Sunday, February 28, 2016

Mukkuru, I Choose You.

There are two things that disappoint me about living in Nagoya: 
  1. As a life-long fan of (Japan-based) Nintendo, my American consoles are not compatible with Japanese games… plus I wouldn’t understand what was going on in those games even if I could play them.  (Yokai Watch looks like SO MUCH FUN. *insert silent emotional cry to the heavens at my misfortune*)
  2. Big city = not so much in the way of wildlife.  Here we have pigeons (idiots of the animal kingdom that do little more than carry disease, IMHO), and crows (unrelenting bullies of the animal kingdom, who are also way too smart to avoid.  They’re like if Skut Farkus had a PhD in ruining your day.)  Also we have cockroaches, street cats, and on a good summer day, cicadas.  But that is the end of the list.  It fits on one hand. BOO.

(I mean, that’s not an exhaustive list of disappointments, but the pros outweigh the cons buy a mile and I’m using this as a introductory point for my blog post so LAY OFF ME, eh?)

I grew up in the States with a strong appreciation for nature - we always had a lush garden in the backyard, and making sure the bird feeders on the porch were full and the bird baths weren’t frozen was never considered an optional item on the to do list.  I volunteered and worked for animal shelters, wild animal rehabilitation centers - and that one summer - a zoo.  I’ve got that whole “accredited dog trainer” notch in my belt.  I have grown accustomed to seeing many critters in my daily life.  

What I’m saying is I need more nature variety in my life here.  

Variety, like what can be found in Pokémon (a Nintendo property.  You see how I brought that all back around?  I know, I’m good.  Just wait, it’s gonna get even better).  I think that the sheer number of different critters is part of the Pokémon series appeal for me.  I got the 1st gen Blue version of the game following an unfortunate high-school bout of appendicitis from a mum who maybe felt guilty after thinking I was faking a stomach ache to get out of church - which quickly legitimized into an emergency appendectomy.   I played the hell out of that game.  Then I got Pokémon Yellow and spent most of the game wishing my Farfetch’d could follow me outside of it’s pokéball like Pikachu did, because my Farfetch’d was a level 98 BAMF.  I traded with friends using that pitiful little link cable, and cursed them out when they’d be jerks and trade me yet ANOTHER level 3 Rattata for a beautiful Sandshrew… though I admit I once named a Magikarp “Bellsprout” and traded it for a Growlithe.  So I’m not saying I’m innocent in all this. 

Hello.  Why yes, I am a 30+ year old adult woman.  ...Ahem.

Somewhere along the line I sort of grew up, which is code for “I couldn’t afford the next-gen hand-held console from Nintendo while in Uni, so by proxy I cannot get the newest Pokemon game.”  Still, walking through any of the “Pokémon Centers” (aka Pokémon branded stores) scattered throughout Japan continues to make my little heart fill will glee.  

hahaha - butts.

So Pokémon and Critters.  I heart them.  Now that there’s context established, the meat of the post arrives:
Today while sitting in my 11th floor apartment, I heard a bird call.  From VERY near me.  I got stupid excited.  It HAD to be calling from the balcony.  I didn’t want to startle it away before I could see it, so I immediately dropped to the floor and slowly army-crawled across my living room to the window, you know, like a sane human being.  I carefully pulled back the curtain, and there it was: a non-pigeon, non-crow, bird.  And it was making fun little bird noises, and I instantly loved it, and wanted to hold it, and hug it, and squeeze it, and pet it, and I would call it George, and it would be mine forever and ever.  

I laid on my stomach next to Bubba (who had also heard the bird-call and was doing that cool cat-chatter thing that cats do when they see birdsand watched the bird for 10 or so minutes.  Then it casually flew away and I committed it’s markings and call to memory so I could zoom over to google and learn:

  1.  Our visitor was a White-Cheeked Starling.  They often travel in large flocks, and they enjoy persimmons.
  2. Nintendo designed a Pokémon based on this very bird named Starly (or in Japanese, ムックル).  Whereupon I lost my darn mind at my good fortune.

You see where I’m going with this, right?  My only next logical course of action is to figure out how to build a bird-feeder that holds persimmons which will lure the birds back to my balcony, and also I need to figure out where in the Nagoya Pokécenter they’re hiding all their pokéballs.  Gotta catch ‘em all.

How do you feel about nature-watching?  
Have you had any successes in Japan?
And who’s your top 6 Pokémon-battling squad?* 
Tell me in the comments!

today’s little language lesson:

Mukkuru-chan, watashi wa anata o erabimasu
Starly (Mukkuru), I choose you!

*I had Arcanine, Blastoise, Gengar, Dewgong, Dragonair (which I never let evolve because I thought Dragonite looked way too stupid), and of course, my Farfetch'd.  In case you were curious.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Changing Seasons & 'Spacial Reasoning'

We had some visitors from some of the North American branches of The Mister’s company this past week.  We offered to go with them on a souvenir shopping mission one night to help with translating.  One of our guests had heard about a specialty Kit Kat Bar that is popular in Japan for Valentines Day - the candies are dyed pink and packed in a cute little box that she thought would be a perfect gift for her neighbor’s little girls.  Except we went out on a mission to find these Kit Kats on the 18th of February - which you might recognize as being 4 days AFTER Valentine’s Day.  If you’re reading this from anywhere other than Japan, you are probably thinking the same thing our visitor thought: Great!  4 days after means those Valentine Kit Kats are going to be on SUPER discount!

But we’ve lived here long enough to know the truth:  Oh no.  Those Valentine KitKats?  They were cleared from the shelves the as the clock struck 12:01AM on February15th. (we ended up finding some Hinamatsuri candy kits instead.)

It’s an interesting phenomenon I realized I’ve gotten used to here.  Seasons are a REAL big deal to Japanese folks, and they revel in not only the celebration of holidays that are seasonal, but also in how those times change over to the next.

The day after Valentine’s Day, the hearts, chocolates, and roses were immediately cleared out to make room for the upcoming seasonal celebrations:  White Day, Hinamatsuri, St. Patty's Day*, and Hanami.
The blossoms are coming. Prepare yourselves for Cherry Blossom Flavored EVERYTHING.
Now, as demonstrated above, I know all of this in my brain.  I logically get what’s going on and why products change over.

Except after Valentine’s day last week, I was walking through the store and came across an aisle that had been entirely emptied - shelves cleared off, end cap tables disassembled, and clearance bins moved off the sales floor.  I guess I hadn’t had enough coffee just yet, because my immediate first reaction was notOh, they’re changing the seasonal stuff over.

No, friends. 
My first reaction was “Holy s---, there must be a category 5 typhoon coming, the people are all buying up the groceries!  IMMEDIATE PANIC MODE.”

Instead of stopping to think that empty aisle used to house heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, or to look and see that all the other aisles were just as they always are, or that no one else seemed particularly perturbed by this latest turn of events, I bought up all the eggs, toilet paper, and dog bones that I could carry.  

I am really good at being prepared for an emergency.  Clearly these are the three things that every household NEEDS when there are no lights, refrigeration or running water available (okay but at least the TP is a legit emergency purchase). 

Long story short, I came home, looked at the news, realized I’m an idiot, and then used the extra eggs to do a bunch of baking.  Also dog bones never go to waste here, so no harm, no foul. 
Dog-bone Jenga. Both his favorite and his least favorite game.

Also if you fail at Panic Mode like me, I recommend an Emergency Preparedness Kit.

What three things (which may or not be actually useful) 
would you grab in an emergency?
Tell me in the comments!

today's little language lesson
dokoni watashi wa shyamuroku no kutsushita o kaimasuka?
Where can I buy Shamrock Socks?
*Daiso.  There are Shamrock Socks at Daiso.

Monday, February 15, 2016


I've got banana muffins in the oven.  

*Ahem* In our tiny little toaster oven.  And they’re gonna taste amazing in about 20 minutes.
(whereupon I will almost certainly burn the roof of my mouth clean off because I am completely incapable of just WAITING for a few moments to have things I take out of the oven cool down.)

A few years back while we were preparing for our time over here, our Japanese teacher in the states gave us the grave warning: bake everything you want to bake now, because baking in Japan is impossible in those little toaster ovens they use.

my first ever batch of Japanese cookies.
If you have followed this little blog for any time, you may remember I lost my ever-loving mind about this.  I really enjoy baking - it's a little bit of zen for me.  Not being able to just kill an hour or so throwing ingredients into a bowl and making something that tastes like home and love and yum; well, that was a big blow to me.

But then we got here.  I got down to business (to defeat the huns. never not a funny joke). And I figured out baking in a toaster oven.  I got pretty darn good at it.  In fact, baking is a bit of a point of pride for me now.  

Because here’s the thing: I need the baking.  I need the thing I’m good at and can feel proud of.  I need the purpose and identity here.

I LOVE going to gatherings with friends and being able to present them with adorable cookies, quirky cakes, brownies, breads, pies, and also that one time I learned how to make an Aussie confectionary called "Lamingtons" which have so much sugar in them I had to brush my teeth mid-bake because I felt fuzzy just from licking the spoon*.  
I love the patience and care I have to take when baking in a toaster oven.  I’m proud of having taken the time to figure out those intricacies through trial and very delicious error.
I love adjusting recipes to best fit the items available to me at the grocery store (there is something about not having to order groceries off of Amazon to have good pies that makes me feel SO awesome.  Like I’m really living here successfully).  

But mostly?  I love how - seriously- GOOD I've gotten at baking.  
The first time I brought food to a party here (maple-ginger cookies with vanilla lime icing), everyone there told me that I needed to sell cookies as a full time gig.  They stole cookies off the platter and hoarded them in pockets and purses to take home.  They told me that there was a definite market even just among the expat community (aka-the foreigners who live in Nagoya), but certainly the Japanese folks in the area would love these confections as well.  All that clamoring over some cookies I made was a big -and much needed- bump to my self worth, and it was also admittedly a tiny seed planted in the back of my head.

I get little comments like that often now.  The women at the YWCA still ask KP2 about the carrot cupcakes I sold at the craft bazaar last fall.  My Japanese teacher’s eyes glaze over in anticipation whenever I show up to my lesson with a little cardboard box.  Plus, I see that while I have the time between miscellany house-wifery and my FINvites gigs to bake a batch of brownies, the typical work day in Japan is 12+ hours.  No one else is able to make the cookies.  And so guys?  Guys, I did a thing.

I’m not looking to be a millionaire, I’m just looking for some pride, purpose, and of course, justification to buy MORE ridiculous cookie cutters. (did I buy a hedgehog cookie cutter yesterday? maaaaaybe…)
I am begging you people for a reason to use this.

What’s something you’ve conquered that you’ve proud of?
Is there something you’ve become good at out of necessity, 
but maybe you wouldn’t have predicted such?  
 Tell me in the comments!

today’s little language lesson
Watashi wa unchi kukkīkattā o hitsuyō to shimasu!
I NEED a poo cookie cutter!

*I made a joke to The Aussies(tm) about how I was surprised everyone in Australia hadn’t all rotted their teeth out eating these Lamington things (which are admittedly delicious, but still) and KP2 was very quick to point out “hey. USA and twinkles."  Touché, KP2.  Touché.

in case you were wondering, they were SO good.
(yes, past tense. they're gone.  order your own!)

Sunday, February 07, 2016

8 Tips for Snow Survival in Sapporo

This past weekend The Mister and I packed onto a plane with The Aussies(TM) and flew up to Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido.  Specifically, we went to Sapporo, for their winter festival.

In the weeks leading up to this amazing trip (quick shout-out to KP2, who planned the whole thing!), we had many conversations around the dinner table with The Aussies(TM), where they would express their excitement at experiencing REAL snow, in REAL quantities, in REAL cold temperatures; all for the first time.  Meanwhile, I hail from a town which much of the US regularly refers to as “The Frozen Tundra.”  So while I can definitely see the appeal and beauty of snow (particularly when it’s sculpted by teams of artists into fantastical beasts!), I became really conscious of not wanting to be *that* person at the table.  You know, that person that’s like:

“ugh, this is nothing special.  allow me to quash your dreams of how fantastical this trip will be by telling you how easy it has been for me to maneuver my previous 31 years of existence in snow.  Why, as a child, I walked to school uphill both ways in ten feet of snow in temperatures approaching absolute zero…”*

You see where I’m going with that.  I wanted them to have the wonder, because snow is super COOL, guys (HA HA puns!)

But then I realized that being *that* person was a far better outcome than how much I may have failed my friends though not just giving them some helpful hints on… you know, how to be in the middle of all that wonder and NOT turn blue.

In tribute to my favorite frozen friends from down under, and for those who may be heading up to Hokkaido themselves for the remainder of the festival, I wish to present:

1.  Layers!
This is the cardinal rule of winter heat-regulation.  I wore nylons and fleece leggings under my jeans.  I wore two pairs of socks.  I wore gloves under my mittens.  The more layers of fabric and air pockets that the cold has to whip through, the better chance you’ll keep the closest layer to you the right temperature.  Note, however, that these layers can’t be constrictive.  Your blood stream takes the heat from your core to wherever it needs to go… unless those socks are too tight and then your piggies are gonna get chilly.

2.  TAKE OFF the layers (brown chicken brown cow), as soon as you go inside! 
At least take off the topmost layers.  If you let yourself start to sweat, as soon as you go back outside you will be colder than you have ever been in your life, because that sweat will freeze.  Next to your skin.

3.  Lotion.  
One of the times I laughed the hardest was while living in Texas:  We had a dusting of snow overnight, and in the morning, I watched a very exasperated meteorologist on KTAB explain to his audience that “snow is what happens when the water in the air gets so cold it freezes.”  
People were confused about that.  
And I just… whatever I guess can’t say I wasn’t confused by Texas’ ridiculous heat waves in the summer, so we’ll call it even.  But okay, the point of that is when the water in the air has been sucked out and made into snow, the moisture in your skin will leech out to replace the water vacancy in the air.  Maybe that is too much.  Let me sum up:
Winter air is DRY, and if you are out in it long enough, your knuckles and lips can crack and bleed from lack of moisture.  Bring lotion.  Apply liberally.

4.  Sunglasses.
The color black absorbs light.
The color white REFLECTs sunlight.  You know how snow is white?  Don’t burn out your retinas staring at the pretty sunlight sparkling off the snow slopes y’all, protect ‘dem peepers!

5.  Plastic Baggies can be your bestie.
I didn’t bring winter boots with me to Japan.  I don’t live in a place where that would be necessary enough times during the year to rationalize finding space to store winter boots in this apartment.  But you know what I do have?  Socks, sneakers, and plastic baggies.
Here’s how that works:
You put on a pair of socks.
You put, over the top of that, a plastic baggie.
Over THAT, you put another pair of socks to hold them in place.
Then you put those tootsies inside your sneakers.
The plastic layer between your socks will keep any snow that gets into your sneaker from getting to your foot.  You stay dry and warm.  Everyone wins.  Parents in my neck of the woods do this for little kids in the winter, and it works.

6.  MITTENS.  
Good lord Japan, where are your MITTENS?  I couldn’t find them in any of Nagoya’s shops (though I will admit I am cheap and refused to check camping stores for ¥4000 mittens)
I know there is a heightened finger functionality (heyo!) when wearing gloves.  But when you wear gloves, each of your fingers is sectioned off to fend for itself.  Have you ever seen those survivalist guides where they tell you if it’s too cold and you’re stranded outside to get naked and huddle together with your group to share the body heat between you?  Same principal for your digits, yo.  Get some mittens, or make them- in fact, I made a pattern (sized to print on A4 paper) and I’ll share it with you for FREE if you click [HERE] (it’ll go to a .pdf on my google drive), and those fleece lap blankets at the dollar store are just the right amount of fabric for a pair or two! 

7.  Use those heater packets sparingly.
Those little heat packs are GREAT if you really need them, but be sure you REALLY need them.  If they make you sweat, you’ll just be WAY colder when you take them out.  And don’t put them directly next to your skin, they’ll get too warm.  Make sure there’s a layer of cloth between you and that little pouch of chemicals.

8.  A note on traction.
Slipping and falling on your tookus is a real possibility in snowy conditions - particularly if you’re at a festival where thousands of people have trampled the snow on the ground to a perfectly flat, shiny surface.  I’m not going to say I’m perfect at this, but I am going to say if you use your brain, you can walk on stuff like this without boots that have bottoms resembling cleats.  Keep your center of gravity low.  Watch where you step.  Go slowly.  Walk on your ENTIRE foot.  You take a tip-toe and it’s over.  And if you fall?  try to go backwards.  More cushion on that end.

Do you have any uncommon tips that I forgot?  
Tell me in the comments!

today’s little language lesson
雪だるま 作ろう?

Yukidaruma Tsukurou?
(I had to.)

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Put it in the mail, and mail it to me.

I just got back from THE post office, where I dropped off my absentee US voter registration so I can contribute my two cents to the nation's decision of who the next leader of the "free world" is.  

I say THE post office because I have a favorite here.  In a country that LOVES sending mail for every occasion, it can seem like you’re never more than a stone’s throw from a post office.  But I.  I will walk 20 minutes out of my way to go to one specific post office.  MY postoffice.  The one that’s technically closest to our apartment, but is the opposite direction from anything else that’s helpful in my day to day shenanigans.

Let’s back up a bit here.  We all know my Japanese is FAR from perfect, and I so I can understand why to many Japanese folk here, I can be a little intimidating to interact with.  And on a whole, I genuinely appreciate the amount of effort that people will put into communicating with me when I need help.  Directing me to a park, or clarifying if the train I’m on is a rapid or a local, or even that one time I needed a whole bunch of help figuring out what to do with dog poop. 

That said, while I can now confidently navigate the ins and outs of necessary conversation, I occasionally miss the “fun” conversation.  You know, the pleasantries one can exchange to add a little flavor throughout a chat.  Something that displays your personality and makes an exchange more than “Noun+Verb?”  “Noun+Verb.” 

But like I said before, I can be an intimidating person to talk to.  It’s rare to find someone who will take that leap with me and try.

Case in point, at the grocery store with the good baking supplies, the cashier is less than pleased with my enthusiasm for his speedy checking skills.

Then there's the post office.  At MY post office, there is one lady who makes sure to wait on me every time I walk through the doors.  At first, I just liked her because I could tell she was excited to work with a foreigner (sometimes you can get that look when you walk up to a register which can only mean “oh sh*t.”)  Then I liked her even more because in my crappy Japanese I asked her to make me a sample of how something should be addressed, and she came out from behind the counter to show me just what to do.  THEN, I started to look forward to our interactions because I could tell she was really striving to find me the best deals on sending things to the states (y’all, it’s not cheap).  

A few weeks ago I got our “Happy New Year!” cards ready to send out (Japanese folk send HNY cards instead of Christmas cards.  I appreciated the deadline extension, so I decided to assimilate to that particular cultural idea).  I dutifully brought them all to my postoffice, addressed just how my favorite post-clerk had shown me.  (Yes, she has a name… but let’s call her H-san for internet sake).  She chatted with me while she figured out postage for each:

“These are going out a bit late for the New Year, you know.”
(Not catching the hint of fun teasing in her voice, I was so ashamed that I immediately threw The Mister under the bus)
“Oh.  Um… yes, I know.  I had to wait for my husband to finish writing his cards out.”
And then she giggled and said: 
“That’s why I’m not married.”

It took me a minute, folks.  But once I realized she was making a joke, I LOST MY MIND.  No one here had made a joke with me yet!  And that was a decent -albeit simply worded so I can understand-JOKE!  I laughed like a hyena on a bender for the next five minutes.  

A day or so later I had to mail a box of cat toys as a thank you to a friend who had let The Mister use her computer to do some Navy stuff while we were home over the holidays, and she had this great gem:
complete with arm "explosion" and "pachow!" sound to make sure I really understood the question

So we’re best friends now is what I’m saying.  Me and H-san.  Who wants a package?

Do you frequent a particular business 
because you dig the employees?  
Tell me about it in the comments!

today's little language lesson:
Kono neko no omocha wa bakuhatsu-seidesu.
this cat toy is explosive.