Friday, 22 August 2008


As much as I may not want to believe it, and as difficult as I find it to believe, I know it is already late August. I know this because of the hot and muggy weather (ugh!) and because the Tokyo Metro system has unveiled the August addition to their manners campaign. Instead of encouraging people to stay home and enjoy their AC, the Metro is encouraging people to go out and enjoy the beach. They've traded their "Please do it at home." for "Please do it at the beach." The manner-less salary-man demonstrates his surfing moves as he attepts to jump onto the train as the doors are closing, with creepy-glasses-guy watching on in disapproval.

Surfing and beaches - very appropriate for the season. Halloween - not so appropriate.

Hold on... HALLOWEEN?! Wha the....?!

Yup. HALLOWEEN! On my way home today I stopped at the local Daiso - a chain of huge 100 yen shops. The area by the front door is seasonal and is currently full of plastic flowers in overwhelming variety. And, as I discovered to my shock and disbelief, Halloween decorations. I am not kidding, there were shelves of felt decorations, garlands, and random chachkas all sporting jack-o-lanterns, ghosts, witches, and monsters. I would have thought it was just a coincidence but there were also signs reading "Happy Halloween!" and all of the packages included the word "Halloween." I know that people complain holiday items go on display earlier and earlier every year, but Halloween in Augusut? Really??

This is not my local Daiso, nor is it my picture, but it gives you an idea of what I saw...

I walked home shaking my head in disbelief - and attempting to ignore the sudden desire to buy hordes of mini-chocolate bars...

Saturday, 16 August 2008

A Loud and Ugly Shock

When I was a kid I loved origami. I had a stack of books on how to make animals and other objects, and packages upon packages of paper in different sizes, patterns, and colours.

After reading "Sadako and the 1000 Paper Cranes" I started making origami cranes for my mother. I wasn't able to make enough, and I gradually stopped doing origami regularly, but I never forgot how to fold a crane. Combine a nervous inability to sit and do nothing (knitting turns this ADD-ish behaviour to something useful) with a miserly desire not to waste things, and I often find myself making cranes out of chocolate wrappers and other coloured paper scraps. My advisor's assistant refuses to throw out the mini red (strawberry flavour) and green (green tea flavour) cranes I gave her, so they now decorate her desk. (In an aside, does anybody know a Japanese chocolate wrapped individually in blue paper? We're trying to make the display less Christmassy...)

ANYWAYS... one of the other creatures I remember making was the cicada (semi 蝉). Growing up mostly in Vancouver I never actually SAW a real one, so I had to rely on my origami book.

One of the books in the set I had

There was a picture with a few origami cicadas in pretty colours posed on a tree. I also remember a caption saying something about the cry of the cicada symbolizing summer.

I love the internet sometime - this is a photo of the cicada page from the book,
shamelessly stolen from a site trying to sell the book!

So I imagined some colourful songbird flitting through the trees. Imagine my shock and horror when I discovered that a cicada is an insect, and a really REALLY UGLY one at that!!


and realized their "call" was not a sweet melody but an incessant whine! The lovely trees and greenery around the dorms are cicada heaven and the resulting whine is deafening!

The end of summer marks the end of the semi, and they die en masse - their ugly carcasses blanketing the ground.

Luckily fall brings gorgeous (and silent) colour to the trees and the semi disappear until the following summer.

Friday, 15 August 2008

SnB - Tokyo Style

When I came to Japan the first time my social network consisted of fellow exchange students and my Girl Scout troop. This time around, however, as my time in Japan lengthens, my social network has developed. I have Japanese friends I've met through working at the museum and elsewhere, other foreign students (at my school and others as well as those at North American schools here doing research), Japanese students in my program, and all sorts of Girl Scout friends. In addition, a while back I joined an online discussion board called 'Being A Broad,' and I've really enjoyed reading the blogs of other Western women in Japan. Finally, although my class schedule has made it impossible until now, today I was able to go to my first Stitch and Bitch in Tokyo. Since it is the middle of Obon holidays, there were only 3 other knitters (one was 10 years old), but I had a great time.

While I am nowhere close to needing advice about managing Japanese in-laws, finding a doctor for a pregnancy, building a home, or choosing a school, the conversation was fascinating and opened up a whole new world for me. It may seem obvious, but I suddenly realized that I don't have any Western female friends who live here long term or who are married to Japanese guys. No matter what may happen in my love life, if I want to stay here after my studies are over, then I'll need/want that. These women can offer invaluable advice and a whole new and very important social network. Besides, meeting other knitters is pretty cool!

I am definitely looking forward to the next meeting I can attend and getting to know the SnB women better.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

You Know You've Been in Japan Too Long When...

You know you've been in japan too long when...

  1. you have trouble figuring out how many syllables there really are in words like 'building'
  2. you notice you've forgotten how to tie shoelaces
  3. you rush onto an escalator and just stand there
  4. when you wait for the first day of summer to wear short sleeve dress shirts
  5. you don' t think it unusual for a truck to play "It' s a Small World" when backing up
  6. you leave your expensive bottle of Royal Salute with a sleazy barkeeper and don't worry
  7. You appear for your first skiing lesson with brand new Rossignol high performance racing skis and an aerodynamic racing suit with color matched goggles. And then snowplow down.
  8. you automatically remember all of your important year dates in Showa numbers
  9. you noticed 7-11 changed its onigiri wrapping houshiki for the third time
  10. you are not worried about speeding in the rain, because you know the cops are only out there in good weather
  11. you think the best part of TV are the commercials
  12. you think wet umbrellas need condoms
  13. you only have 73 transparent, plastic umbrellas in your entrance because you have donated 27 to the JR and various taxi companies in the past few months... or you have over 100 small, transparent plastic umbrellas in your entrance even *after* donating 27 of them to taxis and JR recently
  14. when you think it's alright to stick your head into a stranger's apartment to see if anybody is home
  15. you think the natural location for a beer garden is on a roof
  16. you have discovered the sexual attraction of high school navy uniforms
  17. you think 4 layers of wrapping is reasonable for a simple piece of merchandise
  18. When looking out the window of your office, you think "Wow, so many trees!" Instead of "Wow, so much concrete!"
  19. you think NHK is "the Japanese BBC"
  20. when in the middle of nowhere, totally surrounded by rice fields and abundant nature, you aren't surprised to find a drink vending machine with no visible means of a power supply, and then aren't surprised when that lonely vending machine says 'thank you' after you buy a coke
  21. you return the bow from the cash machine
  22. you find yourself bowing while you talk on the phone
  23. you see a road with two lanes going in the same direction and assume the one on the left is meant for parking
  24. when you think Japan actually has only four seasons
  25. you don' t hesitate to put a $10 note into a vending machine
  26. when getting ready for a trip you automatically calculate for omiyage and you leave just the right amount of space in your suitcase for them
  27. on a cold autumn night, the only thing you want for dinner is nabe and nihonshu
  28. you can' t find the "open" and "close" buttons in the elevator because they' re in English.
  29. you think "white pills, blue pills, and pink powder" is an adequate answer to the question "What are you giving me, doctor?"
  30. you think "English literature major" is a polite way to say peanut-brained bimbo
  31. you think Masako is beautiful and Hillary is cute
  32. you think birds cry
  33. you think the opposite of red is white
  34. when your arguing with someone about the color of the traffic light being blue or green... and you think it's blue
  35. when you no longer find anything unusual in the concept of "Vermont curry"
  36. you start thinking can-coffee is equivalent to real coffee
  37. you really enjoy corn soup with your Big Mac
  38. you buy a potato-and-strawberry sandwich for lunch without cringing
  39. you find a beautiful new way to eat natto
  40. you develop a liking for green tea flavored ice cream
  41. you buy and eat "Melty Kiss" without thinking twice about the name
  42. when you are talking on the telephone to your parents and your father says, "Why are you interrupting my explanation with grunts?"
  43. you stop enjoying telling newcomers to Japan 'all about Japan'
  44. you have run out of snappy comebacks to compliments about your chopstick skill
  45. you get a "Nihongo ga joozu" and feel really insulted
  46. you phone an English-speaking gaijin friend and somehow can't bring yourself to get to the point for the first 3 minutes of the conversation
  47. you think its cool to stand in the "Japanese only" queue at Narita Immigration
  48. you ask fellow foreigners the all-important question "How long have you been here?" in order to be able to properly categorize them
  49. you see a gaijin and think "Wow, it' s a gaijin!"
  50. when you get on a train with a number of gaijin on it and you feel uneasy because the harmony is broken

I remember getting something like this when I was first in Japan on exchange. I had only just arrived when somebody sent it to me and I thought it was hilarious. I read it and laughed, and forwarded it to all my exchange friends who were equally amused. A decade later I'm no longer laughing, but nodding instead.

  • When I was in Canada for Christmas I confused my father by beckoning to him across a full room by flicking my fingers with my hand palm down instead of waving my hand palm upwards.
  • I have long tried to insist to amused friends and family that the other end of a phone call CAN hear the difference when I bow.
  • Two weeks ago in Sapporo, I again confused my father, this time by saying "the light is blue, we can cross!"
  • The lady at the omiyage shop at our hotel figured I lived in Japan after I asked for extra bags for the omiyage I had bought and she had put all together in one bag.
  • The day after I came back from my business trip to the US I went out for dinner with my study group and they were all amused when I remarked how delicious plain white rice and simple pickled vegetables could be.
  • Caffeine affects me strongly, after drinking a cup of coffee I can have trouble sitting still. And yet a bowl of matcha (green tea) even if served at a desk in a classroom, calms me completely.

I may not be Turning Japanese, but I recently I have been thinking a lot about just how much living here is affecting and changing me in ways I don't always notice...

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Camping - Garu Style

I've been a Brownie leader for most of the past decade. My first Brownies - the ones who taught me just how badly a camping trip could go - graduated from high school last year. Since that first chaotic and crazy trip where just about anything that could go wrong did, I've worked (and camped) with troops in Canada, the US, and Japan, and also visited troops in India and Sri Lanka. Despite cultural, linguistic, uniform and other differences, some things seem to be universal, especially when you take the girls camping. After not having gone camping with a troop for a few years, I just got back from 3 days in Yamanashi-prefecture with my current Brownie troop (4 leaders and 8 girls in grades 1-3). Here are a few of the lessons I (re)learned.

  1. Roast marshmallows are a delicious ooey-gooey snack (although in Japan s'mores are made with ritz instead of graham crackers?!?!) and campfire is good fun. I co-lead my first campfire in Japanese and, despite some mistaken lyrics, a great time was had by all - from silly songs with exaggerated actions to slow songs sung in the round.

  2. Girls are apparently unable to go to the bathroom by themselves. More amusing, however, is the power of suggestion, and how quickly an ENTIRE room of girls will go from zero to full-on squirming potty-dance when one of them announces her need to use the facilities.

  3. Little girls can switch personalities faster than Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde - they'll be adorable and lovable one second and rude and cruel the next. (and then adorable again in a heartbeat)

  4. Despite complaining CONSTANTLY about being tired/hot/injured during the hike, girls return to their room and immediately start running about.

    Our "long" hike - despite their complaints the girls did REALLY well!

  5. Fill a room with exhausted little girls tucked into bed and no adults and the resulting mayhem will ensure that NOBODY will fall asleep for hours. Add a singing adult or two, however, and the girls will be fast asleep within minutes!

  6. Serve a meal to a group of kids and no matter what it is half of them will find SOMETHING to turn their noses up at... UNLESS they have cooked it themselves (My previous belief that Japanese kids aren't picky eaters was proven wrong time and time again over the past few days)

  7. No matter how much said picky eaters may eat at a given meal, the minute any mention is made of snack time, they are all DYING OF HUNGER! And not one of them will turn down sweets or other goodies.

  8. Parents are often more upset or worried by their Brownie's first night away from home than the Brownie herself!

  9. It really is incredible just how much a Brownie can do on her own when she puts her mind to it - whether it is fixing her own hair, peeling and chopping a knobbly potato, or managing not to loose her underwear. (a prime example was the Brownie who managed to lose THREE pairs of underwear on a single overnight last year, who earned the "luggage organization" prize at camp this year)

  10. All the stress of being a leader evaporates the instant a small hand slips into yours on a hike, or arms are thrown sleepily around you along in a good night/good morning hug, or a new Brownie earnestly exclaims "I like you Sarah-leader!

    Yours truly, according to one of my Brownies

Camp was good fun. But I'm rather glad I'm home for the next 10 days. I've got a museum translation contract to keep me from being bored, but no big plans.

Monday, 4 August 2008


There I was in July thinking that once exams and other school stuff was all over I'd have the chance to get caught up. And suddenly... its August?! The simple version is that once school ended I had a Girl Scout event and work at the museum and then my dad arrived in Japan, and we headed to Hokkaido. We had a wonderful time and I am most definitely NOT happy to be back in muggy Tokyo, but real life continues and my To Do List has not disappeared, nor (despite my ever-present hopefulness) have fairies appeared to accomplish and cross off items for me. Sigh.

So, re-runs will have to suffice until new programming appears here...