2016, a year of Travel: Part 1

In 2016 I felt like I barely travelled anywhere. I can only add one new country to my ‘list’ and that is Russia, my new home.

However looking back 2017 was probably one of the most important years of my life. I fell in love, decided that Japan wasn’t the country for me and decided to take a huge risk and move to Moscow, leaving my love behind in Japan. Even though I only travelled to one new country, I travelled to many places in Japan, travelled to Abu Dhabi, explored Dubai in different way and visited the Venice of the north, Saint Petersburg.

February 2016

Sapporo snow festival, Hokkaido, Japan.

Ever since I moved to Japan, the Sapporo snow festival or ‘Yuki Matsuri’ as it’s known in Japan was mentioned nearly every couple of weeks. It seemed like a right of passage for many Japanese and something that nearly everyone wanted to visit. I had a few days off in February and managed to book last-minute flights and a great hostel, despite many people saying that I had no chance of booking a ticket or a hostel and that many places book up months in advance.

I didn’t really know what to expect when I disembarked the plane in Sapporo. I arrived in the middle of a massive blizzard and had never seen so much snow in my life. I found my way to my cozy little hostel where I had a self enclosed bed and set off exploring Sapporo. Hokkaido was surprisingly more relaxed than the mainland. I saw tattoo shops and just felt a lot more relaxed when walking around, like there was less societal expectation.

The snow festival itself was absolutely amazing. There were many giant statues made of snow and smaller statues dotted around the main park in Sapporo. I was surprised to see Russian dolls being sold and Russian food stalls at the festival. I bought a pierozhki and ate it as I wandered around, no inkling at all about what the future would hold.

One of the weirdest things I saw at the festival was a girl band performing next to a statue and middle-aged men singing along to the lyrics and acting like obsessive fans, jumping up in tandem.

Tokyo, Japan

When I lived in Japan I travelled to Tokyo at every given opportunity. The worlds biggest city is also one of the worlds best and I never got bored with its energy and innovation. One day I travelled to Tokyo with some fellow English teachers and we had an amazing day exploring Akihabara, buying used panties from vending machines, visiting a maid cafe and we ended the day with one of the greatest experiences in my life, Robot restaurant in Shinjuku.

April 2016

Kanamara matsuri, The penis festival.

Life in rural Japan is extremely boring, sometimes Japan delivers something extremely quirky and crazy, the penis festival is one. The trains to the festival were paclked like sardines and the streets surrounding the small temple where the parade starts from were also heaving. It was worth beating my way through the crowds when I saw the giant, pink phallus sitting serenely in the middle of the crowd. Later it was joined by an even bigger black phallus and they were paraded through the streets. I touched the phallus, it is a festival of fertility and I certainly want children someday.

The best part of the festival was buying realistic penis and vagina lollipops and shocking the innocent citizens of Japan as we paraded with them through the streets.

Hiroshima and Miyajima, Japan.

Hiroshima was probably my favourite place in Japan next to Tokyo. I absolutely loved it laid back vibe, beautiful wide, tree-lined streets and its abundance of canals. I found it such a romantic city and was blessed with perfect weather during my visit. I visited the harrowing historical sites such as the museum, flame and the dome. I attended a German beer festival and enjoyed one of the most expensive half pints of beer I’ve ever had. I ate the best food of my life and became inexplicably addicted to oysters after trying them grilled in Miyajima, after that I ate oysters at least once a day. I also realised that I had never truly ate okonomiyaki before, the food in Hiroshima was amazing.

Miyajima is an island not far from Hiroshima. I knew it was famous for the burnt orange floating tori gate but I was astounded by the islands natural beauty. It was like paradise and made me a little bit homesick for Thailand. (Is it possible to be homesick for a place other than your birthplace?).

Hiroshima dome

Miyajima oysters

May, 2016

Sanja Matsuri, Tokyo

I attended the biggest and best festival in Japan with a group of amateur photographers. I was not disappointed with my decision. I got some amazing photos because the other photographers kept moving to different vantage points to photograph the parade. I only got a few sly shots of Yakuza (Japanese gangsters) but It was great to see such an enigma in real life. After the Matsuri I ate my favourite Japanese food, okonomiyaki with a group of fellow teachers. I found out that one of them lived in Moscow for a few years…

A birds eye view of the action from Senso-Ji
The body suit of a Yakuza member

 

 

June, 2016

Sendai, Japan

Sendai is a city in Northern Japan, like every big city in Japan it felt completely different to the others. What I loved most about it was it’s proximity to nature. You could literally walk from the skyscrapers in the centre to a quiet river or secluded mountainside in 40 minutes. I think it would be a great city to live. My then boyfriend lived there so I travelled up as frequently as I could to visit him. We ate amazing ramen, visited Sendai zoo (sidenote, don’t visit zoos in Japan, they are extremely sad places) enjoyed walking around the city and attended a few festivals.

Ushiku and Tskuba, Ibaraki, Japan

I moved to Ushiku in March but I waited until the summer to see it’s most famous sight, the Ushiku Daibutsu, the tallest standing buddha in the world. I didn’t think I would be too impressed, after all I’ve travelled to Thailand so many times and seen so many giant buddhas. I was awestruck when I saw it though and felt calm and spiritual.

I went to Tskuba alone on a lonely weekend and ended up attending an international festival. It felt so nice to see other cultures being celebrated and to see people of different races together. During my time in Japan I felt acutely aware of the fact I was different to most people, this day in Tskuba was welcome respite.

The famous Ushiku Daibutsu

 

Part 2 of my year will come soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why I moved to Moscow

Yesterday I went for a walk in Moscow. I walked across a covered bridge and was greeted by a familiar sound. “Irasshaimase”, the voice boomed. I looked to my left and spotted a Japanese vending machine. I peered closer and saw that all of the drinks inside were Japanese too. This simple sight brought back such strong memories. As I continued my walk I felt confused and disoriented. A feeling that you can only understand if you have called more than one place your home.

Japanese vending machine in Russia

Most people are surprised that I moved to Moscow. Russia seems like a scary place to most, a place with a dark past, a dark present and maybe even a dark future. Wheras Japan seems like utopia, it’s clean, safe and culturally rich. Moscow seemed like the kind of place I could be happy, be myself.. In many ways it’s the antithesis of Japan, that’s just what I needed. I’ll talk more about Japan in another post.

Before I went travelling I asked advice from an old friend and colleague. Along with living in Hong Kong and travelling South East Asia she lived in Moscow. Her face lit up when she talked about Moscow. She was so inspired by living there that she started a blog. My mind suddenly went into overdrive about Moscow and Russia. It seemed like such an exotic place, mysterious too. Little did she know that she planted a seed that day and ever since Moscow has always been in the back of my mind.

Its 2013 and I’m in Laos. I’m in a steam room and wearing only a small towel to cover my dignity. The heat and humidity become to much for me so I step outside, gasping for air. I sip tea and watch the people walking into the steamrooms. They are segregated by sex. A ladyboy covered in makeup strolls out of the changing room and enters the female steam room. A smile sneaks onto my lips and my eyes make contact with a guy across the room. He’s also smiling.

He walks across the room and we start talking. He says that he lives and works in Moscow and he has done for years. Even though I’m in Laos I find his tales of snow and Oligarchs fascinating. I feel butterflies in my stomach.

I’m falling for Moscow.

Fast forward two years. I’m alone in my small apartment in Japan. I’m lonely and isolated. The Japanese culture makes me feel uneasy at times. I find it claustrophobic and fake. I decide to look online for jobs in foreign climes. After applying for a few jobs in Hong Kong and Korea I come across a job vacancy for Moscow. I don’t apply for it but it sets off a frenzy of internet searches. I’m hungry for information about this exotic land. Unsurprisingly there’s very few blog posts about people who have actually lived there. People who know the real Russia.

My crazy internet searches lead me to Coursera course about understanding Russians, contexts of intercultural communication. The more I learn about Russian culture the more I want to live there, to experience it for myself.

A statue in Victory park
A statue in Victory park
VDNK park
VDNK park

I start to apply for jobs in Moscow. Many were poorly paid but I  am offered a few well paid ones. I accept one and thats how I end up in Moscow. Alone but not afraid. Starting afresh once again.

I started working here in September and I do a job that’s very different to my last one. I’m not just an English teacher but a home room teacher for a class in a Kindergarten . The job allows me to be creative, something I missed when working in Japan. I also get to enjoy the personal aspects of teaching. Rather than teach a class and retreat to the staff room or scurry to another class like in Japan, I’m with the same children all day so I get to actually know the children.

Although it’s not easy, it’s a lot more rewarding.

In short, I moved to Moscow because of a feeling. Something called me to live here. Now I just need to work out why!

 

Have you ever lived abroad? If so how did you decide what country to live in? Do you belive in fate or that you were called to live in a specific country?

St Basils cathedral in Moscow
St Basils cathedral in Moscow

A scary encounter in Tokyo

I’ve always talked about how safe living in Japan is. Since I’ve lived here I’ve not felt scared once. That’s a big contrast to the number of times I’ve felt scared in England and in other countries when travelling.

It’s just safe, isn’t it?

One weekend I was in Tokyo. I spent the day exploring the old quarter of Asakusa. I prayed at Senso Ji temple, got my fortune read (A bad one…) and ate delicious okonomiyaki, one of my favourite Japanese dishes.

I was having a pretty good day.

I was staying in a Japanese style business hotel and was the only woman staying there that night. Despite this I felt perfectly safe whilst I was there, even if I did have to share a bathroom with all the men.

I wandered to the local 7-eleven to get some snacks and drinks for the evening. As I turned back onto the main street and walked towards my hotel, an old man appeared in front of me.

At first I just thought he wanted to practice English with me. Even in Tokyo there’s not that many foreigners so many people strike up conversation. Then it dawned on me. It was 10pm, pitch black and I was alone.

I don’t think he wanted to practice English.

I looked at him and was instantly mesmerised by his insanely long fingernails. He held out his hand making a kind of ‘Okay’ sign and started to shout ‘Money, money, money!’, aggressively in English.

I was still perplexed about what he wanted. Why does he need money? Then it dawned on me that this was not a kind and friendly old Japanese guy but someone who was confident enough to approach a 5’8.5 woman on a main road in Tokyo.

So I ran.

I only ran a short distance but I could hear his wheezing behind me. He was following me. I took a risk and stopped and turned back, He was shirking away back into the shadows.

At first I was perplexed about what happened. Then it dawned on me that he could have been trying to mug me, he may have even had a knife. The most probable explanation is that he’s a crazy old man or a desperate homeless man.

I walked back to the hotel as fast as I could. My heart beating fast and my mind racing. It affected me much more than it would have in a different country. I feel safe in Japan so wasn’t expecting any confrontation.

It reminded me to keep my wits about me a little bit more in Japan. Not to take the feeling of safety for granted.

At Sensoji temple in Asakusa
At Sensoji temple in Asakusa

 

Have you ever had an aggressive or violent incident happen to you in a supposedly ‘safe’ country? What happened and what did you do?

Feeling homesick as an Expat in Japan

No matter how much someone likes travel, there really is no place like home.

Home means comfort, safety and love. It’s a place you know you belong and a place where you fit in. Unfortunately when you live in Japan, home literally is thousands of miles away.

I wrote about the first time I felt homesickness when I was in Sri Lanka during my ten month sabbatical. I was in an extremely different country to any that I had visited before and I was away from home for 19 days, the longest time I had ever spent away from my family and friends.

When you travel, homesickness comes out of nowhere. One minute you are having the time of your life and the next it feels like a bullet has shot through your heart. It’s fast, painful and extremely confusing.

The good thing about home-sickness when travelling is that it usually goes away as fast as it came. When you travel there are new people to meet, new places to visit and it’s very easy to forget about that pain in your heart.

Last night I sat on my floor sofa, in my new house in Ibaraki Japan. Living in a house has been quite confusing. It feels like I live in a traditional English terraced house and sometimes I forget where I am. I sat on my sofa and daydreamed. Usually I daydream about the places that I want to go and the things I want to experience in life, but this time was different.

I dreamt of the rolling hills of Wales stretching out before me, never-ending. I dreamt of the wind rushing through my hair at the Albert Dock in Liverpool as I ran alongside the Mersey. I dreamt of sitting in my parents house, with my niece on my lap, helping her form her first words.

I dreamt of normality. Of the life I used to live.

It’s quite ironic that when I lived in England I would daydream about travelling and living in a foreign country. Now I’ve made my dream a reality I daydream about the life I used to live. Life is cruel.

The hardest thing about homesickness as an expat is that it doesn’t come thick and fast like homesickness when you are travelling. It slowly seeps into your life. You start to compare the country you live in to your home country, remember things through rose-tinted glasses and forget about the hardships. You start to think that life is better back home, when is it really?

Before you know it this slow type of homesickness causes you to lose it. Big style. Last night I was in tears thinking about the life I could be living. Today even with the benefit of a clear mind and hindsight I still feel a lingering sadness. I think this bout of homesickness will be hard to recover from.

But I know it’s all just an illusion. Life isn’t perfect back home, it’s just different. I am now living my life, making my life be what I want it to be. I’m a fighter and I will fight through this homesickness.

After my recovery I’ll fall in love for the second time with the country I now call home, Japan.

And we all adore the feeling of falling in love, don’t we?

 

Enjoying Sakura beer under the cherry blossoms inmy new home of Ushiku
Enjoying Sakura beer under the cherry blossoms inmy new home of Ushiku

Are you an expat? Have you ever felt homesickness when living abroad? Did anything specific trigger it? What helped you recover from homesickness?

 

What to Pack when moving to Japan

When I opened the email I suddenly felt numb. I was moving to Japan! Now I`ve travelled to many country in the past, but never actually lived in a different country. Now I just needed to decide what to pack in my 30kg of luggage.

Japan is an extremely developed country yet surprisingly many things that we take for granted in the UK or US simply can`t be found here.

Here is a list of what to pack when moving to Japan. A list of things that are hard to get whilst in Japan.

This is an exhaustive list so please feel free to pick and choose what you want to pack. I wish I had this information when I packed for Japan so I hope you find it helpful.

Dressed casually at the rabbit cafe
Dressed casually at the rabbit cafe
Dressed casually for nomihoudai in Sapporo
Dressed casually for nomihoudai in Sapporo

Toiletries

I arrived in Japan knowing the most basic of Japanese phrases like `where is the toilet?` and `how are you?` in hindsight I would have better spent my time learning katakana so that I could read what things are when shopping in stores! Many cities will have foreign shops like Costco where you might be able to find some of these items. If you live rurally like me I`d recommend packing these! You’ll thank me later!

Shampoo

Surely everyone in Japan uses shampoo? Well yes but surprisingly I`ve found the shampoo to be a lot more `clarifying` and less moisturising that shampoos I`ve used elsewhere. Japanese hair is a lot thicker than non-Asian hair so I find that the products tend to be a lot stronger than back home as Asian hair is more resilient.

The water is hard in Japan too and many people find that they get dandruff for the first time in their lives. I`d reccoemdn bringing anti-dandruff shampoo even if you don`t have dandruff, for prevention.

Anti Perspirant

Japan has 4 beautiful and different seasons, and yes that includes an awfully hot and sticky summer season. Surprisingly, Japan doesn`t sell anti perspirant!! It does sell deodorant but I find that it`s near useless in warm weather. Bring a few sticks or cans of deodorant to last however long you will be in Japan. I find that sticks and roll ons tend to last longer than spray anti perspirants.

Toothpaste

You can find fluoride toothpaste here, but it`s rare and you would need to read kanji to identify it! I find that toothpaste here is less powerful than back home so make bring a regular fluoride toothpaste and a whitening toothpaste.

Dry Shampoo

Back home I`m a big fan of dry shampoo, it gives my hair volume and allows me to go an extra day without washing it. It`s also great when travelling. I`ve never seen dry shampoo in Japan so make sure you don`t leave home without a can or two.

Tampons

I`ve since seen tampons sold in Japan, mostly in cities and bigger stores. When I first arrived in my town I was surprised that no stores sold tampons, only sanitary towels! They also don`t sell super and super plus tampons here, so if you need them be sure to stock up before you leave.

Hair Dye

When you first walk in to a Japanese drugstore you will be amazed at the vast array of hair dyes. Most of them are brown shades but you can buy literally any shade, from platinum blonde to purple.

But…..99% of these dyes contain bleach! Why you may ask? Well, Japanese hair is naturally dark, to go even a brown shade most need some bleach to lift the colour. As I said previously Japanese hair is usually thicker than non Asian hair so can withstand harsh treatment. When I used Japanese hair dye my hair turned out a lot lighter than I wanted, was a brassy orange colour and felt so damaged despite me only using a brown dye.

If you dye your hair I`d recommend either dying it to it`s natural shade or bringing an adequate supply to Japan. Don`t think you can go a Japanese hair salon for colour either unless your hair is dark and naturally straight. I went a Japanese salon for colour and they absolutely wrecked my hair and had no idea how to deal with my type of hair. I walked out with patchy, poofy hair and looked a lot worse than when I walked in!

Frizzy, orange, poofy hair courtesy of a Japanese hairdresser!
Frizzy, orange, poofy hair courtesy of a Japanese hairdresser!

Foundation

If your skin is white, dark or pinky toned you might have trouble finding a suitable foundation or concealer here. Most face makeup here are a yellow tone or extremely white (Some Japanese dye their skin whiter or use white products in an attempt to look paler).

Shaving cream

My male colleague informs me that you cannot buy shaving cream here. Most are foaming shaving gels.

Clothes

Japan has so many cheap clothes shops. H&M ansd Uniqlo are everywhere and a lot cheaper than back home. The thing is they are made for the Japanese market so you may find that they don`t quite fit like clothes back home or that they don`t stck the usual size range. Japan is quite a casual place, leave your really dressy clothes at home.

Shoes

You will need so many pairs of shoes if you live and work in Japan. For school I need gym shoes, indoor shoes and the shoes I walk to school in! As you will often slip your shoes off before you enter businesses, schools and people’s homes, I would recommend bringing a few pairs of slip on shoes.

I`m a UK 7 (US 9, Japanese 26). Not a big size in my opinion but it`s impossible to find shoes that fit me here. If your`e a woman and my size or over I`d recommend bringing more shoes than you think you will need.

If you are a teacher, the shoes that you wear in school will need to be kept in school. So you can`t wear them outside or for other occasions. That means that two pairs of the shoes you bring cannot be worn outside.

I`d recommend bringing:

1 pair of trainers

1 pair of comfortable slip of flats

1 pair of dressier flats

1 pair of evening mid-height heels

1 pair of sandals

1 pair of flip-flops

Hiking boots if you want to hike or climb mount Fuji

Snow boots if you live up North (or you could just wear hiking boots)

Just make sure all of your shoes are comfortable and relatively easy to slip on and off.

Trousers

At 5`8 I wouldn’t say that I`m particularly tall. However this is Japan and most women tend to be a lot shorter than me. It`s hard finding trousers that fit lengthwise, most reach my lower calf! If you’re tall I’d advise bringing a few pairs of all season shorts, trousers and jeans that will last the duration of your time here.

Bras

Japan has so many beautiful bra shops that are completely out-of-bounds for me. I have a big bust even for the UK so It`s literally impossible for me to find a bra here. Japanese bras tend to be a lot smaller in the back too, so even if the cup fits you the back might be too tight. If you`re over a UK 34B I`d recommend bringing a few daytime bra, an evening bra and a sports bra.

 

Electronics

Japan is the land of electronics. Many places in Japan have electrical store that inhabit high-rise buildings. If you want to buy cameras or other electrical items, buy them here. These are the items you shouldn’t forget to bring.

Laptop

It`s hard to find a laptop with an English keyboard here. Even if you do find one with an English keyboard the buttons will be in a different order so I`s complicated to use. It`s much easier just to bring one from home and just use a plug adaptor.

Hair diffuser

I have curly hair. If I use a regular hairdryer on my hair it turns into a frizzy mess so a diffuser hairdryer is an essential in my eyes. Most Japanese have straight hair and I`ve yet to see a diffuser here, so make sure you bring one with you!

Kindle

My kindle is my life, well I wouldn`t go that far but I do read an awful lot. It`s so handy to have travel guides on my kindle to avoid lugging around heavy books.

In countries like Thailand they have a fairly good range of English books. Here in Japan there are very few English books in circulation and if you find them they are, likely to be random second-hand books someone has donated. For example in my local bookstore there is a tint English book section and it includes trilling reads like `cardiology for beginners` and autobiography of random Japanese people I`ve never heard of. If you forget to bring a kindle you can buy them here and just change the language to English.

Unlocked phone

Most phones in Japan are locked to a specific carrier. Phones are quite cheap to buy but they are near impossible to unlock so you won`t be able to bring them back to your home country or use them abroad.

They may charge you more per month if you use your own unlocked phone, but at least you can use it abroad and have it when you go back home.

Medication

The Japanese health care system is good. You can see a doctor on the same day for just a small fee. But over the counter medication is hard to get here, expensive and not as strong or effective as back home.

I`d recommend bringing a good supply of basic medicines such as ibuprofen, paracetamol, strepsils and cough medicine to see you through. Be aware that phelylalanine is illegal here so make sure any products you bring don`t include it.

The Pill

With a language barrier it would be hard (and embarrassing) to ask for the pill here. Even if you do successfully get a prescription they only give you a month at a time, so you have to visit the surgery each month for a review. It`s also quite expensive.

Copy of your prescription

Having a copy of your prescription makes it easier for the doctors here to know what to describe. Japan seems to offer different types of tablets than back home so don`t be surprised if the doctor ends up giving you different medication. Rather than give one tablet with multiple functions, I`ve found that I usually recive quite a few tablets, each with a different action.

Unlocked phone

Most phones in Japan are locked to a specific carrier. Phones are quite cheap to buy but they are near impossible to unlock so you won`t be able to bring them back to your home country or use them abroad.

They may charge you more per month if you use your own unlocked phone, but at least you can use it abroad and have it when you go back home.

 

Food

Japanese food is amazing. I`ve never been to a country where the food is so fresh and carefully prepared. Japanese people like Japanese food. This means that most of the restaurants here are Japanese or foreign food that cater for a Japanese palate (corn and mayonnaise pizza anyone?!.In the larger cities there are foreign food shops or Costco’s. If you`re in the countryside like me though it`s hard to get your favorite foods from back home. If you love something, pack it in your suitcase. Here are some suggestions of what food is hard to get in Japan.

Cheese

Japanese cheese tastes like play dough. It`s flavorless, bland and quite disgusting. Cheese is probably the number one thing that I miss from back home. When I visited the UK for Christmas I made sure to pack a few blocks of strong cheese in my suitcase.

Peanut butter

When I first saw `peanut butter` here In Japan I was surprised at how cheap and small it was! I opened it and was greeted with a sort of peanut jelly. Urgh. They do not have peanut butter here in Japan (well apart from Costco and a few foreign food shops). So if you love it, bring it!

Teabags

Japanese teabags are horrible. I never knew that a simple cup of tea could taste so bad! They do have Lipton teabags in some places but I cannot find them in my town. Bring a few boxes of our favourite teabags for a nice taste of home.

Decaffeinated tea or coffee

I`ve yet to find decaffeinated Tea or coffee here. If you prefer decaf, you`ll need to pack it.

Porridge

Back home porridge seems like a necessary evil. I`ll eat it if I have it but I don`t really miss it otherwise. Once I moved to Japan, porridge seemed to symbolize home and comfort. There`s nothing better than a hot bowl of porridge when you’re feeling a bit homesick and in need of comfort. Yopu can get it here but I`ve not seen it very often.

Enjoying a massive bowl of Ramen!
Enjoying a massive bowl of Ramen!

So that’s a long list of things I would recommend packing when you move to Japan! Of course everyone’s different and needs different things to survive. If you can think of any other items I should have included, please let me know in the comments section.

My 2016 New Years Resolutions

January is such a depressing month. The days get shorter, the nights get longer and the weather gets colder. Despite this there is a strong feeling of anticipation as soon as the clock hits 12 on New Years Eve and the sight of luminescent fireworks fills the sky. The feeling that anything could happen.  A New Year means a new book to write your life’s story. A clean slate. You can put the previous year behind you and make this year better than the last.

Eleanor Roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt

I prefer to start my New Years resolutions towards the end of January. I think It’s good to reflect on what you want at the start of the year and be kind to yourself. The last thing you need in this depressing month is to punish yourself and set yourself up for failure.

My New Years resolutions

1) Learn Html, ccs and Javascript

I started this blog over 3 years ago. Back then I had literally no idea how to make a website and started from scratch. My first blog was on WordPress with the extremely naff name of ‘Stephanie and seek’. I meant it to reflect how I’m seeking new adventures and places and all that jazz, but it ended up sounding like I had a weird imaginary friend called Seek…

I soon moved to a self hosted WordPress blog and I slowly taught myself how to make a website. This is my second version of my website but there’s many things that I want to change or add and I just don’t have the knowledge to do so. By learning coding I will have some more knowledge about how a website works so I can make change it to my specifications.

How I will achieve this resolution

I’ve started an online course on Coursera.org on Html, css and Javascript. I’m finding it extremely complicated, It’s like the lecturers are speaking a whole other language, well, I guess they are.  Hopefully this course will teach me all that I need. If I need to learn specifics I will watch some YouTube videos.

2) Explore my local area more

I live in Nasushiobara, a place of exceptional natural beauty where the Japanese Imperial family has a holiday home. Unfortunately my school is so close that my employer hasn’t given me a car so my bike is my main mode of transportation. Luckily some of my friends like exploring other areas and have invited me on day trips, but it’s not the same as exploring solo. When you travel solo you can go where you want, for however long you want with no set plans. Although I travelled a lot in 2015, I want to visit many more places in Japan in 2016.

How I will achieve this resolution

I will start by going more places by train and bus. Despite what many people say, public transport in rural/semi rural Japan is shocking. Trains are on time but run irregularly and many places are just not accessible by public transport. I will rent a car for a few weeks and do a few mini road trips, maybe couch surfing or staying in hostels on the way.

Hiking in Oze National park back when I had weird orange hair
Hiking in Oze National park back when I had weird orange hair

 

3) Live a healthier lifestyle

Before I moved to Japan I packed clothes that were a bit tight, thinking that I would easily lose weight eating the Japanese diet. You hardly see any overweight Japanese people right? How wrong was I. Rice and noodles are the mainstays of Japanese food and for some reason these foods tend to bulk me up. Not all Japanese food is healthy, lots of foods are fried like gyoza and tempura. When faced with a choice do you think I’ll choose the fried foods or miso soup…..

Needless to say I brought a suitcase full of too small-clothes back to England when I visited at Christmas…

My town is also extremely boring. It has a handful of restaurants and shops but apart from that there’s not much to do. I have a lot of spare time in the evening, something I’ve never had before and I’ve started snacking or having a cheeky glass of wine at night. Beacause of Japanese beurocracy and a love of rules I’m unable to join the local gym. Instead of having the motivation to workout at home I usually end up watching Netflix when I come in.

This has to stop!

How I will achieve this resolution

For the first few weeks of January I’ll gradually reduce my snacking and increase my activity. Near the end of January I will make a commitment to exercise 4 times a week at home using a fitness video (YouTube has loads!), stop snacking and make better food choices. I will limit McDonald’s to once a month too (It’s sooo tempting!).

Naughty, tempting Gyoza!
Naughty, tempting Gyoza!
Pulling a very serious face before the 3km Ekiden
Pulling a very serious face before the 3km Ekiden

 

4) Improve my ESL Teaching skills

Remember when my blog description said I was a Podiatrist? Well I had to change it because I’m now an ESL teacher! Despite having a TEFL, an intensive training course and 9 months of experience I still feel that I have a lot to learn with regards to my teaching skills. Teaching ESL is basically my passport to the world, with it I can work nearly everywhere I want to and earn enough to travel. I want to be at the top of my game so I can have my pick of the best jobs available, wherever they may be.

How I will achieve this resolution

Again I’m going to complete an online Coursera course for this resolution. The one I’m signed up for at the end of January is about ESL lesson planning. I will try to complete a few relevent ESL teaching courses throughout the year too. Grammar can be tricky to explain so I will brush up of my grammar knowledge and read articles on the best way to teach it.

At an 'ALT Festival' face painting
At an ‘ALT Festival’ face painting

 

 

So there are my New Years Resolutions that I will start at the end of January. What do you think? Do you think starting resolutions at the end of January is a good idea? What are your New Years Resolutions?

As always I would love to hear your thoughts!

 

 

 

The best thing about living in Japan

For many Japan is a dream travel destination. People love the food, anime, manga, cute girls and unique culture of this beautiful country. The best thing about living in Japan isn’t on this list though. The best thing about living in Japan is…

The amazing feeling of safety

As soon as I stepped off the plane, fizzing with nervous energy, I also felt a weight off my shoulders. Everything seemed so calm and relaxed. On the way to my hostel there was a misunderstanding with where I wanted to go, instead of charging me anyway like many taxi drivers in other countries would, he just wiped the fare.

In Tokyo I spent hours walking around the city feeling perfectly safe. On the Tokyo Metro it was common to see bulging wallets in Tokyoites trousers. People left their phones on tables in restaurants whilst they went to the toilet. There just wasn’t the obsessive bag holding that’s common in other countries. Especially countries where pick pocketing is a problem.

At first I found this feeling of safety perplexing.  After all I travelled solo for ten months and saw my fair share of pick pockets and thieves. Was it a lure to get me to be more lax so I don’t notice is something is stolen? After a while i settled down and started to enjoy this feeling of safety and security.

Carrying cash

I should have guessed that Japan was safe when my employers told me to bring my start-up costs in cash. Cash? In Vietnam I barely carried $20 without worrying and if I did carry $20 it would be stuffed down the side of my bra or in my pacsafe handbag. Now I was being asked to carry thousands of dollars in cash to a new country and just hope that everything will be ok?

Well, yes Everything was alright. At first it felt like such a burden carrying that much cash around but after a while I just forgot about it.

Carry plenty of cash to buy amazing things like Kobe beef, mmmm!
Carry plenty of cash to buy amazing things like Kobe beef, mmmm!

Cash society

Japan is a cash society. Despite being known for its technological advances it’s pretty far behind in many ways! Hardly any stores accept credit cards and the card for my bank can only be used to get money from ATMs, it can’t be used in stores like a debit card in the UK. Cash is king.

ATMs even charge you for getting money out here, this fee changes throughout the day! Most Japanese people withdrawn the majority of their wages on payday and keep it in their purses or at home. Can you imagine this happening back home?

Low risk of theft

Before I came to Japan one of my friends told me that she left her iphone in a club whilst on a night out in Tokyo. Once she remembered where she left it she calmly walked back to the club and her phone was where she left it, safe on the table. Before I came to Japan I found this quite hard to understand. Most countries that I’ve travelled to have had a moderate risk of theft or pickpocketing so I’ve learn’t to be careful over the years.

Since I’ve lived in Japan I’ve got used to leaving my bag at the table in the bar or restaurant when I go to the toilet and lazily leaving my bag open when I’m shopping so I don’t have to keep opening and closing it.

I would never dream of doing this in any other country! When I went to Thailand for my summer vacation I was worried that I’d forgotton how to look after my valubles. Luckily I remembered and didn’t have anything stolen (but I did have many other accidents happen…..).

Thats not to say that theft doesn’t happen here, because it does. I’ve never heard of any incidences of theft since I’ve moved here though and I think that’s unlikely to change.

Tokyo, one of the world's biggest cities but also one of the safest.
Tokyo, one of the world’s biggest cities but also one of the safest.

Japanese men

I find Japanese men very different to Western men. I noticed this in my first few days in Tokyo. Japanese men don’t seem as aggressive and macho as some men can be in the West. Back home it’s common to see men fighting or arguing in the street, sometimes cat calling women. In Japan this rarely happens. Men are masculine but in a subtle, confident way and they don’t seem to feel the need for overt masculinity like some men feel in the West. This means that I can walk past a group of men and feel perfectly safe. In other countries it can sometimes be very scary.

Mens style is also a lot more feminine than Western countries. Most men have a perfectly groomed mop of hair and it’s quite normal for men to carry handbags.

Free hugs from a stylish guy in Shibuya, Tokyo.
Free hugs from a stylish guy in Shibuya, Tokyo.

Teenagers

Oh Japanese teenagers. So different to teenagers back home. Children here have a lot more freedom and so become sensible and independent years before many Western teenagers. Junior high school in Japan is notoriously stressful and time-consuming so you are more likely to see Junior High students wizzing past on their bikes going to their sports club or after school English club. You just don’t see teenagers hanging around on the street.

If I walk past a group of teenagers here they are more likely to smile and say hello than be abusive. They have a lot of respect for Adults and especially teachers who they call ‘Sensei’, (Person born before another).

Once I was riding to basketball club on my bike at night. I saw two teenagers in front blocking the way so I rang the bell just to inform them that I was coming. To my surprise the two teenagers (in school uniform at 8.30pm) stood to the side and bowed deeply in unison whilst saying sorry. I was deeply shocked by this but It demonstrates the deep respect that Japanese teenagers have for others. Can the same be said for many Western teenagers?

A teenager studying in Tokyo
A teenager studying in Tokyo
Safe on the streets of Akihabara at night
Safe on the streets of Akihabara at night

 

All opinions stated in this post are my own, drawn from my experiences in Japan and other countries. I’m well aware that not every Western person reacts the same but I’m just trying to compare the experiences I have over here with experiences I’ve had in other countries. Japan isn’t a perfect utopia and crime does happen, just not as frequently in other countries.