The Very First Christmas Abroad!

Well, it finally happened. This year, I ended up staying in Japan instead of going home. I expected that I’d feel homesick, that maybe I’d even feel like a terrible person for missing out on family time.

I have a confession to make: I felt NONE OF THAT NONSENSE. God, the amount of stress relief was amazing. No getting up at the crack of dawn to travel down to Narita. No crying babies for hours on a fourteen hour flight. No running to catch my stupid connection through a busy airport only to wait two hours for the next one. No traveling all over the country after I get to the U.S.A. because my family lives in separate states. No one bitching at me to come home instead of “living so far away.” Repeat process in reverse to get back to Japan and add in some really awful TSA groping at some point in Chicago O’Hare (aka the pit stain of airports). I love my family and friends, but being able to take a break from the Christmas madness was awesome.

Because I didn’t go home, I actually got to go the winter closing ceremony at Hinode Junior High School. At first, the students came inside the gymnasium, shaking and shivering while saying, “Samuiiiiiiii! (It’s cold!)” They divided into columns within their own year, dressed properly in their school uniforms. The boys were lucky because they got to wear suits, long sleeves and long pants. The girls wore long sleeves and long skirts, which exposed skin to the cold.

It was so cold they could see their breath crystallize in the air. The teachers all stood there, shivering like crazy, but trying to put on a brave face. Shouldering onward, the ceremony began with students standing up to bow before their vice principal and principal. I lazily sing the school’s theme song (I never remember the whole thing, so sue me). I stood in the back, pretending to pay attention, but my eye keeps drifting over to the one heater that reluctantly blazed into the huge, open two story tall building. The heater was pretty usless since it didn’t affect anything but perhaps two feet in front of it. The cord was only a foot long, so the heater stayed close to the wall, far away from all of us freezing humans.

I can’t count how many times I’ve heard ex-pats in Japan complain about the lack of central heating and air in schools. Strangely, no air conditioning doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal. Instead, foreigners bear a grudge against the Japanese anti-heating culture. It’s as if somehow being warm is a luxurious idea instead of a basic package deal with any school building in Japan.

In America, if a school didn’t have central heating in the winter, we canceled school (or at least they did in Kentucky). American parents would pitch an almighty fit if their children were forced to sit in freezing conditions like my Japanese students did that day. I can imagine the phone lines ringing off the hook for hours, just complaints after complaints. “How dare you make my child  sit there for a whole hour in the cold? That’s child abuse!” And other things like that.

Here in Japan, parents are fine with it. There is still a tough love is the best love mentality here when it comes to things like that. Most of my teachers think that central heating systems are “too expensive” and “frivolous.” They talk about central heating like it’s some kind of constantly running, energy depleting demon that cannot be stopped once the on button is pressed. I’m fairly certain they’ve been lied to by the construction companies, or the construction companies are awful. Either way, there’s a severe misunderstanding on their part about how central heating works.

Anyway, since I didn’t go home I was also able to go to the end of the year parties (bonenkai) with some friends associated with YES Eikaiwa, an English school that’s just down my street. We ate at a Chinese restaurant, where we sang Christmas songs and did a Santa Swap.


YES Eikaiwa Party!

I ended up winning some bath salts, which are amazing. I don’t know where they’re from, but they make my skin nice and pretty.


And of course, I got to do Christmas lessons. The students this year did songs and activities. The first years (7th grade for you Americans) got to make 3D Christmas cards. Some of them were really pretty!

ImageImageMy base school also had a bonenkai, which involved a buffet of Japanese food, BINGO Santa Swap, and some other games.

ImageThe BINGO game was fun. You could choose from a huge pile of presents when you won. I ended up choosing some fancy chocolates. I found that funny considering I gave chocolates as my gift. One of the teachers had this strange random number gadget that he would press for the next number. It kept doing old numbers over and over again, so all the teachers gave him a hard time.

ImageAfter the first round was over, we all went to the second round of the party (nijikai). We went to a karaoke place to sing and drink, which is par for the course of a nijikai. The party didn’t go onto a third round (sanjikai) because many teachers were also coaches that had games the next day.

Usually, people who are deeply liked, respected, and/or higher in rank are invited to the next party. If you’re just a part timer or the youngest of the bunch, it’s not uncommon to not be invited to the second or third rounds. For ALTs, it depends on the school if you get invited to the bonenkai or not. Some do, some don’t. Both of mine do, because they know I will sing Lady Gaga like no one’s business.

For Christmas Day, I went over to my friend Cameron’s house in Toride. She served some delicious chicken, salad, and some wonderful stuffing.


I forgot to take a picture of the food, so here’s Cameron’s pretty tree instead.

We had red velvet cupcakes for dessert.


Be jealous!

In between this time, I visited other friends in Japan, getting in touch with them again and having a blast. I remembered my family fondly, recalling all the times I’d gone to my grandmother’s house packed full of my father’s side of the family. All my aunts and uncles catching with up everyone about what’s going on and what everyone’s planning to do. The people in my age range talked among ourselves for the most part, my brother and I swapping stories and inside jokes. However, I didn’t really feel like I was missing out. I knew I’d be there again someday in the future, and I sent them my love from Japan.

New Years Eve I went to Tokyo. My friend Candice and I went to a couple of clubs and danced the night away. I got to see the sunrise on January 1st, 2014 in Roppongi.  Image


ImageA few days later, I went with some friends to the Kashima Shrine (Kashimajingu). I did go there on New Years Day about two years ago and it was a madhouse! This year I ended up going later, but guess what? It was still a madhouse!

New years and Beyond! 050

GAH! I can’t move!

We purified our hands before going inside and getting our fortunes for the new year (the year of the horse, by the way).

This is where people line up to wash their hands and gargle (NOT DRINK) the water.

This is where people line up to wash their hands and gargle (NOT DRINK) the water.

Turns out that for at least a week local shrines are packed full of people buying things for the New Year, such as good luck charms and fortunes. People will also burn certain items as offerings to the god(s) of the shrine and might get themselves purified within the shrine in the spring. The spring, by the way, is freezing cold, but it’s supposed to give you long life and good health so people go in for a dip. You can take a drink from a running spring in the back of the shrine, too, which is also for good health and longevity.

I did neither of those things because I would rather not be colder than I already am. Besides, my fortune was the top ranking, you can do anything you want this year congratulations kind of fortune.

Whoo-hoo! I won the luck lottery! Now if I could just win the real one...

Whoo-hoo! I won the luck lottery! Now if I could just win the real one…

These fortunes are fun little things that supposedly tell you what you’re supposed to do this year to get what you want out of life. If you get a bad one, most people tie them to trees or a standing wire board provided by the shrine so you can expel the bad luck.

I took mine and put it in my wallet. Putting good fortunes in your wallet is believed to bring you more money. It’s only good for one year, so once the year is over, you have to take it out, or so I’ve been told.

All in all, I was very pleased with my first Christmas away from home. It was a nice change of pace, and really did make me feel more at ease than trying so hard to get back. I think I will go home next year for sure, though, because Christmas really means a lot to my family.

Happy 2014 everyone! Let’s make it EPIC!

How to Clean and Store Your Kerosene Heater

Please remember! A clean heater is a safe heater 😀

Ishikawa JET

Companion piece to “How to Use a Kerosene Heater.”

As the weather warms up, you’ll eventually need to clean out and store your kerosene heater for the spring. These instructions are translated from my Dainichi Blue Heater instruction manual, but they’re general enough to use for any fan-heater style kerosene heater.Read on for heater maintenance and spring-cleaning instructions!

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Share Your Christmas! For Tohoku Children in Need

During this season of giving, I want to ask for those people living in Japan to help the children of the Tohoku region. A wonderful little charity called Share Your Christmas is collecting children’s toys and other items to give them. The event lasts from December 21st to January 31st. All you have to do is send a present of your choice to:

Share your Christmas
c/o Jeffrey Jousan
Katsuragi Nesaki 45-1
Tsukuba, Ibaraki 305-0824

Please wrap your present in clear wrapping paper so they can know whether to send it to a boy or girl.

For more information see
the website:
or the Facebook page:

Thank you and Merry Christmas/ Happy Holidays!



How to Piss off This Foreigner in Japan: Results Guranteed in Ten Seconds or Less

Let me set the scene: Lunchtime, sitting with two Japanese teachers and one school nurse. I sit there, munching away at my food, listening to the conversation with little initiative to pipe in. I usually eat lunch with the kids, but most of them are off at sports tournaments so I just decide to eat lunch with the teachers.

Lady Japanese teacher speaks to me with food in her mouth, “Jessica, ahadkjdksjknnkfnn.”

Say what? Was that even Japanese? Dear Jesus, gross. “Uh, hai?” So confused.

School nurse proceeds to try and help. “Ano, tsugi ga…nashi?”

Next nothing? What is she talking about? Next class nothing? Next day nothing? I stare blankly at her confounded.

Abruptly she bursts into laughter and shouts, “Eigo wakanai!” I don’t understand English!

I sigh. I was going to tell her to just go slower, but then she does the thing I hate the most.

School nurse turns to another teacher and asks, “M-sensei….?”

Male teacher shakes his head profusely, “Zen zen.” I don’t know English either.

They proceed to laugh and have a conversation right in fucking front of me about their lack of English ability and my lacking Japanese skills. I breathed in and out, deciding I’m just going to sulk (which I know logically is the wrong reaction, but fuck it), and tune out the rest of the conversation.

I don’t know about other expats, but certain things really piss me off when it comes to how some Japanese people try to talk with me. Here’s a top ten list:

#10: Food Talking

Be it food or gum or some kind of breath mint, if someone tries to speak to me with garbled Japanese it gets ten times harder for me to understand someone. One time, some Japanese guy tried to talk to me while slurping ramen, and all I could think was, ‘Seriously? Seriously?” 

Not only that but it’s super rude to me when it’s food. I don’t want to talk when there’s stuff spitting out of your pie hole. Chew, swallow, and then talk to me. It’s common courtesy and it prevents murder, as in from me wanting to murder you.

#9: Giving Up

Now, I’m not talking like if we’ve been attempting communication for the past hour and can’t get anywhere, I’m talking like a sentence and then utter shut down. It took seconds for the people in the above situation to decide that they couldn’t talk to me and just gave the fuck up.

#8: Calling Me “Gaijin-sama”

This is just a pet peeve of mine. A literal translation would be something like “Miss/Mr. Alien” and that’s what I think every time I hear it. I know it’s supposed to a formal “Miss Foreign Lady” kind of idea, but that still seems really strange to me. Instead, call me by my name or “gaikokujin” or literally anything else.

Hell, I’ll even accept, “Heeeeeey, sexy lady!” (Sidebar: PSY made this a thing. I can’t go a month without this getting shouted at me by some guy.)

#7: Stereotype Anger

I get this more often than I’d like. People get to know me and they’re somehow surprised I’m not a gun loving redneck who thinks A’murica is the greatest nation on the planet. I’m actually a chocolate loving dork with redneck tendencies who loves America but knows it’s quite a flawed place. I’ll forgive the annoying but understandable, “You don’t look like an American.” which makes me sigh often, but that I can blame on Hollywood and bottle blondes.

I can’t readily forgive, “You really don’t act like an American. You should try and be a little bit more (insert something ridiculously stereotypical here).”Or getting mad when I do something completely “un-American.”

Look, I’m a human being. I’m not a stereotype. I’m a living breathing sentient person who has her own ideas, thoughts, and feelings. I’m sorry if that doesn’t fit into your idea of how I “should” be, but screw you. I like who I am (most days), so get used to it.

#6: Expecting Me to Know You When We Met ONCE

Guess what? Don’t expect me to remember you from that one encounter at the grocery store. I get that we might’ve had a fun conversation a month ago, but unless we got attacked my mutant velociraptors together I’m simply not going to remember who you are.

I realize it’s easier to remember me. I’m the only (obviously) foreign woman living in this town. I get that seeing me makes you excited and that you’re super happy that you can talk to me again. I can’t say that meeting yet another person who is fascinated is a new thing. It happens all the time.

#5: Speaking Louder to be Understood

This problem is very common. People will see my confused face, and instead of going slower (which is infinitely more useful tactic), I get someone suddenly yelling at me like I’ve insulted their honor.The worst “conversations” I’ve had involved people yelling information at me with their dial turned up to eleven and continuing to do so even when I’m speaking at a normal level.

This annoyance makes my ears ring, which makes it harder to understand what you’re saying, and thus it makes me unable to communicate with you.

#4: Complimenting Me on Easily Accomplished Tasks

Nearly every expat could share my pain for this unfortunately reoccurring scenario, “Wow! You’re so good with chopsticks!”

Yes, I’m also very good at brushing my teeth but let’s not comment on it, please and thanks.

Using chopsticks is not rocket science. Also, neither is saying “Arigatou (thanks)” or “Dooitashimashite (You’re welcome).” That doesn’t make me, “So good at Japanese!” that makes me able to look up a video on YouTube. Seriously, I don’t need to be encouraged like a five year old.

When you see me defend the school from ninjas, feel free to compliment until you lack air. Until then, I’m good.

#3: Pretending I’m Not There

Sometimes the previously mentioned lunch scenario gets worse, with people talking about me and what I’m doing right in front of me like I don’t exist. It makes my eye twitch.

#2: Running Away from Me

I’ve had this happen to me usually around where I live. I walk into a store and the sales ladies get nervous and suddenly disappear. I have to end up tracking someone down to ask them a simple question and they look so terrified when I do.

I’m not going to eat you, you daft woman! I just need this in a different size!

#1: Telling Me I Shouldn’t Live In Japan

I get so many people asking me if racism exists in Japan. The answer to that in a simple way is yes, because racism exists literally everywhere, all over the planet. Every single country is dealing with prejudice issues in some way. The more complicated answer is that the racism here in Japan is often under reported, discussed, and usually just gets avoided as an issue altogether.

There are subtle racist problems that I’ve dealt with here and there, but everything I’ve been through doesn’t compare to friends of mine. They’ve been harassed by the police, spat on, and one man I knew in Tokyo did in fact get punched in the face because he “looked too black” at a club.

My main racist issue that’s very overt and hurtful is when a Japanese person tells me, “Oh, you can’t live in Japan forever.” or “If you live in Japan, you won’t be happy. Go back to America.”

Yes, actually, I could live in Japan if I wanted to and I do think that I’d be very happy living in Japan. It’s not a perfect country, but it’s full of cultural wonders that I deeply love. The insinuation that because I am from another country that I can’t survive or be happy here is founded on some inane principle that only people born in Japan can truly accomplish these things. When I hear stuff like that I feel unwanted, like everyone is just putting up with me until I may or may not go.

It pisses me off, because I dreamed for half of my life of coming to Japan. I didn’t come here to get told to, “Go home because you make me uncomfortable.” Guess what? Too bad. I came here legally on a work visa. I pay bills. I took the Japanese drivers test to get a license. I am living here, obeying the laws, and bending over backwards in many ways to behave in a socially acceptable manners when I don’t know all of the unspoken social rules. If you don’t like it, too bad, I’m here to stay until I damn well feel like leaving.

Now, all ten of these irritants are events that happen every so often, but I can live with them. I do still love Japan and I want to keep working towards being the best ALT I can be while I live here. However, I think it’s important to discuss the problems that exist in living in another country, because it’s not as easy as one would think. Most days I have the time of my life, but there are some moments I get frustrated. Today I got one of those moments.

And now that I’m done venting, I shall return to grading papers with Pokemon stamps, because I don’t know the meaning of growing up.

Once upon a time, Lady Gaga met Kyary Pamyu Pamyu…sort of

Before we get to the actual story I’m going to slap some background in here. A couple of weeks ago, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu met with pop star Katy Perry. KPP and Katy had fun in their interview, chatting back and forth, generally having a good time.

Katy is really complimentary to KPP. They had a ball getting to know each other and Katy seemed to really enjoy her company. For me, this is what I’d call a successful interview and cultural exchange. They are both two pop stars from two different countries who get along, and that’s something I’m thoroughly happy to see.

I don’t think this is what happened at all with Lady Gaga.


MusicStation is a popular channel here in Japan that, bet you couldn’t guess, mainly features musical artists and their latest creation/abomination that they want people to buy. Lady Gaga appeared last Saturday on the show, which was of course a huge deal because Lady Gaga is a huge international star. Also on the show was Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, who has expressed multiple upon multiple times that she is Gaga’s biggest fan ever, she’s gaga for Gaga.

As seen in the above picture, Lady Gaga decided to inspire her outfit with the Japanese fashion style of kawaii (cuteness overload), which is KPP’s shtick. Fans of Pamyu Pamyu have expressed no small amount of outrage at this seemingly upstaging of their idol’s fashion, which in Japan isn’t just a fashion choice it’s also a whole lifestyle. Ladies in Japan who take up kawaii like KPP live and breathe cute in everything they do, from the way they talk to the way they eat to the way they walk down the street.

Lady Gaga most likely saw her fashion choice as a Westerner views it, that it’s the tool you use to express yourself in the given moment. Therefore, when she came onto MusicStation decked out in her latest eccentric project, she kind of looked a little insulting. Not to mention the fact that the manga eyes she painted on her face are actually done wrong. But perhaps she can be forgiven! After all, she’s just trying to show that she loves Japanese sub-cultures. She’s a self-proclaimed Japanophile in the fashion sense, so all is well, right?

Not so much. If you couldn’t tell from the look on KPP’s face, the interview is disappointing, since she simply gets to sit in the background while Lady Gaga takes over. Also, all the ARASHI members are in the background looking displeased for some reason. I never could figure out why. MatsuJun even looks a little too stern, much more so than usual. I can only speculate on the why of it, but I’d put my money on the fact that it looks like she’s giving KPP the cold shoulder, ignoring her completely.

I know that Lady Gaga doesn’t most likely get to choose how the show gets set up and even who she can or can’t talk to during the show. However, I find it highly ironic that the song she’s set to sing is her latest single “Applause,” a song that’s all about fan love, and yet she’s appearing to stick her nose up at a fan that looks up to her as a role model in the pop industry.

It’s my hope that Lady Gaga and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu got to at least talk more backstage or maybe hung out somewhere in Harajuku and drowning in kawaii clothes. Yet, I think that this kind of interview didn’t exchange much of anything. No one learned anything new here. In terms of cultural exchange, I think this kind of platform dooms itself to failure from the beginning to the end anyway, since the type of interview is all about the big star and what she’s doing. I realize that wasn’t the goal for this show, and I realize that Gaga doesn’t owe KPP anything. Still, I think it is a shame when opportunities for something more than just talking about trends end up getting lost, and I don’t think that being aware of the culture behind the fashions is too much to ask from someone who claims to be an artist.

On that note, here’s “Applause” with a fuzzy blue key-tar at the end because Gaga:

Don’t own a television? Japan’s public broadcaster doesn’t care, but does still wants your money

SoraNews24 -Japan News-

NF 1

Paying taxes works a little differently in Japan. Often, large companies will simply deduct the required income tax from employees’ paychecks, and even file the necessary paperwork for them. On the other hand, workers have their earnings taxed twice, with residency taxes which are based on their income from the previous year and must be paid quarterly. Like most things in Japan, resident taxes can be paid with a fat wad of cash at the convenience store.

But perhaps the weirdest of all are government fees for public television in Japan. Not only do the bill collectors go door to door soliciting payment, but some administrators are looking to make people pay the fees whether they own a TV or not.

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Pictures: Schoolboy’s Textbook Doodles are Spectacular

Tokyo Desu

A Japanese high school student has taken to modifying illustrations from his English textbooks and posting them on his Twitter page. Rather than just drawing a moustache or buck teeth like most kids/members of the TokyoDesu team, Chanta makes detailed adjustments that would actually cause readers to do a double-take.

First, here’s a couple of before and after pictures where we can see exactly what he’s changed:

And here’s some more of his finished products:


TB_walk_dogTB motorbikeTB punch through chestTB_hooverTB_pokemonTB_sword_FIGHT


Related galleries:Terrible Kanji Tattoos With Their English Translations,     Netizens Recreate Real Life Versions of LINE Stickers

Via: Kotaku

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English Lesson: Have To, Don’t Have To & Will

Lesson planning is not my forte, but every once and a while I come up with an activity that’s a little different. In my first year as an ALT, I decided to tackle the grammar points “have to,” “don’t have to,” and “will”in the 2nd Year New Horizon textbook for Junior High School with something different than what was given to me by my predecessor and what’s on Englipedia.

I usually break this lesson over the course of two days in two parts.

Part 1: Have To/Don’t Have To

For the “Have to/ Don’t Have To” part of the lesson I hand out two worksheets after the JTE explains the grammar point in Japanese. Lesson Game Have to and Lesson Game Don’t Have To are usually printed on the front and back of one page. It’s a racing game that’s done with a partner and it will take about 15-20 minutes of class time.

Rules of the Game:

1) Students play janken (rock, paper, scissors) to see who goes first.

2) The winner gets to ask, “What do you have to do?”

3) The loser answers one of the options on the worksheets, such as, “I have to study.” The winner circles the answer.

4) Students janken again to see who can ask the question next.

5) Winner once again gets to ask the question and circle the answer. The first one to the WIN box is the winner.

Usually, I wait for everyone to get done with the “Have To” part before moving on to the “Don’t Have To” side of the worksheet. For the “Don’t Have To” race I ask students to switch partners. Winners get stickers for winning or some other kind of small prize.

Part 2: Will

For the next part of the lesson, I decided to make it into a review game that incorporates all three grammar points instead of just “Will.” The Lesson Game Have to Don’t Have to and Will worksheet and You have to practice writing are put front to back just like the previous lesson. Since there are three different grammar points to race for, this lesson can take 20-30 minutes depending on the level of English ability.

The race is done in three rounds, each time students switching to a different partner. The rules are the same as “Have To/ Don’t Have To” racing game. For the last round I let students find a friend from anywhere in the classroom to race against instead of someone around them.

For the writing portion will take up about 10 minutes. Usually, the JTE wants students to say some of their sentences aloud. Basically, the second part takes up an entire class period to do.

And that’s a wrap for this lesson. Tell me what you think and if this was helpful in any way. I’m thinking about adding other lesson plans, but we’ll see. I was just rather proud of this one since I made it all on my own.

Happy Teaching!


Random Fact: My School is Terrifying at Night

I went to my school tonight because my JTE needed to send an email before we headed off to dinner. I made a scary discovery about my school when we did: it’s horror movie terrifying in the empty dark. No one is around to hear you scream and the whole thing brings back memories of Japanese horror movies I watched a long time ago.


I tried to not imagine something lurking in the dark but I failed. Luckily I had my JTE and the staff room lights on to defend against the evil surely waiting for me out there.


My JTE even tried to comfort me, “This is a new school so it’s not like the other schools.”

I laughed nervously, “So no ghosts here? Right?”

She nodded and laughed. Of course, my brain decided to go, “Wait. Did she just say other schools are haunted?!”


Nightmares, I will have them.