August 5th, 2009 Posted in Daily Living, Gifu-ken | No Comments »

Just a few weeks before we came to Japan we bought the last Harry Potter book. Despite our eagerness, we didn’t open the book. We wanted to save it for Japan, to give us something to look forward to.

Our first few nights in Gifu, not knowing what else to do, we sat in our empty tatami rooms. Relaxing beneath the air conditioning, getting a break from the unrelenting heat, Aaron feverishly reading chapter upon chapter of Harry Potter aloud while I sat, quietly, knitting and listening.

Now, two years later, so much has changed yet so much has stayed the same.

On our last night in Gifu we sat in our empty tatami rooms, enjoying the artificial cold, and reading aloud feverishly, trying our best to finish The Da Vinci Code before returning it to the library today. I sat, quietly, knitting and listening.

Somehow, this seemed the perfect end to our time here in Gifu. The perfect way to spend our last night here. A reminder that even though so much has changed for us and within us, there is so much that is also still the same.

Despite the fact that there is so much left to do today before we leave the apartment for the last time, I feel calm. I feel calm knowing that we came, nervous and scared, and we overcame those fears and those hesitations as we set out on the greatest adventure of our lives. I am sad to say goodbye to all that we have known, all that our son has known, not knowing when or how we will be back. But we know that we will be back, someday somehow, that’s for sure.

We Did It, You Can Too

July 29th, 2009 Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

It is interesting, as our time in Japan is coming to a close, all the different comments we’ve gotten from people about how we’ve spent the past two years of our lives. Given that it is at the forefront of our minds, obviously, and it seems to be at the front of others’ as well, I thought I would do a bit of reflecting, about this experience, about our choice to come here, and about what may happen in the future.

The most common response I get from people about our choice to come live and work in Japan for two years is a mixture of awe and disbelief, “It is so cool that you guys did it, I really couldn’t have.”

My answer to that is, why not?

I know, for the most part, it seemed like we were cool as cucumbers before we left. With the exception of a select few family members and friends, we generally didn’t let our guard down. We tried to be optimistic and positive around most people, in part because we were trying to convince ourselves and in part because we needed those people to be optimistic and positive for us. We needed their support and their energy so that we could also find that within ourselves.

Truth be told, I was scared to death getting on the plane two years ago. The only thing that got me in that seat, and kept me there, was the promise from Aaron that if I didn’t like living in Japan, we could come back. “What about the contract,” I remember asking through my tears. “We’ll break it,” Aaron had replied.

And so we left, me knowing that, if at any time I wanted to, I could come back. And, for the most part, I didn’t want to. Sure, I may have said that I wanted to go back to the States during some of my most difficult and trying moments, and during those moments Aaron would always remind me that we could, if I wanted to, but that we would have to make that decision when I wasn’t so emotional.

Once the emotions calmed down and I realized that I had also had bad days when I lived in the U.S., I am proud to say that I never wanted to go back. In fact, I was the first one that said that I thought it would be a good idea if we stayed a second year. I surprised myself.

I surprised myself, and you can surprise yourself too. We didn’t get the chance to spend the past two years in Japan just because we are lucky or because we are any different from any of you. We got this chance because we took a risk and it worked. We saw an opportunity and we jumped at it. We made the most of life.

It wasn’t always easy. Packing up our home, saying goodbye to our cat and our things, moving to a new country, getting established with new friends, learning how to do new jobs, figuring out how to live life using a new language, having a baby in the NICU for two weeks when we couldn’t always understand what was happening to him, raising him for the first few months without a safety net of family nearby. It wasn’t easy. It was far from it. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

I’m not sure where life will take us next. For now, it is taking us to Chicago. What we do know is that we both aren’t so scared anymore. We both are more open to looking for, and seeking out, opportunities that will make us excited, happy, fulfilled and energized. And, when those opportunities arise, we won’t be as scared as we were two years ago, because we know, like most things in life, it will all work out.

The Price of Garbage

July 28th, 2009 Posted in Daily Living | No Comments »

We have nine days.

Our house is a wreck.

The suitcases are unpacked in a futile attempt to figure out a new, genius, way to make all the things we want fit.

There are heaps of stuff around our house, ready to be thrown away.

And now I just got the estimate for how much it is all going to cost. About 45,000 yen ($475) to throw away our trash. Unbelievable.

I’ll add this to the, seemingly, unending list of other expenses that we will be incurring in the next month and a half. Sometimes it all just seems impossible . . .

Saying Farewell

July 27th, 2009 Posted in Daily Living, School Life | No Comments »


It was my last day at Gifu Kita on Tuesday and I had to give a speech to the entire school, staff and students. As I wrote the speech and practiced it in front of my mirror at home, I always found myself falling into tears at the same spots. I knew that, if I couldn’t make it through the speech without crying at home, it would be impossible to avoid the tears when I was in front of more than 1,000 people, many of whom have become close friends.

Saying goodbye to Gifu Kita was more heart-breaking than saying goodbye at all the other jobs that I have left in the past. First of all, being there has been an amazing experience, aside from becoming a Mama, probably the most influential and life-changing. Second, saying goodbye here is so much more permanent. While we hope to return to Japan, the time frame is unknown. So, unlike when we were saying goodbye back home to come here, we aren’t sure when we will be back and it is likely that many of the people, co-workers and students, that we are saying goodbye to, we will never see again. Strange.

So, that’s why the tears flowed. And, why they continue to do so. Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one that cried. It’s good to know that I have made as much of an impact on some of my fellow teachers and students as they have on me. It went both ways.

Many of you have asked about my speech, so even though I am a touch embarrassed, I am putting it here. Watch it if you want, try not to be too bothered by the insanely bumpy footage. The teacher who was filming told me that he forgot he was holding the camera a few times. 🙂


July 16th, 2009 Posted in Travel | No Comments »


In addition to the art museum, another must see while we were in Kanazawa, was Kenroku-en. Touted as one of the top three gardens in Japan, we were told it was something that we couldn’t, rather shouldn’t, miss. So, we went.

While I’m not sure that I agree that it is the most spectacular garden that we’ve been to, it all seemed a bit dried out and there was a lot of work going on on the Monday that we visited, it was definitely worth a stop and a wander.




Heart in Tree


Garden Pond

Gravity-fed Fountain


Stone Lantern

Anniversary Travel

July 9th, 2009 Posted in Travel | No Comments »

This weekend we found ourselves in Kanazawa celebrating our 6th wedding anniversary. Six Years!!

One of the highlights of the trip was an afternoon spent at the modern art museum. Originally we simply went into the museum to escape the warmth of the afternoon sun, but it ended up being one of the highlights of the trip. And here’s why . . .


Where else could you get the chance to ride a tricycle like this, through the halls of the museum?!

Danielle in the Trike

Serious Business

Breaking the Rules?

Aaron and I had a lot of fun on the bikes, and many Japanese people really enjoyed watching us. So much so that the following day we were spotted at another tourist attraction by someone that watched us on the bikes. She came up to say hello and told us that she saw us. I know that we are conspicuous, but I didn’t realize we were that conspicuous. I guess . . . foreigners, with an incredibly cute and popular baby, riding giant trikes through a museum.

Of course, there were other cool things at the museum as well. Most of which couldn’t be photographed, but we did get a few shots of things that could be.

The Pool



This was a pretty fun piece. In the courtyard of the museum, there is a swimming pool. The water is on top of a piece of glass and is fun because you can look down and it seems like the people are under the water, then you can go underneath and look up and out at the people above. So much fun.


Then there was this enormous labyrinth made entirely from salt. Don’t sneeze!


And I absolutely loved this mural and the cool matching rocking chairs. A perfect place to sit down and take a little rest.

Thank You Japan

July 5th, 2009 Posted in Daily Living | No Comments »

After a recent post, about the stupid hot season, you all most have done a whole lot of finger crossing. So, I would like to say thanks. Thanks for all the finger crossing and thanks Japan for deciding to grant us a little bit longer before the stupid hot starts.

It is now July 3rd. We have only 36 days left. And Japan has decided to cooperate. We have had an entire week where we haven’t turned on the air conditioning in our home and have, except for a bit of time in the afternoon, been fairly comfortable. Last night, get this, we even had to turn off the fan because we were too cold! In July! In Japan!

And, lucky us, the forecast seems to indicate that the stupid hot might even stay away for at least another few days. Thank you Japan! Now, if you could just hold off until August 6th, I might leave this fair country wishing that I didn’t have to, with only fond memories in my heart. Is that too much to ask?

Tanigumi Temple

July 3rd, 2009 Posted in Daily Living, Gifu-ken | No Comments »

Over the past two years we have really mined out most of the local, easy-to-do day trips in the area. So, imagine our pleasant surprise when a group of friends took us out to this temple one day last weekend.

Not more than an hour from our home it was a sanctuary. In the mountains, surrounded by all the green that I so often find myself missing here in the concrete-wonderland that is Gifu city. With only a month left here in Japan, I am sad that we only discovered it just now, so thankful that we did discover it, and wondering how many other things are just around the corner that we may never know.

Obligatory Cardboard Cutout Photo

Temple Gate

Prayers for Healing

Behind the temple there was an area where you would get a little sheet of paper, dip it into water and apply it to the part of the statue where you needed healing.

Pilgrimage Remnants

Tanigumi temple is the last temple on a pilgrimage route and at the end people leave behind their pilgrimage attire and books.

See No Evil, Speak No Evil, Hear No Evil

Covered in Rocks

We have no idea why the tanigumis at this temple were covered in rocks, but we couldn’t help but add some more to the stack.

Somethings Missing

June 26th, 2009 Posted in Daily Living | 3 Comments »

As I reflect on my time here, which I have been doing a lot lately with only 40 days left (!!!), I have begun to notice that something has been missing from our time here. Well, lets be honest, a lot of things are missing (like peanut butter) but some are more noteworthy than others.

When we came here both Aaron and I took a pay cut. We figured that the experience would be worth it. Little did we know that we would actually save far more money in our two years here than we did in our four years in Chicago.

This isn’t because we have been living an overly frugal existence. As this blog, and the travels contained within it show it has been quite the opposite. We have visited both extremes of Japan, Okinawa and Hokkaido, and tons of things in between. We took two weeks in Indonesia and another international trip to visit home. In many ways I feel that our past two years have been more indulgent than all my adult years back home.

So, if we haven’t been intentionally frugal, what gives?

Well, I think there are a lot of factors in play here. First of all, our living expenses are quite a bit cheaper.

Our rent is about $300 less per month than it was in Chicago. Granted, we have half the space.

We have no car, a change we intend to continue upon our return.

Our energy costs are low. We don’t central heat or cool our home. We don’t have a dryer for our clothes. We have an on-demand hot water heater.

We have made minimal purchases for our home. Knowing that we would only be here for a limited time, we chose not to upgrade many of our old (but still working) stuff. We lived with an ugly green pleather sofa. We made do with mismatched dishes. We kept our clothes in plastic drawers.

We both are not sized to fit into Japanese clothes and therefore, aside from a few packages shipped from home containing essentials and a small shopping spree in the Fall when we visited, our clothing purchases have been very close to zero for the past two years. Yes, upon return our wardrobes definitely need some refreshing, but I think we also learned a good lesson in making do with what we have.

The majority of the money that we have spent has been spent on food and travel. Instead of filling our home and life with new material things we have splurged on weekends away. Instead of new shoes, which I can’t fit into anyways, we have gone to nice dinners.

And, I think, all of this was pretty easy given that we aren’t marketed to. My Japanese is pretty crappy, so I still can’t really read or understand the various advertisements around here and we don’t keep up with much American media, so we miss out on that marketing as well. We don’t watch any TV, so we don’t see any commercials. The only radio we listen to is streaming public radio. The only new movie we have seen in the past year was Wall-E.

While missing out on so much marketing has made it really easy to remove ourselves from a consumerist/materialist lifestyle, it does make it rather awkward to come back.

I don’t know what’s hot anymore. I don’t know what’s cool. I don’t know which celebrity is popular or what’s playing on the radio. I don’t know what movies are in the theaters. I don’t know what restaurants are new. I don’t know what interesting new food products grace the grocery store shelves. I don’t know what people are talking about. I don’t know the new slang, hell I don’t even always remember how to talk English well.

I’ve been gone for two years, and sometimes when I think of all the things I don’t know, it feels like so much longer. I’m as out of touch as the parent of a teenager, so help me out. I’m coming back in 40 days, worried about the reverse culture shock that comes from feeling like a stranger in your own home country. So, what are some things that I need to know about America before I come back? How have things changed?

Has it run out?

June 23rd, 2009 Posted in Daily Living | 1 Comment »

The Japanese summer holds a very special place in my mind, and I suspect that it will for quite some time. It is something that I fear and dread. Of all of life’s conditions, the one I hate the most, is being hot. And, as most of you haven’t had the opportunity to experience the Japanese summer, being hot in Japan simply isn’t an option. It is a state of being. It is inescapable and unavoidable.

As the stupid hot season approaches, I have found myself being thankful for each day that passes that I am able to survive without being drenched in an uncomfortable layer of sweat. It is already June 23rd, and with only 44 days remaining in Japan, I fear that my luck may have run out.

The forecast for today calls for a high of 91 degrees. While it isn’t quite as humid as Japan can get and the low for tonight should be in the 70’s which will bring some relief, it is hot enough to be uncomfortable, especially when you have a little babe that likes to be attached and doesn’t quite understand or care that it is “no touching season.”

Can you all help cross your fingers for us, we would love it if the stupid hot held off just a little while longer. We really aren’t looking forward to finishing off our time in Japan quarantined in our tatami room surviving with the help of the artificial cool of the air conditioning.