“But… what do you DO all day?”

Ok… I was all set to do a blog about Summer in Tokyo, but I will push that aside for a bit and address the above question. I have to admit that this question disturbs me a little. Probably because when someone asks me this question (and it seems to be coming up more and more often the longer we live here), I never feel like I give a very good answer. I tend to stammer around a bit with it, and start to feel like I am being judged.

Admittedly — my daily “to do” list here in Japan is pretty short. Since I am here on my husband’s work visa, I don’t have a job here. I gave up two jobs in the US when we came here, and I was more than happy to do so for the experience of living in a foreign country. I am a college-educated professional in my own right, but while living here I am a “shufu” — Japanese for “housewife.”

And there is nothing wrong with that! I have my responsibilities around our home — laundry, cooking, cleaning, shopping — and I have many interests and hobbies to occupy my time. I don’t sit around and twiddle my thumbs and lament my boredom. Life is what you make of it, and right now I just have a bit more time to do the things that I want to do.

I am not saying that I don’t sometimes get bored… Don’t we all? No matter how full our calendars get.

So — a typical day… What does a typical day for this expat “shufu” look like?

  •  I get up early. This time of year (early summer) the sun comes up before 4:30 am. And as soon as the light starts coming around the edges of our curtains, I am awake. Even in the winter the sun is up at 6:30. No more sleep for me.
  • At home in the ATL, my husband had to leave so early to beat the traffic, that I never got up when he did. He would get up and pack his lunch, fix his own breakfast, and go to work. So… (lucky him?) I now fix him breakfast and lunch. He leaves for work at about 7:45 or so… much better than 5:30 am back home. He has a ten-minute walk to his office.
  • I clean up the dishes (no dishwasher here), make the bed, and tidy our small living space. Three or four mornings a week (weather permitting — no dryer!) I put in a load of laundry.
  • I check my e-mail, message with my family back home — we are 13 hours ahead, so my morning is their evening — and maybe have a video chat with one or more of them, and maybe with our 4-year-old grandson.
  • I change into work-out clothes. Depending on the weather, I either get ready for a run along the canals, go to the gym around the corner,or just do yoga here in the apartment… Usually an hour, to an hour and a half.
  • I hang out the laundry. All apartment balconies in urban Tokyo are designed for hanging laundry. There is an extra bar to hang hangers on, or to clip towels and linens to. And yes… living on the 30th floor there is often a strong wind. Everything has to be secured. I don’t want to chase my laundry around the neighborhood.
  • Before lunch, I may message with any of my family who are still awake and online, and I do some Japanese studying. We don’t have a formal class right now, so we are working through the Duolingo app in Japanese.
  • After lunch, I usually check to see how the laundry  is drying, then walk to the supermarket for that day’s groceries. I go to the supermarket about 6 days per week. Seems like there is always something I need. I have a very small refrigerator (dorm size, with a small freezer) and very little cupboard space. No stocking up. The walk to the supermarket is about a kilometer, and takes about 10 to 15 minutes. So I am usually back within an hour.
  • Afternoons, I have time to work on hobbies or interests, or to do some more studying. I am determined to be conversant in Japanese someday!
  • My husband is usually home from work at about 6 pm, so I start fixing dinner in late afternoon. It is usually pretty simple since I am a novice at Japanese cooking. I am learning about cooking methods here, and Japanese ingredients. I don’t have an oven, just a cook-top and a small fish broiler — so sometimes it can be a challenge.
  • After dinner we wash the dishes (again… no dishwasher), sometimes do more Japanese study, or veg-out and watch something on Netflix or Amazon Fire. We only have the basic cable to our apartment, so all the TV stations are in Japanese. If we wanted to upgrade our package, there are English channels available, but we don’t really care about doing that.

So… What are the hobbies that I spoke of? I brought several things with me to keep me occupied.

  • I write. I wanted to do a blog about our experiences here. I am a novice at writing, but I like writing. I never thought I would run out of topics to write about here, but sometimes now, it is hard to come up with ideas. Things don’t seem so strange here anymore. This has become “home.”
  • Books. I like to read. I brought “real” books, and I have many more e-books on my Kindle. Right now I am into historical fiction about Asia.
  • Yoga. I taught yoga in the US. Right now I have my own personal yoga practice, and sometimes I do a yoga “class” with my husband in the evenings. I toy with the idea of finding a place to teach here in Tokyo. Maybe.
  • Knitting. Well… sort of. I brought my knitting stuff, but (with all due respect to my ultra-talented sister-in-law, who can knit ANYTHING), I am just not good at it. I try, and I have an interest, but…
  • Drawing. I have a little bit of an artistic streak, but as with the knitting, I have the desire, but not any particular talent. ZenTangles (Google it) are my current interest. I also do a bit of adult coloring. zen2015-05-29
  • Photography. My husband got me my own digital SLR, so on weekends we often go out on photography walks. During the week, I sometimes go out on my own. My current interests are wildlife (mostly ducks on the canals) and water (sky-pools.) On summer weekends there are usually festivals to photograph, or just interesting Japanese temples and shrines, or Japanese gardens and flowers. Thank goodness for digital. We have a bazillion photographs.
  • And of course, walking and exploring this amazing city! I/we walk a lot, and have walked all over this city. Typically on a weekend we will forgo the trains (mostly) and walk 10 to 12 miles each day. So much to see!

Well… that is about it. Like I said, I am somewhat bothered by the question, and especially by the quizzical looks I get when I try to explain what my relatively unstructured days look like. Now, more photos…

A day (or less) in Fukuoka

Recently, my company had meetings in Fukuoka, Japan. Although most of my time was spent in a windowless conference room, I did have about a half day to explore the city. Here are some observations.

Torii gate at Sumiyoshi Shrine…photobombed by the shrine kitty

First, getting around in Fukuoka is easy. My hotel was in the downtown area. It’s an easy train ride from Fukuoka airport to Hakata Station, or Tenjin Station. These stations are centrally located to many downtown hotels. Although taxis are plentiful, the train is  convenient and easy to use. Nishitetsu is also a major bus company operating in Fukuoka Prefecture. Main bus terminals in Fukuoka city are at Hakata Station, Tenjin Station and at the airport.

I found Fukuoka to be a very walkable city. I started my wanderings by walking from my hotel to Sumiyoshi Shrine. A sign on the grounds explains that the gods enshrined in Sumiyoshi have been worshipped for protecting the nation and sea voyage since ancient times. The main hall was rebuilt in 1623. The grounds are a peaceful and quiet pause in the heart of the busy city.

Next I took a longer walk to Shofukuji Temple. It’s about a 15 minute walk from Hakata Station. Shofukuji was the first Zen temple constructed in Japan, dating back to 1195. Of course, most of the structures have been built and rebuilt over the years. The temple makes for an interesting afternoon, and there are a number of smaller temples in the neighborhood.

Next, I walked a short distance to Tochoji Temple. The head temple of Shingon Buddhism Kyushu sect, it has an impressive five-storied pagoda. For some interesting details about the temple, see the Fukuoka City Guide.

With the day coming to an end, I made one more short walk to Kushida Shrine. Kushida-jinja is a Shinto shrine, believed to have been founded in 757. Today, it is widely known for the Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival. The Shrine grounds include a huge, ancient ginko tree, and Kazari Yamakasa or large stationary festival floats. It’s a great place to spend some time as part of a walking tour of Fukuoka.

Fukuoka is an interesting city, and certainly there are things to do that don’t involve shrines and temples. But if you enjoy walking, and getting a glimpse of Japan’s ancient culture, a half-day in Fukuoka is time well spent.


Travel in Japan — Part 2


As I said in Part 1 of the Travel in Japan blog, with this job assignment my husband — and I, also — have had a lot of opportunities to travel internationally, and we have gotten used to the process of long distance air travel. But, we have also taken a few domestic flights here inside Japan. What we have found is that there are some interesting differences between domestic travel in Japan, and domestic travel we have experienced in the US.

The biggest difference we have noticed is in the amount of time required to get through the check-in, baggage drop, and security process. Always in the US, we would arrive at the airport at least two hours ahead of our flight. We could never anticipate how long the security lines would be. We could check in online from home, and (because they always charge for checked bags in the US) we would just carry on our bags. But proceeding directly to security, we never knew how crowded it would be. Sometimes we would get TSA-Precheck and the lines were shorter… sometimes not. Sometimes the lines were really long, and sometimes not so long.

Japan seems to have a more efficient system in place. Not that we haven’t had to stand in line for check-in and security, but the lines are usually much shorter and move along quickly. Even with bag check — and there is no additional charge here for checking a bag — it has never taken more than 15 minutes or so to get to our departure gate.

Automatic check-in kiosks, but I checked in online and skipped this step. Looks like most everyone else did too!
Automatic baggage drop. Easy, and fast, and English instructions. There was also an attendant available if needed.

With our most recent experience on ANA, we booked flights online — at which time we were not allowed to pick seats. But a few days before the flight, I went online to the ANA site and was able to choose my seat. This activated what they call “Skip” service so that all I had to do was take my ticket receipt with the 3-D bar code and go to an automated baggage drop at the airport. Step by step instructions (English option) and my bag was tagged and automatically checked in. From there, I went straight to security.

There was no line at security the day I flew. Security moved very quickly. Shoes stay on. I took my electronics out and put them in the tray, but I am not sure I even had to do that. I walked straight through the metal detector, and gathered my belongings. The woman ahead of me had a bottle of green tea, and just placed it in the tray with all of her other things.

Other differences I noticed:

I always take my passport when I travel, and my Japanese Residence Card — which is what I am required to carry here. My passport never came out of my bag, and no one ever even asked to see my residence card. All I needed was the receipt with the 3-D barcode.

Boarding was similar to, but faster than boarding in the US. They, of course, board passengers needing special assistance first, followed by premium passengers. After that, they boarded passengers in the back of the plane (rows 29 and above), and then the rest of us queued up behind them. Scan that same 3-D barcode, collect the boarding receipt, and it was all done.

On the plane, drink service was simple and fast. It was only a 2 hour flight, so the choices were tea or juice, nothing else. No snacks. If you want food, you bring it on board with you. This keeps the flight attendants from having to take multiple trips up and down the aisles with those big service carts.

We have only had the opportunity to fly JAL and ANA which are the major two airlines here. I know that there are other “no-frills” airlines that do charge extra for every service you want… sort of an “ala carte” way to fly… but we have found that JAL and ANA both have fairly competitive prices, and we are very satisfied with their services.

Even though the flights we have taken in Japan have all been 2 hours or less, they tend to use the larger aircraft that we usually associate with longer flights and international travel. Eight seats across, on this most recent flight to and from Fukuoka, and the flight was full.

All in all, domestic air travel in Japan has been very easy and pleasant. I really can’t conclude that the Japanese have a better or more efficient system in place for their airlines and airports, but something about it makes a difference. Maybe air travel can still be an enjoyable experience.

Lost… and Found!

You know that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach the instant you realize you’ve done something really stupid?

Yeah. That feeling. I had it last week.

Our train had just left Nagasaki station on the way to Fukuoka. And my wife said those three words — “where’s the camera?”

IMG_7013Normally, I’d say, “it’s safely stowed away inside my backpack.” But, earlier that day, I had decided it might be fun to take a few “train window” pictures. So, I slung the small bag with our trusty Lumix point-and-shoot over my shoulder. And suitcase, backpack, convenience store snacks, and camera in hand, we were off to the train station.

But the train tickets were wrong, and we had to make a change at the train station office. Not hard, but it required me to speak some Japanese…and sign a Visa receipt. So I took the camera bag off my shoulder to keep it out of the way. Whether I left it in the train station office, or on the bench at the platform, I don’t recall. But as the train was leaving the station, I realized….I had left our faithful camera behind.

After a frantic and futile search of our seats on the train, I realized it was no use. And spent much of the rest of our train ride berating myself for my carelessness.

Fortunately, my wife was being more productive. When we arrived at Fukuoka, she found a JR train line attendant, and said, “kamera wo nakushimashita” — I lost my camera. He promptly pointed us to … the Lost & Found office.

Entering the office, the smiling lady greeted us in Japanese. “Eigo ga wakarimasu ka” – do you understand English, we said. “Iie,” she said, waving her hands – not so much. Without a pause, my wife countered, “kamera wo nakushimashita. Nagasaki eki ni…” We lost our camera at the Nagasaki train station. Message received… but at first, she thought we were tourists, and we’d have to go back to Nagasaki to get the camera. “Tokyo ni sunde imasu,” my wife quickly said — we live in Tokyo.

Then, all was good. It seems that if you live in Japan, Lost and Found can ship lost items  to you (cost on delivery).  Soon she called Nagasaki station, and started asking about a lost camera. I heard her say something about “ao kaban” — blue bag. Success! I hadn’t mentioned that the camera was in a blue bag, inside a black bag. They found my camera!

We filled out our address on the return form, and between her little English and our little Japanese, we learned the camera would be shipped to us soon.

Sure enough, TWO days later, the camera arrived. The cost for this lesson — 1,339 Japenese yen — about $12 shipping fee.

So, I’ve learned a couple of things from my experience. First, from now on, my little point-and-shoot will be tucked safely away in my backpack when I travel so I don’t carelessly leave it aside. And, second, if you’re going to lose something, do it in Japan. I’ve often heard stories of lost items being returned safely to their owners. I now know from personal experience, it’s true.