What’s In Tochigi?

Whenever I tell people I’m living in Tochigi prefecture I always get the same question, “Why did you choose to stay there?” Well, I didn’t get to choose my placement through the JET program. Although I’m sure JET tried to be accommodating to everyone, I assume most JETs were placed at random all around Japan. As excited as I was to come here, I had no idea where Tochigi-prefecture was and had to google it just to get an idea of where it was at.

Tochigi Prefecture

Tochigi is a landlocked prefecture in the Kanto region, surrounded by Gunma, Ibaraki, and Fukushima. For people who might not know Japanese geography it’s only about 2 hour train ride away from Tokyo.

It’s pretty rural compared to Tokyo. The trains come once an hour, there’s rice paddies everywhere, and everything closes around 5pm. When I first came, I wrote off Tochigi as boring. Assuming that there isn’t much to do and spent most of my weekends going to Tokyo. Now that I’m more concerned about where my money is going (Tokyo is expensive) I’ve settled down and started exploring inside of my prefecture a little bit more.

The likeability of Tochigi isn’t all flashy lights and weird niche cafes. It’s more about appreciating nature.

  1. The Sano Outlet

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Starting off with my little town of Sano, there’s the popular Sano Outlet right  next to the Aeon Mall. It’s not the most exciting place to visit in all of Tochigi but if you’re in Sano with nothing better to do, I highly recommend going there. It’s a 20 minute ride from Sano station and features I think over 120 different stores and restaurants.There are some familiar brands such Nike, Addidas, Levi’s, etc. And although the restaurants are a little bit pricey, the food is great. People from all over the Kanto area come to the outlet, and there’s a bus that comes here straight from Shinjuku station.

 

2. The Ashikaga Flower Park

 

Ashikaga has two claims to fame; 1. the oldest school in Japan, 2. The Ashikaga flower park. The flower park is home to some of the oldest wysteria trees in Japan. When they start blooming, people from all over Asia come and travel to Ashikaga specifically to see the wysteria. It’s about a 15 minute walk from Tomita station and depending on the season ticket prices range from about 600 yen to 1500yen. Inside the venue, it’s exactly as you would expect, a giant park filled with a variety of flowers.Then during the winter season the park has Christmas illuminations in place of the flowers.

 

3. Nikko City

 

I couldn’t choose one specific thing in Nikko because I think the whole city of Nikko is interesting. It’s most famous attraction is the Toshogu shrine. The most lavishly decorated shrine for Tokugawa Ieyasu. Nikko has been the center of Buddhist and Shinto mountain worshiping and a lot of that same spirituality can still be felt through the current architecture. Walking through Nikko feels as if you took a step back through time a little bit. And if you’re a fan of hotspring bathing, Nikko has several of the most famous onsens in Japan.

4. Nasu

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Not too far away from Nikko is Nasu. It’s a very small town that’s famous for Mt. Nasu. Mt. Nasu is actually an active volcano that is located on the boarder between Tochigi, and Fukushima. Getting there is a little bit difficult, especially since the area is very rural. But if you’re a fan of climbing mountains, Mt. Nasu is a good place to go to.

 

 

5. Utsunomiya City

Finally, there is the capital of Tochigi prefecture, Utstunomiya city. The city is most famous for its gyoza (chinese dumplings) so understandably there are plenty of gyoza pop up shops to choose from. Near Tobu Nikko you can walk through Orion Dori which is basically an outdoor mall with plenty of stores and bars. The most popular shrine is the Futarayama shrine which is lined by a massive stairway that’s several stories high.

 

Tochigi isn’t as exciting as Tokyo or Osaka but there’s still plenty of things to do around here. If you’re looking for a quiet place to be at while being one with nature, I would highly recommend visiting Tochigi prefecture.

What about you fellow readers? Have you been to Tochigi before? If you have, what was your favorite place?

 

Living Abroad: Battling Loneliness

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Osaka Days

With the new JETs currently settling into life in Japan, I can now officially call myself someone’s senpai. Which means, I’ll be asked to constantly share life advice and my old experiences with the new comers at every opportunity that we meet. The question that I receive the most from people is, “What’s the hardest part about living in Japan?”

I’ll admit it was a little bit of a tough question for me. I don’t really have any dietary restrictions so eating the food isn’t really all that bad. Learning the language isn’t as tough as everyone makes it seem. I’ve never really had a problem adjusting culturally to living abroad, especially since I’ve already been here once before. I think my biggest adjustment being here is battling loneliness.

 

Everyone experiences loneliness at some point in their lives, but I think living abroad adds another degree to that sad feeling. No matter how long you’ve lived abroad, culture shock will still inevitably catch up to you. You’ll yearn for the familiarity of your home country. Even if you make good friends in your host country, sometimes the language barrier still prevents proper communication. Other reasons for loneliness are not so obvious sometimes. Your friends all have jobs or are in school. They get married and have children, or move away.

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Umeda Lights 

I don’t think people talk enough about loneliness when going abroad. Many people when they talk about loneliness they intrinsically think it’s their fault for feeling this way. Maybe they’re just not interesting enough or you don’t feel comfortable enough speaking another language. Especially if you’re already battling mental disorders such as depression and anxiety, living abroad can be tough. Loneliness tends to make you fall back into your own bubble of seclusion. While you might feel better for a while, eventually you start to feel worse and then the cycle continues.

Are There Any Solutions?

 The only thing I can recommend as someone who’s goes through it from time to time is just to reach out to people. Reach out to your family and friends from home and your friends in your new country. A simple phone call or text can really make your day.  Don’t let language stop you from making new friends in your host country. Most relationships I have here started out with very little verbal communication. Try and integrate into the community as much as possible club activities, hobbies, etc. just to keep yourself busy as much as possible.

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Best Friends for Life

 

If your biggest dream is to live abroad for a while, go and do it. It’ll be full of some of the greatest experiences you’ll ever have. There are plenty of days when I struggle with loneliness, but I would never give up this experience for anything else in the world.

How about you my fellow readers? Do you struggle with feeling lonely while abroad? What are some things you’ve tried doing to battle that?

 

 

Getting My Hair Cut in Tokyo

 

I always change up my hair at least once every two-three months. It’s just something that I’m used to doing. Wigs, braids, hair dye, etc. But over these last few months I’ve been really trying to grow my hair out. Not necessarily because I want long hair but because due to years of neglect, the health of my hair and scalp had steadily declined. I was wearing a wig for a little while when I first arrived, however towards the end of the first six months I noticed it was wearing away at my hair line. Thus I opted for braids and that was going good for a while but eventually I  got tired of the constant undoing and redoing.

Then I slowly started to realize that the constant braids are causing my ends to become split. So I came to the realization in June that maybe it’s time to just let my hair breath… at least for a little while. After all I haven’t worn my hair out in it’s natural state for a while due to terrible insecurities but now I think I’m ready to try again. So I took it upon myself to start searching for a place (in Tokyo obviously) that does afro hair. Which was an ordeal. As I’ve said before many salons in Japan are pretty expensive and most salons that say “foreigner friendly” they don’t typically mean black people friendly. It’s heart breaking I know, but again there just aren’t that many of us in Japan to make a difference.

However thanks to some good suggestions I landed on Hayato Tokyo a smallish hair salon in Roppongi. It was much more high class than I expected and I was pretty nervous since everyone seemed shocked to see me despite making an appointment three weeks ago. I was also nervous because the woman I originally asked for had left the salon permanently, she apparently did the relaxers, sew ins, extensions, etc for all their customers of color. So I had to have someone else cut my hair.

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Compliments of Google Images

I didn’t take any pictures just because I was really nervous about receiving a bad haircut. Despite all my initial fears, everyone in the shop was very friendly. My hair dresser Naoya, was very competent and spoke perfect English. Which was comforting since I didn’t want my hair to get messed up due to misinterpretation. I think a majority of the staff spoke at least basic English. Their prices are a bit high compared to American prices 7,000 yen for a hair cut but I say the expense was worth it. The atmosphere was really relaxing, good music, drinks, and a decent massage at the end of your session.

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The finished product 

*If you go to Hayato, tell them I referred you so you can get a mini discount*

One Year Review

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Trick Art Museum- Odaiba

July 24th was the official anniversary of my one year of living in Japan. Although a year is a long time, it really only feels like it was just yesterday that I landed in Tokyo. There’s still so much that I want to do and I feel like I have so little time left. Yet at the same time I’ve done so much. Much more than most people can say they’ve ever done in their entire life. I can admit that when I first landed I didn’t expect to change so much from my previous self.  So in celebration I’m going to take a step back and reflect on some of the ways that I have changed.

 

Learning to Save

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Breaking in my new bank book

I won’t lie and say that the JET salary is incredible, but they do pay me more than enough money to travel somewhere at least once a month. I’m happy to say that I am one of the lucky few who graduated college without crippling student debt. So when the checks started rolling in, I wasn’t to concerned with saving a lot of money. For the first six months I spent a lot of money on things I probably didn’t need too. I don’t regret my decisions but I’m learning that I should start saving more and more everyday. I have two account books to keep track of everything I spend money on and I’m trying my best to put away more money every month.

 

Learning to be Open

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Beach Bumz

 

I’m an introvert at heart. I could spend days just laying around my house pretending nobody else exists. There’s nothing wrong with that but I didn’t come to Japan to do the same things that I would’ve done in America. Being here has made me open to new experiences with people. I’m forcing myself to try new things no matter how awkward conversations may become. I figured it’s much better to let people know you’re trying instead of constantly running away from interactions.

 

 Learning to be Alone

 

Sounds like a contradiction of the first but it’s not. Along with being a introvert, I sometimes get anxiety about doing things alone. I’m not currently dating anyone inside or outside of Japan. Sure I have friends but people get busy and they can’t do everything with you. Living here I had to learn that it’s okay to be alone sometimes and to really enjoy my own company. I’ve traveled alone, eat out alone, shop alone, etc. It seems daunting and scary at first but I think I’ve grown a little more self sure of myself.

 

Learning Dedication

Something that both fascinates and annoys me about Japan is the group mentality. Almost everything is done in groups and everything you do is to make the group better. So joining club activities or going to outside events it’s almost unheard of for someone to cancel plans at the very last minute (unless your sick of course) because it’s a hindrance on the group. I recently joined karate at the local gym in my town. It’s fun but there are definitely days that I wish I never joined just because I can be so lazy. It’s fine to miss of course but the idea is that you don’t join something unless you’re serious about it.

 

 Learning to Appreciate Nature

I’ve always appreciated and respected nature. I try not to litter or create a lot of pollution in the world. And I’ve always enjoyed going on a good walk through a nature trail. Japan however has really made me see the beauty that mother nature has to offer. I’m not sure if it’s a Shinto thing or maybe Japanese people are just some how more in tuned to nature than the rest of the world, but there are really some amazingly beautiful nature sights that you can only find in Japan. Especially during the peak seasons during spring and fall, it’s hard to put into words how beautiful Japan is.

 

Well there are the top five ways I’ve changed since living in Japan for a full year. What about you, have you changed in anyway during a trip abroad?

Take Me Back: Enoshima

It’s been so long since  I last made a post on here. Over the past few weeks my life has gotten surprisingly busy. Unfortunately not with traveling but, fortunately it’s been filled with a pretty active social life. In the spirit of summer vacation which is approaching in about three weeks and me needing a vacation, here is a little throw back post of my time in Enoshima for Golden week. Enjoy!

Enoshima

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The weather is quickly heating up in Japan and my need for a little fun in the sun is quickly approaching. Unfortunately, since I live in Tochigi I’m landlocked completely and the idea of sunbathing in a park just doesn’t seem to appealing.

Fortunately in an area not to far away from, Kanagawa prefecture is full of beaches that I could go to. Out of the three I’ve been to Kamakura, Zushi, and Enoshima; I would have to say Enoshima is my favorite one.

Enoshima is a small island off the cost Kanagawa. From Tokyo you can easily buy an Enoshima day pass which greatly reduces the cost of traveling and gives you access to most of the attractions in the area.

 

 

 

I’ve only been to three beaches in Japan so far, but so far all three have been very scenic. The route to the beach isn’t surrounded by long board walks filled with novelty swim wear shops instead Japan or at least Kanagawa prefecture has done a good job of upholding local architectural aesthetics. As for Enoshima beach it’s kind of small in my opinion it seems like it would be terrible to visit here if it gets to crowded. But the experience of the rest of the island makes it the best one of the three.

 

IMG_1916From the station there’s a long walkway that takes about 15 minutes to walk to get to the main Enoshima island. Once you’ve made it on to the island from there the rest of the way is a constant up hill battle through crowds of people, past all the food stands, and souvenir shops until you reach Enoshima-Jinja

It starts in the market area that’s a complete up hill climb. At first the crowd seems kind of uncomfortable to go through but you soon realize that everyone is moving at a predetermined slow pace so as long as you stick to the same direction as you want to move in it’s not that bad to get through.

 

You’ll soon reach the large temple at the top which has plenty of great areas for a nice scenic photo opt. After there are a plethora of stairs to climb however if you’re feeling faint, for a small feel you can take the escalators (going up only) all the way to the top.

Surprisingly there are many attractions on the island that you can visit such as a flower park, sky candle, and at least three museums. At the end of your island trek you’ll reach the rocky shore of Enoshima which gives you the most amazing view.

 

Summer vacation has gotten off to a slow start but at least I’ve had some time to explore.

 

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Beach Bum

 

Spring Time: New Beginnings and Endings

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Giant Buddha at Kotokuin Temple

 

Spring is hands down my favorite season. Maybe it’s just because I was born during this time of the year but, I always feel like this is the most perfect time. It’s not too hot, it’s not too cold. The flowers are blooming and everyone’s taking their cute little dogs out for walks.

In Japan, I feel like spring is an especially beautiful season. Like how New Year’s is seen as a time for new beginnings in America, spring time is seen as a fresh start here in Japan. Many of my students though were a little sadden by the end of the school year, are now excited to start the new school year fresh and forget all their worries from last year. For me it feels a little strange to say next year since school in America finishes in May/June. But living here I can see why it makes sense to see the spring time as a new beginning.

In the spring time we celebrate Girl’s Day

It feels like a new beginning and an end because, during this time the teachers transfer to different schools. No one knows exactly why but most teachers don’t teach at one school for more than 4/5 years. This time of the year, more than any other part of the year is pretty nostalgic for Japanese people. You’re losing your friends/ co-workers to other schools. Kids are finishing/ starting school, there’s a lot more that changes during this time besides the weather.

At my school, there were a few teachers I knew that were leaving to other schools or retiring. I have mixed emotions about it, I’m sad that they’re leaving of course but also, I’m sad because I feel like it wasn’t enough time. I feel as though I didn’t spend enough time getting to know people. Maybe it’s impossible to be on good terms with everyone but I feel as though I didn’t put in more effort connecting with as many people as I could.

I’m going to make that a part of my spring resolution, trying to reach out more to people. My resolution isn’t to become everyone’s friend, but simply put more effort into the relationships I’ve made. Making the first move, inviting people out, or asking to be a part of the group.

I have to laugh at myself a little because it sounds like a very Japanese thing to think of, trying to have more of a group mentality. But I guess that’s what happens when you live here for a while.

My lovely spring pink mood board

A Little Bit of Culture Shock

I have to laugh at myself a little bit, mainly because this is my second time coming to Japan. I’ve already lived through all of this for a short time before, so what else could I possibly find shocking? The truth is there’s still a lot that gets to me. Sometimes it’s frustrating and other times I just have to roll with the punches. So I’ve complied a short list of things that I’ve found to be the most shocking since living here.

ATMs Close

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My ATM: I’m charged ¥ 108 after 6pm on weekdays and on the weekends.

Japan is still a heavily cash based society so it’s still uncommon to pay using credit card at most places especially in rural places where they might not even have card machines. So it’s very common for people to walk around with $500-$1000 in cash at any given time. The only place I can think to use a credit at around Sano would be at the Aeon Mall and Outlet stores. Even online, there’s often options to pay in cash at convenience stores or give the delivery man cash on arrival.

This all wouldn’t be so bad if dealing with the ATMs wasn’t so annoying. Unlike in America ATMs in Japan actually  close, usually around 6pm, on weekends,and on holidays. ATMs are also notorious for charging fees for withdrawing your OWN money from your OWN account. I was lucky enough to be with a bank that’s not so annoying but I know I do get charged to withdraw money if I do it after 6pm.  So this means I have to do some careful planning when it comes to my weekend adventures. Especially since my bank can’t be found outside of Tochigi so I try to make sure I withdraw enough money to get through the weekend.

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Just slide into the ATM, the machine writes all your transactions.

A good thing about them though is that you can update your bankbook automatically at the ATM so Japan got that part right.

 

 

 

 

 

No Returns

This one is still a little hard for me to understand, most stores will not allow you to do a return. If you are able to make a return, it’s usually an annoyingly long process.  It’s not that you can’t return things I’ve returned a couple things, you just have to have a good reason why you want to return it i.e. broken, wrong fit, etc. Even if you are able to make returns most places will want you to do an exchange instead of giving you back your money. It’s a hard concept to get used to,  especially coming from America I remember returning things that I bought months ago without any problem. Hell I’ll buy clothes to try on at home and then return them within the week if I don’t really like them. I’m not sure why it’s so hard to return things , I guess it’s just to make sure the stores aren’t being cheated out of money somehow. It’s not all that bad though I just have to really think about what I’m getting and weather or not it’ll be worth the purchase.

 

Technology

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Electronic Dictionary: the saving grace of English Education

Japan has a very love hate relationship when it comes to technology. On one hand they have electronic dictionaries, self opening car doors, and high tech Japanese phones, but on the other hand they still rely on kerosine heaters, fax machines, and chalk boards. I guess it’s the idea of if it’s not broken don’t fix it, because they will hold onto outdated technology until it dies. Maybe it’s a part of the energy conservation or just putting money into more viable infrastructure… I’m not really sure what it is. Most of my teachers aren’t really sure how to use certain technology like bluetooth speakers or creating power points it’s strange. I remember being at Kansai Gaidai and having to type my final reports on computers that  were still running windows 98. It’s crazy to even think that that program can still work on anything in 2017, but it still exists.

Delivery

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McDelivery is McGenius

This one I can’t experience too often because most places around me don’t deliver but it’s surprising how many restaurants actually offer delivery services. You can get not only get pizza but also McDonald’s, Moe’s Burgers, ramen, etc all delivered to your door step. The first time I had it in Osaka I was shocked, as lazy as Americans are why don’t we have delivery McDonalds?

 

 

 

I’m sure there’s plenty of other things that throw me off every now and again but these are the few things that I experience everyday that really get to me.

 

Before becoming an ALT

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I think it’s funny that the natural response to “teaching English is hard” is, ” How can it be hard, don’t you know English? Just teach them English.” As if just because you know something means your a natural born teacher. Teaching in general is a pretty tough job, but teaching to people who don’t understand even half the words that come out your mouth is a whole other level of difficulty.

These past few years, Japan has made more efforts in improving its English programs. Many schools require students to learn English as a part of their core classes. Some schools have even hired permanent native English teachers in efforts to improve EFL education.

Before coming to Japan, I’ve done volunteer tutoring with ESL students so I have some experience in how to communicate but, unlike teaching in America, teaching English in another country is completely different. The national language in Japan is Japanese, so outside of music and movies the kids don’t have much exposure to English. Unless they plan on going abroad in the future, many kids just aren’t interested in learning it. Why should they if they’re not going to use it everyday.

I teach at three different high schools with over forty classes and each class has varying levels of English ability. Some students are pretty conversational while some students can barely form a sentence.Outside of JET it’s pretty easy to become an ALT but it’s not a job that’s right for everyone. Here’s a couple things I wish someone would’ve told me about teaching in Japan before I started.

Keep them Interested

This of course is easier said then done. Even Japanese kids find school to be boring most of the time. That being said I like to bring in things to help make the class more interesting i.e. pictures, fun activities, music, etc. to give them a reason to want to learn English. After all learning another language is about cultural exchange as well. Tell them things that they wouldn’t already know about your country. I love showing the kids old prom pictures or digging out the photos from my blonde days. I think one of the best lessons I’ve taught was actually on soul food where the students learned about some of the crazy deep fried treats you can find down South. I try my best to really find the quirky fun parts of the United States to share with them because that’s what will get them talking in English.

No Homework

Stated in a previous entry, Japanese kids don’t really have homework. At least not in the way that Americans think about homework. It’s treated as optional work, and it’s very possible to be at the top of your classes without doing any homework. Some ALTs use homework regularly, but personally I found it was just more work on my part with very little pay off. The kids didn’t take it seriously so I ended up grading work that they didn’t even try to do correctly. Instead I give a lot of handouts just to make sure they have something to refer back to when I’m gone.

Emphasize Talking

I’m not a very talkative person so I don’t like to lecture the students for more than 15 minutes. Outside of school the students don’t really have much exposure to English so I try to get them to talk as much as possible in English. This is also hard because many students will give you the age old excuses of I’m shy or I don’t understand to avoid being called on. I find a good way to relive this problem is getting your Japanese teacher more involved with the lessons. Having them do demonstrations and holding model conversations really helps students feel at ease because, when they see their teachers make mistakes they won’t feel as nervous making them themselves.

 

Limited Technology

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Most people really don’t understand that Japan is a pretty minimalistic country. Japanese students don’t grow up using computers for homework or really any type of classwork. So it’s pretty unrealistic to rely on technology when making your lessons. It was a real adjustment to come from having a SMARTboard in every class to relying solely on a chalk boards. I can’t look things up on the internet if something seems off, so I have to make sure my lessons are planned down to the T from all the things I want to explain to everything I might have to say in Japanese. And if I do plan on using any type of technology I always have to have a back up plan in case the computer/ internet decides not to work that day.

Be Patient

Finally, the last thing is just to be patient. I think teaching in general is very humbling, things that seem easy and obvious to me aren’t to my students. English as a second language is hard in a country where only 1% of the population speaks it fluently. So always be prepared for constant mistakes and questions from both students and teachers alike. Be patient when it comes to teaching, understand that not all students are going to take your lessons seriously. But those that do will be grateful for them and will make the effort to really improve their skills.

Looking back six months ago I never thought that I would enjoy teaching as much as I do now. I focused so much on preparing to live in Japan I never really spoke to anyone about the actual teaching part, so I wish I could’ve spent more time getting comfortable being front and center all the time. I’m not sure if teaching will be a permanent career path for me but I’m glad to know that it is a pretty fulfilling option.

Fiction vs. Reality: What’s it like being black in Japan?

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I was trying to be an egg

I always get a little sad when I look up blogs on wordpress, tumblr, or youtube and find very little information from bloggers of color in Japan. Not that I don’t find information from white bloggers useful but the way life is experienced, is always different for bloggers of color. Many white bloggers have no idea what it’s like to be a minority and usually don’t have to deal with issues of racism in their home countries. So they often don’t think or even consider that their darker colleagues might be facing some tougher times simply because of their skin color.

 

Even in Asia, western forms of beauty are still highly sought after. It’s inescapable, every where you go you see Japanese advertisements using white models. I’ve even heard of business companies that will hire white men just to go to business meetings with them because they think it makes them look good. I can’t say I’ve faced a lot of negativity here but, I’ll never forget how a Japanese man compared approaching black people to approaching dogs, “You want to come up to them because they look fun and friendly, but you’re still scared they might bite you.” It didn’t feel good to hear that but I’m sure he wasn’t the only one to feel that way.

The reason why I started writing this blog was to share a little of what I’m going through with all the numerous black people that really want to come here, but are too scared to do it. When I first studied abroad I had all the same questions everybody else had; what will everyone think about skin color, what will they think about my hair, what will I do with my hair, what if they secretly call me racist names, what if I don’t make any friends… Just a lot of what ifs, and if I could go back in time and slap myself I would. I won’t lie and say that living in Japan is easy for me because it’s definitely not. There’s plenty of challenges that I face everyday from communicating at my job to just simply commuting. However living in Japan is not as scary as it seems. In fact I think most of my initial fears were over come by simply just being open and getting out of my own head.

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Endless nights in Roppongi

Fiction: Japanese people will find me intimidating.

Reality: This one I think, depends on where you live. Tochigi is fairly close to Tokyo where a lot of foreigners live. So I think most people here have come in contact with foreigners of all colors several times in their lives.  In small country towns this might be a little bit more challenging to foreigners of color. It’s hard to fathom but, there are probably plenty of Japanese people who have never talked to a foreigner, let alone a foreigner of color. As I’ve said foreigners only make up one percent of the population in Japan with the biggest number of minorities located closer to the bigger cities. While I have heard some bad stories, most Japanese people I’ve met have been pretty accepting about my skin color, some have even found me more interesting because of it. More than anything I think people find me intimidating because they’re scared to speak to me in English.

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This is actually the only selfie I have with my hair out.

 

Fiction: Japanese people will probably think my skin and hair texture is ugly.

Reality:Again, Japan is no stranger to Eurocentric styles of beauty. Both men and women spend thousands of dollars trying to achieve a more western look such as skin lightening, eye surgery, and extreme dieting to look more like the Taylor Swifts and Justin Beibers of the world. So I have no doubt that there are plenty of Japanese people that find African features conventionally unattractive. I think beauty standards are a little less unforgiving here in Japan because overall Japanese people don’t differ to much in terms of hair, skin and body type. Diversity is still a pretty fresh concept in Japan but it takes time for society to slowly accept what’s different. Coming here made me accept my outward appearance even more because I know no matter how hard I try I’ll never fit into conventional beauty here. I still make sure to look my best when going out but it’s on my own terms. And despite feeling self conscious I’ve had more than enough Japanese people tell me how beautiful I am whether I’m wearing a wig and make-up or just being my natural self.

 

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The famous Room 806

 

Fiction: I can’t buy my hair products/ there’s no where for me to get my hair done.

Reality: Unfortunately this is more fact than fiction because, there isn’t really a market for black hair care products in Japan. Foreigners make up only 1% of the population and I’m willing to bet less than half of that percentage is black. I know there are some salons like Room 806 in Tokyo that can do braids and sew ins but their prices are pretty high. To avoid paying those prices ($60/ hour) before coming here I started learning how to do my hair myself (youtube is my bestfriend now). I order most of my products offline and do a lot of DIY mixes. If you’re adventurous with your Japanese it doesn’t hurt to find good Japanese substitutes with hair products. I’ve found some lines of sulfate free shampoos and some people swear by Japanese deep conditioners. It is annoying that there’s not a beauty supply store that I can walk to find a good leave in or curl cream but that’s the sacrifice you make to live in Asia.

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Yohei Kamiya and Tara Kamiya

 

Fiction: Japanese people won’t want to date me

Reality: Due to the over consumption of media and general different dating practices, dating in Japan can be difficult. Many Japanese people are reluctant to date foreigners due to cultural differences and communication. It’s hard to date someone if you can’t communicate with them so many people just don’t try. Conversely many Japanese people might want to date foreigners because they think we fit some sort of stereotype. Foreigners are often seen as promiscuous and sleeping with one might be kind of as a status symbol. However the same can be said for foreigners that only want to “date” Japanese people because of an Asian fetish. Besides all of those short comings there are plenty of successful interracial relationships both in and outside of Japan. Like any relationship, it takes time and effort and if it’s meant to be, then it will happen.

 

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I really love the pig filter

Being in Japan as a black women is hard but, I find it’s only as hard as I make it out to be. Asia in general is still relatively closed off from the rest of the world so there’s still a lot of people who are just ignorant of what life is like outside of their region. I always have to think about that when I’m out because, most of my misunderstandings just come from simple miscommunication. No amount of complaining will make my time here easier but, I can just take things for what they are and continue to live in Japan as unapologeticaly black as possible.

 

Winter Vacation: Starting 2017 on a Good Note

The year 2016 will not only be known as my first winter vacation in Japan, but also my first paid winter vacation ever. It might sound a bit pretentious of me but, when I think about where I was last year this is a major improvement.This time last year I was so stressed out from working two jobs and applying for more jobs that led me nowhere. It’s sill to think about it now but I thought that part of my life would never end. Now here I am on a program that I never thought I would get into doing something that I like. I never saw myself feeling this good at 23 years old and I’m happy to say that I ended 2016 on a good note.

Unlike most of my peers, I didn’t make any big plans for the winter holidays for several reasons; 1. I wanted to save a little bit of money (bills are not fun) and 2. I really wanted to spend the holidays in Japan. Not that Japan does anything particularly special for Christmas and New Years, but when will I ever spend winter break in Japan ever again?

Finishing up work in school brought so much relief. I spent the last month teaching (fun) Christmas songs to my upper level students. They all thoroughly enjoy Jingle Bell Rock and continued to sing it well until the final day of classes. Two of my classes banded together to make me Christmas origami cards. They were super cute, sweet, and their English was impeccable. My Japanese has been steadily improving, things that didn’t make sense suddenly, are starting to make sense. Conversation in Japanese has become much easier (still pretty bad though).

I had several friends come and visit me during the month of December with long movie nights, frequent onsen visits (hotsprings), rocking the house at Karaoke night in the local bars and playing the new Final Fantasy on my new (used) PS4 and TV.

My Christmas Day Collection, peep me in the fuzzy sandals.

Christmas day I spent with two American friends from Yamanashi Prefecture in Sano. We all stayed in my cramped apartment for four days but it was still great, watching the new Yuri on Ice anime (highly recommended) and the somewhat new MARS ただ君を愛してる drama (not so recommended), and visiting the Ashikaga flower park for the Christmas Illumination (highly recommended). Unfortunately it’s hard to cook a good American Christmas dinner in Japan so I couldn’t enjoy the standard turkey with stuffing on the 25th, instead I indulged in some KFC for Christmas dinner. I think KFC for Christmas is strange to but the reason why Japanese people eat it is because KFC is the closest thing they have to cooked turkey… I don’t think so either.

A much deserved trip to Sendai City

December 30th I took a trip up to Sendai city all by myself just to get out of Sano and try something new. Which turned out to be a pretty amazing trip, I’m the first person to admit that I’m scared to travel alone especially to areas I’m not familiar with, but I’m glad I was able to conquer my fear of the unknown. I was able to navigate around the city on my own strike up good Japanese conversations and keep myself thoroughly entertained for the day. The shinkansen ticket was pretty pricey from Oyama but the journey was well worth it in the end. Highlights of my trip included the Daikannon temple, Nishi park and the Tanabata Museum.

 

Osechi and family time.

Finally I started the year off right eating Osechi with a Japanese friend Mutou-sensei and her family. Osechi is the new year cuisine that most Japanese people eat at the beginning of January. Apparently this meal used to be prepared as a way for Japanese families to survive the first couple of days of winter during the time when most stores in Japan would be closed. The food in Osechi can be set out in a cool area and eaten for many days without spoiling. Many of the items represent prosperity, good fortune, and health. The best part of the day was visiting the huge temple in Ashikaga and praying for good luck within the new year. I think my prayers were answered because my mikoji was the highest luck (daikichi omikuji) for the new year.

I’ve never felt this good about starting a new year before and I’m excited to see what the next 365 days have in store for me. Here’s to a lit 2017!!