Author Archives: Dana

Second Anniversary

I’ve been married for two years. That’s kind of crazy. I can’t believe how quickly the time has passed. For our second anniversary, we’ve promised each other gifts (and we already know what they are) for once we return to the US next year. We want to take home with us as little as possible, so buying each other more stuff we’d only have to try and pack later seems impractical.

However, that day is very special, and so was the whole weekend. On Saturday night, the eve of our anniversary we ate a sort of French inspired restaurant in town called Pole Pole (pronounced “po-lay po-lay), At 8 courses, this was the biggest dinner I’ve ever had.

Since the restaurant was here in town, we just walked the couple kilometers along Ichinomiya River to get there.

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(Side note: I recently lost 35 pounds, can’t you tell I look amazing?)

The restaurant itself was in a quiet area, hidden from street view.

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By American standards, it was also very small, with only 5 tables.

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Here’s 5 of the 8 courses we had. Mind you, despite having a small breakfast and no lunch, I filled up halfway through. It was a difficult but delicious three hours.

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The dessert course was beautiful, and everyone in the restaurant, including the chefs, clapped for us. It was adorable.

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Our dinner was made more special by the fact that the owner actually spoke a fair amount of English. That took me by complete surprise. This is a rural area, so besides the occasional out of towner at the beach, almost everyone here speaks only Japanese. This was also the first time I’ve eaten with silverware outside of our home. When we eat out, it’s usually to eat Japanese food. At home we make a lot of Western meals, but I realized when I first picked up a fork and knife at the restaurant how crazy it felt to actually cut my food!

The total came to about $150 USD for two 8 course meals and two glasses of champagne. For what it was, that’s extremely reasonable.

The next day, our actual anniversary date (at least in Japan), we celebrated by laying low at home and just being together. Those are the best days.

Now it’s Monday. I need to lose the kilo I gained over the past two days. I’m still so full that working out this morning was a nightmare. A totally, 100% worth it nightmare.

Until next time!

Back By Popular Demand!

People have been asking me to update my blog and they’re right to do so. I’m glad I’ve gotten as many readers as I have and I’ve been really slacking off. It’s not that I don’t want to, but that time difference really makes it difficult. In order to allow for maximum readership, I like to update my blog between 9-10am JST (5-6pm PST). Unfortunately, the mornings are when I’m busiest. That’s when I run 5 miles, do all of the housework, and then get ready for the day. When I finally have time to update, I won’t get as many readers so I don’t see much of a point.

But I rushed through my chores this morning (and in doing so failed to wash a blanket that needed washing), so here I am! Since it’s been so long since I’ve updated, I thought I’d use this post to tell you all how much I love and miss you.

I admit it: I’m homesick. I didn’t think it would happen. I knew I’d miss my family and all my friends, but I thought when I moved to Japan I’d be all tough and not care. Turns out, when you have a family as awesome as mine and Kenny’s, not seeing them regularly begins to wear down on you.

I talk to my parents on the phone typically once a week for 30-60 minutes. I keep thinking that I’m about to come home and see them, and then quickly remember I’m not. I’m always so ecstatic when I’m on the phone, but once I hang up I get so incredibly sad because they’re so far away. Mom and Dad, I really miss you, and I think about you constantly.

I miss Willamette. I miss working at the registrar’s office, campus life, and all the other departments I simultaneously had jobs at. I miss all my professors and the many, many friends I made when I was there. I keep thinking when we do move back to the US I’ll somehow end up back in class at Willamette. That’s obviously not going to happen, but, I wish college could’ve gone on forever.

Many of you already know I’m homesick. Several friends and family members did me and Kenny a huge favor by mailing us cookies (which we’re still eating at a rate of one cookie per day). It’s nice to feel loved, and every package we’ve received in the mail has brought tears to my eyes.

The other half of homesickness comes from the never-ending culture shock. Things like how animals are treated, all the public urination, not to mention the tiff we’re currently in with the neighborhood association and the fact that many people in town don’t really want us around because we’re foreigners….yeah, makes a gal wish she was home.

That being said, I do like Japan a lot. For having lived here, I will always have a special bond with the place. And, in many respects, our lives right now are great. Kenny and I have never looked better. We’ve both lost nearly 35 pounds each, I run every day, our self-confidence has grown…things have actually been wonderful.

To help combat the homesickness, we’ve been eating a lot of Western food, particularly breakfast. The catch is that we never eat breakfast feasts at breakfast. Starting the day with a super unhealthy meal sets a really bad precedent and makes us was to eat like bigs for the rest of the day. So instead, a couple nights a week we’ll have breakfast for dinner. We’ve made pancakes, french toast, and breakfast sandwiches on english muffins.  Tomorrow night we’re going to try making green tea pancakes (pancakes with matcha powder added too the batter). Breakfast is so much fun to make and these recipes are so easy it makes me wonder why people buy instant.

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Our grocery store also started selling tortillas so we started making steak tacos and quesadillas. The food helps a lot.

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Love all of you ❤

 

 

 

Hanami

First, I should catch up. I haven’t been updating much because frankly, we haven’t been doing much. Kenny and I are both working very hard at getting into shape. I’m down to 133 pounds, about 3 pounds from my original goal and 8 from my new goal. It’s awesome. After struggling with my weight for so long, I’ve finally found a lifestyle that works for me, and I’ve never felt better. Because of this, we don’t eat out much, we don’t tend to go places that involve us eating junk food, and we don’t want to be out of the house so much that we aren’t able to exercise every day. So we haven’t been doing much. Until this past weekend.

We were invited to a 花見 (hanami), or flower viewing party, at one of the local teacher’s family homes. We don’t get to go in Japanese houses very often, but when we do, we never want to leave. They look so cool. Really sucks to have to return to where we live after being in a place this nice.DSC_9872

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After having us inside for tea, we went on a tour of the gardens surrounding their property. Everything was in bloom. It was a gorgeous day.DSC_9865 DSC_9870 DSC_9873

They keep bees. They scoffed at the idea of using the wax to make candles or anything. I thought that was pretty funny.

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After touring the property, we had a picnic outside. Normally for lunch I have a serving of tofu, some fruit, and a couple crackers. This was a glorious vacation for me. Heck, just eating white rice is a vacation for me.

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Well, now that it’s Wednesday here, I guess I might as well start preparing today’s lunch. Yes, it’s a serving of tofu, some fruit, and a couple crackers. But that’s okay because dinner is beef and curry!

 

Trips to the Doctor

DISCLAIMER: this blog post is long, but it’s the most important one I’ve written to date because it says more about Japanese society and culture than any other post so far.

A couple weeks ago I started feeling very weak and lightheaded. I put off going to the doctor for a while because I never had before and dreaded the first visit. After finally doing it, I learned just how different the whole doctor’s office experience is in Japan.

In the US, if I wanted to go to the doctor, I had to make an appointment. Unless it was something urgent, my doctor was so busy I had to schedule it a month in advance. Once at the doctor’s office, I’d sign my name on a chart, which they’d use to check me in and quickly black it out for my own privacy. Then I’d sit in the waiting area, which was made to feel kind of like a living room, for about 45 minutes before finally being called back by my doctor’s nurse  to one of three patient rooms. The nurse always checked my weight, blood pressure, and pulse. Then she’d disappear and 15 minutes later finally the doctor would come in. That appointment usually lasted only 15 minutes and then I’d leave and not see the doctor for again very long time. Everything felt so normal and standard.

Point by point, everything is different in Japan. If you don’t already know, everyone in Japan who is not only here on a 3 month tourist visa is required to enroll in the national insurance plan. That plan covers 70% of everything. The remaining 30% is still considerably less than what you would pay for the same procedure in the US because prices are set by the government. Because everything is so cheap, according to Frontline’s Sick Around The World people go to the doctor 3x as often as they do in the US, and doctors are more inclined to prescribe more drugs, particularly those that treat symptoms. There’s also no “gatekeeper” system in place. That is, if you want to see a specialist like a cardiologist or neurologist, you don’t need a referral from your primary care physician. Between me and Kenny, our insurance costs us less than about $30 USD every month. Finally, according to that same episode of Frontline, Japan has the highest life expectancy in the world, BUT, that could also be attributed to lifestyle.

I got that out of the way, so here’s how the actual doctor experience went. First, no appointment was needed. Appointments are typically only made hospitals; the rest of the time you just show up and say you want to see the doctor. Also, doctor’s offices stay open until 6 or 7pm in Japan, so you can go right after work. I walked in with Kenny, my translator, gave the woman at the front desk my insurance card, she had me fill out a half piece of paper, and then I sat down. The waiting area does not look like a living room, but felt more like a train station. To make space, benches are lined up in rows. I was nervous about the doctor right away because there were only a couple other people in the waiting room with me. While waiting, they had me take my temperature, which I’m told is pretty much the only thing they check. It was high, but only because every building in Japan in my opinion is crazy hot in the winter.

A nurse called me back, had me sit in the hallway and asked what was wrong. Kenny, always prepared, had written down my symptoms translated into Japanese. We also mentioned we thought my blood pressure might be low because a lot of the women in my family have that problem. The nurse disappeared to talk to the doctor, then brought me in to see him. Instead of having multiple patient rooms, there’s just one. I sat on a small chair about a foot from the doctor himself. The doctor came off as very rude; very annoyed that we are foreigners. That happens a lot. He checked my blood pressure three times, said it was a little low, wrote me a prescription, and told me to come back in a week. Also, instead of the doctor having one nurse, he had seven, and apparently having a lot of nurses is the norm. One did all the work, the other six just stared. It wasn’t weird because I’m a foreigner and people stare at me all the time. We paid the balance, a little over $10 (which was higher than normal because it was my first appointment).

I wasn’t satisfied with that appointment at all. He never told me what my blood pressure was and the machine was facing away from us so we couldn’t tell. A little low means nothing to me because it’s always “a little low.” Nonetheless, I decided maybe I would take the medicine for a week and see if I felt better.

We went across the parking lot to a pharmacy and got the drugs filed. The pharmacist was a whole lot nicer to both of us. He gave me three drugs. I was shocked, three seemed like a lot, but I asked a student I tutor and he told me even leaving the pharmacy with 4-5 drugs is normal in Japan. What was even crazier to me is that they all needed to be taken multiple times a day. One of the drugs had a texture I’ve never even heard of. It was about the size of kosher salt. You’re supposed to just pour it in your mouth and swallow it with water. Well, whatever, I took medical sociology in college, I figured they wouldn’t be prescribing drugs if they aren’t supposed to help. I went home and took all of them.

The next day I pretty much threw a tantrum. I felt even worse that day than the day before, I demanded to Kenny that he take me to another doctor who will run more tests because that’s what my doctor in the US would do. Kenny really wanted me to keep taking the drugs for a week, but I was extremely insistent. We went to another doctor in the neighborhood that same day.

We told the second doctor we weren’t happy with how things went the day before and I wanted lab work done to rule out issues like diabetes or anemia. First, he checked my blood pressure, and once I finally saw just how incredibly low it was, I started to feel the lab work was unnecessary, but, we already asked for it, so I did it anyway. That appointment, because of the lab work, was about $22, which is still less than my copay was in the US. I had to wait four days for the results. Instead of calling me like my doctor in the US would, this meant a third trip to the doctor.

In the meantime, the second doctor told me to keep taking the drugs the first one gave me, and even added a fourth. We were also surprised to find out that the first three drugs were merely to treat symptoms. I hate symptom-treating drugs. I think they’re useless. My medical philosophy says to treat the problem, not the symptoms it’s producing.  But, the doctor told me to do it, so I did for another day and half, then we looked up what that fourth was. It was Xanax.  Now, I know drugs in Japan can be prescribed for different uses than the ones in the US. For example, Benadryl is illegal as an antihistamine in Japan, but legal as a sleep aid drug. So, it’s possible he was prescribing it for something else than what we all know people in the US take Xanax for. Still, Kenny and I were shocked, broke out into laughter, and I threw out all four drugs. They all made me feel worse, so I’m not really sure why I was taking any of them.

Anyway, I went back to the doctor for a third time, and all the lab work as I suspected came back negative. I literally walked in, the doctor said in English “normal range” and we left. All of the appointments were extremely short, but that one was under a minute. Very impressive. My problem is merely low blood pressure. It’s always been a little bit of an issue, but I’m eating so healthy now that I’m not getting much sodium. It’s an easy problem to fix, but I’m so reluctant to do it. Every time I have a meal with a lot of salt it shows on the scale the next morning because it makes me retain water. Obviously, I’m doing it anyway. I feel a whole lot better.

PS I still can’t believe he gave me a week’s worth of Xanax. I mean, Xanax! In the future, I probably won’t take too many of the drugs they prescribe, unless it’s like an antibiotic or something actually necessary.

The Cats of Ichinomiya

Kenny came up with the idea for me to make a blog post with pictures of cats from around the town. I normally see 5-6 cats a day (at least) while I’m out jogging. I’m an aspiring crazy cat lady, so you’d think that would make me happy. The reason I see so many cats is I’m sure largely because it’s very uncommon to spay and neuter your pets in Japan. It’s also very common to let your un-spayed and un-neutered pets roam free outdoors. As a result, there are tons of strays. I’m particularly sad about this now as this winter has been particularly harsh, and I’m sure a lot of the strays around our apartment haven’t survived it.

Additionally, Japan is not big on animal shelters. There are pounds everywhere that euthanize animals after holding them for a short period of time, but that’s about it. I know there’s a big shelter in Tokyo, and not surprisingly, it’s run by a foreigner, but there really aren’t too many. Lots of puppy mills, though. We went to a pet store just for fun a couple months ago, and the cheapest puppies and kittens they had were about $1000. They also didn’t look like real cats and dogs. They were too perfect.

Moral of the story, please spay and neuter your pets. Also, adopt instead of buy (I’m talking to you, Mom and Dad!).

Here is a small fraction of some of the many, many strays in the neighborhood:

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#MyFavoriteBreedIsRescued

Haircuts and Such (20th Post!)

I haven’t been updating because, honestly, we haven’t been doing much. We’ve been here nearly six months now and we are settling into pretty nice routines. Last weekend was pretty fun, though. Kenny and I each got haircuts. I’m not posting a picture of what I look like now because I hate it. I seriously hate it. I don’t look like me. I showed her a picture of what I wanted, and this definitely is not that. It’s my own fault, really. I probably should’ve chosen a Japanese hairstyle. Next time, that’s what I’m doing. I’m a bit disappointed because a haircut was supposed to be my reward for all the exercising I’ve done. I’ve lost about 13 pounds in the last couple months and have been eating really well. Now I look like a boy. Oh, well.

We’ve befriended a cat. He may or may not be a stray, but he sure does love me! He lives by a sandwich shop/bakery that we frequently go to. I sat down to pet him and he jumped right on my lap. I wish we could take him home with us.

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Here’s a picture of a sandwich from that same shop. It’s the best sandwich ever. She makes everything from the bread to the mayonnaise. It’s a chicken sandwich. It’s actually quite small, but the tiny plate it’s resting on makes it look huge.

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Friday night we went out for ramen at the local place. It’s the best ramen I’ve ever had outside of Tokyo.
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I keep thinking having a bowl of ramen will satisfy my craving, but it never does. It just makes me want more ramen the next day. I mean, look at it! I have a similar problem with sushi. I never have that issue with sushi in the US. Find me some good sushi and maybe I will, but I’ve never come across it before.

This weekend we are going to see two movies: American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street. The first of the month is the day to see movies. They go from about $18 down to $10, and both those movies come out Friday. Not to mention the $30 or so we have to pay to get to the theater by train. It’s very lucky that the first of the month is a Saturday. It’ll be a LONG day for movie, but we are stoked to see both of them!

Happy New Year!

Another year has come and gone. What a week it has been! Probably the best one since we got here. I’m so sad it’s over and all the New Year’s hoopla is dying down.

New Year’s is a big deal in Japan (and yes, it’s celebrated January 1st). It’s a holiday with deeply rooted historical, cultural, and religious significance. We were so lucky to be a part of the festivities. Kenny was given an entire week off from work and I cut back on tutoring.

One tradition in Japan is to drive out to the coast to see the first sunrise of the New Year. Luckily, we live within walking distance of the beach so we always planned on going. The night before, however, we started having second thoughts. We’d have to wake up at 4am and walk for thirty minutes in freezing weather without warm jackets (we’re cheap). The next morning when the alarm went off at 4, Kenny actually turned to me and asked to stay. I forced him out of bed with me because we already told everyone in town we’d go and we had a piece of toast and made our way to the beach.

I’m so glad we did. It was beautiful. I have never seen such a magnificent sunrise. I totally understand why people head to the beach. You can clearly see the sun come up over the horizon, and the light on the water is perfect. Not to mention, the sky was totally clear. We really lucked out with the weather. Everyone started cheering with the sun was first visible.

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Next, we walked to the big shrine in our area on the other side of town, (玉前神社), to have our first prayer of the new year. Most of the people with us at the beach were there at the shrine, it seemed. I’m so glad we got there when we did, as we only had to wait about 30-40 minutes to get in to say our prayer. We came back by for an afternoon stroll and the line was down the street. Those people would have to wait a couple hours before getting in. By the way, I’d love to take pictures of the actual shrine to share instead of just the gate (below), but it’s extremely disrespectful, so this will have to do.

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We spent the rest of the day eating and relaxing, the other part of the New Year’s tradition. It was great.

Saturday, we made our way to Omiya in Saitama prefecture for a small New Year’s gathering with Kenny’s host mother from high school, her family, and some of their friends who have become our friends. We walked over to the large shrine in their area (氷川神社), which is considerably larger than ours), had our fortunes told (I think that’s what was happening), and bought an arrow. We’re not sure what to do with that arrow, but supposedly have it protects us from Demons…or something. Here we are at a smaller shrine looking like the very demons the arrow I’m holding is supposed to protect us from (thanks a lot, iPhone camera flash).

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Omiya is great. If we could choose anywhere in Japan to live, it would be here.

The next day, we went to meet some friends in Kawagoe, Saitama. We met up with my old research partner and awesome friend from college. She’s Japanese, and it was so cool seeing her in her element. In the US, I was the one leading us around, but here, she was. The three of us went out to lunch, broke down and bought me and Kenny some winter coats, and then went and did karaoke. Everyone in Japan does karaoke and I’ve always wanted to, but Kenny hates it. He did it anyway, for me, and at least 2 out of the 3 of us had a blast. Unlike in karaoke bars in the US, here you typically go in a private room so you only are singing with your friends. I can’t wait to do it again. I totally understand the hype.

Again, I’m so sad this week is over. I love Saitama so much and I can’t wait to go back. Everyone we know and love (who is in Japan) is there. It feels more like home than Chiba does.