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).

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: