Saturday, May 26, 2018

My Life Has Begun, and I'm Loving It

It doesn't feel like I've been living in Japan long, but it's been about 2 months since I moved into my apartment. I'm truly and completely settled in now, am no longer living out of a suitcase, and even have a routine (and a paycheck!)
I can’t say enough how glad I am to be living here in Japan. Even the small, mundane things that I might find annoying in America are an adventure here as I try to see how effectively I can communicate with those around me. Going to the store isn’t something on my to do list now that I have all the crazy Asian foods to look at.  Going to the post office isn’t just another line to wait in when I have to figure out how to ask for stamps or how to send a letter from home with no mail box. Even going to work is more exciting (and weird) because all of the children are simultaneously so excited to greet me with the one English phrase they’re confident in, “Hello Drake sensei!” and I get to speak Japanglish with my coworkers (an excellent combination of Japanese and English.)

I’m a bit too far behind for me to do a play by play of what’s been happening these past two months, so I’ll summarize. (A skill that I often taught to fourth graders without actually putting it into practice myself.)

To start, here's my room. It might not look like much, but when you compare it to the tiny table I had when I moved in and the fact that I slept on a pile of my own clothes I’ve come a long way. I’m such an adult now that I even have guest mattresses, sheets, and towels. I’m wild, I know. I get that a lot. 
Please take note of the nice Razorback blanket which serves the triple purpose of reminding me of AR, keeping me warm at night, and being an excellent splash of color in my white room.

My first month was full of “settling in” things. Back when I still had free time, I socialized with the people from training. (These lightweights were on their first cups of beer when I was already onto my fourth cup…of water.)
I haven't actually seen people from training much since work started because I got fairly involved in my life here and everyone is so far away. (Tokyo is so big!) 

I’m constantly discovering beautiful places around me that the Japanese people just seem to take for granted. (I think this is like when I lived in France and I was originally awed every time I looked outside and saw the Eiffel Tower, but then I was used to it by the end of the summer.) I hope that I never grow too used to the things around me in Japan. It’s so beautiful here. (Unless it’s growing used to Japanese itself -that's totally acceptable.) 

I learned how to do my trash. (In case you can’t tell by the picture, it’s kind of intense in Japan.)
Just kidding! Two months in, and I’m still figuring this one out actually…

On the other hand, I really do have my kitchen all organized, I've learned to appreciate counter space (and just space in general). Here’s my silverware drawer and rice cooker on top of my microwave oven, on top of my microwave, on top of my fridge because there’s literally nowhere else to put them. 
Turns out having hardly any space in the apartment makes cleaning up really time-efficient. 

One major lifestyle change when I came to Japan is the fact that I now ride my bike everywhere since I don't have a car. (I suppose I take the train about once a week into Tokyo because it's a bit far for me-but I'm too cheap to ride the train normally. And by cheap I mean healthy, obviously.) Maybe because I'm already exercising more I found it easy to exercise even more. So I've been runing a lot and I was immediately blessed for it because I ran across a frisbee team like my second week living in my apartment. 
Long story short, one awkward 10 minute stare down where I was too nervous to ask to play with them, an inspirational text from my friend to snap me out of it, 3 seconds of insane courage later and now here I am playing ultimate with a Japanese college team. Who would have guessed? Of course, almost immediately I got all scraped up, but since I get to hang out with everyone and play frisbee it’s a small price to pay. 

From practice and learning new throws, to eating in a Japanese college cafeteria for the first time, to hanging out with everyone after practice, to learning frisbee terms in Japanese, I'm grateful I’ve been able to experience so many things because of my new teammates.

Maybe someday I'll make some friends my own age too, but until then I'm really great at finding 18-23-year-olds to befriend. 

But even living in my dream country of Japan, sometimes I just need something familiar. Such was the case during conference weekend. I watched in English (because heck no am I that good at Japanese yet) and made myself a nice, American breakfast to enjoy while I watched. 

Speaking of church, I’ve also been working to make friends in my ward. I ate dinner with some people from church and it was such an entertaining evening.

I also started going to institute (a church class) so I can practice my church Japanese twice a week now, and hopefully progress twice as fast - with the added benefit of making more friends (hopefully.) Turns out it isn’t too difficult when you’re outgoing and foreign.

I’ve learned that I actually enjoy living alone quite a lot. I can have my own space and don’t need to share my (somewhat small) fridge or (tiny) room with anyone. I’m learning to really appreciate my downtime but still maximize my studying because I found the library here! With the power of my new library card, I can now watch movies in Japanese so I can have fun and study at the same time.

That’s clearly what this is: Kim Possible Japanese study for my wild Friday night.

I haven’t mentioned work yet, but it finally started as well. I’m actually enjoying it way more than I thought I would, and I have my coworkers to thank for that. I teach at two schools, and yet they are so friendly to me at both. I even went out to dinner with someone from work and her family.  I’ve also learned to make the most of my downtime at work (who knew you could even have “downtime” at work as a teacher?) by reading Japanese books to study. This is Kiki’s Delivery Service in Japanese and another book I was reading at my other school.

 Just yesterday I went out to dinner with 20+ coworkers as a goodbye to one of the student teachers. It was so fun, and not even my lack of fluency couldn't stop me from laughing all night long. 

Before I realized it, a month had gone by and all of the sudden it was time for Chad and Bri to come visit me in all of my one-roomed glory!

If you feel like the effort of reading further is too much for you, I've condensed my visit with Chad and Bri into a 3-minute music video you're welcome to watch in addition to or instead of the rest of the blog. 

Sunday - Day 1:  I picked up Chad and Bri after church and an hour or so later we made it home after taking Bri's first train ride.

We spent the night getting them settled in the apartment and unpacking all the goodies they'd brought from America for me. 
(Hello gushers and brownie batter!)  We went for a short walk by the river so they could see Japan before it got dark, and the whole time we were outside Bri kept saying "Chad, we're in Japan!" and it was great because it reminded me that I was that exact same way a few months ago. I still feel that way sometimes, but her enthusiasm was refreshing and reminded me that I didn't want to forget feeling that way either. 

Turns out my room is the perfect size for three people! I'm wasting all this space living on my own. I can now tell people I own a triple twin-bed apartment (the easiest way to measure by far.)

Monday - Day 2: Chad and Bri (especially pregnant Bri) are being real troopers dealing with the jet-lag. They went to bed around 8 pm last night and were up around 8 am this morning. We made a big breakfast when we got up and went for another walk while we waited for my kotatsu to be delivered (for those who don't know what a kotatsu is you're missing out. It's a blanket table that has a heater and is perfect for the winter to snuggle up under and take a nap. During the summer you take the blanket off and use it as a normal table.  

We headed out to Akihabara for lunch and ate at a maid cafe. It was a bit embarrassing to go inside (and also the whole time we were inside as well) but it was also extremely entertaining and Chad and Bri had a good time. This was on the "Japan-anime check-list" so it had to happen while they were here.  From the pictures with the maid that served us our food, to the extremely adorable food itself, the whole experience was surprisingly enjoyable.  

We wandered the street exploring the nerdy, anime part of Japan that Japan is so famous for and stumbled across a cat cafe. Bri was too excited for us not to go in. So we did a quick visit and took some pictures with this strange cat.

It was pretty cool how they had the cages hanging from the ceiling. I'll admit that. I'll also admit I have terrible cat allergies and was too nervous to touch anything and infect myself.

I took any chance I could to introduce Chad and Bri to Daiso which is the #1 dollar store here in Japan. (I'm not ashamed to admit I furnished most of my house from the Daiso. It has anything and everything you could possibly need-I swear it's like Marry Poppin's purse but an entire store.)

For Chad and Bri's first dinner in Japan, I took them to conveyor belt sushi because I'll go any chance I get.

Where else can you go and eat like 20 pieces of sushi for about $10? I'm so in love with this place.
Chad was a fun one to take because he wanted to try all the random pieces - half of them I hadn't tried before either so I joined him in the adventure.

Tuesday - Day 3: I had yesterday off work (randomly) for Golden Week, but today I had to go sub at a school. It was a pretty crazy experience, but they let me go an hour early which I was grateful for since Chad and Bri were waiting for me. We were planning on going to the girls' ramen festival but when we asked a nearby policeman why no one was set up yet, he informed us that today was the one day the festival took a break that week. (Great timing, Laura.) So then we had to figure out what we were going to do for dinner when the friendly policeman came up to us again and recommended an udon place for dinner. He said there was a special sale today, and that's about all it took to convince me.

We walked around and explored the area for a while and then headed into Tokyo since we were already so close.

We walked around and experienced the "night life" of Japan - or as much of it as you can experience simply by walking. I guess we did buy pineapple on a stick, but I'm not sure that falls under the "night life" category.  After that wild night, we headed home.  Oh, and we visited Don Quixote, which I think Chad and Bri enjoy as much as I enjoy Daiso.

Wednesday - Day 4: Bri came into work with me today and got to experience a Japanese school. It was pretty fun to have her, and all of the students were shocked by her foreigness/pregnancy combination.  Bri got to experience school lunch. The picture I have here is actually the one lunch I didn't enjoy (I can't handle eating those fish) but the one we ate when Bri came was alright. 

I hurried home after work and ate the dinner Chad and Bri had made while packing my things. We rushed off to the airport, but, due to trouble with the trains, arrived at the gate 5 minutes too late. We were early enough that they asked us to wait to change our tickets because the "gate was still open" but apparently late enough that they wouldn't actually let us board. 
Cue the night of sleeping at the airport. But, as airports go it was a good experience and we even got to eat some "cheese candy." Which, to reassure your concerns, is actually just pieces of cheese wrapped to look like candy. Quite good, actually.

Thursday - Day 5: We easily made it to our 9:40 am flight the next morning. It's amazing what sleeping at the airport does to the commute time. This is us about to board our flight. (I'm pretty stoked because this is my first visit to Kyoto and Osaka!)

We caught a bus straight to the aquarium from the airport (naturally, I slept on it and just as naturally Bri took a picture.)

By the aquarium is the marketplace where we ate lunch. We tried a bunch of different foods from food stalls and fueled up before going to the aquarium. Osaka is famous for okonomiyaki and takoyaki so, of course, I was eager to have all of us try them. This is me trying to navigate and order at the crazy food court/food stand area.  (We all had our backpacks because we hadn't made it to our airbnb yet or found a place to store them.)

Chad and Bri were both excited about the idea of seeing a whale shark.  My experience with whale sharks is limited, but as this one tried to eat me I would recommend caution when you go yourself. 
There was a HUGE line for the aquarium because it was Golden Week, but actually, it only took us 20 minutes to get through it. I was very impressed. (Although the crowds didn't get any better once we were inside the aquarium.) Just to give you an idea here, whale sharks can grow up to 40 feet long!  That's insane.
    We spent a good two and a half hours inside the aquarium (it was 8 floors!) and so we got some more food once we finished and then went to ride the ferris wheel.

It was great because it gave us the skyline of Osaka while riding so we could tell what we were looking at. We even found Harry Potter world from the ferris wheel because Hogwarts was easy to spot.

 That night we went out to Dotonbori to explore the Osaka night life scene and get some food. Turns out we should have eaten before going to the busy area because the lines were insane here! We still somehow managed to find some delicious okonomiyaki and enjoyed the walk there and back.

Friday - Day 6: The first thing we did this morning (after grabbing breakfast at a bakery) was head to Osaka castle. It was impressive and made me want to read some kind of samurai story or do something historical. 
It was here that some guys asked to take a picture and I thought they wanted us to take pictures of them (broken English can be quite difficult to understand, but I guess I don't know how difficult my Japanese is for others to understand.) Anyway, after clarifying it turns out they wanted to take a picture together. It was so unusual for Japan that I took one on my phone too. 

After we finished exploring around the castle we decided to head to Kyoto. We went straight to our airbnb since we infinitely prefered not having to carry our backpacks around. Then we went back out. 
We were staying only a ten minute walk from Kinkakuji: The Golden Pavilion but when we arrived it was closed. So we went on a bus ride. That's code for I accidentally took us on a bus going in the opposite direction from where I wanted to go. Luckily, Chad and Bri were super nice about it, and we actually found a really delicious meat place for dinner. This was their first time eating yakiniku and they had a blast. We even ate some intestines (which Chad didn't tell Bri until after the fact.)

Saturday - Day 7: Today was a packed day of touring. There is so much history and so many temples and shrines in Kyoto that you would need a month to get to them all. The whole bus stop is full of different shrines and things. It's crazy. So we chose a few to pack into our day and off we went. First was the Golden Pavilion from yesterday that was closed. 

We all got our fortunes at Kinkakuji

Don't worry, mine was "good." It told me to "treasure your job at present, and you'll meet with an unexpected happiness. Don't waver in your judgement, or you'll be deceived by others." Easy enough to follow. While riding on the bus we saw Nijo-jo Castle and made a split-second decision to stop and explore-a decision we did not regret. The castle was so cool, and the grounds were huge and beautiful!

After that we hopped back on the bus and headed to Kiyomizudera Temple which is famous because the whole structure was built without using any nails.

We saw this adorable couple walking in their festival clothes, and someday I hope that's me and my future boyfriend out enjoying a Japanese summer festival together. They're too cute. But I was not the one who took the creeper picture, for the record.

We stopped for a snack after the temple because we had been doing a lot of walking, but we didn't spend too much time because we still had another destination in mind for tonight. (Ok, maybe we stopped for more than one snack. Side note: cherry blossom ice cream is delicious.)

Our last tourist destination for the night was Fushimi Inari Shrine which is known as the Thousand Orange Gates. As you can see in the pictures, it was aptly named. 

We ended the night by going to Kyoto station. We decided to check it out ahead of time because I wanted to go to Vie de France (a bakery I'm obsessed with because of this one pastry there) and we got katsudon for dinner at a restuarant there. The station was way bigger than we expected so we decided to come back early tomorrow night just to explore. 

Sunday - Day 8: We started the day by going to sacrament meeting and they even had people translating with headphones so it was perfect.  We hopped on a bus and headed to the Arashiyama bamboo forest park after church. By this point, I had learned how to correctly ride buses and no longer dreaded a route that includes a bus (which is good since that was most of our routes in Kyoto/Osaka.) We ate lunch at the park and then explored a bit.
 I saw these super adorable girls riding and took a picture, apparently they saw me too.
(No regrets though.) 

After we finished at the bamboo park we headed over to the monkey park! It was quite the hike to get up there, but, true to form, pregnant Bri quickly conquered it.

Inside this room you could even feed the monkeys from little snack bags.

After the monkey park we walked around by this river and just explored the area before we left this part of Kyoto.

It was quite pretty and we spent about an hour and a half wandering around.

We got hamburgers for dinner (not American hamburgers) and then it started sprinkling so we decided to head to Kyoto station early so we could stay out of the rain.  We killed some time there, went to Vie de France again (it's starting to be a problem), and then just waited for our bus to arrive. We were so tired at that point because we had been going to bed around 11, but our bus didn't leave until midnight. It was a long, but fun night. 

 Monday - Day 9: I did sleep on the 12 am overnight bus from Kyoto last night, but not quite as deeply as I had hoped I would. So I was still fairly tired when we arrived in Yokohama at 5:40 am. It was about an hour to my house from there, and I got home in time to take a shower, eat breakfast, and leave for work.  The day was long, but not terrible. (Honestly, I have a good job.) When I made it from work our only "goal" for the day was to go to Costco together. I suggested staying home since it was raining pretty hard outside, but Chad and Bri were interested in what an Asian Costco would have. (Plus I think they also felt some sort of parental instincts and wanted to take me to Costco to buy a bunch of things for my apartment.) So we did go, and boy did we buy stuff. That's my favorite Bri with my favorite brie and the other is Chad and I getting ready to carry home about 65 pounds of goods. 

Tuesday - Day 10: 
I had to sub at another school today, and I wasn't thrilled with the idea after the last experience. However, today was the complete opposite of last week. 
It was a fantastic experience at the school; however, they did not let me go home early so I spent the last 90 minutes at my desk reading my book. Chad, Bri, and I finally went to visit the big Daiso near my house which I was looking forward to, and I spent a record $10 there. (A record as in I've never spent only $10.) We hurried to Sushiro for dinner (the same conveyor-belt sushi place as their second night here) and happened to run into one of my friends from frisbee.  It was fun seeing someone while being out in town because it made me feel more like a part of the community. At the same time though it was kind of stressful seeing someone out of context because I'm so terrible with names. We walked home from sushi, which is a good thing to do because you almsot always eat too much at sushi.

Wednesday - Day 11: Today I woke up sick but luckily we had a chill afternoon planned. After work we rested for a bit at home and made food (using these quail eggs we gathered by the river and then packaged into this conveniently shaped plastic container) and then we headed to the shrine near my house for pictures. 

Chad and Bri had brought their kimonos to take pictures in Japan. So off we went. This little shrine is about a 10-15 minute walk from my house and just another example of how cool Japan is. 

We went home and ate some more food (more dinner-ish and less after-school-snack-ish) before Bri and I headed to the onsen. I've got to say that 8 years ago when I met Bri at BYU freshman year I never pictured us being in Japan together or going to an onsen together. If you don't know what an onsen is then the simplest way to explain it is a public bathhouse (for girls and one for guys.) This onsen is super cool though because there's like 8 different types of baths, so in the true spirit of Pokemon we had to "catch them all." Between that, relaxing, and chatting we ended up spending about 2 hours there. 

Thursday - Day 12: I don't know how it happened, but, suddenly, their last day was here. I got a little sick from being out in the rain/not sleeping/having too much fun (my body isn't used to it since my idea of "fun" when no one is visiting is staying home alone and reading a book or watching a movie in Japanese.) 
We were going to go into Shinjuku and do one last night in the city, but instead we stayed home, hung out by the river, made a delicious hamburger with cheese, fried egg, and avocado (Japanese style) dinner, and watched Your Name which was an excellent way to end their trip in Japan.  

Friday - Day 13: When I woke up this morning Chad and Bri were snuggled in their beds (well actually they did get up to hug me goodbye, but then they went back to bed.) And then when I came home from work my room looked like I hadn't even had any guests. On one hand, it's always nice to be able to return to my routine and open my closet without having to ask Chad to move his whole bed, but on the other hand it was such a party these last 2 weeks. I'm really glad that I was able to have Chad and Bri come and visit, but I'm even more glad that they were willing to come. I'd give them a 10/10 rating for anyone who would like to have house guests come and visit!

I'm a few weeks late in posting this blog post, but for brevity's sake (and everyone who is reading this) I'll end here because it's already really long. (Turns out I'm not good at summarizing after all.)