A Toast to You [Happy New Year!]


2011 has been a crazy year. A good one, a busy one, but also a year of tragedy, hope, and new life (literally, for my husband and I). I feel immeasurably blessed, and writing Surviving in Japan has brought about so many great opportunities and allowed me to connect with people I wouldn't have otherwise connected with. I'm a rather shy, introverted person in general, even if it doesn't seem that way, so the many connections I've made with you this year (and last year) mean a lot to me. I'm humbled.

Your comments, emails, messages, tweets, and notes all encourage me to keep going when I have down days or doubts, or when I feel discouraged. I can admit that, right? I truly enjoy being able to help people out in some way, and it's amazing how willing people are to help in return. I've learned more and more that this blog isn't just a blog I write, and not even a comprehensive resource for living in Japan (though I'm sure you'd agree it is that too), but this has become more about community. The expat community in Japan of course, but also Japanese and foreigners alike.

I hope to continue this sense of community in the coming year, and hopefully integrate it further.


Surviving in Japan has also grown a lot between 2010 and 2011; some stats from this year:

75,475 Unique Visitors (out of 118,223 visits)
294,177 Pageviews
63.10% New Visits
4,185 Twitter Followers
900+ Facebook Fans

Not that numbers say everything, but these are all HUGE jumps from last year and I'm still amazed. Thanks everyone. :)


To the guest bloggers on SiJ...

Best of Surviving in Japan 2011


2011 is winding down and we're preparing for 2012, the year of the dragon. A few things stand out in my mind from the year, most notably the horrific March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku, and consequent nuclear disaster. Much like 9/11, those images don't really fade.

That, and on a lighter note, the birth of our daughter in August this year will also be something I won't forget. Well, I hope I can forget the birth experience itself, but our little smiley girl has been a blessing.

As we reflect and also look forward, I'd like to share with you a few things about Surviving in Japan from this past year.

Top 10 Most Popular Posts 

1. Moving to Japan? Read this First
A rundown of what to bring, what not to bring, and what you could bring.


24 Ways to Stay Warm in Japan This Winter

So you've prepared your home in Japan as best you can for winter and you've got a heater or two, or a kotatsu, to keep you warm. What else can you do to survive the winter in Japan, especially with the continued emphasis on energy conservation?

Note: Amazon links below are affiliate links. Non-Amazon links are not.

1. Carry "kairo" (カイロ). Small body (typically hand) warmers. The disposable kind are the ones you open and shake up and typically last a few hours. Some can be placed in your shoes, around your ankles, around your waist or even around your wrists. Here are a few examples.

I've also noticed a trend of "eco-kairo" (エコカイロ) this year. The eco-kind vary, but some are filled with gel and you heat them in the microwave. Some are battery-powered (I'm not sure exactly how that is very "eco" though).

Some examples of "eco kairo" with cute covers (found at Loft):



And an eco-kairo that lasts about 4 hours:




2. Use a lap blanket. Whether at work or home, these smaller blankets are good to have on hand. Look for ひざかけ (膝掛け).


Top Japan Links - Dec 18, 2011

We're back with another round of Japan-related links, important news and other interesting tidbits from the past two weeks. Tuck yourself into your kotatsu or settle in front of a heater, grab your favorite hot beverage, and enjoy! -Ashley


Christmas/New Year's

Warm up with these winter drinks trends - Japan Pulse

Can't find Santa in Japan? Skype with him instead from Inhabitots

Dishing up a delicious Kansai Christmas - Japan Times

New era for New Year’s cards - Japan Pulse


Living in Japan

AFP: Japanese cities most costly for Asia expats: survey

You can purchase an IC transport card (PASMO or SUICA) for your child for half price with proof of school enrollment from @JapanInfoSwap

HIS Japan to offer Western Union money transfer services - Japan Today

Giving Birth in Japan: My Husband's Experience

For today's guest post I'm thrilled to introduce you all to my supportive, hard-working husband, David. You may not know, but he often helps me check the Japanese I use in posts, helps with research for certain topics, and takes care of the little one while I'm hard at work late into the night and on the weekends. He's here to share his thoughts and some advice on giving birth in Japan from his perspective of everything that happened in August this year. -Ashley

*****

Have you ever felt helpless while watching someone you love suffer? Well, that feeling still lingers in me from our birth experience even though it has been four months since our cute little baby was born.

Resources for a Very Merry Christmas in Japan

Christmas in Japan

Getting geared up for the holiday season? Feeling overwhelmed or not sure where to go or what to do or how to do it? You'll find some of my favorite resources below. Please let us know in the comments if you have something to add (even if it's regional).

Decorations
Often including trees



Nitori - Housewares store. Link is to English version of their site (including store locator). You can also shop online from the Japanese version of the site.

Tokyu Hands - Misc. goods. Japanese site. Store locator (usually located in big cities) and online shop.

Loft - Similar to Tokyu Hands. I've seen these more often, but still usually in big cities. Japanese site; store locator.

Leaving Japan: Thoughts and Advice [Interview]

If you're planning on leaving Japan, maybe in the next few months, maybe next year, or maybe just "one day" and aren't certain of all the logistics involved, today's interviewee might interest you: Laura Pepper Wu. Laura lived in Japan for three years and when she was preparing to leave in 2009, she learned just how much was involved in the arduous process and decided to write an ebook - The Stress Free Guide to Leaving Japan - about the process after all was said and done.

Laura and her husband, Brandon (middle)
I read through Laura's book, and as I haven't ever left Japan I can't really speak from that standpoint, but she includes a variety of good resources and tips. She informed me she has also made some updates to it since the version I read (I should point out now the part about the lump-sum pension withdrawal: it isn't always a good option, depending on your specific situation - read more about that here.)


Laura willingly agreed to offer some advice about the leaving process and her thoughts on life in Japan in general:

Got mold? Tenant rights in serious situations

It's difficult, well, nearly impossible, to keep mold from overtaking almost anything and everything in Japan, so we all do our best to try and control it. But what can you do if your mold issue is being caused by a structural problem? What are your rights?

We look at this in my latest column:

Buck stops with landlord of moldy apartment - Lifelines, Japan Times, Dec 6, 2011




Has anyone ever experienced any serious mold problems in a rented home? If so, how did you deal with or resolve it? Or have you had to figure out a sticky situation with a landlord? Let us know in the comments.



Japan Links - Dec 5, 2011

If you don't use Twitter or aren't following @survivingnjapan, I've compiled various interesting Japan-related links I've shared from the past few weeks. Enjoy!


Healthy eating in Tokyo http://t.co/kdX1EfE4

Karuizawa resort makes winter special http://t.co/gFJ48FR9

Season's Secrets in Tokyo http://t.co/dW26OcUN

First radiation limit set for school meals  http://t.co/3Rl6dt0L

A new Japan Portal, powered by Kyodo News, is out: http://t.co/3Ux1b4If

Power saving puts Christmas illuminations in a new light http://t.co/umD8KCLm

Dentsu announces hit products in Japan in 2011 http://t.co/rgsbFE6y (I'm still not sure about the people being "products" thing...)

The KFC-Christmas connection in Japan http://t.co/9No7R3jE

Gundam Rising Again In Tokyo Waterfront Next Spring http://t.co/d7SH29NR

Needles found in food in 5 Kitakyushu supermarkets http://t.co/RgLjgWYR

Warm Biz warming up http://t.co/WaOir95u

Rice from 5 Fukushima farms shows high radiation levels http://t.co/XZA6hxnT

Second appearance of La Nina may portend frigid winter for Japan http://t.co/6535DmP0

Top 60 Japanese Buzzwords of 2011 http://t.co/suHjFIWj

Panko Crusted Kabocha http://t.co/YuzxqW1B




Where to Find "Illuminations" (Christmas/Holiday Lights) in Japan

Though it's the year of "setsuden" or "energy saving," many places in Japan are still setting up their Christmas/Holiday light displays for their annual "illumination," or イルミネーション, as it's called in Japanese. Although I've noticed there haven't been as many listings so far this year compared with last year, but at least many that are putting up displays are going with LED lights (if they weren't already, since I think most probably were), which use less electricity.

So while we should all do our best to continue saving energy this winter, and maybe not leave the Christmas lights on all the time, at least it's a way to feel festive and like it's actually the Christmas season (if you celebrate Christmas, that is). This can be difficult as an expat, I know, any holiday really, and maybe even more difficult if you have loved ones in another part of the world. So if the colorful, twinkly lights help put you in the Christmas spirit, here's a guide to finding holiday light displays in Japan.

You can look up illumination spots on several websites and find them in other ways as well (train stations often have them nearby), but a few options:

Breastfeeding in Japan: Nursing Room Locators

At the date of this post, I'm still somewhat new to the whole breastfeeding thing (just as I was new to the pregnancy and childbirth thing...). I must admit, the idea of carrying on a normal life while breastfeeding (meaning, being able to go out and do things occasionally, not that I have much energy to...) was a bit daunting at first, and to be honest, still is on occasion. Especially right now as the little one is going through an eat-only-while-being-walked phase. Not rocked, but walked. And she ain't gettin' any lighter, that's for sure...

On the plus side of all this, breastfeeding is commonly practiced in Japan, and many places are breastfeeding-friendly (particularly department stores, as they often have nursing rooms), but it's still largely unexplored territory for me. It helps to read the experiences and knowledge of others, so if you have an experience to share, I'd love to hear it.

So, in my anxiousness figuring out this whole nursing thing while going out, I was curious if I could find any specific information on breastfeeding-friendly places in Japan, and lo and behold, I came across a couple independently-maintained sites with databases of places all over Japan that have a breastfeeding or baby room of some sort. The sites are all in Japanese, but for those who can't read it, I've made a quick guide below for how to navigate and understand them. As long as you know the kanji for the place you are going to, it's not so difficult. (And if you don't know the kanji, it helps to check the names on Google maps, since they show up in Romaji and then have the kanji underneath the name, or else just do an internet search and somewhere you should be able to find the kanji).

Also, these nursing rooms are helpful even if you're using formula, as many of them have hot water machines. That aside, they also usually have diaper changing stations. Good to know whether you're breast or bottle feeding your little one.

The first site is Ikusapo (育サポ), short for childcare support.

Healthcare in Japan: Checkup Options

Today's guest post comes from Sara of Japan Healthcare Info - a very helpful resource for expats in Japan. You can read more about JHI here, but I just want to say they have been incredibly helpful to me in finding specific types of doctors (like pediatricians) and dentists in my area, along with helping me figure out Ai-chan's vaccination schedule, including where to find the recently-approved-in-Japan rotavirus shot (I'll be writing about this in the coming months). I highly recommend checking out JHI if you need help with medical issues here in Japan, especially if you don't speak any Japanese, but even if you do they are still a very helpful resource. -Ashley

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Hello! Today I’d like to talk about health checkups in Japan. Checkup systems in Japan can be a little complicated and hard to choose from. I hope this post will give you a better idea of what to expect and look for so you can feel more confident and save money and time.

First of all, there are 3 major health checkup categories in Japan:

School/Company checkups for full-time students or employees

Your school or company in Japan typically provides annual health checkups for free. The screening items are general ones like taking your height and weight measurements, a blood/urine test, and a chest X-ray. Some companies offer expensive, full checkup courses that include a gastroscopy, ultrasound, mammogram, etc.

At school, checkups are done on campus. As for company checkups, employers will often provide a list of contracted hospitals for employees to choose from. Or if you work for a large company, health-screening companies may send a van with healthcare staff and equipment to the company site.

Pros: The checkups are free and if you’re lucky, you may see an English-speaking doctor who can explain the results.

Cons: You can’t choose the testing items. In most cases you get the results by mail in Japanese.

What to do: Your school or company notifies you of the time and place for checkups. For company employees with a list of hospitals, you need to make an appointment.


Private Health Screening Center

Q&A: Order from Japan?

Aldo wrote in asking if I knew of any mail order-type/intermediary companies that accept domestic shipments from within Japan and then ship them overseas. I haven't ever tried to do this myself (since I still live in Japan, of course), but I thought perhaps some of you out there might be wondering the same thing, or know someone who is.

I thought the following might be possible options:

Flutterscape (probably not as useful if there is something exact you want and prefer to order it directly, but

JShoppers (not viewable from within Japan - goes to company site instead if you are)


Aldo wrote back and suggested Tenso, which he chose to go with.


Do you have any recommendations for mail forwarding companies in Japan that ship overseas? Let us know in the comments!

A Guide to Laundry Detergent in Japan


Doing laundry is another one of those important things, right up there with brushing your teeth or wearing deodorant. I've received several emails asking me to do a post about laundry detergent and I agreed it's a vital topic to cover. So here you are, a guide to laundry detergent in Japan:


Words to know
You should know at least some of the following words when shopping for laundry detergent, but read on below this chart as well for more use-specific words and ingredients.
                                                               
洗濯 せんたく sentaku laundry
洗剤 せんざい senzai detergent
粉末 ふんまつ funmatsu powder
液体えきたいekitailiquid
固形こけいkokeisolid
石鹸, 石けん, せっけんせっけんsekkensoap
柔軟剤じゅうなんざいjuunanzaifabric softener
漂白剤ひょうはくざいhyouhakuzaibleaching agent
蛍光増白剤けいこうぞうはくざいkeikouzouhakuzaioptical brighteners
詰替用 or つめかえ用つめかえようtsumekaeyourefill
液性えきせいekiseipH
香りかおりkaoriscented



Q&A: How to find a hair diffuser?

Q: I'm going to Japan next week and will be there until July next year and I've found your site extremely helpful. I have naturally curly hair and I use a blow dryer with a diffuser attachment, but I'll have to leave it at home.

In Japan, I expect that they would have plenty of hair dryers but have you come across any with a diffuser attachment; are they common? Do you know of anywhere online I can order one? Also, I've checked Amazon.jp and the majority of blow dryers are all out of stock, only one that I could see came with an attachment.

-N


Surviving in Japan is now on Google+!

Hi everyone, just wanted to drop a quick note to say that Surviving in Japan now has its own Google+ page, if you use Google+ at all. If so, do drop by and add SiJ to your circles! Many thanks in advance.

We've also got a discussion going on over there (and on Facebook) regarding how easy or difficult it is for students who've spent time abroad (any kid who has been raised in Japan) to assimilate back into the Japanese public school system after having spent time abroad. If you have any thoughts on the matter, would love to hear your experiences. This is for an upcoming column.

You can join the conversation on Google+ or Facebook, leave a comment below, or feel free to send me an email with your thoughts.

Thanks in advance!

Giving Birth in Japan: Reflections and Advice


If you haven't yet read Part 1 and Part 2 of the "Giving Birth in Japan" series, it may be helpful to read those first so you have some background in regards to my reflections below. - Ashley

How was it, being pregnant in Japan?

I honestly had a pretty easy pregnancy, and being in Japan really had no effect on my views of pregnancy (aside from even more stares at the sight of my burgeoning belly). At least where I was, people were really kind most of the time about giving up seats so I could sit down, etc. (only in months 7-10, though, when it was obvious). I don't experience that kind of thing much the rest of the time so it was a nice change. I'm sure this depends on where you are in Japan though, so that's just what happened for me.

The main thing I didn't like was how hot it was this summer in Japan (hotter than usual), before we had an air conditioner. Was pretty miserable.

Another thing I didn't like is how difficult it is to avoid smoking when going out. I already have issues with smoke with my allergies, but with a little one growing inside me I was more paranoid about it, which meant there were very few places we could eat out at (we had to get in all the couple time we could, and I'm glad we did, since we get zero time now). [This obviously depends on where you are in Japan, since some places have a lot more non-smoking restaurants and places to go.] Or just walking in certain areas, or things like that, it can be difficult to avoid cigarette smoke and not everyone is very conscious of others when they smoke, which annoys me. This is still an issue now with a baby.


Was it difficult finding a caregiver?

Costco, Ikea, and more from Yoyo Market

Note: I wasn't asked or paid to write this post. Like I've said before, I will not promote things on Surviving in Japan unless I think it's a good service or resource for readers. Even when I have a sponsored post of any kind, it will only be because I think it's a good product or service that would somehow be helpful to others living in Japan, and I will make sure that's clear within the post.

You likely already know of some online supermarkets in Japan selling Costco food and imported goods (The Flying Pig and Foreign Buyer's Club), especially as I've mentioned them in some previous posts, but today I'd like to introduce a newer online store offering a lot of similar food and services, and even a bit more - Yoyo Market.




Preparing for winter in Japan

It's that time of year again. The temps drop (despite the fact Fall [Autumn] has been so lovely this year), and the sun only shows its face for a few hours (at least it feels that way).

I noticed these 2 posts have suddenly been climbing the "most visited" links list lately, so if you haven't seen them yet, here's what you need to know to prepare for the cold months in Japan. (Well... most of Japan; some of you are lucky - I'm looking at you, Okinawa.)

8 ways to winterize your Japanese apartment (or house)

A guide to heaters in Japan



And just a note for those of you who celebrate Christmas and are looking for a Christmas tree this year, you may want to check out:

HOW TO: Find a Christmas tree in Japan


Time for me to find my slippers. Stay warm!

HOW TO: Look up Japanese medicine


It's scary, I know, not knowing what's in medicine, or having no idea what your prescription actually is (What did the doctor just give me!? Why so many pills?).

When I had labrynthitis nearly 2 years ago, I was prescribed various drugs from various doctors in my search for a diagnosis. And seeing all those prescriptions all the time worried me, not knowing what was in them exactly. The doctors usually explain what they are giving you and why, but if not you can ask and they'll tell you (and even then, the pharmacists usually tell you what the drugs are for also), but there is still some mystery surrounding the whole thing if you've only been living in Japan a short time, and especially if you can't speak Japanese well enough to really ask (unless you have an English-speaking doctor and grill them about it, but even then the doctor may not be so keen on explaining everything - it all depends on the person).

I know not everyone is concerned about this, and I'm not saying you shouldn't trust your doctor (although there are certainly times to be skeptical - unfortunately I've had far too many of these, both in Japan and the US). But if you DO want to know what's in the medicine being prescribed to you in Japan just for peace of mind, or if you want to compare it to other countries, you certainly can.

How? By using a 薬のしおり (くすりのしおり, kusuri no shiori), or "drug information sheet," or in other words, a drug/medicine reference guide.


Q&A: How to avoid Sodium Lauryl Sulfate?

Q: I have eczema. It's not so bad when I'm in England, but when I go over to Japan in the winter, it flares up and makes me break out in welts.

I need to avoid SLS/SDS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate) when I go to Japan, and I'm hoping you have recommendations, as well as places to find things like shea butter, aloe vera, etc.

-A

Alien registration card poll: results and responses

Many thanks to those of you who answered my poll (Poll: Show alien registration card when re-entering Japan?) and left comments via the post, Google+, Twitter, etc. (Commenters, you're mentioned in the article below!)

If you're interested in reading everyone's comments and the results of the poll (as of the date of the column), check out:

To carry or not to carry your 'gaijin card' upon re-entry? - Japan Times, October 25th, 2011

Also, if anyone has an interesting story to share about being stopped at Immigration without their alien registration card, please let me know, and I may use it for a future column.


Happy weekend to everyone!

Need help finding (or calling) a doctor in Japan? Try this resource.

If you don't speak or understand Japanese very well, trying to find a doctor or health care provider may be difficult at times (I've been there). How do you find someone who speaks English? Is there anyone in your location who does? What about the trouble of setting up an appointment in Japanese (even if the doctor speaks English, often the receptionists don't)?

Japan Healthcare Info, a newer, non-profit organization, has stepped in to fill the gap. You'll find a host of information regarding medical care in Japan on their website, including a long list of English/Japanese translations of common phrases and terms used at the doctor or pharmacy. Some of the info (such as schedules, costs, etc.) may differ slightly from what is true in your location, (currently, much of it is referenced from the Kanto region) but feel free to send them an email with info from what is most common in your region.

In addition to general medical information, JHI also provides various services to assist foreigners, including, but not limited to:

  • Finding and locating hospitals or clinics and doctors to meet your specific requests (such as English-speaking, a clinic to potentially match your prescription from home, etc.) This service is free.
  • Setting up appointments. Service fee ¥1000.
  • Preparing Japanese documents, such as hospital/day care admission or application for insurance benefits Service fee ¥3000-5000.
  • Interpreter services via phone
  • Possible in-person interpreter services (please inquire for more details about this one, fees vary)


HOW TO: Find and Enjoy Autumn Leaves (紅葉) in Japan

You may remember a post earlier this year about how to find a good hanami spot (cherry blossom viewing). Yet spring isn't the only time of year in Japan with lovely colors. In the Fall (or Autumn), trees all over Japan turn lovely hues of yellow, orange, and red for a short time before the coldest weather sets in.

Though it's likely you'll have some trees with colored leaves in your local neighborhood (some more than others), various spots exist around the country that are particularly known for beautiful foliage this time of year.

So, how do you find those spots?


Giving Birth in Japan: My Experience - Part 2, Clinic Stay

I wrote Part 1 of this "Giving Birth in Japan" series last week, so if you haven't read that already, you may want to before reading Part 2 below.

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As I was being stitched up, I started shivering uncontrollably. Of course, the temperature in the room had been pretty low as I was sweating and hot throughout the labor and delivery. My husband changed the temp while the nurses helped me change out of my sweaty long t-shirt. (Note: this particular clinic, and probably many others, provide hospital gowns that women typically wear throughout their stay. However, the gowns at this clinic were really uncomfortable and stiff-feeling, so I brought my own clothes to wear for the birth and for the stay. We discussed this with one of the midwives at the clinic beforehand so it wasn't an issue.)

The nurses also had to put these giant pads on me that were sort of like a diaper as all of the blood came out (sorry, graphic I know), which they changed several times right after I had given birth.

After all this, baby was cleaned up and I got to hold her, and also try nursing her. One important thing I should point out is that depending on where you deliver, the midwives or nurses may have different ideas on the best way to breastfeed. We had been warned beforehand that this clinic wasn't that great with breastfeeding support, and it seemed like almost every nurse/midwife had a different idea about how it should be done. Initially, they only had the baby feed for a few minutes on each side, and then took her away for some tests. One of the nurses explained that the baby should only eat for 5 minutes on each side and then switch, and many of the others nurses also reemphasized this, but some of them didn't care about the length of time. And everyone had different ideas of how to manually express milk as well, but a pump was frowned upon).

I was still exhausted and a little out of it for that part, but if I went through this process again I probably would have requested to let her feed longer if she was willing to, instead of just pulling her off after less than 10 minutes. I also would have wanted more skin-to-skin time with the baby, since I was fully clothed again (like I mentioned in the previous post, modesty is preferred) and baby was bundled up as well.


Giving Birth in Japan: My Experience - Part 1, Childbirth

6 weeks. I can't believe it has already been about 6 weeks since our dear daughter Ai-chan joined us in world. It's mostly been a blur of sleep, insomnia, diaper changes, incessant feeding, incredible soreness and lots of baby time. But, reality shows up sooner or later and it's time for me to try and start adjusting back into some sort of routine (while I hope that our child also figures out some sort of routine in the coming weeks).

I want to say a huge thank you for your patience in the meantime, as I know I've been a bit absent on Twitter, Facebook, etc., and now catching up on emails! I also want to give a special thank you to the fabulous guest posters, Erica (x2), Amanda and Caroline, who helped me out and allowed me time to rest the past 6 weeks!

No, this isn't our daughter or the clinic I went to.
I've mulled over sharing this experience with you all many times, as I want to present it as objectively as possible, because to be honest I came away from the experience completely traumatized. NOT because of the fact I gave birth in Japan, just the labor and childbirth process itself. So, I'll do the best I can here, and please understand that this is only my experience. Everyone has completely different birthing experiences, no matter where they are in the world, and even in Japan, your experience may differ depending on your doctor or midwife, and various other factors.

However, I don't believe there is any reason to fear giving birth in Japan (and I do speak from personal experience now!), so rest assured that as long as you find a doctor or midwife you like and (hopefully) trust, you should be fine (well, as fine as you can be going through this kind of experience...)


Official Name Changes & Pension Pay-in Requirements

My latest Lifelines in The Japan Times addresses name change issues, specifically for married French citizens and the use of "ep" or "epouse" on their Alien Registration Card and other official documents in Japan. (If you've had a similar experience, please let us know in the comments). 

The article also delves into the Japanese pension system once more with someone wondering if they can still get a pension if they were to stop making payments right now.

For more, check out: 



Also, if you, or anyone you know was curious about re-entry visas and how they apply to folks affected by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, that has been addressed in the September 13 article (along with a brief explanation about how the new immigration law applies to permanent residents), 3/11: no excuse for skipping your re-entry visa.



Deodorize and More with Activated Charcoal

You may recall a post from a few months ago about takesumi, otherwise known as bamboo charcoal. This nifty material has quite a few handy household uses, including deodorizing, balancing humidity levels and keeping produce in the fridge fresh longer. Check out 6 Reasons You Should Use Bamboo Charcoal (Takesumi) for more.

More recently at the store, I came across deodorizing activated charcoal in small, vented, plastic containers you can use in your fridge, freezer, produce crisper/drawer, or in places such as kitchen cabinets, shoe cupboards or closets. The brand I saw was 脱臭炭, but kenko.com has another brand of the same type of product.



4 Tips to Maintain Black Hair While Living in Japan

Today's guest post comes from Amanda of Whoa...I'm in Japan?, a blog covering the ins and outs of daily life in Tokyo, from the crazy to the mundane, with her personal spin on it. Though the following topic will not apply to everyone, I'm hoping the information Amanda generously provided here will be helpful in some way to those looking for it. And, as always, if you know of other related resources, please feel free to share them in the comments! 
- Ashley

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I must admit this was a big concern for me in the early days when I was flipping back and forth about whether I should move to Japan or not. After all, Asian hair is pretty much the polar opposite of black hair. Asian hair is often straight; black hair is curly/frizzy. Asian hair can become too greasy; black hair gets too dry. I thought I would have quite a difficult time getting my mane under control in a country that not only doesn’t cater to my hair care needs, but boasts some of the worst summer humidity I’ve ever felt…and you know what humidity can do to a girl’s hair.

So, I did some googling and youtube-ing, had a good, long heart-to-heart with my hairdressers before I left Canada, and after six months living in Tokyo I still haven’t gone bald. Would you like to know my secrets?


Tip #1: Let it grow

About Cycling and Biking in Japan

Biking (or cycling) is probably one of the better ways to get around in Japan, that is, unless you live in the middle of nowhere (but even then a meandering ride past rice and tea fields is quite nice). If you've spent any time riding a bike in Japan, you may have noticed that there doesn't always seem to be "set rules" in place, or you regularly fear for your life when navigating amongst and alongside cars and large crowds of people. Erica of Expatria Baby is here to explain what the rules are, and of course, what you might actually experience in reality...


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I recently acquired a shiny, new, cherry-red bicycle equipped with a rad child seat and a nifty little red pepper bell. This makes me all sorts of happy because cycling is the way to get around urban Japan -- so much more convenient and WAY less annoying than public transit; faster (and more fun) than walking; and come on, people, a red pepper bike bell! What’s not to love?

Well, one thing, actually. Traffic laws. I am completely bewildered by what is and isn’t allowed on two wheels. Not to mention I’m somewhat intimidated by the packs of wild bikes that populate Japan’s sidewalks: bikes ostensibly piloted by rabid honey badgers with opposable texting thumbs. Are they breaking the law? Or am I, mild-mannered street rider, in the wrong? Is it customary to ride three-cycle-deep with an umbrella while listening to an MP3 player and texting on my phone?

(I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to do that. Though, observation tells me I could be wrong.)

The only solution to this maddening conundrum was, obviously, to research and write a post for Surviving in Japan on Japanese bicycle laws. So, without further ado, here’s what I’ve learned:

5 Ways to Not Stand Out in Japan

Many of us expats (or "foreigners" or "gaijin" as we often refer to ourselves) in Japan know well the feeling of not quite blending in. I'm sure many of you have experienced constant stares, as I often have (I have a feeling our little foreign baby will bring about even more of this...). And yet there are others who seem to attract more "unwanted," sometimes negative, attention. Attention is often something to be expected in Japan as a non-native, but that doesn't mean negative attention is OK, and for that which is of a more innocent nature, it's not always easy to accept or get used to. 

If you're feeling this way, Caroline of C. Life in Japan is here to share some ideas about how to "blend in" a bit more in Japan (if you want to, that is). *Please keep in mind these are just general suggestions and not "rules" of any kind, and they certainly don't guarantee that you won't receive any attention whatsoever - especially those ubiquitous stares... 

Oh, and between you and me, getting pregnant and having a baby definitely is not the thing to do if you don't want attention. - Ashley

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I have been witness to, and heard many stories, about Japanese people approaching foreigners in Japan and asking strange questions or giving unwanted attention. Most of this is innocent, but still, it can take a toll, especially if you aren't accustomed to it.

Foreigners who have made lives for themselves in Japan take pride in that, myself included, and there’s nothing worse than being treated like a tourist in a place you consider your home.

How can this be avoided? I’m here to give a few tips (from my own experiences) on how to not stand out as much (unless you prefer being the center of attention).

How to Have a Baby (and not a Nervous Breakdown) in Japan

If you've been following the Pregnant in Japan series here on SiJ, then today's guest post from Erica of Expatria Baby may provide you some reassurance if you've just discovered you're pregnant and planning to give birth in Japan. Definitely check out Erica's blog as well for more of her adventures raising a baby in Japan. 

- Ashley

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While Ashley is off enjoying her new little love, I thought I’d bring you a few tips on having a baby in Japan while holding onto your sanity.

Babies are stressful. So is making them. But having a baby in a country where you don’t understand the health care system and can barely speak the language and cannot find BPA-free baby bottles even though I’m going to breastfeed OMGPANICGAH!

So, all you Japan-living pregnant ladies, I know you can’t take a chill pill, or even have a glass of wine, but you can read this post and put your feet up. So do that.


Accept The Fact That You Are In Japan And That Isn’t A Bad Thing

More Resources to Find a Laptop with an English Keyboard

You may already know the difficulties in potentially locating a laptop with an "English" keyboard in Japan, and if you don't, I recommend checking out HOW TO: Find a laptop with an English keyboard.

Reader Emelyn recently wrote in with four additional resources to find the somewhat elusive English keyboard in Japan (thanks Emelyn!):

Poll: Show alien registration card when re-entering Japan?

If you're living in Japan, need legal support or advice, and your income is limited, you may want to check out today's Lifelines column, in which I've included a few resources.

Legal help for those on a limited budget - The Japan Times

If you have any other ideas or suggestions for this same topic, definitely let me know so I can write a follow-up article with more resources.


The above column also answers a query from Andrew about the "official" policy of whether or not your alien registration card is requested and required to be shown when re-entering Japan. Immigration's official answer was that it is always requested, but I know from experience that this is not often (if ever) the case.

So, I'd like to know what your experience has been by gathering info from the anonymous survey below and hopefully publish these findings in an upcoming column (if I can get enough responses). If you've re-entered Japan (any number of times), please answer the multiple choice questions below and then share this poll with other Japan residents. Let's see if Immigration is true to their "rules." Many thanks in advance!

*If you receive blog post updates via email or a feed reader, I'm not sure if the poll below will show up for you. If it doesn't, just click the title of the post to be brought to the online version.

2011 Summer in Japan Round-up

Summer is winding down in Japan, although with the heat this year it certainly doesn’t feel like it! If you’ve been following SiJ all summer, you’ve likely already seen many of the summer-themed posts, but if you’re just joining, or if you missed some posts, you can glance through the list below. I’ve also included some other interesting summer-themed links I’ve shared on Twitter and Facebook. Enjoy!



HOW TO: Prevent and kill cockroaches
What you can to keep this giant little pests from taking over.


HOW TO: Find a farmer's market in Japan

farmer's market, morning market, Japan

If you’re looking for a way to save money while living in Japan, buying produce from local farmers is a surefire way to do just that. Some local supermarkets have a small section devoted to local and/or organic produce (and, depending on the area you live in Japan, the produce may already be local anyway!), but a great way to find it is by visiting a farmer’s market (ファーマーズマーケット) or “morning” market (朝市, あさいち, asaichi).


QA: Wedding in Kyoto?

Hi everyone,

I've been trying to do research to help out Paul and his fiance over the past few months, who are planning to get married in September and want to do so in Kyoto, Japan. You may already know I'm about to have a baby any day now, so I'm hoping that some of you may have some fantastic advice for the happy couple.

Here's the lowdown:
  • They want to hold the wedding in the Kyoto area (but doesn't have to be in central Kyoto, could be outside of it, etc.) The ceremony will just be the two of them, so they don't need to find a formal event locale necessarily, just someplace they can have a small ceremony, such as a park. (Maybe even along the lines of what my husband and I did at a park in Saitama...) So, Kyoto-ites, and anyone else who's spent time in the area, any recommendations? 
  • They need a photographer (and are willing to pay for one). I have a list of photographers already, but if you haven't given me your name, feel free to email me or leave it in the comments with your website/contact info. 
  • They need someone to perform the ceremony. They aren't really religious, so they don't have a preference regarding that. So if you know someone who might be able to help them, please contact me or mention in the comments below.
  • Finally, and I've been trying to work on this but perhaps some of you have better contacts - they would like to rent/use a classic American car

Pregnant in Japan: Visiting the Doctor and What to Expect

We’re down to the wire with less than 2 weeks to go until baby’s due date. The past 9 months (or 10 if you go by the Japanese system) have flown by and I’ve found myself hustling to get things ready beforehand.

I haven’t written a “pregnant in Japan” post in a while (though they’ve been in my queue), so this time I want to write about what you might typically expect at a doctor visit when you’re pregnant in Japan.

Of course, specifics will vary depending on location, the doctor, and other factors. I’ve gone to a few different doctors in my entire process, two of which I’ve seen regularly, and what happens at each visit has been fairly standard and similar.

As for how often you’ll visit the doctor if you're pregnant in Japan, the typical schedule is once a month from 12 to 23 weeks, every two weeks from 24 to 35 weeks and once a week from 36 weeks on, unless you go over 40 weeks, as then you’d probably visit the doctor twice a week.




Powdered prescription? Try capsules

Those of you who’ve already been living in Japan for some time likely know that on occasion, doctors hand out medicine in powder form rather than easier-to-swallow pills. So far, I’ve been fortunate enough to not have been prescribed anything powdery (surprisingly, given my many visits to the doctor in Japan). Despite my own experience though, many people are prescribed medicine in powder form and are often stumped as to how they are supposed to take it (or, they have a miserable time taking it).

While browsing at the drug store in the first aid section, I came across a small box of “capsules”, or カプセル. The capsules are empty medicinal capsules you can use to make taking powdered medicine easier.

Empty medicine capsules at the store


Looking for Floss in Japan?

When I first came to Japan, floss was slightly difficult to find (though not impossible). Over the past few years since, I've seen more options pop up at local stores (including western brand Reach). So, if you're worried about finding floss in Japan, well, there's no need.

I should note that if you live in a small town far away from most civilization, you likely won't find a great floss selection (if at all), but it is possible to order online.

So, what are your options?

Lots of floss at this particular store (and not even in a large city).


Preparing a Will in Japan

If you're a long-term resident in Japan (or planning to stick around long-term), you may have thought once or twice about estate planning. Or perhaps you've already written up a Will.

For those who haven't but would like to or plan to and aren't sure how to go about doing so, especially if you're planning to stay in Japan, you may want to check out some of the following resources in this article:

Where there's the will for a will, there's a way - Japan Times

If you know of other resources to share regarding the topic of Will preparation in Japan, please let me know.

HOW TO: Prevent and kill cockroaches

With summer comes insects, and in Japan they tend to come in droves. We’ve already looked at some ways to prevent mosquitoes, but several people have asked me, “what about cockroaches?” And for good reason.

cockroach trap, baitFortunately I haven’t had to deal with cockroaches much at all during my time in Japan (happily I’ll admit, as I’m a wimp when it comes to large, icky bugs like that...). In fact, the apartment we’ve lived in the past two years hasn’t seen one cockroach.

Until last week. During the stormy weather from the typhoon.

What is "Calorie Off", and why should you care?

 My time in Japan so far has seen many changes, as to be expected, and most have been gradual. One such change has been the increasing prevalence of “calorie off” drinks. When I first arrived I remember this option being available, but as the years have gone by some of my favorite beverages converted completely to “calorie off”, including my beloved lemon Mitsuya Cider... (I like CC Lemon too, but I prefer Mitsuya Cider).


Now, just browsing at the local コンビニ (convenience store), it is more difficult to find carbonated (and some non-carbonated) beverages that aren’t “calorie off.” Not that I drink much else aside water in general (and occasionally 100% juice or tea), but even if some new, "limited edition" beverage looks interesting to try I often don’t because it is, of course, “calorie off.”

So, what is “calorie off”? Basically, the manufacturers have replaced all or most of the sugar with artificial sweeteners, the most typical ingredient being sucralose. Not that regular sugar or corn syrup is healthy, but it is somewhat misleading for folks thinking they are getting something healthy in a “low” or “no” calorie drink, but instead are chugging down something that could be just as unhealthy, but in a potentially different way.

Q&A: Swimming with a tattoo?

Q: Do you have any advice on tattoo-friendly swimming?

- @scoutie

A: Many readers may already know that a lot of onsen, sento and pools in Japan prohibit guests with (visible) tattoos from using their facilities. I don't have any personal experience with this, but I do know it can be an issue (unless you're heading to the beach), especially for those with larger tattoos that aren't easily covered up by swimsuit (or towel, if at an onsen).

A guide to toothpaste in Japan



In response to HOW TO: Find (good) toothpaste in Japan, some people were wondering about other types of Japanese toothpaste (aside from Aquafresh, which was used as an example in the "how to" post). Can you find whitening toothpaste in Japan? What about natural toothpaste? What other Japanese brands are available?

Depending on where you go in Japan, you’ll likely find a varied selection of toothpaste options. Some stores will have more variety than others and larger cities may have a greater selection than what you might find in a small town. Nonetheless, it is always possible to find a myriad of choices online if nothing near you seems appealing.

I want to cover some ingredients and things to look for here, as a general guide - you'll want to check the ingredients list to confirm what a particular type has to be sure of what you're getting inside.

And, if you're wondering about the basic vocabulary for toothpaste, please refer to HOW TO: Find (good) toothpaste in Japan.

Japanese Toothpaste Brands and Makers


Traveling the Izu Peninsula

The Izu peninsula of Shizuoka prefecture is one of my favorite places in Japan (although, I haven't been to every part of the country yet...), and I've written about it several times before. My husband and I decided to take a road trip to Izu this year (in May) for our second anniversary, as we just got a car last winter and I knew from my visits to Izu before that having a car would allow us to explore the area more than I had previously been able to.

So I booked us a spot on the Shimizu Ferry that travels from Shizuoka city to the port of Toi (土肥) on the peninsula side of Suruga Bay. I found a decent deal at a hotel near the beaches in Shimoda (下田), the southernmost city in Izu, known for its many white, sandy beaches. Shimoda is a bit of a drive from Toi (I think it took us an hour and a half or so, but with stops), but the scenery is absolutely gorgeous and I knew we wouldn't get bored at all.

As for the ferry ride, it was our first in Japan, and I have to say I was a bit disappointed. Of course, I also come from Seattle (Washington State, US), where we have giant ferries. Not that there aren't giant ferries in Japan, as I'm sure others are (particularly the overnight ones), but this one wasn't as big as I'd imagined it to be.

Sitting on the outdoor deck of the ferry.


Immigration changes coming in 2012

A new immigration law was passed in 2009 and scheduled to be implemented in summer 2012. This new law includes various changes for non-Japanese living in Japan, such as the following:

  • New immigration procedures
  • A new "residence card" to replace the current alien registration card
  • No need for a re-entry permit if you return to Japan within a year
  • Non-Japanese residents will be added to the national registry (Japanese nationals are already listed in the registry, with the exception of a few towns). 

Wondering how this change will affect you?

Check out the following Japan Times article (one of my recent columns) for more details: Bye-bye to the gaijin card, welcome to the Juki Net in '12





HOW TO: Find a fireworks festival (花火大会) this summer

fireworks, Japan, festival, summer

The rainy season has ended, and along with the heat and humidity, late July, August and early September mean festivals in Japan. You’ll find them all over the country, and even in local neighborhoods, either 祭り (まつり, matsuri, festival) or 花火大会 (はなびたいかい, hanabi taikai, fireworks display/show). Matsuri generally refers to a festival (as that is what it means), which can take on various forms depending on the type of festival it is. For example, I wrote about the big Shimada Obi Matsuri last year, which is specific to Shimada city in Shizuoka prefecture, but there are hundreds of other types.

And then there’s fireworks festivals, or 花火大会. Sometimes these happen in conjunction with a regular matsuri, or they may happen separately (particularly the big events). My local neighborhood (or 町, machi/cho, also known as "town") holds a small festival at the nearby temple every summer, and they shoot off fireworks at night.

One large fireworks festival I have particularly enjoyed here in Japan is the Fukuroi Fireworks Festival in Shizuoka. You can read more about it in my write-up here on SiJ, and if you're interested in going, check out this Fukuroi Fireworks Festival post for specifics (in English).

So if you’re in Japan, whether you live here or just visiting, I certainly recommend checking out a festival of some kind, in particular the fireworks festivals. But how do you find them?

My 7 Links

This post is a submission to TripBase’s My 7 Links initiative after receiving nomination from Haikugirl’s Japan to participate (Thanks, Ali!). The process is simple. Nominated bloggers identify posts that meet seven specified criteria and share them with readers. In turn I have the opportunity to nominate 5 bloggers, listed at the bottom of this post, to participate.

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HOW TO: Find a recreational pool or water park in Japan

In light of setsuden (reduced electricity usage) this year in response to the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami in the Tohoku region and the crisis at the nuclear plant in Fukushima, residents and businesses in Japan, in particular those in the Tohoku and Kanto regions, are being called on to reduce energy consumption to avoid blackouts this summer. This is a somewhat difficult call as the temperatures rise and many folks are desperate to turn up the air conditioning (and a lot of people need it, for health reasons).

So how else can we keep cool? I recently wrote about the “cool air fan”, or 冷風扇, but I also stumbled across a nifty website that allows you to look up recreational pools (or "leisure" pools, as they are referred to in Japanese) and water parks all over Japan - perfect for those hot, sunny days when it’s unbearable to stay indoors with no or little a/c.

The pools listed on this site aren’t typically municipal pools, though, and many municipal pools have water slides, outdoor pools, etc. You can search for these by checking out your city’s website (though probably have to search in Japanese) or search on Google maps (using プール as the keyword in your desired location).

You can find the pools featured on this site using the above options as well, but I found this site to be an easier way to find multiple pools in a larger area (such as a prefecture) at one time.

So if you’re looking for a place to cool off, perhaps ride some water slides, or float along in a lazy river pool, read on.

Packing for Japan Q&A


To preface this list, if you are attached to any brand/type of personal care products, clothing item, etc., and/or you cannot find that particular size/brand in Japan, then by all means, bring it with you. I want to provide this information to a) debunk common "living in Japan" myths or see if they hold true and b) provide details and specifics so that others can make their own informed decisions based on what is best for them. As the saying goes, information is power, and expats often face a lack of information, due to language ability or other reasons. And of course, I welcome your suggestions and feedback in the comments - as some things may be slightly different depending on which part of Japan you are in as well.


HOW TO: Stay cool without air conditioning: "Cool Air Fan" or 冷風扇

cold air fan, reifuusen
冷風扇 - れいふうせん or "cool air fan"
The last week or so has been rather hot (in central Japan at least), with temps here in Shizuoka hovering around 30 Celsius and up (high 80s to 90s Fahrenheit). My husband and I still don’t own an air conditioner, simply due to the costs involved with buying and installing one, and then periodic cleaning. Yet, being 33 weeks pregnant, I've been finding myself desperate for some kind of cooling alternative the past week or so.


Contraception in Japan: Condoms, IUDs and Calendar Methods

condoms, Japan, IUD, contraception


We’ve already looked at birth control pills in Japan, so let’s talk about a few other contraception options.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given their recent introduction to the country, birth control pills are not the most popular form of birth control in Japan. Condoms are still the leading form of contraception, so I’ll cover them briefly here, and I also want to mention IUDs and calendar-based methods.



6 ways to find English-language books in Japan

books, English, Japan, ebooks, ereader

If you’re preparing a move to Japan and wondering how accessible English-language books might be, this post is for you (or if you’re in Japan already and want a few more ideas, or have some great ideas to share with us). Though in some cases acquiring them may be less convenient (or more expensive) than your home country, rest assured it is possible to English books here without resorting to paying an arm and a leg to have Amazon in your country ship them to you.

So, what are your options?


A Guide to Sunscreen in Japan

sunscreen, Japan

Just in time for summer (despite some of the gray days during the rainy season): an overview of sunscreen (or sunblock) in Japan.


Understanding the Japanese Pension System

If you've been following The Japan Times Lifelines column, you may have seen my past few articles regarding the pension system in Japan. The system is by no means easy to understand and I've learned a lot about it in the past couple months, and while I never thought I would need to know all this, I can definitely say it is useful information to be aware of.

I've included links to the articles below for anyone curious about "totalization agreements", "kara kikan", and the lump-sum payment, among other things. And of course, I welcome any tips and advice from those who've had more experience with this system (to potentially include in future articles).


Japan pension answers often case-specific (April 19, 2011)
Is it possible to make back payments, and the 25-year pay-in rule.

Pension 'gap years' and missed payments (May 10, 2011)
Info about country totalization agreements and clarification about the back payments rule (didn't apply to JM in the first article).

Pension payout query: to leave it or lump it? (May 24, 2011)
Info about the lump-sum withdrawal, and whether it is a good idea to take or not. If you're in Japan for the short-term, you may want to read this.

Permanent residents, mind the 'gap years' in your pension payments (June 21, 2011)
Clarification about the whole "kara kikan" issue.


Finally, I need to give a big shout out to my husband, David, for all his help with the difficult research for the above articles. If you're on Twitter, definitely go chat with him! -> @DavidTJPN.

And, thanks to all of you for all the feedback, ideas, comments, suggestions and amazing support! It is greatly appreciated.

Q&A: Making friends in Japan?

Meeting people in a new place can be challenging no matter where you are, but as expats in Japan, how do we make connections with the local community?

Q: I'm a university student from Canada visiting Japan for the summer. I'm in Numazu currently and have found it difficult to meet Japanese people. My Japanese is very elementary but it just seems hard to befriend natives here. Expats, however, are a different story.

Any tips or advice?

David


6 Reasons You Should Use Bamboo Charcoal (Takesumi)



Now that the rainy season is here and humidity is on the rise, many of you may be searching for ways to cope. We’ve already looked at 40 ways to to survive the rainy season, plus 5 more ideas, but today I want to introduce a very useful resource - not just for the rainy season, but all year round.

What is this resource?

Japanese Deodorant: What's in it, What's the Best, and What You Think

Japanese deodorant

Does Japanese deodorant work? Can it even compare with western deodorant? If you're moving to Japan, do you need to pack a two year supply just to survive?


Japan Goggles translates kanji from images

I'm sure many of you know well the frustration of trying to decipher labels, signs, and the occasional menu in Japan. Even if you come to Japan knowing a good number of kanji, unless you know all of them, you may still occasionally run up against characters you've not seen before and wonder how to read with the rest of the kanji you do know.

Nowadays, smartphone apps seem to be the common tools of choice for "surviving" as an expat in a foreign country - and there are so many useful ones for various tasks. I previously wrote about 8 survival tools for living in Japan, including a few of my favorite iPhone apps (ShinKanji, Katsuyo, Kotoba, etc.), and I've also written about the Google Translate app, available for iPhone and Android.


In this post I introduce an iPhone/iPod Touch app to include in the "survival tools for living in Japan" - Japan Goggles. I think it has a lot of potential for anyone who can't read Japanese fluently, and possibly for regular use when out and about (when reading comprehension often is even more critical).

7 tips for going to the movies in Japan

Someone recently wrote me an email asking about movie theaters in Japan, as he’ll be here for the summer and is an avid movie-goer. So, since it IS summer, and people often like going to the movies during the summer, (not to mention, it’s a good way to share A/C instead of running it at home...), here’s a few tips for going to the movies in Japan.

Before we start, two words you should know: 映画 (えいが, eiga) is movie, and 映画館 (えいがかん, eigakan) is movie theater.

1. How to find a movie theater in Japan

Though there are various ways to find theaters in Japan, one site I find particularly helpful is MovieWalker. Yes, it's in Japanese, but it's not too hard to navigate, as I'll show you below.

First, choose your location (red text is mine):



English Language Magazines in Japan - Part 2

This week's Lifelines column is a follow-up to the May 17 column about English-language magazines in Japan, Print is suffering, but English readers have never had it so good.

May 31 Lifelines (Part 2):

English magazines run gamut from poetry to prose, Kanto to Chubu



Thanks for all the additional suggestions, (you're mentioned in the article above) and if you find any missing from either list, please let me know! 


Pregnant in Japan: Diet, Nutrition and Weight Gain

This is part 3 of the "Pregnant in Japan" series. The first two parts cover pregnancy resources and how to find a doctor, midwife or hospital in Japan.

Yes, there are some differences between Japan and western countries (and likely, many countries in general) in diet, nutrition and weight gain during pregnancy. I am mostly familiar with common standards in the US (from research), so feel free to share what may be different or the same in your home country. The information here is what I've found both online and in the pile of pamphlets and information the health center gave to us when we registered my pregnancy.

The topics covered in this post include:

Nutrition/Diet "Balance" Guide
Caloric Intake
Foods to Avoid
Fish to Avoid/Limit
Limit Salt
Weight Gain
Prenatal Supplements

40 + 5 more ways to survive the rainy season in Japan

The rainy season (梅雨, つゆ) has arrived.

Bleak, gray, rainy season, or 梅雨
Apparently beginning 12 days earlier than last year in central Japan, according to tenki.jp, and also earlier than normal in southern Japan as well. Though it doesn’t feel all that humid yet. I typically associate the rainy season with tropical jungle-like humidity that makes you feel like you’re living in a sauna.

Don’t be fooled though - it will likely sneak up on us before we know it. For now, my pregnant self will enjoy the moderate temperatures and bearable humidity levels.

5 ways to survive working for an Eikaiwa (Conversation School)

For those who may come to Japan to work for an English conversation school, or "eikaiwa," here are some tips to be aware of from someone who worked for an eikaiwa for a few years. This guest post is written by Ali of Haikugirl's Japan - a fun, frequently updated blog covering all things Japan: travel, food, daily life, and much, much more. Definitely worth a browse! - Ashley


1. Learn some Japanese

When you apply for the job, they will most likely tell you that you don't need to know any Japanese at all. Indeed, the big companies will insist that you never speak Japanese while teaching or interacting with your students. However, what they will fail to mention is that your students will often speak Japanese to you. Sometimes your students just won't know how to express themselves in English (especially kids or low-level learners), and knowing a few key words in Japanese so that you can understand their question will really pay off. Learning a bit of Japanese will also help you build better business relationships with your co-workers and bosses. It's amazing how far an “otsukaresama desu” will go at the end of the day (“otsukaresama desu” is hard to translate, but it is commonly used as a sort of acknowledgment of someone's hard work, and can be said to your co-workers at the end of the day or after a class).


HOW TO: Find anti-itch, insect bite medicine in Japan

This post is a follow-up to A Survival Guide to Mosquito Repellent in Japan, for those who try in vain but perhaps still end up with itchy, annoying bites (I know the feeling...). My first apartment in Japan was constantly bombarded with mosquitoes, as it was next to this swampy water pool. Despite my best efforts, I couldn't keep them all away. (Although I'm convinced I seem especially attractive to them - they go after me far more than my husband!)

I visited a drug store in the first month after my arrival in hopes of discovering some anti-itch cream, the kind you use for mosquito bites, but without any idea of what exactly to look for or what it was called. After browsing the walls and aisles of various items, still unsure of what to get, I asked one of the store employees for help. I looked up mosquito in the Japanese-English dictionary on my phone, showed her the result, pointed to some of the red welts on my hand and arm, and asked if they had anything for that. Fortunately for me at the time, she understood right away and led me to the anti-itch/insect bite medicine, pulling out a box of ムヒ (Muhi), which is a common brand here in Japan.

So, to help you in your search for anti-itch/insect bite medicine, and perhaps save you some trouble of finding what you need at the store, I've included some necessary words to know, and some of the common ingredients you'll typically find in these types of medicine.


English Language Magazines in Japan - What's Your Favorite?

For those wondering if it's possible to find English language magazines in Japan, I've compiled a list of various publications, both print and online. If your favorite is missing, or you have some suggestions to add, let me know in the comments and I'll compile an additional list to run.


Print is suffering, but English readers have never had it so good via The Japan Times


(Thanks to those who have already provided suggestions! If you said something last week, you received a special mention in the article above.)

A Survival Guide to Mosquito Repellent in Japan

That wonderfully hot and humid time of year is upon us - summer. And of course, the rainy season and along with it, mosquito season. I still remember my first apartment in Japan, next to a large drainage pool area where I can only guess thousands of mosquito eggs were hatching every day. And then they show up at 3am - that high-pitched buzzing whine in my ear as I attempt to sleep.

Since being in Japan, I've struggled with the best ways to control them, and though not every solution is always 100% effective, hopefully some of these options may help you get through the summer with a few less uncomfortable, itching bites and restless nights.


HOW TO: Find a hair salon in Japan

A reader of Surviving in Japan wrote in asking how to go about finding hair salons in Japan and also if they offer services such as eyebrow waxing/plucking. Certainly a great question, especially for anyone planning to move to Japan and unsure if they'll be able to maintain their particular hairstyle (or color, but that's an entirely different issue...).

In my experience, and from what I’ve heard of others’ experiences, it’s usually not too hard to find great hair stylists in Japan. I’ve heard some people say that if you have very fine hair, or any type or texture different than “Japanese hair” (which is more or less a myth, as Japanese women have a range of hair types as well) you may have trouble, but I’ve never had problems, and my hair is very fine. Though, this may not be true for everyone, depending on what part of Japan you live in, what your hair type is, among other factors. This is just my experience, so would love to hear your experiences - both good and bad.

Before we look at some tools for finding hair salons, let’s go over some services (and their Japanese counterparts) so you can find what you’re looking for more easily (note, there are more services than these, but these are quite common):

Hair salon                  ヘアサロン
Cut                          カット
Coloring                     カラー
Perm                          パーマ
Straight perm          ストレートパーマ
Spiral perm                スパイラルパーマ
Digital perm            デジタルパーマ
Hair straightening      縮毛矯正  (しゅくもうきょうせい)
Extensions              エクステ or     エクステンション
Shampoo (Wash)    シャンプー
Blow dry (plus styling usually) ブロー
Treatment               トリートメント
Updo                          アップ



So how do you find a good hair salon? 


Pregnant in Japan: How to find a doctor, hospital or midwife

Finding a doctor, specifically an OBGYN or midwife, in Japan can be difficult at times, particularly if you don't speak Japanese. Of course, if you live in Tokyo, or another metropolis, you'll have a far easier time (and most likely, many fellow expats with recommendations). But if you're like me, and many others outside of the big cities, a little more searching is sometimes required... (Note: resources and words to know are listed towards the bottom of this post).


Finding a doctor or midwife is important to do early if you're planning to give birth in Japan, as women "reserve" spots far in advance at hospitals and clinics for their deliveries. And let me stress, from my own experience, some places fill up fast (depending on your location). My due date is late August, and I didn't think we needed to be that serious so soon about finding a place to give birth, until we started calling around in February and discovered that many ladies clinics were already full for August (though, supposedly August is a popular month to give birth in Japan).

Now, women in Japan typically either give birth in a) a hospital or b) a ladies clinic (or sometimes a midwife clinic). When I started my research for myself, I spent time looking for midwives that specialize in home births to see if it was an option here, just so I could weigh all the possibilities, but from what I was able to find, most independent midwives specialize in other things related to childbirth than the actual delivery itself (such as breastfeeding or infant bathing consultations). I think I had heard some statistic from the U.S. saying that most women in Japan use midwives to give birth, but I think that was taken out of context. Yes, midwives often do work in the ladies clinics and at hospitals along with the doctors for childbirth, and there are special midwife clinics that do deliveries around Japan as well.


HOW TO: Navigate the switch from analog to digital TV this summer

If you aren't aware already, Japan will be making the switch, completely, from analog to digital broadcasting on July 24, 2011. Though digital TV has already been introduced years ago in various parts of Japan, analog will be completely phased out this summer. Many of you likely already have digital TVs, but if not, or even if you do, here's what you need to know to prepare for the upcoming changeover (if you haven't already):

Leaping the digital TV divide (The Japan Times)

Yellow Sand in Japan - How does it affect you?

[Updated March 12, 2013]

Along with the prevalence of spring-time pollen, there's another annual annoyance that often affects Japan, known as "yellow sand", "Asian dust", "yellow dust", or a more official term, Aeolian Dust, and in Japanese as 黄砂 (こうさ, kousa). This dust is stirred up by the wind from deserts in Mongolia, northern China and Kazakhstan, and carried in clouds over China, North and South Korea, and Japan.

Seems relatively harmless, but this dust has also been found to carry a variety of toxic particles, such as heavy metals, sulfur, viruses and bacteria, asbestos, and other pollutants. As far as I've been able to find, Japan doesn't seem to have experienced many health problems due to this dust (please correct me if you know otherwise), though South Korea has reported adverse health effects, particularly in those with respiratory problems. The dust can also decrease visibility, stain laundry, and cause other problems.

HOW TO: Find motion sickness medication in Japan

With all the shaking happening lately in Japan, particularly in the Tohoku and Kanto regions, many people may be experiencing some form of motion sickness (I know I probably would be if I was living in Tokyo...) In fact, someone blogged about it somewhat recently via the Wall Street Journal. Not that it is anything compared with those still living in evacuation shelters up north, waiting on food, supplies and temporary shelters, but some of you might be wondering what kind of medicine to get if suffering from motion sickness and related symptoms. Since Golden Week and summer will be upon us shortly, many of you may be traveling at some point, perhaps to volunteer, take a trip home or go on vacation.


For those unaware, I suffered from a six-month long illness over a year ago, called labrynthitis. It's a viral infection of the deep inner ear, which affects your balance. I couldn't walk or stand very well for months, and found myself nearly passing out or falling over if I stood too long. Let's just say riding in cars, on trains, or in planes was a horrible experience for me - one I had never experienced before as I generally don't have problems with motion sickness. It took months to get a diagnosis, and just as long to figure out what type of motion sickness medicine was the best to use and the most effective (I received varying types from doctors here and from my doctor in the US as well). So for those who do suffer regularly, I now understand your pain.

You can easily get over-the-counter motion sickness medication in Japan, and if you want something even stronger I would suggest seeing a doctor. As for what different types of drugs do, try doing a google search about motion sickness medication to learn more about the different types of drugs and why they are used - that way you can choose something you want or something similar to what you've used in the past.