5 Things I Learned This Summer

Summer. It’s a break from the norm. It’s full of vacations and warm weather, cook-outs and shorts. It can also be bursting with lessons and realizations. And now that fall has crept in and summer is over, it’s the perfect time to talk about what I learned this summer.

#1- Fake it till ya make it.

Act like you know what you’re doing, even when you really don’t. I did quite a bit of this during the summer, especially during my time in Japan. Teaching small children English with no translator? Sure, I’ve done that dozens of times. With my eyes closed. And my hands tied behind my back. I acted confident, which made me feel confident, and , in turn, others thought I was confident. And it all ended up going well.

#2- You don’t have to like everyone.

While you do need to love everyone, you don’t have to like everyone. This means that you do need to be polite and have manners with everyone and treat everyone kindly. It does not mean that you have to enjoy being around them or purposefully seek them out. My friend oh-so-wisely pointed out to me this summer that I feel like I’m being mean when I don’t want to be around someone. It’s not being two-faced to be nice to someone and yet not like them; it’s called having manners.

#3- I hum when I’m nervous. 

Sorry this is not a huge life lesson that is applicable to everyone,  but I noticed it while traveling overseas. I was in so many new situations, whether it was wondering around in downtown Tokyo by myself on my first day there or getting ready to meet the superintendent of the Tokyo school system. I never realized I do this, but apparently I just hum a little tune to calm myself down. So, if you ever see me, and I’m humming something that doesn’t even resemble an actual tune, I’m probably a little anxious about the situation I’m in.

#4- It’s ok to say no.

Why do we feel like we always have to do everything people ask of us? And then you know what happens? We can’t do any of it well. It is absolutely ok to tell people no sometimes. Sometimes they are shocked when you tell them, but, hey, they’ll get over it. And I know you- you would be nice and tactful and  not  just blurt out “NO!”, so it’ll go fine. Try it once and see how you feel. I am still working on not feeling guilty afterwards, but I’m getting there.

#5- We regret what we didn’t do more than we regret the things  we did.

We never know when we’ll get another chance to do  something. We never know when we’ll be at that place again or have that opportunity. I hate when people travel somewhere and say, “Well, I didn’t get to see “x” that I really wanted to see, but I’ll catch it next time I’m here.” What if you’re never there again?! What if you don’t get that chance? This isn’t just about traveling either. I know there are several things in my life that I wish I had done, and sometimes I still think about how I wish I would have. That’s a terrible feeling! It’s not too often that I sit around and think about how I wish I wouldn’t have done something. Usually there is at least a lesson learned. So, I ate the raw beef dish at the Korean BBQ. And I don’t even regret it.

 

Now here’s to hoping I learn a few things this fall as well!

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Sayonara Japan

My time was ending in Japan. I had spent almost 2 full weeks in Tokyo, and experienced so many new things. And I had just a few more things to see and experience before I left…

I took a few last field trips with my students. We went to Tokyo Tower, a tv tower that looks just like an orange Eiffel Tower. It is painted orange as an air safety regulation. The observation deck we went to is about 500 feet up, and we got a nice view of the city. Tokyo Tower is Tokyo’s major landmark and is used to set the scene in movies and tv shows. And apparently Godzilla has destroyed it a time or two.  That Godzilla is elusive. I didn’t see him even once while in Tokyo!

Tokyo, Japan Tokyo, JapanTokyo, JapanSkyscapers

We also go to go to the Asakusa area of Tokyo, which has a really famous temple called the Senso-ji Temple. The main gate to the temple is known for the HUGE lantern hanging there, which is a popular photo-op. I couldn’t even get a picture that didn’t have 20 or 30 people in it. After going through the gate, but before getting to the actual temple, there is a huge shopping street! This is where I bought a few souvenirs and also my sesame ice cream. The most interesting thing about the temple itself was the incense area. People would get as close as they could and waft the smoke onto them so they could receive purification.

Asakusa, Tokyo Tokyo Temples Asakusa, Tokyo Tokyo, Temples

 

Incense

I had an excellent time in Japan. I got to see a lot of exciting sights, meet a ton of great people, have some new teaching experiences, and learn about Japan and its culture. It has definitely peaked my interest to learn more about the country’s history, its people, its music, and so many other things about Japan. I hope I have the chance to go back and spend time in some other cities as well. 2 weeks is too short of a time to spend in a new-to-you country! But, knowing that I still had South Korea on my itinerary made me somewhat eager to leave. Also, the 12 hour work days, the high humidity, and those eerie crows that seemed to follow me around the city pushed me out the door as well. Well, Sayonara Japan. Thanks for having me, and I hope to see you again soon!

You Are So Fashion!

I was so sad to see that in Tokyo there was no “Chinglish” like I always saw and heard in China. (Would it be Janglish in that case??) If you don’t know, Chinglish is incorrect English in China (Chinese English), which is usually quite comical. The title of this post “You Are So Fashion” is something I always heard my Chinese students say, and it always made me smile. So, I never heard this phrase in Japan, but I couldn’t help myself from using it to talk about fashion in Japan.

I felt like such a dweeb while I was in Tokyo! Everyone was so fashionable! I saw more suits in the 2 weeks I spent in Japan than the combined total of suits I’ve seen in my whole life. People pride themselves on looking fancy and fashionable.

Even though Japan is all about the latest fashions, you can also see the traditional as well. The kimono is not common now-a-days, but I did quite a few women wearing them. I’ve heard they are so difficult to wear that most young people don’t want to be bothered with them. They really are beautiful though. The traditional shoes are still worn with the kimono too. I like to think of them as wooden platform flip flops but with socks.

Japanese Fashion

Japanese Fashion

Lolita is one of the strangest fashion crazes I’ve ever seen. It’s when girls dress with tons of frill, lace, pastels, and bows. Imagine what a nursery rhyme would look like and you’ve got Lolita. This look usually incorporates petticoats, parasols, and sometimes even wigs. I saw this look quite a bit, but the best girl I saw at the bus station. She had on a pink wig, a frilly, lacy pink dress with cupcakes on it, a bonnet, pink shoes, and a pink purse with a teddy bear stuffed animal attached. So of course I secretly took a few pictures of her on my phone! (Hence the bad quality).

Japanese Fashion

Japanese Fashion

Another form of Lolita is Gothic Lolita, which I also witnessed. The girls were  still wearing the frills and lace, but it was darker. This is probably my favorite/most crazy fashion I saw.

Japanese Fashion

I saw the Gothic Lolita girls in the Harajuku district of Tokyo, which is known for its shopping but is famous for its strange fashion. Young people go to Harajuku to show off their imaginative outfits.

Strange Japanese Fashion

Weird Japanese Fashion

Strange Japanese Fashion

These are just a few of the run-ins I had with fashion while I was in Japan, and I enjoyed every minute of it! Lady Gaga would be proud!  Have you witnessed any weird fashion trends while visiting Japan? I’m also interested in hearing about the  fashion trends that surprised you anywhere you’ve been lately. Let’s hear it!

Now what did I do with my petticoat?

Chowing Down in Japan

Eating has been an interesting experience for me  in Japan.

First, let’s talk about seafood. Sadly, I don’t like seafood. And too bad for me, since Japan is an island everyone is always eating seafood! They absolutely can’t believe it when I say I don’t like seafood. In fact, they always ask why not. How do you even answer that? I have seen a lot of seafood dishes that look pretty tempting, but alas, I only like fish. I have had some good salmon here, but I’ll pass on the shrimp, eel, octopus, and crab.

Salmon

Convenience store eating is such a phenomenon here! There are popular convenience stores such as Lawson, Family Mart, and 7-Eleven. (I think 7-Eleven is more popular in Asia than in America!) People will go in here to grab a quick meal, and surprisingly, it’s actually pretty good food! They even advertise the food on tv.  You can get sushi, sandwiches, cold noodles, salads, and so much more! I’ve had a couple convenience store meals so far when I was in a hurry, and it was decent.

The food here is way more expensive than I imagined! For example, tonight I bought a simple bowl of noodles, and it was 9 bucks! I guess I am just used to China, where a bowl of noodles costs less than 2 bucks! The food prices are killing me!

Japanese Food

Ramen, and that junk was SPICY!

And I haven’t eaten many vegetables since being here. The only vegetable I’ve really had is raw cabbage. It’s served with almost every set meal. I’ve had  a lot of meat. Especially deep fried meat. And of course rice.

Miso Soup

Pork cutlet, rice, miso soup, and some pickled vegetables

There have only been a few times when I had to eat by myself, but a lot of the menus either have a little English or have menus. The craziest thing is the plastic food. Outside each restaurant, they have fake food so that you can see what they have. It’s definitely helpful to me!

This food is all fake!

And of course, when in Japan, you’ve got to have sushi! Although I’m not a big raw fish fan, I tried some. I do love vegetable sushi though. (And yes, it’s still sushi, haters!) I loved going to the sushi conveyor belt restaurant where you just grab what you want as it goes by. At the end they add up your bill based on the color and amount of the plates you have in front of you.

kaiten-zushi

Kaiten-zushi (sushi conveyor belt)

Japanese food

Cucumber sushi

Sushi

Shashimi

And Asian desserts are always, um, interesting…Red beans are used in many of the desserts in Japan, much like in China. I can’t stop thinking that beans are for dinner, not for a sweet snack. There are some other strange flavors, like a lot of green tea flavored things, such as a green tea (ma cha) frappuccinos at Starbucks. I tried one, and although I do like green tea a lot, I didn’t like it. What about green tea ice cream? Tofu ice cream? Sesame flavor? I tried a sesame cone, and I actually liked it. However, it just seemed wrong eating black ice cream.

Green tea ice cream

Overall, I enjoyed Japanese food. I tired some new things, and became a big fan of miso soup. I hope if you get a chance to go to Japan, that you now know a little more of what to expect! Well, I’m going to go eat some red bean cake now!

Foxy Lady

Today I met with my small classes, and we had our field trip to two different places. First, we went to the Imperial Palace. To get there, we took the subway to the main Tokyo station. It has really beautiful architecture and has some signs around it explaining the history of it. One sign was talking about how the station was 100 years old but had to be restored after a fire. I went on to read aloud to my students that the fire had been caused by a bomb that America had dropped on it. Ohhhh…….That was actually a really awkward moment. I mean, I know I had nothing to do with it, and I know that they weren’t alive when it happened, but it is strange to have lingering. I never really thought about that aspect before coming to Japan. Our countries have done some terrible things to each other in the past. However, I think while the older generation may hang on to some past afflictions like that, we, in the younger generation, don’t.

As we continued walking to the palace, I asked my students the name of the emperor. In Japan, the emperor has no real power and is more of a figure-head. The prime minister is the one that makes all the political decisions for the country, like in England I guess. Well, when I asked the name of the emperor, they all looked at each other with confusion. “We just call him emperor. We don’t know his name.” I couldn’t believe it! “You don’t know the name of the emperor of Japan?” I asked amazed. Well, the question was answered quickly with a little help from an iphone- Akihito. After doing a little reasearch myself, I discovered that the emperor is never referred to by name; he is only referred to as “His Imperial Majesty the Emperor” or Tennō Heika. So, I guess they had a good reason for not knowing!

The imperial palace is mostly just old castle walls and gardens. You can’t actually go into the “palace”, and we never saw the actual building in which the emperor lives. Lame! I did see my first bonsai trees though. They were the pine trees surrounding the moat. I was told by my students that doing bonsai trees is an old person hobby. Haha.

students at the Imperial PalaceImperial Palace, Japan

On my way back to my hotel, I stopped by a shrine that I have passed by everyday and have been curious about. The fox shrine. There were 100’s of fox statues at this shrine. Foxes are important in the Shinto religion in Japan. Inari, the protector of the rice harvest, is guarded by foxes. Foxes, or kitsune,  are thought to have supernatural powers, such as being able to morph into a human and also hearing and seeing all human secrets. It was definitely different than any shrine I have ever been to, and I have been to 100’s of them!

Japan

Tokyo, Japan Shinto Shrine

Japan

Shinto Shrine Japan

Apparently 16 Year Old Japanese Boys Love Me

Today I had my first experience with a Japanese school. I went to Teisei Gakuen Junior and Senior High School in Tokyo. When I first arrived, we were ushered to a room to wait for the principal. He arrived with a few other teachers, and after a lot of bowing and a great deal of business card exchanging, we were on our way for a tour of the school. We walked the halls and they opened the classroom doors for me to peak in the rooms. I caused quite the distraction, I discovered, as students waved at me and one student stood up while the teacher was teaching so he could get a better look at me and then got smacked on the head with a stack of papers! Haha.

Next, we went to the lecture hall where I would speak. 80 students attended my class along with about 10 teachers (no pressure at all). I had no idea what level of English these students would have. Well, does it tell you anything that the English teacher at the school had to translate everything I said sentence by sentence? It’s so hard to do an interactive English lesson when no one can understand you! We made it through though and even had time to do a few tongue twisters. (Why did I choose one with an r-l combination?! Whoops!)  There was someone there to take pictures during my lesson, so I felt a bit  like I was at a press conference or that the paparazzi was stalking me.

After I was finished, we had a short question and answer period. Several students simply asked, “How can I improve my English?” Yes, I have a master’s degree in teaching ESL, but how in the world can I answer that question in a one minute answer?! There were also some general questions about how many siblings I have, what was my favorite subject in school, etc. Then it was asked if I had a boyfriend. Then the following conversation took place between me and a brave and bold 16 year old student:

Boy- “What is your ideal man?”

Me- “Someone who is kind and funny.”

Boy- “Um, is height a factor for you?”

I almost died!

When I finished the lesson (and also before I started), the entire group stood up, said something in unison and bowed to me. How interesting! And also, they presented me with a gift to thank me for my lesson. They were all too sweet! I got to spend a little time with some of them afterwards chatting and taking a few pictures.

After leaving the school, we went to eat with one of the teachers. He’s the one that gave us the tour of the school. I like that I never know the plan and never know what’s going on, because it’s all said in Japanese. We were just walking (to what I assumed was the subway station) when all of a sudden we are in a restaurant. I’m just like a little duck following her mommy sometimes while I’m here. I guess the teacher had asked Mr. M ahead of time what food I like, because all the dishes had been pre-ordered and arrived as soon as we sat down. There were probably 7 courses, and at the end, the head chef brought us out ice cream and shook my hand. It was SUCH a good meal!

So I had a pretty good day over here in Nihon. (That’s Japan in Japanese in case you didn’t know!) Tomorrow I’ll teach my 2 conversation classes again. In one class, we will be traveling to the Imperial Palace!

Japanese High School Students

ESLTeaching in JapanESL Teaching in Japan

Reunited And It Feels So Good

Today I was able to meet up with some Japanese people who I went to college with. I hadn’t seen them from anywhere from 2-6 years! We had such an amazing day! (And I got to take some pretty great pictures!)

Reunion with Friends

We met for lunch at a kaiten sushi restaurant. This is where everyone sits at a bar that’s in a circle and sushi goes by on a conveyor belt. A sushi train if you will. You just grab what you want, and they add up your total at the end by the color of plates you used. It was a very Japanese experience for me. My friend Haru even made me order some special items that weren’t on the conveyor IN JAPANESE! He just told me what to say and a few seconds later I got the sushi chef’s attention and repeated it. Haha. Speaking of my Japanese skills, I know about 6 words now- hello, goodbye, excuse me, chopsticks, noodles, and thank you. I could get by for about 2 years on those words!

Sushi in Japan

Sushi

Then we went to Tokyo Bay, which is the gateway to the Tokyo Sea. This bay is an active, busy port. We walked across the Rainbow Bridge (think Golden Gate bridge), then went to a shopping area and rode a ferris wheel and had some ice cream.

After that, we went to dinner at an Italian restaurant, where our friend Tao is working. I hadn’t seen him for 6 years! We had a fun time reminiscing. The chef, who is from Italy, even came out to greet us, ask us how our food was, and gave us free dessert and coffee!

To close out the day, we stopped in the downtown Shinjuku area to see the night lights. It was SO crowded there and also on the subway in that area. That’s the place to be I guess!

Tokyo at night

Japanese Lantern

This was my only day off while in Japan, so I made full use of it and was gone for about about 12 straight hours. My feet hurt! But it’s worth it. :]

I Didn’t Die on the Subway

I am so impressed with myself. No really. I am amazing. I took the subway by myself today, and I didn’t get lost or cry.

Tokyo Subway Map

Looks simple, huh?

It is pretty complicated. Once you are on the subway, it’s simple to see the stop you need (they show it in romanized letters). The part that gets me is walking around underground trying to find the right line, the right color, the right number, and the right gate. When I was with my students, they even took us the wrong direction a few times! I think I could conquer the Tokyo subway system if I had a few more months here.

So, on to my students. I had my first class today. I have 3 students in my morning class: 2 guys- Shun (23) and Naoya (33), and a girl- Azuki (19). We are practicing conversational English by taking field trips to various spots around Tokyo while speaking English the whole time. I really enjoyed getting to know my students and look forward to spending more time with them.

Japanese English Students

My students

Our first trip was to the Shibuya area. First we went to the Meiji Shrine, which is  a Shinto shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji, who died in 1912. It is a beautiful, green area. I love seeing the very Japanese toris, or gates.

Meiji Shrine

We even got to see a Japanese wedding that was taking place at the shrine. How interesting for me to get to witness!

Japanese Wedding

The bride’s outfit is interesting, huh?

There was also an area where you could write your prayers and hang them.

Meiji Shrine

Next we visited the Harajuku district. It is a famous shopping street and is also known for the crazy fashions you’ll see the young people there wearing. And I really did see some outrageous outfits!

Takeshita DoriJapanese Fashion

Harajuku Tokyo

So, overall I had a great day! I am looking forward to spending the day with alumni from my university tomorrow.

No Good, Stinkin’, Rotten Day

You never hear people talking about bad experiences or days very often when they are traveling. Usually it is all rainbows, and glitter, and butterflies (and sometimes puppies). However, I am here to tell you that yesterday was a pretty terrible day for me. Japan was not all things green tea, and sushi, and anime yesterday. Here’s why….

So, mind you, this is my first full day in Japan. Mr. M picked me up at my hotel around 10 am. He showed me the way from my hotel in Akasaka (the buisness district) to the hotel where his office is and where we will have the English lessons in an area called Shinjuku. It is a 20 minute walk from here to the subway station, a 10 minute ride on the subway, and a 20 minute walk from the stop to the hotel. 50 minutes of travel time several times a day is no fun! Plus, he told me to remember it all, because I would be doing it on my own from now on. Say what?! Think of being thrown in NYC for the first time and told you will have to find your way around. By yourself. On the first day. But in Japanese!

We finished orientation around 2. My friend Wakana (a Japanese girl that I know from her time in the US) was supposed to meet me at 5:30. It wasn’t quite enough time in between to merit the trek back to my hotel and then back again, so I stayed in the area. Mr. M didn’t offer me a place to rest or wait but just told me to go walk around. Well, I discovered you can only wander around for about 3 hours by yourself in a big city that you don’t know and where you don’t speak the language. Then you start getting tired of walking, jet lag starts taking over, and you get lost. Ok, I actually didn’t get lost, and I am thoroughly impressed with my sense of direction (sorry it doesn’t run in the family Katie!). Being by myself on my first day with nothing to do was no good. No good I tell ya. No good.

I did wander into a nice park. There was a lot of nature and even a shrine I checked out (I hope I was allowed in there!) But, here is the most traumatic part of my day. There are HUGE crows everywhere in Tokyo, which I find kind of strange. They are so loud and so evil looking. (Have you ever looked a crow in the eyes? If not, don’t do it!) Well, anyway, there was a huge crow the size from about your fingertips to your elbow sitting on the sign at the exit to the park. I looked at it and thought about how creepy it was while walking by. With my back turned to it now, all of a sudden, it swooped down and put it’s claws on my head! It let go luckily (it could have really hurt me!), but it scared me to death! Oh no! Now I’m going to be one of those people that are scared of birds!

Thankfully, dear, dear Wakana made my day have a good ending. She picked me up and we went to eat at a restaurant that is on the 49th floor of a building. We had the most amazing view while we were eating! It was a very traditional Japanese restaurant. We had to take off our shoes before entering, and we sat on very low seats at a low table. And the food was delicious! She even had them bring me out a birthday dessert! (Since I didn’t get to celebrate my birthday on the 21st really.) She also took me to the Tokyo Government Building Observation Tower, so we good see the view from the 45th floor. The elevator takes you from floor 1- floor 45 in 55 seconds! My ears popped! Wakana, even took me home so I wouldn’t get lost even though it was really out of her way. Thank God for friends! :]

So, Wakana saved the day, and I don’t plan to have any more bad days while here in Japan!

Tokyo Government Building Observatory

Me and Wakana in our photobooth picture at the Observation Deck

My birthday dessert with my name written in Japanese!

Tokyo Skyline

This was our view during dinner!

Bowing Out

About 20 hours later, I have made it to Japan! It happened to turn into my birthday as we were flying, which was kind of strange. I didn’t really know if it was my birthday or not! It makes for a strange birthday when only 9 hours of it exist! (Well, 6 for me, because jet lag wouldn’t allow me to stay awake for the rest of those hours.) Well, at least I have had another Asian birthday!

I landed at the Tokyo Narita airport and already started the adventure! My first stop after stepping off the plane was the bathroom. I have always heard that Japan has crazy toilets. Well, it’s true! They have squatty pottys and western toilets as well. The first one I used was a western toilet.  I was literally in the stall with my hand over my mouth trying to stifle my laughter once I accidentally pushed the button for fake flushing sound. You could also have a water spray, a deodorizer, and a seat warmer.

Japanese Toilet

See all of the wonderful functions?

Japanese Toilet

And there’s more!

My contact here, Mr. M, picked me up from the airport,  along with his wife, and drove us to downtown Tokyo (the steering wheel is on the right side of the car and they drive on the left!) They both seem very sweet! They took me to dinner (we had a weird German-Japanese hybrid meal at a German restaurant), then took me to my hotel to settle in.

I haven’t been to a country for a while where they bow (Myanmar and Thailand being the last ones). It is neat to see! When we checked into the hotel,  it seemed Mr. M and the hotel manager would have a bowing contest to thank each other for allowing me to stay here. I myself have already bowed to my waiter and the lady that gives me my key at the hotel! I was watching Japanese tv this morning and at the end of the newscast they even “bow out”.

I slept from 9 pm- 5:30 am. That’s not too bad. (What was bad was only sleeping for 2 hours on the 12 hour flight, which made for 2 hours of sleep in 24 hours because of traveling.)

In a few hours, I will meet Mr. M for an orientation, and he’s going to show me how to use the subway (gulp!). I think I’m in for an interesting and exciting trip!