Tag Archives: Japan

Things I miss about San Diego

It has been about 2 months since we left our home in San Diego. Here is the list of the things I miss most about San Diego – in no particular order.

1.Near perfect weather!
I have two close friends who have recently moved to San Diego, and their Facebook feed are filled with beautiful shots of sky and praise about how nice the weather is there. Having lived there for 12 years, I admit I have gotten a bit spoiled. While I had missed the seasons, its weather was one of many things that made really easy to like it there…

2.Yoga Studios.
I have been a yogi on and off for many years. In 12 years of my San Diego life, I have tried many yoga studios, and towards the end of my stay, I found a yoga studio I really liked at Liberty Station. It was so easy to get to and I enjoyed the Wednesday evening class a lot. It was shame that I only got to go there for the last 3 months or so.

3.Liberty Station
This place has developed so much over the last few years – it has everything – restaurants, stores, nice play area with two different play structure, art studios, huge glassy area….One of my said friends who moved there now lives there with her family. I wouldn’t mind living there myself if/when we go back to San Diego again. It is so peaceful and every time I went there I couldn’t help but be grateful of how beautiful and enjoyable life is.

4.How people dress
I loved the unpretentious way people dress in San Diego. T-shirt, short pants, flip flops…while I never dared to drive a car with flip flops (I am always cold) I admired how relaxed the dress code was in most situations. Returning to Japan, I feel the need to adjust my wardrobe, which is not easy to do as I don’t really enjoy shopping for clothes. Things are simpler in San Diego on that front.

5.Green Smoothie
This has a lot to do with the fact that we are still living in a hotel and our Vitamix is in the shipment (which has already arrived by the way, just waiting for us to move to our new house). Yesterday we were at the Navy Exchange (a store in the U.S. Navy base we are staying) and Vitamix person was there to do a demo, like the one you’d see in Costco in the U.S. It was my first green smoothie ever since we got here. I miss my Vitamix. I am sure there are places you can get green smoothies somewhere out in town, but I haven’t found one yet.

6.Wider streets
Driving in Japan is an adjustment and not just about which side of the streets we drive. The biggest challenge is that the streets are so narrow, especially in older part of town. In more than few occasions my husband commented in amazement how the street we were on could possibly be a two way street. Also, lots of people are on bicycles and they just go everywhere, and they don’t believe in wearing a helmet while riding a bicycle which makes me really nervous when I am near one. I miss the wider streets in San Diego with plenty of street parking!

7.Friends
With Facebook, email and Skype, it has never been easier to keep in touch with friends who live across the ocean. However, that does not mean I miss my friends back in San Diego any less. Getting together for play dates with the entire family, or driving the kids to their friends’ house, planning a movie date, or going out with my friends for a meetup, or just hanging out together outdoor… I miss you and cherish the time we had together. I hope you will come visit us in Japan.

P.S….I am planning on sending holiday cards. Please message me (via Facebook, email or through contact page of this site) with your address if you would like to receive one!

Living “in-between”

009A month has passed since we left our home in San Diego. After almost a 12 hour flight, we landed and started our long walk towards the immigration gate, dragging our sleepy kids with us. After passing through immigration and custom we exited to the lobby where we were greeted with by a tall person holding a piece of paper with my husband’s name on it. He turned out to be one of his colleagues, and he drove us (along with our 17 pieces of luggage) to a hotel located on the U.S. Navy Base in Yokosuka. We did not know that someone would be there to pick us up, so it was a really nice surprise and I was so relieved that we didn’t have to spend another 2-3 hours taking bus and train with all of our stuff to get to our temporary home for next few weeks.

The first few days flew by quickly – we were busy getting situated, going here and there to register ourselves with places – attending a mandatory Housing Office brief, getting kids enrolled into base elementary school and arranging childcare for our youngest while we looked for houses. I quickly realized that we really need a good phone number to start house hunting so that became the next task. It was a time-consuming experience but after spending almost 2 hours at the DoCoMo shop in Yokosuka, we managed to get our U.S.-bought iPhone and Android phone to work with the Japanese SIM chip and obtained Japanese cell phone numbers. We learned to ride a base bus to get around the base (it feels really huge if you have to walk everywhere). Our hotel room only had a small kitchenette, so we have been eating out almost every night. I always prefer to go out of the base and eat at local restaurants rather than going to the restaurants at the base (I believe we ate at almost every one of them by now). When we do go out though, sometimes we don’t make it back to the base to catch the last bus back to the hotel and we end up taking base taxi, or walk 20-30 minutes if the weather accommodates.

Speaking of weather, in this short 4 weeks, we had two big typhoons. Both of them were said that it was one of the biggest in past few years. When the first one (Typhoon #18) hit, we were staying at my parent’s house for the weekend. It just so happened that we rented a car for the weekend and getting there by car was faster and more convenient than taking the train. But I had not driven in Japan for over 12 years and I was not confident in driving back in heavy rain and wind, so we extended our stay. The base command had declared school closure even before the first drop of rain. As we’ve learned from our Area Orientation Brief (AOB) which we attended during our 2nd week, the command would always chose safety over people’s convenience. Watching the heavy rain continued over 24 hour period, I was thinking that I had never seen this amount of water falling from sky back in San Diego. We really are in Japan now.

After having seen 6 rental properties in Yokohama/Yamato area, we had found a place we’d love to rent out, but the owner of the place is still there and it’ll take a while for it to be move-in ready. In the meantime, we just purchased a car last week. Purchasing a car was relatively easy as we bought it from a dealer who does business on base. We put a deposit on Wednesday around 12:00pm and it was ours by lunch time on Friday. It would not have gone this quickly if I tried to buy a car from a Japanese dealership store as we still do not have a local permanent address. When I called a Japanese dealership, they asked me if I had my “Inkan-Shomei” which is a certified seal of my last name to verify who I am. Also, we’d need to submit the measurement of the garage before we could buy a car. I was again reminded that we are in Japan where the seal is required in an official transaction and also living space is very limited. I didn’t have my Inkan-Shomei as we still don’t have a Japanese address, so we went with this dealer who could register our new (used) car with the hotel address and also helped with the registration process with Yokohama Land Transportation Office(LTO). It’s a Toyota 7 seater car – a type of car I had always been afraid of driving because of its size, but this one came with a back camera that turned out to be very helpful when we have to park backwards. I am slowly getting the hang of it.

Although we are still transitioning, we have roof over our head, means to get around and get what we need for day-to-day life. We see my parents fairly regularly which is nice, and spending time at my parents house provide a welcome break from living in a small hotel room with family of five. The next big step is to actually sign the lease, move in and hopefully get our household goods shipment which is supposed to come during the first week of November has actually arrived today. That is then the real transition will happen – especially for kids as they will then start going to Japanese school. As much as I am eager to get to the next step, I also realize that it will eventually happen, so I’m trying to enjoy this “in-between” state of living.

“The Happiness of Pursuit”

002I just finished reading “The Happiness of Pursuit” written by Chris Guillebeau. I received an advanced copy of his book, which was one of the gifts that were available for this year’s World Domination Summit attendees. This book is about a quest and I enjoyed reading it. Chris said this was the most difficult to write of his three books he has published so far, and I could see why – he told us many stories of the people who took on a quest, including himself.

People often talk about a “hero’s journey” and the word “hero” has this connotation that the mission is heroic in nature. It is quite prevalent in pop culture from Star Wars (my husband’s all time favorite) to Harry Potter (my personal favorite). But reading this book, one thing I realized is that a quest doesn’t necessarily have to be about saving the world. Many people whose stories he showcased in this book do/did have a great cause, such as Miranda Gibson who lived on a tree in Tasmania for over a year to protest illegal logging (she saved the forest!). But there are others who did things as a personal pursuit, such as travelling great distance on foot, bicycle or by sailing the ocean. The author Chris Guillebeau’s quest was to visit every country in the world before his 35th birthday. For each quester in Chris’s book, the quest started out as just a thought. An idea each person started contemplating, because he or she felt the strong pull to it and just couldn’t stop thinking about it, until one day they felt compelled to put that thought into a plan and took action. Pursuing it brought the quester joy and a sense of purpose.

This is great news for people who has read this book, and started thinking about their own quest but have no idea what to do or where to begin. In summer of 2012, Chris gave out $100 to all the 1000 attendees at World Domination Summit(WDS), an annual gathering of people living unconventional life. A few months later, when I talked to a few other fellow attendees, I heard from some people that they were still sitting on that $100 because they felt the pressure to do something amazing (such as multiply that money a 100 fold), and the thought of whatever idea they come up with might not be “good enough” stopped them from moving forward. I can imagine some might feel the same pressure and challenge in their attempt to decide on a quest that is worthy to pursue. For example, would collecting every stamp that was ever produced in my country be significant enough? Does it meet “WDS standards”? Having been to WDS a few times, I can say that it’s easy to compare yourself to fellow attendees and feel discouraged that you are not as accomplished. However, I believe those are the wrong things to worry about when you think about your own quest. As you will read in Chris’s book, a quest doesn’t have to solve any problem in the world nor does it have to be practical for anyone involved. The quester that will strike most people as “odd” would be John Francis who one day decided to not use a car (so he went everywhere on foot) and then also decided to not speak for 17 years. Because of this vow of silence, it was very difficult for him to explain to others why he chose that for himself. This tells me another aspect of a quest; the pursuer (you) need to believe in it even if it might not make sense to other people. You need to be convinced that this is something you will do, as it takes commitment and courage to see it through especially when others don’t understand or support it.

A part of the book that spoke to me the most was the last part. Chris illustrated what happens when quest comes to an end. I felt a little sad to read about what happened to Howard Weaver who took down a competing newspaper company in Alaska. After the competition was destroyed (by the newspaper he built), he was pushed out of the company he spent years building, and eventually he left the town he grew up in. There is definitely a sense of loss after a quest ends. A quest does not guarantee that you’ll live happily ever after once you have completed it. Through a quest, you will most likely grow as a person and become a different version of you, but from these stories in this book, I can tell that people don’t do it to make money or to be famous (“those are called career move”). You do it because you want to (or you feel you have to), no matter what it may bring. I personally think that while you are on your quest, you might not even feel happy 100% of the time. Gretchen Robin said that being happy comes with three components: feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right. Every quest has its own process and there will be times that it becomes another daily grind…that’s the “feeling bad” part. You might even die while pursuing your goal. But the questers in his book all say they were glad they did it, despite everything, and after that’s over, some will chose to take on another challenge.

I am writing this in a hotel room with a partial ocean view of Coronado beach. It just so happens that my 12 years of San Diego life is coming to an end this week, we had moved out from our apartment last week and we have been living in a hotel since then until we finally leave in a few days. It was not that I was not happy here…that is not why we are leaving…if anything, we have been living a nice, comfortable life where it is almost always sunny, people are friendly and beaches are just a few minutes away. As my husband put it, we are leaving a perfectly good ship. And yet, I know I need to do this so that I (and we as a family) can experience and grow. People ask why we are moving to Japan for a few years, and the left-brain answer would be so my kids can learn Japanese language and culture, so they can get to know their Japanese grandparents and relatives, and that it might give me more opportunity in terms of business and writing my next book – but my right-brain answer is just one word: adventure. I just have to move my family across the ocean so we can experience what’s out there; the good, the bad and the ugly, all of it. While I wouldn’t call my move back to my home country a quest, it is certainly an adventure as I have never lived there with my chosen family who grew up in the U.S.A. and have Japanese language skills that are emerging at best. I am certain I will miss my life here in San Diego that I worked hard to make it easy and comfortable, especially when things get stressful and tough as I am sure they will be at times. But I also know I will regret it if I did not do this. In that sense, the words of the questers in this book on why they chose to pursue what they pursued resonated with me a lot.

As for my own quest – I have two projects I am working on right now. The first one is to document my life and my children’s life by using 1 second everyday app, basically taking a video of them and preserve one second of each day. My motivation for this project is that when they grow up and ask me “what was I like when I was little?” I can show them their individual timeline. You can watch your whole year in just 6 minutes! I’ll continue this as long as my kids allow me to chase them with my iPhone video camera. Another project is to produce my podcast show where I interview people and collect their stories. So far I have produced over 80 episodes, featured stories on the life in the U.S.A., Canada, Japan, France, Afghanistan, United Arab Emirates….eventually I want to showcase stories from every country in the world(do you know anyone who has gone everywhere?), though I can’t say at this point how long it will take to complete. Reading this book will inspire you to think about your own life (my friend Oliver said it’ll make you feel like you are lazy) You could start thinking about what your quest could be – but remember, it is not something you do to get other people’s approval. I wouldn’t even do it to be happy. Do it because it sounds fun, interesting or make sense to you. My two little projects fit that criteria so I’ll continue them as long as they stay that way.

After the quake

It’s been almost a month since the 4th biggest earthquake on the record hit my home country Japan. Many of us who live outside of Japan spent these past several weeks in emotional turmoil. I still remember when my friend in San Jose called me at 10:00pm that night telling me about the earthquake. I saw my brother’s facebook message, asking me to try and contact my parents. I tried calling their cell phones, leaving voicemail message and text messages. It wasn’t until the next morning that I finally talked to my mother, and eventfully with my father. While I couldn’t reach them, I chose to believe that they had gotten stuck somewhere when they were trying to get home due to the transportation system in Japan halting for the earthquake. In the meantime, I learned that things were getting worse by minute – a big tsunami hit after the earthquake, and then the problems with the nuclear plants occurred. From what I read on twitter feeds and various media outlets, small earthquakes kept occurring and things were far from over. It was the end of the world as we knew it. (By the way, my husband who was editing this post commented on this sentence “a little dramatic, don’t you think?” but I disagree. I think something has shifted that day and we are yet to see its full effect.)

During the first few days after the main earthquake, what I saw and heard constantly was (apart from the devastation of this disaster) that non-Japanese people applauding how calm and caring Japanese people were in the face of these difficulties. There was no looting or violence which one would expect should a similar thing happen in other places. One of my Japanese friends wrote in his blog that when this particular aspect of the disaster was discussed in the ESL class, someone asked why there was no looting or violence in cases like this in Japan. This was a pivotal point for me to realize that this is one of the main reasons why I want my children to have the experience of living in Japan. I want them to know our way, not like foreigners seeing us from outside, but want them to live there and breathe our philosophy – or what being a Japanese person means in situations like this.

I know that what is happening right now is tragic and there is so much political and historical discussions around what we should do about the nuclear plant or our dependency on it, and that the government’s and TEPCO’s response to the situation leaves a lot to be desired. Also, Japan’s cultural nature to conform to group values vice putting individual values first has its downside – being different is not always welcomed or accepted, and we feel strong pressure from people in the group to be just like them. People criticize lack of strong leadership on the government’s side, but it is very challenging to be a leader in our country because you are not meant to be different or stand out, and also supporting leaders is not our strongest qualities (they go hand in hand; who wants to take charge when all they get is criticism?) I’ve been thinking how to show my children the best of both worlds. How can my son learn the have a healthy balance between doing what’s best for the team, and putting himself first so he can live his life as he sees fit? I  want him to contribute and be a member of a society, and I want him to stand out and speak up as he desires. It will be a long learning experience for all of the cross-cultural couples like us.  One thing I’m determined to continue as long as I can is to tell them “I love you” every night when I tuck them in bed. Also, I will have my sons call each other by their names even though that’s now what we do in Japan – usually younger brother calls older one “Oni-chan” (older brother) and not by name.  I have my own theory about what this might do to my kids. Whether calling each other by name and not by their roles does what I think it would, only time will tell. In the meantime, I continue to be the best “me” I can be and live fully. As we have all seen, you’ll never know what tomorrow brings.

Happy New Year

As many of you know by now, I grew up in Japan. Here in the U.S., the New Year holiday is relatively quiet in comparison to the Xmas holiday. Where I come from, in contrast, the New Year holiday is a great deal, even bigger than Xmas. The first few days of January are called happy-new-yearO-sho-gatsu” and it is a time for the entire family to get together and eat well, kids receive “O-toshi-dama”(money in a small envelop) from family and relatives, people visit temples and shrines, and watch special new year sporting events such as a famous long-relay marathon takes place between Tokyo and Hakone on January 2nd and 3rd. Most businesses are closed at least for 3 days, if not longer. It is also a time to ponder upon the upcoming year, where people wish all the best and good luck to each other and to themselves. Even though I appreciate the weather here in San Diego, I always miss Japan very much at this time of the year. This year, my mother is visiting from Japan and she cooked all the great food I would have had in Japan, and while it is not exactly the same, I still enjoyed the first day of the year 2010. We spent the morning at the Balboa park, visiting science museum and did a mini-train ride with the kids, followed by a picnic lunch. After coming home, I worked out at a 24 hour fitness club which I had not been to since I became pregnant last October. I know, it’s such a cliché to want to start anew in terms of doing exercise and I was afraid that it might be very crowded, but the gym was almost completely empty and I was pleasantly surprised. Continue reading