This will be my 8th Christmas in Japan and it still feels bizarre. Holiday traditions were a much bigger part of my life in Northern Ireland than I realised. I know that things can’t be the same here in Japan but there are still things I miss.
I miss singing carols and Christmas songs. I always went to church over the Christmas holidays and as a child I used to go carol singing. I loved how it felt to be outside singing in the cold and dark on Christmas Eve. Here I still listen to Christmas music but to sing it I go to karaoke. We did that during the week and it would have been more fun if we hadn’t got stressed out by Japanese questions that we couldn’t understand. I still don’t know what the question was but the man behind us in the queue said in English that they wanted to check that I was over 20… I got carded at karaoke!
Food is a really big part of any holiday and I happen to love Christmas food. Japanese food is great but not christmassy at all. I do cook and I can make nearly every Christmas thing I like to eat if only I had the ingredients. None of my recipe books on how to make the perfect Christmas dinner deal with ingredient substitution or problems like baking in a small electric oven. In Japan turkey is an expensive frozen food that you can get from themeatguy or foreign supermarkets. Christmas cake is a white sponge and covered in cream and fresh strawberries and doesn’t contain dried fruit, marzipan, and icing. I did want to bake some cakes that don’t have fruit but there is a butter shortage in Tokyo. It’s not all bad, one of my friends sent me some Dutch Christmas food and I’ve been enjoying eating that in the evenings.
I miss my Christmas Eve party and having friends over to wrap presents. Now most of my Christmas shopping is done online and Amazon wraps my presents for me. I did still wrap quite a few things this year and I brought jumbo rolls back from Northern Ireland to do it. Japanese wrapping paper is beautiful but it tends to be more suited to wrapping books or DVDs than it does bulky PJs or toys in large boxes. I do still have parties at Christmas but they have to take place on the weekends around the holiday and don’t always involve Christmas food.
Some of the changes have nothing to do with living in Japan, just the changing times. In December I saw a copy of the Christmas Radio Times and I was overcome with nostalgia. As a child I loved to read that and the T.V. Times as it told me what films we could watch at Christmas time. Now I am spending time on iTunes downloading the T.V. series that we want to catch up on over the holidays (Dr Who Season 8) and have bought movies on Blu-Ray to watch. Watching T.V. wasn’t even a consideration. I suppose T.V. being in Japanese doesn’t help but browsing T.V. channels is not something I really do.
Even though things are different I still love the holiday season and I’m going to enjoy the Christmas week. And this year, thanks to Marty’s Christmas present, I won’t have to dream of a white Christmas.. . .
I travel a lot and have gotten really good at packing. But I still suck at unpacking. Mind you I’m not sure that there are unpacking tips. It’s a boring task that involves making sure everything is put away properly so that I can be good at packing for my next trip. I’ve been home nearly a week and I’m not finished. The cables and chargers will have to wait until tomorrow as the six currencies that I sorted through this morning have killed my desire to sort out anything else.
I’m sure I’ll be finished before I have to fly again next Monday…. . .
Fast food companies in Japan have thrown themselves into turning Christmas into a commercial holiday. This year’s food offering from Burger King doesn’t appeal to me as much as the “traditional” KFC one and it’s not just because of the terrible pun. And really “mush” is an awful thing to shorten mushroom to if you want me to eat your food.
I’m a little horrified that I live in a country that is trying to turn fast food into a Christmas tradition.
. . .
It’s December and time for my annual moan about the cold. I arrived home last night to find that Tokyo has become just as cold as Ireland. I like to tease my Mum about how cold her house is but I will admit that I miss the electric blanket I used there. At the minute I’m sitting on my heated floor wearing fluffy PJs and wrapped in a fluffy blanket and I am still not warm. Once I get warm enough to put down my lapwarmer / laptop I’m going to put up the Christmas Tree. And even if it’s cold I’m happy to be home.. . .
I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up but I always knew that I wanted to travel. Seeing new parts of the world is still as enjoyable as I imagined but I didn’t realise that travel would also be tiring. I’m impatient to get home.
As I have just spent a month in Australia and New Zealand I keep getting asked what they are like but I haven’t been able to find a quick way to describe them. They are beautiful though and I would certainly go back to both.
. . .
I often think that I should blog more though I’m not completely sure why. I don’t think that people care that much if I blog or not but I have a desire to communicate and sometimes I do this through writing. I have noticed that when I am travelling all the extra time I spend talking gives me very little time to write. Those conversations I have with other people are more important than the one I have here. In the past week I have had long conversations with strangers on planes. I have been told tales of life in the Middle East, of life in Japan in the 90s, and of growing up in America during the Cold War. Even though everyone I spoke to came from a different culture their stories were threaded with experiences of life and family that I could relate to. Thanks to them my long journeys were not boring.
I will be travelling until the 9th December. Today I am in the Netherlands. So far it has been a perfectly peaceful morning.. . .
I have been trying to get into a routine of exercising everyday. I thought I would try to exercise for at least 30 minutes for 30 days and I have managed to do that. I have been using a pedometer to monitor my walking and yesterday I broke my step record and walked for 46,012 steps (21.52 miles) taking my 7 day total to 152,522 steps. I had wanted to walk further yesterday but my feet let me down. Between blisters and having someone stand on one of my feet by accident it was not sensible to try to walk the 30 miles I had planned, but I’ll certainly try that walk again once the weather gets cooler and I have better clothes to wear.. . .
Seems that Midtown has a new guest this month.
. . .
On Saturday evening, as part of Obon, we walked down the river to see the release of about 2,500 floating candle-lit lanterns.
Japan Times described the event as:
A hauntingly beautiful sight, the peaceful custom is a gesture of respect for those who have passed away and gives participants a moment to think about their ancestors, loved ones or even past pets.
It is easy to imagine that thousands of floating lanterns would be a peaceful sight, but the event wasn’t really like that. When we arrived there were thousands of people in Asakusa. I had expected things to be more sombre but the atmosphere was much more relaxed with a party feel. If you planned to release a lantern you had to queue for quite a while as they were released one at a time down what looked like a mini aqueduct.
We never got to see large number of lanterns on the river but it was still beautiful and I found the event fascinating and would certainly go to see it again.
The best viewing point for the event is on the Azuma-bashi Bridge and after watching the release of the lanterns we considered joining the crowds there. Once we got closer we released that people were only watching the lanterns approach the bridge and that the other side of the bridge was mostly empty. We went to the empty side as we assumed that we could watch the lanterns continue on down the river towards the sea. But no, there were very few lanterns there. In hindsight it made sense that these lanterns would be considered rubbish that would pollute the river but it was a little shocking to see groups of people in speedboats catching the lanterns in nets and putting them out.. . .
People often ask me questions about my life in Japan with the sound of excitement in their voices. “Oh it must be fantastic to live there”, “your life must be so interesting”… When really my life is full of normal things that become difficult because of culture and language. Today I tried to go to the gym. It really should not have been difficult but I only know of one way in and it’s via an elevator which was not working. After pushing buttons a number of times like an idiot I finally worked out that the recorded voice was telling me that the elevator was not going to the 3rd or 4th floor. Once I got outside the lift I saw a printed sign with instructions on how to get to the gym if the elevator was not working. I was too embarrassed to spend 5 minutes reading this so I took a picture and wandered off to somewhere less public to read it.
After working out the meaning of the instructions I did eventually find my way into the gym only to discover it was closed for Obon. I’m aware that the festival takes place at some point in the middle of August but it’s not a national holiday and it never occurred to me that lots of businesses would close for the week. So 30 minutes after I left the apartment building I went back to use the small gym there. But first I had to rest because I was so hot and sticky from the humidity outside. The gym in my building is not great. It contains 3 treadmills, 3 bikes, and an area for stretching with gym balls, mats, and stretch rollers. I spent an hour on the treadmill and 20 minutes on a bike. It was not easy in the heat and I sweated most of my life force away in order to burn around 500 calories.
I had wanted to go to the gym to lift weights but I still had to do something when that failed. I’m really making an effort with exercise as my thyroid function is continuing to decline and my medication has been increased again. I was told at the hospital yesterday that it’s going to be incredibly hard for me to lose weight with my current hormone levels but I’m going to keep trying. It will take at least 6 weeks for the change in medication to have any effect but I really don’t want to gain any more weight.. . .