City skyscape photo that I took from Odaiba

Monday, December 24, 2007



Video sent by KonchuX

Yoshio Kojima is a very popular up-and-coming comedian right now. He always wears a speedo in his comedy routines and starts by talking normally about a topic. He then makes a mistake and falls down in shame. He then begins his famous "dance" while chanting: "demo sonna no kanke ne, sonna no kanke ne, hai o papi," which translates to, "but that doesn't matter, that doesn't matter, yes (and then nonsense words)." Then rest of his routine rotates between him saying jokes and then doing his dance.

Many of my kids students LOVE him and imitate his dance/chant on a weekly basis...

September 9, 2007 -- e-mail to a friend

Last night we talked about the movie theaters here a little bit. Last week, I went with my Australian coworker Michelle to see Transformers. It was corny and funny. She and I were basically the only people laughing out loud. Last night at Los Amigos we were talking about that and they said the foreigners really do laugh loudly at movies and one woman did a very humorous impression where she doubled over a bit and clapped her hands. They said, more or less, I don't know, we don't laugh out loud at movies too much.

September 23, 2007 -- e-mail to friend
Yes, no sarcasm. The culture seems kinda prescribed and sarcasm would not fit.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

I go to the hospital

October 26, 2007 -- e-mail to Mom

We are dressing up at school right now for the whole week before Halloween. I am a vampire -- I found the costume in our props room.

I have no voice right now. I got a cough on Sunday, and last night I lost my voice. I still had to teach 3 kids classes today though, b/c it is my parent observation week and Halloween. The little kids dress up too, and our management thought that maybe parents were taking off work to come. Tomorrow I have 6 classes. I saw a dumb doctor and he prescribed me 6 different medications (I'm not exaggerating -- I'm not taking them though...). I asked him what I should do about my classes I have to teach. He said, and I quote, "maybe you should rest?" Yes, with the question mark. I whispered (b/c I literally had no vocal chords (it goes in and out a bit, but they are pretty shot)), "yeah probably." And then instead he prescribed me a bunch of stuff. And so I still have to teach. And I had to pay for the appointment and the medication. I'm on national health insurance so I only pay 30%, but the total was around $30.00. Seriously though, he didn't ask me if I am on any medications, and he told me he was going to give me antibiotics. I've taken antibiotics with my medication before, so I was like, ok, whatever. When I asked my head teacher what all the medication were though she said, this one is an antibiotic, this one is to prevent rashes... Me: I don't have a rash. Her: maybe one of the other medicines could cause a rash. Then she said the next one is to stop flem (I don't really have too much of a flem problem). Another is to help my stomach with all the medications. These four I'm supposed to take three times a day, after meals. Then there is one I'm supposed to take twice a day for bronchitis, which I also don't have. And then he gave me one for fever and pain (which I don't have), in case I get them. And then there are some drops to suck on. Which actually, I have used. Pretty stupid, huh? I'm irritated. And when I slightly reacted to the management that it seemed like an awful lot of medicine, they are just like, well you better take it b/c that is what the doctor told you to do. They just want me to be able to teach b/c they don't want to cancel my lessons, which I do understand, but it is annoying, b/c I'm just making my voice worse. What I really need to do is not be talking. See, look at what "boogeywoogy" says.;_ylt=AjdQdODBOzl5_Bl8qnbbvttFzKIX;_ylv=3?qid=20070919224815AAcLrkx

Anyway, so, I'm just typing to Andy [my college friend who was visiting] and not talking. I took some ibprofin. And tomorrow, I'm just going to try to avoid talking about the medication...



Conveyer belt sushi restaurants are popular. This one even had a dispenser for your plates, which counted up your total bill (you pay by the plate).

  1. taiyaki -- one of my favorite foods here. It is a pancake filled with sweet red bean paste.
  2. traditional Japanese breakfast at a ryokan (Japanese inn) I stayed at in Atami (hot spring resort town).
  3. Mikan picking in Atami. Mikans (mandarin oranges) are a very popular fruit, esp. in late fall.
  4. onsen omiyage (hot spring souvenir gift) -- it is customary to purchase your friends and coworkers an omiyage (gift) when you travel. I bought some of these red bean paste filled pastries in Atami. They have the Japanese character for onsen marked on them.
  5. An izakaya meal in Ikebukuro in Tokyo.

I absolutely LOVE the food in Japan. It is amazingly delicious nearly every time. Taste, quality, and presentation are all important. Overall in comparison to the U.S., I would say Japan has a lot more vegetables, fish, and rice in their dishes and uses less sugar. Additionally, desserts, turkey, and cheese are far less common here.

Some of my absolute favorite Japanese foods include: sushi, sashimi, taiyaki, mochi, katsudon, sukiyaki, eggs in general (they're more flavorful and have a much oranger yolk here), udon, terayaki chicken, edamame, nabe, yakitori...

Some of the foods I don't care for include natto (sticky/stringy fermented soy beans), pickled plums, and wasabi.

Many of my students enjoy asking me about Japanese food. They seem particularly happy when I know the names of different foods and say that I like them.

Interestingly, just last week after I was answering a student's question about which Japanese foods I enjoyed, I reversed the question and simply asked, "What food do you like?" He responded in turn by saying, "Junk food." Now, in all reality, I do not think junk food was actually his favorite food. But after I had just rattled off 10 or so of my favorite Japanese dishes, I think he was trying to reciprocate the sentiment and offer that he enjoyed American food. As has been my experience in a few other conversations, sadly I think many people here may view all or most American food as synonymous with unhealthy eating.

Also, when I go out to eat with students, some of them seem surprised/impressed that I know how to use chopsticks. Their reaction frankly surprises me a bit, because why wouldn't I know how to use chopsticks if I were living in Japan? My only reasoning for it is that people seem sensitive here to how I, as a foreigner, view and integrate myself into Japan. Either that, or they are trying to be nice and give me a compliment. I'm not really sure which.

Because I cannot read Japanese, grocery shopping has been an interesting experience. Slowly, I'm learning more and more about what different foods are. However, for the most part, I buy foods that don't require instructions (such as fruit, vegetables, bread, dressings, pasta, frozen foods, etc.) or packages that have English or diagrams.

The very first time I went grocery shopping after I had moved into my apartment, I almost cried in the store. I love sushi and was planning to make some on my own since finally I would have easy access to all the ingredients. I had found my favorite ingredients: tuna sashimi, avocado, seaweed, and rice. But, I could not figure out where the sushi flavoring packets were. So, I thought it's okay, I can make my own sushi flavoring with vinegar, salt, and sugar. I had some sugar in the apartment that the teacher before me had left, so I just had to get vinegar. But, after seeing that there were 5,000 clear bottles of liquid on the shelves, of which had nothing but kanji to inform me of their contents, I admitted defeat. It was so frustrating to know that the ingredients I needed existed in the store, but that I didn't have the language skills to access them. I didn't have a dictionary on me either, so I couldn't ask anyone for help.

Meanwhile, it turned out the grocery store had two floors, with these bottled liquids, canned foods, etc. being located on the 2nd floor and the refrigerated and produce sections on the 1st floor. Therefore, I didn't necessarily shop in the most logical order and the ice cream I had picked up as a special treat had melted by the time I finally gave up and checked out. The store clerk asked me if I wanted it exchanged, but I also didn't really understand what she was saying at first either. Eventually I got the point and indicated it could be switched, but I definitely felt like the dumb foreigner with about three people in line behind me -- not only could I not understand what the clerk was saying to me, I wasn't even smart enough to know to put the frozen goods in my cart last...

The first time I bought soy sauce here, I was in a 100 yen store that had a small grocery section. I looked up the word for soy sauce in my pocket dictionary (shoyu), and then picked up a bottle that I thought looked like soy sauce (which it indeed was). I went up to a woman nearby, and said, "Sumimasen, shoyu?" ("Excuse me, soy sauce?"). She gave me a very uncertain stare and an ever so slight head nod. I think maybe she wasn't exactly sure how I wanted her to respond, since I didn't really form a proper question, she didn't work at the store, and probably my pronunciation was off too. Ha. :) But, I remember feeling very satisfied, nonetheless, to have found soy sauce. I've since learned how to read hiragana (one of the Japanese alphabets), and shoyu(しょうゆ)is actually written on the bottles in hiragana, so I can read it now.

I bought a small oven from one of my coworkers when she left Japan in October. One of the first creations I wanted to make was a long-time favorite of mine, baked oatmeal. So, I bought all the ingredients and spent at least a good hour chopping apples, mixing things together without an electric beater, greasing cupcake tins, and pouring the oatmeal batter into the tins. While I was doing this, some spilled onto the tray, so I scooped it up and just ate it. However, it tasted very wrong. I tried some more and then it hit me: the cup of "sugar" I added was actually salt. Cursed illiteracy. I don't know why I had been so certain that I bought sugar -- I just had spent a while analyzing everything around the "sugar" package in the grocery store that when I finally made up my mind that the bag was indeed filled with sugar, I didn't think to check once I came home. Since then, I always taste test. And in fact, the "powdered sugar" I bought to make frosting about a month later turned out to be flour, but I didn't mess up everything that time. I've also now taken to carrying my dictionary with me in the grocery store when I know ahead of time I want to buy a new ingredient, so I am able to compare kanji in the store.

Anyway, despite some of the above experiences, I actually have really enjoyed the food I buy here. Back in September, my mom asked me about what I ate, and below is my response:

Sept. 25, 2007 e-mail to Mom
I cook for myself sometimes. I also eat out a decent amount. The food here is delicious. So far, cooking for myself has been going pretty well. I have been buying healthy food and have been pretty happy with the variety. Sometimes it is time-consuming to cook. I convinced a few other people at work to do meal sharing, so one or two days a week, someone else brings in lunch for me. :)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Language learning

Pictured: I bought hiragana, katakana, and basic kanji posters and hung them up in my bathroom.

A brief explanation of the Japanese writing system, borrowed from wikipedia:
"The Japanese language is written with a combination of three different types of scripts: Chinese characters called kanji (漢字 かんじ), and two syllabic scripts made up of modified Chinese characters, hiragana (平仮名 ひらがな) and katakana (片仮名 カタカナ). The Latin alphabet, romaji, is also often used in modern Japanese, especially for company names and logos, advertising, and when inputting Japanese into a computer. Western style Arabic numerals are generally used for numbers, but traditional Sino-Japanese numerals are also commonplace."

August 1, 2007. e-mail to training people.
Navigating is the one thing that makes me feel like I have some control here and is quite empowering to be able to successfully get places. Otherwise, that whole language barrier causes problems, you know...

For example, today it literally took me over half an hour, "talking" to about 8 various shop workers, and being directed to 5 different locations (on different floors of a mall) in order to get my box of chocolates for my school gift wrapped. At each counter, we would repeat whatever we were saying to the other person many times, before it became clear that neither of us was going to understand what the other person was saying. At the first gift wrap counter, it went like this:
Me: "Omiyage. Gift wrap (with hand motions)."
Her: "Receipto something something something."
Me: "(Slowly and enunciated) Oh, I do not have receipt. I bought this in the United States."
Her: "something something something receipto something something something." Then she takes my box of chocolates and tries scan it.
Me: "No, no, no. No receipt. I did not buy here. I bought in the United States. Gift wrap (more hand motions)."
Her: "Something something receipto something something gifto wrapu something something something."
Repeat the conversation about 6 more times, until it finally became clear that she would not wrap my gift unless I had bought it there, even if I would pay for wrapping. Then I got sent up 4 flights of stairs, I believe, to buy wrapping paper. Anyway, this story is getting too long, so in the end, four people ushered me around looking for wrapping paper while we had unintelligible conversations, until some very nice and friendly worker finally gift-wrapped my chocolates for free as a "service."

August 27, 2007 -- e-mail to multiple people.
I have signed up for Japanese classes through our city ward office. I will begin taking them next week. I have also bought kana (the two basic Japanese alphabets) flash cards and am trying to memorize the characters. The flash cards I got are very good and have little pictures and mnemonic devices to help you remember them.

A general note
Before coming here, I could have recited all the Japanese I knew in less than five minutes. Although I would not recommend this strategy to others, I think I half-way subconsciously didn't study that much because I was curious to see what the experience would be like. And, it has been insightful. Here are a few things I think I've learned:
  • being illiterate is frustrating
  • being dependent on English, either finding people who speak it or finding signs in it, is obviously limiting
  • when you cannot read, you look for other things to convey meaning. For example, if I'm not with Japanese speakers, I generally won't go to restaurants that don't have pictures and/or English on the menu (although I have a couple times, and luckily I think both we and the waiters just thought it was amusing). If the restaurant has pictures on their menus, then I can still find something that looks appetizing and point and say "kore onegaishimasu" ("this please").
  • you miss a lot of what is going on around when you don't know the local language, which feels kind of isolating
  • having conversations (although so far they have just been brief) in the local language is very satisfying
  • slowly recognizing and gaining meaning from written characters is empowering
  • learning a language is a slow process and takes time
  • I appreciate people who are understanding of my language ineptitude, but who also realize my potential to learn, and try to use gestures and/or more simple language in order to help me understand. Although I understand why people would also shy away, it makes me feel like more of an inconvenient outsider who causes discomfort.

I think I have been spending a lot of the past few months soaking up the language sounds and common words and expressions. I took a very good class at the International Relations section of the City Ward office for about 5 weeks, starting in late August. However, it rapidly become too advanced for me, so I had to drop out. I've been trying to study on my own in the meantime and hope to take the class again when it restarts at the beginning in January. My studying mostly involves watching Japanese television, having my little kid students talk to me in Japanese and hearing Japanese at work, listening to these Pimsleur audio courses I bought, and looking up words and phrases in my dictionary and phrasebook. I will share two quick stories below.

One of my most exciting language moments came from the first "conversation" I had with a stranger. This little old lady and I were both waiting for an elevator in the blazing August heat, and although we had not made eye-contact, she knew there was a person next to her, so she said, "Atsui desu, ne?" (It's hot, isn't it?) as she turned to look at me. But as she turned, she seemed to show in her expression that she thought perhaps she should not have said that because I was foreign and might not understand. However, I responded in turn with, "So desu, ne?" (Yes, it is, isn't it?) and an ever so slight smile of relief and agreement spread on both of our faces.

Perhaps one of the most fascinating things to me is how I have learned some Japanese through the natural acquisition process. A good example of this happened one time when I was going to the large 100 Yen store that is close to work on one of my breaks. As I was walking, I noticed another shop and went over to look at briefly. When I left and tried to head to the 100 Yen store again, I turned and went around a corner that was a dead end. Out of my mouth came a quick and muttered "chigao." I was utterly dumbfounded, as I had no idea what this word meant. I kept repeating it in my head, so that when I got back to work I could ask about it. As it turns out, it means "wrong." And indeed, I had headed the wrong way. This has happened to me a couple other times, where a situation warrants a certain word or phrase that I know to say, but then have to ask others of the meaning. It's very interesting.

Adjusting to life here

I've been in Tokyo for 5 months now and finally feel much more adjusted. However, the initial transition period was a bit rocky. I've looked back over e-mails and journal entries that reference getting settled in, developing a routine, and adjusting to a new society and culture. I've decided to share some of the more revealing excerpts here, including both good and bad, in order to give an honest picture of the Tokyo culture shock I experienced.

As a quick background, I graduated from a college in Washington state in May of 2006. I moved back home to Indiana for a year. In June, I took a three week vacation with my friend before heading to Japan to meet up with my Tokyo exchange sister and her husband (who were also on vacation in Tokyo, but are permanently settled in my hometown in Indiana). My training for work didn't start until late July.

July 9, 2007 -- journal entry. my first day in Tokyo.
I feel like my head is spinning with transitions. No sooner did I end one of, if not the, best trips of my life, than have I dived into another chapter. I'm not sure I was fully able to process the trip [to Southeast Asia]. And now here I am in Tokyo -- on vacation still, but really -- preparing to embark on a one year commitment abroad, in a culture and language I do not yet understand.

e-mails and journal entries during July -- a summary.
In general, most of my initial e-mails have to do with various observations about my new settings or situations I encountered. I summed up most of them in my first blog post entitled "Initial Impressions."

July 13, 2007 -- journal entry.
I am kinda nervous for this year. But it still feels like the right thing, although I'm not sure why. Perhaps spiritually it will be a good year to grow, or maybe career-wise, it will be important in shaping my path. Possibly, personality-wise, I can learn things from the courteous Japanese behavior. Or maybe I will meet someone who significantly impacts my future... Who knows though. ...a good friend [here] would be nice, really nice. I hope to find a good church family too.

July 29, 2007 -- journal entry.
This week has been good, yet interesting. Training, from a purely professional level, has been very helpful and productive. Emotionally, I feel a bit uncertain/excited/confused/nervous.

July 31, 2007 -- journal entry. before my first official day of work.
[Background -- one of my current American coworkers started the same time I did, so we had our initial training week together. This excerpt begins with a conversation I was having with her the night after we got a tour of our school and met our staff and coworkers. She and I were staying in a "weekly mansion" at this point, and weren't moving into our respective apartments for another week still, although I had already gone and looked at mine from the outside].

Afterwards, we were talking. I told her I felt intimidated. Intimidated about teaching so may classes, intimidated about living on my own and feeling lonely, and intimidated about living in a country where I'm illiterate and can't speak or understand the language. Then she and I went to the station, looked around, and found her apartment. Then we walked over to mine (they're really close) and saw the small shrine by the apartment, and then we got dinner together. Navigating is the one thing currently that gives me a sense of control and ability. I can, at the very least, read a map.

August 1, 2007 -- e-mail to training group.
Yesterday, we got our bank accounts and applied for our Alien Registration Card`s. We haven`t gotten our cell phones yet, although our head teacher wanted us to sign up for this family plan from AU that cost ¥3,000+ each per month that included 60 minutes of calling, no free texting, and one of us would have to make our monthly payments at a convenience store... We are "thinking about it."

Aug. 5, 2007. journal entry.
[Background: This entry was after the first time I attended the church of which I have since become a member]
I had a wonderful time this morning at church. It was so comforting and nice to worship with other Christians. I quickly felt "at home."... It seems they have an active young adult program -- they invited me along to lunch. Maybe about 15 or so of us were there. They said the church has members/attendees from 40 countries. At lunch I talked to someone from Paris, and someone who is Japanese but lived in Latin America until age 10 (we talked in Spanish some :) ) in Chile, Ecuador (Quito!), Argentina, and El Salvador, and who went to law school at Northwestern in Chicago...

Tomorrow, I move into my apartment. After almost two months of living out of a suitcase, I am really looking forward to having my own space.

August 5, 2007 -- e-mail update to several people.
I don't have a routine yet, so in general, I have avoided trying to make any summary statements of life. I just need a bit to get into it, and then I will describe things more. In general, everything just seems new and uncertain, yet exciting and fun. Overall, life seems a bit intimidating, but I believe things will work out, at least I hope so.

August 15, 2007 -- e-mail to Mom
…the weather here sucks and is very hot, humid, and sweaty right now…

It has been fun exploring.

We went to the grocery store today. It is frustrating to not be able to read.

I got a new cell phone: Talking is expensive (42 yen a minute to be precise).

My bike has a flat tire. I need to buy a new tire. I took it to a car repair shop, which was about a ten minute walk from my apartment. They put air in it for free, which was nice, but then it deflated quickly. They said the bike shops were closed for Obon. So, I will try to figure that out later.

August 23, 2007 -- journal entry.
Life has been spinning. Finally, perhaps a direction will settle out. I'm not sure what I feel, but I have so many emotions...

Japan is difficult. I miss living in an English or Spanish society. I love both of those cultures, too. Here, I can't function. I can't read. I can't speak the language. I don't understand input. I don't know the social rules. Everything is incomprehensible...

...where do I go from here? I feel unsettled. I realize how it is I feel: I feel lost. Where am I? Why I am here?... I feel so very, very lost...

[However,] life is similar enough here, it is not so hard to adjust, but different enough, I feel out of place.

August 27, 2007 -- e-mail update to several people.
I have been in Tokyo about one month now teaching English. So far, I think life could best be summed up with: unfamiliar and interesting.

Tokyo has been very hot. Several days have hovered around 100 F with humidity. Despite that, I have been doing a lot of sightseeing...

Work is starting to feel a little more routine. There are many details to remember, but I think I am beginning to get the hang of time management for lesson planning. I teach somewhere around 25 - 30 fifty-minute classes a week...

My coworkers seem nice...

Moving into my apartment has been nice. It is refreshing to have places to put things and have my own space. My apartment is quite small, but I like it nonetheless. I think it will make anything seem giant after this. Yesterday and today, I have been saying hello to my neighbors. In Japan, the traditional thing to do when you move to a new area is buy a little gift for your new neighbors and introduce yourself. Some family friends of my exchange sister kindly helped explain to me the proper presents (I bought little cakes) and etiquette and wrote out and recorded on my cell phone the Japanese phrasing for: "Hello. I moved in next door. Nice to meet you." So after much rehearsing, I nervously delivered my cakes and said hello. Greeting your neighbors with gifts is becoming less common among younger generations and also for people living in Tokyo. So my introductions were a bit of a mixed bag. A couple neighbors, I believe, thought it was quite odd that I was knocking on their door and introducing myself. A couple others though (including who I think were my landlords) were very gracious and friendly. Regardless, I am glad to have faces for my neighbors, and I think it cannot have hurt to say hello.

September 9, 2007 -- journal entry.
Life is confusing. Life feels so uncertain. I have no idea what direction it will go. Should I be an English teacher? It is rather cool to help give others keys to the global language... I am in a unique position to help others learn a very powerful language. And language is powerful. How glaringly obvious has that become to me here? I am helpless without Japanese. Except not totally, because I happen to be a native speaker of the most influential global language...

September 9, 2007 -- e-mail to a friend.
Ok, so anyway, life is pretty good. Everything just still feels strange. I don't know. Japan is different.

Last night some of our students invited both my American coworker and me to dinner. It was quite fun. The age range of people who go out here is really interesting. I was the youngest. The youngest Japanese person was about 30, I think and the oldest said she was 76 -- but she was quite spunky, esp. with some alcohol in her!

Today, some Japanese family friends are taking another friend from training and me to sumo! Should be interesting. We have boxed seats too. :)

Japanese classes started this week. They are good, but will very, very quickly be over my head. It doesn't matter I guess because it is still good practice, but that again adds to the frustration of not being able to communicate here very well.

There was a typhoon here a couple days ago. My first. About 15 inches of rain. It just rained and was windy for a while. It was never too powerful at any one point though. Typhoon #9 of the season and they said it was the worst one yet. My umbrella broke in the morning. But, mainly just it rained a long time. Interesting to compare with Midwest storms, which are much shorter but much more powerful.

September 12, 2007 -- e-mail to Mom
Things are beginning to become a bit more routine, which is nice. I am taking Japanese classes two mornings a week (Tuesday and Friday). I have to concentrate pretty hard to follow along, but it is good to finally start learning more of the language. Soon, I will check out "home groups" that meet once a week and organized by the church I have been going to.

September 18, 2007 -- journal entry.
Life in Japan is hard. I am not happy here. I don't know what to do. Maybe I should ask my brother for advice [he's in the Peace Corps]. I wish I understood Japanese. But I don't really like studying it, so that kinda screws me over.

I just wish I had a/some good Japanese friends. Life is so hard here... I just know that I am experiencing culture shock, and it is difficult. It is hard to overcome so much unfamiliar territory. Work is okay, but I still have much to learn.

I feel so lost. I wish I had a friend. I wish I spoke Japanese. I must learn the language if I'm going to survive. How does one go about making Japanese friends? It's so difficult here. I feel like such an outsider. I want to cry.

Maybe I am not so mature, not so adventurous. I feel homesick for the familiar...

September 23, 2007. e-mail to a friend.
I'm glad you spent time in Japan and can relate. Yes, no sarcasm. The culture seems kinda prescribed and sarcasm would not fit. This past week, I have been doing more reflecting and thinking about how I have been experiencing some culture shock. While it's kinda annoying to recognize that I experiencing it -- and esp. to still have to go through it -- I think the realization is positive so that I can continue adjusting. I know it will just take some more time and effort.

In general, life is interesting and new, and I am learning things and enjoying myself. Last night some students invited a couple of us teachers out to an Italian dinner and we did karaoke afterwards. It was a really fun evening...

..last week I became a member of the church I have been attending, and this morning, I went up to the front during the service with the other new members to affirm our faith and be welcomed into the congregation. Then there was a dance performance after the service, which included ballet, flamenco, and Japanese dancing.

This afternoon, I met up with one of my Japanese coworkers to go shopping/explore a college neighborhood and also do some English Japanese language exchange.

Anyway, so, I guess that's all kinda to say life is very varied -- interesting and enjoyable, yes -- but I think the newness, the language barrier, and the cultural differences have been difficult to take in all at once, and so I have been at the point where I am just trying to figure out my place and adjust to the new surroundings/customs.

Oct. 5, 2007. e-mail to Mom
Yes, it has finally gotten cooler. The temperature has been very pleasant the last week or so. I've enjoyed it a lot.

October 15, 2007. e-mail to a friend.
Life in Japan is okay. Nothing too fabulous and nothing too horrendous. I've been able to see some very cool and interesting stuff. And I've made some fine friends (no amazing bonds or anything, but some people to hang out with and enjoy each other's company). But, the culture here doesn't exactly fit who I am that well, and I don't really have this deep desire to learn the language other than to make life easier, and so... things are alright. I do enjoy exploring Tokyo. On a work note, I have really enjoyed teaching English for the most part, and I'm thinking about pursuing that more, maybe even as a possible career. Who knows. But that has been kinda exciting to think of having some direction for myself in that respect.

So anyway, having these staggered visits with people I'm close to is nice. It makes the year not seem as long, in a way. And actually, it's hard to believe, but I've been in Japan for three months already.

November 14, 2007 -- journal entry.
...I am making more friends -- students, coworkers, and people at church. My Japanese is very slowly getting slightly better...

end of November -- facebook update.
I've been in Tokyo since the end of July, and I think I'm finally over the largest portion of the culture shock hump... Knock on wood. lol.

December 15, 2007 -- e-mail to friend
Things have been going really well here actually. I finally am feeling more settled in and at home here. We had our work Christmas party yesterday with karaoke afterwards, and it was lots of fun. I've had a couple visitors come through recently, which has been nice...

Initial Impressions

I wrote my initial observations on Tokyo back when I arrived in July in both e-mails to my friends and family and in my journal. Here is a compilation of what I wrote:
  • there is tons to see, do, and eat everywhere
  • people at the train stations are in a HUGE hurry
  • people are very polite
  • people do not wear bright colors very often
  • things are always to be efficient
  • there is a lot of consumerism
  • people are quite fashionable
  • the food is delicious
  • the toilets are cool -- flush noises, sprays, seat warming, baby holders, squat toilets, emergency buttons even. But no paper towels...
  • the area where I work is cool [there is: a park with sports facilities, a library, a hospital, restaurants, large shopping mall, tons of bikes...]
  • there are not as many foreigners as I had imagined. Despite being a huge international metropolis, Tokyo is nearly all Japanese people. Maybe I'm more surprised on this one b/c, before Tokyo, the biggest city I had been to was NYC, which is probably the largest melting pot city in the world...
  • people are nervous to mess up English
  • the culture seems prescribed
  • guys seem mostly nerdy, while women seem mostly trendy
  • there is a lot of walking and using escalators
  • Tokyo is a huge city -- it sprawls as far as the eye can see from observation towers
  • Tokyo seems pretty ugly -- cement city
  • Tokyo is very clean
  • Tokyo has narrow streets that are not anywhere close to being on some sort of organized grid system
  • Tokyo is fun
  • Tokyo is intimidating
  • it will be very easy to spend the rest of my life's savings...