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

“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.

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.