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15 October 2009 @ 11:27 pm
So, after using this site for a while, then being absent for a while, I have had time to search for greener pastures.  And I found them.  If you would like to continue reading my stories then come on over to


There will be pictures. :)

See you!
12 January 2009 @ 12:11 pm
When I first started working as a preschool teacher at my current job.  I wasn't quite sure what to expect.  In the interview I got such a great feeling from the director of the school that I just got sold on the idea and thought, "This sounds like a happy place to work."   During my training my coworkers told me that we should try to not use the word, "No."  Ummm.  What? 

I thought it was kind of silly and ridiculous to never say "No."  I figured that I would find a bunch of spoiled and out of control kids in the class.  I had watched Nanny 911 enough to know that you gotta be powerful and strong with children.  Kids who are just a little bit afraid of you are good kids. 

I found out that I had a lot to learn.  Its not so much about control and punishment, but rather thinking in a positive way versus looking for what's wrong all the time.  In my school, rather than say "Don't pick your nose."  I say, "What do you plan to do with that booger after you pull it out of your nose?"..."Yeah maybe you should get a tissue."  Its just a different way of thinking.  The kids have a lot of responsibility to think for themselves and do what is right. 

I worry that too many adults treat kids like they are "wrong" and scold them and take away their pride and confidence.  There is really no need to shame a child when they make a mistake or do something that is not good for them and others.  It takes more effort, but if you just talk to them and try to explain the "whys" of what we do as people, it is so much better. 

But you know, it is not easy to break old habits.  I still often hear myself saying "No" to kids when they startle me and do something totally unexpected. When that happens I try to add a "please" to then end of the sentence.  For example, "Don't eat that Lego!...please."  Then afterwards we talk about how if we eat all of the legos then there won't be any left to play with.  Oh, and it will probably hurt to poop them.  Kids can relate to these ideas. 

It has really made a big difference in my life to try and think in a positive way.  Rather than get all pissed when someone bumps into me as they speed past me on the street, I just figure that maybe they are in a hurry to get somewhere.  I know it sounds silly and basic, but before I would really get annoyed by these little things.  I could make lists of all of the things that "people" do that pisses me off.  But why did I feel this way?  Its such a waste of energy. 

So I am still working on thinking in a more positive way.  It really is a lot of work but its worth it. 
04 January 2009 @ 01:54 pm
Notice how I didn't call this entry "Christmas 2008." Yeah thats because Christmas in Japan is pretty disappointing. Of course that is to be expected. It is not a Christian country. However that did not stop this country from adopting the holiday...well pieces of it. Here are some funny Christmas traditions in Japan:
- People eat KFC. I am not sure why exactly but somehow it became a local tradition.
- Lots of young women wear sexy Santa costumes. I was looking for a Santa costume for our school and at the shop about 90% of the costumes on display were for women rather than men. ha ha
- Department stores and shopping malls still have a lot of decorations and piped in carols.
- Guys buy Christmas cakes for their girlfriends. A small cake about the size of stack of pancakes can cost around $30.
- Kids get presents next to their pillow.
and finally I have saved the worst for last...
- Couples have a date then end the night in a love hotel

So, Christmas is not my favorite thing here. However New Years is the real event in Japan. But you already knew that didn't you?

On New Years eve my friends and I planned to go clubbing in Tokyo until the morning train. We also put in some time to eat Soba noodles before midnight. The noodles are long and they symbolize our hopes for a long life. I asked my Japanese boyfriend if I could make a wish while eating the soba. He said no.

As sometimes happens, the clubbing plans didn't go as expected. The first place we went was really empty. The next place cost $40 to get in and was INSANELY crowded and crappy.

(My advice: Never never never go to a club called Vuenos in Shibuya. Its a bad, overpriced, dirty, crowded, hell-hole full of the most annoying people you would never want to meet. They also are crooks because after being inside for less than 5 minutes we tried to leave and return our drink vouchers but they wouldn't give us our money back. Vuenos in Shibuya sucks. Maybe if I put there name in here enough my entry will show up on Google searches and potential customers will be diverted. I am vengeful sometimes. Vuenos.)

So rather than blow all our money on cover charges all night we decided to go to a fun little pub called the Hub. Its a nice place. Everytime I have gone there I have met nice people and had fun. This night was no exception. We met a group of French tourists who spoke to us in heavily accented English about when and where to go in France on vacation. Then we met a really clever and funny Norwegian guy who we talked to until the wee hours when trains were running again.

So we hopped a train back to Yokohama to watch the first sunrise of the year. Finally, my boyfriend told me that I could make a wish when I saw the first sunrise. I smiled and he asked me what I wanted to wish for. When I told him I wish for 10 more wishes he seemed confused. I think I ruined the moment. There is a lovely park near Motomachi that offered the perfect view. Like many perfect and charming Japanese events, you are not the only one who knows about it. So I shared this romantic and peaceful moment with my boyfriend...and about 150 strangers.

The next day, January 1st is a very important family day in Japan. Many relatives get together and eat traditional foods and make their first visit of the year to their local shrine. I spent the day with my adoptive Japanese relatives, Seiko's family. When I showed up at the train station Seiko and her 3 year old niece Wakana greeted me. I said to Wakana "Akemashite omedeto gozaimasu." (Which means Happy New Year. I had been practicing it in the train the whole way there.) Then she just smiled and said it back to me. Yay, it worked!

At Seiko's house we ate soup made with Mochi(sticky pounded rice), radish, onions, salmon, tonyaku (I don't know how to explain this), tofu, carrots, and fish cake. It is so warm and yummy. It is like Japanese soul food. I ate a total of like 6 bowls over two days. There is also a sweet soup made with sweet beans and mochi that I really enjoy. Seiko told me that over these 3 days they will eat sweet and salty food that was prepared in advance so that the mom can take a break from cooking.

I also joined them on a visit to their religious center. It is not really shrine or temple. It is the place where practicing Buddists go for services. I am not sure what the English name would be. It was a really cool experience. Seiko's mom is in the religion of Soka Gakkai. It is the biggest religion in Japan.

The service was so interesting. Here is a play-by-play:
When we entered the building there were about 20 people wearing suit jackets greeting us and directing us where to go. We first took off our shoes and then put them in these rows and rows of shelves. Each area had a little logo/picture so you can remember where your shoes are afterwards. After this we went to a greeter and gave him the tickets with our names that Seiko's mom had given us. He gave us a pretty card that says some stuff I can't understand and has a picture of water lilies on it.

We walked into the room/church for the service and sat on the floor. There were tatami mats on the floor and a few chairs along the walls for the elderly. The services started with a lot of chanting. "namio ho re ge kyo namio ho re ge kyo namio ho re ge kyo..." The sounds of so many people chanting was quite moving. It really made me just stop thinking for a second and just listen. I felt really calm. Then about 5 different lectors talked for a few minutes each. Then another short chanting session. Then...it was over. It lasted 15 minutes!

It was clearly time to go because now about 100 different people started directing traffic and telling us where to stand, walk, and go. We got our shoes and filed along with the waves of people out the door to the car park where even more staff were directing cars. Whew! It was such a whirlwind.

I am not sure how many people were in the church. Its hard to tell because you can fit a lot of people in a room when they sit on the floor. But once we started leaving it became apparent that there were A LOT of people in there.

It gave me so much to think about. I guess there are many more ways to pray than I had considered.

Happy New Year!
29 November 2008 @ 11:56 am
Thursday morning I was running late. (As usual) I decided to get on the first car of the train. It is the one that lets me off closest to the ticket gates so I can make a quicker transfer at the station. It is also the most crowded car. It doesn't really bother me anymore to be on a crowded train. I only get upset if my lunch gets smashed.

This day was another packed day. I was pressed on on all sides and I could not move an inch. My arm was up holding on to the bar for balance. My mind was just wandering like it usually does, when I realized that something was really pressing against my backside. I assumed it was a briefcase or somekind of object. Then I realized that it was warm. I could feel it very distinctly then I would stop feeling it and think that it had just been my imagination. But it came to a point where I could feel fingers. It became shockingly apparent that the large man behind me was touching me. I kind of froze. I tried to turn my body and inch away from him. But the train was so packed that I couldn't move without jostling all of the people around me. I was getting some sideways glances from those people who clearly felt annoyed that the foreigner was bumping into them.

My mind was a mess. I actually started feeling ashamed and embarassed. Like it was somehow my fault. I felt like I had a choice to make a big scene and call out the man for what he was or do nothing. And I was afraid so I did nothing.

As the train was pulling into the last station the man grabbed me and was pressing himself against me strongly. He was breathing hard in my ear. I was pulling the bar really hard to try and get away from him, but I couldn't move at all. It was awful.

When the doors opened at the station I didn't even look back. I just ran out on to the busy platform and ducked in front of people as I made my way to the front of the pack. I made my transfer and got to work. When I walked in the door of work one of my students ran up to me and started telling me a funny story. I realized that I didn't want to let what happened ruin my mood for the whole day so I just pushed it back.

Throughout the day I would think of it then just push it back again. By the end of the day it felt like it had just been a dream that never happened. My emotions wouldn't even properly register. I would almost laugh thinking about it.

But I have good friends at work so I decided to tell them about it. They were very sympathetic which I needed. And they were also angry which I didn't realize I needed but I did. There is really nothing I can do in the way of pressing charges since I don't know who did it. So I have to focus on what I CAN do. I need to realize that what happened has nothing at all to do with ME. It is just a messed up person who would have done the same thing to any other person who was standing there at the time. I was just unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I also need to make a plan to protect myself. I need to have an automatic response that I do if this ever happens again. Since my brain is unreliable in these situations I need to have something that I don't think about but I just DO.

I had heard about train perverts a long time ago. It is real problem in Japan. There are cars on morning trains for only women. THIS is supposed to be enough preventative measure. I thought that these perverts were silly fools who would never have the guts to try their crap on someone like me. I figured if they did I would relish in calling them out for what they are. I would make them regret what they did and humiliate them in the process. I thought that Japanese women were weak for putting up with this in their society.

I have a lot more sympathy for these women now. It is not easy to defend yourself in these humiliating circumstances. These guys have a plan when they are doing this. They are calculating, horrible, disgusting people.

I was talking to my female friend about this last night. We came to the conclusion that it is really hard to defend yourself when these bad things happen. But it is much easier to stand up for your friends. I think women need to work hard to take care of each other. We need to support and protect one another because we never know when we will be needing suppport and protection.
20 November 2008 @ 09:22 pm
Remember me? Sorry it has been a while since I posted. I don't have a good reason. Maybe facebook is taking over my computer.

Not to get too girly-girly on you all, but I wanted to share some funny things I have learned about dating in Japan. I feel like I have been here long enough that the brainwashing is starting to take effect and I have to remind myself that "I am not like this." and "This is not how I like to live my life." But, in the strife to fit in I have fallen into some funny habits myself.

My first year in Japan I felt utterly at a loss when trying to meet guys. I felt that Japanese men found me too aggressive and outspoken so they probably would never approach me. And they didn't. One Canadian girl told me to not even bother with Japanese men and just go for the Latinos. I also figured that every foreign guy was too busy being worshipped by Japanese women to give a try to a girl like me who will make them prove themselves before I fall all over them. I was (partially) wrong and have found that I just didn't understand the culture.

It started last winter. I decided that I didn't want to wait around anymore so I was just going to be outgoing and try. I call it the "I don't know how to play dating games so I won't" approach. Its a long name. Maybe I could shorten it to IDKHTPDGSIW. Eh...still too long.

Since then I have met and dated quite a few Japanese and foreign men.

From what I can gather from female Japanese friends of mine a typical date in this country goes something like this:
The girl asks the guy out.
She probably met him through a friend.
They have dinner at some swanky place.
He pays.
Conversation is modest and polite but can include topics of salary, blood type, and what prefecture they are each from.
A short walk around someplace nice is typical. He might walk in front of her. They don't hold hands.
A bow and small wave at the train station ends the night.
He may not call or email her again until the next Friday when they arrange for another meeting.

This can carry on for weeks and months. He is working overtime nearly every day of the week. He can't really meet her afterwork. Many weekends they can't meet because one or the other has to attend a mandatory drinking party with their coworkers.

Learning this I was very hesitant to even try dating Japanese men. Some of my friends have had success and met great Japanese guys. So I don't want to make a sweeping statement saying that all Japanese men are the same. Of course they aren't. But the guys I have met have fallen into two categories: 1. They think I am super cool because I am American and want to show me off around town and have loud conversations with me in English in public places. 2. They think I am easy because American girls in TV shows and movies are. They try to take me to a hotel on the first date.

I did find that Japanese guys need a lot more encouraging than foreign men. Its not enough to smile at them, or wave, or motion towards your empty glass, or hold up your left hand and gesture wildly at your bare ring finger. No, you have to talk to them and somewhere in the conversation clearly state that you like them and want to hang out with them. Clearly. Just use those exact words if nothing else. Otherwise you will be playing a long game of trying to figure each other out that will fizzle into frustration and confusion.

The Japanese dates I have been on haven't ALL been bad. (But those stories are less interesting so I won't share them.)
I had one date with a man who really liked Jazz and Blues but didn't understand all of the lyrics. His English wasn't so great. So he took me to a jazz/blues bar and asked me what each song was saying. I had to really simplify everything so basically I spent the whole night saying, "His girlfriend left him. He is sad. Really sad. Sometimes when he is sad he feels bad..."
Once a guy asked me if I had ever seen a cactus and are they really dangerous. He probably also wondered if I could get him John Wayne's autograph.
One guy I was dating for a couple of months said I seemed to be moving too fast because I called him on his birthday. We had been out that Saturday and he usually called me to make plans on Thursday, but I jumped the gun by calling him on a Monday. I think I missed something in the translation there.
I was shocked once when a man walked in front of me during our post-dinner stroll. I asked if he was in a hurry to get somewhere. He just said no. I see this all the time with other couples but I was still blown away when it happened to ME.
In a club one night a man walked up to me and said point blank, "I like big busts." (I am not busty at all by western standards BTW) But he really thought that this was an appropriate pick up line.

What really bothers me is the lack of affection and also not treating me like a "lady." It feels really cold. But then there is the other extreme where a guy is all hands-y. ugh. There is not much hand holding here. Also, in Japan it is not common for people to kiss in public. It bothers me. I don't want a big sloppy one but a nice goodnight kiss would be welcomed. What's a girl gotta do?

Date other guys.

So I have dated other types and nationalities of men with mixed success. There are some good guys out there. After my experience with the Japanese guys I am always really thrilled to have a date pull out my chair, open the door for me, leave me sweet little messages on my phone, and do all the dating stuff that I am used to. I nearly married a man recently who told me over a bottle of wine that he can speak 10 languages, likes cats, talks to his mom every week, and has two degrees in Engineering and Ecology. (I'm seeing him again on Saturday.)

However, being a foreigner makes it complicated. I am not looking for my husband and I am not looking for a fling. I am in this gray area where I would like to date you and hang out with you but eventually...I'm gonna leave. I don't know if I will find someone serious who will fit into my plans or who I would change my plans for. But there are always questions and risks when you start new relationships. You can let them stop you. You can see them as obstacles. Or you can just enjoy your life and all of the challenges and adventures it brings.

If a foreign woman were to ask me for advice I would tell her to be confident and just have fun getting to know new people. Being from another country is also an easy coversation starter. There are a few questions that can break the ice easily like, "Where are you from?" "How long have you been in Japan?" and "Do you like natto?"
Don't lose yourself. I have been guilty of letting a man pay for everything all night even though its not really the western way to do things. I have also been guilty of having whole conversations about blood type. So lame, I know. I am more shy and standoff-ish than I was before and I think this is directly related to being in Japan for this long.
But...the first step is admitting, right?

I think the best way to end this is by quoting the great Smokey Robinson, "My mama told me...you better shop around."
20 September 2008 @ 10:56 pm
So, I listen to NPR radio podcasts to keep up to date on my Americana. I like to hear all of the things that are happening over there. Today I was listening to a story about BJD's. That stands for Ball Jointed Dolls. It said that these new dolls from Japan are really popular around the world now. You can special order every detail about their appearance from hair, eyes, skin color, and body type. I thought it sounded interesting so I googled them. Plus, when I was a little girl I loved Barbies and part of me still finds dolls fun.

But...this...is different.

Well, I guess that each doll owner is different. Some people might just find them fun and cute. But...some people have really lost their grip on reality. Maybe these people are lonely. For whatever reason, they have started to treat these dolls like people.

I recently watched the movie, "Lars and the Real Girl" so maybe this whole idea is on the surface of my mind still.

It's just kind of weird and interesting. So if you want to drop your jaw then go to this website and read the photo comments.

18 September 2008 @ 08:19 pm
So I have been thinking about picture taking a lot lately.

In my job we take pictures of the kids all day long. We then use these pictures to update our monthly website, make birthday cards, and newsletters. At the end of the year we make a yearbook with all of our pictures. But really, how many do we need. What THINGS do we need pictures of? Kids faces. Groups doing things and looking happy. Special events. However, managing our pictures has become a real headache. We take about 30 pictures a day...210/week...840/month...it adds up. Who has time to look through all of these pictures? We store them on CDs when the hard drive gets too full. I think that once the pictures get put on a CD no one will ever look at them again. We don't have the time.

When I go out with my friends we like to take pictures of ourselves being dressed up and having fun. It is nice to look at these pictures and remember the good time we had. But...I have a lot of pictures of myself now, on facebook, in a club/bar, holding a drink. From the looks of it, I go out drinking a lot. Thats not entirely true. I just take pictures a lot when I go out.

When I go to some tourist spot, I like to look at everything without thinking about taking pictures. When I think of getting my picture taken standing in front of something then I suddenly feel like I am not "in the moment." Its like a big perspective shift. If I take a picture of a famous "thing" like a temple or monument or mountain without me in the frame then I feel like, "Hmmm, I think I can buy a postcard of the this shot that is better." And really really, so many people take these kinds of pictures. I went to a famous shrine in Nikko this last weekend and I saw countless people taking the same shot. It was so crowded to take this photo that people actually waited and had to take turns standing in the best spot. They waited (looking at other things, the people around them, their feet) then when it was their turn they took the shot and then just walked off like, "Ok thats done." They didn't even take the time to stand and LOOK with their own eyes at what was in front of them.

I didn't take many pictures in Nikko. My friend took a lot. On the train ride on the way back I was looking through my few shots and I felt a little bummed that I didn't have more to remember my trip by. I can go online and google "Nikko" anytime to re-visit the images of what I saw, but its not the same. hmmm.

On my computer now I have about 400 pictures that I have taken and saved since I bought my computer in November. I almost never go through them.

I am not sure whats the best solution. I think that our decendents will have many pictures of our generation. I guess I should just keep taking pictures while I can and worry about how to store/save/manage them later.
25 August 2008 @ 11:08 pm
I had a meeting with one of my moms last week. She is a great lady. She is such a thoughtful, kind and caring person. Her daughter is a sweet little 5 year old girl.

They are Japanese but a couple of years ago they lived in the US. When they were there, the little girl was enrolled in a typical American preschool. The mom had so many insights into the cultural differences between America and Japan from this experience. We had fun talking about them, but it was also so educational for me.

She told of a time when she was picking up her daughter at school. She saw a big group of children dancing in one part of the classroom while her daughter played with a puzzle by herself in another area. The mom scolded her daughter and told her that she should join her peers. The teacher then explained to the mom that it was ok if the girl didn't want to join. If she preferred to do a puzzle than that is fine.

It was the moms first experience with the American concept of Individuality. She was really impressed. Now she tries to allow her daughter to seek what things interest her at her own "pace."

In typical Japanese kindergartens children do the same thing at the same time together. It is much more strict and the value is put on creating harmony in the group. I think that this stems from the Buddist philosophy. "The nail that sticks out will get hammered down." I can see value in this idea, but it is not for me. Of course, I am American.

It really opened my eyes to how mothers at my school might view what we do with the children and how our classroom operates. Basically, we bring one or two main activities into the room each day during our wisely named "Activity Time." We create activities based on our current project or what the children are currently interested in. The children have gotten used to coming over and trying things out. If they like it they might stay for a long time and really focus on it. Or they might do it for about 15 minutes and then decided that they are finished. Or they might watch and decided that its not for them. Since we have many teachers in the room this is fine. They can do anything they want as long as they don't disturb the other students. The kids are really good at this and we rarely need to remind them that they are being too loud or disturbing our progress. So we always have a lot going on in the room at the same time. Its exciting. The kids are happy and learning. But to a Japanese eye it might look like we have a bunch of crazy disrespectful kids creating chaos. I think we need to be sure to communicate to parents the value of raising children who follow their curiosities and are not just learning how to "please the teacher" in school.

11 August 2008 @ 12:11 pm
This Saturday some of my girlfriends and I decided to go to Zushi for beach salsa. Zushi is only about 30 mins on the train from Yokohama. There is a "shack" right on the beach called Oasis Latino. And inside you will find actual Latinos. Ha ha. It seemed that a lot of the regulars were from Peru and Dominican Republic.

In true Latino style, the lesson started about 45 minutes late. But it was no biggie because we were just relaxing on the sand drinking Tecates while we waited.

The lesson cost 2,000 yen (about $20.) And instead of it being a salsa lesson it was a samba lesson. We just wanted to have fun, so it didn't matter.

The instructor was this big, tan, caricature of a Latin Dance instructor. He had long, dark, curly hair, very short shorts and a thin white shirt that when he raised it revealed a belly-button piercing with pink and white rhinestones. He could demonstrate both the female and male postures perfectly. I know it sounds crazy, he is not really my type, but I gotta say, he was sexy.

He smiled and joked with everyone the whole time. Samba is pretty tough and we were sweating our a$$es off but he kept things fun. He tried and tried to get the Japanese students to move their hips, but...it was pretty comical.

The lesson was a lot of fun and it made me excited to come back and learn more. The only bad thing is...there is no A/C! No fans, no...survival. It was so hot that after the lesson I just wanted to escape and cool off somewhere. And after dancing to a few songs thats exactly what we did.

Next weekend we will go back. We decided that we will go early so we can play at the beach all day before the lesson. I am excited!
05 August 2008 @ 08:32 pm
As you know, I work in the tallest building in Japan. There are 70 floors in all. My school is on the 13th. Lucky 13. Since we are a school we need to regularly practice emergency drills. We do an earthquake drill where we hide under tables. We do a stranger drill where we hide behind cubbies. And this week we did a fire drill where we had to evacuate the building. In an actual fire you cannot use elevators (of course) so we have to walk down the stairs. 13 flights of stairs with very young children. It is not fun. We have a good routine so we are safe and it only takes us about 15 minutes to get to the 1st floor. But...its bizarre.

So the next time you think about what a pain fire drill are in schools, just think, atleast there aren't 13 flights of stairs involved.