Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Business Trips and Barbecues and BLTs Galore!

The last two weeks have been pretty busy for me. I've been waiting very impatiently for my new passport with my married name on it to arrive so I can tackle the arduous task of changing over all my documents here in Japan (immigration and visa related documents, my driver's license, my credit card, etc). You wouldn't think that you could be 'busy waiting' but somehow I have been! I have been spending nearly all of my time outside of work trying to keep up with housework, and have been just barely keeping up with all my lessons. I really hate the feeling of not being at least a week ahead in my lesson prep and teaching classes that are half-assed, not well thought out or well prepared for, but lately I find myself planning lessons the night before at least once a week. I wish I had an extra 5 hours or so in the day! 

Kazu was sent on a sudden 1-night-2-day business trip to Okinawa last week with only 1 day prior notice, and he left again just today on another 1-night-2-day business trip to Gunma. I feel really bad for him having to rush around so much; he didn't get home until 1am the night he returned from Okinawa and this morning he had to get up at 5am and catch the train at 6:30 to make it to Gunma for noon. However, I'm secretly happy that I have been able to see him in a suit so much lately; he looks really handsome in a suit, and he normally doesn't wear them to work. 

On the weekends, I'm busy catching up on sleep and keeping my husband happy. He likes to go out on the weekends, even if it's just for a drive or shopping at the mall. He says that it doesn't feel like a relaxing weekend if he spends time at home doing nothing (or worse doing chores) and he feels neglected if I don't spend time with him. Obviously he's not an unreasonable brute (I wouldn't have married him if he was!), so he gives me time to get the main things (dishes, laundry and garbage) done and often helps me with them if he has time, but things like vacuuming, dusting and cleaning the toilet seem to just keep getting regulated to 'later' and not done unless he has overtime work during the week, or has to go to work on a weekend day. 

This weekend, we enjoyed the very summery weather with a whole bunch of our friends by having a huge barbecue. It was a lot of fun. Sometimes all the bad stuff that comes along with being a foreigner in Japan can get really suffocating, and although my husband is the most wonderful and supportive man I've ever met, he doesn't /understand/ how I feel, so it's really great to have my foreign friends to get together with and laugh at the BS we all experience and insulate ourselves in a bubble of familiar, comforting foreign culture for a few hours. The fact that many of these friends have been here much, much longer than I have is reassuring, and I feel like I need to build closer relationships with these 'old-timers.' My closest foreign friends here in Japan have either already left Japan, or will most likely leave at some point in the not-so-distant future. I will most likely be here forever, and it's really rough losing my best friends one after another, and knowing that whoever becomes my next 'best friend' (by which I just mean the person I hang out with and rely on the most, I don't really consider any of my friends 'better' than any other) is probably going to find their future elsewhere sooner or later.

Anyways, I apologize for the overall kind of gloomy air of this post. I think I'm just tired (physically) which lowers my tolerance for everything else. In reality, despite being busy and tired, I'm happier than I've ever been before. My relationship with my now-husband has been giving me a deep-seated peace and contentment that I've never had before.

Finally, to lighten the mood of this post, please allow me to share this picture of a BLT on an onion bagel that Kazu and I made for dinner last night. I've gotten him addicted to bagels and bacon (two things that virtually don't exist in Japan, and that you can pretty much ONLY get at Costco or very expensive online), and during his business trip last week Kazu saw a restaurant in the airport selling these, so he suggested we try making them when he got home. I've never eaten a BLT on anything other than bread, but it was delicious! 

Friday, May 20, 2016

A Trip to the Japanese Dentist

I wrote on my other blog a few days ago that I was having a really excruciating toothache. I'm glad to say that the pain is completely gone now. However, I had a really shocking experience at the dentist's office that I wanted to share with you guys. I hope it's interesting for you; it was a bit traumatizing for me, but I'm glad that I now know more about how dentists operate here. 

I was lucky enough to get a same-day appointment at a dentist near my house on the say the horrible pain started. When I got there I handed over my insurance card, filled out the first-time-patient medical history form, and waited until I was called in.

I already knew that in Japan, the dentist chairs are not in separate rooms, but all lined up in one big room with dividers between them. In both of the dentists I've been to, there was a wall with big windows in front of me, dividers on both sides, and the side behind me was wide open to the rest of the room. This didn't really bother me, but I have heard from other foreign friends that they don't like the lack of privacy. 

The dentist came over, asked me about my symptoms, and took a look in my mouth. He wasn't particularly gentle but not overly rough either. After a brief check of my mouth, he had a nurse guide me into a nearby closet (literally a closet) for an x-ray of the area that hurt. The x-ray room was tiny, but the x-ray process was identical to the dental x-rays I've had in America. In Japan they only do these if they are pretty sure you have a cavity and intend to drill it; they are not part of your regular yearly or bi-yearly cleaning-and-checkup dentist visits. 

After looking at the x-ray, the dentist couldn't tell which of two teeth the cavity was in (I have two teeth next to each other with old cavities in them that were filled back in America years ago, and the new cavity is right next to the old cavity, in the area where the two teeth meet and the old fillings are connected, so it's hard to see on the x-ray) so he used a tool to tap my teeth and determined which tooth the cavity was in when I shouted "Ow!" after he hit it. Not very nice, but effective. I couldn't really tell which tooth hurt until he did this, because the whole area was radiating pain.

Then the dentist said "Okay, let's fix the cavity!" and pulled out the drill. I stopped him before he could start drilling and was like "WAAAAAAIT, you forgot to give me novacaine!!!" but he said "Don't worry, I saw from your x-ray that the nerve inside your tooth is dead because of your old fillings, so you don't need it!" and started drilling. In the end, he was right, it didn't actually hurt much more than the excruciating pain I was already in. But I was really, really freaked out by the IDEA of having a tooth drilled without pain medicine. I also wish he'd explained it to me first before coming at me with the drill, but I guess it didn't occur to him that I wouldn't know any of this, since he doesn't know how dentists in other countries operate.

Then, after drilling out the old filling and the new cavity, he put some medicine inside my tooth and then told me I could go home. Once again I stopped him. "WAAAAAIT, you forgot to fill my tooth back up!" No, apparently that was intentional. He told me (in a tone kind of like he was trying to be patient while talking to a person with a mental disability) that I have to go back several times for more treatment, and when he's done healing my cavity, he'll fill it back up then. When I got home I saw that he'd put a kind of plastic/foam 'filling' inside the tooth so I could eat and not get stuff stuck in there, but it actually fell out before my next appointment and it was really freaky to have a huge hole in my tooth.

The only good surprise was the price. In the US I didn't have dental insurance past age 18 or so, and getting a cavity filled cost ~$100 with insurance and ~$300 without. The cost for my first appointment (x-ray, diagnosis, drilling, antiseptic treatment and 4 doses of painkiller to take home with me) was only 2,000 yen, ($20). 

I was very disappointed that the pain didn't stop that day, or even the following day. The dentist gave me 4 pills of a decent painkiller, which I could and did take 4 hours apart. So I was out of painkillers by the next morning, and in terrible pain again the entire day at work. After work I went to the drugstore and got some over-the-counter painkillers, which worked okay if I took a bit more than the maximum recommended dose. Japanese medicines in general are reputed to be too weak for foreigners, and although I usually have no problem with taking the 'Japanese dosage' this time I took a bit more without feeling bad about it at all. Thankfully, the 3rd day after visiting the dentist my pain got weaker and now it's completely gone. 

I went back for my 2nd appointment the following week, and the dentist cleaned out the inside of the tooth again, put more medicine inside, packed it up with new plastic/foam, and had the hygienist do a 'cleaning' for me.  It wasn't a normal cleaning like I've had before in Japan when I went for a regular checkup; she used a vibrating tool to clean the tops of my teeth where they meet the gums, and then put a really bitter medicine on the same area, on the top teeth only. I think it was some kind of anti-cavity treatment. This time the cost was only 1,500 yen ($15).

The dentist said I have to go back 3 more times (presumably once a week for 3 more weeks) and then the treatment for the cavity will be done. I am not really sure how I feel about the Japanese system overall. I'm glad it's cheap; even with the 5 office visits, the total cost is going to be less than I'd pay for a cavity with dental insurance in the US. It's worth mentioning that in Japan, national health insurance covers dental work; you don't need to pay for extra 'dental insurance.' I'm also glad that they are thorough and cautious; I would not be happy to have an entire second drilling and filling to fix things if they filled up the tooth and it was not completely healed yet.

However I don't appreciate how the dentist doesn't really explain anything to me. It's not because he's just a nasty old man,, it's just how things work here. It doesn't occur to explain what he's doing or why, because Japanese people don't bother asking because they won't understand the technical answer anyways. So when you ask the dentist (or a doctor) to explain what he's doing and why, it sounds to him like you are implying you don't trust his expert judgement. 

In any case, I'm happy not to be in pain anymore, and will be even happier when I have my new filling in place and don't have to go back in for treatment anymore. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Rabu-Rabu Kitchen: Beef Stew with Puff Pastry Crust

A few days ago I made my husband one of his favorite foods ever, beef stew. He especially likes when I make it like this, baked in an oven-safe bowl with pastry crust on top. It's very easy to make, here's how I did it. You can change out the veggies for whatever you want and can easily get. In America I made this with regular sliced white mushrooms instead of bunashimeji, and I often added celery. Also, you can make it without the beef stew roux but you might need a few more bullion cubes or just replace the bullion and water with canned beef stock. .   

Ingredients (makes 2 large servings):
700ml water
2 beef bullion cubes
1/2 box (one of the 2 packets inside) of Japanese beef stew roux
1/2 large onion
1 carrot
1 large potato
100 gram bag of bunashimeji mushrooms
200 grams of pork or beef
Bisquick or flour
Japanese 'pie sheet' or puff pastry

1. Cut the carrots, potato, onion, and meat. Put into crockpot with water, roux, bullion and mushrooms and cook on low for 8-10 hours.
2. Shortly before dinner time, take some of the broth out of the crockpot and mix it with some bisquick or flour. I use bisquick because I think the flavor is better, but it could be all in my head. The more bisquick/flour you use, the thicker your stew will be. I used 2 giant spoonfuls of bisquick (maybe 3 normal human sized spoonfuls). Then pass it through a sieve back into the crockpot and let it cook another 10-20 minutes untl the stew has thickened.
3. Ladle the soup into oven-safe bowls. Cover with frozen puff pastry cut into a circle just a little bit bigger than the top of the bowl. If you wanna be fancy, use some cookie cutters to cut decorations from the leftover scraps of puff pastry and put them on top.
4. Bake according the directions of your puff pastry package. The soup is already cooked, so once you get the pastry golden and cooked through, you're good! I think I put it in at 200 C for about 15 minutes, but don't quote me on that.
5. Enjoy! If you're like my husband, you'll collapse on the couch immediately after eating, groaning "Onaka IPPAAAAAAI!" (I'm fuuuuuull!) while watching Supernatural :D

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Shirakawa-go Village in Gifu Prefecture

Happy Golden Week, everyone! The first day of Golden Week, Kazu and I went to his hometown to visit his grandparents, and most importantly to get his parents' blessing on our marriage, and more importantly their signatures on the marriage certificate. We got both, so we're planning to pass in the marriage certificate at city hall on Monday! 
We also got a little $present$from Kazu's grandparents, which we used to take a roadtrip! Unlike in the US, almost all highways/freeways/expressways cost money to use, a LOT of money. We drove 4 hours each way, and the total roundtrip cost was roughly 8,000 yen ($80). 
Today's destination was Shirakawa-go Village (白川郷), a world heritage site in rural northern Gifu prefecture famous for having many historic houses built in the ancient Japanese 'gasshou style' of architecture, with straw thatched, A-shaped rooves. "Gasshou" literally refers to the pose of having your hands together as if praying, which is kind of how the rooves of these houses look, like two giant hands put together! 
We were really exhausted after all that driving, but the town was so beautiful it was almost magical-- definitely worth a visit! 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Playing with Babies

Hey guys! I downloaded the blogger app on my phone, and today's post is as much a test of the app as it is an actual post about things worth writing about. If this app works well, it might allow me to post more often when I have a bit of free time but am not able to pull out my computer to write a proper post (such as on the train).
Yesterday Kazu and I went to my friend Rumi and her husband Kousuke's house for dinner. They are very, very cool people, basically Japanese hippies. Many Japanese people are very proper and polite all the time and it comes across as 'uptightness' and can be stiffling after a while, but Rumi and Kousuke are soooo chill that I always love hanging out with them. They have 3 children, Hana (not pictured, a 3rd grade girl who is very responsible for her age and loves ballet), Midori (the 3 year old girl in the picture, she likes origami but she can't do it right so she always tapes the paper in the shape she wants) and Kiisuke (the youngest and only boy, he's 10 months old now).
We had a lot of fun chatting with Rumi and Kousuke and some other friends of theirs who dropped by randomly, and also playing with the kids, especially Midori (nickname 'Mido-chan'). Kazu is especially smitten with Midori because she has naturally brownish hair and is a tiny bit chubby, and he's convinced our future daughter will be just like her. Midori loves him too and it was a running joke last night that Midori is going to steal my husband from me. He sat her on his lap and combed her hair and even taught her how to wash dishes after dinner. I know that Kazu is going to be a wonderful father!
I really want children, though we really can't afford them now. I can barely manage running the household and working fulltime and paying proper attention (spending time with) Kazu as it is, nevermind also having to take care of a baby! But we can't afford for me not to work, and there is no one to watch the baby for me if I went to work part-time. If and when we have a baby, it will have to go into daycare full-time almost from birth, which is too sad. Even so, I am 27 years old now and I want to have my first baby before I'm 30 and I want to finish having babies by 35. Ideally I'd like one boy and one girl. Kazu also agrees with this goal, though of course these things rarely go as planned. We will see what the future brings! For now, we have to work on getting officially married and changing my name.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Home Sweet Home

Hey guys! Long time, no post, right? I've finally moved into my new apartment, settled in, and relaxed and unwound a bit after the stress of moving. I was on vacation (spring break) for exactly one month, from March 11th to April 11th. You'd think that I'd have tons of time for blogging, right? Wrong! I spent most of my vacation catching up on sleep, doing chores, and reading trashy romance novels on my kindle. I'm now refreshed and ready to work hard for the upcoming year.

I finally got around to recording this video to introduce the new place to you guys. I'm sorry the narration's so awkward, especially at the beginning. Since I've been on vacation for several weeks I haven't spoken English in a really long time, so I kept having to stop and think about what to say.

The cost of this apartment is 50,000 yen for rent, 3,000 yen for 'maintenance fees' and 5,400 yen per car for parking, adding up to a grand total of 63,800 yen or $640 per month. We also have to pay for water used and sewage disposed every other month; the landlord gets the bill for the entire building every 2 months and he splits it evenly among the tenants; the building isn't set up to measure each apartment's usage. And finally we have to pay some miscellaneous "community group fees" every few months to the community group, a bunch of housewives and retired old people who get together and do stuff for the good of the community, like picking up garbage and organizing traffic safety awareness campaigns and that kind of stuff. We are required to pay membership fees to this group because we live in this neighborhood, but we don't have to (and don't) participate in their activities. 

I've really enjoyed living with Kazu. We've been living together for two months now, and it's going very well. I do most of the chores and cooking, simply because he has to work until anywhere between 7pm and 11pm every night, whereas I get home by 5pm every day. On the weekends we relax, enjoy cooking together and going out places together, and on Sunday afternoon we do our grocery shopping for the week. We have all our bills set up in his name and they are withdrawn automatically from his bank account, and I wire him a lump sum once a month to cover my half of the rent and utilities, and we split the cost of food. 

Yesterday we went to Kyoto to see Cherry Blossoms. The cherry blossom season was pretty late this year; we wanted to go last week but the weather was bad and the cherry blossoms weren't fully bloomed yet, so we waited. Unfortunately, by this weekend many of the flowers had already fallen and green leaves were starting to grow. Still, we really enjoyed ourselves. Here are a few pictures!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Happy New Year!

あけましておめでとうございます!Happy New Year, everyone! Hopefully this year I can post more regularly. Please leave some comments on my posts to help motivate me! When there're no comments it's easy for the lazy little devil sitting on my shoulder to say "No one's reading anyways, why bother posting?" You caught me: I am a very, very deeply lazy person.

However, I can't possibly procrastinate any longer. I have way too many things to tell you guys! So many good things have happened for me lately. I'll just list them out all at once and then go into a bit more detail about each one after.

1. Kazu and I got engaged shortly after my last post, in June 2015
2. I got an engagement ring while I was in America for Christmas 2015
3. Kazu and I will be moving in together next month, February 2016
4. I finally passed the Japanese Language Proficiency Test N1 level

Engagement: We were at Kazu's house one night, sitting on his bed talking about random stuff after dinner one night. Suddenly he hugged me tightly and said "結婚しよう" ("Let's get married.") Since we'd often talked in a 'far-off future' kind of way about getting married, it didn't occur to me at first that this might be a proposal. About a week later, when it finally occurred to me I asked him and he was like "Yeah, I guess it was!" I don't think it really occurred to him either, but then he said that we were no longer dating and now "engaged." I was a bit self-conscious about the fact that although we were engaged, he never gave me an engagement ring. I knew the reason: we're both dirt poor, and it didn't really occur to him to go out and get a ring. I think he just intended for us to get wedding rings once we actually got married.

Engagement Ring: When I went back to America for Christmas, my dad had a proposal of his own for me. He really wanted to secretly conspire with Kazu about it, but since Kazu can't speak English and my dad can't speak Japanese, it ended up being me and my dad conspiring. When my grandmother passed away 5 years ago, she left me her engagement ring from her marriage to my grandfather. My grandparents divorced many years ago and remarried other people. When my grandmother remarried, she had the engagement ring from her first marriage remade so she could continue to wear it without offending her new husband. When I received it, it was a white-gold band set with a diamond surrounded by sapphires to look like a flower. My father and I took the ring to the jewler's and had it re-made again. We took the diamond (the only original part of the ring from my grandparents' engagement) out and had it reset in a gold band, to match the gold bands Kazu and I were planning all along to get for our wedding rings. Of course I discussed all of this with Kazu and he agreed completely, so I've been wearing the ring ever since returning to Japan. Of course I wanted to receive an engagement ring from Kazu in a grand romantic gesture like a fairytale princess, but this way we managed to save almost $2000.

Moving: We've been talking about it for a while, and I've been scheming for even longer (if you've ever lived in a Leopalace, you'll understand my haste to move out of mine) but we're finally moving. Kazu's parents are semi against it because they want him to change jobs to a better paying job with a bigger, well-established company. If we move now, he can only change jobs to places within commuting distance of our new apartment, whereas if he waited to move, he could get a job anywhere at all and we could drop everything and move there. However, my lease on my current apartment renews automatically in April, and if I don't move out before then I have to pay as much as $1200 in cancellation fees for leaving mid-contract. No, thank you! We also have no idea when or even if he'll be able to get a job he wants, and I'm really not good at waiting for things without knowing exactly how long I'll have to wait. If there's an end in sight, I can look forward to that and bear with it, but I can't stand waiting indefinitely.
Although I said that Kazu's parents are somewhat against our move, they aren't entirely opposed to it, just hesitant about the timing. Still, they've very generously agreed to be the guarantor for our apartment. For those of you know don't know, a "guarantor" (保証人 - hoshounin) is a co-signer who agrees to be responsible for any expenses you fail to pay (unpaid rent, damages, etc). Recently there are companies that you can pay a few hundred dollars to be your guarantor, but because Kazu's parents are Japanese citizens with a house and decent jobs, we were able to save a nice little bit of money by having them sign for us instead. If it were my own parents, I would just say thanks and forget about it, but it means a LOT to me that his parents did this despite not being totally convinced about me or our moving.
Our new apartment is a 2LDK (2 bedrooms and a large room that is a combination kitchen, dining and living room) and the rent is just under 65,000 ($650) a month total. The rent itself is only 50,000 yen ($500) but we also have to pay 3000 yen ($30) for 共益費 (a maintenance fee for the grounds and other common areas), a  500 yen ($5) fee to the community association (a group of neighbors who do activities for the good of the local community, such as crime prevention and public awareness campaigns) and 10,800 yen ($108) for parking for two cars. Even with all of this, it's only about $100 more than I'm paying for rent now, and if either of us were to lose our job, the other could afford to pay for it until the fired partner found a new job. This was one of our goals when moving. Also, since we'll be splitting the cost of one apartment, instead of each renting our own apartments, we should be able to put some decent money into savings. I'm just happy that we'll have a spare bedroom for when my friends and family come to visit. I majored in Japanese in the US and also studied abroad at a Japanese university, so my university friends are spread all over Japan, and we often travel for cheap by staying at eachothers' houses.

JLPT: Not much to say about this. I never took levels N5-N2, so my first and only JLPT certification is the N1. I took a practice test for N2 at the end of the last semester of my final year of university and got a 97%. This influenced my decision to go straight for N1 even though it was a bit above my level at the time. Indeed, the first time I took the JLPT in December 2014, I failed. I considered taking N2 this time around, just to have a certification. N2 is equivalent to "Business-level Fluency" and is both well-respected and useful in terms of finding jobs, and an N2 certificate in hand is better than an unproven self-declaration of 'roughly N1 level.' However, I ultimately decided to give N1 another try, and took it again in December 2015. This time around I passed! If people are interested, I'll write a separate post about my experience taking the N1 test and my suggestions. N1 is supposedly equivalent to "Native-level Fluency" but I know that this is an impossible goal. I can function in society and at work without handicap, can use a Japanese-Japanese dictionary to understand the meaning of Japanese words I don't know, and can learn new things *in* Japanese, so I suppose in that sense I've got the skills of a native level speaker, but my students can still talk in circles around me and I don't understand some of the terminology they use in 3rd grade math and science classes. Language learning will be a life-long journey for me.

Thanks for reading all of this! I'll be sure not to let another 9 months lapse between posts!