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* 

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


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.”
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?
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.
And I couldn’t be more grateful.

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

Don’t Worry; It’s Japan-easy…


As we venture into the beginning of our second full week in Japan, I’ve reflected on the feelings/opinions/expectations I’ve realised (yes, I just spelled it like I live in Britain; leave me alone) in my time here.

But first it’s time for a little game called NAME THAT JAPANESE STEREOTYPE in which I address stereotypes that I’ve encountered and attempt to prove them one way or the other. Please see my previous post if this doesn’t seem PC enough for you…

Stereotype #6: Japanese people are technologically advanced and have crazy tech inventions for everyday things. Truth. We’ve eaten at two sushi places so far and they have both had conveyor belts for sushi that just travel around the restaurant offering plates of sushi for you to grab. Then they keep track of your tab by the colour-coded (seriously, just shut up about the way I spell things…) plates (blue is 108¥; red is 230¥; etc.). It’s efficient and way cool. We also dined at a restaurant where you order from a vending machine, get a ticket which you give to the server who then brings you the food. Cool part is you’ve already paid at the vending machine so when you’re done, you just leave! And then there was THIS magic:

Stereotype #7: The Japanese style is very modern with clean, uncluttered lines, therefore Japan is very modern with clean, uncluttered lines. False. The design elements of houses may lean in that direction, but on the whole Japan is an efficiently crowded place with loud, bold, and colourful (…let it go) designs that belie a chaotic, sometimes unfocused theme in the more rural areas. ‘Exploratory’ might be a kind way to say this. It doesn’t seem that any sections of town are ruled by the regulated design standards that you might find in areas of NYC, Boston or even downtown Columbus, GA. Don’t misunderstand me: I love it. The chaos is charming and the colours enchanting…it just shatters the Mulan village motif I had in my head. Thanks, Obama. 
(disclaimer: I’ve been in ONE Japanese town so this is clearly an overgeneralisation to which I will happily find exceptions later)

Stereotype #8: Japanese people love Hello Kitty. Truth. I’ve already visited two stores dedicated to this classic Japanese character. #childhoodmemories #grabbags #taylorswift (Tay, we have to stop meeting like this…)

Stereotype #9: Japanese gardens are world-renowned so every Japanese person has a meticulously tended landscape. False. Maybe they would if they had yards (!!!), but there’s simply no room. Some people have lovely balcony gardens, but mostly there are just concrete areas for cars and then some communal parks in the centre of town. I will attempt to remedy this tragedy by having the best garden I can cultivate in 2 years and 5 square feet. (Pictures to come).

Stereotype #10: Japanese/Asian people are bad drivers. Don’t you DARE judge me for putting that one out there. You’ve been wondering when someone would put this to rest, once and for all, SINCE YOU WERE SIXTEEN!! 
As a brand new driver in Japan, I feel I finally have a platform for this incredibly important topic. That’s right, I’m a card-carrying member of the Japanese Driving Club. (disclaimer: this is not a real club. or if it is, it probably has something to do with golf…golf is HUGE here.) After taking the drivers’ ed class (and flashing back to my 15-year-old self for a morning) I learned a few things.

1. Japanese pedestrians and cyclists have the right-of-way 100% of the time. 
It is NEVER their fault if they get hit. 
2. Japanese pedestrians and cyclists do not feel the need to obey standard precautionary practices such as looking both ways before entering an intersection, changing lanes or crossing the street. 
They just raise their hand and go. 
No hesitation. 
No looking.
3. Japanese pedestrians and cyclists are missing the part of their brain that registers fear…ok, so that’s not true, but it’s seriously fascinating the trust they have in the drivers on the road. 
4. As a driver, you must CONSTANTLY be scanning for erratic behaviour among the Pedestrian and Cyclist Community. 
5. As a driver, you must experience all the fear that the Pedestrian and Cyclist Community is not BECAUSE SOMEONE HAS TO FEAR FOR THEIR LIFE IN THIS SITUATION. 

Needless to say, I’ve come to believe that maybe Asian drivers aren’t so bad, they’re just scarred from a terrifying horrifying PTSD-inducing high-pressure driving environment in their home country. So go easy on those Asian drivers. You don’t know what they’ve been through.

This concludes our game of NAME THAT JAPANESE STEREOTYPE, but we hope you’ll join us next time. And now a word from our sponsors… HA. Sponsors. Good one.

Shout out to my sister, Sarah Ann (SA), for this next segment: 

Questions From Family & Friends Who Are Wondering What Life Is Like In Japan & Finally Know Someone Who Lives There So They Can Ask Them Anything They Want 
(working title)
Please feel free to ask questions about life here in the comments or to my personal email: caroline.ceg@gmail.com and I will do my best to find out the answers and share them with you here. It encourages me to explore AND satisfies those burning queries about Japan you’ve been harbouring for all these years.

Question: What is one thing you’ve seen in Japan that made you think, “Man! I can’t believe this isn’t in America yet!”?
Answer: Probably, the all-matching school uniforms with different coloured caps depending on the age. How has this cuteness escaped the Department of Education all this time?! 
18 children in bright yellow hats walking to the playground?!? 

Confession Time: Sometimes I hear Taylor Swift’s Welcome to New York in my head, but it’s Welcome to Japan and I’m ok with that. 

Weird Fact: You are not allowed to disable the camera shutter sound on your iPhone in Japan. It’s a privacy issue. Here’s to obnoxious sounds every time I take a picture for the next two years!

I typed ‘cardboard’ in my Japanese iPhone the other day and it auto-corrected to ‘catboats’. 

On a slightly more serious note, God has been abundantly gracious with me the past week and I am feeling the grace of the prayers being sent up on my behalf. A sincere thank you to those of you praying for Oakie and me as we transition. You are our family and we love you.

Welcome To Japan

We arrived in the Tokyo Airport almost two days ago.

So far, I’ve seen: 

Mountains every time I look to the west and I. Love. Mountains.
Groups of small children in matching school uniforms (heart in a puddle due to the cuteness level).
Cherry trees with the promise of explosive blooming come spring.
Sushi restaurants with conveyor belts of sushi (wut.)
And pine trees trained as bonsai trees that grow in crazy shapes (which if you’ve ever seen a pine tree, you know this is a huge improvement).
But I’m getting ahead of myself.

As soon as we got off the plane I was bombarded with the reality of Japanese stereotypes.

So to start things off today, I will address a few of these.

Welcome to today’s Episode of NAME THAT JAPANESE STEREOTYPE where I will attempt to debunk 5 stereotypes I have encountered recently. (*disclaimer: If this sounds like something that will offend you, may I refer you to my OTHER blog www.iswearilovejesus.com) (*disclaimer’s disclaimer: that is not a real blog)  

Stereotype #1: Japanese people wear masks all the time. Truth. I guess THIS is how they maintain their “Rabies-Free” status.

Stereotype #2: Japanese people tend to be stylish. Truth. Several outfits made me want to ask “where’d you get that, girl?! I mean…kon’ichiwa.”

Stereotype #3: Japanese people like cats. Truth. On the bus to Camp Zama I saw a building whose logo was a yellow oval with a black cartoon cat carrying another smaller black cartoon cat in its mouth. I can’t even START to imagine what that company does… #cats #japan #taylorswift (whaaa? How’d that one get in there?) Also, maybe they’re just partial, but this animal hospital looks a little discriminatory…

Stereotype #4: Japanese people have been into bangs WAY longer than Americans. Yesssssss. And they’re still incredibly popular. I’ll fit in just fine here.

Stereotype #5: Japanese people are very polite/nice. HA. Boy is THAT a load of………………………………….truth. 


Oakie and I landed in Tokyo at 3:30pm local time knowing that we had one shot at making the 4pm bus to Camp Zama or we would be stuck there till the 7pm bus rolled through. By the time we got through customs we had 10 minutes to make the bus. We asked the officer at customs and he pointed us in the right direction which was just outside, but Step One nonetheless. Oakie then leaves to ask around and 5 minutes later I see him pass me without a glance, laughing and chatting with a lovely Asian lady he seems to have just FOUND inside. He follows her across the street and they disappear into the crowd. 

By this point, I’ve been bumped into and apologized to no less than half a dozen times, we have 4 minutes to catch the bus and still no sign of Oakie. And then, just how you’d imagine it’d happen he comes sprinting through the crowd, tells me he found the bus, we’re late, but they’ll wait.

Insert a word problem math equation (looking at you Lindsay Lage):

Oakie & Caroline need to catch a bus in 3 minutes, but have 8 bags between them, 3 of which weigh over 65lbs. Considering time constraints and travel stress, what are the odds that they will catch the bus without murdering one another?

That’s right! You got it! If you add 3 kind Japanese men to the equation, each rolling one 65lb. bag; 1000 thank you’s and 1 patient bus driver, Oakie & Caroline make the bus alive, with no time to spare and a remainder of 1 good story.

Confession Time: There we were, Oakie, myself and three full-grown Japanese men, caravanning (defined in the dictionary as: a group of travelers, as merchants or pilgrims, journeying together for safety in passing through deserts, hostile territory, etc.)  through the Great Unknown of Tokyo’s bus system and I was just giggling smiling to myself at the sheer enormity of the ridiculous kindness they were showing us.

Welcome to Japan.