Flu Shots.

It is fall again, and one thing we always do in the fall is get our flu shots. Back home in ATL, I was required by my workplace to get a flu shot every year (I worked in healthcare there) and the vaccination was provided by my workplace. My husband’s company also provided the vaccination to workers, and even scheduled “vaccine clinics” to make it more convenient for their workers to get the shot. Of course, we could also go to lots of other places to get our flu shots, and it was fully covered by our medical insurance. It was easy and convenient for us to get the vaccination.

At my husband’s workplace here in Japan, they also encourage everyone to get their flu shot in the fall, and we have been provided with a list of clinics in our area where we can go to get vaccinated. Since we are still covered by our US health insurance, we pay for the vaccine here, and then submit the bills to our insurance company back home for reimbursement. We are also covered under the Japanese National Health Insurance for most other medical expenses, but I don’t think the flu vaccine is a part of that coverage.

The first fall after we moved to Japan we were home for a visit and just got the flu shot while we were in the US. But last year — and this year — we got the vaccine here. It is not difficult… but there are some hurdles to doing anything when you can’t speak the language very well. It can seem daunting at times to do even these simple tasks. My husband’s workplace does provide us with a liaison — an employee who can help us with these sorts of communication challenges, but we do try to manage as well as we can on our own.

Once we got the list of clinics, it was simple enough to type in the address into Google maps, and find out where we needed to go. The clinic we have chosen is nearby — right here in Minato-ku (our “ward” of Tokyo). My husband did have someone from work call to make sure they had vaccine available before we went to the clinic… phone calls are especially a challenge for us. We manage day-to-day communication with a mixture of our meager Japanese, and quite a lot of pointing and gesturing. It works fine when you are face-to-face, but over the phone, communication with a non-English speaker is nearly impossible.

So… with GPS in hand, we walked to the clinic, and this is what we found:


More language challenge. The floor guide was all in Japanese. But, we are actually learning(!) and after some (rather slow) translation, we determined that our desired medical clinic was on the 3rd floor. “3F Minato-Mita (the first three are kanji characters) ku-ri-nik-ku (followed by 5 katakana characters)” — Minato-Mita Clinic! We couldn’t read all of the kanji on that sign, but we could read enough to get by. Success.

Once inside, it was very much like any clinic in the US. A waiting room and a reception desk. The staff spoke minimal English, but all we had to say was “influenza shot” and they gave us each a form to fill out (in English!) and a thermometer to take our temperature. After handing that back in, we waited for our “interview” with the doctor.

We came to this clinic last year too, and had the same doctor for this part. He speaks English, but very heavily accented, so it is sometimes hard to understand him. He goes over our medical forms and asks questions. He is elderly, and always asks us how old we think he is… lol. This year, he is 82(!) and still healthy and working at the clinic. I know they have other doctors there, but I think they always send us to him because he has the best English.

Anyway… so after our interview with the doctor, we wait out in the reception area for our turn. The nurses get everything set up, and in no time we are done and vaccinated for this year. We go to the waiting room while they prepare our bill, and when they call us up, they punch the number into a calculator so that we can read the amount we owe. Most businesses here have a calculator on the counter so that they can show us the numbers — they know we are really SLOW understanding the numbers in Japanese… lol.

Our bill was 3500 yen each — about $35 — which we will now submit to our insurance.

Sometimes I feel bad that even after 2 1/2 years here, I still can’t speak Japanese. But we do manage, and actually… I think we are understanding more that we think we are. It is a gradual process, and we have become comfortable doing this kind of day-to-day communication… even if we aren’t fluent speakers of Japanese.


Voting from afar

It’s almost time for elections in the United States. I’ve always been diligent about voting, as I think it is the responsibility of every citizen to be part of the process. In today’s turbulent political environment, voting is even more important.  But being 6,000 miles from my voting place does make things a bit more difficult. Voted

Fortunately, there is support for people living in other countries. Google “voting from outside the US” and you’ll get suggestions for a variety of websites with information on the absentee voting process. As a Georgia resident, I was also able to get the needed information from my county election commissioner’s office.

It’s actually a pretty easy process to request an absentee ballot. Once early voting opens, the election commissioner’s office emails a link to an official ballot, along with the appropriate instructions on how to complete it. The hardest part of the whole process was figuring out where to address the envelope for returning the ballot. Once that was done, it was a matter of getting postage at the local post office, and voilà- I have voted in the US election, from my current residence in Tokyo.

What happens with my ballot, once it is in the mail? As far as I can tell, there is no way to verify that my vote has been received. I can only have faith that it will make it through the mail, through the US voting system, and be counted as intended.

Voting from Japan does take a little more time and effort than it did in the US. I hope that if I and my fellow expats are willing to participate, all my friends back in the US will also get out to be part of a huge voter turn-out in 2018. Voting has always been an important responsibly of US citizens. In this election, everyone’s participation is vital to the future of our country. Please VOTE!


Am I ever going to be able to speak Japanese?

My bento box lunch today after Japanese class — Japanese food is always so beautifully arranged.

Just checking in on the language progress. Today was another Spouse’s Language and Culture Class at my husband’s company. It is nice that they offer these classes for us. We meet three Wednesday’s per month, and it is usually a luncheon meeting: Ninety minutes with language instruction, and then a box lunch while the teachers (sensei) present a short cultural program. Sometimes we go on a “field trip” to a museum, or other interesting cultural spot, and sometimes we do some sort of traditional craft (origami, for example) after our language lesson.

I have been attending these classes for 2.5 years now. Spouses come and go depending on the husband’s job assignment… there are always new people coming in, and others that leave to go back to their home countries. It is an interesting class, with people from so many different places.

And how have I progressed — linguistically — in these 2.5 years? Sometimes I feel good about my progress, and some days are just… humbling. Certainly, I have made progress (from knowing almost NO Japanese 2.5 years ago):  I now know a lot of vocabulary, and quite a bit of grammar… and I can read both hiragana and katakana, and… even a few of the kanji! “Romaji” is the translation of the Japanese characters into Roman characters. Most things in Japan are written in the Kana and Kanji — but there are more and more signs, etc, that are being written in Romaji… in preparation for the 2020 Olympic games.

[ FUN FACTS:  Japanese has three character systems that are commonly used to write the language. Kanji — the Chinese characters that written Japanese is based upon, Hiragana — the characters representing each spoken syllable, and Katakana — the characters used to spell out foreign words. In written Japanese, all three character systems are used, and in fact, may be mixed together. There are thousands of kanji symbols, and the average, college-educated Japanese person knows almost 3000 of these kanji characters. Just to read a newspaper here, it is estimated that one needs to be able to read about 2000 of the most commonly used kanji.]

Today’s class felt a bit more “humbling” than usual. I have been moved up to the upper class… but probably more because I have been here so long, than any actual ability to converse. The lower class is where all the “newbies” go when they first arrive, and they seem to do the same basic Japanese phrases over and over because… whenever a new person joins the class, those are the things they most need to learn. Things like:

Konnichiwa (hello, good day), Watashi no namae wa _______ desu (my name is ____), Yoroshiku onagaishimasu (nice to meet you), Watashi wa ______ kara kimashita (I am from _____)… etc… etc…

I well know those phrases by now, so they moved me into the next class. Most of the other women in the upper class are from Korea — and the Korean language has many similarities to Japanese, so they have a bit of an advantage over me. The Korean language is also based on the Chinese kanji, so they have that advantage as well. In the lower class are several women from India, one or two from China, and a Taiwanese. The Indian women speak English, but not many of the other class members know much — or any — English. The teachers both speak a little bit of English, but not a lot. I am the only American in the class — there are two spouses from the UK in the company, but neither of them attend the language classes.

If the teachers speak very slowly and clearly (yukkuri, onegaishimasu), I can usually pick up the gist of the conversation in Japanese… but it can be a struggle. Today seemed more frustrating than usual for me. My brain was just not processing the Japanese very well, and after 90 minutes of that, my brain was fried, and just stopped trying. I am sure I probably had that glazed, deer-in-the-headlights look on my face.

But, I WILL persevere. I will keep going to language class, and I will keep studying my Duolingo app every day — I have gotten through all of the Duolingo Japanese lessons now, but I will keep practicing the grammar with (hopefully) more and different vocabulary. And, I will keep studying my textbook, and listening to Japanese TV programs. Eventually… I WILL do this… domo arigato gozaimasu! Ja mata… (until next time…)

Today’s cultural lesson was about the Japanese Tea Ceremony.

If you would like to know more about the Japanese Tea Ceremony, using powdered green tea (matcha), there are many YouTube videos available. This one below is from an NHK TV series that I like to watch.