Archive for the 'Japan' Category

Tour Guide

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

We have had visitors for a couple of weeks and I spent quite a bit of my time attempting to be a tour guide.  I’m not always good at it.  I walk too fast, walk too far, and sometimes walk to places that aren’t open.  But I had fun and I got to see some new places in Japan.

Hakone Open Air Museum

Hakone Open Air Museum



Back to School

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

I am back to school and back to struggling with Japanese again.  The first class of the new term was terrible as I found it incredibly hard to understand the new grammar.  The lesson also contained about 200 new words that I did not know.  In my first few terms every new verb and noun was explained in class, but not any more.  Now that I am considered to be an intermediate student I am expected to go through all the class material in advance and look up the meaning of anything I don’t understand.  I am also allowed to use a dictionary in class.  This does mean that the classes progress faster as explaining every new verb in Japanese using words that we have been taught before is time consuming.  But it also means spending many more hours a day studying by myself.

I am managing to keep up with homework, kanji, essay writing, and grammar but I am not good enough at conversation.  I have a good memory, so I can memorize the weekly conversations we are expected to learn by heart, but my general conversation ability in class is low.  I have a disadvantage.  Everyone else in my class lives with someone who is a native Japanese speaker.  The women who sits beside me is Chinese and she only communicates in Japan in Japanese because her husband and his family don’t understand any Chinese.  I rarely communicate in Japanese and my fellow students were surprised to discover that I was not married to a Japanese man.  It seems that the only reasons they could come up with for a woman living in Japan for this long was that she was married to a Japanese man or that she taught English.  And since neither of these things is true for me I get to remain mysterious.  Aided by the fact I find it hard to explain my situation in Japanese so I don’t always try.

Today I am working on kanji.  This week’s kanji is much too difficult to remember as all the words are new and the concepts are a little confusing.  There are far too many ways to describe construction and building in Japanese.  Of course there are many ways in English too but today it’s Japanese I am sulking with.


Christmas Lunch

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

Christmas Day is not a holiday in Japan.  Even though I have been here for 7 years it still feels odd not having a traditional Christmas with traditional food.  I have been able to buy a turkey and ham and we are going to cook those for our friends at the weekend.  We would have done this sooner but Marty is working all week.

Yesterday, I went Marty’s work to meet him for lunch.  We didn’t try to find anything Western to eat and went out for my favourite sushi.  It’s an odd looking Christmas lunch but it tasted amazing.

Christmas Day Lunch in Tokyo

Christmas Day Lunch in Tokyo

Gluten Free Bread Found in Tokyo

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

I had never managed to buy gluten-free bread in Japan.  There are shops that sell bread made with rice flour but any I have seen also contain wheat flour. Yesterday, when I was out looking for cranberries, I came across gluten-free bread.  I was stunned to see the bread and then I saw a whole shelf of gluten-free products.  The biscuits cost more than $10 a packet, so I didn’t buy them, but it was great to see that I had the option.  The bread I bought is made with rice flour and states clearly on it that it is gluten-free.  It was in the freezer in the store, and was still rather hard when I defrosted it, but it made great stuffing.

I was shopping in Nissin World Delicatessen in Higashi-azabu.  It can be expensive, but it is sometimes the only place to buy certain foreign food.  Like parsnips, which I do miss.  But I didn’t buy the ones I saw yesterday as the concept of paying up to 1,000 円 ($10, £6) for a single parsnip is outrageous.

I managed to take a blurry picture of the shelf of gluten-free products, but if anyone is interested, blurry or not, it gives you an idea of what you can buy.

Gluten Free Products

Gluten Free Products

I Will Smile in Autumn

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

I noticed an odd thing today – no one was smiling.  I’m used to people smiling in greeting but today everyone looked miserable.  And then I realised so did I. Every time I step outside I have to brace myself for the wall of heat.  I carry water, a parasol, a fan, and a cloth everywhere I go.  I have to wipe sweat off my face when I get onto the train and I spend most of my time outside feeling sticky and disgusting.  I’m wilting in the heat and so is everyone else I meet.

Of course it’s been like this for months so what changed today?  I blame it on the silly notion that autumn starts in September in Tokyo.  My teacher has been talking about this in school for the past week, I’m seeing ads for autumn food and drink, and I get asked what I’m going to do now that summer is over. All this talk of autumn brings thoughts of cooler days but the weather at the minute is exactly the same as the weather last week.  I have been told many times that Japan has four seasons, I’ve even had to read an essay on this, and I get asked if there are four seasons in my country.  It seems that seasons are a thing to be proud of and here they long for them to last a perfect three months.  I imagine that in some parts of the country they do but having lived in Tokyo for nearly 7 years now I know that my concept of autumn isn’t really going to start here until around November.  At that point it will be cooler and the leaves in Tokyo will start to change to a bright yellow or red.  Last year the peak autumn leaf viewing time in Tokyo was the first week of December, which I have been told is winter.

I want the weather to dictate the seasons and not the calendar.


Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

My sister Christine and her daughter Naomi are visiting.  This does mean that I’ll be out and about quite a bit in the next week or so.  We won’t be going too far away from Tokyo but we did drive to Hakone on Saturday.  It’s a beautiful area even on a day that isn’t that clear.

View of Hakone

View of Hakone

Today I am going to the zoo, if only I could figure out how to get a teenage girl out of bed…

Food, Glorious Food

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

Fruit is expensive in Tokyo.  I am tormented when I enter the store by the smell of peaches but I don’t want them badly enough to pay 780 Yen ($8, £5.20) for one.  They will come down in price but by then it will be the pears that mock me with their perfection and ridiculous prices.   I always check the price of fruit before I buy it but I should remember that tomatoes are also a fruit.  Yesterday I was in a hurry and I nearly bought the wrong tomatoes.  They were 980 Yen ($10, £6.50) for a packet of five medium sized tomatoes.  I was horrified.  I assume that there is something special about them but they didn’t look particularly good.  I think I’ll be waiting a while before I make tomato soup again.

Expensive Tomatoes

Expensive Tomatoes



Past Week

Monday, June 24th, 2013

I always have great plans to blog when I get home from travelling, but I find it hard to think of things to write about.  When I tell people outside Japan where I live they often ask what it is like to live somewhere so exotic.  While there is no doubt that I find lots of things about Japan strange and interesting my day to day life is not that different from the life I lived in Northern Ireland.  I cook, clean, study, and spend most of my time doing things that are anything but exotic.

The past week has been a quiet one.  I didn’t feel overly well at the weekend so we stayed at home.  I did make it to the cinema during the week to see The Great Gatsby, but I couldn’t think of anyone to go with.  So, for the first time, I went to the cinema alone.  There seems to be some sort of stigma about doing this and I’m not really sure why.  After all, it’s not like you talk to your friends during a movie.  The only odd thing that happened was realising that there is a 3D version of this movie.  What is the fascination with 3D movies?  I don’t like them.  They cause strain on my eyes and I don’t need things to jump out of the screen at me.  Thankfully I got to see the 2D version.

In other exciting household news I found a new recipe for using up spare egg whites.  The coconut and chocolate macaroons were very good and I will certainly make them again.  They were also very easy to make gluten-free by substituting the small amount of flour used in the recipe with rice flour.

On the study front I completely failed at reviewing my Japanese but I did sign up for Heroku and wrote my first node.js program.

Summer is Coming

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

Every day it gets a little hotter.  I have all my doors open but there is no breeze and it’s becoming unbearably sticky inside the apartment. The city is dull, grey, and waiting on rain.  Summer would be so much nicer if the sky was blue, but it’s going to be overcast for months.

I was given an early birthday present from one of my Japanese friends.  At first I wasn’t sure what it was and I thought it was a set of chopstick holders.  But it’s an ornament to display somewhere.  She bought it so that I could look at it and feel cooler during the hot days of summer.  The penguins certainly make me smile.


Cool Penguins

Cool Penguins


Thursday, June 13th, 2013

It’s been raining for the past few days.  It’s the sort of rain that reminds me of Ireland, a light rain that’s on and off for most of the day.  Soon the rainy season will begin and that won’t be so pleasant as the rain will be torrential.  I have been meaning to get back into my exercise routine but I don’t feel like going back to the gym just yet.  Since the weather is pleasant I decided to walk in the rain instead.  I live beside a river with an excellent walking route that I’ve walked many times.  But yesterday for the first time I saw a crab.

I was walking close to the water when something skittered across the path.  I was alarmed, as I thought it was a giant insect, but then I realised it was a crab. I have seen crabs before in other places, but not that often.  I tried to get closer to the crab, but I think I scared it more than it scared me, and it ran away into the long grass.  When I got closer to the grass I realised that it was crawling with crabs.  There were hundreds of them all frantically moving around.  I tried to take pictures but they really do move quickly.

At first I was fascinated but then they began to look more like insects with very sharp claws.  The more I looked at them the more I thought of horror stories (I shouldn’t be allowed to read Stephen King and Dean Koontz).  They looked creepy with their strange eyes on stalks and the thought of them getting close to me was making me feel odd so I continued with my walk and moved a bit further away from the river bank.

I told Marty about them, so maybe I’ll be brave and go back at the weekend so that he can see the crabs and protect me – from the madness in my head.

Crab at Sumida River