Sakura Season

April 8th, 2009 Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Cherry blossom season is truly my favorite time of year in Japan. I cannot get over how much the Japanese appreciate and enjoy the short-lived blooms. It really is remarkable how life is, in many ways, put on hold once the blossoms come out. Instead of going about regular daily life, Japanese people slow down and take time to smell the roses. . . er cherry blossoms.

This year we feel very fortunate to be doing the same. Yesterday was Ewan’s due date. In some ways we were lucky that he came as early as he did, it meant that we were able to enjoy Sakura season in Japan as a family of three! Had he come closer to his expected due date, it is likely that all three of us would have missed cherry blossom season entirely.

We were able to get out twice to see the cherry blossoms this year. The first time in Kakamigahara with some friends. Saturday was a rainy day, but we wanted to make sure that we went out in case the blossoms were all knocked down by the storm.

The next outing was on Monday night with my mom who was so excited to be in Japan to meet Ewan and to see the blooms. The blossoms were a little past prime, with many of them falling as we walked around the park, but it was still a gorgeous night.

Engrish Tuesday

March 10th, 2009 Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

This lovely little gem is a condom vending machine. Somewhat ironic that the slogan on the machine is, “Happy Family Life.” As Aaron remarked, wouldn’t the machine help you to avoid the happy FAMILY life?

Another Addition to the Adventure

March 4th, 2009 Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

Here is the little guy that will join us for the rest of our Japan adventure. Right now he is busy exploring an incubator at the NICU in a Japanese hospital, but it shouldn’t be long (hopefully about 2 weeks) before he can start exploring the rest of his birth country.

Welcome to the world little Ewan!

It’s Been Quiet

February 25th, 2009 Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

It’s been really quiet around here. I apologize. I have excuses, of course. And, for the next few weeks at least, I hope that I have fewer excuses and that I am able to peek in here a bit more often to share some of the Japany-ness that we have been enjoying.

For starters, yesterday was my last day at Gifu Kita before my maternity leave. So, I have been quite busy finishing things up there and also in other areas of my life.

Secondly, I am pregnant. Not just a little pregnant anymore, I am REALLY pregnant (Just about a month away now). As a result, I am slowing down a bit more than I really thought I would. It is harder to get things done, harder to keep up the pace, and harder to keep my eyes open past 8 or 9pm. Not to mention that it just seems harder for me to put together coherent thoughts at any given moment. However, now that I am home-ish full-time, I am hoping that this will be partly resolved.

But, now that my maternity leave is underway and I don’t yet have a little munchkin to care for, well at least not one that is out and about and is a bit more vocal about its needs, I am hoping to do some catching up around here including sharing a bit about our latest trip to Tokyo, what it was like to wrap up the year at Gifu Kita, and all the advice my second-year students gave me before I left (there’s some pretty funny stuff in there).

So, for now I am going to sign off, but I should be back (hopefully tomorrow) to check in and give a bit more of an update.

I Won’t Miss It

February 15th, 2009 Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Over the past year and a half I feel like I have been watching my own life as though I was watching a television show. I have photographed most of the memorable moments, I have written out many of my thoughts and reflections, I have constantly analyzed what I have seen. I have had more moments where I have commented, both publicly and in my own private head space, about what I like and don’t like about Japan/America in the last year or so than at any other time in my life.

I feel like this experience, living in Japan for an extended amount of time, has really given me a chance to be critical of and think about all of those things that I often took for granted.

Now that our time is starting to wrap up, I feel like I am even more sensitive to these thoughts. Each time I notice something that I really like, I have this nostalgic feeling of how I am going to miss that when we move back. On the flip side, each time I have an experience with something that I don’t like, I am so eager to remind myself that soon, in just six months or so, I will be rid of it. I won’t have to deal anymore.

Well, lately, one of the things that has been driving me nuts is public smoking. (I am probably way more sensitive to this because of the fact that I am pregnant.) I realize how much I took for granted, and LOVED, the smoking ban in Chicago. I loved that I could go out for an evening on the town and not come home smelling like an ashtray and having to launder every piece of clothing that I wore out. Not to mention, sometimes having to take a shower myself before hopping into bed.

Even before the smoking ban, I loved that there were true non-smoking sections. Places that were actually physically separated so that the air barely mixed. I was able to enjoy my meal without the smell of cigarettes wafting into my nose and affecting the flavor.

Here it is the opposite. Few restaurants have non-smoking sections, and when they do it is rare that there is a true separation. Sometimes it is as though half of the restaurant is dedicated to smoking, the other half non, and the tables butt right up against one another. Bars have no restrictions whatsoever.

Yesterday, we went out for a simple lunch on our weekly Saturday walk (a long walk through the neighborhood with stops for lunch and groceries) and it drove me absolutely crazy that I was sitting there, trying to enjoy my lunch while a gentleman just two seats away was puffing away like a chimney. It doesn’t bother me that he chooses to smoke, it is his choice. But it bothers me that he was able to negatively impact my experience.

It is true, Japan is starting to come around. But I find it very interesting that the first steps, at least in our area, tend to be focusing on open-air spaces. For example, starting in March smoking will be banned on all train platforms. Unlike in Nagoya, where some of the platforms are underground, here in the Gifu area they are all above ground. So, essentially, the smokers are smoking outside. That doesn’t so much bother me. I can move to another area and avoid the smell. Inside a contained space, restaurant or bar, that isn’t the case.

Also, smoking is no longer allowed in certain areas of Yanagase, an open-air mall in downtown Gifu. Again, it is open-air, the air circulates, so I don’t really understand the reason behind the ban. It doesn’t seem like it could be public health related, it might be more about cleanliness and the fact that people and businesses don’t like the butts that are often scattered on the ground in these spaces.

I am glad that progress seems to be being made here, but I wish they would focus first on spaces where the smoke is unavoidable for non-smoking people, and move from there. I think it will take a long time to change the situation here, but I do get the sense that it will, eventually. For now, I will just be glad that in about six months, I will be able to go out to any bar or restaurant back home and enjoy a beer or two, or an extraordinarily large hamburger, without someone smoking right next to me.

It’s Official

February 4th, 2009 Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

You can all breathe a collective sigh of relief, the 99% chance that I referred to in my last post, has moved to 100.

The papers have been signed and we are going to be coming back to America this summer. For a moment there I had typed that we will be coming home in the summer, but in all honesty we have thankfully made a home here, so in many ways we will be leaving home to come back and have to establish it all again.

It was a decision that I think we know is the right one, but we both can’t help but wonder a little bit. There are a lot of what-ifs on the table and we will both be very sad to leave our home, our friends and all that we have come to love about our time in Japan.

I guess it will just be on to new (and different) adventures.


February 2nd, 2009 Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

As I turned to the next page in the calendar this month, I had a bit of a realization. February is an important milestone. It marks the beginning of our last six months in Japan.

While we haven’t officially signed the paperwork saying that we aren’t recontracting (we have to do that within the next few days), it is 99% certain that we won’t be. It seems as though the changes we will be going through personally (uh…baby) and the changes that the JET program is going through (all high school ALTs in Gifu will be assigned to two schools instead of just one), means that it is a pretty good time for us to leave.

While I am almost certain that we are making the right decision, I am still a bit hesitant. After all, the economy in the U.S. is sucking it up and it doesn’t seem like it is going to be getting all that much better soon. In this regard, I think we are prepared. We are ready to think a bit creatively and work outside the box a bit to find a solution that works for us and our family.

Secondly, I have loved living in Japan. We have had so many adventures and travels over the past 18 months and I will be sad to see it go. Also, I love a lot of the life that we have created here. We have been able to live a bit more minimalistically, we haven’t owned a car, we have both been eating a lot healthier and feeling better because of it. We worry that it will be easy, too easy, for us to slip back into our ways and habits from before we came. I think that would be a shame for us to quickly forget all the lessons we’ve learned. So, it is going to be a struggle for us to again find a way of life that makes us happy, keeps us fulfilled, and is always challenging us in new ways.

Third, while we have been able to see a lot of Japan, there is of course more that we want to do here. With only six months left, four of those months will have a baby in tow, we are running out of time. I had a bit of a breakdown last week when Aaron and I discussed our trip next week, I was crying about how it will be our LAST chance to travel alone, just the two of us. Aaron, calmly, reminded me that there are no last chances. While the coming six months will be the last six months that we live in Japan while on the JET program, it doesn’t have to be the last time we visit or live in Japan (not to mention any number of other interesting locations). Even though we are becoming parents, we are moving back to America for awhile, we don’t have to let our life become stale and boring. Our life will continue to be what we make of it.

So yes, here we are with six months left. We have been discussing our transition back home more seriously and we are starting to make plans (plan A, B, and C) about where we will live and what we will do there. I still have no idea what our life will look like in August, but I am sure it will reveal itself shortly. I am trying not to stress too much about what our life will be in six months, as I am sure it will work out. Instead, I am going to try to relax and embrace what our life is like now, right here. I want to make sure that we both get the most out of our last six months in Japan (this time) and that we get on a plane sometime in August without any regrets!


January 28th, 2009 Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Disclaimer: This post has absolutely nothing to do with Japan, living in Japan, or what happens in Japan. It is simply an odd coincidence in life that I couldn’t help recording.

Just a few days ago I started reading Augusten Burroughs book, Possible Side Effects. The book is just a collection of essays from his life (similar style to David Sedaris) and most of them point out the funny and strange aspects of ordinary life.

Yesterday, while waiting for the bus, I read the essay titled, “Killing John Updike.” In this essay he talks about a friend who urged him to buy first editions of John Updike’s books as a sort of investment, because they would be worth quite a bit when he died. Burroughs was initially skeptical of the idea, but then proceeded to get on board. He bought a handful of first editions, convinced that they would be worth at least double once Updike died. But then, as he bought even more of them, he was convinced that somehow the spirit with which he was buying the books would surely kill John Updike and that the next morning he would wake up and it would be the first bit of news scrolling along the ticker.

Obviously, the authors actions had no real impact. Burroughs’ book was published in 2006 and Updike remained alive and well. But, imagine my surprise, when the day after I read his essay, I opened up my Google news page, and the very first bit of news listed was that John Updike, at age 76, had passed away.

So, I am left to wonder if my reading the essay about Burroughs buying the first editions with the hopes that they would be worth more money when John Updike died had any effect. Or if this is just a crazy, crazy coincidence.

Also, I wonder if the price will really go up on those first editions and whether Augusten Burroughs has listed them on ebay yet.

Engrish Tuesday

January 27th, 2009 Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Happy Tuesday everyone!

When I Went to Bed Last Night . . .

January 21st, 2009 Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

When I went to bed last night I was reading the final pages of my latest book, “Deciding the Next Decider” by Calvin Trillin. It is a humorous look at the 2008 presidential campaign (and subsequent election) through poetry. It seemed so fitting to be finishing my reading of it mere hours before our newest president, Barack Obama, was inaugurated.

What seemed even more fitting, was that the very last poem, had a subtle nod to Japan. The country I am currently calling home.

Obama spoke to thousands in Grant Park
About the road on which we’d now embark.
And many thought, as he described that walk,
Yes, here’s how presidents are meant to talk.
The TV showed the dancing and the cheers
And African Americans in tears.
And foreigners, from Rome to Yokohama,
Were cheering an American: Obama.
From this vote they were willing to infer
We aren’t the people they had thought we were.
And Lady Liberty, as people call her,
Was standing in the harbor somewhat taller.

When I woke up this morning, the inauguration had come and gone and Obama was making his way through his first day as President of the United States. I was proud to be an American today and so happy to see that so many of my Japanese acquaintances, colleagues, and friends here were just as filled with hope and optimism as I.

It should be an interesting four years. I think it is unlikely that Obama will ever be able to change as much as we all hope he can, but I do hope that he can continue to inspire all of us to make the America in reality look a little bit more like the America that we want it to be.