Monday, August 30, 2010


For me, the last couple of days have been all about vulnerability. Yesterday due to a miscommunication between me and Sanshiro we ended up eating very late and I had a little run in with hypoglycemia. For those of you who don’t really know what hypoglycemia is; Your blood sugar drops below the level necessary for your cells to function correctly. You sweat, you shake, you get dizzy and just when you need it most… your brain stops working. So I decided to order a pizza. I have seen the dominos right down the street from my apartment, there was pizza there, I just had to get them to bring it to me. Now I am smart enough that I know to keep emergency numbers on hand. I have the number for the police (110) and an ambulance (119) but no idea what the number is for dominos. No phone book, no idea how to call information and my brain is slowly losing the ability to reason out the difficult task of ordering pizza. I was hosed. Eventually there was a solution, it involved a weeping call to Shane who works in the office of student services at school (he gives it out for emergencies, which now includes “will you please call dominos in Suginami-ku and order me a pizza”) Together we still couldn’t work out the logistics, but eventually I was saved by some chocolate in the refrigerator and a walk to keep the simple sugar from making my blood sugar swing too high in the opposite direction. My entire retelling of this interlude is to make one point. I am a competent and confident woman, and all of a sudden I couldn’t even order a pizza, It made me realize that I am more vulnerable here than I was at home.

Now my second bout with vulnerability came this evening. My drawing class lets out at 7:30, in Tokyo right now the sun sets at about 6:00 which means I have to commute home after dark. This is fine from school to the bus stop (main road plenty of lights and businesses) and from Shibuya station to Takaido station (packed train but safe enough). The problem comes when I get off the train. My walk home from the train station takes about twenty minutes and it is mostly walking paths and back streets with few or no street lights. Now, Japan has very little street crime, but every time there is a story about a stalker or an attack they plaster it on every news source in the country. It does not engender a feeling of safety when you are dragging your tired ass home from school in the dark. Luckily for me on my way home I pass plenty of people just out strolling. Elderly people, women, high school kids pretty much anybody, so I would guess I am safe enough.

Anyway I am about to wrap up the entire vulnerability theme by exposing one more weakness to you. My first drawing class assignment. It is the last picture. We had to draw our hand. The one on the left we had to draw first without looking at our hand and the one on the right was second and we drew it while looking at our hands so we could add more detail. I am quite pleased with myself that although they both look slightly deformed, they are easily recognizable as hands (as opposed to some random amorphous appendage). They both have four fingers and a thumb and everything.

My other pictures are from my further explorations of Shibuya (yes I have finally worked up the nerve to leave the station and actually look around outside). I have included one picture I took tonight after I got off the bus on my way home from school. Oh, I also seem to have found converse nirvana I did not actually have time to shop there today but I will be going back (Oh, yes…. I will).


Friday, August 27, 2010

Japan feels like...

I have been wandering around for days with a sense of de ja vu, trying to figure out what is so familiar about being in Japan. Yesterday I finally got it. Being in Japan is like camping. Everything is smaller and there is never enough ice.

Right now I could write an ode to ice, my declaration of eternal love for frozen water. There are roughly 8 billion convenience stores in Japan and not one of them serves fountain drinks. I don’t know if it is energy conservation or a cultural bias but Japan is a pitifully ice poor country (really, someone should have a telethon). We do have two ice trays in the freezer in our apartment, each one makes eight 1cm cubes, just enough to tease you but it never really puts out.

The kitchen is also reminiscent of camping. It consists of two stove burners and an easy-bake oven. Luckily on the upside, you can buy delicious, beautiful and healthy food anywhere in Japan. You can get good restaurant quality food at any convenience store, grocery store or little hole in the wall food stand you see, and trust me you see a lot of them.

Well, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, let me tell you about Akihabara. I bravely struck out on my own to buy a printer in Akihabara. For those of you who don’t know, Akihabara is the center of the universe for electronics. Three times a day gadget geeks drop to their knees and bow to Akihabara. I had to change trains twice, once in Meidaimae and once in Shinjuku. I have mentioned the size of Shibuya station twice now, Shinjuku station could eat Shibuya station and still have room for one or two one line stations for dessert. I have no Idea how many separate train lines meet at Shinjuku, but if you get on the wrong train there you could possibly end up in Europe. I am also pretty sure I caught sight of a Minotaur while I was switching trains.

I made it to Akihabara and it scared the hell out of me. First of all electronics are not my strong suit, luckily I married an Uber geek. The problem was that my Uber geek is currently on the other side of the planet. Going to Akihabara by myself is like someone on a learner’s permit being dropped directly into formula one racing. So I left the train station crossed the street with about a thousand salary men (a sea of guys in dark pants and white shirts and dark ties, It’s fun you get to pretend you’re in the matrix) and practically ran into the nearest department store that had a Duty Free sign outside. Duty Free means tourists and tourists means sales guys that know English. My survival Japanese is good enough for everyday, it is not good enough, however, to explain the compatibility problems I am afraid of having if I buy the wrong printer. It was touch and go there for awhile though, his English was about as good as my Japanese, between the two of us we were able to hook me up with a Canon ip100. It is awesome. It does photo printing and regular printing, and it only weighs about 4lbs, and I bought it all by myself (I’m so proud of it).

I will post again soon.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

So I wrote a few days ago about how I got lost in Shibuya station. So I thought I would give you guys a little visual confirmation that yes Shibuya Station is a monster. The first three pictures are different parts of the station, the next two pictures are outside the station and the last picture I took while I was strap hanging on my way home from school.(oops, I reversed them. Work from the bottom up.)

I cannot take any pictures on the way to school because I have been riding the train to school during rush hour and my train is pretty packed. If I lower my hands enough to dig through my purse for my camera, I am afraid I will either end up engaged or arrested. Speaking of engaged or arrested I have an air conditioner in my room now. I know you’re thinking “What the hell is she talking about” but if I had been here when the guy came to install it, I would have kissed him right on the mouth (I’m pretty sure that would have ended badly).

So, topic shift. One of my new friends at school has begun a geometric diet. Yesterday during lunch I asked him what he was eating and he stared intently first at the outside of the pouch in his hand and then into the pouch at the food and his response was “cubes”. Yes, it is difficult to choose food when you can’t read the packages (there was a picture of a mango on the bag, so I’m pretty sure he was safe). Soon, after Marc feels more confident, he intends to round out his diet with spheres (arghh! Bad Liz). He has stated, however, that he will avoid trapezoids (possible dietary restrictions?)

I finally got to actually register for this semester’s classes today. I had to take a step backward in my Japanese class (I am retaking Intermediate 2) since my last Japanese class ended, 8 months ago, I managed to forget transitive and intransitive verbs and humble forms. I also had to go into a basic kanji class because I got lazy and stopped writing kanji out by hand. Lately I have only been writing Japanese on the computer, where you get a nice pull down menu that lets you choose the correct kanji from a list (yes writing Japanese on the computer is like one big multiple choice test.) The big shocker, though, is that I decided to take a beginner’s drawing class. For all of you that have had Biology with me and are now laughing your asses off, don’t be mean. Just because everything I sketched in lab, from cells to angiosperms, ended up looking like amoebas, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try.

I miss you guys. Drop me a response and let me know that you’re still there.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


So… I would like to write a post about all of the interesting things I am learning about living in Japan…but I can’t. The reason that I can’t is because it is so fucking hot right now that the only thing my brain is capable of processing is, how fucking hot it is. The air conditioner in the apartment that I am staying in broke down shortly before I arrived. It will be fixed in a few more days but by then I will have turned into a large pot roast.

My room faces the (oh shit, I have no sense of direction) let’s just say whichever direction it faces the sun is directly outside of my window for about 20 hours a day. My room is an oven … with a fan … which makes my room a convection oven. I want to leave and go somewhere with air conditioning but then I would have to take the 20 minute walk to the train station in the direct sunlight and I am pretty sure that I would spontaneously combust as soon as I stepped out of the lobby.
So I am laying here in my undies, sweat gluing me to my futon, trying to drink enough water to stave off the d-words (dehydration, delirium, death and damnation) managing to survive by clinging desperately to the knowledge that in about 3 more hours the sun will set and I will be free to wander out in search of an air conditioned haven, preferably one that serves frozen treats in the shape of cute little animals. One of my favorite things about Japan so far is the staggering number of things that come in the shape of cute little animals.

Soon children I will regale you with stories full of excitement and adventure but for now can anyone give me directions on doing a rain dance (can I do it alone, do I need a tribe, how big of a space needs to be sanctified, etc…)

Sweatily yours,

Friday, August 20, 2010

Jet Lag, Emotional Instability and Getting Lost

Yesterday Chiemi and I went to the Ward Office and filled out the paperwork for my Alien Registration Card and National Health Insurance. I was so happy to be out and about in Tokyo that it did not occur to me that I had gotten almost no sleep for about 2 days and walking around in the middle of the day in the heat and humidity might not be wise. No surprise that I started to feel dizzy and disoriented. I really wanted to go shopping after we left the Ward Office so I tried to muscle through. Bad move, really bad move. About 20 minutes into shopping, I started to get nauseous. I asked Chiemi if we could go back to the apartment and we walked back to the bus stop and took the bus back to our neighborhood and walked from the bus stop back to our apartment. In other words I needed to be off my feet as soon as possible and as soon as possible was about a mile of walking and twenty minutes on a hot bus.
The exhaustion had hit me like a ton of bricks and I completely lost control of my emotions. I bit my lip and tried not to cry on the way back to the apartment but as soon as I got through the lobby door, I started to sob. I scared poor Chiemi to death. Sobbing and gasping for breath I keep saying "I'm fine" in broken, barely coherent Japanese. We came upstairs and I immediately collapsed in my room and slept for about three hours. After I woke up I apologized to Chiemi and told her it was just the jet lag but I am pretty sure she did not take her eyes off of me for the rest of the evening (I think she thought I would take the first chance I got to throw myself off the balcony.)
I managed to get another 5 hours of sleep last night and woke up as a coherent human being again. It is a good thing too because today I took the train by myself for the first time. The good news is I only got lost once. The bad news is I got lost Inside the Shibuya train station and it still took me an hour to figure out where I needed to go. Shibuya is the neighborhood in Tokyo that most people picture when they think of Japan. Huge buildings, huge video billboards and as I found out the hard way a Huge train station.
It happened when I was coming back from the first day of school orientation. The scary part about orientation was that even after all the hoops I had to jump through to get here, the five hours of bad power point presentations made me think I should have stayed home and gotten and real estate license instead. The only good thing about orientation is that I made some new friends (check out the picture).
The other pictures are of my favorite part of my commute. I cut through the grounds of a Shinto shrine to get to my train station. How cool is that!

I think I am going to like it here.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Getting There is Half the Fun

It is almost 2 am Tokyo time. I have been attempting to sleep for the last 4 hours and having very little luck. When I drug my sorry self of the plane at Narita airport, I had only managed to cat nap once or twice during the entire flight and I felt that I could have laid down on the baggage carrousel and slept for about 20 hours strait. Now I wish that I had.

My last 27 hours went something like this. Dave gets me to the security cut off point at Dulles airport and stares longingly into my velvet eyes and crushes me to his manly chest and kisses me deeply and pushes me toward security at 10:30 am VA time (we may have been wearing trench coats and hats, I can’t quite remember). I enter the Dulles airport dimensional warp and travel the 122 miles to my gate where I stare at the various perfume stores and saturated fat stands that are the only source of hygiene and sustenance for the poor lost souls who are currently trapped in this travel dystopia. After what I assumed was most of a decade, but was in fact about 2 hours, my plane boarded on time and took off at 1:00 pm VA time on the 17th.

I have to side track here for a moment and tell you about a misconception I had about my flight to Tokyo. I assumed that most of the people on the plane would be Japanese and would be going to Tokyo. I was dead wrong. It turns out that no matter where you want to go in Asia, you will at some point in your trip have to stop at Narita airport. So in a plane that held roughly 300 people, only about 20 of us were actually staying in Japan.

Ok, back to the time line. The flight took 13 and ½ hours , during which we were fed one small meal that came in 5 parts and I watched “Ratatouille” once in English with Chinese subtitles and twice in Japanese also with Chinese subtitles. I slept for about an hour in ten minute increments and spent the rest of my time staring out the window amazed that it never started to get dark (yes, I am an idiot) we landed at Narita at 3:30 pm Japan time on the 18th.

I went through immigration and customs, where they took digital finger prints, mug shot, retinal scan and a DNA sample. I exchanged my dollars for Yen, arranged to ship my suitcases to my Tokyo address and bought a bus ticket to the hotel where Temple was having their meet and greet. All of this took about an hour and the bus ride itself took 2 hours.

So at 6:30 Tokyo time I arrived at the hotel. Sticky, greasy, disgusting and so exhausted that I had forgotten most of my first language, let alone my second one (oh and I hadn’t had a cigarette in about 17 hours). I met Sanshirou Yamanaka san who is in my host family and we proceeded to the Tokyo subway to finish my journey to my new home. Tokyo is awesome, it is just what I expected but right now it is also hot and incredibly humid (rush hour, train, Tokyo, hot, humid you do the math). We made it to the apartment in about an hour and a half, where we met Chiemi Yamanaka San, Sanshirou’s wife (They are both very nice and a lot of fun to hang out with, I am optimistic about our time together) The apartment is very small (normal size for Tokyo) and the air conditioner is not working. So we walked out a couple of blocks and had dinner out. We made it back here at about 9:30 and I got ready for bed. I have been wide awake ever since.

Well hopefully this interlude has worn me out. I am going to take another shot at the futon and post this tomorrow with some pictures of my new digs.

Kisses - Liz

Monday, August 16, 2010

I Have Learned I Can't Pack and Write at the Same Time

I have started my second post more than once and I keep getting pulled away to do things like pack, collect legal documents and soak in the last bits of love and physical affection I will get with my family for awhile.
Fear not. Fourteen hours on a plane should allow me plenty of time for my next post.
Until then keep your fingers crossed for good weather and an excellent pilot.


Friday, August 13, 2010

Almost Time to Drop My Pudgie Ass Down the Rabbit Hole!


1. An unprincipled, deceitful, and unreliable person; a scoundrel or rascal.
2. One who is playfully mischievous; a scamp.
3. A wandering beggar; a vagrant.
4. A vicious and solitary animal, especially an elephant that has separated itself from its herd.
5. An organism, especially a plant, that shows an undesirable variation from a standard.


1. Vicious and solitary. Used of an animal, especially an elephant.
2. Large, destructive, and anomalous or unpredictable: a rogue wave; a rogue tornado.
3. Operating outside normal or desirable controls

I included the entire definition but the first person who makes a large mammal joke goes on my list.

First I need to give you some truth in advertising. If you went searching for the words: coed, Japanese or housewife, with porn in mind you got sent to the wrong place. I am in a sickeningly happy marriage and in three days I will be flying to Tokyo to pursue my Japanese degree, alone (thus I will not be throwing you or anyone else a bone). The good news is, the other billion sites summoned up by those keywords will almost certainly have enough naked Japanese coeds or housewives to satisfy any lonely geek with a hand free to work the mouse (it only takes one).

Now a quick rundown on me and this blog. My name is Liz. I am a wife, a mother, a college student, a source of constant confusion to most of my relatives, and a source of amusement to most of my friends... I'm pretty sure I just irritate strangers. I would like to tell you my age but my strict religious beliefs don't allow it. My strict religious beliefs also require me to nap liberally and read copious amounts of smutty fanfiction. If you have a problem with any of my religious beliefs, I suggest you start your own religion and challenge me to a holy war.

My husband Dave and I have been married for 15 years (I was a child bride, he lured me down the aisle with stuffed animals and candy), and 9 years ago we somehow managed to make our amazing son Morgan out of some spare gametes we had lying around. Dave's job title is "His Lord Highness King of all Computer Geeks" and Morgan has no title as of yet but I am leaning toward "Head of the Chaos and Mayhem Administration".

My title is a bit trickier. First it was "Housewife", then it became "Stay at Home Mom", later it evolved into "Stay at Home Mom / Student". Now if I were capable of doing things the easy way, my next title should have been "Career Mom with a Marketable Degree". I am incapable of doing things the easy way. Given two paths, one well paved and lined with flowers and one a barely visible dirt track through the underbrush, I will ignore them both jump the 8 foot fence next to me, tear myself up on the razor-wire and try to book across the landscape before the velociraptors get me. So my new title is "Stay in Tokyo Mom Who Decided Japanese was the Only Interesting Major".

I spent the last 3 years or so grinding out my Associates Degree and trying to get accepted to a college in Japan where I could perfect my speaking and finish my degree (sometime during that 3 years I also had to convince Dave that being a single parent for two years would be fun, and convince my Mom that becoming semi-retired so she could be "Stay at Home Gramma" would be fun, Dave and my Mom either love me more than I deserve or they are incredibly gullible). After all the sacrifices (health, sex, sleep, small animals...the small animal sacrifice may be a hallucination brought on by poor health and lack of sex and sleep)I was accepted to Temple University Japan. My problems were over. All I had to do then was convince the Japanese Government that I was independently wealthy and had never done anything in my entire life that could be considered vaguely interesting (I will not comment on the possible gullibility of the Japanese Government as they can pull my hard won visa at will).

Now the only thing between me and penultimate goal (getting there was hard enough, but I still actually have to go to classes and get the damn degree.) is 3 days and a fourteen-hour plane ride. I have tried to condense my journey to this point into one post. My continuing journey will be posted here for my family and friends and anyone who happens to stumble in and get stuck.

My next post will be partially based on a suggestion from my friend Tara. It will be titled "How I fit my life into two suitcases and a carry-on bag"