Sweet Summertime

Summer in Nagoya is both SO enjoyable, but at the same time, not. I’m just going to get the “not enjoyable” part out of the way. The heat! It’s disgusting. Pointless to shower. I will not let guests come to visit during July or August. Okay, I feel better now (plus it’s October so I can start to be less miserable due to the heat). On to the lively, tasty, enjoyable parts of summer in Nagoya!

Matsuri’s (Festivals). I LOVE everything about matsuri’s! (Except for maybe the octopus on a stick). I’m obsessed with my Yukata’s, which I enthusiastically rock img_0125at every chance I’m given, which includes matsuri’s. A Yukata is a cotton summer kimono. I completed my hand-sewn one this past June, so I’ve gotten to wear it a few times this summer! At these matsuri’s, you have most things you’d expect at a festival, but with a Japanese twist of course! Festival food… Karaage (fried chicken), spiral fried potatoes, candied fruit, grilled soba noodles, and most importantly (in my opinion), shaved ice! Man oh man the shaved ice here exceeds any expectations from American shaved ice. It melts in your mouth haha. [It’s ice, so obviously it does, Katie] BUT it’s the fluffy, light, flavor packed, not-too-sugary kind of shaved ice. I have a confession: when I was at the water park for the first time this past summer, I tasted one of the best mango shaved ice I’ve had yet. It was THAT good, that once I finished the whole mango one by myself, 20 mins later I was standing in line to order a chocolate shaved ice. Don’t judge.

One of my first experiences of a Japanese summer matsuri included a typhoon. Last summer, two of my friends invited me to go to the big Gion matsuri in Kyoto, one of the oldest and most famous festivals in the country. The weather forecast called for a chance of a typhoon, but that didn’t scare my friends. We put on our rain boots, grabbed our strongest umbrellas and hopped on the Shinkansen (bullet train) to stay for one night. I soon found myself walking between bus stops in gusts of heavy winds and a downpour of rain following my friends as we ran to shelter. We struggled to keep our umbrellas summer-matsuri-umbrellasfrom not turning inside out as we chaotically jumped on the bus with wind blown hair and soaked clothing. Of course, once on the bus, we observed the usual Japanese women who managed to continue looking polished and put together as the loud drenched foreigners stood at the front causing quite the scene. Another “memory” of that trip was when I was dragging around my rolling suitcase through the bumpy, uneven, over crowded festival streets of Kyoto once the rain let up. I am proud to say I’ve learned how to pack lighter over the past year.

Just a few weeks ago, we attended a matsuri with mechanical puppet floats. Boy do I wish I knew more about the meaning behind traditions like this!

Hanabi (fireworks). Usually occurring at the end of a festival weekend,

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My first hanabi fireworks last summer!

are these amazing firework displays that can last 1-2  hours. The first fireworks I saw I was “ohh-ing” and “awe-ing,” as the quality was as good as a grand finale back home but it was the entire show!

Entertainment: Bon dancing, taiko, and more. Traditional festival dancing around in a circle with graceful steps, turns, waves, and gentle claps. I had the opportunity to learn Bon dancing at a CCEA matsuri this past June. It was so much fun, and relaxing to dance along with others! Taiko is another Japanese tradition which involves beautiful (and expensive) drums, choreography, and thrilling performances. I’ve also had the privilege to try this recently and had a blast! Watch our Matsuri Bon Dancing HERE

Beaches, water parks, protection from the sun. They go all out for beach parties here. Huge speakers blasting rap music (no one understands the swear words so it is acceptable around Japanese children apparently), bring your own grill, tents for shade, and more. Almost like a mini camp site for the day.

My water park experience this past summer was more different from the US than I expected. You must bring your own chairs and rafts to the park, or pay $40+ to purchase an inflatable there. I enjoyed the shallow pools of water to walk through to rinse your feet off after leaving the pool areas before entering bathrooms or the locker room.People protect themselves from the sun and can be found wearing pants, long sleeves and hats in the water. Staying pale is seen as more beautiful here.

Beer gardens. Open usually April-October. Outdoor beer gardens with all you can eat bbq and all you can drink for about 2 hours. A department store near our house has a rooftop beer garden that I dragged my parents to last October when they visited! My first birthday in Japan in 2015, while we were on our home finding trip, was celebrating as a surprise party at a beer garden!

Those are just a few of my favorite things about summer and some memories we’ve made during the hot months here. I’ll try to do better at posting more frequently, gommen ne (sorry!)! Next post will be on our most recent international trip- Malaysia!

Ja Mata, friends.

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On our way to our neighborhood matsuri at Nagoya Castle last summer!

Some delicious spiral potatoes and festival food.

When you see this flag outside of a shop, it means they serve shaved ice!

This is that mango shaved ice I was telling you about…

Outside of the waterpark with my friends Sam, Jacklyn, and Nicole.

With my friends, Amanda & Joy, after surviving the typhoon at the famous Gion Matsuri last summer.

 

 

 

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A beautiful traditional Taiko drum that we got to try out- these types average around $3,000-$10,000 or upwards. 

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Taiko practice where we learned how to play properly and even how to play one full song!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Even Zuki loves Matsuri’s!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The mechanical puppet show float carried by men, as they threw confetti out!

The mechanical puppet show float carried by men, as they threw confetti out!

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Even Zuki loves Matsuri’s!

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Gratitude Through the Growing Pains: Year 1

We’ve officially lived in Japan for 1 year and 3 months now. Wow has the time flown. I want to take some notes and reflect. Not just on the exciting life of ours that’s seen on social media, or all of the amazing places we’ve been, but stuff deeper than that. I’d like to start by saying nothing that I write in this post is meant to brag or seek praise. I’m writing to have something I can look back on, and hopefully inspire someone, somewhere, to keep pushing with GRATITUDE through the growing pains.
Let’s start with the growing pains. They haven’t changed too much since we got here. All that I can change is my attitude towards them.

  • growingpains-3 meals

    How about that time a few weeks after moving here when we “accidentally ordered 3 meals” for the two of us, due to language miscommunication. Please note: this has happened again after 1 year of living here.

    The language. After over a year of private Japanese lessons for 2 hours/week, I’m just now becoming comfortable enough to attempt conversation with someone who doesn’t speak English. I may blank after the 5 sentences that I know, but it’s a step. I’m going to share my umbrella holder story I posted to Facebook last month (so skip over the story if you read it before), only because I can’t remember the details of every language struggle, nor do I want to focus on the struggles. Because, they happen nearly every week at minimum.

It’s rainy season. I ride my bike 45 mins round trip 2x week to teach at the gym. It’s illegal to hold an umbrella while on a bike. I’ve been to 3 stores this week looking for an umbrella holder for my bike.

While at a shop near home today, they said they don’t have any but recommended another shop about a 10 min walk away. The guy helping me spoke broken English, so I asked him to write down the other shop’s name and phone number. I asked him to call and ask in Japanese if they carry the umbrella holders but he was so confused. So finally I just started dialing the number myself. “Hello. I have a question. Do you have an umbrella bike holder,” I asked in Japanese. Then they hung up on me! Maybe I scared them with my accent so I started laughing and telling the worker what happened. Five mins later I pieced the story together… He gave me the shop’s number that I was standing in and HE hung up on me! I was too busy concentrating on my Japanese that I didn’t even see him pick up the phone next to me and hang up 😳🙈🙄those 5 employees got a GOOD laugh today!!!

  • Saying matane (see you later) to friends. As an expat, you have the privilege of meeting people from all over the world. Most of us are many time zones away from our actual families, so these friends become like family and help you through
    Growing pains-Ash goodbye hug

    A matane (see you later) hug to my friend Ashley who moved back to the US a few weeks ago.

    tough times living abroad. In the past few months, we’ve had to say matane to many friends we’ve gotten close to here. It’s quite a revolving door. New people are always arriving, and there are always matane parties. It’s not always easy as you watch them move back to life (usually) in the States. Back to having a house, yard, no more language struggles, then you catch yourself missing them, the rest of your loved ones back home, and suddenly many of the comforts of home.

  • Sweat. People, the amount that I sweat here is ridiculous. I’m the girl who when I lived in the US and finished a tough workout, someone once asked why I wasn’t sweating. Not the case here! I literally drip sweat 12 months out of the year. Some of that is probably due to the fact that I walk a lot, ride the stuffy trains, or bike everywhere that I go. I only wore a long sleeve shirt 5 days this past winter. Five weekends that we were snowboarding in the mountains.

Okay, time for the gratitude and growth. Again, none of this is to brag or look for praise. Here to inspire 🙌🏽

  • Confidence. Probably one of the top ways I’ve grown. I’m sure I have a long way to go, but even Jeremy helps remind me of this growth. Here are some things I’m involved with that have helped me grow in this area, along with the original lies I heard in my head. I had to push hard through these lies at the beginning, but wouldn’t trade these amazing responsibilities for anything now.

-Teaching English: “You aren’t a teacher. Your students won’t learn anything from you. You studied fashion, business, and art in college.”

 

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Fun group shot after a recent intense boot camp class! 

 

-Teaching fitness classes (most are in Japanese): “You have no direct experience (fitness or Japanese).No one will come to your classes. All you have is a certification but have never even done it in the US.”

-President of the Cross Cultural Exchange Association: “You were only a member of the group for 3 months before saying yes to presidency. You’re too busy already. You’re too young. They won’t respect you as a leader, you’re a push over.”

  • Ability to slow down. The Japanese culture has taught me this in many ways. Their appreciation for seasons for one. During cherry blossom season, hundreds of people sit under the trees at parks just having a picnic and enjoying the flowers. They also are always open to a cup of coffee or tea and will pause (no drinking while doing something) to sit down and relax, no matter what they are currently doing.
  • Team player. I considered my self a team player before, but I had never been involved with the Japanese culture. A quick example of this firsthand for me would be after I finish teaching my fitness classes, one or two people will mop the floor. Occasionally they will fight over who gets to mop. Then everyone else stays until the job is finished. I made the mistake of leaving right when I was done teaching the first few months, but now I stay with my team.
  • You can learn something from everyone. Every single person I have met, I try to
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    Friends’ photo from my birthday celebration this past year- I’ve certainly enjoyed getting to know and learn from this group!

    remind myself that I can learn something from them- no matter their age, nationality, or if their beliefs are the same as mine. I’ve learned how to judge less, monitor my outlook, how I don’t want to live, and how to continue growing in my faith just to know a few. I’ve learned through mentors, teachers, bible study groups, friends, and strangers, with spoken and unspoken words.

  • Jeremy. We would be lying if we didn’t tell you that we’ve had numerous “learning moments,” as we like to call them. I can also honestly say that we have grown a lot closer having to rely on each other in our life here, which is
    growing pains- easter with jeremy

    Our Easter this past year was spent visiting another part of Japan- we enjoyed an easter service from our Church back home via online live streaming while sitting in an airbnb kid’s room….

    so so different than back home. I am beyond grateful for him working his butt off everyday at work (I’m still asking him to blog about work 😉 ), so that we have this amazing opportunity to live abroad. His support, encouragement, accountability, and listening ear, have helped me get to where I am today. Since day 1 of our relationship, continuing through here where he still musters up the energy to listen to my hour long pointless story after a long day in the office.

 

I still have challenging moments, hours, or days. But I try not to let the day turn into a personal pity party that lasts a week, month, or year. You can’t control how someone treats you, but you can control how you react. Regardless of where you are right in this moment, I challenge you to also look for gratitude through your growing pains.

Ja mata.

growing pains-hello kitty cafe

Still one of my favorite pictures of us in Japan hahaha… This was taken about a month after moving here and I begged Jeremy to go to the temporary Hello Kitty cafe with me before it closed that next week. He reluctantly went, ate Hello Kitty shaped food, drank Hello Kitty coffee, and put on some random Japanese boys pop band outfit for this picture 🙂

Our Indonesian Episode

Golden Week Holiday April 28- May 8, 2016.

It’s 2:30 am, in a 200 person line, at the Bali airport. “This is chaos!” Jeremy and I said in agreement. We were half asleep and just wanted to get to a bed before our first full day in Indonesia that was to begin at 7 am the next morning. As we were trying to stay positive, Jeremy took out his phone to take a picture to document this chaos. Next thing you know, we have a Balinese security guard running over to us demanding that Jeremy deletes the picture (and delete the “deleted folder”) and then he must inspect his photos. He left us alone once the picture was gone.

We finally made it through the massive line, and were greeted by our driver for the week, on the other side of security. Wi, our driver, was just the laid-back-welcome that we needed at that hour!

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In the middle of the massive Tegalalang Rice Terraces.

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One of the traditional Balinese dancers.

 

Day 1: Off we went with Wi: beginning with traditional Balinese dancing, a temple visit, Tegalalang Rice Terraces in Ubud, waterfall visit, Indonesian woodcarving, painting, and the world famous Luwak Coffee, or “poo coffee” (google “world’s most expensive coffee”). We sustained our energy with a breath-taking lunch overlooking a volcano and all you can eat Indonesian buffet! We hesitantly arrived to our $16/night accommodations for the night in Ubud. This was our first “homestay.” We arrived just as the sun was setting and the wall lizards were starting to come out. A few of these little lizards snuck into our 2nd floor bedroom, and 10 of them said goodbye to us on the ceiling outside of our room as we left for dinner. If you didn’t already know, I’m not the most “outdoorsy” kind of girl. So the whole dinner I spent googling more information about these creatures, that I could perhaps be sharing a bed with that night. Turns out they weren’t going to eat me, and were actually doing good by eating other insects around them. So I decided to nickname them “wall wizards” so they became less intimidating.

Indonesia with Wi

With our very kind and laid-back driver& new friend, Wi.

Day 2: THE best pineapple pancakes and juicy fresh fruit breakfast overlooking Monkey rainforest~ to say we got a steal for $16 that night would be an understatement! We explored the small, culture packed, bustling streets of Ubud. Jeremy was braver than I was, and got a fish foot treatment when the tiny fish eat the dead skin off of your feet! Wi picked us up and took us to our next hotel in Sanur. We enjoyed delicious food at the Sanur night market, and met up with two friends and their 2-year-old son.

Day 3: The day started off with a minor motorbike spill. We survived, are all healed up now, and can laugh about it today. Actually we had to learn to laugh about it that day or it would’ve ruined the trip. If you’d like to hear the full version of the story, just ask. Later that morning, Wi picked us up and we headed to a small turtle island by glass bottom boat, then a famous surfing beach, Uluwatu Temple, and an amazing resort to stop for a light snack and a drink.

Indonesia Rama Garden Retreat

Rama Garden Retreat

Day 4: Ferry to Nusa Lembongan, our first island! This island was SO relaxing and CHILL. The place we stayed was called “Rama Garden Retreat” (Thanks for the rec, Avery’s!) and it was just that: a retreat… ahhh! They had organic/vegan food, which attracted a lot of the islanders who weren’t even staying there. They had a delicious smoothie and juice menu that we couldn’t get enough of! We took bicycles (no more motor bikes for me!) and set up a giant hill to catch the sunset. We were some of the few who didn’t have motor bikes, so it took us almost 3 hours to get to the top of the secluded beach that we were seeking for the sunset. It was totally worth the long and humid trek, and the ride down was a total breeze!

Day 5: Island beach bums, who soon got TOASTED from over-enjoyment of the sun and sand. We finished the night with dinner at our garden retreat, and met a unique and interesting European couple at our open air retreat restaurant who we enjoyed Bintang’s with and closed the place down.Indonesia sunset beach Nusa l

Day 6: Off to the next island, “Gili T,” to kick-back with our friends for a few days! This island is supposedly the “party island” so I almost didn’t want to visit there. It wasn’t as crazy as I expected. Yeah there were no cops, lots of people on drugs, and signs advertising crazy shrooms, but it was easy to avoid all of that craziness. The place we stayed was our “splurge” for the trip- meaning it cost more than $60/night, and better in person than the pictures… loved the prices in this country!

Indonesia drinks Gili T with J and M

Break mid-bike ride around Gili T with our friends from Nagoya, Jeremy & Mai.

Day 7: I’m still dreaming about the breakfast we had at our villa!! We had a relaxing day bike riding around the whole island with our friends, watched another island sunset, and enjoyed some delicious food. Life. Is. Good.

Day 8: Back to mainland, Kuta. Totally different feel than the islands. Very crowded streets, and the only time we felt like we had to be aware of our surroundings on the trip. Lots of touristy shops, and beach goods. The beaches are famous for surfing, so maybe next time! We had some amazing Mexican food for dinner, 3rd time for Mexican that trip. I guess we were missing that and any Western food we could find!

Ja Mata.

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Indonesia jeremy fish feet

Indonesia water crashing on rocks

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Horse drawn taxi- there were no motor vehicles on Gili T!

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Enjoying our favorite breakfast.

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Enjoying my own little retreat at Rama Garden.

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Indonesia daily offering

These unique and eye-catching Canang Hindu offerings were placed outside of a home or business 3 times/day by a female of the household. This is a way of showing gratitude and sacrifice towards their gods. Jeremy and I are so grateful for these opportunities that we are having to see the world and different cultures. This small offering act frequently caught my eye and reminded me to be full of gratitude as well.

My favorite thing to do in Japan

If you’re reading this and live in Nagoya and we’ve ever hung out on the weekend, you know what the answer is. If we are snap chat friends, you definitely know what the answer is. I’ve lost sleep because of this activity. It’s… Karaoke!

Karaoke is a whole different ball game in Japan. I enjoyed occasional karaoke nights with friends during college, but they would be lying if they said they enjoyed hearing me sing. When Jeremy had an audition for our huge church Christmas production back in Cincinnati, I remember a funny moment on the phone with my mom. I was telling her that Jeremy was currently having his audition and she asked if I was trying out too. I replied, “you know who my parents are!” Meaning that my genetics didn’t  exactly gift me with a beautiful voice, no offense mom and dad. My mom responded by saying, “why don’t you lip sync?” That would make for an interesting audition haha (love you, mom)!

  Thankfully, I don’t have to worry about strangers hearing me sing at karaoke here because you have your own private room with your friends! Karaoke places are EVERYWHERE, especially around Nagoya. You choose one, go inside to the check in counter, and decide what package you want. You can sing for 1 hour or until 6 am (I have not made it to 6 am yet!). Some packages offer soft drinks or some are unlimited alcohol. The later probably is not a good choice if you plan to sing until 6 am 😉  

 Then you head with your friends to the room that is yours while singing. You can karaoke by yourself, or with 30 friends! We typically go with between 5-10 friends. Then begins the song selection. There are usually 1-3 small screens that you can pass around to choose your songs. I even have a note on my phone with my karaoke list so I don’t have to try and remember which songs are the most fun to sing each time I go. While the song selection is happening, you can begin singing the moment that you walk in the room. There are usually 2-4 cordless microphones to pass around, along with tambourines and maracas if anyone feels like keeps beat with the music. 

  My favorite moments have been when the energy is so high in the room and everyone is dancing and bellowing out lyrics! Or singing “we all need somebody to lean on…” While standing with arms around each other and swaying to the music. Or that one night my friend and I finished the night singing Sarah McLaughlin “In the Arms of an Angel.” Oh wait, that wasn’t the best decision because it made our moods a little more depressing haha.  

 I enjoy karaoke so much that shortly after we moved here, I had a “goal” to karaoke twice a month. Unfortunately, I haven’t met that goal since we got back from home leave in January. There’s still time to achieve my goal I suppose. Would anyone like to help me with it?

Ja mata, friends!

Limits

Running a full marathon was never one of those things on my list that I really thought I’d accomplish. I can think of a 100 reasons of why I thought that I couldn’t do it/didn’t want to do it. I’ll try to keep it to a few obstacles…

  1. I don’t enjoy running. Honestly, I don’t. I’m not a “runner.”
  2. I have asthma.
  3. I get bored easily, so how on earth would running for 26.2 miles keep me occupied?
  4. I don’t like pain. Actually I’m kind of a baby when it comes to pain. Don’t ask Jeremy how our runs are together.
  5. I don’t have enough time. I’ve managed to book my schedule up pretty well over here.

Now for a few reasons why I paid money to run for that long of a period of time and become a “marathoner”:

  1. I don’t work full time, so in theory, I should have the more time than ever to train.
  2. Nagoya is a beautiful city to explore and run around. No neighborhood is really “unsafe,” so even when I got lost during my 20 mile run, I made it back home in one piece.
  3. A few friends were signing up for the full, so I’d have some company and accountability during months of training.
  4. As I’m getting into fitness coaching and personal training, if someone comes to me and asks for marathon advice or coaching, I want to be able to say “I’ve done it, and you can too.”
  5. Because I didn’t know if I could do it. It would stretch me physically and mentally more than I’ve ever done in one day (race day! and months of training leading up to it).
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Anpanman costume! A famous Japanese character.

These thoughts of mine aren’t meant to sound like I’m bragging. I want to keep track of my time here in Japan and this race was a big commitment and accomplishment that pushed me far beyond my previous limits. Mentally I had to tell myself that I COULD do it from the day that I registered for the marathon to mile 26. I hit a few “walls” during the marathon. I started slowing down around mile 15. Then around mile 22 I told my friend that I had been running with to go ahead without me, I needed to walk and slow it down A LOT. My sister sent me Philippians 4:13 at this perfect time which really helped give me that extra push and reminder that I wasn’t doing it alone. I CAN do all things through Christ who strengthens me. My knees were really starting to hurt me at this point. I managed to walk/jog with about 2 miles left… I was trying to keep moving but it was so difficult. Another blonde girl started running next to me and asked, “so what hurts you?” We chatted for about 60 seconds then she started walking. I was so grateful for the brief distraction. Only 1/2 mile left in the race and I begin to high five everyone I passed to keep my mind distracted. My new friend appeared next to me again and we got to celebrate while crossing the finish line of our first marathon

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Fish cake… I love these things! Not actually fish at all. They’re usually filled with custard or red bean.

together!

This was quite the experience. Not only running a marathon for the first time, but participating in a race in Japan. Jeremy and I ran one half marathon in Cleveland in 2012, so we don’t have a TON of race days to compare it too, but I could definitely see some differences.

During the marathon expo and packet pick up the few days before the race, we went through the usual motions of picking up my race day number/bib and walking through the running expo in the Nagoya dome. We were immediately caught in lines of people everywhere. If I haven’t already mentioned it in previous blogs, Japanese people love standing in lines. They are just so patient. There was a long line to take a picture with bread. And

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Part of the line to take a picture with bread.

another long line to take a picture of a silver platter. We chose to spend our time elsewhere. Like watching the group stretches led by a women on stage. This of course occurred on race day morning again, when thousands of people did the exact same stretch in unison.

During the race, spectators were cheering us on for most of the day. It really was a fun atmosphere! I enjoyed running past traditional Japanese drums and Okinawan-inspired dancers near a shrine. Throughout the race, people were stopping to spray cooling and anti-inflammatory all over their bodies- it stunk so bad and I kept thinking I was inhaling cleaning supplies! Jeremy had endless good pictures of all of the costumes that people wore during the race. Even if you didn’t wear a costume there were so many women with false eyelashes on. The Japanese ALWAYS look put together, even during a marathon apparently.

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See… you literally stand there to take a picture with bread.

Since the race was the Nagoya Women’s Marathon, we crossed the finish line to “Dancing Queen.” Right after crossing the finish line we were handed a little blue Tiffany box that was given to us on a silver platter. Our metal was a Tiffany necklace engraved with, “Go Women 2016.” Then we picked up our shirts- they told me I was a large and yes, it barely fit.

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The creepiest costume that Jeremy caught on camera.

I’m sure everyone who is reading this currently has something that they would like to accomplish in the near future or maybe even farther future. When you believe in yourself, you will accomplish whatever dreams you have- big or small. Limits are self imposed. Accomplish whatever you’d like, but only when you know that the sky is the limit.

Ja mata, friends.

 

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Our cheering section. We knew other friends running the city half and quarter marathon as well, so Jeremy helped gather everyone together at our place. I got to pass them twice during my race and they kept me going. Thank you!!

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This was how I was cheesing anytime I saw a camera. A friend took this picture.

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Great shot of the marathon going down our street and our apartment building is a few blocks down.

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Sakura (cherry blossom) lattes!

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The finish line in the Nagoya dome.

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About to be handed my Tiffany necklace.

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Post marathon with my friends Meg & Silje. With their support through this experience, we all completed our first full marathon!

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Jeremy was constantly supporting me leading up to race day and the whole day long. He even showed up to the finish line with my absolute favorite craft beer- a cold Listermann’s peanut butter porter from Cincinnati. Boy did I enjoy that one! What a husband I have 🙂

7 Differences in the U.S.A.

After sprinting past 22 gates in Detroit, on the moving walkways, with two suitcases, to watch the gate door close for the plane that we were suppose to board to Cleveland, Jeremy shouts “Sumimasen!” We get an unusually hesitant stare from the flight attendant who quickly mumbles, “we haven’t started boarding yet.” Oh yeah, we’re back in America. Time to leave our Japanese behind for three weeks!

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Our second day back with my parents and Jeremy’s parents.  Jeremy’s parents drove from Dayton to Cleveland for the night so they could be at the airport to greet us with my family when we arrived back on American soil 🙂

We had our first trip back to the U.S. back in December. In between lots of quality time catching up with family and friends, meeting a few new babies, celebrating Christmas, New Years, and Jeremy standing by one of his best friends in their wedding, I took a few notes of how different life in the U.S. seemed to be after over 7 months of living in Japan. It sure felt different!

1. All cafes have wifi. When I want to do work outside of my house and need the internet in Japan, I always have to check if the cafe has free wifi. Starbucks, which always has free wifi, was never my first choice coffee shop when we lived in the U.S., but it sure has become my first choice in Japan.

2. No smoking in restaurants… thank goodness! I guess we’ll have to get use to this one when we move back to Kentucky instead of living in Ohio though.

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The lovely wedding party of Niki and Steve Warner. Jeremy is the farthest groomsman on the left. Such a fun celebration on New Years Eve!

3. No need to always carry cash because EVERYWHERE takes credit card! Is this a pro or con, America?

4. My way. I can order food however I’d like! Not only can I ask them for no pickles, no tomatoes, extra cheese, etc., but they also clearly understand every word that I’m speaking! [Bowing was awkwardly included from me this time because it’s now very much a habit].

5. Cleanliness. Definitely does not compare to Nagoya, Japan. 

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Christmas lights with the Watkins’ and Thornburgs!

6. This list wouldn’t be complete without a short comment about eating habits. Man did we forget how large the portion sizes were back in the U.S.! It also didn’t help that we were home during the holidays and both of our family’s know what our favorite foods are. Thanks for keeping our bellies happy though, Mom & Mom S.! A few foods that we overly consumed: Chipotle, CHEESE, Jarlsberg cheese dip (me), turkey, fruit, frozen yogurt, oh, and did I mention cheese?

home Sharps

Celebrating Christmas with the Sharps!

7. The last and best point of difference on this list would be the time with our family and friends. We soaked up every minute with our loved ones, the ones who truly know our hearts, backgrounds, beliefs, how we act when slap happy, jet lagged or hangry. We were so grateful for everyone who welcomed us back with open arms, even if it was a short visit. My parents especially kept their doors open and they were quite revolving doors at that- we had three separate trips in two weeks with the Watkins’. My nieces and nephew have doubled in height and maturity since May, as

home Cincy

Our Cincy crew at one of our favorite breweries in the area.

expected, so I ecstatically embraced as many hugs and tickle wars as I could.

We wish we had more time to relax, explore, eat, catch up, or say “kanpai” to all of those dearest to us back in the U.S. of A. Until next time…

Ja Mata.

 

 

 

home tickles

Told you we had a tickle war….

 

 

 

A Frozen Adventure in China 

We were seeking new traveling adventures in Asia after our home leave over the holidays, and adventure is what we found.Harbin China ice

We had our flights and hotels booked for Harbin, China to experience their famous international  snow and ice festival. Our crew for the trip consisted of two Toyota friends from Europe, another Toyota friend from Cincy, one of my best friends visiting from back home, Jeremy, and myself. Off to Osaka (about a two hour drive from Nagoya) we head on a Friday evening, to fly out on Saturday to Harbin. This was the first time any of us had flown out of Osaka so we went to the airport that Google directed us toward. An hour and half before our flight, we walked in the entrance, but didn’t see our China airline listed anywhere. Apparently, there are two airports in Osaka and the one we needed to be at was over an hour away! The six of us RAN out of there, and our friend from Europe began his duties as a race car driver through traffic. We arrived with 5 mins to spare before check in was closed! Answered prayers!

Harbin J dumplings

The food was delicious!! Jeremy cheesing at a dumpling restaurant- we were surprisingly impressed with the food we ate!

After surviving a taxi ride from the Harbin airport to our hotel, even though they drive on the same of the road as the U.S.,  I decided that I would never ever get behind a wheel in this country. Our driver honked about 50 times during our 45 minute drive, and he wasn’t honking the most!

We enjoyed one of the smaller ice exhibits in town our first evening, and an enormous, authentic, delicious Chinese dinner- a HUGE meal for six people, plus beer, for under $35/¥4000 total!

On Sunday we walked around town while it was light out. We couldn’t stay outside for too long because it was between -5F~-20F/-20C~-30C the whole trip! My eyelashes even had icicles on them at one point!

Harbin Pictures with strangers

Group photo with strangers… I was probably in close to 30 pictures with strangers! They were fascinated by blonde hair and not shy to stare or ask for a picture with us. Very Russian inspired architecture in Harbin.

Sunday afternoon we stood in our hotel lobby negotiating a cab ride so that we could see both big festivals- the snow park and the ice world. Almost a half hour of intense negotiating with little English and lots of hand motions, we found two cab drivers to stay with us and drive us around the whole night. Next stop is the snow and ice festival, or so we thought. We found ourselves on a run down side street where our cab driver motioned Jeremy to go inside an abandoned store front to buy tickets. After six different declined credit cards and not enough cash on hand to buy our tickets, one of our sketchy drivers spotted us $350/ ¥35,000 cash for our tickets! So kind and unexpected! This also secured our confidence that he would not leave us at any point during the night.

Harbin with cab driver

Picture with our kind cab driver who spoke zero English. Also pictured are the crazy matching Chinese-Russian hats that my best friend Susie and I bought!

Once we finally arrived, the festivals exceeded our expectations! It was worth every headache to this point, many more small ones took place along the way. The sculptures were unreal. We entered the snow festival first, and looked like tiny ants when posing next to them for pictures. There was a snow sculpture that was larger than a football field! The ice park felt magical. There were different colored lights that illuminated the ice and made everything look even prettier! We saw many life size castles and buildings that created a real life looking city! I was pretty darn cold though so I had to keep stepping inside to warm up. Like in a Chinese Pizza Hut- it definitely did not taste like Pizza Hut back home.

Harbin 2 girls snow

The girls posing in front of a snow sculpture.

Harbin 1

Bird’s eye view of the magical ice town.

Harbin snow castle

Beautifully lite up ice with a giant snow castle in the distance.

There were giant ice slides to glide down, ice bicycles to ride on a frozen pond, and THE cutest snow foxes that looked like a white fur ball! We would’ve stayed all night if it wasn’t closing at 9 pm, or the fact that we couldn’t feel our toes or fingers anymore. The pictures don’t even do it justice! Another unique, once in a lifetime experience for the books.

Harbin Frozen movie snow

Can’t forget to have Frozen represented in the show!

Thanks, God, for these amazing opportunities that we have on this side of the globe.

Ja mata, friends.

Harbin J Slide

Jeremy livin’ it up on one of the slides!

Harbin J +K

Jeremy and I in front of one of our favorite ice buildings.

 

 

 

 

Harbin group photo

Smiles at the end of the freezing but amazing night… we survived!

Harbin group photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Watkins’ Conquer Japan

airport greeting

Our joy-filled greeting at the airport!

When we were getting ready to move to Nagoya back in the spring, we had some family and friends say that they would love to visit us. My parents were not one of them. I could tell they were a little nervous for the long flight, culture differences, and the food. Well, they missed us a little too much and ended up being our first guests to visit us in October! I asked them to share a few reflections after their trip so here is a brief summary that my mom shared:

“Ah, Japan. WOW. We had a fantastic time.  Of course the most special thing was being with Jeremy and Katie.  They welcomed us into their beautiful, beautiful home.  The next best thing was meeting some of their Japanese friends and some of Jeremy’s co workers.  We felt so special and welcomed when we met all of them.  Each and every one of them were

mom and dad friends

We dragged them to experience a beer garden with some of our friends. They enjoyed it more than we expected!

great!! We had a lot of fun.
If you are following Katie’s blog, you are aware of the differences, but to actually be there and experience them is another story!! Everywhere we went in Japan was very clean.  The only place I saw a can and wrapper was near the main, bustling Nagoya station.  We were much more welcomed by the Japanese people than I thought we would be.  They really respect Americans and loved to look at us. We had our picture taken a few times, asked and unasked.
Ah, Jeremy’s and Katie’s shower is a ROOM and so wonderful to shower in.  It has wind lightly blowing if you want!! Toilets in Japan do not get enough advertisement.  There are the traditional and the western.  Well, we had to experience a Japanese style one in Kyoto. In the Japanese homes though, you turn on the light and the lid opens, you push buttons for radio or flushing sound, and when you flush, the lid comes down and the sink on the back of the toilet turns on!!! Quite impressive.  The seat is heated too.

ramen mom

Cleaned bowls of ramen! My mom probably ate ramen 4 or 5 times while they were here.

We had great meals- lots of Ramen.  I loved it. The places to eat are very different than here.  Of course chopsticks.  Bill did great.  Not me. Katie carried around forks for me. I loved the conveyor belt sushi restaurant, even though I don’t eat fish, the other food is really good. We ate a few meals at Jeremy and Katie’s.  And even though Jeremy was so busy working longer hours, he not only cooked for us but went and bought the food!!  I do want to write more but Katie said keep it short.  Of course most of you know I like to talk a little so this is a little long.  Hopefully Katie’s dad, Bill, will share his thoughts at some point too.”

-My mom, Linda’s, reflections! Might I add, they loved their experience here so much that they are hoping to return again next year! Thank you to everyone who helped welcome them while they were here, and those of you who encouraged them to make the trek across the world to visit.

Ja mata.

mom and dad golden temple

Golden Pavilion in Kyoto.

j and dad osu

Jeremy and my Dad in the middle of Osu Kannon in Nagoya.

family osu

All of us in front of Osu Kannon Temple during a flea market.

To be Fashionable in Japan: Carry a Louis Vuitton… Murse?

It was only a matter of time before this fashion graduate wrote a blog about style. The fashion differs across the country, much like it varies across the U.S.,  so I will give my observations of what is “fashionable” in Nagoya.

Women: Endless options, of course. It’s hard to share just a few highlights in the fashion world here…

-Highly brand oriented. I’ve been told that Nagoya values brand names even more than Tokyo. We have most of the high-end fashion stores here in the city, typically with more than one location, in addition to being sold in the high-end department stores around the city. Chanel, Cartier, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Valentino, Gucci, and Jimmy Choo to name a few.

-Classic. Even if you can’t afford the brand names, the women here (overall) dress very classy. Heels, skirts, and hair perfectly styled day after day. I don’t know how they do it! When it comes to styling my hair, I’m lucky if I leave the house and it’s fully dry! 

This is what my friend’s hair looked like at 5 am on our way to Tokyo. Cute wrapped ponytail! Hair accessories are super popular too.

 -“Cute” is attractive. Most of the women look very classy and put together, but there’s another culture difference that I’ve learned. Being “cute” is actually equivalent to being “sexy”. So middle aged women will be seen in short flippy skirts, possibly even matching their best friend (although more younger women like to match). Commonly, the short flippy skirts are perfectly matching the rest of their designer outfit from head to toe.

Men:

 

This guy is stylin’ with a black and yellow snake print murse on his right shoulder.

 -Murses, murses, murses. AKA “man purse”. The guys with the most feminine looking murses always have the best looking girls on their arms. I’m not talking just a briefcase or satchel. I’m talking a going-out clutch or cross body purse. The more feminine it looks, the better. Oh, and designer name always gets extra points from the ladies too.

-Man-pris. AKA “man capris”. They pair well with the murse. Males of all ages wear these- from toddlers, to adults. 

Here are three dudes who I saw walking last week that thought they all had major swag. Each one has a different style murse.

 Women & Men:

-they love their cartoon-esque keychains! More teens and young adults rock these, but I have seen them worn by all ages as well. Just clip a few keychains, that look like you bought them at Toys-r-us, onto your Louis Vuitton, and you are looking on trend! 

I sometimes spot these stuffed animal keychains.

 There you have it. What the fashionable people of Nagoya are wearing. I’ll also mention that the clothes we had in our closet back home perfectly blend in here as well. Really, you can wear whatever you like and you’ll still fit in. These are just a few differences in Japanese fashion that I wanted to take note of and share!

Well, we’re currently on our way to Tokyo for the auto show and Halloween. I’m sure it’ll be an interesting costume viewing weekend!
Ja mata, friends.

11 Ways School is Different in Japan

Kids are all officially back in school!… I can confidently say that after the overflow on social media of kids cheesing with their new book bags on or holding a sign their mom made saying what grade they’re in and what they want to be when they “grow up”.  The U.S. has a lot of superheroes and princesses coming up in this next generation.

My older sister had requested me to share some differences about schools here in Japan (she’s done a wonderful job raising 5 kids so if anyone is an expert on American school experiences, it’s her). Since I don’t teach in a school here or have kids, I asked a few friends to share their input, one of which was a teacher back home (thank you Allyn, Christy, and Amy!). Their kids go to the international schools here, which still follows some of the typical Japanese school structure. Here are a few of their personal experiences and other ones that I’ve observed:

  1. The school year typically starts in April and ends in March.
  2. Most children begin school at the age of 3, usually 3-4 hour days. Then 5 hours/day from ages 3-6.
  3. At some “pre-schools” or “Yochien” for ages 3-6, the parents pay and can choose what type of environment they want their child in (varying degrees of Montessori, more reading, or writing based, etc.) Kids take a bus to yochien, and it’s often in the shape of an animal!

    yochien bus

    A cat-shaped preschool bus!

  4. At age 6 in most traditional Japanese schools, this is not time for “play” anymore. They begin subject classes for 50 mins/class.
  5. Kids are required to take a hand towel with them everyday to use instead of paper towels or hand dryers (just like adults do in public restrooms).
  6. Safety is enforced at a young age and sometimes feels silly to foreigners- the kids have to raise their hands when they cross the street to make sure cars see them.
  7. When parents pack lunch, no sugary or salty foods are allowed. They are eating a lot healthier (probably why Japanese have the longest life expectancy). Even pretzel sticks fall under the salty category and can’t be packed in lunches.
  8. Kids are taught pride and a sense of belonging by being given responsibilities at school- such as preparing food, or cleaning and janitorial duties. This also helps to eliminate bullying.
  9. Recess can be enjoyed first thing in the morning AND after lunch in some schools.
  10. In traditional Japanese schools, Randoseru is the iconic book bag of elementary students. This book bag averages about $360 (but up to $900!)!
  11. Instead of snow days in Nagoya, they have “typhoon days”.
    Japanese book bag

    The [very expensive] iconic bookbag.

Like I mentioned, these are just observations of my friends’ and mine. Some of these pertain to the international schools in different degrees, and some are more typical for the real Japanese schools. If you happen to be moving to Japan with kids in the near future, it’s probably best to personally talk to people at their schools to learn more. If you’re just curious to learn more about the differences in schools, Google will provide even more information for you!

Ja mata!