Thursday, August 25, 2011

Let the Adventures Begin!

You know, they say there are four phases of culture shock. The first is Honeymoon, which I don’t really think needs an explanation. Phase two is Hostility, where all food, people, and smells related to the foreign environment are utterly repulsive. Phase three is Humor, my personal preference. And phase four is called simply Home.
 Well, we heard a lot about culture shock before coming here, but no one warned me that it’s possible to experience all four phases simultaneously and to morph into some kind of manic-depressive monster. But it is, indeed, very possible. It’s just a good thing that James has such a stable personality and doesn’t mind hysterical laughing one minute and having snot and mascara stains all over his t-shirt the next. Ah, culture shock, you keep my husband on his toes.
 There are so many of you that we would love to keep in touch with that we figured a blog was an easy and fun way to do it. And this way, we won’t bombard you with mass emails that you may or may not want to read. We promise to post an update every week - Sunday for us; Saturday for most of you.
 As most of you know, James and I applied for the JET Program back in November 2010. It was a long wait, but we finally found out in June 2011 that I got the job and had been placed in Aizu Wakamatsu, Fukushima, Japan, which was actually James’s first area on his mission. So we packed our two bags, left our beloved Hawaii, said goodbye to family, and came to Japan at the beginning of August.
 So much has happened in the last month that it is hard to fit it all into a blog post that anyone would want to read all the way through. I will try and give the top 20 or so highlights from our experience so far:

*We survived our first trip away from each other since being married. I spent a few days in Tokyo for a JET Program orientation and James stayed in California for an extra week. We are happy to be together again, and so grateful that we are able to have this adventure together. 
*James has already found two English teaching jobs (one at a technical college and one at an elementary school) and is looking into volunteering with an organization called Smile Kids Japan. The organization takes volunteers to visit orphanages in their area and assess the needs and plan fun activities for the kids. 
*I experienced my first international haircut. A picture of Meg Ryan's hair is truly worth a thousand words when it comes to trying to communicate with a Japanese hairdresser. 
*We toured the Tsurugajo castle, one of the bragging points of our city. The castle grounds have an almost reverent feel to them. It was like being instantly transported away from the city life and into the countryside. The inside of the castle has been turned into a museum, and the top level was a lookout where we got a great view of the city and could actually spot our apartment.

*We discovered the 75 uses of baking soda, and have been putting some of them to the test. It's reminds me of Windex in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
*We had our first (and hopefully last!) round of food poisoning. Note to self: don't buy discounted yakisoba, and nothing is safe on or past the expiration date. I haven't done any research on this, but I don't think the Japanese believe in food preservatives like Americans do, which really is a good thing once you learn to shop and eat like them. Most people here go grocery shopping every one or two days, and have very small refrigerators and other appliances.
*I figured out how to use the hot water! (It's complicated, ok?) We also figured out the rice cooker, the stove, the air conditioner, the toaster oven, etc. They are all written in Japanese. We don't have an oven, so if anyone out there has any recipes for cooking with a rice cooker or toaster oven, please let us know!
*Earthquakes have rocked our world (literally) almost every day. I think we have gotten used to it for the most part, but every once in a while, there is a "big" one that makes our hearts pound. Fortunately, our branch Relief Society president is so on top of things and she took us around to find supplies for our 72-hour kits.

The branch Relief Society president (left) and another American sister in the branch (right)
*We figured out the garbage system (well, mostly James. I still prefer to just hand him my garbage so that he can agonize over which of the four or five containers to throw it in).
*James bought a bike and I got one from my school, so we have been taking morning bike rides all over to explore town on our mamacharis. Biking is definitely the way to go around here.

*We met some of our neighbors. When James introduced himself to the lady beneath us, he said, "Hello, my name is James." She replied with, "I'm 87 years old!" It made us laugh. We still don't know her name. 
*We found the Church building and the branch members are really sweet. Lots of them remember James from his mission and are really excited to have him back for a whole year. In fact, they snagged him as soon as they could for a calling and set him apart as the second counselor in the branch presidency. A humbling calling for both of us, but he will do great. The branch already adores him. The missionaries hold English class on Wednesdays and Family Home Evening on Fridays, so we have had lots of fun getting involved with the members and investigators that way. We are so blessed to have a Church family wherever we go.

Weekly English class taught by the missionaries
*I started work the day after I arrived in Fukushima. School won’t start for a couple more weeks, so I have had plenty of time to study Japanese, write lesson plans, and make friends with the other teachers. I'm hoping things pick up a bit when school starts, but the students and teachers I have met so far are great. 
A brass band concert that my students invited us to. Sorry about the quality of all the pictures - we will try to do better in the future!

The English bulletin board I get to decorate every month
*We joined the Aizu Wakamatsu International Association and signed up for the fall semester of Japanese classes. 
*We planned our first trip to the Tokyo temple for this weekend. We will be making the five-hour drive to Tokyo tonight with a great American couple in our branch who offered to take us. More on that next week.
*We spent some time rearranging our apartment and making it more “our own.” I couldn’t be happier with our tiny place. Not much space, but lots of charm. 
*We have tried our hand at Japanese cuisine. Yakisoba, curry, stir-fry, cream and hayashi stew, miso soup, gyoza, somen, fried rice, eggs and rice, rice with sauce, rice without sauce, rice coming out our ears…you get the picture.
*We found an awesome Indian restaurant and had nan and chicken curry the other day. Parents, friends, teachers, mentors, husband, how have I lived this long without knowing about nan and chicken curry? I’m salivating just typing about it. We have also been to a few other restaurants including a cute Japanese ramen shop where took off our shoes when we came in and sat on pillows on the floor. 

*We discovered the joy of hyaku-en stores, the Japanese dollar store equivalent. Kitchen utensils, shoes, picture frames, food, the hyaku-en has it all. And for the most part, it is all really good quality. 
*We survived (and loved, I might add) a whole year of each other. Our anniversary is coming up tomorrow, and we are happy to be able to celebrate our life together in the same place it officially started - the temple. (Granted, this temple is thousands of miles across the ocean from that other temple, but you get the point!) Happy anniversary James! 


  1. Good to hear from you guys! someday Im gonna go to Japan with my now wife Lauren and buy all the manga hahah. Thanks for keeping us posted

  2. Great job my love! Such a cute blog. I will be anxiously awaiting next week's edition. Kisses!!