Sunday, November 14, 2010


When Karl and I moved to Japan, we knew life would be much different. And indeed it is. I feel that I am adapting to life in Japan relatively well....but culture shock is like a never-ending roller coaster. And you can't get off.  I feel like I have hit a stable point since I got my job.  However, having a job has introduced a whole new set of cultural differences.

I work in an English Conversation school (enkai in Japanese). My company sends me all over the Saitama Prefecture.  This means I commute. A lot. Riding the train is really not so bad. I mean, I get to listen to podcasts and stay up-to-date with my favorite NPR shows from across the world. I also knit. It's not so bad.

Riding the trains everyday in Japan can lead to some very interesting observations. One night when I was almost back to Ogawa, there was this guy sitting across from me. The poor fellow was so exhausted. He was attempting to maintain a reasonably upright position...while sleeping. This sort of worked. Until....CRACK! I started and looked over. He had lost control and his head had smashed onto the large glass window behind him. He was, apparently, fine. As was the window. I was astonished when his head hit the window a second time. He was still sleeping! This continue to happen until he got off the train.

This is really not unusual.  Many, many people sleep on the trains. As far as I can tell, it is break time for most people.  I am too paranoid to sleep on trains. Afraid I will miss my stop, also not trusting everyone else who is riding the train. Don't get me wrong, Japan is a very safe place, but still.

When I come home from work at night, it is usually a 1-2 hour commute. I get home around midnight. You would be amazed at the tremendous number of people commuting home at that hour. There are so many people here, I am constantly amazed. Business men and women coming home from work. Students coming home from cram-schools (juku in Japanese).

The Japanese people are stereotyped as being very hard working.  This is one hundred percent true. I have Junior and High School students who get up at 5 am, go to school all day, then have club or sport activities, then go to Juku  or Ekaiwa schools, like the one I teach at. They get home around 10 or 11 at night. That is a 17 hour day for some students. Oh! And plus, most of these students also have Saturday school (this is sometimes every other week though).

I feel bad for them most of the time. They have a schedule similar to what my college schedule was. I wouldn't wish that on anyone, especially 13-16 year olds. These kids are young. Sometimes they are so tired, they fall asleep right in class. When this happens, I just let them sleep.

This seems to be what is expected of students here in Japan. I am having a difficult time understanding it. I love school and think studying is important, but I also know how important it is to have at least a little bit of down time. And I am sure they do. This is just my impression when I am teaching.

One other cultural difference I have having difficulty with is the shoe thing. I get that it is aren't tracking in outside dirt inside. Good thing? I guess....except when you have to put on slippers that who knows how many people have worn. I am especially grossed out in the summer when socks are not part of the equation. The most questionable though? The special bathroom slippers. That everyone wears. Ew. Thank goodness these practices are not standard. Where I work, there are only a few rooms where we are not allowed to wear shoes. But those are carpeted kids classrooms, so stocking feet are fine.

One last thing. You friends and family in the mid-west, if you think passive aggressive people are bad there, you have never been to Japan. That is all I have to say about that.

I apologize that each of these differences seem to be negative. There are positive differences as well. Like when you go to a restaurant there is a button you press when you want the waiter to come and get your order. Brilliant! Also the way they recycle and sort trash. It is extremely efficient. Japan is not big, so they use what space they have well. One thing they have done with trash is created an island. It is called Dream Island and is located right in Tokyo Bay. Crazy! Also, despite the annoyances of riding the trains late at night. I still love that public transportation is so good in this country. It is quite incredible. We have virtually no reason to drive and I love it!
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Some people eat to live....we live to eat.

Food is good. Here are some of the delectable items we have been cooking up recently!

 This is an incredible salmon dish that I made Last month sometime.  There are sauteed leeks on top with the lemon slice. I love salmon!

I made this ratatouille to accompany the salmon dish above.  It was marvelous! There are so many varieties of this dish. I chose to make the one found in the food memoir called "A Homemade Life." Served with a french baguette and white wine, this meal was delightful! 
 This is something I made up when we were in the mood for something Mexican. It is basically just a fajita salad.  The dressing I did find in a book, the same food memoir I mentioned above. Garlic, cilantro (coriander), and garlic ALWAYS work well together!
 This is the recipe that the dressing officially called for.  Roasted cauliflower with a chili verde sauce. It made an excellent side dish to my fajita salad! Plus it was a breeze to make.

 Karl and I really love gnocchi dishes.  There is one dish that we use constantly. We found it on Eating Well's website. (GREAT site to find healthy delicious recipes!) This one here we also found on that site. It is very simple, just gnocchi, zucchini, onion, garlic, spices, red pepper, and parmesan. It was excellent and very easy. The side is a simple Mediterranean steamed salad.
 This soup is from the Chinese teaching cooking that is one of the three cookbooks we actually have with us. Karl had never had it before and he loved it! It is a chicken soup with ham, creamed corn, ginger, egg, and scallions. It is positively divine. 
 I did NOT make this! Karl brought it home for me when we was away on a teachers trip in Tokyo.  He found a little shop called "Chocoholic" and had to go in for me. :) Isn't it adorable?!
This last dish I just made tonight.  Another gnocchi dish! I found a recipe online and got the idea for it. Then didn't follow it at all.  The gnocchi I simply boiled for a few minutes till it floated, then drained and tossed it with extra virgin olive oil, basil, pepper, salt, and parmesan. I sauteed onions and garlic in another pan with a bit of olive oil.  When they were beginning to carmelize, I put the salmon on top of the onions and sprinkled it with rosemary, thyme, lemon juice, olive oil, pepper, salt, and a bit of white wine. I covered it for a few minutes till it was cooked through. It was delicious!!!
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