27 Things I Learned About Japan This Week

 * I gave myself a week off from blogging so I could get our new digs (hello 70s lingo; where’d you come from?) all ready to be lived in and stuff. It was well worth the break. Thank you, retroactively, for your patience. *
This week found us in a classroom for 40 hours participating in a Japanese Crash Course, not to be confused with a very similar class, the Japanese How NOT To Crash Course where I earned my driver’s license—which I have used four entire times all by myself…without crashing! *self-five*
From this experience, I have narrowed down the gems I came away with to this simple list. Consider it your crash course in Japan. You’re welcome.
1.    Just as there is a stereotype about all Japanese people being either samurais or ninjas, there is also an on-going stereotype that all Americans are gunslingers or sharp shooters. In the words of our sensei, Mitsuo-san, “Not all American carry gun! I was shock!”
(*all future quotes belong to Mitsuo-san unless otherwise noted*)
2.    Speaking of samurais, did you know that many of the Japanese customs and/or mannerisms were born of samurai defense tactics? For instance, the whole chopsticks-in-noodles and drinking-from-your bowl things are simply more effective ways to eat when you constantly have to watch your back for enemy samurais! If you were bending over your bowl, they could “chop your neck off!” Anther example is the bow vs. handshake. A handshake could easily be a trick to pull you in and “chop your neck off”, but a bow can be as short or as deep as your trust in the other person.
Little trust = little bow.
Deep trust = deep bow.
3.    In order to explain this to us even further, our 2nd teacher, Takahashi-san compared it to how the biblical Gideon found his 300 soldiers. How they drank at the river showed their aptitude for alertness and battle readiness. Those who knelt to drink and brought the water to their mouths versus those on their bellies drinking straight from the river like dogs. Obviously, the kneeling soldiers were better ready for attack, but God had Gideon choose the lappers for His team. He chose the weak to defeat the strong so He could come through for them without them thinking they did it on their own. This is the beauty of the upside down kingdom of God…in other words, if you’re in Japan and you have noodles in broth, PICK YO BOWL UP FOOL!

4.    Japanese people can tell Americans from other foreigners/Japanese because our dryer sheets smell so good. Most local families hang their clothes to dry, depriving them of the fresh Mountain Clear scent we’ve all come to know and love.

5.    Remember that Georgia vending machine I snapped a shot of for my last blog post? Turns out, it is in fact owned by Coca Cola for distribution in Japan and the name is a nod to my good ol’ hometown where Coca Cola was invented: Columbus. TAKE THAT ATLANTA! Also, fascinating fact, the vending machines here serve cold and hot drinks. If you order a coffee in a can and the price is in red, it will be hot; blue will be cold. What is this world?

6.    I was told in class that COSTCO stands for Chinese Off Shore Trading Company and was in China & Japan before it ever hit the states. I was floored! Our Costco? Our beacon of warehouse shopping experiences a la Sam’s Club started in China?? Turns out, after a quick verification search on the ever-reliable SNOPES,this was just our teachers pulling our legs/lying to us. Ah well, you win some, you lose some.

7.    Along with thinking we’re all pioneers in buckskins, the Japanese are also in complete awe of our steaks’ sizes calling them “sandal-sized’ and “way better” than the famed Japanese Kobe beef, as far as bang-for-your-buck. I mean, since we all have a herd of cattle on our ranch outback, we might as well enjoy the steak, ammiright, pard?

8.    In the morning and evening there are trains to Tokyo designated for Women Only. The trains here can get VERY crowded, so this is an option provided for women’s safety and comfort on their commute to work. #girlpower #yesallwomen #taylorswift (ok, you gotta give me that one. It totally worked…)

9.    In the Japanese language, the numbers 4 (shi), 7 (shi-chi) and 9 (ku) rhyme with words that mean ‘death’, ‘death-place’ & ‘suffering’ respectively, so these are considered unlucky numbers and were all given alternate names (yon, nana & kyuu). I would say something clever about this, but I mean, come on. You can’t make this stuff up…

10. On a happier note, ‘puppy’ (a stand-alone cute word on its own) is ‘wan-chan’ in Japanese and that’s just the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. So now, you get a wan-chan picture. You’re welcome. [
Ok, FINE. You get two. 

But we HAVE to move on now. P.S. It’s called a pomsky and I won’t judge you for squealing with pure delight at the height of adorableness.

11.  And speaking of cute, those tamagotchi’s from the 90’s? The ones you had your friends babysit when you had to go to the bathroom for 5 minutes? Yeah, those. Tamagotchi means ‘cute little egg’ in Japanese. 

*small epiphany causes your mind to be blown* 
yeah…me too.

12. ‘Shabu shabu’ is a delicious style of food where you cook meat in hot broth.
‘Shabu’ alone is slang for heroin.
So be careful out there, kids.

13.  And speaking of illegal drugs, the mafia here is alive and well and goes by Yakusa. Because of their gangs, tattoos are very taboo here and can get you banned from most hot springs & beaches. Glad I held off on those barbed wire arm rings…and you can stop pressuring me to make my love for you permanent, MOM.

14. In related news, if you get in bad with the mafia, they won’t kill you or blow you up (mostly because they can’t get their hands on any guns or explosives due to stricter laws), they’ll just start showing up at your place of business, ordering food and not paying for it and scaring the other customers off (who then tell all their friends not to go there anymore). Next thing you know, you’re closed down. Simple, yet effective. Moral of the story…pay for your food…or something like that.

15.  Still want more on the mafia? May I recommend Black Rain? Please note, I haven’t seen it and it’s rated R for violence and language. It was recommended in class as a good example of how their mafia works, but if it doesn’t sound like your thing, please refrain from watching it, horrified, and then sending me hate mail.

16. Colors in Japan are not associated with gender. Pink and purple are abundant and are enjoyed for their beauty no matter the gender. #somanypinkcars

17.  Ironically, here’s a story about how safe Japan was known to be about 50 years ago. Mitsuo-san told us a story of a man who owned a solid gold watch. He stopped one day to sit on a bench and wait for the bus. It was warm that day so he removed his wristwatch and jacket and laid them on the bench. Later, he grabbed his jacket, but left the watch. Not remembering where he lost it, he forgot about it. A few years later, he happened back by that part of the country and there on the very same bench was his watch in a plastic container, still keeping time because someone had protected it and then continued to wind it each day until its owner returned. 
*jaw on floor* 
#safetyfirst 
#dontyoukindofwanttofindawatchnow?

18. Japanese read vertically and left to right. Oh yeah, and it’s all in kanji. Which looks like this: 


本雜誌印法,旁行上左,並用西文句讀點之,以便插寫算術及物理化學諸程式,非故好新奇,讀者諒之。

19.  Roads are so twisting in Japan that GPS devices are known for their faulty directions. Here is Mitsuo-san explaining this: “I cross bridge. It says turn left. I say, I will die.”

20.  In related news, another quote from Mitsuo-san, “American straight roads are dream for Japanese!”

21. American coffee is considered weak in Japan. Therefore on most automatic coffee machines, you have the options: Blend Coffee & Weak Coffee.  I guess they’ve never had Mr. Ron coffee………………

22.  Japanese people never say, “I love you” after they are married. They just show each other and stay together.

23.  And on the topic of love, on Valentine’s Day, the girl gives the guy chocolate & on Wives’ Day (March 14th), the guys give the girls the normal American Valentine’s Day gifts, jewelry, roses, chocolate, etc.

24.  Japanese weddings are paid for by the wedding guests via monetary gifts at the wedding. Then the couple, in turn, donates to another young couple’s wedding down the road.

25.  Don’t put business cards in your back pocket, as they interpret the proximity to your…ahem, behind…quite insulting.

26.  “Sake is considered a holy liquid here. Except when you drink too much…”-Takahashi-san

27. Japanese people have a phobia of western foreigners speaking English to them (even though most people learn it in school). They’ll go so far as to move away from you if you sit next to them on a train. They’re afraid their English will be too broken, too elementary. Y’all. Don’t I just feel their pain? But a simple ‘sumimasen’ (excuse me) will put them right at ease. If you are willing to speak broken Japanese, they are willing to speak broken English and we meet halfway ’round the world at the halfway point. Thank you, Lord, for language classes that teach me more than how to say, “I don’t understand you.”
This week’s Holiday Headlines brought to you by Home Depot:
“You can do it. We can help.”
WE GOT OUR FIRST EVER CHRISTMAS TREE THIS YEAR AND I LOVE ALL 4 FEET OF ITS ARTIFICIAL GLORY!
The Great Christmas Tree Hunt Of 2015 was a rousing affair complete with a three-hour round trip search for a real live, needle-dropping, forest-smelling Douglas Fir. We explored the nearby Naval Air Base (Atsugi), the nearby IKEA, and the (actually) nearby PX, only to realize that there just weren’t any left. I’ve always been a live tree kinda girl, but this year, the love I feel for my little baby artificial Christmas tree with the douglas fir candle burning next to it, is off the charts.

beautiful, isn’t it?
SIKE!
Here she is…

And my first ever batch of gingerbread (oakie’s fave)…
This is a year of firsts for me.
First Christmas tree of my marriage.
First artificial tree.
First time in Japan.
First time weekly blogging.
First time making gingerbread cookies.
First time HANGING CURTAINS ON OUR EVERLOVING WINDOWS.
And I couldn’t be more grateful.

::thank you Jesus for this big and wonderful world::

It’s All Japanese To Me!

* Disclaimer: This post is long. Sorry not sorry. *
Here in Japan-land (I assume the locals just call it Japan, but I’m not there yet), we’ve entered the season of Thanksgiving & Christmas—holidays that have been adopted by the Japanese post-WWII.  So we’ve been exploring the surrounding area in search for the perfect Japanese gifties (is that a word? sure it is.) for our family. This quest has taken us to nooks and crannies of our local community, Sagamihara, as well as the bustling metropolis of Tokyo proper. Therefore, this post will reflect the adventures we encountered along with way with a brief detour into the Gospel Chapel service we attended on Sunday and the lack of Wi-Fi availability in our hotel.
But first, a call back to my last post:

Apparently, the library agrees with me, as I found this in the children’s section of books.
Thanksgiving Time
We had the pleasure of being invited to our future neighbors’ for a thanksgiving dinner this week and it was wonderful. I had a more Northern version of this holiday than I’m used to (there was stuffing instead of dressing and they stirred the cranberry sauce so it lost the shape of the can it came out of…or I just realized…MAYBE THEY MADE IT FROM SCRATCH…witchcraft…) and every bite was delicious. Thank you, Renz family for your hospitality and for taking a chance on the random people the Army put next to you in the duplex. We promise we’ll return the favor soon, but no promises on the cranberry sauce…
Toilet Time
If you’re thinking this is a clever title for a segment on something deep, you couldn’t be more wrong. This is literally about the various toilets I’ve encountered in Japan; so, if that’s a little bit TMI for you, feel free to skip to the next section.

Y’all.

The toilets here are mini-masterpieces of bathroom finery. Here are a few pictures of what I’ve seen while visiting different restrooms:


That’s right, there was a CONTROL PANEL with an instruction manual in one and a small child’s seat in one and almost all of them WARMLY WELCOME YOU WITH HEATED SEATS. I even saw one that made a urinating sound FOR you if you wanted so you wouldn’t have to be embarrassed. (What? I TOLD you to keep moving if this was too much!)

THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
I’m never leaving this magical place.
OR I can only be enticed to visit if you plan to have these installed in your home because, come on, heated seats.
Tidbits Time
The One About the WiFi
There is only wifi in the lobby of our hotel so we were given an Ethernet cord so we could access the hardwire internet on our computer, but this limits us to about 18 inches from the desk when using it. 

TRANSLATION: We can’t watch Netflix in our bed.

Now before you go all #firstworldproblems on me, IT GETS WORSE. We were using our new phones and we saw an open wifi connection labeled JED that we were able to connect to no problem. BONUS. We used it on the computer and enjoyed bedtime Netflix-ing for all of 3 days before the owner of JED’s network got wise and PASSWORD PROTECTED IT. See? I told you it got worse…so…yeah. Now we don’t have JED anymore and we miss him and the phrase “Thanks a lot, JED!” is now common in our hotel room since the not-so-convenient pop-up wifi window always reminds us of his complete and total disconnect from us. I think I understand how the Breaking Amish people feel…
The One About IKEA
So we found an IKEA (praise!) and we’ve been readying ourselves for the new place, which we move into in T-Minus 3 days (confession time: I’ve never understood what “T-minus” means though I assume it’s about spacecraft so if anyone wants to enlighten me to its origins please see the comment section). We will have a Christmas tree for the first time EVER in our marriage and I couldn’t be more excited. Like I’m at the top level of excitement accessible to humans. So I turned to IKEA for all of my tree decorating needs and it was AWESOME. Hello white and gold themed tree! We also found killer deals on a new couch-turned-double-bed so BRING ON THE VISTORS!!!! We are ready for YOU! I mean, not yet…we still have the t-minusing action and then the moving action and then the clearing the boxes action, but then we are ready for YOU!
The One About the Church Service
We recently visited the SHA Chapel on our housing area and enjoyed a very friendly/energetic/three-songs-for-forty-minutes worship service about Thanksgiving. (praise!) And just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, there was a SURPRISE WEDDING. You read that right…there was a SURPRISE WEDDING at the end of the service. And since we were visitors, we obviously sat in the second row…and now we’re in the background of their wedding pictures for all of eternity. (praise!)
Tokyo Time
We headed to Tokyo via train bright & early Saturday morning (which in Caroline language means we left after breakfast at 10am). It was slated to take about an hour one-way so I came prepared with a backpack containing A Book Written In The Year I Was Born (Number The Stars by Lois Lowry) and an Easy Monday Crossword Puzzles book that I’ve been steadily cheating my way through since we left America. I’m happy to say that out of the 45 completed puzzles I’ve solved 10 without looking in the back…* self five. * It’s the little things…

P.S. For those aware of mine & Oakie’s & Katie’s & Ben’s 2015 Book Challenge (53 books in a year in categories like A Book Over 100 yrs. old and A Book Your Mom Loves), I’ve completed 40 and have COMPLETE CONFIDENCE that I will finish by the end of the year.

Once in Tokyo we were ready for some food and wandered around following Google Earth’s directions to a noodle shop for about an hour ending up in a ghost town of a train stop where all the businesses were closed including—you guessed it—the noodle shop. So then we winged it and ended up in an alley of restaurants (which looked exactly how you imagine that) and chose one at random. It was small (seating about 25) and the pictures on the menu outside looked good + they had noodles. Oakie is really into noodles right now; I, however, went for the item on the menu that most closely resembled my beloved Mongolian Beef from Chef Lee’s (the best Chinese food in Columbus, GA). When we ordered in confident English, the server responded to my pointing by saying, “Riba! Riba!” very urgently while pointing to his torso. He looked concerned for me. I smiled and said, “Oh yes! Ribs. I love ribs!” Don’t all Americans? He repeated the number, but I just smiled and nodded and he shrugged his shoulders and walked away. When he came back with our dishes, mine looked very much like the picture at which I pointed and I took that first bite with Mongolian expectations that were dashed on the rocks of the chalky aftertaste we’ve all come to know as LIVER.
RIBA = LIVER.
*face-palm*
But don’t worry, my husband is a saint who will trade you noodles for liver any day and eat every bite and then trade your dish back so it looks like you really did likethe RIBA that came out and then your “arigato gozaimasu” is sincere and smiley as you leave.
Moments like that always make me rethink the magnitude of the event that happened at the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9 if you’d like a refresher). The confusion of the languages must’ve caused more of a blow than that short text can really tell us. Mine is a small, comical example, but acute nonetheless. The fear and frustration that must’ve been instantly instilled when they first realized they couldn’t understand each other any more had to have been earth-shattering. And don’t we feel the ripples of that all these centuries later? The tightness in my chest when I ask, “Do you speak English?” and they answer with a bewildered smile is deep-seated and REAL. They are human and are flesh and blood like me, but when we look into each other’s eyes, we know there is an invisible barrier we cannot knock down. So we smile and are kind in the other ways we know and we challenge each other to learn. And these people, y’all, these people are chart-toppers in kindness. 
Times Square Time
There is a place in Tokyo that comes up any time you Google image “downtown Tokyo”  that is sometimes called the Times Square Equivalent and after we wandered around the Emperor’s Palace and an 8 floor shopping mall for a few hours we walked outside to the realization that we had just stumbled onto one of the most iconic places in Tokyo: The diagonal crosswalk in the middle of town aka the Times Square Equivalent. 

I have no shame in being a tourist sometimes, especially when I have NO HOPE of blending in with the natives, ammiright? 
#bangsandsunglassesarenotenough 
#maybeifiwasonabikewiththreekids 
#taylorswift (seriously, T-Swift, this is getting out of hand…)
So as I rode home on the sardine-packed train with my nose crushed against Oakie’s arm and another 7 humans within 6 inches of my face, I smiled. Because isn’t it all just grace that we get to see the things we do? Visit the places we do? Eat the livers we do? No journey is without its respective livers and I hope I never forget how sweet they make the noodles. And that I’m never too proud to wave that camera around in genuine awe of the diversity of His creation. Thank you, Tokyo, for the reminder of how small I am and thank you, Lord, for Your bigness that makes my smallness a delight.
BONUS VIDEO/PICTURES:

Oakie drinking tea while gazing pensively out the window (his words).

Our new car!

The island of Enoshima

And the obligatory Hello Kitty store there…

…on my mind.

 The largest hawk I’ve ever seen…
OH, now I get it.

 Strolling in the gardens of the shrines…

Replica of the Liberty Bell in Tokyo

Tokyo when you give Oakie the camera…

And my first Starbucks of the move.
Thank you, Lord, for Starbucks being an international company that understands “caramel macchiato” everywhere you go…




Until, next time…