HOW TO: Find a pregnancy test in Japan

Perhaps you're trying to get pregnant, or perhaps you weren't and suddenly you realize (or your partner realizes) that you missed your period. Probably the first thing many women do is head to the store to pick up a pregnancy test (after possibly panicking or being overcome with excitement). And if you're in Japan? Well, I'd assume you'd probably still want to pick up a pregnancy test in this case...

The pregnancy tests in Japan are really not much different than those in Western countries, but ALL tests in Japan are only proven to be 99% effective if taken one week after the expected start day of your missed period. I believe most tests in Western countries are like this as well, although there are some that supposedly can detect sooner.

Some of the pregnancy tests in Japan have an explanation in English about how to use them, though, most of us can probably agree they are pretty simple to use. Just pop the cap off and pee on the stick part. Wait a minute until the results show up. If there's a line, or plus sign, or whatever the positive symbol is, then you know you're most likely pregnant. If it's there but slightly faint, then try again in a few days.

Pregnancy tests in Japan: Clearblue, Check One, P-Check, and do test from left to right

Q&A - how to send gift money to Japan from overseas

Hey everyone! Today I want to post a little Q&A (question and answer) that actually comes from an email sent to me by Andreea. She has a friend in Japan who is getting married, and was wondering what to do about the gift for her friend. You can read about how much money to give at a Japanese wedding, but Andreea also has some unique circumstances.

6 reasons to shop at Uniqlo

Most people in Japan, Japanese and foreigners alike, know of Uniqlo (ユニクロ) - the giant clothing chain known for its typically inexpensive clothing and goods. And the clothes are often very basic and no-nonsense, which for me, is a huge plus. Shopping in the feminine sections in Japan can sometimes get overwhelming (for me) with lots of frill and fluff, so I’m happy that I have Uniqlo. I'm just a simple style kind of person. There’s also Muji, and Gap, and a few other places, but let’s save those for another post. Granted, some western guys may find the colors and selection slightly on the feminine side, but this is Japan after all. It’s normal here. And it's not like there aren't dark colors that are typical of men's clothing.

So why Uniqlo? Why, other than the most obvious reasons? You'll find the obvious below (which may or may not be as obvious to those that are new), but hopefully you'll also find a few new things (at least for those of you who aren't already well-versed in Uniqlo shopping).

interesting links around the web (December)

Hey everyone,

I wanted to share some recent links I've stumbled across in the past few weeks that you might find interesting.


A Guide to Birth Control Pills in Japan

The question of birth control is a common one among foreigners in Japan (or those moving to Japan). While there are various forms of contraception, in this post I want to focus solely on birth control pills. (Though, no worries, I will write a post sometime after this about other forms of birth control). So for those of you heading to Japan (or perhaps in Japan but wondering about it), I rolled up my sleeves and did some research (in addition to what I've already been aware of) to give a more in-depth overview of "the pill" in Japan.

Question/Poll and updated design

Hi everyone!

I'm excited to introduce an updated design format - hopefully one that is cleaner and a bit more simple to navigate. The top links and archive are the same as usual, but you'll notice the search box is up to the right now. I gave the logo some tweaks as well, and looking forward to showing you something else design-related in the coming weeks. Stay tuned for that! (I updated my Twitter background too... about time, huh?)

If you run into anything amiss while browsing around, feel free to let me know, or if there is some kind of feature you would like to see, feel free to contact me about that as well.

I also want to say a huge thank you to everyone, for your constant support, ideas, feedback, and for sharing your own experiences. I truly enjoy interacting with everyone and your support has meant a lot to me, as has getting to know other expats all around Japan and those around the world. You are such an awesome community.

Finally, I'm doing a short little poll. I started this discussion on Facebook, (thanks to those of you who have responded thus far!) but would love any and all comments. You can reply in the comments below, email me, reply via Twitter, or let me know over on Facebook. It's short, so it won't take anytime at all. Thanks much in advance!


For those that have been living in Japan for at least one-two years, what do you WISH you had known about living in Japan before coming and during the first year or so? (i.e. what might have made your life simpler or just all around better?)

For those who are NOT in Japan yet or still in your first year, what would you like to know (or need to know) about living in Japan? (i.e. what do you worry about, what are your concerns, if you could ask any question to those already here, what would you ask?)

HOW TO: Customize Your Drinks at Starbucks or Tully's in Japan

[Updated March 1, 2012]

Many of you may already know I'm from the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. (Greater Seattle area), the birthplace of coffee shop giants Starbucks and Tully's. As much I also particularly enjoy small, mom-and-pop cafes, there's just something about the sight of a Starbucks or Tully's that brings me a bit of nostalgia and comfort.

My nearby Starbucks (well, all four of them...) has been particularly inviting for me the past couple years, given that it is non-smoking and offers wireless internet service so I can sit and type away while sipping my soy matcha tea latte. (Note: Not every Starbucks has wifi...)

So if you have allergies, or a specific way you like your drink, rest assured it is possible to get these customizations. If you are a coffee fanatic and prefer your latte grande-nonfat-triple-shot-decaf-foam-extra-hot, this is possible, of course, but I wouldn't say it's common in Japan, at least compared to the U.S. Especially considering has an interactive tutorial on how to order a drink...

HOW TO: Deliver your (extra) luggage to the airport

Heading home for a holiday? Going somewhere exotic on vacation? Did you know you can have your luggage delivered straight from your home to the airport? The cost is actually quite reasonable (depending on how far you are from the airport, how much luggage you have, how heavy it is, how big it is, etc.)

HOW TO: Find a Christmas tree in Japan

My first Christmas in Japan was spent walking amongst the streets of Tokyo with my husband (then fiance). It was a short trip just over Christmas Eve/Day, but I returned to my apartment a day later with no hint of Christmas anywhere - no tree, no lights, no decorations.

As someone who absolutely loves Christmas, this was rather depressing. The most I got was visiting cities near mine to view the “illuminations” (what they call Christmas/Holiday light displays here in Japan). So the following Christmas I made sure to buy a 150cm artificial tree and some decorations, though I skipped the expensive lights.

Of course, I know not everyone celebrates Christmas, so if not, feel free to ignore this. For those of you who do celebrate and would like to put up a tree in your home, let’s check out some options. And remember, Christmas tree is クリスマスツリー (kurisumasu tsurii) in Japanese.

shop in English at Japan's "#1 e-drugstore"

A few days ago whilst trying to locate some certain kinds of toiletry items, I came across, a site that claims to be Japan’s No. 1 e-drugstore. I’ve got to be honest, after searching through the site, I was impressed by the wide selection of goods - from food (including organic/macrobiotic) and supplements to pets and home appliances (they even have kotatsu tables and heaters!), they cover just about all the basics and then some. The other fantastic thing about this store? You can shop completely in English.

Fall is the season for eating! (食欲の秋) - November Japan Blog Matsuri

Matsuri Banner
Welcome to the November 2010 edition of the Japan Blog Matsuri! First of all, if you still haven't checked out the October Matsuri (Japan Highlights) over at Todd's Wanderings, please do!

And now, November's theme:

"Fall is the season for eating", roughly translated from an actual Japanese saying:   食欲の秋  (shokuyoku no aki).
jbmatsuri, oden, Japan

I'm really excited to introduce all these fantastic entries to you, but before we get started, I want to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who participated. I hope everyone reading finds these posts just as interesting as I have!

Warning: Before you continue, you may want to read these on a full stomach or at least have a snack nearby - I take no responsibility for any ensuing hunger pains or uncontrollable cravings.

Let the festivities begin!

A guide to heaters in Japan

Considering I wrote about some ways to winterize your apartment or house in Japan a few weeks ago, this week I want to talk about heaters. Again, most homes in Japan aren't equipped with central heating, so people typically rely on space heaters and similar items. Now, we all know that wearing some extra clothes and warm fleece is a good way to avoid turning the heat all the way up, but most likely you will need (or desperately want) a heater at some point.

And, just to note, I am not an expert on heaters, so if you are curious about how a heater works a certain way, go ahead and google that.

Also, most of the heaters below have timers and auto-turnoff options in addition to running constantly. They also often have automatic shutoff features such as if the heater fell over.
*Keep in mind another way heater might be written is 電気ストーブ (denki stobu).
*The word used for "heating" is 暖房 (だんぼう, danbou).

A guide to heaters in Japan

7 words to know when you have a cold (in Japan)

Apologies for my lack of posting as of late. I don’t think I previously mentioned, but November is a busy month due to the upcoming JLPT exam I’m attempting to study for, and the 50,000 word novel I’m trying to write in 30 days for National Novel Writing Month. Add these to my regular tasks, combine them with the nasty cold I acquired last week, and I’m little more than a lump on the couch right now.

However, I wanted to take a moment to share with you some essential Japanese words you might want to know if you come down with a cold in Japan (which seems to be going around right about now).

redelivery by phone, in English, from Japan Post

In one of my early posts, I wrote about how to get something redelivered from Japan Post, online, without the hassle of calling in to retrieve your missed package or letter.

Recently, I noticed on a Japan Post redelivery notice at the very bottom in tiny text: "Call us for redelivery (English)." Perhaps that has been there for a while - maybe some of you can confirm - but I hadn't noticed it until now. Although, I do everything online anyway as it's usually faster and easier than calling (for me).

However, if you don't have a computer or the time to go through the online process, then this option may be worthwhile. I haven't used it, so I can't say how easy it is, but I'm sure it can't be that painful. So for those of you with a redelivery notice from Japan Post, check the bottom of your notice (the backside). The hours (as indicated on my particular notice) are 8am - 10pm Monday through Friday, and 9am - 10pm Saturday and Sunday. Number is 0570-046-111. (If you've received a notice with different information, let us know as well).

Anyone try this before? If you have, or if you do, let us know in the comments.

8 ways to winterize your Japanese apartment (or house)

Japanese homes, both old and new, are infamously known for their inability to retain heat. Apartments are typically pretty drafty, especially the old ones, and windows are commonly single paned versus double-paned. Not to mention a common lack of central heating and insulation. Of course, this helps more or less in the summer and warmer months, but during winter, it can get rough. (Although I believe in Hokkaido this may be a bit different, and if you're as far south as Okinawa, well, probably not as much of an issue). So how exactly do you keep the heat in, and the cold, out?

Fall is the season for eating (食欲の秋) - Japan Blog Matsuri

Wow, it's November already!? How excited am I to host the Japan Blog Matsuri this month! First though, want to give a big shout-out and thank you to last month's host, Todd's Wanderings, who pulled together a fantastic assortment of unique posts for the theme, Japan Highlights. Go check 'em out if you haven't had a chance yet.

And now, for November's theme. But wait, some of you may be wondering, "what IS the Japan Blog Matsuri?" For more info on that, check out this page. Essentially, every month a different blogger hosts this blog carnival/festival, and other bloggers submit a post based on that month's theme. ANYONE can submit a post - even if you are not a Japan blogger! (And hey, it's great exposure for you as well).

Interested? Ok, so November's theme is:

how to get a driver's license in Japan - part 2

Success! As I mentioned in my last post, I went to the driver licensing center for my driver's test to get a Japanese license - and I passed! Thanks to all for the good lucks, well wishes and congrats! Also, for any Americans curious about WHY they must take the test, the U.S. Embassy does a good job breaking it down: see here. Apparently, the first time pass rate for Americans is slightly above 35%, unless you've gone through driving school here in Japan. So, as promised, a rundown of my day:

how to get a driver's license in Japan - part 1

It's time. Two years have flown by, and it is finally time for me to acquire a Japanese driver's license. I've survived this long by biking, walking and riding buses and trains, all usually convenient. Though I came to Japan with an International Driver's Permit (valid for a year from the time you get it - from any auto association such as AAA in the US), I did not drive at all during this time, as I never really needed to (Although at times, it would have come in handy...).

This hasn't changed, really, but there are times when my husband and I wish we had a car - such as those cold, rainy, windy days when a trip to the supermarket is required for dinner, but donning all our gear and backpacks to brave the elements just doesn't appeal.

To preface this, I am covering most of this from the angle of an American. The process for Brits, Canadians, Australians and most other nationalities is more simplified, as the driving test is not required. The license simply needs to be translated and converted (lucky!)

how to get a driver's license in Japan

I began the process a few weeks ago by first heading to JAF (Japan Automobile Federation) to get an official translation of my Washington State (US) driver's license. I brought my license to the nearest JAF office (you can also mail it in, but could take up to a week to get back) , along with the application I had filled out at home. You don't really need to know much Japanese for this process, unless you have unique circumstances. (I had changed my name on my US license last year so I had to explain the old and new licenses were still the same, etc.) The translation cost about 3000 yen, and took less than an hour to complete.

10 Reasons to Visit (or Not Visit) Shizuoka

This month’s Japan Blog Matsuri theme is “Japan Highlights,” hosted by Todd’s Wanderings. The tricky thing with this topic, is avoiding cliches that many of you probably already know about (sushi, anyone?). So while a few topics floated around in my head, I decided to go with some good ol’ Shizuoka (prefecture) highlights. Of course, Shizuoka has so many great highlights it is impossible to cover them all in one post (though, I’ve started another project for this... still in its infancy.) So let’s just go over a few of the things that make Shizuoka stand out from the rest of Japan.

From the Sempai: how to find skincare products in Japan

With all the good stuff to read in this post, I just want to briefly introduce sempai and fellow expat Yu Ming. She writes about expat life at Lioness in Japan, a blog I personally enjoy reading, and also shares some great ideas and information on her other two blogs: Beauty Box and Raw Bento (both of these also worth checking out for those into beauty and/or food!).

With her experience in Japan and knowledge of beauty products, I asked if she would be willing to share some tips with all of you. Of course she obliged, and generously provided a lot of helpful information for those of us searching out skincare. I learned a few things from this post, and hope it may be useful to you as well. And now, Yu Ming's tips on:

How to find skincare products in Japan

how to find medicine for a canker sore

I hate canker sores. It’s like having a ripped hangnail or a paper cut - the pain isn’t severe; it’s just annoying. You have to exercise various mouth muscles just to keep certain foods from touching that tiny, ulcerated spot. Perhaps I should also mention the enjoyable, bitter taste of Anbesol (Benzocaine). Relief only comes when the sore is numb, at least until we eat or drink something again.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I suddenly acquired canker sores all over the inside of my mouth - on my tongue, the roof of my mouth, the sides, the gums; they were everywhere. In true fashion of my typical doctor visit, the doctor had no idea what was wrong with me. “It’s some kind of bacterial infection,” he noted. Well, that comes as no surprise. How can I treat it?
“There’s nothing we can do for it - it just has to go away on its own.”

interesting links around the web (September)

The lovely Autumn moon overlooking Oigawa River and Horai Bridge

How to be a good housewife in Japan
In case you were wondering...

HOW TO: Make a library card in Japan

I don’t know about you, but when I lived in the U.S. I regularly borrowed stacks of books from the library. I think only the internet fares better in the battle of free information and entertainment. So I wondered what kind of books I would be able to find at libraries in Japan - any English books? Could I understand Japanese children's books? As it turned out, many libraries in Japan carry English books - though selections outside of major cities are rather slim. So whether you wish to practice your Japanese learnin’ by reading kids’ books or want to take a break from ebook spending, the local library can be a great place.

My current local library is rather small compared to libraries I’m accustomed to in the U.S., but they do offer a myriad of choices: DVDs, CDs, cassettes (yes, Japan still uses them), children’s books, adult fiction, non-fiction/resource and a small selection of English books. I was happy to find a shelf of classics, which I look forward to re-reading in my hard-to-find spare time. Not surprisingly, many of the English books were Japan guides and cookbooks, and what else, the Harry Potter series.

First, for those who don’t know, library in Japanese is 図書館 (としょかん, toshokan). You can easily enter the kanji into Google maps with the name of your city/town to determine how to get there.

From the Sempai: Rachael of Tokyo Terrace

Welcome to the second edition of "From the Sempai!" The first post, including a brief explanation of what "sempai" means, can be found here.

Today I would like to introduce Rachael, a food blogger here in Japan over at Tokyo Terrace. I discovered Rachael's blog through Twitter, and being an avid food blog reader, was blown away by what she "brings to the table." (Groan, I know. Couldn't help myself!) As a fellow expat in Japan, and a foodie herself, she has discovered how to make the most of local ingredients in her kitchen. (Oh, and her photos are GORgeous.) In the time she has lived in Japan thus far, she has certainly learned something about "surviving in Japan," and would like to share some of those thoughts with us:

how to look up train times (in English) in Japan

Coming from the western side of the U.S., I had never ridden a train nor ever had a need to. The majority of my transportation was by car, and occasionally hopped on a plane or bus. (In fact, my first time on a plane wasn't until after I graduated high school). Some time after I moved to Seattle I learned how to use the public bus system, and even then it took me some time to navigate. I had no idea what awaited me in Japan, though I was eager to learn new ways of getting around.

My second day in Japan I decided to cut out on not-so-helpful seminars (provided for newbies of that popular teaching program in Japan...) for some city exploration, starting from Shinjuku station - one of the busiest stations in Tokyo. Upon entering the station, I froze as the busyness moved around me. Throngs of people passed by, weaving in and out almost effortlessly, as sign boards blinked destinations and times in neon and the hum of voices filled my head. Have I mentioned before that I am easily over-stimulated? After a few moments of simply staring, I began a long process of trying to understand the colorful, littered map that is Tokyo's train lines. I thought I would head to Akihabara first, and before I left my friend offered notes on which line to take. His words flew fast, and unfortunately, being a visual person, none of it registered. I'd never been to Japan before. Public transportation was still new. He reassured me I could just ask someone in a special booth. Yeah, if I could even find it... (my Japanese was not anywhere good enough at the time to figure out very much...)

HOW TO: Find (good) toothpaste in Japan

Another one of those "living in Japan" myths claims that Japanese toothpaste generally doesn't work. Or that it doesn't contain fluoride. And some folks go so far as to insist this is one of the main reasons why Japanese people have bad teeth. (I hope you realize this is a generalization, and not one that I came up with nor believe!) Of course I bought into this myth, although a few people mentioned something about Aquafresh toothpaste, and brought four tubes with me from the States. Nothing wrong with bringing toothpaste with you, but you certainly don't need to waste luggage space on it. So now that I've dispelled the myths about deodorant, sanitary napkins and tampons, let's delve into toothpaste.

toothpaste, Japan, Aquafresh, fluoride
Aquafresh toothpaste - 3 stripe kind. 

NEW Series - From the Sempai: Shirley of Lovely Lanvin

Today I have the pleasure of introducing Shirley Karasawa, a fabulous food blogger, for Surviving in Japan's new series: From the Sempai.

Sidenote: for those who do not know what sempai (or senpai, せんぱい) means, it is of course, a Japanese word, and means "senior." But not senior as in elderly, rather, senior as in more experienced or older in age/level. Similar to saying something like, "he is two years my senior."  It is used often in group relationships in Japan - especially in schools or the workplace. So in high school, a 10th grade student (typically the lowest grade) would be considered a kohai (こうはい) to the 11th and 12th grade students. The 10th grade student would call the older students his or her sempai.

Anyway! Back to our featured sempai! Shirley, an American raised in Tokyo, serves up lots of delicious posts over at Lovely Lanvin. We hit it off quite instantly over Twitter when I discovered she now lives in Seattle, the place I hail from. When she told me about her volunteer experience - working with the Tokyo American Club to help expat women adjust to life in Japan - I had to ask if she would share some of her expert knowledge with us. So she's here today with some great tips for living and "surviving in Japan":

A Guide to Tampons in Japan

Sure enough, I’m back with some “alternatives” to ladies pads… So, sorry again guys, it’s just one more you have to sit out. (And I wouldn't recommend reading this as there are pictures of actual tampons below). Feel free to pass this along to any women who may find this helpful, though.

Ladies, today I want to examine Japanese tampons. Yes, tampons. Some of you may be thinking, “can you even FIND tampons in Japan?” Certainly! Most daily goods/drug stores sell them, and you may even find some convenience stores sell them as well. Though, they are much less prominent than pads, and usually only take up one shelf versus an entire aisle at the store. And, only one company produces tampons in Japan: Unicharm or “Charm” (チャム) for short. There are also some called エルディ, but they are also produced by Unicharm.

interesting links from the past few weeks

Shimizu Shopping Mall
For anyone who follows Surviving in Japan on Twitter (@survivingnjapan) you may have already seen these links (or perhaps seen them anyway) but for those of you who haven't, thought I would share some of them anyway. Enjoy.

A guide to sanitary napkins in Japan

If you’re a man, this post isn’t for you – unless you are the partner of some lovely woman who may find this information helpful. If so, either pass it along to her or read on. Don't worry, nothing graphic here.

Ladies! This is a post I’ve been wanting to tackle for a while. I’ve heard various comments that pads in Japan are smaller than their Western counterparts, and also various recommendations to bring pads along with. How silly! Sure, pads can serve as excellent packing materials, but so can clothes. Whether you’re moving to Japan, or even just coming for a visit, rest assured that finding pads is quite easy.

how to find bus times/schedule online - part 2

Riding the bus in Japan can be tricky. And no, I don’t mean the process of actually riding it. That’s rather simple, and you can find tutorials on that elsewhere. Just don’t forget to take a ticket when you first hop on the bus - if it’s one that requires that (not all do, but probably most). Although, I forgot once during my first year and just paid the amount I owed without a ticket - but the ticket reminds you of which stop you got on. No, what’s tricky is finding bus times and routes, as in some cities they are so sporadic. And from personal experience, often notoriously late, though I’m sure that depends on the city.

how to find bus routes/schedules online - part 1

The nice thing about traveling by bus is that many places and organizations list necessary bus information (and general access information) on their website. If you know kanji, or can navigate Japanese websites with some ease, then this how-to probably won’t be relevant to you. So, for everyone else, let me first guide you through an example of how to look up (and interpret) the bus information. In part two I will examine how to look up timetables and schedules online.

HOW TO: Find organic/natural personal care products in Japan

You may have read a post on this blog a while back about how to find haircare products in Japan. I have yet to write a post about skincare and cosmetics, mostly because all the sources of haircare I listed also offer skincare, and I'm still looking into cosmetics (namely, face/foundation colors, etc).

For those of you who glanced at the title and may have thought, “this isn’t for me; I’m not into all that hippie stuff,” I hope that at least one of these resources may still interest you. Of course, some of you may also wonder why this is necessary, as most drug/daily goods stores supply more beauty and body products than anyone will probably ever need. No, most of the products are not natural or organic, though recently I have noticed a change and have seen more of these types of products being sold at regular stores. It gives me hope! Anyway.

I won't go into that argument entirely, but I do strongly encourage everyone to examine what they are using on their bodies, and decide for themselves if those are risks they want to take or not. To read up on what is used in Western products, the Environmental Working Group has a lot of information and rates ingredients on it's scale of possible harm, from 0 (none) to 10 (very harmful/toxic). Though some products in Japan use different ingredients, I've also noted many similarities as well. Nonetheless, it is informative and kind of fun to check out.

With that said, for those of you out there who love and prefer using organic/natural products, or even those that wish to try, and want to know how to find them in Japan, here's what I've got so far.

download a .pdf for "how to do a furikomi (bank transfer)"

Today I'm happy to announce a .pdf I created based off of a previous, and popular, post: how to do a furikomi (bank transfer).

Ever since writing that post, I have noticed "how to furikomi" and similar search terms are commonly googled, and thought that perhaps something more "portable" might be useful for those of you who either want a printed guide or an easier way to pull up the guide on your iPhone (or smartphone of choice).

Please let me know what you think - if it is readable enough for you or if you have any other feedback or ideas.

You can view and download the .pdf for "how to do a furikomi (bank transfer)" to your computer from Google docs here. Or download the .pdf here. (The latter works better for smartphones).


translate medical terms - part 2

I stumbled across something in The Japan Times today that was too good NOT to write about. I've already scheduled it out on Twitter, but wanted to write about it here as well. The Center for Multicultural Society Kyoto along with Wakayama Universisty recently put together a multi-lingual medical service website for foreigners in Japan (The M3 Mediated Multilingual Medical Communication Support System). They recognized a need among the foreign population, not just residents but also students and travelers as well. The idea is to enter your symptoms in your native language, and then have the option to print it out (or view on a mobile phone if with a QR code reader). Then you take it to show the doctor.

how NOT to get a diagnosis at the doctor

Not long ago I wrote a how-to for translating medical terms – handy if you are in a bind or without a human translator. Now, whether you go and try on your own or take someone along with you, I’d like to offer a few points from my own exasperating experiences.

I’ve read about others’ great experiences at the doctor or hospital, indicating no problems whatsoever. Good for them and good for you too, if you are also so fortunate (no sarcasm). Though not all of my visits were traumatizing, the good majority were. And just to clarify, I have gone to several different hospitals and specialist doctors over the course of two years. By several I mean at least once a month if not more, such as during my long stretch of labrynthitis last winter (full story here) - something that only my doctor in the U.S. was able to diagnosis after three months of trying to get a diagnosis in Japan (Shizuoka).

Another thing to keep in mind is that most of my visits are in and around Shizuoka prefecture, so of course things may vary depending on location (and probably much easier in Tokyo or another metropolis).

How NOT to get a diagnosis at the doctor

how to find hiking trails

Last week I provided a selection of resources for where you can find outdoor gear in Japan (easier than you thought, right?) Now that you're all geared out, with some sparkly new shoes (please break them in first) you wonder: now, where do I go?

Of course, it would be ridiculous for me to know every possible hiking location in the country - Japan might not be THAT big but still, there's lots of mountains...  Trails of all types can be found rather easily almost anywhere, for anyone, both traveler and resident, beginner and experienced - both on and off the beaten path. Though I suppose it wouldn't be a trail if it wasn't a beaten path? Ok ok, I hear the groans... *wink*

HOW TO: Find Outdoor Gear in Japan

This post is for all the outdoor (and wannabe) buffs out there. Though, those of you who are experienced (or even professional) outdoor enthusiasts, especially in Japan, probably have even more to add to this list. If so, leave it in the comments so I can add it.

Japan, being as rich in gorgeous landscapes as it is, boasts many outdoor enthusiasts. It’s not surprising to run into a group of old folks smiling happily as you and they traverse mountains. (How they do it, I have no idea.) The vast opportunities enticed me before I even left Seattle – I was going from one great outdoor playground to another (especially Shizuoka!). I knew I couldn’t bring all my gear, considering I was just trying to pack the basics (and NOT ship over boxes and boxes). I rationalized that the basics were all I needed to start with and the rest could be shipped later or bought in Japan.

Finding outdoor gear proved a challenge at first with my lack of Japanese ability, and not knowing how to search for it. Asking people didn’t get me very far.

So it was rather lucky that I happened across an outdoor store while biking around my town one day. Seeing Columbia and Coleman and all those other familiar brands was shocking – they have these brands in Japan? Yes, and quite common too, I eventually learned. The next two years in Japan led to even more discoveries and resources, which I’ve compiled for you here.

Fukuroi Fireworks Festival (袋井遠州の花火) - with photos!

Ask a Japanese person what epitomizes summer, and it's likely they might say 花火 (はなび、hanabi, fireworks). All summer long, but particularly from July to September, cities across Japan hold fireworks festivals. And coming from the U.S., I must say these fireworks are typically often much more spectacular than what you might see on the 4th. We could probably argue all day on where to find the best fireworks in the world, but even so, the fireworks in Japan are GOOD.
And no, this isn't a "how-to" post on fireworks or fireworks festivals, as you could easily find info on that elsewhere. My husband and I went to the Fukuroi Fireworks Festival (袋井遠州の花火) last night - generally known as one of the bigger ones in Japan. Fukuroi city, in Shizuoka, is quite near and dear to my heart, as it was my first home in Japan. And ironically enough, my old apartment was mere steps from where the festival is held. How convenient to just walk over to the park while everyone else trekked from around the prefecture by train and car, throwing their tarps over any free inch of grass. I happily sampled the festival cuisine - chocolate-covered bananas, candied apples, okonomiyaki, crepes, sweet potato fries - until I was stuffed. My friend and I sat and oohed and aah-ed with the crowd, as each burst of color, light and sound filled us with delight. We were in Japan.

how I study Japanese

A few weeks ago I wrote about some useful survival tools for anyone coming to Japan. All of those tools are, obviously, also very useful for Japanese study. Today I’m going to add more to that list, but under the specific title of “study.” Yes, I realize there are hundreds of blogs and blog posts and videos out there about the best way to learn Japanese, and I am not discounting any of them. We all learn in different ways. What I’ve listed here is what works best for me, as a highly visual learner who struggles with audio-type learning and prefers more interactive study.

*Please note I have not listed every possible source of study here, but only my recommendations. Hopefully you will find something useful in this list.

(My list of) tools for studying Japanese

how to translate medical terms (English to Japanese)

Doctor visits and medical issues can be a huge inconvenience in a foreign country, at least, if you can't speak the language. In Japan, unless in Tokyo or another large city, finding English-speaking (or any language other than Japanese, for that matter) is a challenge. Many cities do offer a list of resources for foreign residents, which include English-speaking medical professionals and translators (and I mean actual cities, rather than the small rural towns - I don't know how common English-speaking professionals are in rural areas). So, if you have a problem, you check the references and try one out (a gamble in itself) or drag along someone who can translate for you.

But what about things you might not necessarily need to go to the doctor for? Or, let's suppose one day you wake up and it hurts to pee. It REALLY hurts to pee. Where did this unimaginable pain come from? You take some drugs and try to find a comfortable position to sit in, even though your bladder feels like it's being crushed by your entire abdominal cavity. It suddenly dawns on you, "this must be a bladder infection..." Or, to be less crude more technical, a urinary tract infection.

seven great links

A recent post on Problogger encouraged bloggers to try a certain 7-link post as a way to highlight previous posts. I’ve dug through what I’ve got so far to present my 7-link list to you. Enjoy.

1. My first post - ようこそ and welcome. This post sounds a lot more like my about page, but provides more back information. I remember how excited I was to get that post up on my brand-new sparkly blog.

HOW TO: Survive without a car in Japan

Perhaps this “how to” seems a little unnecessary, considering the vast array of impressive and reliable public transportation in Japan. Subways, rail and buses weave intricate networks through large metropolises. Shinkansen, or bullet trains, along with regular train networks connect most of the country. Even in smaller, but still large, cities, bus systems efficiently transport the population. When a regular bus system cannot be found, there are still more people who travel by bicycle or mopeds – as common as cars. And, let’s not forget the ubiquitous taxi. In fact, surviving in Japan without a car isn’t that difficult – unless perhaps you live out in the inaka, (i.e. country, sticks, boonies) far from civilization. Owning a car in a place like Tokyo or similar seems pointless, especially considering traffic.

You may think getting a car right away is the best idea, if you aren’t living in Tokyo or another gigantic metropolis. Ah, dear reader! If only you knew! Let me tell you how possible it is to survive without a car in Japan. That is, unless you really are truly out in the inaka where biking anywhere would take you DAYS and you are forced to live a hermitic life. Unless you want every day to be a pilgrimage, a car is probably a better option.

So, some possible ways to survive without a car if you so choose:

HOW TO: Arrange a Redelivery Online with Yamato (Kuroneko)

One of my first “how-to’s” on Surviving in Japan explained the online redelivery process for Japan Post. During my first month in Japan, my co-workers encouraged me to sign-up for online redelivery, eliminating the hassle on them to call and arrange it for me. Even though they smiled and reassured me they were willing to help out, something unspoken suggested that I should probably figure out how to do it myself. Not one to miss subtle hints, I sat down with my computer one evening for a fun self-teaching experience.

HOW TO: Create an online account with Yamato (Kuroneko)

Update (April 24, 2012): You can now request a redelivery in English online or via phone without an account on the English version of the site.

In order to arrange a redelivery online with Yamato, as I’ve written how to do over here, you’ll need an account. And so, instead of writing a nice introduction that makes you laugh until your side hurts (as much as I’d like to), I’ll just jump right in:

How to create an online account with Yamato

Step 1
Go to Yamato’s website. On the right hand side, click on create a new account (the green box where the red arrow is pointing).

Step 3
Enter your e-mail address (either cell phone e-mail or regular e-mail). Choose your desired password. Then click the large green button on the bottom right.

Step 4
The next page will say to check your e-mail (and list the e-mail you entered). Check your email and click the link that is sent to you. You will be taken to the following page in Step 5.

Step 5
Enter your information as indicated in the picture below. You'll want to be careful with name, as if you use romaji you should enter them as "full width" characters, so my name would be THOMPSON ASHLEY.

You'll also want to be careful with the address as the address numbers go in two different boxes. So if you're address was SOMETHING123-4, you'd put 123 in the first box and 4 in the second (all of this comes after you enter your postal code and click the gray button, which will automatically enter all the first part of your address for you).

Click 次へ when you're done.

Step 6 
You can change the notification options if you prefer (top box), but not necessary. The second box you can choose what type of member's card you want - choose the top option if you want a regular card.

If you don't want to receive other news mail from them, uncheck the last two boxes. Click 次へ to continue.

Step 7
Now confirm all your information (scroll down). After confirming all is correct, click the green button on the right. Click the button on the left if you have changes to make.

Step 8
That's it! The final page confirms you've finished. Now you're ready to arrange a redelivery online with Yamato (Kuroneko)

HOW TO: Find ibuprofen in Japan

This is for all those die-hard Advil fans out there, like myself. Though I try to use any kind of drug sparingly, at least once a month I find myself growling for drugs (I’m sure you can guess which “once” I’m referring to, ladies). And then I take two. Sometimes three. No matter how tough I am the rest of the month, I run to the drug cupboard with my proverbial tail between my legs.

how to make a hotel reservation online (in Japanese)

Last week I introduced you to the wonderful world of Japanese hotel plans, with a promise of how to make a hotel reservation online (in Japanese). Some of you mentioned your experiences and the ease of finding hotels, which is very true for major cities, heavily traveled areas, searching in English, etc. Perhaps you want to go off the beaten track a little bit, or even just try and find a few more (affordable) options. My secrets to finding a decent hotel typically involve Google maps, Rakuten (in Japanese), Trip Advisor, and sometimes just typing the name of the location with "ホテル" (hotel) in my search engine to see what comes up. (I don't typically stay at ryokan because the touristy ones are far too expensive - sometimes up to 100,000 yen a night. There are good ones out there, and good deals, but this would require an entirely different post to delve into).

Many hotel sites offer some English version of their site, even if only a page. And while you may come across some decent deals in English, I would advise looking through the Japanese version of the site as well. (Sometimes you won't have a choice, if the site is ONLY in Japanese). I've almost always found better deals on the Japanese version of the site (again, not EVERY time, but most of the time).

The following how-to covers just one hotel site as an example. Of course, you probably all know that websites vary and the order in which they do things may be slightly different than presented here. Generally the steps are typically the same, but don't panic if a step on the site you are using differs from those below. Look at the kanji, compare and try to discern what information is being asked for.

All right, let's book a room shall we?

booking a hotel - just a little different...

This post is my entry for the July Japan Blog Matsuri, hosted by mokudekiru. The theme is ちょっと違う (Chotto Chigau) or “Not Quite the Same.

 Booking a hotel is relatively straightforward. You would think. Enter some dates, choose the number of nights, number of people, smoking or non-smoking and check your preference in the list of results – maybe a standard or regular room, or something fancier like a deluxe room or a suite. All very typical for what I am accustomed to as an American. (Can’t say I know much about booking hotels in other countries, as I haven’t had that experience yet, unfortunately).

My first few times attempting to book a hotel in Japanese left me a bit baffled, and not because of the language. While some Japanese travel and hotel sites offer standard choices, a good number of Japanese hotels I’ve checked out online (especially smaller and less Western types) present the process in what I might consider an unnecessarily complicated manner: a list of plans.

Allergies in Japan - how to deal

[Updated Feb 14, 2012]

Are you headed to or living in Japan and wondering what to do about your allergies? I know the feeling. Mold and dust mites plague me, which are especially hard to escape in Japan. My second Autumn in Japan managed to debilitate me while allowing a little virus to invade my inner ear – labrynthitis.

Labryawha? It’s a deep inner ear inflammation. Makes you dizzy, lightheaded and generally unable to move. Some people get vertigo and motion sickness. Anyway, that's all aside the point - you can read the full story here.

*Note: This post is about nasal allergies and rhinitis, rather than food allergies. Please also note I am not a medical professional, and if you have severe allergies you should seek a doctor’s advice and appropriate medication and/or treatment.

Allergies are quite prominent in Japan – with a large number of those suffering primarily from pollen type allergies. So if you too suffer from rhinitis, you will find a very allergy-friendly (so to speak) country in Japan. A few ways to deal:

Moving to Japan? Read this first

My days of packing for Japan were quite stressful, and my questions endless. I bombarded everyone I knew in Japan with a constant stream of questions (yes, worrying a little too much). I had NO idea what I needed or didn't need, and only few of my questions were every truly answered. I googled, read forums, bought books, and still found myself wondering even more. So, to anyone like me frantic for some answers, and to anyone about to embark on your own journey to Japan, wondering what in the world to toss in your suitcase, this list is for you.

You may also want to check out Packing for Japan Q&A for further information.

HOW TO: Arrange a home delivery

During my first few months in Japan, I realized I needed a new futon. Mine was flat, old, and had strange orange spots. No matter how often I hung it outside in the sun and beat the crap out of it, it was just, done. As I didn’t own a car, I walked 45 minutes to a home store, bought a futon, and carried it back. In my arms. Passerby, both vehicular and pedestrian, stared in a most indiscreet way. What was this odd foreigner doing walking along the road with a giant futon in her arms? It was only when I needed a futon pad later on that I realized I could ask for a home delivery (as that particular store offered it).

HOW TO: Find (good) deodorant in Japan

If you're coming to Japan, you will probably hear someone lamenting about the inability to find any "real" deodorant here. When I heard this before coming, I promptly bought a 4-pack of my favorite kind (which I still haven't used up, two years later). Yet, for those trying to save luggage space, unless you are REALLY attached to your deodorant, let me reassure you, it IS possible to get deodorant in Japan. And no, I'm not even talking about typical Japanese stuff, although chemically, it isn't really different from the stuff you're likely already using.

how to search the site

Hi everyone!

I recently organized and listed all the "how to" posts on the "how to..." page (link above). I hope this will prove to be an easier way of finding the resources you need, more quickly.

In addition, there is a list of "how to - categories" on the right side of this page. The monthly blog archives are also on the right side under this. Finally, feel free to do a site search if you still can't find what you need. But, the "how to..." page has every post listed! Let me know what you think.

Thanks all! Look for interesting new posts this week!

HOW TO: Return an Item (to a Store)

Ever wonder what to do with something you ordered or bought here in Japan, but realized soon after that it doesn't fit, or work, or something else undesirable?

I had this problem during my first years here, when I accidentally bought something that didn't fit or realized I actually didn't want what I had bought after a couple days. Every time I asked someone how I could go about doing a return, yes even those who speak Japanese, they didn't know what to do. They had never done it before, they said. Maybe it's just me, but I'm a buy it and try it kind of gal. And call me strange, but I'm also far too lazy to try on clothes at the store, and do my best to guess the size (which explains my inclination to shop online). Usually, these tactics are successful. But on the rare occasion that something just doesn't fit, (or you later decide you hate it, or maybe shouldn't have spent that much money on it), what to do?

HOW TO: Do a furikomi (bank transfer)

I’m going to assume you already have a bank account in Japan. And perhaps you signed up with GoLloyds to transfer money to your bank accounts in your home country, or you made some online purchases, or even have a bill that needs to be paid by furikomi (bank transfer). So now you are at the bank, panicking in realization that the stupid ATM doesn’t have a “transfer” button in English (usually only withdrawal, balance inquiry and deposit). I’ve been there, too.

HOW TO: Find haicare products in Japan

One of the 101 questions I asked folks while preparing for Japan was about shampoo and conditioner. Before you consider me vain, I asked at least 100 other more important questions first. I'd never been to Japan before - what were shampoo and conditioner like there and how did they differ from those in the U.S.? Considering different hair care products exist for a vast array of hair types, my assumption was that most of the hair products in Japan might be primarily formulated for certain kinds of hair (much like skin cosmetics). And my hair, being blond and fine, is particular when it comes to hair products.

Most people didn't have any answers for me. They listed off the common brands and said they are all basically the same. So I, being a bit OCD about preparedness, shipped giant bottles of shampoo and conditioner to my address in Japan. If only I'd known how unnecessary THAT was. So, for the curious, and for those wondering, "what will I use???" here's your guide.

make life easy – 8 tools for surviving Japan

This is not a post about learning Japanese. Nor is this a post filled with exuberant, detailed reviews of the following tools. However you WILL find some awesome e-tools to help you survive your first year (or two, or more) in Japan - unless you are super smart and have already mastered the language or have some super-ability to achieve fluency in less than a year. Even though I had a year of Japanese under my belt before coming to Japan, I instantly realized that I needed reference tools. And I didn’t want to carry around bulky dictionaries or cultural guides that everyone offered me. This is the age of e-books after all – I should be able to do everything on my computer or smartphone.

The following tools became imperative for communicating and trying to do simpler tasks without asking my co-workers to help me with everything. Hopefully they’ll be of some use to you as well (if you aren’t a Jedi-master of language learning).

Top 8 Survival Tools for Living in Japan (without much Japanese)

HOW TO: Have a "cheap" wedding in Japan

On the topic of wedding etiquette the past two weeks, what about if you are the one getting married in Japan? Overseas weddings are so exotic... So romantic, unique, and…. expensive. And a wedding in Japan? Might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but a viable option for current residents.

My husband and I (both Americans) got married in Japan. We wanted to have our wedding in Japan originally, though costs, the guest list, travel, honeymoon and time all played into our decision-making process. U.S.? Japan? Eventually, (after months of intense wedding planning from abroad), we realized plane tickets to the U.S. were far too expensive for us at that time. We chose Japan.

Surviving the Rainy Season in Japan: 40 tips

soft cream, JapanNow that the rainy season has arrived, what perfect timing to discuss how to survive this time of heat, moisture and sweat. And now, 40 ways to survive the rainy season in Japan:

1. Buy an air conditioner. Although, you may find buying a car is a better investment.

2. Try an electric fan (or two, three… or ten). Fans are a great alternative if you wish to avoid using an air conditioner, because of its harmful effects on the environment. *Tip: put a bowl of ice in front of the fan for cooler air.

where to chill out in Shizuoka this summer

Summer in Japan conjures up many images, particularly that of sweat and humidity. Or slightly more pleasant thoughts like festivals (matsuri) and fireworks (hanabi), and well, all the festival food (chocolate covered banana, anyone?) In any case, staying cool is always a goal, though a lofty one – that is, until you're sitting in chilly over-air-conditioned trains and shopping in frigid stores. Which leads me to this month's Japan Blog Matsuri topic: Hot Fun in the Summertime! hosted by Loco in Yokohama. *Oh, and I apologize in advance, but most of the links are Japanese sites - use that Google translate if you need to!

how much money to give at a Japanese wedding?

The recent wedding etiquette post “how to not make a fool of yourself at a Japanese wedding” brought about a lot of thoughts and experiences from fellow foreigners in Japan. Due to the slightly varying ideas regarding gift money, I decided to do a quick poll of Japanese folks on twitter to ask what they consider the norm. Interestingly enough, these responses also varied, but I pulled the consistencies from all the responses, both from Japanese and non-Japanese. One thing to keep in mind is that the gift money also covers the “meal fee” and gifts for the guests. Here are the results:

HOW TO: Find hydrogen peroxide in Japan

I don't know about you, but I hate mold. No, hate. Normally, I try not to use such strong, definitive words, but sometimes it seems that mold's mission in life is to torment me. It grows everywhere without abandon, laughing, when I take a shower in the morning. It takes over my newly bought produce, causing me to mourn in anguish as I fill our garbage bag with whole fruit and veggies. It even goes so far as to mount attacks against my body, causing my sinuses to produce much more liquid than what seems humanly possible, sometimes rendering me incapable of walking in a straight line.

I counteract it with what I can - antihistamines, nasal sprays, dehumidifiers, fans, vinegar, lemons, hydrogen peroxide, husband labor, machetes, grenades...

Mold and I are at full-out war.

HOW TO: Not make a fool of yourself at a Japanese wedding

Not long after I'd moved to Japan, I received an invitation in the fall from a co-worker to attend her wedding, to be held that winter. It was exciting enough that she chose to invite me to something as significant as a wedding without really knowing me that well, and I told her I'd be there. Though couples still opt for a traditional Japanese wedding in addition to a western one, it seems that weddings lately are trending more towards Western weddings. My co-worker was having a Western one, although she and her fiance took pictures wearing traditional Japanese attire.

Then I realized, I needed to figure out the proper etiquette for attending a Japanese wedding. I'd heard somewhere before that bringing money for a gift is the appropriate thing to do, rather than actual, physical gifts. (I wish this was custom in the U.S....) I told her I didn't have a lot of money yet (but I would give what I could, since I wasn't sure what the normal "amount" was. I doubt I put in a good amount, since most people probably give at least 1万 (about $100 US). I also wasn't sure what to wear, and told her about the clothing I currently owned (no dresses, only some skirts that were more "business wear"). She said whatever I wore would be fine.


The summer season (including the good 'ol rainy season) is approaching quickly. Humidity is up, heat is up, and the farmers have finally planted the rice. There are different ways the Japanese handle the humidity, but I stumbled across these the other day at a store - an entire display of "etiquette pads" and shirts with extra padding in the underarm area. Even Uniqlo (a popular clothing store, akin to Old Navy/Gap) is selling undershirts for women with these armpit pads.

a beach off the beaten path

Spring this year has been abnormally cold. And wet. For awhile it felt like I was back in Seattle, just enduring a typical Seattle winter of cold and wet... Granted, the temperature wasn't freezing, but it hovered near it, and just above. Though Golden Week brought lovely warm weather, and the rain seems to have settled down for spring, I was in the mood for a beach vacation. With Thailand and Malaysia and other warm places out of the running for now, my husband and I settled on planning something nearby, to celebrate our first anniversary. This is no easy feat, if you want something affordable, but not cheap, plush, but not filled with tourists, and something with non-smoking rooms (of course, if you smoke, then you can have your pick of almost anything in Japan).

how to find a laptop with an English keyboard

Japan is known for its electronics. The name brands familiar around the world: Sony, Toshiba, Panasonic, etc. So finding a computer in Japan should seem like no problem. And really, it's not. At least not if you are OK with using a Japanese keyboard. Are Japanese and English keyboards really that different? Actually yes, they are. If you've ever tried using a Japanese keyboard for writing (typing), you'll soon realize just how impractical it is. The enter/return key is usually shaped like an "L" on a Japanese keyboard, with an extra button in between, making that conditioned reach over with the right pinky futile. Or the fact that the semi-colon and apostrophe requires extra button pushing, instead of the gentle one-finger tap. Even just writing e-mails can be a pain, and whenever I use Japanese computers, sometimes I grow lazy and just keep typing the keys that substitute those on the English keyboard, ending up with something that is sometimes undecipherable.

So what to do? In my hunting the last few days, here's what I've discovered.

Wisteria in Shizuoka

Golden week showed up and brought the summer weather with it. As Spring has been cold, wet, and dreary, the sun and warmth were a welcome change. This also meant many days outside, sunscreen, BBQ, and of course, festivals. Fujieda city, in Shizuoka, held a Wisteria Festival (藤の花まつり, fuji no hana matsuri) from early April through May 5th, the end of Golden Week. My husband and I managed to visit a couple times, and by the last day, the wisteria were raining down everywhere. As the cherry blossoms have already come and gone, it was nice to experience the coming and going of the wisteria as well, even if only in few locations.

The Park - you'll notice everyone on paddle boats

tweeting, studying and all things japanese

People mention regularly that it must be the rainy season. Early. Otherwise known as 梅雨、(つゆ、tsuyu). Although, coming from Seattle, I don't consider the rainy season an actual rainy season. The rain comes and goes, but it's the humidity that kills you. Even after taking a shower, no matter how much you try to dry off, the moisture is thick and sticky and clings to you throughout the day. The air feels as if trying to breathe in a sauna. And hair... that's the time I don't bother wearing my hair down anymore. It frizzes and curls and does whatever it wants. Yes, the rainy season.
Except that, this is April! Almost May... it isn't really the rainy season. Yet the rains come, and never go. Every few days there will be a sunny day, maybe warm, but not very likely. Last Saturday was supposed to be one of those days... My husband and I wanted to bike to a nice park, paddle around a lake, and enjoy the day. But no, those plans were ruined with freak rain showers that left us soaked. We didn't get to the park, we just stopped at a department store along the way. As we were admiring the nice selection of Kettle chips, (sometimes difficult to find) my husband pointed to the window. The glass appeared liquid, as rain pelted against it. No going to the park that day.

After a brief rain shower this morning, the sun is out and appears that it may stay for a week or so. We'll see how long this lasts... and the rainy season isn't that far off.

I realize it has been much too long between posting, and I have a list of things to write about, but  need to gather some pictures for them. If anything crosses your mind that you are curious about, feel free to leave a comment about it.

For now though, I want to recommend a few great tools that have increased my motivation to study (and remember) Japanese ten-fold.

First of all, Twitter. I was a skeptic at first, but now that I've seen what good it can do, how easy it is to network with people, how to find resources, news and practice Japanese, among other things, I am convinced. So if you aren't using it, well, you should. I strongly recommend it.

Second, They have some great lists such as Japanese Core 2000 and Intermediate 6000 for studying vocabulary (and kanji). Of course, there are many other things you can study, but the interface is so interactive and useful that I can't help but study every day. Before, I was in a bit of a slump, and having a hard time pushing to the next level, but is quite motivating.

Check 'em out, if anything they'll help improve your Japanese.

Oh, and there's a great site I discovered not long ago that goes much more in depth concerning learning Japanese (and has some great pictures of Japan!) zonjineko

Now, time to take advantage of the sun - while it's here!

traveling in Hakone

This past weekend I traveled with a friend to Hakone (箱根、はこね). Though views of Mt. Fuji are spectacular from various points around Hakone, the weather didn't cooperate with me to get any pictures of Fujisan. Though the cloud cover and mist still provided plenty of photographic opportunities.

Though this isn't a travel blog of any kind, I thought I might mention my thoughts from our experience in Hakone for anyone planning to visit (and offer a brief photo tour below).

where to find bulk, inexpensive nuts, seeds, spices and dried fruits

As I prepare for my weekend trip to Hakone (Kanagawa Prefecture), I thought I would leave with a brief post, before updating about Hakone sometime next week. (And yes, it is finally cherry blossom season! Note picture.)

In a post last week, I mentioned an online retailer for nuts and seeds, though I omitted the name until I received the products and could give it a proper review. My box from Ohtsuya arrived within a few days, as per the wonderful norm of shipping in Japan. True to size, I pulled out one kilogram bags of raw almonds and walnuts, and 500 gram bags of kabocha (pumpkin/squash) seeds, coconut slices and raisins. All the goods were in great condition and delicious in the homemade granola. Being that I'm quite satisfied with this purchase, I will be ordering more - soon. So, if you have a hankering for nuts, but don't wish to spend a fortune on them, or want them raw so you can roast them yourself, I would recommend checking out Ohtsuya. I also discovered that they carry a wide selection of dried spices and herbs, on tops of the dried fruits, seeds and nuts. Ordering spices in bulk? Easier on the wallet, and the environment.

So, a few tips concerning Japanese for using Ohtsuya (aside using your trusty dictionary and Google translate of course).

ナッツ (nattsu) - nuts
スパイス (supaisu) - spices
ハーブ (haabu) - herbs
ドライフルーツ (dorai furuutsu) - dry fruits
シー ド (shiido) - seeds
実 (み, mi) - seeds

Another thing to keep in mind when looking up spices or some of the other products: though most names will be taken from English and thus sound similar, some will have completely different names. So, for example, almonds are アーモンド (aamondo) in Japanese. They sound similar. However, bay leaf or leaves, are actually ローリエ (roorie) or ローレル (rooreru)  in Japanese.

And now, I must finish packing. Hakone adventures start bright and early in the morning!

how to check the (accurate) weather in Japanese

When I need to check the weather, there's a few things I can do... but I've found that some are less helpful than others. Of course, upon arriving in Japan, I still regularly checked MSN and for weather updates and temperatures. Although, I soon found these to be wrong more often than right, and thought about how else I could find more accurate weather reports.

Of course, I could just turn on the TV, but since I rarely watch TV and acquire most of my news via RSS, that wouldn't work too well. Especially if I needed a report right away. Up to this point, I often heard students and teachers around me throwing around "Yahoo."

Japanese words to know when ordering online

It's been almost a month since I last posted, leaving me to wonder why I let all that time get away...

Dinner tonight was curry, as in カレーライス, or "kare raisu (curry rice)." Japanese curry is a somewhat stew-like curry, brown with orange carrot blobs and/or yellow potato blobs and/or beef/chicken/pork chunks, etc. The spiciness ranges from mild to "hot," although hot wouldn't necessarily be as spicy as Thai curry. I find curry to be incredibly addicting, and though I ate it in the States before coming to Japan, my way of cooking it has become much more "Japanese," as I attempt to emulate the various delicious curries found all over the country.

Since today was a dreary, wet, cold March day, I thought curry sounded perfect for dinner. Around 5 p.m. I started the process of chopping onions and sauteing them, whilst I minced garlic and ginger and gathered the rest of my ingredients from around the kitchen. The onions began caramelizing, so I threw in the ginger and garlic, followed with water, stock, a bay leaf and star anise. That all simmered nicely as the flavors amalgamated. About an hour later I put the still-somewhat-frozen chicken in the pot as my husband returned home, soaking wet. Since the chicken was so cold, I turned the stove up and put the lid back on to get everything heated quickly without allowing bacteria or anything to form. Well, as I got caught up in talking with my husband per the usual end-of-the-day conversations, I completely forgot I had left the burner on high, and sat down to read some food blogs while I "waited" for the chicken to "slowly" cook.

serious illness in Japan

Due to what I think might be some possible confusion or misunderstanding from my previous post, I thought I would explain the entire process of my serious illness. Though, my intent with the post was humor and slight satire and I hope it was not misconstrued. I am certainly not the kind of person who would demean anyone nor rant about things that simply are what they are. I also never assume that everyone should speak English; actually, the opposite, as I do try very hard to learn and understand Japanese and achieve fluency. My six-month illness was enough to try anyone's patience and three months of no diagnosis, not being able to work, and trying to deal with proving to my employer that I couldn't work (nearly impossible without a diagnosis) was trying.

During this process, my husband primarily helped me, as he is fluent in Japanese, and sometimes the doctors spoke English as well. My Japanese was still pretty basic, at least at the speaking/listening level (reading has always come easier to me). Sometimes a native speaker or fluent speaker who had been living in Japan a while accompanied me when my husband could not get off work (as he had to take paid leave whenever he took me to the doctor). Most of the time I felt so sick that I would not have been able to do anything on my own, even if I wanted to.

So. Shall we begin?

Vitamins and Supplements in Japan

Updated November 22, 2011. What about those nutritional extras that many of us employ, particularly when our bodies mount attacks against us? (and really, does anyone else agree that Vitamin C is almost like eating candy? Tart, orange-y candy?) Are they easy to find in Japan? How difficult is it to find what you need?

Before coming to Japan, I asked a few people about what I should or shouldn’t bring. One person said she usually had her family send her vitamins. My reaction was something like: Seriously? I'm going to a country that doesn't believe in VITAMINS? 

what do I eat!?

As a native Washingtonian, I grew up surrounded by great food - the fresh seafood, ripe, juicy apples, and a plethora of tart, sweet berries. After high school, when I moved to Seattle for college, my new found food independence couldn't have established itself in a better city. Farmer's markets, organic food stores, a wide ethnic variety of restaurants and one of my absolute favorites - Uwajimaya, the Asian food market in the International District. My taste for quality food developed, along with my chopstick usage skill. When restaurants were too expensive (especially at the end of a paycheck cycle), I found it easy to pick up a pre-prepared meal from Whole Foods or PCC on the way home from work. This, along with my time-consumed schedule of work and school, kept me from pursuing cooking and baking as much as I would have liked.
That changed when I came to Japan.

how to get something redelivered (online) from Japan Post

There it was again. That red and white notice in my mailbox letting me know I had missed a package. I'd gotten them a few times before, along with notices from other delivery companies (such as Yamato and Sagawa). Everytime they'd come before, I'd shove the notice in my backpack and pull it out at work to show the coworker next to me. She'd offer to call for me and arrange a redelivery time. After three or four times bringing her my notices, she said, "did you know you can do this online?"

That may have been her subtle way of letting me know I didn't need to keep bugging her about it. Though, when we looked online, I had to sign up for an account, and I felt I shouldn't have to do that... (This is before I realized you need to sign up for accounts to do almost anything online in Japan).

Later on at home, I pulled up the site for Japan's postal system. (There is also an english version of the website, but it is more limited as to what you can do from it). Of course, you can also bring the notice into the post office and give it to the clerk, but I was never able to make it to the post office before it closed due to work.

The Japanese site overwhelmed me - as kanji swam everywhere on the page, looking like nothing intelligible to me. My first thought was to find a way to translate the Japanese, so I could find the "redelivery" link. Now, there is a simple way to do this, especially if you use the Firefox browser. In Firefox, you can install widgets to the browser, and one particular one I use is called "FoxLingo". Now I can click "AutoTrans" (auto translation) whenever I come across a site too complex for me to decipher. (Alternatively, you can use Google Translate in the Chrome toolbar, or any preferred translation service).

ようこそ and welcome

Expat Women Blog Directory

ようこそ! (yokoso) Welcome! to my version of a Japan survival guide. Rather than a travel guide, this blog is for anyone moving to Japan to live for any length of time, or folks currently residing here.

So, if not for travel, you ask, what is the purpose of this blog? Why this particular blog?

Hundreds of blogs written by foreigners living in Japan already exist. Dozens of people have written books about living in Japan as well. An internet search would give anyone new to Japan plenty of information about living in this great and unique country, also known as nihon in Japanese. Yet, after living here for a year and a half, I realized there were many things about living in Japan that I had not come across in the many books I read, or the various blogs and internet research I had done. It was easy to find how-to's for introductions, bowing etiquette, and table manners. Books and lectures on culture and the latter said items were incessantly reiterated by those attempting to prepare me and hundreds of other new language teachers for the big transition. I even spent nine months learning basic Japanese and given explanations from my Japanese teachers about the Japan facts, such as: Japanese people sleep on futon (different than a futon in the western world) and use ofuro (a bath, deeper and less wide than a typical western bathtub, but the etiquette also differs from how westerners would usually take a bath).

So, I arrived in Japan, feeling quite prepared. I know the basics; I can order food and say thank you and introduce myself; I know how to use the onsen (public bath). The bustling and neon lights of Shinjuku mesmerized me, as every new and different thing I came across in those first few days left me in a state of awe and constant exclamation: "Japan is AMAZING!" Ah, yes, that first meeting with Tokyo could leave anyone in a state of exhilaration.