Monday, July 30, 2012

Going Home

So Ben and I are going back to the states for a few weeks, for our wedding!
We'll be in the states for most of the month of August. We're really excited about going home. We miss our friends and family. We also miss things...

Here is our top 10 of things we miss here in Japan
10. Chocolate Chip Cookies- I have never been anywhere outside of the US that had chocolate chip cookies (chips ahoy don't count) melted chocolate in a gooey cookie... drool.
9. The Food Network (and really stupid TV in English in general)-All the TV here is in Japanese
8. Good Toothpaste-toothpaste here does nothing, my breath is bad, and my teeth feel (and look) gross, we have tried every imaginable brand here, and even tried the $6 a tube stuff
7. Jokes-Our Japanese is not good enough to understand or tell jokes
6. Cheap Transportation- It costs a minimum of 400 yen per person for us to get out of town and do something, unfortunately that is a huge sum, and really deters us from many of the adventures we want to do.
5. PDA-It is taboo to hold hands here in Japan. Anything more intimate then just holing hands is even more taboo. Ben and I have been to some beautiful places here, and I really just want to hold his hand.
4. Movies-There are no places to rent movies in our city, and the nearest theater to us costs 3200 yen for a couple ($38)
3. Barefoot- I hate wearing shoes, but even in other peoples houses it's really taboo to go barefoot
2. Spicy food- Herbs, salsa, chili peppers, curries, all the food here is pretty much Japanese (or it has been Japanified) it's very flavorful and nice, BUT THEY HAVE NO HERBS.
1. The Rainbow of People- People in America come in every color and shape, I really miss not being pre-judged based on my genetics. I am aware that they are often just trying to be accommodating and polite, but it is a constant reminder that I do not belong.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Feeling Awesome

Today happened on accident. And it was an awesome happy accident.
It has been brain meltingly hot, and Ben and my air conditioner is pathetic and can barely cool one of our rooms to the point of near comfort.
Our one and only thought as to what we wanted to do today was we wanted to be in air conditioning. So we went to Shinjuku, which is basically a mini city of malls. It was the perfect choice.
We arrived in Shinjuku at around lunch time, and we repeated an old favorite meal there, smoked ramen. It was even better than we remembered, which started our day on a high note.

It is the end of the month, and Ben and I are both 24 years old, which means we have (almost) no money. So we weren't so much shopping as just appreciating Japan (and AC).

I did end up buying a pair of shorts, partially because the heat lately has turned me into a nearly nudist zombie. Now that I am on vacation I pick my outfits almost solely how cool they will keep me. I also bought the shorts because I am finally to the point in my weight loss journey where I look at myself in the mirror and think "Yeah Katie, you can turn a few heads today".

Ben also got something... but before I tell you what he got I want to preface it. Ben and I are both fresh out of college, and to us that means we're now grown ups. More "grown up" grown ups seam to disagree with us, and still treat us like kids, but we feel pretty grown up now. With Ben's transition to adulthood has come a change in wardrobe, worn out band T-Shirts have been replaced with button ups, and torn up jeans have been replaced by much (much...wink) more flattering pants. Japanese men actually pay attention to how they look, and Ben has been highly influenced by this. His wardrobe has also been reenforced by the fact that people in our town frequently tell him how handsome he is, which I wholeheartedly agree with. So as a symbol of feeling mature and studly, he bought himself a murse.

Ben and I are lucky that we went to Shinjuku today because we came upon a festival. It was fun.  It started out as mostly just cute kids doing parades and dances, but transitioned into old people (and Ben) doing odd dances. It was outstandingly fun.
Ben and I felt really awesome today, and glad to be in Japan.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Rose Garden

The other day when we were in Ibaraki, we went to a rose garden. It was very lovely, but my favorite moment was running into two girls in cosplay who were just as eager to take a picture of me as I was to take a picture of them.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Studio Ghibli

Studio Ghibli is an animation company here in Japan. The movies are incredibly popular, in Japan, and even around the world. The films are critically acclaimed world wide, Spirited Away (released in 2001) won an academy award for best animated film.

The films are infamous for deeply developed characters, antagonists and protagonists, and fully fleshed alternate worlds.
I love the films, my favorites are Howls Moving Castle, Whispers of the Heart, and Princess Mononke.

Today Ben and I went to the Studio Ghibli Museum. It was absolutely amazing. It was like stepping into an alternate universe. No phones or photography were allowed inside, which added to the magic, it was so easy to forget about the outside world.There were moving pictures, and stain glass. There were windows that looked out onto magical worlds. There were strips of film that ran like mystical snakes through the rooms and projected a film in  at 20 different places in 20 different directions so that you could start at what ever part you wanted, or just watch the film slide by like a magical snake. Nothing felt real. I felt like I had stepped into a place on earth where every era and place, past, present and future where refined to only the best, it felt like a cozy cottage, but also like a time machine.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Walking Bikes, Solar Power, and Dancing Singing Robots

Today was sensational.
Ben and I drove up to Ibaraki today to visit the Itohs again. We came just in time for the Tsucuba institute of science and technologies science fair, and it was unbelievable.
We saw the future, and is was awesome!
We saw practical things like photocatalyst water filters. They are intended for use in developing countries where access to clean drinking water is very limited.

We saw amazing medical inventions, heart pumps, and blood pressure monitors that use only sound waves to test both your blood pressure, and arterial rigidity.

We saw demonstrations of how the land, and water are affected during earth quakes, and we saw excavated slabs of earth that showed how the below us is in constant motion (tectonic plates, lava, and underground water).

We saw advanced technologies for disables persons, including robotic hands that can lift beverages (even beverages in fragile or flexible containers) and assist with eating. We saw wheel chairs that had amazing maneuverability.

We rode bikes that you peddle in a walking motion, as opposed to a circular motion. It felt much more comfortable to me. People with bad knees find this style of bicycle to be far less painful, and it does not damage the knees as much as traditional bicycles. It was really fun, and surprisingly easy.

The coolest part though was the robots!
There was a 1 foot tall robot that could play soccer.

There was a robot that you could have conversations with, and had surprisingly natural facial expressions (though jerky head motions).

And then there was the dancing singing robot!! It was so cool. In fact Obama met this robot during a visit to Japan.

Please enjoy my videos, (and the better quality videos of other people).

Friday, July 20, 2012

Driving on the Left

In Japan they drive on the other side of the road. So how's my driving? Just fine, the steering wheel is on the other side so my brain auto adjusted (haha pun).
The problem is my brain has adjusted something else, the words left and right. Without fail, if Ben says turn right, I turn left. I've been driving since April and I cannot get over this brain tangle. Ben and my solution? He now says hidari and migi (the Japanese words for left and right).

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Goodbye Dinner

Last night was the last night for the English club to see Luisa, (another ALT in town). She is an incredibly kind person, one of those people that make the world a better place just by existing. We had dinner in Fujino, and it was delicious. She was a great teacher in English club, and had many nice "homeworks" and spoke very clearly. I know she was great as an ALT, she had the perfect demeanor for being a teacher. I am excited for her to embark on the next chapter of her life, but wish that we had more time to get to know her.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Towels are a very important part of everyday life in Japan. Especially in the summer.
Japanese bathrooms, in general, don't have anything to dry your hands with, so instead you carry your own hand towel (super environmental I might add). This is the hand towel's primary use in Japan, but as it gets hotter, there are more and more functions.

Hand towels have now mostly become sweat absorbers. It is so hot and so humid, that even doing mundane tasks like writing on the chalkboard breaks me into a dripping sweat. Sweat does not evaporate here, it will build on your skin until it slides off. Hand towels are used to dab the sweat, especially off the forehead, and the mustache area.
Larger towels are often tied around the head, or around the neck to absorb the sweat.
There are specialized towels just for the heat of summer which even include a space for an icepack. It looks funny to see people wearing scarves in the middle of summer. I let the reminder of winter help cool me down.

Monday, July 16, 2012


Today Ben and I went to a BBQ, it was very fun. It was a going away party for an ALT who is leaving at the end of this term, it was very fun.
The best part was the watermelon. Japanese people treat it as if it were a piñata. We took a wooden sword, put on a blind fold, were spun around until dizzy, and then aimed at the general direction of the watermelon. It was very fun. I think this is the way watermelon should always be treated. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Salad with Breaded Chicken and Wasabi Mayonaise

This is Ben and my epitome of cross cultural cuisine. I'm sure we're not the first people to invent this recipe, but I though I would share it anyways. The Japanese part of the cuisine is really just the ingredients (though you can easily find all the ingredients anywhere), the preparation is entirely western.

3 components
Really anything goes here but I definitely recommend having cucumber in it, it just goes so well with wasabi.

Salad Dressing
Rice vinegar
Wasabi Powder

Place about 1/2 table spoon of wasabi powder in a bowl, add just enough rice vinegar to turn it into a green syrupy liquid. Add mayonaise to taste (for those of you who don't like spicy food, add enough mayonaise that the dressing is nearly white, about 5 tablespoon, the wasabi will actually taste fairly sweet but aromatic at that point)

2 Chicken Breasts
1 Egg
Dried bread crumbs (We like panko; Japanese bread crumbs and they are easy to find in America, they have a crunchier texture )

Make sure your chicken is skinless and boneless.
Mix liberal amounts of salt and pepper into your bread crumbs. Put the egg in a shallow bowl, and beat till the eggs are a fairly consistent texture.
Flour the chicken. Wash the chicken in the beaten eggs. Then Coat with panko mixture.
In a lightly oiled and heated skillet, place the chicken breasts. Saute on each side until the panko gains some color.
Crisp up the breading by putting it in a broiler (or heated oven) for a few minutes.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Shampoo and Contitioner

Japanese hair is much thicker, and courser then normal caucasian hair. It stands to reason that their shampoos would be designed to fit different needs. Most Japanese shampoos make my hair look incredibly greasy, and gross. I have found through trial and error that products labeled super mild, or baby shampoo's work great.
My favorite shampoo here is Shiseido Super Mild.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


 "Can you eat Natto?"
I hear this question so often it makes my skin itch. In Japanese english speaking culture they ask can you eat something, not do you like something. Unless you are allergic to Soy, you can eat Natto, but most foreigners don't like it. In fact the first time Ben ate it he gagged. He hates the stuff.
Natto is fermented soy beans. It is sticky, and when you eat it little stretchy strings form and goo (think of melted cheese on pizza). It smells like ripe cheese, and has a very unique flavor.I decided that I was going to eat natto because of all the health benefits.
Some of the verified health benefits are:
High in Vitamin K-Important for the growth of bone, and prevention of osteoporosis.
Linked to the prevention of clots, and thrombosis.
Assists in allergy recovery.
Lowers Cholesterol.

I really like natto now. I've developed a taste for it. I like to put mayonaise,  egg,  green onions, or sriracha sauce in it. I eat a little cup of it everyday. Japanese food is very constipating, so eating natto helps...move things along. Ben still looks at me like I've sprouted antennae every time I eat it, I'll convert him eventually.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Wedding Gift

Roses are Red, 
Violets are Blue,
This gift was so sweet
It made my heart goo...
I'm getting married to Ben this summer! 
Last week I told my students that I was getting married this summer. They were all very excited for me. 
This week as a surprise the 5th and 6th years at one of my elementary schools made me a gift. They presented it to me by all standing and saying in unison "Congratulations for you wedding." They had poppers and confetti, it was very exciting. 
I absolutely love it, it's definitely one of my favorite gifts I have ever received.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Pan is the Japanese term for bread, An is red bean paste, Anpan is bread filled with red bean paste, and Anpanman is....
A super hero who's head is made out of Anpan. 
He is the main character of one the most popular children's shows here in Japan. 

The story of Anpanman:
One day Uncle Jam was baking Anpan, when a shooting star came down from the heavens into his oven. The magic of the situation created Anpanman.  He is very kind, and he always tries to help the people around him. If someone is hurt or hungry, Anpanman will offer them a piece of his head. Anpanman's weaknesses are water or anything that makes him dirty. If Anpanman gets dirty, or hurt Uncle Jam bakes him a new head. Once the new head is placed upon his shoulders, the old head flies off his shoulders, and Anpanman is revitalized. 
Anpanman and his nemesis Bakinman 
Anpanman's nemesis is Bakinman (Bacteria man), his goal is to beat Anpanman and spread disease all over the world. He usually is portrayed as a mischievous bully. 

Nearly all the characters on the show are made of some sort of food. The show is very sweet, even as an adult I spend many evenings rooting for Anpanman. The stories are cute, and the characters are good role models for children. I like to watch the show, because it is my level of Japanese. 

All my students know and love Anpanman. The younger kids wear Anpanman T-Shirts, and have Anpanman backpacks. Nearly anything worth buying in Japan can be found in a plain version, a Hello Kitty version, and an Anpanman version.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Log riding - Onbashira Festival

Todays post is connected to yesterdays trip to Suwa. Connected with the shrine we visited yesterday is the tradition of cramming a bunch of men onto a log, and then yanking that log down a hill. It's absurd, and dangerrous, in fact it"s absurdly dangerous.
Many people have died, and many more are badly injured, but the tradition survives. It has been around for more then 1200 years, and is due occur again in 2016. 
The log riding is one of several parts of a ceremony of renewing the shrine.
Stages of this tradition are as follows:
Caring for and grooming the tree
Creating the tools for cutting down the tree
Cutting down the tree
Bringing the tree across the rough terrain back to the shrine (and hence the log riding)
Raising the tree/pillar by hand

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Shrine, A Swamp, A Castle, A Geyser

View Larger Map
Ben and I went on a field trip with the Uenohara English Conversation Club today. It was a perfect day for a feild trip and we had an amazing time. We went to Suwa, in the prefecture of Nagano, it was about a 2 hour drive, and worth every minute.
Our first stop was Suwa-Taisha Shrine. Today was considered a lucky day, so we were able to see two weddings. Traditional shinto weddings are quite somber. Everyone is suppose to wear all black, except the bride, who wears all white. All the attendants of the wedding maintain a very serious face, and their are many processionals throughout the ceremony. The bride begins the ceremony in a hood, which hides her horns of jealousy from the gods, and demonstrate that she is a maiden fit to be married. During the ceremony the bride and groom observe a tradition called san-san-kudo, where they drink 3 glasses of sake 3 times together (a total of 9 glasses of sake). I really have no idea how walk in their traditional shoes, let alone stay sombre after that many drinks. 
After the shrine we went to a swamp. It was beautiful and serene. The clouds were changing above us so quickly, that it was almost dizzying.  The rolling hills and warm sun were positively spectacular.

After the swamp we went to Takagima castle. It looked how I pictured Japan before coming here. It was grand, angular, and exotic. The gardens surrounding it were lovely. They were manicured to perfection, and had a perfect balance of sun exposure, and cool shade.


After the castle we visited a geyser near Suwa Lake. I love geysers, and I don't think I'll ever grow out of the anticipation and excitement cycles I always feel. They are like natures fireworks. Geysers are one of those things that taking pictures only detracts from the experience, so instead I leave you with a picture being exactly a boy.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

7th day of the 7th month

Their was a Tanabata festival in town today. It was very fun, there were game booths, and lots of food.  There were fish catching statioins, where people could win the fish they caught. I got a shaved ice (they are really good, nothing like the terrible ones at home). Ben got a special soda which was like sprite with melon syrup in it. We got a gift of two lanterns, which was really nice, I think we were given the lanterns because we were a cute couple.

Fish booth
It was very difficult for Ben and I to get around because everywhere we went we saw students who were ecstatic that we were there. We stopped and talked to most of them, which was fun. Many of their parents were excited to see us as well. Many of them were wearing traditional Japanese style festival clothes, they were very cute.
We had a great time, unfortunately it started pouring. The festival was only a couple of blocks away from our house, so we just went home, our students thought it was so funny to see us walking home soaking wet.
The story of Tanabata
Orihime (織姫 Weaving Princess), daughter of the Tentei (天帝 Sky King, or the universe itself), wove beautiful clothes by the bank of the Amanogawa (天の川 Milky Way, lit. "heavenly river"). Her father loved the cloth that she wove and so she worked very hard every day to weave it. However, Orihime was sad that because of her hard work she could never meet and fall in love with anyone. Concerned about his daughter, Tentei arranged for her to meet Hikoboshi (彦星 Cow Herder Star) who lived and worked on the other side of the Amanogawa. When the two met, they fell instantly in love with each other and married shortly thereafter. However, once married, Orihime no longer would weave cloth for Tentei and Hikoboshi allowed his cows to stray all over Heaven. In anger, Tentei separated the two lovers across the Amanogawa and forbade them to meet. Orihime became despondent at the loss of her husband and asked her father to let them meet again. Tentei was moved by his daughter’s tears and allowed the two to meet on the 7th day of the 7th month if she worked hard and finished her weaving. The first time they tried to meet, however, they found that they could not cross the river because there was no bridge. Orihime cried so much that a flock of magpies came and promised to make a bridge with their wings so that she could cross the river. It is said that if it rains on Tanabata, the magpies cannot come and the two lovers must wait until another year to meet.