Wednesday, 22 February 2012

What I miss: Japan

 I have spent three out of the last four and a half years living in Japan. I found myself in two very different areas during my time there, and despite having now studied and spoken Japanese for over six years, it was the experience of actually living there which probably truly fomented Japan, my relationships with Japanese friends and colleagues, and the Japanese language itself as a very large, important part of my life.

And my oh my are there ever things I miss about Japan!! They are many and various but these are a few selected highlights or whatever....maybe they can serve to encourage some of you to go to Japan, or to remind those of you who are there how lucky you are!

onsen ~ the naturally occuring hot springs which you can find just about anywhere and everywhere, especially in the more mountainous regions of Japan and sit inside or outside, naked, in a bath with friends and watch the world go by. Nothing beats that feeling in winter and nothing beats some of the views I've experienced from mountainside or lakeside onsen.

wet rooms in every house ~ a bit like the above, I really miss having a whole bathroom that is essentially just a shower and bath and which heats up and steams up so nicely and is totally my favorite part of any Japanese house

outrageous seasons

Need I say more?!

multiple adoptive families ~ both periods of time I have spent living in Japan have been characterised by the warmth and welcome that was extended to me by the Japanese people around me every day. This ranged from meeting new friends in all manner of odd places following chance first conversations, to being fully adopted (once in Tokyo by a family who fed me, gave me a wealth of knowledge about "real" life in Japan and once in Hokkaido by a second mum who fed me, gave me books, helped me with problems and introduced me to "Desperate  Housewives"!) My life in Japan would not have been what it was without each and every single friend I made there and the obvious sentiments of openheartedness and friendship which I encountered from people everywhere I went. 

being able to speak, read and write Japanese every day ~ might be an obvious one but my brain works so very much slower now in my second language than it did a mere 5-6months ago when I was reading, writing, listening to and speaking in Japanese every single day. It isn't that it's difficult to motivate myself not to use a language I desperately want to practise but more that nothing can really compare with such full immersion.

daifuku ~ these are a traditional type of Japanese sweets made from soft, squishy rice cakes, surrounding something (usually red bean paste or fruit). For me, I love these ones -

They are filled with lumpy bean paste and have beans in the rice cake on the outside, too. PERFECT.

And, ok, I admit it big time. I also really miss 7/11's super delish, pre-packed, not-even-kept-in-the-fridge "custard donuts". I loved those little guys.

everything being "cute" ~ like, everything! From your socks to your underwear, from you pencils, bag, food, letter writing paper, paper clips, you name it. I miss Hello Kitty plastered all over everything I own especially...although she's never far from me, thanks to some awesome friends still in Japan!!

purikura ~ also known as "print club" (or at least that's where the Japanese name came from!) is simply the most ridiculous hobby/use of money a few yen each and take ridiculous pictures in a booth with friends. Like a passport photo, right?!
Not only can you choose your own background to pose in front of, but you can then edit all of your snaps....writing, drawing and adding random doodles over the top of them. THE BEST.

100 yen stores ~ so, for the equivalent of about $1 (or about 60p Brit-money) you can get pretty much anything small you want or need for any part of your house.....and the stuff isn't total shit. In fact, it's hardy, useful and if, like me, you are arriving in a new place for the first time, you can kit out your entire room, or house, for about $80 or 60 pounds. Pretty damn good.

the best public transport systems I have ever experienced ~ I've never been to Germany or Switzerland but when I eventually do, I'll let you know how the rankings are standing.

the ubiquitous konbini ~ clean, safe, (often) 24hr convenience stores which are cheap and also, conveniently sell everything. Also they are actually everywhere. The best for roadtrips, for emergency breakfast runs, for the walk home from work and for travellers like me. There's nowhere else I've been less worried about forgetting something everytime I leave home. In Japan it's no big deal - toothbrush, underwear (seriously), any food or drink, a pajama top, medications, nail varnish, reading material.....if you left it at home by mistake, just buy yourself a new one at the konbini.
futon ~ in the sleeping comfort Olympics, futon would kick bed's ass. Every. Time.

the best festivals you could hope for, all the time  ~ and not just the big, famous ones (although those are great, too) but also the small, local ones where you seem to be able to join in every activity, from the sublime to the ridiculous and where the sights, smells, sounds and energy just draw you in and help to create some of the best memories you could hope to have in a country as diverse and multi-faceted as Japan.
 Choco-banana, the silliest classic festival food of them all.
 At a daruma (the red guy) festival near Tokyo, 2008.
 Numata lantern festival, Hokkaido, summer 2009.
The famous Nebuta matsuri in Aomori prefecture - hundreds of floats line the streets are built ever year and parade through the city's streets.
 Me being dressed to dance in the Nebuta parade.
 He's made entirely of ice: the world famous Sapporo snow festival.
 Yosakoi dance festival - an event every single June in the city of Sapporo where teams travel from all over the country to dance with amazing passion and dedication (in full costumes in warm, warm weather!)
Obon - an important festival celebrated in one's hometown the length and breadth of the country. The dance is said to honour the dancer's ancestors. This is one of the first events I was ever invited to in my tiny, countryside town when I first arrived at my job in northern Japan.

There are also the obvious, big, things I miss about Japan - like the people I worked with everyday, the friends I spent the weekends with, having my own house (for the first time ever), the students I taught and the pretty sweet disposable income my job came with.

But it's the other, less obvious things, like those listed above, which surprise me and pop into my head every so often here. Just like I still find myself confused by not having to change or take off shoes to go inside, not separating trash "properly" and sometimes even by "r" and "l" sounds when spelling or speaking (I spent a lot of my life in Japan speaking Japanese, ok?!)

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