16 October 2013 § 1 Comment

Things that moving to Japan and moving to England have in common: lack of funds.

Certainly, somehow, some way, there was enough money each time, but not enough to afford the (somewhat frivolous) comforts of home. The nicer bread. The extra virgin olive oil. A desperately needed replacement pair of shoes. Zucchini. Little things, but things that cost more money than I really needed to spend after having just moved to a new country and weeks before getting my first paycheck.

We just opened up a new bottle of washing up liquid (dish detergent, whatever you want to call it) and it’s such a delight because it’s not the stuff from the £1 shop and it actually makes things nice and soapy. In August, though, what a deal to be able to get two big bottles of washing up liquid for £1! £1 for 2 bottles! Brilliant! After a couple days, we regretted our thriftiness.

Two months in, we’re still using an upside down cardboard box as a coffee table. It’s functional. And it’s more out of not having had enough time to go shopping that we haven’t replaced it with a proper table yet.

But despite penny-pinching at first, we find joy in the little things. Playing 20 questions in Japanese while playing cards. Sitting around on a couch, entertaining ourselves with conversation and wordplay. Browsing through furniture on the IKEA website. Watching the entire Breaking Bad series (well, we’re two episodes away from finishing up). Going to a huge music festival for the entire weekend with £5 tickets (and what a weekend it was!).

A lot of people that I work with have asked me if it’s very different here from Canada. My response the other day was that it’s more like everything’s just a bit different, such that it seems nearly like Canada, nearly like home, but not quite – almost like being in a dream, or like being the victim of Amelie Poulain’s revenge scheme. The cars are on a different part of the road. There isn’t French on all the packaging. Instead of Walmart, there’s ASDA. Instead of Food Basics and Zehrs, Sainbury’s and Tesco. My students look at me funny when I say notebook instead of exercise book. I was out for a drink after work with some coworkers a few weeks ago and we were listening some tunes from the 1960’s – they all sounded very similar to the songs I grew up listening to on Oldies 1150 , but I wasn’t familiar with any of them. It’s eerie sometimes.

I might go visit somewhere new in a couple weekends. Explore a bit. Go relax. Take a break from lesson planning. Take a break from London. Remind myself that I’m living in England, which is kind of cool.



upon return.

22 June 2013 § 2 Comments

There are a few questions that are difficult to answer upon return: 

  • How was Japan?/What was Japan like?
  • Did you get to see much of Japan? 
  • It must be nice to be home, ‘eh?
  • Are you glad to be back? 
  • What’s the plan now?

Difficult, because there’s too much to say, and there are too many emotions that go along with all of it to really properly express what I mean. The fourth question, in particular, is a challenging one. Like Alan Parrish and Sarah Whittle in Jumanji, the Pevensie siblings in Narnia, Samwise and Frodo, Harry, Hermione, and Ron – once you’ve been through an adventure, once you’ve left the comforts of home and found other worlds, it’s difficult to return and be content, knowing what you’ve left behind, knowing what you’ve been through, and knowing what might be ahead. That being said, of course, I am happy to be home. But it’s not simple. 

Yes, there’s culture shock. For example:

  • I assume everyone wants to steal my things. My purse, my (parents’) car, my sweater, my lip balm. Trying to get over this feeling.
  • Becoming aware that Canadians really do say “Sorry!” a lot. 
  • A dislike of the word “deserve” that I didn’t have before going to Japan.
  • Awareness of the way in which people don’t try to perform at their jobs to the best of their ability – a certain attitude or laziness, perhaps..
  • The state of public bathrooms.
  • More than a few times have I gone to put my grocery basket on the conveyor belt at the store, and then realized that that’s not what we do here.
  • Frustration at how slowly lines at stores move due to people using credit/debit.
  • The vast size of grocery stores. 
  • There are lots of big parking lots. Not pedestrian friendly.

I could go on. 

I’ve been keeping busy. I had a week of interviews and things in London (England) in May. I found full time work as a high school teacher there starting in September and subsequently bought a one way flight for August. I’m working a couple of part time jobs, while also continuing my work for Waylines Magazine on the side. I’m trying to deal with and sort through the mess of storage bins I left behind in early 2011 before leaving the country again. I’ve been going to lots of poetry things (I meant to be at one tonight, but have found myself completely disinterested in making verbal communication with anyone this evening). I’ve been spending time with my dear family and friends. 

And, as anticipated, it feels like it was all a beautiful dream. 


29 April 2013 § 3 Comments

At the airport, again. Strange to think that I’ve been here over two years – I never meant to be. When I came to Japan, I had this plan to stay for one full year contract, April to March. Then, I would go back to St. Catharines, find a high school teaching position without too much difficulty, possibly do my Masters in Education (part-time), find the man of my dreams, and live happily ever after. And even though Japan was part of the Master Plan all along, since high school or before, it was that part of the plan that changed everything. 

You can’t really anticipate what’s going to happen to you when you live abroad, I guess. You can’t imagine the kind of people you’re going to meet. The amazing, the chauvinistic, the inspiring, the aimless, the admirable, the courageous, the confounding. I have met so many wonderful people who were a large part of the reason I stayed longer that I intended. People who stepped out of their comfort zones to come to this beautiful, insane country. People who welcome these world wanderers and genuinely want to get to know them. People who I have no doubt I will run into in other countries around the world. People who I truly respect, and people who I will miss dearly. 

Japan threw me off guard too. In Canada, I didn’t travel around very much, and I never had a great interest to because it’s right there. It’s not across an ocean. It’s not full of interesting, unfamiliar cultures. (I admit I was mistaken). I came to Japan thinking I would maybe travel to some cities near Osaka. Kobe, Kyoto, Nara, Wakayama. And maybe, just maybe I’d make my way to Tokyo for a trip. Indeed, I went to those places, along with every other place I could afford the time and money to get to across the country. I didn’t know how easy it would be, or how enticing. Japanese cities are amazing at drawing tourists, whether it’s with a UNESCO World Heritage Site (there’s lots), the longest suspension bridge in the country, the largest lake in the country, the highest mountain in the country, the most ornate shrine in the country, the southern most island in the country. There are a lot of superlatives, and it works. 

If I could describe Japan itself with a few superlatives, I’d go with safest and most convenient. The amount of decent pubic toilets, the abundance of convenience stores, the accessibility and punctuality of the public transit system. I can’t imagine living in a more comfortable place. Certainly, there are many discomforts as well – cultural differences, language barriers, xenophobia, never being sure what sauce goes on what, not knowing if you should finish every last piece on your plate or if you ought to leave just a little bit (a surprisingly frequent conversation). Despite those things, I stick to my previous statement. I have never felt so safe in my adult life as when I’ve lived here. A country where I don’t worry about parking my bike in public, where if I lose something valuable on the train, it’s pretty likely to get returned, where if I fall asleep on a bench at the train station, no one bothers me or steals my things, where I can walk alone at night and not have to worry about anyone harassing me, where I can wear a tank top and shorts in the summer because it’s hot out without a man making some distasteful comment. It’s going to be a big change moving back to Niagara. 

And now, I’m on my way to the UK to spend a week with a wonderful person before heading back to Canada. In a few weeks, I’ll be going back for interviews in London. In a few months, with any luck, I’ll be moving there. For now, I need to get ready to board my flight out of here. 


it’s been nice!

31 December 2011 § Leave a comment

Only a couple days left at home. Christmas was splendid, spent with my family and relatives. The first several days home were really difficult between this cold, which I’m still battling (I think it’s winning), and the jet lag. The latter isn’t so bad now, but I’ve been staying up too late.   With the exception of a couple days, I think it’s actually been warmer here than it has been in Osaka. I was hoping for freezing cold and lots of snow, but apparently it’s a little early for that.

Last night was my friend’s annual gingerbread party, the twelfth or thirteenth one. A Christmas season necessity. We went with a Mario theme this year, creating a two-tiered base on which to place various Mario related items, including bricks with treats in them, stars, flowers, pipes, Yoshi, mushrooms, and Koopas.

I went on a grocery run the other day and bought numerous items which aren’t available in Japan. Shreddies, gravy mix, various canned soup (all I can find in Japan is corn chowder and clam chowder), granola bars, etc. Between various clothes that I dug out of bins and the groceries, I won’t have any trouble filling up my suitcase, which I brought over filled with gifts for almost everyone I know.

Being back home after eleven months in a foreign country, there isn’t actually too much that I’ve noticed upon my return. You know.. how maybe I’d notice lots of little things that I hadn’t before, like maybe how store employees aren’t as polite as those in Japan (though I have noticed this, in fact). I’ve enjoyed people holding the door for me, and visa versa. I’ve been tipping generously everywhere I go, as I’m not supposed to tip in Japan. I’m more talkative with people in stores than I used to be, just because I can be (which is to say we understand each other.. the things we take for granted, right?).

Eleven days isn’t enough, really. There are people I’d love to see, people I’d love to sit down for tea and talk at length with. Being back has given me a lot to think about with regards to what I’ll do about coming home for good. Mostly what goals I have for when I’m back in Ontario.

Most imminent goal right now? Have a satisfying New Years, which involves not going to any parties. Maybe I can catch up on some sleep.

wonderful things: electric blankets.

11 December 2011 § Leave a comment

Last winter when I arrived here, I would often be too cold to sleep at night. I would lie in bed at night, freezing cold, eagerly awaiting warmer weather. Buildings here have terrible insulation, and no central heating. I didn’t have much cash flow for a few months, so I didn’t put out the money on things that would make my life more comfortable. Summer started similarly, lying in bed at night, sweating and hot, eagerly awaiting cooler weather.

This winter will not be the same. I made a trip to the store today and picked up an electric blanket, a space heater, fuzzy slippers, and an electric kettle (my stovetop one is so slow). I am lying in bed writing this, and I am a little too hot with this electric blanket and it’s wonderful. The space heater is nice too, and I have a feeling that I’m going to be spending a lot of time in front of it over the next few months.

Now that this week has started, I can finally say to my friends and family in Canada – see you next week! I am so excited. There’s still a lot of shopping here that I want to do for people back home, and time is limited. I thought it’d be a good idea to be as busy as is humanly possible during the week leading up to my flight home, for some reason.

Last December, I did lots of Christmas things throughout the month to get into the spirit of the season – candlelight carol stroll, a performance of Handel’s Messiah, Christmas movies, Christmas music, Christmas books. It’s hard to do all that here. Today, however, I went to a chamber choir performance and they performed so many Christmas carols and it was lovely. I went alone, but ran into some friends. It was just what I needed to feel more Christmas-y. The choir was all Japanese, but the carols were mostly in English. This will sound terrible, but whenever I think of Christmas carols in Asia, I can only think of the end scene in A Christmas Story, at the Chinese restaurant, Deck the Halls…: “Fa ra ra ra ra…”. But, of course, it was nothing like that. It was beautiful. I’m very grateful to my friend who extended the invite.


20 June 2011 § 3 Comments

One of my students to me, as I walked into the room: “Your imagination has changed!” It sounds like something out of a strange dream sequence. In fact, he was simply commenting on the fact that instead of wearing my apparently usual dark attire (I tend to wear a lot of black to work, I guess), I was wearing a pink flowery shirt and a light grey skirt, topped off with a high, bouncy ponytail.

I started reading a new book today, lent to me by a man in my Japanese class on Fridays:

I’ve thought before of reading Joy Kogawa’s Obasan, but just never did. I started it last night and made a dent in it today on the train to and from Wakayama (travel time equivalent to that between St. Catharines and Toronto). It’s written from the perspective of the Japanese-Canadian narrator, Megumi Naomi Nakane, a Sansei (third generation, the second generation born in Canada). Over the past few years, I’ve been developing an interest in Japanese-Canadian history. Every now and again, I’ll read something relevant. A couple years ago, a collection of poetry from Daphne Marlatt about the Japanese on the West Coast of Canada. Last year, part of David Suzuki’s autobiography, which begins with a couple chapters on the Japanese internment in Canada.

At times, I feel quite distanced from what happened to Japanese people in Canada in the first half of the 20th century, but then other times, I think of my family that experienced the internment first hand and it feels, at times, quite immediate. I’ve always thought that it was kinda cool being half Japanese, and I’ve always felt that this was a large part of my identity, but I’d never really considered how important that combination of Japanese and Canadian is.

I went to a poetry reading last fall where one of the poets was from Vancouver, and she was a half-Japanese woman, also born and raised in Canada. I talked with her after she read and we talked briefly about being half-Japanese. I told her about my intentions to come teach in Japan and she commented that she had often thought of doing the same thing, but felt that it might be strange going to teach English in Japan as a half-Japanese person. So far, my experience has been that many of my students feel closer to me because of my being half-Japanese. Of course, there will be different experiences. Another half-Japanese girl I was talking with the other night said that her family in Japan wasn’t very pleased with a couple of her family members when they married Westerners, and this was sort of evident in their dispositions when she first met them.

Anyway, if any of you reading are ever curious about Japan itself and not all the random thoughts that go through my head while I’m on the train, do check out Alice’s blog. She’s well-written and explores the strange and wonderful things that make living in Japan for the first time such an interesting experience. And please, if you’re ever curious about something in Japan and want my perspective, do ask 🙂

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