothing on my rickety drying rack has not been that enjoyable (socks are the worst!). I’ve heard that hanging clothes is supposed to be soothing, but to me it just feels tedious; I’m used to taking all of my wet clothes out of the washing machine and throwing them into the dryer in less than a minute, and then coming back to a lovely pile of warm, clean, freshly laundered clothes half an hour later. But now living in Japan, I have to wait a good 12+ hours before my clothes are dry enough to take down from the rack and hang back up in my closet.

But hey, I suppose it’s better than nothing, right? My clothes may be wrinkly, but at least they’re clean… Granted, using a washer alone may take some getting used to – and I’ll probably feel the need to write another complain-y post about the subject again soon – but I’m sure that in time, I might even learn to prefer drying my clothes the all-natural way.

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Emphasis on the might.