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.

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.

 

 

Super Fun Time Tokyo Summer 2012

Well, these days I’ve been trying to look as dignified as I can wiping the streams of sweat running down my face while I’m waiting for the train. In a few short weeks, summer will be over, and though I complain, it hasn’t been all bad, far from it. In fact this summer has been one of the best I’ve ever had!

Some of the highlights of super fun time Tokyo summer 2012 have been:

  • Crossing Izu Peninsula off my places to go list
  • Finally going to Kamakura
  • My first trip to Tokyo Disneyland
  • Facing off with insect after insect until I finally reached the end boss — giant cockroach.

Let’s start off with my trip to Izu. I went with a whole big group of friends, and we all stayed in the same hostel, so it become something like summer camp for 20-somthings, featuring fireworks, alcohol and swimsuits — in other words the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. On top of that, my friend from Canada was visiting at the time so I also got to be a showoff wowing her with my crappy Japanese and how well I’ve adjusted to Japanese life. Hey! Don’t cut your eyes at my blog like that! OK fine maybe not “wowing”…but she was impressed, I think…Oh just give me this!!

Anyway, Izu was just as amazing as I thought it would be. I said we stayed in a hostel, but I use the world lightly. This place was gorgeous, and had it’s own hot spring.  It was made to resemble a fancy Ryokan — traditional Japanese Inn — except they don’t give you food, they make you cook your own breakfast and dinner and stuff, and then pass the savings on to you!

 

We went beach hopping, and my favourite was Shirahama beach in Shimoda because this…

I also ate a lot of sashimi that weekend. I’ve liked sashimi since I lived in Toronto, but this was SA-SHI-MI — straight from the ocean, kicking and screaming, to your plate, and it was just as delicious as it looks. 

I also finally, after a year of saying, “I’ll go next week, I’ll go next week”, made it out for a day trip to Kamakura. First I went to Hokokuji temple, which has a big bamboo grove.

Then had a break to eat my third favourite Japanese food, okonomiyaki. Then we went to see that big buddha everyone’s always going on about, and yeah it was kind of amazing. I hear it took ten years or so to build it. 

The Happiest Place..uh…in Japan!

 

And, at last, I went to Tokyo Disneyland, with Loco as my guide/date. We went at night so by then all the little kids and babies had left, and there wasn’t the usual ridiculous crowds. Still, there were no rides that had a wait of less than half an hour. To be honest, the rides at Tokyo Disney ain’t alldat anyway, it’s geared more toward kids, but the atmosphere is fun.

We mostly ate. Loco was hyped to get this smoked turkey leg they had there. See turkey is pretty rare in Japan. And people must be really jonesing for that sweet, sweet turkey meat because the line was really long. So after waiting in line with the smell of delicious smoked meat teasing our noses and making our mouths water the whole time we finally got our hands on them drumsticks. I took one big bite and it was…OK. Kinda bland actually. Hmmm, you got some ‘splainin to do Loco. He said it was better the last time he was there. Maybe he was really hungry back then. You know like when you get so ravenously hungry even tootsie rolls from Halloween three  years ago taste good? But whatever, turkey is turkey.

 

 

Look at that barely contained panic…but he didn’t scream even once. I was so proud!

And then, even though he hates roller coasters, Loco went on space mountain with me…awww! Here he is, a doomed man waiting in line…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yup, I’ve seen some good times this summer. But if there’s one thing I cannot stand about summertime in Tokyo it’s the giant (compared to Canada anyway) bugs! All August big disgusting cicadas have been flying around, having loud sex, and then leaving their dead carcasses all over the damn street! Somehow a little green mantis got into my apartment during mantis season in July, and I kicked him out. I gotta always check my laundry that’s been hanging out for little spiders before I bring it in. And then there are the roaches…ooooh don’t get me started on the roaches. The “small” ones are almost two inches long, and the mofos fly! Flying roaches!!

I always had, what I felt to be an irrational fear that one would somehow turn up in my apartment. Even though in almost a year of living there I hadn’t seen one and the walls are concrete. How could something that big get in? Nevertheless, after a summer of dodging cicadas and sweeping  up spiders and crushing beetles, it was time to face the boss. One day, after a nice nighttime bike ride I came home, opened my door and there it was, a creature from the foulest garbage bins of hell, a big black roach staring at me in my entryway. I froze, and it bolted to the left and into my bathroom. I was still stuck in shock, sure this was some kind of nightmare, but during my hesitation the thing skittered — like literally skittered I could hear it’s legs scrabbling on the floor — out of my bathroom and straight into the bedroom under the bed. How do they always know we can’t get them under the bed!! I could not believe this thing was in my nice, clean, cute apartment. Anyway, once my body could move again I went out, bought roach traps and put them down and hopped on my bed wearing my shoes. You know that game the floor is lava? It was like that, except the floor was a god damn roach playground. I turned off the light to lure him out. Sure enough he couldn’t resist the  succulent roach trap, and when he came out he got one shoe to the face. But one hit wasn’t enough to kill this bad boy. I had to hammer it like five times to get it to stop moving, until it was a mess of guts. Then I shakily scooped it up in toilet paper, and flushed it down the toilet, and spent the night obsessively cleaning.

So, my nightmare happened, and I dealt with it. Let that be a lesson to the rest of you roaches. Don’t mess with me, I’m a badass roach killing commando. Hell, that one was probably the scout. I  hope the rest are warned by his lack of return and keep it moving. They better, or I got a nice hard shoe waiting.

A Letter from the Assistant Editor

In the August 2012 issue of tsuki magazine, I didn’t write an official letter from the editor. I figured I’d leave that up to the boss lady, miss Caroline Josephine, the mastermind behind tsuki magazine.

Me working on tsuki magazine

But with CJ gone on a pilgrimage back to her motherland, America, it was up to me to put on the editor hat and get all that juicy content, sent in from contributors all round the world out into the internets. It was an amazing challenge! And I’m proud to say tsuki magazine vol. 4 has officially debuted.

I had more fun than a mouse in a chunk of Swiss cheese (awwww!) designing and editing this issue. More and more people are asking to be contributors, and the content keeps improving in quality. And we over at tsuki learn a little more with each issue about how to make the magazine better.  I’m really excited to see how far this magazine can go.

Thank you, Thank you and thank you again to everyone who contributed, purchased, tweeted, facebooked, and otherwise helped push tsuki into its 4th issue!

Get a sample of the August issue here.

 

 

 

 

Another Reason I’m Still Here: Hanami!

Cherry Blossoms Blue Sky
“So hey, Amanda wanna hit up the convenience store, buy lots of snacks and booze and take them to the park, and then sit under Sakura trees, soaking up the afternoon soon and getting buzzed?”

“…yes!!”

I love hanami — the Japanese tradition of picnicking in the park while the sakura trees are blooming. This year I had an unforgettable time playing drinking games, talking and just generally shooting the shit with friends. This is the stuff lifelong memories are made of, and will probably be one of my fondest memories of my time in Japan when I leave. The afternoon started with a scenic hike through the park to get to our spot, and of course I was snapping pictures like a pro the whole way.

 

Cherry Blossom River

Boom!

We found a nice clear spot, set up a tarp and got our drank on.

 

 

Setting Up

 

Snacks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t think I played the drinking game right though, because I was just drinking constantly, whether it was a penalty or not. It was the perfect day for a hanami. The weather was warm, the sky a benevolent blue, and sunlight and warmth just infused us all with this good feeling, you know? Or was that the booze? Nah, it was definitely at least partly due to the atmosphere. We drank and played and talked as the afternoon sun set behind us, and as the last few straggling rays of sunlight leaked over the horizon we packed up to head to yasukuni shrine. On the way out I got a beautiful shot of sakura trees with the river as a backdrop.

 

Night Time Sakura

That's Nice

 

 

In front of yasukuni shrine there were a lot of street vendors and crowds of people, and I felt this wonderful mood of festivity. The torii and entrance to the shrine stood at the end of the street like some kind of indulgent parent, watching children playing. I ate what was probably the most delicious yakitori I’ve had since I moved to Japan, and the night ended at an izakaya in Shinjuku.

 

 

 

Food Stalls

 

Yasukuni Shrine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s times like this I really love my life in Tokyo.

A Year After the Quake: Why Am I Still in Japan?

Canada is like a part of Mother Nature that doesn’t see too much action. It’s like her back, or the underside of her forearm — nothing much going on there. When I lived in Canada I used to wonder about people who lived in other parts of the world more prone to natural disasters. What were they thinking? I wondered about the people who had stayed to watch their homes and their lives devastated by hurricane Katrina.

And now I find myself comfortably settled in Mother Nature’s stomach, where things are constantly churning and rearranging, in a country smack dab on what has been dubbed “the ring of fire”, for all the volcanic and seismic activity.

Yeah, life’s a trip.

This time last year, I had been living in Japan for about two months. I was having the time of my life, making new friends and having all kinds of new experiences. I still barely knew anything about Japan though. In fact when the quake hit I didn’t even know it was that bad. Whoa…Japan has some crazy earthquakes I thought. I even tried to make it in to work. Then I got a message on Facebook from my sister — thank God the internet was still up — saying they had heard about a bad earthquake in Japan, and begging me to let the family know ASAP that I was OK. Things only got worse from there. I learned about the tsunami. I remember seeing one particularly chilling video of black water slowly coming for people who were running for higher ground. The video pulled away as the water reached them. I started to cry as it sunk in that the video wasn’t special effects from some natural disaster movie like The Day After Tomorrow or 2012.

And news started to get out about the malfunction at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear plant.

The days after the quake were the most stressful, the only time where I’ve ever had legitimate cause to fear for my life. You might think I’m over exaggerating, but ex-Prime Minister Kan has since come out and said that the government was expecting the worst from the Fukushima Daiichi crisis, but couldn’t say anything without creating panic. There was already a mass exodus as people migrated from Tokyo to the south – people knew something bad was going down. At the time I lived in a guest house with three Japanese roommates, one from Australia and one from Canada. My Japanese roommates all left to stay with family elsewhere. One even wanted us to come with her, but we refused. I can’t speak for my roommates, but at the time I didn’t want to believe it was that bad. I convinced myself she was being too cautious. And sadly the focus on the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was taking attention from the people suffering in the aftermath of the Tsunami.

I didn’t get much sleep in the week after the quake. Every night, when I wasn’t shaken awake by an aftershock, I woke up periodically to check twitter for news on the status of the plant, and every day it was worse. Another hydrogen explosion, soaring temperatures, another reactor critical. There was this aura of doom in Tokyo, like the calm before the storm. No one was working and the normally crowded streets and trains were disturbingly empty. My guest house was too quiet with half the residents gone. My parents were calling every day in a panic, governments were advising their citizens to get the hell out of Japan before it was too late, and the Japanese government was ominously silent other than to issue a 30km evacuation zone around the plant, which the U.S government expanded to 50km.  I think it was around the 4th hydrogen explosion that one of my roommates and I packed up everything valuable — in case we couldn’t come back to Tokyo — and caught the shinkansen to Osaka to meet up with the “too cautious” roommate who was staying with her family there. We had to stand in line for about an hour and a half to get a ticket, and there were no free seats. All the hostels in Osaka were booked and we were lucky to find a place that had recently opened. After four more days in Osaka, and four more days of pleading and guilt from my family, I went back to Canada.

But after a week, in the midst of the ongoing Fukushima Daiichi crisis, I came back to Tokyo. And despite occasional aftershocks, worries about radiation in the food and water supply, and warnings of another big quake coming any day now, I continue to live in Tokyo. Am I nuts? This isn’t my country. It’s a beautiful country with lots to do and see, but I don’t have family here, or national pride. I’m way worse than those people in New Orleans who felt they couldn’t leave. Why am I theoretically risking my life to stay here? What is about the quirky country that draws me, despite the danger?

Maybe it’s because I feel guilty. Aside from some donations and attending a couple charity events I haven’t done much to help those whose lives were turned upside-down by the tsunami. I thought about volunteering, but felt with my poor Japanese skill I’d just get in the way, and I had to be honest with myself about my motive. I decided I would just be volunteering to say I had, and that they were better off without me. Japan would benefit much more from my working and paying taxes and contributing to their economy, so here I am.

Maybe it’s because this time in Japan is the first time I’ve lived independently. For three years after I graduated I kept living with my parents, while I frantically paid off my student loans — like hell I was gonna give the government $10,000 in interest. I guess in my head Japan and independence are mutually exclusive. I’ve built a life here, with a job and friends and a cute apartment, and I don’t want to give it up.

Maybe it’s the thrill keeping me here. Perhaps some stupid part of me feels it’s somehow brave, loyal or tough of me to stay here, laughing in the face of danger. Though I left for a week, I came back so I don’t think I can really be called a ‘flyjin” — that derogatory term for foreigners, not Japanese, who had the audacity to worry about their safety and leave Japan. Though I know it’s ridiculous, I think there is a part of me that feels I’m somehow special, or more courageous than the people who left. And I do get an ego boost when my students seem impressed that I’m still around.

Or maybe I feel I’m just not done with Japan yet. I want to become proficient in Japanese. I want to visit Hiroshima and Kyoto this golden week. I want to see a Maiko. I want to lie on a beach in Okinawa. I still haven’t worked up the courage to go to an onsen. I want to eat more okonomiyaki and I want to wear a yukata to a festival. This place is so chock full of culture that even after a year I still have much more to see and do. There’s really no other place quite like Japan. I also want to visit other countries in Asia, like Cambodia and Indonesia, and I feel like if I go back to Canada, it’s unlikely I’ll make it all the way out here again.

So now I have a first-hand understanding of why someone would knowingly put themselves in harm’s way to maintain a life they’ve built and love. To the other expats here, especially those in the Kanto area, why do you continue to live in Japan?

 

Gearing up for Golden Week

So last year I ended up farting around for Golden Week for some reason. I think I went out a couple nights, and made a half-assed trip to Ueno zoo because it was free on children’s day.  I went to see the pandas, but I didn’t get to see the pandas because the wait was something ridiculous like four hours. So I had to make due with the other, less pandarific animals like monkeys and tigers and that, the ones I coulda seen in a box of animal crackers

I digress.

This year I refuse to be so lame. I’ve planned and booked a stupendous Golden Week Extravaganza to Hiroshima and Kyoto — two of the places I’ve really wanted to go since moving here.  I’ll finally get to knock number two off my list of the 7 things I wanted to do in Japan.

Geisha in Kyoto

See the Maiko-san!

And from Hiroshima I plan to go to Miyajjima, and see the big red floating Torii.

 

Miyajima Floating Torii

This Guy

And I want to do a whole bunch of other stuff too, but I don’t know what yet. Any suggestions???

 

Reflections on My First Year in Japan

The anniversary of when I first set my restless, adventure-seeking feet down on Japanese soil is shimmering on the horizon. Wow, I can’t believe it’s been a year! I made this move not knowing exactly what to expect, only sure that it would be big, new, exciting and a tremendous challenge, and has it ever. In this past year in Japan I have:

  • Experienced the worst Earthquake in Japan’s history
  • Learned to be more giving and less selfish, not just materially but with myself
  • Started learning another language
  • Learned to no longer hate seafood
  • Created new bonds, while sadly seeing some old ones weaken
  • Learned a whole lot more about the nature of love
  • Finally made it to Thailand to eat authentic Thai food
  • Got up close and personal with freaking tigers
  • Moved into my first apartment
  • Realized I’m a lot stronger than I’d ever thought I could be.

I moved with the aim of learning something more about the world and about myself. I moved with the aim of finding a new adventure. I moved with the aim of proving to myself that I am strong and independent, by surviving and thriving on my own in a foreign country, and that’s exactly what I’ve done. So despite the trouble and stress that came with all the changes and challenges in 2011, I officially declare this year a smashing success.

And, thanks to all of you who read and commented. I’ve also learned a lot about blogging this year as well, and seen a lot of growth and success on this, my very first blog! Blogging has been an invaluable tool to me in learning how to navigate in Japan. I’ve learned a lot and avoided some pitfalls simply by reading about the experiences of others, and I’ve also been able to share what I’ve learned with others who stumble my way. This blog has led to interviews, new friends and I even met up with one of my readers for a lovely afternoon in Shinjuku.

So I have to say a big, heartfelt DOUMO ARIGATOU GOZAIMASHITA!!!!! to all of my readers and fellow bloggers. It’s been a great year of learning and sharing, and I think this year would not have been as interesting without the input of the j-blogosphere.

Thank you and hears to an even better 2012!

 

I’m Home! But Something’s Wrong…

I’m home again for the holiday season, and it’s been so great to see my friends and family in person — to be able to touch them and hug them and just be in their presence makes me happy yet…something’s wrong.

Since my first step off the plane, into the so obviously Canadian Pearson airport in Toronto, I felt a strange feeling, and it wasn’t the nervous bubbles of excitement I expected. This was a heavy feeling, and I couldn’t understand it or explain it, so I brushed it off.

It’s been a long flight, I’m tired and I just need to see my family in person.

And when I did see them, of course I was thrilled, but like a heartbeat the feeling was still there, and I realized with disbelief that I missed Japan.

Whoa whoa whoa…what the hell? I just got here! And yeah, I like Japan, but I have my problems there too. How can I want to be in Japan more than I want to be in my home country, where I was born and raised and that holds all the people I love most?

How peculiar. I noticed this feeling the first time I went home as well, a few days after the Earthquake in March during the nuclear scare. At the time I thought it was simply stress and depression. I didn’t know if I would lose my job, and I didn’t know if it would be safe to go back. But here I am, home again, among the festivities of the holiday season, and despite all the food and games and hilarious conversation, in quiet moments of contemplation, the feeling expands like the lengthening shadows cast by a setting sun. And it was only recently that I was able to understand and put into words what I felt. It’s the driving force behind my move to Japan in the first place.

I’ve simply outgrown my old life.

If I could use one phrase to describe the feeling it would be, “boxed in”. And this feeling seems to ooze like sap from everything familiar here. Taking the train brings back old memories of going to work at a stressful job every day.  Though my apartment in Tokyo is a minuscule studio, I don’t feel confined the way I do in my old room in my parent’s house. I love them and I’m grateful for the support they’ve given me, but I’m so over hearing, “wear your slippers! The floor is cold.” And, “You should drink more water, it’s good for you.” I wanna live in a world where I can prance around in barefooted glory. There’s something about being back that just feels depressingly mundane at times. The contrast between my codependent life in Canada, and the independence I have in Japan is so huge, it’s further confirmation that I’ve made a good choice.

And yet…

It’s also once again brought to light a problem that stalks most expats: what do I do after Japan? If I don’t want to come back to this old life, then what’s the next new thing? (And there will be an after Japan, because although this country has its charms, I don’t want to stay here forever).

I’m curious to hear about what it’s been like for other expats going home. Did you too feel like you were “over” your home country? Or was your reunion all sunshine and rainbows and joy?

 

This is What Makes Blogging Worthwhile

This is What Makes Blogging WorthwhileEvery once in a while I get emails asking for advice from people who are thinking about moving to Japan. And one of my readers, Josh, was so thankful that when he ended up in Japan on business this month he wanted to meet up!

I said yes and we went out for his first ever Japanese curry.  Then we went on a souvenir Kit Kat hunt in Shinjuku, but unfortunately the only interesting flavours we could find were green tea and white chocolate.

After that were massages courtesy of the massage chairs at Labi electronics store. What I wouldn’t give to be able to afford one of those/fit it in my apartment. I think the attendant there had a good time practicing his English on us.

It was really cool to meet someone who I’d helped, and we had a great time and good conversation. Look me up whenever you’re in Japan, Josh!