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.

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. 🙂

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.

The Differences (Part 1)

April 3rd, 2009 Posted in Daily Living | No Comments »

So, I have been pretty much silent on this blog for the past month. There are two basic reasons for this. First, one month ago today I gave birth to Ewan and it has been a crazy busy month ever since. Since he was early (by about a month) we were spending a lot of time in the hospital for the first two weeks, after that we have been at home, trying to figure out how to care for him all day every day. Second, the theme of this blog is Japan. All the adventures we have here and all the things we see. Well, for the past month we haven’t really seen much of anything aside from Gifu Municipal Hospital and our apartment. Nothing to see, means nothing to write about.

But, I realized that I do have a few things to write about in regards to birth and childrearing in Japan. A few months ago I talked a little bit about some of the cultural differences surrounding pregnancy, and I thought I would do the same now. We only have 4 months left here in Japan and I promise we won’t stay holed up in our apartment the whole, there are still adventures to have, but until we have things sorted a little bit more, I will try my best to share some of the stories and the interesting differences we have found as we navigate being parents in this foreign land.

Let’s start with prenatal care in Japan.

For the most part pregnancy is not considered a medical condition in Japan. Instead it is considered, simply, a natural state of being for women. It is treated as such. Prenatal care is delivered on the same time line as the U.S., appointments once a month for the first six months, twice a month for the next two months, and once a week for the final month. However, there is a major difference in where this care is delivered and what it entails.

First of all, the vast majority of prenatal care and births do not take place in major hospitals. All around Japan are small maternity clinics, the one that I intended to give birth at had only six rooms and the doctor lived in the house adjacent to it. These clinics are designed to handle normal, uncomplicated, births and they do so quite well. Most of the care is given by midwifes and nurses, but the doctor is on staff to oversee each pregnancy and ensure that everything is going as planned.

In contrast, the major city hospitals are reserved for those births that are complicated and those babies that need extra care. In our case, we were transferred to a city hospital when I went into labor because my clinic did not have the facilities to provide care for a premature infant, the city hospital did. We were glad to have access to top-class care and that the doctor at the clinic had the foresight to know what was beyond his capabilities.

Aside from most of the care surrounding pregnancy and birth being handled outside of the hospital, the prenatal care itself was also a bit different from that in the U.S. For the most part it was just a bit more hands off. They assumed that the pregnancy would, most likely, progress in a normal fashion. They checked enough things at each visit to be responsible, but didn’t go looking for problems.

At each visit they would check my weight, blood pressure, and urine. At one appointment in the beginning and one nearer to the middle of the pregnancy they checked my iron levels. At each visit the doctor would measure the height of my uterus, check for swelling, and do a very quick ultrasound. Yes, unlike in the states an ultrasound is given at every appointment. The ultrasound would last a minute or two, maximum, and they would check the heartbeat, size of the fetus, and development of major organs. This is the one place where I feel the Japan system was a bit more invasive.

Unlike in the U.S. no other tests or procedures were offered or recommended at any point in my pregnancy. Amniocentisis was not an option. Testing for gestational diabetes isn’t routine. As I said earlier, they don’t really go looking for problems. It just seems like a basic, fundamental difference in the way they approached things. In the U.S. it seems that doctors assume that there will be problems and that it is their job to find them, lest they be sued for missing them. In Japan it is the opposite. Doctors assume that the pregnancy and birth will progress normally, as most of them do, and only go looking for problems if there is an indication that one might be present.

Those were two differences that were immediately apparent from the very beginning of our journey into parenthood in Japan and there have been many more since. Next time, I can’t promise when that next time will be, I will talk about a few of the differences we found during the birth.

Oh Central Heating

February 16th, 2009 Posted in Daily Living | 1 Comment »

Initially I thought that this would be another one of those things that I would miss. At the beginning of the winter last year, I thought that I would be desperately anticipating the return of a warm home, a home that is warm in each room, especially the toilet room. But now, after two winters of adapting, I feel a bit differently.

This past week we spent a few days in Tokyo. A little pre-baby, Valentine’s getaway. We stayed at a really flash hotel in Shinjuku that had a few luxuries that we have become accustomed to doing without – a bed and central heating.

One of them I really like, the bed. I really like sleeping in the same bed with Aaron and miss that. In our apartment we have our own futons and, even though they are placed side-by-side, we tend to remain in our own spaces throughout the night. There isn’t a whole lot of opportunity for unintentional snuggling in the middle of the night. Sleeping on a bed is different. Perhaps it is because I am a bit of a bed hog, but it is nice to roll over and bump into one another, to be reminded that the other person is there. So, I definitely look forward to sleeping full-time in a bed once we return.

The second amenity I am not such a fan of. The central heating. The hotel had forced-air heat and the room had a thermostat that allowed us to control the temperature. Even when we turned down the thermostat, it still felt exceedingly hot and dry in the room. I found myself waking up any number of times to get a glass of water because I felt totally parched. I really missed the cold, refreshing air on my face as I slept that we experience each night in our apartment.

I know that central heating won’t be optional, most likely, when we return. The winter weather is much more extreme in most of the areas that we are considering living, but I am not really looking forward to it. It sucks all the moisture out of the air, it is expensive and wasteful to heat rooms that are not currently being used. So, for now, I will enjoy my little space heater and my super thick down comforters knowing that this central-heat-free era of my life will be coming to an end sooner rather than later.

Dye Balls

January 17th, 2009 Posted in Daily Living | 1 Comment »

A long time ago, I mentioned one of Japan’s awesome crime-fighting techniques. But I realized that I had never posted pictures of it.

Well, over the holidays when we were sending packages to friends and family, I decided to snap a few pictures of all the dye balls lined up at the post office. I guess the most surprising thing to me was that they were lined up on the counter, at each register, in plain view. Seems like it would be just as easy for the perpetrator of a crime to throw them at the employee, as it would be for the employee to throw them at the perpetrator. Or, since there were two at each station, perhaps they each get one and can enjoy a good game of paintball.