Archive for the 'Japan' Category

Expensive Fruit

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

When I’m travelling I’m often asked about life in Japan and one of things that surprises people most is the cost of fruit.  Not all fruit in Japan is incredibly expensive but fruit given as a gift or fruit that’s just come into season is.  I had told people in Orlando that I expected pears to arrive in the stores soon and that they would probably be around $5 each but the first pears of the season are just over $7 each this year.

First Pears of the Season

My local department store also had a gift fruit section that contains mangoes that cost around $40 each. As you can imagine I won’t be buying pears or mangoes any time soon.

Mangoes - an expensive gift

Japanese Language Proficiency Test

Monday, July 7th, 2014

Yesterday afternoon I got to experience one of the more annoying things about Japan – rules. I have sat many exams but I have never sat exams with as many rules as the ones run by the Japan Foundation and Japan Educational Exchanges and Services.  The three papers lasted 2 hours and 5 minutes in total and another hour was spent listening to rules.  No-one could have that many new rules – this was much worse.  It was the same 15 minutes of rules read out 4 times during the afternoon.  The rules were exciting things like -  do not speak during the exam, if your phone rings you will be given a red card, if an alarm goes off on your watch you will be given a red card, if you do not put your pencil down when instructed you will be given a yellow card, you can place an eraser on your desk but it must be taken out of its box, if you blah blah blah…   A yellow card was a warning, two yellows equaled a red, and being given a red card meant you had to leave the test centre immediately and that your paper would not be marked.  I had to stop myself from laughing at the way they held up the card and paused each time they read out a rule that invoked the use of one.

The most confusing rule involved an envelope that was on each desk.  You had to place your mobile phone inside the envelope.  I thought this meant that they were going to collect them but they just wanted it placed in an envelope and put on the empty desk beside the one you were sitting at.  At first I think many people were just going to ignore the rule and leave their phones in their bag but if you were caught doing this you would be given a red card and would have to leave the test centre immediately.

We only had one rule breaker.  There was no clock in the room so I think that people were surprised by the  “pencils down” command when it was given at the end of the first paper.  One student continued to write, but he was given a yellow card for doing this.  I was pleased that the rules were upheld.  I would have been so annoyed if we were allowed to break them after having to listen to them so often.


Snow Monkeys

Sunday, May 25th, 2014

Last weekend we took a day trip to Jigokudani Yaen Koen to see the troop of wild Japanese macaques that live there.  We had a fantastic day.

Winter is over, so no snow, but lots of baby monkeys.

Winter is over, so no snow, but lots of baby monkeys.

Great Gift

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

My favourite type of sushi is “aburi hotate”(炙りホタテ), scallops cooked with a flame.   Scallops are expensive and having the sushi chef use a blow torch adds a 100 円 (about $1) a plate to the cost.  I used to eat these these about once a week but now I get to eat them every other day thanks to one of my favourite Christmas gifts. I love my blowtorch.  Not only do I get to eat one of my favourite things, I get to have fun making them.

Blowtorched Sushi!

Blowtorched Sushi!


Early Wake-up Call

Monday, May 5th, 2014

When I first moved to Japan earthquakes didn’t bother me much.  There were many of them and they didn’t really do anything apart from make everything shake.  But that all changed with the Tohoku Earthquake in 2011.  Now I’m very aware of the horror a quake can cause.  This morning shortly after 5am we experienced the strongest quake to shake Tokyo since 2011.  And it really wasn’t pleasant.  I think part of the problem is that I feel trapped when the building starts to shake.  There isn’t anywhere you can go as you certainly shouldn’t try to leave.  But when the building is jolted and swaying it feels unnatural to stay inside.  I want out.  The other issue is the uncertainty.  You can’t easily tell anything much other than the fact the earthquake is big. The earthquake this morning had a magnitude of 6.2 and was felt at either a weak 5 or a 4 in this area.  So, it was certainly big enough to to make me feel slightly panicked.

The earthquake got us out of bed when the emergency alarm system started.  The local government disaster administration wireless broadcast is tested everyday at 5pm, but it is tested with music.  This morning, when they used words, we had no idea what was being said.  It echoed and distorted off the buildings.  For all I know it was saying “we come in peace” but since we couldn’t understand it we turned on the T.V. and listened to the announcements.  The T.V. presenter looked nervous but things quickly calmed down and thankfully there was no tsunami warning.

I mostly enjoy living in Japan but I now have nightmares about earthquakes.

Greenery Day

Sunday, May 4th, 2014

It’s Golden Week in Japan – the name given to a group of national holidays that occur close together.  Today was Greenery Day.  I think it’s a day when you are supposed to spend time with nature, but the closest I got to anything green today was on my lunch plate.  We did consider going out but the horrible thing about national holidays in Japan is that the whole country goes out for the day.  Tomorrow I’ll at least brave the crowds at the supermarket as we’ve run out of green thing to eat.

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