Friday, August 31, 2012

Town Festival

The first weekend of September is our town's festival. We are very excited. 
The whole town is decked out, and smells like insence and fire. We're so excited for the festivities.
I will be late on the post. Ben and I will be out really late. The next post will be all about our towns festival though.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Back at it

It doesn't feel like we've only been back for a week. We've easily slid back into the groove. Classes are going well, we're enjoying walking again, and Ben and I are fighting with our air conditioner (it screams at us... we can't decide whether 34 degrees (93 F) is hot enough to tolerate the very loud screeching noise it makes).
Tonight we went to English club, it was great to see all our friends, and we got to meet two new people. They are both ALTs in town. One of them has been in Japan for a long time, he speaks Japanese, and knows what he's doing. The other is brand new, and speaks less Japanese then me.
I'm excited for this new trimester.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


Today, I watched a student walk into a door, and drop everything they were holding. Then all the students started laughing at the kid and called him Katie-Sensei. My name is what they call kids who are really clumsy.

It’s very humbling to have hundreds of students watching you every week. The power of so many students results in an extremely perceptive bunch. I have learned a lot about myself.

Whenever the students do an impression of me, they put on a big goofy smile, walk into something and drop anything they are holding. Whenever a student spills or drops something the other students tease them by calling them Katie-Sensei (what the students call me).

I didn’t get it at first, until I realized how ridiculously clumsy I am. I have bruises on my hips right at the level of the kids desks, I had no idea what they were all last semester until I ran into a desk yesterday, and suddenly my bruise was back.

Now that I’ve noticed, I cannot believe how absurdly clumsy I am. I really need to work on it, but frankly I have no idea how to cure clumsiness. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

How's the weather?

Japanese are always whining/commenting on the weather. It's mostly just their way of acknowledging each others existence, but as American's it comes of as really whiney. When you walk down the street, anyone who you make eye contact with will comment on the weather. The polite way to start most conversations is to start with the weather. If it's hot out they say atsui desu ne - it's hot huh. If it's cold they say samui desu ne - it's cold huh. The normal polite thing to either is hai, soo desu - yes it is. Because I have found that I make the best impression on people when I am myself, even when being myself breaks some cultural rules I usually respond with mmm, skii desu - mmhmm, I like it. Most people get a kick out of it, and even when it's so hot that I feel like I'm melting, I feel a little better about the weather because I convinced myself with my own lie.

Japanese frequently ask me how Americans talk about the weather. My short answer is usually that we don't. For those that are more interested in the cultural difference, I tell them that unless the weather is really impressive, ie high winds, pouring cats and dogs, or we're having a blizzard we try not to talk about the weather. We don't talk about the weather otherwise at work, because it reminds us how much we would rather be outside, but if you are outside with someone else, we usually like to say it's nice today.

The idea of just wanting to be outside for the sake of being outside, doesn't really work in Japan. Japanese people use the phrase it's too sunny un-ironically. Because Japanese have a near phobia of the sun, and go to great lengths to prevent sun damage. Most Japanese people spend as little time outside as possible in the summer.

Monday, August 27, 2012


Ben and I live the Yamanashi prefecture. Yamanashi prefecture is famous for its grapes, and we are in the midst of grape season. Ben and I are in a purple heaven. The grapes here are very different then the grapes we buy back home, and I am grateful for it, they are about half the size, and 4 times the flavor. The bunches look beautiful, and I feel like a Greek god every time I eat them.
Ben and I bought ourselves a 1 kilo crate last Thursday, and are ready to buy another. We, especially I, have eaten a ridiculous amount of grapes.
Today I learned that Japanese people do not eat the grape skins. Japanese grapes have thick skins, so it is as simple as squeezing the grapes to pop out the sweet innards. They thought it was hilarious that I ate all of my skins, and were in stitches about the force it would come out my other end. Japanese are surprisingly vocal about constipation and diarrhea.
I really like the taste and the texture of the skin, so I will continue to eat the skins, but I do like making a bowl full of skinless grapes and slurping. I also like freezing the skinless grapes and eating them like giant dip-n-dots.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Tokyo Tower, Zojoji Temple, Roppongi, and Nogi Shrine

Ben and I spent the day being tourists. It was a beautiful day, we had reasonable temperatures, blue skies, and light breezes.
Our plan was to go to Tokyo tower, look out from the observatory, and go where ever looked interesting. It turned out to be a great plan, and we had a fantastic day.
Tokyo Tower:

 To anyone going to Tokyo, I would highly recommend going to Tokyo Tower, and making a day of the area surrounding it. Tokyo Tower is the Eiffel Tower of Japan, (the designs for the building were based on those of the Eiffel Tower). It is beautiful, iconic, and romantic. The view from the observation decks is stellar, you can see a full panorama of the city.

To the East you can see Tokyo Bay.

To the North you can see Tokyo Skytree as a tiny sliver in the distance (the new tallest broadcasting tower in the world).

To the West you can see Roppongi Hills.

To the south you can see Mount Fuji, if you're lucky, or at least a beautiful restaurant.

*Pro-tip from Katie.* Tokyo Tower, like most tourist destinations in Japan, will have long lines, and big crowds, once you get to the viewing deck, you will be on the upper of two floors that have panoramic views of the city. The floor that you get off on will be packed, but if you go down the flight of stairs one floor, there will be a lot less people, and cool viewing holes in the ground.

From the tower we saw Zojoji Temple, and Roppongi Hills, so we made those two spots our destinations for the day.

Zojoji Temple:
Zojoji Temple was cool. There were beautiful views of Tokyo Tower. The insides of the temple were stunning, with what looked like huge golden chandeliers hanging from the ceiling (no photography was allowed). My favorite part were the hundreds of little statues with hats and pinwheels. They were simultaneously adorable and haunting.

Roppongi is odd, it's the foreigner district of Tokyo, and caters to an odd crowd. Vandalism is very uncommon in Japan, but the walls of Roppongi were littered with graffiti. We saw prostitues, and people dressed in so many eclectic outfits that I felt like dubstep should have been emanating from their very being. There is a lot to do in Roppongi, but Ben and I were feeling a bit whimsical, so we just enjoyed walking through, and passing it all by.

Nogi Shrine:
Nogi Shrine is a tiny shrine in the heart of Roppongi, we enjoyed the shrine, but wouldn't recommend going, unless you happen to be passing it by. There was a miniature shrine, with miniature gates leading to it, which made the area feel like a Japanese version of Alice in Wonderland.

Tokyo Tower at Night:
After wandering around for the day, we returned to Tokyo Tower to see how it would look at night. We were not disappointed, and sat in a garden for a while just to look at the marvels of mankind.

For a map of where we went: click here.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


Compliments are always a tricky cultural aspect. How often should you compliment someone, what should you compliment, how should you react when you are complemented? Americans tend to compliment everything and everyone all the time. It's our way of being kind and polite. Unfortunately this makes things very complicated in Japan. 

When Japanese people compliment your physical appearance, they generally say something like You're cute, or You're pretty. Which is very different than Americans, it would be a bit awkward for us to make such a bold compliment, we instead say, that dress looks beautiful on you, or I really like your T-Shirt. When Americans receive a compliment, they say Thank you, plain and simple. In Japan you are suppose to negate the compliment in some way, it can be anything from responding to you're pretty with but I'm really stupid, or it could be just a simple nuh-uh.

If you go to someone's house in Japan, be really careful about compliments. If you compliment something in their house, unless it's bigger then your head, they will probably give it to you! This sounds ridiculous, and I didn't believe people when I first came to Japan, but people will give you anything they can. They will always say that the thing is of no consequence to them, and will even usually wrap it up nicely for you. I feel really awkward when this happens, as with any gift I receive in Japan, I try to refuse it 3 times, but I usually cannot convince them that I don't actually want it, I just noticed it and thought it was nice. Gift giving is a huge part of Japanese culture, and it is very difficult to know what to do, and quickly becomes very expensive, because generally for every gift you receive, you are expected to give one, of equal or greater quality, in return.  When I go to someone's home, I am very cautious to only complement the house in general you have a beautiful home, or compliment the food. You can never compliment Japanese food enough, and I have found that a huge portion of most meals is spent complimenting and showing appreciation of the delicious food you are enjoying.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Work Gifts

Omiyage are consumable souviniers. They are usually candy or crackers, but almost anything edible is able to be used as Omiyage. Meibutsu are famous products associated with a certain region. Each prefecture in Japan has diffent regional specialties. Yamanashi, the prefecture Ben and I live in are famous for their grapes.
Omiyage/Maibutsu are a huge part of Japanese culture. When someone travels, they are generally expected to bring something back for their work so that their coworkers can enjoy the experience as well.  It seams to be a way of letting the people you work with know that you thought of them while you were gone. It is absolutely expected that Japanese people will provide Omiyage at work, but as a foriegner coming to Japan, it's not neccessarily expected of you. For those of you coming to Japan to start work, bringing omiyage will make a good impression on your coworkers.
Choosing omiyage.
Omiyage should be something famous from the area you traveled to. For Ben and my return to Japan we choose celestial seasonings tea, which is made in our home city. The schools were very pleased that we had thought to bring anything.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


The Japanese have quite a reputation for their extreme measures taken to prevent sun damage. Many people during the summer months look down right comical.  Unattractive hats are ubiquitous in the summer months. 

I, as a pale and easily sunburned redhead, appreciate a culture where sun care is a high priority. I like carrying my parasol, and I am not judged for slathering on sunscreen for my walk home in the afternoon.  I don't buy make up without sunscreen in it, and if I know I will be out in the sun all day I wear long sleeves. These are all common place in Japan.
My favorite creation of this sun-a-phobic culture is their sunscreen. It is so far superior to American sunscreens that I am tempted to start a campaign when I get home to get these imported into all local drugstores. 

For daily use (non-swimming) Japanese sunscreens, labeled as water gels, gels, aqua jelly, or any combination of those words, are my sunscreen dream come true. They have a liquid consistency, which allows them to spread well over the skin. Once the sunscreens dry they feel just like normal skin, no greasiness, shininess, oiliness, or stickiness. After the sunscreen has been given time to dry, it feels entirely like skin; there is never any white residue. The sunscreens are safe to use with clothes, even delicate clothes, even when I rub freshly applied sunscreen on my silky shirts there are never any marks. Sunscreens here are all required to have full spectrum protection (UVA and UVB) and always list the SPF and PA ratings. This means that they really protect your skin from cancers, and also prevent sunspots and wrinkling. I can use it on my face without getting acne, and I can put it on over my make up, without ruining what ever look I was going for that day.

Sunscreen in makeup:
 I have been using Missha Perfect Cover B.B. Cream for years. I have a lot of trouble finding makeup in the United States that is fair enough for my skin tone, most companies stop a few shades too dark for me. In asia, very fair skin is highly desirable, so it is much easier to find shades in my range. Missha is a Korean company, but is very popular in Japan. The make up I use has SPF 40 and PA+++. It is really fantastic. B.B. Creams are extremely popular in Japan, in fact it's actually more difficult to find a normal foundation. Unlike the American B.B. creams, which are really just tinted moisturizers, Asian B.B. Creams have a broad spectrum sunscreen, moisturizers, vitamins, and really good coverage.

Katie's Plug:
Wear sunscreen!!! If you argue that the nano particles found in sunscreen are bad for your health, you're wrong. Tests done by the Japanese, and Australian governments have proven that the nano particles cannot pennetrate the outer, dead, layer of skin cells, and thus pose no threat to viable skin cells (1). If you are worried about Vitamin D deficiency, you only need between 10 and 60 minutes per week to provide yourself with sufficient Vitamin D (2). The more sunburns you get, the higher the risk of skin cancer, and at no age does this risk decrease(3). 
Hint, Hint, Nudge, Nudge, MOM!


Jet Lag

I'm still at the age where I can pull all nighters, and my body will forgive me. I have no internal sleep clock, and I can usually fall asleep on command, (waking up however usually requires Ben dragging me into the shower and me waking up half convinced I have become a mermaid).
This all adds up to me having no jet lag.
I do have to recuperate the day after a flight. Flying is bad for you, the bags under your eyes, the teenage acne that magically shows up even on the shortest fights, and feeling like a 80 year old arthritic cow are horrible. I can sleep on an airplane, in fact I usually fall asleep before taking off, and wake up during landing, but I don't sleep well. Airplane seats are specifically designed for something, but not for comfort, even when fully reclined the chairs still feel awkwardly vertical. If I didn't love visiting new destinations so much, there would be nothing that could get me in one of those painfully expensive torture devices, but I love to travel.

That all being said Ben and I had the most pleasant international flight of our lives. Malaysian Air is an outstanding airline. Korean Air, which we took to Japan on our first trip, is also outstanding, they have the best customer service of any airline I have ever experienced, and somehow as your leaving feeling sore and exhausted, they somehow convince you with their beautiful smiles and polite  chant of "thank you, come again" that you actually enjoyed the last 10 hours of torment. I would say that Korean Air was my favorite Airline, except for Ben and my flight on Malaysian Air was outstanding. The stewardesses wear beautiful outfits, that are exotic yet professional. They are polite, and accommodating. The best part however is the seats, they recline more then most airplanes, they feel bigger, they are designed well so that you can actually move your legs, and they have these bendable head rests that can be moved so that you can lean your head to the side, preventing a sore neck during sleep. The whole experience was particularly lovely, and I highly recommend Malaysian Air to anyone flying to asia.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Our Wedding

All the way up to the ceremony I had butterflies. In my life all celebrations had come at the end of an accomplishment, or came yearly irregardless of my performance. It feels natural to celebrate at the end of something after you have proven your worth. A wedding is backwards, you start with a celebration, and then spend the rest of your life proving why you deserved it. So on the morning of my wedding I was nervous and excited not because I was worried about anything, but because we were celebrating something that I would be working at for the rest of my life. I know I chose right, Ben is amazing, half the time I spend thinking: how on earth did I convince this man that I was good enough to deserve him, and the other I spend thanking my lucky stars that it worked. Ben and I have dated 7 years, and known each other for 9 years. We are high school sweet hearts. I think one of the advantages this gives us is that we know we're going to change, I loved him when he wanted to be a rock star, and I love him now that he wants to be a teacher. We have both grown up a ton, and we know that sometimes you need to take a step back and remember the cute naive person you started dating, others you just have to revel in the person they have become, and sometimes you just have to let yourself be excited for the amazing person you know they will be.

I was a bit overwhelmed on the day of the wedding, I felt like the world was passing me by at a million miles an hour, and I couldn't quite get my footing on what I was doing. Luckily my friend Nicole came along, and her confidence and organizational skills put me at ease and allowed me to just focus on my excitement.

The whole wedding went absolutely perfectly (actually a lot of stuff went wrong, I was, and still am, just too happy to care). Our moms had figured out everything for us that day, and the preceding week. I don't know what we would have done without their help, the place was beautiful, and we had to do very little to make our day perfect. Our ceremony was short and sweet, below are our vows to each other.

My Vows to Ben:

I love you more than there are stars in the sky. 
You emanate being a good person. People are drawn to how kind and genuine you are. I am so proud of you and proud to call you mine.
Friends are people that make you want to be a better person. You are my best friend and the love of my life. I want to make the world a better place, just so that it deserves you a little more.
I vow to be kind and cheerful, generous and inquisitive and to love you past the end of time.

Ben's Vows to Me:

I love you more than birds love to soar. 
Love is a verb, the more you put in the more you get out. As I love you more and more everyday I see just how rewarding it can be. I will keep trying for you and I will keep loving you more and more for our own ever after.
You are a beautiful, brilliant, and spectacular girl. People love you because you are witty and incredibly loyal. You will never give up on someone you love, and you are always there for your family and friends. I want to show you that same great loyalty so the world deserves you a little more.
I vow to be honest and loyal, to support and challenge you, and to always keep loving you.

Stunning Photographs by Edward deCroce: