Happy New Year! New Year, New Blog

Happy-New-Year

Happy New Year! At this time so synonymous with new beginnings, I think it’s ironic, but fitting that this will be my last post on Whoa…I’m in Japan? I’ve been living in Japan for a long time now, and it’s gotten much less “Whoa” for me, but don’t get it twisted. I still love my life in Tokyo.

So, like a phoenix, from the ashes of this blog’s demise rises Novel Metropolis, where I’ll still be blogging about Japan, especially Tokyo, but also about my hustle as a young writer trying to make it to the big time.

Check out the new blog at http://novelmetropolis.wordpress.com.

There’s Nowhere Like Nikko

Nikko is cradled in the mountains of Tochigi prefecture, and is famous for it’s natural beauty, most likely because it’s only 2-3 hours away from Tokyo’s concrete giants. In Nikko it seems no matter which direction you turn there are ranges covered in robust carpet of trees.

Mysterious mountains and Lake Chuzenji

Mysterious mountains and Lake Chuzenji

Nikko is also known as a cultural hotspot, hosting some of Japan’s most well known temples outside of Kyoto. I visited Nikko’s famous Toshogu temple, but I won’t really be talking about it here, because I have to admit something: I’m done with crowded temples overflowing with tourists. A temple or shrine should be a quiet, sacred place and when there are too many crying babies and laughing people and line ups to go everywhere it turns me off, so I can’t say I was particularly moved by Toshogu. Chuzenji on the other hand…

Chuzenji

Chuzenji

When I first stepped on the grounds I instantly liked the atmosphere. The sun was struggling to force some grey light through the cover of clouds above, which threatened rain. Maybe that was why there were so few tourists milling around. A low, gong-like bell was rang out lazily from a tall, pagoda shaped tower. The scent of incense, to me the scent of prayer, rose up in wisps of smoke from an urn in the centre of the main square. Nikko-Monk My friend and I joined about five or six other people on a tour inside the temple, led by a monk in blue. He explained the history of the temple and the gods enshrined there (all in Japanese), and then led us to an altar and invited everyone to pray. We all stood silent with our heads bowed. A sharp strike with a his stick on a bowl-shaped gong released a low reverberating chime. The sound was almost something tangible, almost breathable. I could feel it vibrating in my ears, feel it seep into my brain where, joined by the soothing smell of incense swimming up my nose, they coaxed my mind to be still for just a moment. This was the tranquil temple experience I had been looking for.

Next we tackled the senjo go hara hiking trail. At first, when I heard about the estimated three hour walking time, I didn’t want to go (Ugh hiiiiikiiing, but I’ll sweeeaaat). But it was highly recommended, so the original plan was that were were gonna do a half-hour mini hike, up to the next bus stop. But once we stepped into the forest and started the trail we decided to see it through to the end, and here’s why:

nikko-hiking

Even the sign at the start warning about bears couldn’t keep me from traversing this wonderland, and the hike was easy, more like a nature walk. There was a river to the left of us for most of the walk. and it’s soft bubbling made pleasant hiking music. But though the walk through the forest was beautiful, it couldn’t even hope to compare to when the trees gave way, and opened up onto the marshlands.

Nikko-Plains-1

No, that’s not a painting above, though at the time I had the dreamlike sensation that I was standing in one, the beauty is so unreal.

We ended the day with a trip to the Yumoto Onsen area. Here there are hot springs so close to the source of heat that there are vents with steam coming right up out of the ground, and the water smells like sulfur. After soaking in an outdoor tub at twilight, the mountains blocky shadows in the distance against a darkening blue sky, I both felt and smelled like a boiled egg. But my skin was tingling with the onsen’s magical powers.

I can’t recommend Nikko enough to any of you looking to come out to Japan. If you get the chance, go!

Whoa…I live in a Manshon in Tokyo?

Yes that’s right. I live in a real, honest to God Manshon…apartment. And no, I didn’t spell “Manshon” wrong, that’s the phonetic Japanese spelling, since I still can’t get this WordPress blog to render Japanese characters, no matter what plugin I install. Sigh. But I digress.

A “Manshon” is basically a large apartment building with a front lobby and an elevator, from what I can tell. And the word does come from English “Mansion”. An “Apato” is an apartment building that’s usually no taller than four stories and has doors that open straight onto the street like a house, making it easy for the Jehovah’s witnesses to come knocking. Yes even here in Japan. I’m sure if you go to the centre of the Earth there are mole people going burrow to burrow with pamphlets hanging from their mouths, while other mole people hear them coming, say, “oh crap!” and hole up, barely breathing, waiting for them to move on.

Manshon apartments are usually nicer than Apato apartments. They’re taller (so they have a better view), they tend to be newer, and Apato buildings are often made of wood. I have an irrational fear that a place made of wood would come tumbling down like a house of match sticks in a big earthquake, and light on fire just as quickly. It’s also likely to house a small independent state of roaches.

The blogs I’ve seen would have you believe it’s next to impossible to rent a Manshon in Tokyo as a foreigner. They’re pretty doom and gloom about the high price and the discrimination that are often deterrents to renting. But I’m here to tell you it’s a challenge, but not impossible, and I know many foreigners out here who are living in nice, new Manshons with a view. It just takes some work, patience, perseverance and money. There are three main steps to finding a decent living space in Tokyo

1) The Search

The internet is your friend, especially if you can’t speak Japanese at a near fluent level. That’s where I found a lot of agencies who catered especially to foreigners. You can plug in what you’re looking for and the sites will spit out some results, but I found that when I made an appointment to see the places, a lot of the time they were either already rented, or the landlord didn’t actually want to rent to foreigners. That was the most difficult part of the search for me. If anything has made me feel like a second-class citizen in this country it’s apartment hunting.

However the agencies I worked with were all very professional. They have no control over who a landlord wants to rent to, but they all tried their best to help me find what I was looking for. Although the internet can help you find an agency, when it comes to searching for apartments it’s best to schedule an appointment with an agent and have them manually search their databases. Some agencies I viewed apartments with are AghartA Inc., FLAT Inc., Tokyo Rent and Kimiwillbe.

2) The Application

Manshon-View

View from the Top

After you’ve narrowed down where you want to live, you need to apply. Many Japanese places, especially Manshon apartments, want you to have a guarantor. This is a person who is financially responsible if you can’t, or won’t pay rent. The best choice for a guarantor is a middle-aged Japanese man. If you know someone like that who’s willing to put his wallet on the line for you you’re set. However most of us foreigners don’t. That’s where guarantor companies come in. This is a company who will act as your guarantor. This company has to accept your application. So the average foreigner will be sending in applications to both a guarantor company and the housing company/landlord. BOTH have to be approved before you can get the apartment.

When I decided to move this year, I gave the housing company for the place I was previously living the obligatory one month’s notice, and began viewing apartments. I did it that way because I didn’t want to have to pay overlapping rent. With just two weeks to spare before I had to get out of my old place, I found it, the perfect Manshon: spacious, a rent and move in cost I could afford, and it was in a new building and with a great view. I heaved a sigh of relief and applied. I wouldn’t be homeless. I sat back sure that with my steady income and work visa it would be no problem. A week later I received an email from the housing agent.

I’m sorry but although the housing company has approved your application, the guarantor company has rejected you.  

Oh.my.god. What was I supposed to do? The agent said he would try another company. Yes please do, I said. A couple of days later I received another email.

Hello Amanda. Bad news. The second company has also rejected your application. I have one more company I can try. 

What the hell? What could possibly be the problem? I’d lived in Japan for two years, steadily employed the whole time, no problems with the law and paid all my bills on time. By this point I had my theories, but nothing I could prove. And the companies didn’t divulge why I seemed to be such a huge risk. At this point I was sweating. I had a week to go before moving day, and technically no place to live. If this last company rejected me too…would I have time to find another place?

After another day, I checked my email with fingers sporting nails bitten down to stubs. There was an email from the housing agent.

The last company has approved your application! When can you come in to sign the contracts?

Yay, yay yay! So to all of you let my recklessness be a lesson. I really didn’t think it would take a month to sort out an apartment, especially when I had been browsing for a month before that! But for a foreigner, there are some complications that can come up. So even though you’ll likely end up paying a week or two of overlapping rent, don’t give notice that you’re leaving the first place until you’ve found the second.

3) The Payment

Manshon-Room

My Bedroom

I won’t lie, if you want to move into a nice place in Tokyo it’s gonna hurt, BUT you can negotiate! This really surprised me because it’s been my experience in Japan that most things are pretty non-negotiable. I swear, if you go to McDonald’s and ask for McNugget sauce if you didn’t order McNuggets they’ll treat you like you asked for “filet Mignon– but hold the Mignon”.

There are at least three fees you’ll likely pay, but it’ll be more like 7-10 fees. The most common fees you have to pay are to the agency, the guarantor company and the deposit. You may also have heard of key money. This is a gift to the landlord for letting you rent the place and can be 1-3 months rent. But I asked the agencies to look for places that didn’t have that fee, and I think it’s becoming less common. There may also be a lock change fee, paperwork fee, insurance fee, cleaning fee, oxygen fee, Friday morning fee, Japan fee, or because-we-said-so fee, depending on how much money the renter thinks they can squeeze out of you. Expect to pay 225,000-400,000 yen (about $2500-4000 CDN) upfront to move into a nice place.

But as I said, you can negotiate. I was able to bring my upfront costs down by having the agent negotiate to lower the rent. Also the guarantor company I used turned out to charge less than the first two, the cleaning fee will be charged when I move out rather than upfront, and the housing company agreed to pay most of the agency fee, so I didn’t have to shoulder it. At the end I think I paid around 225,000 in initial fees.

So there you have it, the process for renting your very own Manshon in Tokyo.

 

Hanging out in Hongdae, Seoul

This July I added another notch to my world-traveller belt by visiting Seoul, South Korea. Now, I have to admit something: since I’ve come to Japan I’ve pretty much had zero interest in visiting South Korea. One reason is, and this is putting it mildly, there is some bad blood between Japan and Korea, and I’m

Bubble Sistersashamed to say I bought into the bias against Koreans. Another reason was the Bubble Sisters–a Korean pop group who were told they weren’t pretty enough and needed a gimmick. Since they couldn’t be pretty, their gimmick was to make themselves look as ugly as possible. They decided to accomplish this by performing in blackface.

But if there’s one thing I find hard to resist, it’s the chance to visit a new country. Plus, flights from Japan to Korea are cheaper than the price of snow in Antarctica. So with four days of vacation spread out before me I decided it was time to grab a friend and head to the land of kimchi and see what was up for myself. And I’m glad I did.

Hongdae

Boutique in Hongdae

Boutique in Hongdae

I. Love. Hongdae. It’s just the place for the artsy type like me. The playground of indie entertainers, Hongdae is colorful, musical and fun. The main streets are loud with the sound of traffic and glittering with lights and signs from big commercial stores, but make your way into the side streets and it becomes more intimate. The atmosphere that of a perpetual festival. You can hardly turn a street corner without running into a crowd surrounding a crooner and his guitar, or a breaker and his funky fresh beats. There are also a lot of independent boutiques selling clothes and accessories, and about about 20 shops selling smart phone cases for some reason. And prices are low. I got a pretty swanky case for about $7 CDN. Plus there are vendors selling Korean food on every street corner.

Cafe in Hongdae

Cafe in Hongdae

And don’t get me started on the cafes. If you have a sweet tooth, welcome to your heaven. Hongdae is where I had what I’ve dubbed the best French toast of my life. It was fluffy and sugary and had slivered almonds on top. I think the secret ingredient was love. That or MSG. Anyway, the cafes are chic and beautiful. It was so hard to choose just one to stop into, which resulted in me eating about once an hour. Walking along the street it was all, “Oh! Look at that one it’s got big glass windows. No wait let’s go there look at the lamps outside I want to sit on the patio. Woah! That one looks like it was transplanted from Paris!” I wanted to grab a laptop, sit and eat French toast and write for hours. Best of all, there’s always space. One of the downsides of living in Tokyo is that although there are a lot of interesting bars, cafes and restaurants to visit, they’re often crowded or even full. Not so in Hongdae.

Nightlife

Walking back to our hotel one night, my friend and I ran into some young Koreans all dressed up like they had somewhere to go. One girl topped off her perfect blond bob with a black cap with leather studs. Another guy was in skinny jeans and red high-tops. They were the perfect example of Korean fashion. They actually called out to us in English! My friend is a schmoozer, and he asked where they were going. The answer? Ho Bar, a popular bar/club chain. I saw at least 10 of them sprinkled around the city. Long story short we stayed out with them until 3am dancing and doing shots. This branch was about five minutes from our hotel. Hongdae is the place to stay if you want to be in the centre of the club scene. Later on, as we were stumbling home through the deserted streets, who should we encounter but the two most dedicated street performers in Asia, singing and playing guitar into the early hours of the morning. And they were really good! It was like a private street concert.

Korean Food

Ginseng Chicken

Ginseng Chicken

The first thing I ate in Korea was their famous ginseng chicken. This is a bowl of soup, and sitting in the middle is a whole chicken, stuffed with rice, and there are big pieces of ginseng root in there. The flavour is pretty mild. I liked it because of the sense of accomplishment I got from eating a whole chicken. It was a small chicken, but still. Really makes me feel like I’ve become a success in life, that I’m able to do that.

Speaking of chicken, Korean fried chicken (KFC– that acronym’s up for grabs right?) is just as addictive as everyone said it would be. My friend and I found this place down within one of Hongdae’s side streets that had about twenty different kinds: spicy, saucy, seasoned, honey garlic you name it, I wanted to eat it. But remember, we had been eating all day so we could only manage one order. We got some chicken covered in red sauce number 5. It was a spicy taste sensation. It was so delicious that even though we couldn’t finish it all, and we took it back to the hotel and ate it the next morning, cold, it was still good.

Hongdae-BBQBut the highlight for me was Korean BBQ. We ended up going to two different places in one night. The first place was so-so, but the second place was really great. At a Korean BBQ place, first you grill up the meat, and then wrap it up in lettuce like some kind of healthy-alternative fajita, but it’s sooo delicious. At the second place the man who worked there was flirting with me and I got some extra lettuce out of him, so stick that in your pipe and smoke it Bubble Sisters. I’d recommend the beef and pork belly.

Even though I’ve always had some apprehension about visiting Korea, I was pleasantly surprised by Hongdae, a place full of art and fashion, friendly people and fantastic food. I would visit again in a heartbeat.

 

Okinawa: Japan’s Offbeat Islands

Okinawa

One place I’ve been itching to visit since I came here is Okinawa, which is a chain of islands to the south of Japan’s mainland. Descriptions of a place with a chill island vibe, chatty people, and palm trees waving under clear blue skies on picturesque beaches had me anxious to explore. If you ask someone Japanese about Okinawa they’ll say something like, “It’s nothing like the rest of Japan.”

And I have to agree. Naha, Okinawa’s capital, is home to military bases, America town and the famous Churaumi Aquarium. But even here the tempo and style is more like somewhere in south-east Asia, the opposite of Tokyo’s break-neck pace.

Kokusai Street

Walking along the famous shopping district, Kokusai street I wandered into many stores, lured by the slow, relaxing twang of Okinawa shamisen music. Inside I found island-y things, like fifty different colors of flip flops, or traditional Okinawan souvenirs such as pineapple and mango cakes, or the benimo (sweet potato) tarts Okinawa is known for.

The people are pretty friendly and likely to try to start up a conversation. It’s true, they’re also trying to get you into their restaurant or to buy something, but it’s still nice. And though Kokusai is a well-known tourist spot, it’s still not as crowded as Tokyo, and there’s something to be said for being able to walk without getting body checked by someone every five minutes.

Okinawa-Goya-Chanpuru

Goya Chanpuru

But the highlight of Kokousai street was the food. Okinawa is famous for goya—a really bitter gourd type thing that’s actually pretty gross on its own, but mixed up with pork, egg and tofu in goya chanpuru it somehow becomes amazing. The benimo tarts I mentioned before are crusty and buttery on the outside, and pure, purple goodness on the inside. Soki soba is one of the reasons I wanted to visit in the first place.  It’s noodles in broth with this big slab of the juiciest, most flavourful pork I’ve ever had. Tacos and taco rice are also really popular in Naha, likely due to the American influence.

Bouldering on the Beach

Okinawa-Beach-Forest

I went with a group of friends, and the five of us ended up at a beach way off the beaten path. The taxi pulled up, (quick note, taxis are much cheaper than Tokyo, especially if split five ways) dropped us off at the beginning of a gravely road leading into some dense trees and we were on our own. The trees shut out all noise, surrounding us in a world of green. There was something magical about it. Squint and an old, dirty bathroom could become an ancient ruin caressed by encroaching leaves. The air smelled like earth and plants and the ocean.

Okinawa-Beach-1It was only about a ten minute walk through this wonderland before the trees opened up and the beach spread out in front of us. It was deserted: there was literally no one else in sight. This wasn’t the usual sand and surf beach for swimming though. We’re all into bouldering, and my friend found this place because of the big rocks that thrust out of the sand, perfect for climbing. Even the coast was a jagged, broken line of rock bordering the ocean. It should have been ugly, but was somehow majestic, a reminder of the wonders nature can create. Plus it was kind of fun to hop and stumble over the rocks while trying to get to a pier a few yards away. The surface sometimes opened up into little pools, where tiny, electric blue fish darted around.

A walk down the beach finally turned up some other people, a few who were sitting on the steps to…an abandoned beach shack! I went all around, trying every door and window to get inside but it was no good. Everything was locked up tight. It’s probably for the best. I might have run into some surfer ghost, eternally waiting on his reggae punch.

Okinawan History

Okinawa-Shuri-CastleShuri castle is easy enough to get to. Just take the monorail and walk a while. This castle is unlike the other castles in Japan, in fact it looks more Chinese with its snaking wall surrounding the interior. It’s a UNESCO world heritage site, and is most famous for being used by the Ryukyu royals. The Ryukyus are the indigenous people of Okinawa. The style of the castle shows distinct Chinese influence, from the shape of the roofs, to the red colour and swirling dragon motifs done in gold. It seems the Ryukyus have had a close relationship with China, and the theory is that the first immigrants to Okinawa descended from China.

While Shuri Castle and the Shikina-en garden nearby were beautiful, the must enlightening part of this whole trip was visiting the Peace Memorial Park, which is a museum and monument to those who died in World War II. This one was harder to get to. It took an hour and a half long bus ride, but it was worth it. The curators held no punches, being frank about the devastation caused to Okinawans by both Americans and Japanese. I will never forget one room, where there were rows upon rows of books with accounts from civilians in the war. During the war, people often hid out in caves, listening to the sounds of constant bombing from American planes, the clatter of bullets from American guns and the rumbling of American tanks. At times Japanese soldiers stumbled upon a cave and, finding civilians already inside, kicked them out into the line of fire so they could hide instead. If they were kind enough to allow the civilian’s to hide with them, the situation was terse.

One woman recounted hiding with soldiers, who were irritated by the cries of another woman’s baby. Fearing the baby would give them away, a soldier told her to leave. The woman went outside for a while, and then came back without the child. No one dared to ask her any questions.

Another account was of people running during an attack. One girl saw a woman running frantically with a baby bouncing on her back. The baby had no head, but the woman didn’t seem to notice.

Okinawa has seen very dark times in its history, but it continues to bounce back and thrive, and has become one of Japan’s most sought out vacation spots for its luxury resorts, clear oceans perfect for scuba diving, world-class food and island philosophy. I hope to visit another one of Okinawa’s islands sometime soon.

Japan’s Rising Reggae Star

Plenty of foreigners are doing big things out here in Japan. In fact a lot of us just use teaching English as a side-gig to pay the bills. I’m writing a book, a lot of people also model, act or are into film and photography.

My girl Monique is a soulful reggae songstress and she’s just put out a video! Reggae has a huge following in Japan and Monique has a killer voice, so I’m sure she’ll be “big in Japan” pretty soon! Check out her video! 

And if you dig the song show her some love on iTunes!

Monique Dehaney- Look of Love- Single (U.S Store)
https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/loo…

(Japan Store)
https://itunes.apple.com/jp/album/loo…

Funny Stories on Being a FOB in Japan

The Nametag

nametagI am still such a FOB out here. One night my friend came over and we were drinking. There was a nametag on my table, which had my name on it in English, and above that my name in my own crappy katakana writing. (For those who don’t know, katakana is the Japanese alphabet  for writing foreign words.)

“What’s this?” he said. I took one look at it and burst out laughing. It was the nametag I wear for Japanese class. I’m supposed to leave it behind and find it again every week but I always forget and wear it home. And last time, I even went shopping after class and had it on. If you were a Japanese person, what would you do if some foreigner came up to you and started asking for help in toddler Japanese with a childishly written name tag pinned onto her collar? I must have seemed mentally challenged–more so than usual. Maybe that’s why the staff girl didn’t laugh in my face, the pity in her heart wouldn’t let her.

The French Fries

Fries

Japan is known for having the best customer service, and yeah, the staff are way more polite in general than any other country I’ve been to, but Japanese businesses are not so big on bending the rules to be accommodating. I was out at an izakaya restaurant with another foreign friend. Now this next part I won’t blame on my own fobishness, because the menu was in English. We’d already eaten a lot, but the French fries at this place must have been salted with crack cause I was  jonesin’, so even though I felt like I was about to pop I said, “let’s order more!”

We order the fries and there are options like “ketchup and mayo” or “garlic butter”. Now, these sound like the names of condiments right? But no, they were actually the “flavours” of the fries. So I thought I was getting fries with ketchup, mayo and garlic butter on the side but it turned out to actually be two orders of fries, one that was garlic butter flavoured and one…with ketchup and mayo on the side -_-. There was just no way we were gonna finish all that off.

There was still a full plate of fries left and I felt bad throwing them out so I wanted to find a homeless person and give them away. So we asked the waitress for a box.

“Oh I’m sorry, we don’t do take out here.”

“A bag? Anything?

“No, I’m sorry.”

Nope there was no box or bag anywhere in the whole establishment, no sir. So what happened was while my friend kept watch I put the two plates together and shoved them in a plastic bag and into my purse, like a ghetto Robin Hood. Yes, I stole my own food and the izakaya’s plates were a casualty. I felt a bit guilty but the homeless woman who got the crack-fries was really happy. They were still hot and everything. Unfortunately, I can’t go back to that izakaya anymore.

The Devil Sandwich

sandwich

Sandwiches in Japan don’t make no sense. I remember when I first came here I was shaking my head at the spaghetti sandwiches at the grocery store, literally noodles in a hot dog bun. But Japan gets a lot more creative than that. I was running late to work one day. There’s a cafe next to my building and I needed to quickly buy something for lunch. So I breezed in there, glanced at the sandwiches and grabbed one that looked good. Lunch time came and I was huuungry. I was ready for that sandwich. I took a bite and I thought to myself, “huh, this tastes familiar, but somehow wrong in a fundamental way.” That’s because I was eating the unholy union of potato salad and bread. It was a potato salad sandwich. I ate it all and hated every minute of it.

The next week I was prepared. I gave myself lots of time, I carefully read what the sandwiches were, and this time I picked up a ham and lettuce sandwich. But in Japan, (and of course this is understandable) sometimes the spelling is a bit wrong for English words, and while they spelled it ham and lettuce what they really meant was potato f*cking salad again!!! Seriously, I don’t know how this demon sandwich made it into my hands for the second time. It probably possessed what actually was just an innocent ham and lettuce sandwich. I had to eat it again, and again it sucked. And I will never return to that little cafe of horrors.

 

Tokyo Where to Go: Spa LaQua

spa_02Last year I was going on about Tokyo Dome City, and how I just had to one day try out the hot spring and spa nearby. Well my friends, it took a year but I made it out there with a couple of friends recently.

It’s just as fabulous and embarrassing as I expected! It’s not so expensive to get in there, about $30 US if you want to use the hot springs and the “healing baden” (and no I don’t know what a ‘baden’ is).

So here’s what went down. We went up to the sixth floor of the LaQua shopping centre. When you come out of the elevator there’s a pretty lobby area where you gotta take off your shoes. You throw them in a locker and then go to the reception. They give you these sparkly sticks, one for the hot springs and one for the healing baden. Then you walk maybe 20 feet and turn them in, and you get two sets of clothes and towels. This was the point where I got so confused my head exploded.

After my friends picked the pieces of brain out of their hair they figured out that at the next area, where there were more lockers, you’re supposed to get nekkid, throw all your stuff in there including the clothes they just gave you, take your little ‘privacy towel’ (that covers about as much as a landing strip wax job) and hit the hot springs.

I like hot springs because I never had a reason to be grateful for my poor eyesight before. It’s easier to be naked in public when I can’t really see any details, or can’t see the stares my lovely foreign body is inevitably getting.

spa_01

There are a lot of different hot springs that are supposed to have different magical powers. There are some saunas in there too. My favourite was the outdoor hot spring though. Ask me two years ago if I could even understand the idea of sticking just my naked pinky toe outside in  February. But the combination of warm water and cold air is really relaxing. It’s like the hot spring is a reward for dashing outside in the cold. No one can see anything from above either. It’s enclosed, with some potted and hanging plants, like a rooftop patio. I think there was some relaxing music playing too, or I could be imagining it. It may just have been the music of my soul at peace.

After hot spring time we went to the healing baden, and that’s when we were supposed to put on the second set of clothes. We still haven’t figured out what the first set of clothes was for. The healing baden is made up of levels of saunas and “relaxation spaces” where you can lounge and take in the view of Tokyo Dome City. We went at night so the Ferris wheel was all lit up like a circular rainbow and there were skyscrapers twinkling in the background. I would have taken a picture, but just because the place is full of naked people they don’t allow cameras or phones, if you can believe such draconian rules.

Never go to one of these places if you have something to do after. It’s just too relaxing. I was lucky I only had to drag my jelly legs to the train station and get home.

 

Black History Month in Tokyo

Last night I had the chance to get together with my fellow expats of African descent  and do some cultural exchanging at Free Your Mind 2013, a yearly get together celebrating Black History Month. It was nice to be able to meet other expats and mingle with the Black community in Tokyo…and to eat!

Soul Food

I ate it all in exactly 4 minutes 53 seconds

I was all over that soul food plate like I was a thirteen year old girl from the suburbs and it was Justin Bieber.

There was a big turnout, the place was packed! Aside from the delicious food there were performances–singing and spoken word poetry. There was also a Black history trivia quiz, and a salsa lesson that turned into something like the cha cha slide.

The Crowd at Free Your Mind 2013

The Crowd at Free Your Mind 2013

I had a fabulous time, and if I’m still in Tokyo next year I’ll definitely be going again.

How Long Are You Gonna Stay in Japan?

Japan

Happy New Year! And welcome to my first post of 2013. The start of a new year is usually the time when people take some time to plan, think about the future, make resolutions…and what am I but another bumbling fumbling earthling trying to make sense of the vastness of the universe and the puzzle that is life?

The end of 2012 came with some big changes for me. I ended relationships, both romantic and platonic, and reconnected with old friends and family who had been somewhat neglected in favour of “finding myself” in Tokyo. Last year, I blogged that my homecoming at Christmas was kind of anticlimactic. However this time around, when it was time to go home I found myself in a bathroom stall in Pearson airport, staring at the speckled grey door in confusion with tears running down my face because I was so sad to be leaving Canada!

So although I still love my Tokyo, I’ve decided this will be my last year-and-a-bit in this city, and likely Japan. The yen is dropping, so I can’t make as much money. There’s no longer a love interest keeping me here. And truthfully I miss feeling like I belong somewhere. Though I’ve met some wonderful people here and I have a lot of fun,  there’s nothing like being able to let your hair down the way you can with people who’ve known you your whole life and love you unconditionally.

While I’m having the time of my life here there’s something about expat life, at least for me, that feels like a detour. I’ve even had some expat friends compare living here to being in university again, but with more money. I feel like at some point I have to “get back to real life”…though I’m not sure why I feel that way. I’ve always wanted to work as a writer/editor, and I can theoretically do that from anywhere in the world  now that we’ve got this magical new thing called in-ter-net. I guess there are other things to consider, like “settling down”. In my last post I touched on the trials foreign women face dating out here. There’s that, and I don’t really want to raise a child in Japan. On top of concerns about bullying/out-casting (this IS the country that still has a ‘no foreigners allowed’ policy at certain establishments), I don’t want to add language difficulties to the challenge of parenting.

Maybe it’s my impending birthday, looming like a hungry seagull ready to swoop down and snatch another french fry of life, that’s making me feel this way. I only have a couple of years of my twenties left, and I guess I feel once I’m thirty that’s the time to stop searching for materials from which to make a life and start actually building one.