Category Archives: Japan

Go Do 2016 Video – My Overseas Adventure

On my last adventure in Italy 2014, I compiled all of the video footage I had taken and created my European Adventure video.

This time around, I took the same idea, but twisted it a bit. Last time I showed you all the things I did, but this time I wanted to let you see through my eyes. The things my eyes have seen, and my feet have touched, have left me scared, brokenhearted, lost, overwhelmed, hopeful, inspired, and speechless. Most importantly, it has left me wanting more, and wanting to share what I have experienced thus far with anyone who will listen.

As I have said many times before, my initial goal with this blog, was to simply keep my family updated in my major activities while abroad. Since then, my dream behind this blog has expanded. I love to write, I love to inspire, and I love to travel. So, why not put it all together. From my keyboard in 14 different countries, I have been able to not only keep my family updated, but also share my favourite stories with friends, fellow travelers, and internet enthusiasts.

I have a love for writing. However, I also have a love for videoing, especially my feet (They are my most photographic feature). I hope this video compilation will explain to those I met along my journey, as to why I was always staring at my feet.

Clearly, my dad had the same idea (where I obviously get my home videoing joy from). Thanks to him, and a behind the scenes friend, I was actually able to capture my homecoming from 3 different perspectives. Thank you to everyone for your love and support.

Walk on,

You Armstrong Abroad (at home)


Saying Sayonara to Japan and the Korean ‘No Fly’ List

I can’t believe it’s that time already. After 3 jobs, 2 houses, 1 passport extension, 13 prefectures, and countless hours spent on trains, my 286 days in Japan have come to an end. This will be my last blog post of Japan, but with still 2 countries to go before getting back to Canada, I assure you the fun is not over yet.
I’m really happy I chose to stay here to see the autumn season in full colour. It is actually starting to get cold here (or I’m just turning into a total baby), but I’ve already sent home all my warm clothing. So, I’ve been doing a lot of shivering while pretending I’m okay with it; walking around in my light sweater while everyone else is rocking Canada Goose jackets…. seriously. It has become full on scarf, mittens, toque, weather for them now. That being said, it still hasn’t cracked 0 degrees yet.

Since my last post, I have officially become unemployed (shout out to anyone hiring in Canada! Get at me). I said goodbye to my kindergarten kids, who were being extra satan-like that day, which made it a lot easier to leave. In fact, one child punched me in the crotch twice on my last day as I was teaching. That was my “I’m finished teaching kids for a while” moment. I said goodbye to my one-on-one adult students that same day, who were a bit more thoughtful upon saying farewell (none of them punched me in the crotch). I received many wonderfully written cards, letters, and small gifts. The next day, I said goodbye to my university students, who encouraged me to one final dance off as we parted ways for the last time, as I’m always dancing while I teach. That’s my thing. It’s the best way to learn to enjoy education; dance it out!

Students aside, the greatest people I met here were my coworkers. I had to say thank you and goodbye to all of them. It was overwhelming, and I really suck at goodbyes, so we made it as informal as possible. A few drinks, so many laughs, and a couple of selfies just for good measures.

One bonus of having a house the size of a rabbit hole, is that there isn’t much to clean or pack, and I really don’t have many belongings. As my anxiety issues have increased throughout my travels, I’ve found ways to deal with it… like packing. Packing and list making sooth my anxiety, which brings me to “The Stages of Leaving” list:

  • 2 months to go – “Ya, I’m going home really soon. I’m so excited, but I haven’t really though about it much yet.”
  • 1 month to go – *avoid talking about it, avoid talking about it* anxiety kicks in. Start packing and immediately unpacking again because I realize I still need everything.
  • 3 weeks to go – “Ok, I’m ready to go home. I’ve accepted it and I’m excited about it”
  • 2 weeks to go – “DONT BRING IT UP!” *still packing and unpacking every day.*
  • 1 week to go – * buys all the souvenirs, eats all the food, drinks all the coffee, spends all the money*
  • 3 days to go – “I have tons of time left. This isn’t goodbye, I’ll totally see you again before I go ” *runs away and never looks back*
  • 2 days to go – Everything’s packed. There’s nothing else to do to curb the anxiety.
  • 1 day to go – “In my head I’ve already left.” *turns into emotionless sack of potatoes*
  • Leaving day – 

I’ve been trying to avoid the topic of “when will I see you again” with my friends here, because the reality is I have no plans to return, and let’s be honest, nobody visits Saskatchewan. Of course, most of my time spent overseas is full of amazing adventures and educational opportunities, but when the leaving commences, it feels like weeks of teary goodbyes. These people have been my crutch while I’ve been here. They helped me through real issues: finding a house, a job, not getting lost, and so on. However, they were also there for me when I needed help on a personal level: brought me food when I was too sick to leave my house, ate countless cookies and chocolate with me as we ranted about life problems, organized adventures that I would have never been able to do on my own, encouraged me to remember I am not a Japanese person and it’s okay to stray from the norm and use a fork once in a while, and also helping me understand the culture, language, and expectations in this country. Needless to say, without seeking any professional services during my time here, I had a doctor, a tour guide, a personal driver, a bartender, a therapist, a chef, a translator, a real estate agent, and a family. I will miss everyone dearly. The laughs have far outweighed the stresses.
Thank you Pixie for being as weird and crazy as I am, and always being there to lend an ear and a few curse words of support when I needed it most. I’ll never forget beers and stories by the river, chopstick Jenga, and having a ‘fika’ (did I use that right?).

Thank you Taka for asking me 1,000 English questions every day, but also answering my 1,000 Japanese questions. I will never forget Hiroshima, so many cups of coffee, and hilarious translation mistakes.

Thank you Anna for being so loyal and honest. Seeing you grow in your English, and as a person, has been amazing. I will never forget Snapchatting with you and watching you fail miserably at beer pong. I wish you the best in finding Prince Charming.

Thank you Maiko for accepting me in Japan and including me with your friends in Kyoto. I will never forget meeting you, reading the dictionary together (hōto), and meeting your friends.

Thank you Brandon and Vivi for making every Friday easy to wake up and go to work knowing it was going to be full of laughs. I will never forget giving you all the details of my week adventures in the ten minutes before work, epic dance battles, looking at memes on the train, and courtesy laughing at Brandon’s jokes that no one understands.

Thank you Hayato for being so sweet and understanding that I am a very picky eater. I will never forget ALL of the adventures you took me on, saving me from cockroaches, and teaching me real, useful Japanese culture and language. 

I love you all so much and would never have survived here if it weren’t for you.

My last week I got to finally check out 紅葉 京都 ライトアップ (koyo Kyoto light up). This is where they illuminate the もみじ (momiji – mini maple) trees at the temples. It was absolutely breathtaking, and we enjoyed some traditional warm drinks as we sat and enjoyed the beautiful evening. I had 抹茶 (matcha) and Hayato had 甘酒 (amazake – a hot drink like sake but non-alcoholic). 

We finally made it to Hayatos favourite restaurant (he’s been telling me about this place for months) and I tried おばんざい (o-banzai – food/eating style native to Kyoto with many small traditional Japanese dishes prepared in a simple way using foods usually discarded as waste [better than it sounds]). Every dish we ordered that night was a new food for me! I had to take a picture of the menu to show just how traditional this place was. 

Yes, we took off our shoes and sat on the floor. No, there was absolutely no English. No, I couldn’t read the menu. Yes, I was scared to try every single food, but he pushed me to. Yes, I would eat it all again. We ordered: おから (dryish tofu), ナス たいたん と しそ (cooked mini eggplants with shiso leaves), おでん (daikon, tofu, and egg in a soup broth with a spicy yuzu [small citrus fruit] dip), あつあげ と カツオ (a type of deep friend tofu with bonito flakes, onions, and ginger), チス と みそ (cream cheese with miso paste and shiso leaves), ゆば と わさび (tofu skin with wasabi). He also ordered me 梅酒 (umeshu – plum wine) which is my favourite drink and told the staff I don’t eat fish or pork. He knows me well, and clearly we have eaten together too many times.

I finally had a free weekend, with good weather, that I could dress up in my yukata and go walking in traditional Kyoto! Pixie and I got all dressed up (I did my own hair with a Kanzashi and tied my own kimono bow. Thank you very much!) We gave up counting how many times people stared at us as we walked down the streets like this. It was too many to count. Two guys about our age stopped us and asked where we were from. We said Sweden and Canada, but we currently live in Kyoto…. it never gets old, telling people that we live here. Their reactions are priceless. They then asked where we rented our kimonos from and again we blew their minds by saying that, actually, we owned them. Ya we are the coolest gaijin around.

Things I’m looking forward to at home:

  •  Men with facial hair
  •  Space
  •  Driving
  •  Being literate again
  •  Tim Hortons
  •  A real kitchen with a real oven
  •  Multigrain bread

Things I’m going to miss about Japan:

  •  Trains
  •  Matcha everything
  •  Being a rare and unique species
  •  Heated toilets
  •  Respect for keeping places clean
  •  Cockroaches (JOKING)

So, after the final goodbyes, I headed to the airport to start my final journey home. Things didn’t exactly go so smooth….First of all, my flight was delayed a half hour. Then, as we were lining up to finally board, a loud alarm started going off and an announcement came on as follows: “The fire alarm has been set off. We are investigating. Please stay tuned for more information.” Okay….. 30 seconds later “A fire has been confirmed. Please evacuate the building as quickly as possible!” Cooooool. There were three non- Asian people in my line and we all were looking at each other like ‘oh my god what do we do now?’ Meanwhile, everyone else was as calm as ever, even the staff. One girl turned to us and said, “Oh, don’t worry, it’s no problem”…. and then we proceeded to board during the fire alarm. I survived and saw no fire…. onto Korea!
I finally got to Korea for my layover. Bags came, filled out the declaration correctly, all was good. Then, just as I found a spot to sit and wait for my flight, over the loud speaker in the airport I hear “would Armstrong Jody please report to gate 8 IMMEDIATELY”. Naturally, i’m the ONLY non-Asian person around at this time, so everyone stared at me like they knew it was me, Armstrong Jody. So I go to the desk like, I guess I’m Armstrong Jody. He tells me I have to follow him to security to be questioned about my bags… um, what?! So, awkwardly I follow him though a multitude of security checkpoints and he says to me “don’t worry, I’ll stay with you the whole time and translate everything for you.” Thank God for this sweet, young man, he was so comforting and explained everything to me as I had to show and re-show my passport a million times. I was taken to this little room behind the baggage check desks. So It’s me and about 10 Korean security staff. They speak in Korean and he translates, telling me they found a bullet in my bag and I need to explain it as it’s forbidden material. A BULLET!!?? A bullet!!? Ohhhh…. that bullet.

So I proceed to explain that I went on a war tour in Bosnia in January and was given this AK47 shell from the minefields. This prompted them to then ask me if I was in the army. No. I’m just a stupid, but harmless, tourist. They told me they’d have to confiscate it and that they also found more metal in my bag they were going to search in front of me. I couldn’t think of anything else that could possibly be a red flag in my bag…. then he pulled out a bag of nickels… yes, I had a bag of 5 cent Canadian coins. After confirming all the details and being satisfied that I was not a threat to the country, they seemed to actually find it funny. I had to sign some documents and then was escorted back through all the security lines. On the way out, my translator told me that he has worked here 3 years and never seen a bullet, and the staff had never seen a bullet like that before either. He said they were all very interested in it and found it amusing that I (a little blonde, innocent, lone travelling Canadian girl) was the owner of such a thing. He assured me all was cleared and they finally returned my passport they had been withholding from me.

Needless to say, I’m sure that bullet of mine will be on display in their office and it’s highly possible that I’m flagged as a suspicious person on Korean airways now.

After that I was allowed to board the plane. After we boarded, we were informed our flight had been, again, delayed about a half hour. They then served dinner, which happened to be seafood friend rice. Im sorry, I know I don’t like seafood, but myself aside, it just seems like a terrible thing to serve on a plane, unventilated and all. I politely returned mine and plugged my nose for the next hour until the shrimp stink started to disappear. The only good part of this day: I had a whole row of seats to myself on the plane.

Baggage came, visa was approved, and I walked into Cambodia having NO idea what to expect….

Stay tuned for my final travel blog: Cambodia and Thailand. I will see you all in 9 days

Your Armstrong Abroad

Ranting, Raving, and Real Life

I’m going to get real here for a second, because, as much as I love people supporting me in my life abroad (and I do), it’s more than roses and sparkles over here. Only those who have been a traveller themselves, will understand half of the joys that I’ve talked about in my blog. However, on the same level, only those who have been abroad for any period of time will understand the stresses and frustrations that come with it as well. Before I continue sharing my unicorns and rainbows with you, I want to be honest. Every single day I wake up alone, in a bed made for a small child, in a room the size of a closet, but doesn’t have a closet, that I pay way too much for. I get up, eat the same thing, put on the same boring pantsuit and head to the train for my 1-2 hour commute. I eat the same foods everyday because I don’t actually like Japanese food, and my grocery budget isn’t exactly something to brag about. I’ve lived here almost 9 months now and I still sometimes go home at the end of the day and cry because I can’t understand anything. I’m an extremely independent person and having to ask people for help everyday really wears down on your self confidence. You will never realize your pet peeves faster than when you’re in another country and suddenly they’re all around you. Get your damn bicycle off the sidewalk. If I’m walking and you narrowly miss me with you bike, and then ring your bell at me, I’m going to give you the deathiest death stare there ever was (yes I just made death an adjective). And at the end of the day, I take the same commute home, with a couple hundred other people, who all wish there were more seats on the train so we didn’t have to stand for an hour. I go back to my closet house and binge watch Netflix until I fall asleep, alone, and do it all again the next day. (Can anyone tell me how to turn on the heating in my house?)

So then, why do I do it? You must be thinking that, right? I do it because that one time that I go to the grocery store, the coffee shop, or the train station, and I actually understand what they say to me, or they understand my question, makes it all worth it. I literally said “can I have a bag please?” at the store the other day in Japanese, and they gave me a bag without any hassle or confusion, and I felt like I just won an Olympic gold medal. Recently, I ordered an egg mcmuffin and asked for it without meat. She asked if cheese was still okay and I said yes, with the biggest smile on my face, because I actually had a useful conversation (she probably just thought I was really stoked about cheese or something). 

I want nothing more than for people to choose to travel and experience this for themselves. For me, the days I feel like an absolute piece of garbage, are all part of the journey. The boulder of anxiety that hits me when I lay in bed at night and realize I’m going home in a month, reminds me that I’m going to feel the same kind of shock and frustrations when I return back to Canada. I’m going to get angry and frustrated when people talk to non-English speakers like they are stupid and incapable, because I know EXACTLY how that feels. I’m going to be upset when I realize the grocery store doesn’t carry okra and that the 7-11 is not a gem like it is here. Selfishly, I’m going to put up a stink when Starbucks tells me they don’t serve matcha frappes, and that I can’t use my Tokyo card there. But, again, its all part of the journey. 

 You might be sitting at home thinking ‘wow, her life is so cool, I’m so jealous.’ Thanks, but no thanks. For one, it’s a hella lot of ups and downs. It’s missing out on the most important people in my life and not being there for people when they need me most. And second, to say you’re jealous is an insult. Don’t you dare be jealous. First of all, realize that I didn’t have this opportunity handed to me. I worked my butt off to get where I am, I gave up all of the comforts of my Canadian life, and I continue to work hard every single day. Nothing was easy. Also, if you feel ‘jealous’ because you’re bored with where you are in life right now, then YOU need to make a change. And if I can help in any way, I’d be more than happy to, but being jealous isn’t healthy for anyone and it’s not going to change anything for you. Let your feet take you wherever makes you happy. 

That all being said, I simply can’t wait to see you all at home so soon (anxiety attacks aside). Please be patient with me as I adjust to life in Canada again. I can’t wait to hear about all your lives, see your wedding pictures and your babies that I haven’t met yet. Take a tour of your new houses and chug back Bear Flag with you (you know who you are). I’m so excited!

So, rant over, and back to the last month! Whirlwind of adventures and emotions (clearly. Reference to above rant). It’s become like a game. Crossing things off my Japan bucket list. You know that feeling where you finally get to cross something off a to-do list that you’ve been staring at for months; or rather it’s been staring at you (shout out to all my list people, you know what I mean). I have to face the facts at this point, I won’t be able to cross everything off, but I think I did some serious damage to the list in these last two months. To be completely honest, at this point my body and my brain are a mix of complete exhaustion and a child who just drank their first red bull. It’s a weird combination, but so far it’s working for me. 

This summer I got myself a Hanshin Tigers hat (the Japanese major league beloved baseball team in Osaka/Kobe area) and I finally got to show it off. My friend Andy and I pretty much went for the beer (they walk around the stands with a keg backpack filling people’s cups… unreal) as we don’t really follow baseball. By the last inning, we were so into it (the beer helped, I won’t lie) and our team ended up winning. The crowd had a different cheer for each athlete.. and I mean like a full song, that everyone knew and sang together as they went up to bat. Crazy fans. It was like being at a Saskatchewan Roughriders game, but on an even bigger scale. I would have loved to go again, but time did not allow for that, and we lost out of the playoffs pretty quickly. 

My 2 minutes of fame finally aired on Japanese TV, and my students all found it incredibly quickly. I felt like a big deal for about 3 days and then it all blew over. I have the DVD copy to prove it really happened though. If anyone wants to watch some ridiculous Japanese TV when I come home we can easily make a comedy movie night out of it. Crack open the さけ (sake- Japanese rice wine). After writing this the first time, I had to come back and edit it. I went to the university yesterday and a student came in, looked at my name tag and said, “are you Jody?” I said yes, obviously… “Did you wear a kimono on TV for a Japanese show?” Wow.. five minutes of fame continues. “Yes, yes I did”. He ended by saying he knew I looked familiar from somewhere and then fan boyed for a bit before leaving . I felt like Joey from friends when people recognized him from Days of Our Lives. #winning.

Taking Saturdays off this month proved to be the best idea, as me and my friend have the same days off now. We made a point of doing something new every weekend. He is Japanese and a low level English, so it was also great practice for both of us culturally and language wise. We went hiking to the famous Minō waterfall, saw a wild monkey, hiked the trail marked “じごく だに” (jigoku dani) which literally translates to Hell Valley. He told me this translation AFTER we hiked it. We made a day of it and headed to Kobe city to enjoy the cooler weather at the port and watch all the city lights come on. It was so beautiful. 

Our next day off we headed to Katano city to hike to ほし の ブランコ (hoshi no buranco- kind of translates to star swing). It was a really long walking bridge hanging over a valley. The momiji trees were starting to change colours and it was beautiful. After that we went to a famous shrine (which apparently no foreigners know about!) To be completely honest, I didn’t want to go, but I didn’t want to say that. Well, man, am I glad I went! We couldn’t take our bags or cameras and I wondered why. We also had to fill out some sort of safety form before going in, I was confused. Then we stepped inside and I understood.

A bunch of massive boulders had fallen onto each other and we had to squeeze between, under, over, and around them in almost complete darkness. At one point we actually had to lay down flat on our backs and use the rocks like a slide to get to the underground part. I barely fit! Clearly, this is why no foreigners go there. The crawl spaces were so incredibly tiny and you had to really trust yourself (and the arrows) when we got to the end it was like getting off a roller coaster and he looked at me and said “I want to do that again!” 

Another friend and I headed to Hiroshima (finally!). We took the night bus there and arrived around 6am. I, surprisingly, slept the whole way there, and he did not. Also surprising, because I now have a stereotype that Japanese people can sleep anywhere at anytime. We started on the island of Miyajima, famous for いつくしま (itsukushima) which is a giant red tori gate that, when the tide comes in, looks to be floating in the ocean. We climbed Mt. Misen and he fell asleep on top of the mountain (There. Like I said, typical Japanese, can fall asleep anywhere). We enjoyed a few different flavours of もみじまんじゅう (momijimanju – like pancake batter shaped like maple leaves with red bean paste inside) and some Hiroshima Carp chu-hi (Carp = Hiroshima baseball team. Chu-hi = like an alcoholic cooler) before heading back to Hiroshima city. 

The next day, we went to the Hiroshima Peace museum and saw the Peace Park. This was a big ol’ check off the life bucket list, not just the Japan bucket list. I have been looking forward to this for so long, and it didn’t disappoint. If you EVER have the opportunity to go, GO! It’s an absolute must if you visit Japan. I was really overwhelmed and full of emotions, but I felt like I learned so much. After that we visited a traditional Japanese garden before eating はろしまやき (Hiroshimayaki – noodles, cabbage and egg fried together) and some more あげまんじゆう (agemanju – deep friend momijimanju). Hiroshima did not disappoint, and I’m so satisfied with Japan now.

For Halloween, I agreed to go out with my American friend who is crazy about Halloween. I personally, am not a fan of all the Halloween chaos, I’m more of Christmas person. However, I thought it was probably something I should experience here. After putting off costume making for a solid month, I whipped together something the night before the party. I decided to be a Pokeball (Monsterball). I didn’t feel the costume was very impressive, but at least it had relevance in Japan. So I made a sign, which, on one side, said ポケモン ゲット だぜ!(which is the Japanese equivalent of Gotta Catch ’em All). On the other side I wrote 黙ってポケバール に 入れ (dammate pokeball ni haire. Which translates to ‘shut up and get in the ball’). The sign is definitely what made me popular. Nobody expected this blonde girl to be yelling Japanese Pokemon phrases at them all night. Not many people celebrate Halloween here, but those who do go all out. I was so impressed with the costumes, and it was nice to be in a country where October isn’t freezing and we could enjoy being outside. Also, drinking in the street is legal, so that’s a plus. (Costumes I didn’t get a picture of: guy dressed as a person at an Onsen, wearing only a towel and walking around washing himself with bubble bath; mom dressed her 4 year old child as Chuckie and he would scream at you and chase you with a knife; guy in full Chubaka get up and committed to character; two guys dressed in female 80s workout attire including blonde wigs. Nobody does Halloween half assed here, except me.)

Finally, it seems, all the ridiculous weather has subsided. And by this, I mean no more +50 days, no more spur of the moment downpours, no more cicadas, and no more typhoons. You know how at home when there’s a storm coming, animals get a little crazy? Well it’s the same here with insects. The last typhoon that hit my area made the cockroaches fly for no apparent reason (oh yeah, that’s right, cockroaches fly here). When I got home from work, there was a big ol roach walking across the head of my bed. I (of course) freaked out and attempted to kill it, but it ran somewhere and I couldn’t find it. As mentioned before, my house is closet sized, and so I felt I had nowhere “safe” to sleep. I considered going to a 24 hour McDonalds, a Karaoke place, or back to my office in Osaka to stay the night, but that wouldn’t have worked. So, I poisoned the crap out of my house and proceeded to make myself a tiny bed…. in my bathtub. I didn’t want to use the pillows or blankets that the cockroach had been walking on, so I took all my sweaters and lined the tub with them. Fast forward to the next day at work, I had bruises on my knees and elbows and a sore back from trying to fit in the tub all night, and was running on 3 hours of sleep. Learn from me, not worth it. Thank God no more typhoons are being predicted, and its getting too cold for cockroaches now. 

That being said, earthquakes still strike in any season. I felt my first earthquake in April, but it was at night and only registered a level 1. This time, I was at work at the university. I was talking with a student and a coworker when suddenly this ringing sound started echoing around the whole building. We had about 60 students in for an activity, so I thought it was part of that, until my coworker loudly stated “earthquake!”. I just had enough time to say “how do we know when it hits?” When everything started moving under my feet. I started freaking out a bit, as I really don’t know what to do in a quake. My coworkers assured me we were safe where we were. I said I was feeling really dizzy, but they told me I wasn’t dizzy and that it was actually everything moving around me. After about 30 seconds, everything was stable again. This was the 6.6 quake that hit Tottori, for those who saw it on the news, and it was about a 3 when it hit us. For the rest of the day I felt a bit sick and had a really bad headache. They told me lots of people experience motion sickness and that that is probably what it was. Turns out, the ringing was a emergency disaster warning sent out to all Japanese cell phones as soon as they know a quake is going to hit. The ringing I heard was about 60 phones all buzzing at the same time. Efficiency is Japans middle name. Glad I got to experience it, but I don’t want anything stronger to hit while I’m still here. 

In terms of everyday life funnies, I’ve seen some characters on the train recently, including Asian George Bush, an elderly man who kept track of every person getting on the train (clearly his hobby), and I myself got the be the interesting character too. Morning after Halloween, with no change of clothes, I had to take the 6am train from Osaka to Kyoto wearing my Pokeball costume, sitting next to the salarymen on their way to work. I then had to walk home from the train station wearing it. Everyone dressed in winter coats and scarves… me in a t-shirt and a tutu. Also, when October hit, Japan exploded with pumpkin everything, including ice cream. And, to round off the randomness of this paragraph, I was finally instructed on how to wear a face bag while trying clothing on. It’s a real thing. 

To wrap this one up, I’ve started saying my goodbyes to students and friends, as I only have a few more days of work left. I’ve started selling my belongings, and packing things up in my place. As I’ll get home around Christmas, I’ve started a very real wish list (you’ve got to know by now how much I love lists). This list includes: a job, a home, underwear, a cat, and Tims coffee. It’s very serious. I’ve put a lot of thought into it so far. If you can help out with anything, that’d be great.

Keep the countdown going. 20 days left in Japan and 34 until I’m home. 

Stay beautiful,
Your Armstrong Abroad

はじめまして Jody です。日本語 is Hard…

こんにちわ Konnichiwa!!! 

Do you ever wake up one morning and realize a month has passed and you can’t even remember what happened yesterday? That’s pretty much my life right now. Where has time gone? If you didn’t catch my last blog, I revealed that Ive extended my stay an extra 5 months. Flights have been rebooked and I’ll see you all December 13 at the Saskatoon airport, clear your schedules. Why do I want to stay longer you may ask? How about the fact that the “close door” buttons in the elevators here actually work, microwaves double as actual ovens (I literally bake pizza and muffins in my microwave), and Starbucks always writes cute things on my cups. Ok, in reality, my main reason for staying is I haven’t done anything yet! I finally have friends here (Japanese and English), I’ve committed to taking personal language lessons and I’m actually making headway now, I’m just getting settled in my new house (I’ll explain later), I want to experience every season here, and I have so many things on my “must do” list that haven’t been check off yet. I’ve been working like a dog, 16 hour days far from home, so that I can take the summer off and just enjoy Japan and travel with my new friends! 

The most exciting thing since my last post, was that one of my best friends from University came to visit me for a whole month! Jenna came in April, just in time to catch the last of the cherry blossoms.​

Oh cherry blossoms, the iconic emblem of Japan. In the brochures and travel guides you can find absolutely stunning photos of Sakura season in Kyoto. But, what they fail to mention, is that they got up at the earliest ray of sunlight to take these pictures of Kawaramachi, Arashiyama, and Heian Temple before the people flocked in for the day. At any other given time, you will be faced with the reality that your gorgeous photos will include an accidental photobomb by Jack, Jim, Jane, Yuki, Mami, Roberto, Stefan, and their entourages from every corner of the world. Walking the Kawaramachi area, it was not uncommon to see 10 wedding photo shoots going down. From traditional Japanese wear, to modern white dresses and tuxes. There are now about ten couples who have an awkward and embarrassed blonde unmentionable (ya, me) accidentally walking through the background of their beautiful photos. What can I say, the blossoms are simply mesmerizing. 

All over Japan, people engage in “hanami” (はなみ). This is the custom of going to view the blossoms and basically having a picnic under them. There is literally no English translation for hanami. Although Jenna and I never formally took part in hanami, we did get to try some new foods. First we had takoyaki (たこやき), which is fried dough with octopus, next we tried okonamiyaki (おこのみやき), which is like grilled cabbage, vegetables, and meat with a special sauce. It’s looks like a crazy pancake and literally translates to “as you like” “grilled” which is exactly what it is. We tried fish shaped pastries filled with green tea cream (taiyaki- たいやき), mochi shaped like the aliens from Toy Story, dango, and many many kinds of Pocky and Kit-Kats (matcha, mint, Easter egg, raspberry, to name a few). 

Jenna and I started our adventures in Osaka with the blossom viewing at the Osaka Mint, rode the giant Ferris wheel on top of a mall (the day of the giant earthquake! Thank god we didn’t know this yet), and saw Osaka castle. Next, we started our adventure in my city of Kyoto. We started at the monkey park, which was both overly exciting and terrifying at the same time. Wild monkeys just running around: DONT look them in the eye! We followed the flow of tourists through Arashiyama and ended up at Kinkakuji (the golden temple). 

We found this amazing pass called the Kansai Through Pass that allowed us to have unlimited travel through the Kansai region for 3 days and boy, did we get our money’s worth. We started in Nara, home of the tame deer and I got in a tug of war match with one of the deer after he stole the map out of my pocket and was trying to eat it. I won, but it took some serious negotiating to get it back. I also forgot their Japanese name (shika- deer) and instead was trying to call them by saying “Shinkansen”… Shinkansen is the name of the bullet train here. Apparently the deer knew this, because they were rather offended and would not come to me anymore. To finish our first day off, we went to a lesser known town called Ikoma. We found a singing cable car shaped like a birthday cake and took it to the top of a mountain where we found a deserted theme park. Obviously a prime photo opportunity, but also quite eerie. 

 Jenna took off on her own to Hiroshima and then to Tokyo and I headed back to work. My parents finally convinced me to meet Jenna in Tokyo so we could go to DisneySea together. Surprisingly, work gladly gave me the day off, saying the Disney deserved a day off… Well okay then. I now realize how important Disney is in Japan. So, I hopped on a plane and got to Tokyo Monday night and we went to our first sushi-go-round restaurant. It was amazing. You order on your own personal computer screen and an automated belt brings it to you on a plate. We left there feeling incredibly full (I even tried shrimp!) and satisfied for a small amount of yen.​


The next day we were up early and on our way to Disney. Cue the inner children in us both. We squealed our way through the lineups of families and (matching) couples. We had a plan, thanks to our Disney enthusiast friend Laura who gave us the tips and tricks to follow, as this is the only DisneySea in the world. Our first ride was the Tower of Terror, and, although it was all in Japanese, we knew the idea of the ride: Dropping. We strapped in and at that moment I decided I didn’t want to be there, as the strap was locked around my injured shoulder. Thinking about the car accident that injured me in the first place, and how the strap was in exactly that place, had me in tears, but it was too late. Up we went. Once we were in the air, I forgot about everything and Jenna and I held each other screaming as we dropped 12 floors, went back up, and dropped again. Exiting the ride, we were both shaking; a mixture of laughing and crying. We were now fully awake and ready for Disney! 

The rest of the day was nothing short of magical. We must have picked the best day possible to go, as I had heard horror stories about the 3 hour long line-ups. We waited no more than a half hour for a ride and were able to do every ride at the park. Our favourites were Journey to the Centre of the Earth, which somewhat resembled the Log Ride in California, Indiana Jones, and Storm Rider, which was a simulation of being inside a storm. To my surprise and enjoyment, they had a Mediterranean themed section, which featured replicated Italian buildings, the Ponte Vecchio, a volcano, and gondola rides. We managed to get on a gondola for sunset. I’ve been to Italy 3 times, but my first gondola was officially in Japan.

We got pictures with the characters, went on the kiddie rides, laughed so hard we cried, and stuck around long enough to see the evening water show. All I can say is amazing. We didn’t speak for 20 minutes, totally mesmerized by the lights, character dances, fireworks and familiar childhood songs dubbed in Japanese. After 13 hours of Disney, we were exhausted and we had to put the kids to bed (aka ourselves).The next day, I hopped on a plane to make it back in time to work that evening. Needless to say, I had a 2 day Disney hangover of exhaustion, but it was COMPLETELY worth it. What an amazing day with some amazing pictures to remember it by.

When we recovered from Disney, we headed out on our final two days with the Kansai pass. We started with Mt. Koyasan and Wakayama beach. We got to see a very unique mountain top cemetery. Turns out they like to dress their rocks and statues with bibs… Dont ask me why. It was a very long day, most of it spent on the train, but totally worth the 4 hours to swim in the ocean in our bathing suits and CANADA tshirts while everyone else had on wetsuits, staring at us like “what are those crazy people doing? Ohhhh Canadians, okay”. We spent a few, more relaxing, days in Kyoto. We went hiking in a bamboo forest near my house, hit up Fushimi-Inari, famous for its red tori gates and endless stairs, and Kiyomizudera, famous for having the largest wooden deck overlooking nature. We went during the holiday, Golden Week here, which was a terrible idea, but we had no choice. So many people, everywhere. Again with the accidental photobombings.

 We finished things off with a trip to Himeji Castle and Kobe. Imagine a giant white wooden castle. Then imagine it with even more wood and even whiter. Yeah, that’s Himeji. It was beautiful and unique to look at, but i would never go inside again. Packed with people, all I could think of was, ‘what if there was a fire right now’. I personally didn’t enjoy it, but glad I got to say I saw it in person. In Kobe Jenna finally got her Kobe beef and I watched as she ate it. We went to the port and then to the waterfall and the observation deck. Visiting all of these places makes me happy I chose to live in Kyoto. It’s still definitely my favourite!

We had two more things to check off Jenna’s list: party and karaoke. Although you may think of Japan as being very reserved, they have a pretty bumpin night life in Osaka. The only catch is, trains. The last train back to my house was at 10:35. So, we either had to party in the afternoon….. Or all night. Following the nightlife code, we chose the later. To kill time before going out, we did some shopping, became famous in Shinsaibashi, and killed 4 hours at an arcade. How did we become famous? Well after we got someone to take this picture we drew a bit of a crowd. People clapped and then one by one came forward to ask if I they could get a picture standing on my leg. There is now a multitude of pictures floating the Internet of people standing on me in front of the Glico man. In the end, an elderly man came to shake my hand and in broken English said “thank you, thank you. Welcome to Osaka.” And backed away slowly repeating “thank you” a few more times. Classic Japan. My knee was literally swollen for two weeks after that. 

At the arcade we also made a scene… We actually thought we were gambling, so when we hit the “jackpot” on the Mario game, we thought we were going to be rich. Turns out, it’s just a game. But, people enjoyed watching us get so excited and they just kept giving us buckets of free play tokens so we would keep going. Again, classic Japan. When we finally got to the club, we pretty much instantly became the coolest people there, not going to lie. We knew all the words to all the songs and weren’t afraid to dance the night away. We caught the first train in the morning and made it home at 7:40. Exhausting, but a hilarious day and night. On her last night, we invited my old housemates and went for an hour of karaoke. Our booth was leopard print and we rocked the spice girls, Vanilla Ice, and sang our university song: Roxanne. 

Needless to say it was a teary goodbye the next day at the airport and I felt so alone the next couple of days not having her around. Her visit was such a surprise and it was such an amazing experience. I always travel alone, but when someone joins for a short time, it just makes me so thankful and happy I get to be a part of their experiences. Thank you Jenna for the memories! I will see you at Christmas.

Now, back to real life. After she left, I began teaching kindergarten. Well folks I’ve officially done it all. I now teach adult business men and women, university students, and now Kindergarten and nursery school students. I agreed to this job before really thinking about it, to be honest. As the days came closer I thought: I have NO idea what I’m doing, I can’t do this, I don’t want to do this. But, the only way to expand your knowledge and develop yourself as an individual is to challenge yourself and work from outside of you’re comfort zone. And guess what, I did it! Kids are weird. My students don’t know what blue is, what a hamburger is, or what a triangle is, but in perfect English my student said “sensei you’re strange” to me. He’s 5! 
To add stress to taking on a new job, I also discovered that my bedroom had a cockroach nest in it. How did I figure this out you ask? Well, I heard something in my garbage can, picked it up, and the damn thing ran up my arm. Now, these aren’t like Canadian cockroaches, no, these things are the size of small dogs, and they can fly. Flying cockroach dogs. Ok, that is probably a huge exaggeration, but they’re really big! After I found one, I found more, and more… My roommates (don’t speak English) found me in my bedroom crying and yelling, holding a can of poison. They very calmly killed the roaches and made me a bed in the spare room. Worst part, I sprayed my retainer with cockroach poison…..

After a month of sleeping on the floor in another room, not sleeping at night, and terrified to be at home, I decided to move out. To my surprise I found another place really fast. And so I moved that week, to a place of my OWN! I’m probably paying way too much for a house the size of a walk in closet, but I don’t care, it’s my walk in closet and I’m so happy to be there. 

Now that I have relaxed, been able to sleep more, and have settled into a new routine with my new jobs, I’ve been able to focus on learning Japanese. I have lessons every week and I study every day. I refuse to be illiterate in Japan any longer. Although I’m personally employing the iced coffee industry it seems, with the help of coffee I’ve been able to even go out with my new friends after work. My Japanese friends have been great with taking me out and teaching me new things, and my English friends have been great to experience new things and enjoy the expat life with. 
Rainy season has now commenced. Yes, Japan has 5 seasons. I will be facing about 30 days of rain and then 3 months of unbearable humidity. It’s so hot, they have a country wide policy that from June to October, business professionals (myself included) can dress for ‘cool biz’. This means I don’t have to wear a suit jacket. Woohoo’s all around. 
An update on things I’ve learned about Japan:

Japanese people say ‘recommend’ and not ‘suggest’, ‘dustbin’ instead of ‘wastebasket’, in some situations green is blue, eating raw chicken is okay, people love Armageddon and Die Hard, coffee is life and if it’s not then you’re doing life wrong, people here believe me that my uncle is Neil Armstrong, nobody knows what the word gymnastics means (not one single person!), they have Costco here, and people know where Yellowknife is but not Edmonton or Ottawa.

My mind is exhausted every single day, but in a good way. To everyone who has been sending me periodic life updates, thank you! Even if I don’t reply right away, I always read it and I always appreciate hearing from you. To all of my friends who have had a major life event lately (my god so many people) a baby, a wedding, engagement, new house/job, convocation, etc. congratulations! I’m so happy to see everyone doing such amazing things with their lives and I am excited to see where everyone will be when I return. And just remember, if you have a new house, ill need a place to live when I come home, hint hint. If you had a baby, I’ll need a job when I come home and I’m great with kids, hint hint. If you got a job, I’ll need money and things when I come home, hint hint. Thanks y’all. 

In the meantime, I’m looking for suggestions of other Asian countries that people have visited, unique Japanese things you’ve heard of that you’d like to see me try, recommendations on how to live with 5 hours of sleep. The first two for real though.

Until next time, stay weird

Xoxo Your Armstrong Abroad

Fuji May I? – 3 of My Most Storyworthy Adventures

I’m 24! Which means I’m one year older than I was when I left. I’ve been gone a total of 346 days, and the season has again returned to fall. I’m going to get right to it in saying that this blog post is dedicated solely to how hilarious my life has been this last month. I have had 3 ridiculous experiences that I’m dying to share with you. First, climbing Mt. Fuji, second, experiencing my first Onsen (I’ll explain what an onsen is later on), and third, becoming a Japanese TV star (that’s an extreme exaggeration by the way). So, please feel free to laugh with me, and at me, as I share a few parts of my strange world with you.

Adventure 1: Fuji May I?
Last year, I celebrated my 23rd birthday with friends and family and a special guy. It was relaxing, enjoyable, and I treated myself to all my favourite things. This year, I decided to crank it up a notch (or 12) and climb Mt. Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan (also an active volcano, cause I love me some volcanoes). My initial plan, when I decided to extended my time here, was to climb Fujisan (Mt. Fuji in Japanese) at the end of September. I was then informed that it closes each year to the general public on September 10. So, at the last minute, really, I decided to head to Tokyo and do the climb on my birthday.

I had met a really cool Japanese guy when I was in Montenegro. When I told him I was moving to Japan, he said to give him a call when I decided to climb Fujisan and we would do it together. So, 7 months later, I fire off a message on Facebook, with no real expectations of him even replying. I was prepared to do this climb on my own if I had to (hahaha….. Oh Jody..). Surprisingly, he replied, and was totally up for the climb. So, after narrowly missing my bus to Tokyo (missed the last train, got in a taxi while my friend called the bus company and asked them to wait for me. Ya, typical me.) I headed to meet this guy and his friends who would be joining us. I’m just going to break this down for you here, because, if you’ve never climbed it, you’ve probably also never looked into the logistics of it. Buckle up, it’s going to get intense.The majority of people generally climb Fujisan at night, this way they reach the summit in time for sunrise. The summit is 3,776m and there are ten stations, but you start the climb at the 5th station which is 2,305m. “Oh, so you’re already over halfway there from the start”, that’s what you’re all thinking right? Well mathematically, you’re not wrong, but please hold that thought. Anyone who knew me in my middle school/high school days, knows I’ve had my struggles with breathing problems. Considering the degree of incline, I did not want to have an episode on the mountain, so I planned to take oxygen with me, and we left extra time for breaks to avoid altitude sickness. At ground level, the temperature was a balmy 30 degrees, but by the 5th station, the temperature had already dropped to 19 degrees. We started our climb at 7pm. It was misting and visibility was low, but we were in good spirits; singing, laughing, and getting to know each other. The 6th and 7th station came and went, continuing with low visibility and misty rain, but we remained happy and energetic. There were small moments of clear skies, at which point if you looked up, you could see millions and millions of perfectly clear stars. It is something I will never forget. It was around this point I realized I forgot to bring the oxygen with me. Whoops. (Flash forward: no embarrassing fits of hyperventilation were had on this climb) By the 8th station, it was pouring freezing rain and the wind was getting stronger. Most people stop at a small cabin and take a nap there, but, being the troopers we are (and how cheap I am), we decided not to pay for shelter and just keep climbing through the night. Hour 4 of climbing, temperature about 9 degrees, all clothing now soaking wet, including the extra “dry” clothing we had in our bags. We continued on, as there’s no option to turn around….. From this point on it turned into an actual climb. Setting the scene: No more walking up hill, but rather using your hands to climb from rock to rock. Starting to loose feeling in my hands and feet, wind and rain so strong we had to hold onto rocks or hide behind them at points, and God forbid you ever looked down. It was straight down and there was nothing there to stop you from falling. The boys spoke good English, but the joke of the night that kept us going came from a play on words (if you’ve ever tried to learn a second language, you know that jokes, puns, and any play on words are EXTREMELY hard to learn). As we turned a corner and saw the pathway get incredibly steep, one of the boys started singing “isn’t she lovely, isn’t she wonderful” … I looked at him in slight confusion, (easily could have been hypothermia kicking in and making us all crazy) but he looked back at me and said, “Wonder, Steepy Wonder”…. I almost fell off the mountain side I was laughing so hard. Steepy Wonder became our encouragement for the next two hours of climbing through typhoon-like weather conditions. By the 9th station I could no longer feel my hands. My shoelace came undone and I was unable to do it up because I couldn’t move my fingers (you know, like when you’re outside in winter and then you go in and try to text and your fingers move the speed of a sloth… Like that). We managed to reach the summit together after 7.5 hours of climbing (2:30am) only to realize that the warm up huts didn’t open until 4am. We found a small door frame to huddle in, and basically waited for death. I have never experienced a feeling like that, and I’m from CANADA. I actually couldn’t picture my life in an hour. I thought if I closed my eyes, I might actually never wake up. My body was shaking uncontrollably and I couldn’t feel my extremities. Somehow, I convinced myself I had to keep moving, so I marched. I’m not joking you. I marched back and forth across the summit. High knees baby! Just as I started to tire, the lights in the hut came on and everyone ran towards it like a posy of wild cats hearing a bag of Whiskas treats. (Ya I just used a cat simile… Sue me) I bought the hottest thing on the menu… Hot coffee. Unfortunately, through my seizure like shaking, I couldn’t even hold it, and spilled most of it on my hands, which actually felt good…. We headed back out, as the storm had cleared just in time for the sunrise. I have never used the phrase “I feel on top of the world” in such a literal way. The view from the summit, miles above the clouds, watching as the sun peaked over the clouds, gasping in perfect time with the 200 or so other climbers, made us forget the terrible night we just experienced. Just as the sun peaked over, and people started full out cheering, a cloud came in and covered it again. The sounds went from “ahhhh, ooooo, wowwwww” to ” noooo, ohhnooo, waaaa” but, for this disruption, we were awarded a second sunrise. Imagine that. Many people climb through the night, only to reach the top and never see a sunrise, but, we got to see two. It was a beautiful way to start my 24th year. Surrounded by unfamiliar people and new friends, in an uncomfortable amount of wet and frosty clothing (now about 1 degree), but filled with an unimaginable amount of pride and accomplishment. Of course Irene was there too, as she always is. We almost lost her during the night to the wind and rain, but she persisted, as she always does. My inspiration. They sang happy birthday to me as I held my candles on top of Mt. Fuji, and I mentally checked off another thing on my bucket list. It also marked double digits in the countdown to Canada. 99 days. I could never have done it on my own. In total, I was awake for 30 hours, and 14 of that was spent on the mountain. 

Adventure 2: Lets Get Naked

So onto the next one, guys, I promise it’s worth the read. Awkward, naked, public bathing…. Okay so I regained your attention? I don’t have any picture proof that this happened, and trust me that’s for the best. Nobody wants to read this story with visual aids. (I tried adding random Japan photos here, but it doesn’t work. It has to be all story here)
So, Japan is famous for its hot springs, known as Onsens. Sure, Canada has hot springs, so why is this so different? One word: naked. In a Japanese onsen, you MUST be naked. I’ve wanted to try it for a while now, but I’m not a big fan of hot tubs or spas and I’m extremely uncomfortable being naked. If you know me from home, you know I’m extremely uncomfortable even in a bathing suit… I’m a really big fan of clothes. The second reason I had never tried an onsen, was that generally if you have a tattoo, you’re not allowed into an onsen. In Japan, tattoos are seen as a gang related symbol with the Japanese mafia. Yes, even my small Italian foot tattoo, written in cursive handwriting, with a tiny little bird, is not accepted. Things you didn’t know about me…. Secretly a member of the mafia… Why else do you think the two countries I’ve lived in are Italy and Japan…. (I got you thinking there didn’t I) For future employers Google searching me…. I want to clarify that that was a joke. I am in no way involved in the Mafia or the Yakuza.

Anyways, after my climb of Fujisan, the boys thought it would be a get idea to relax our muscles and treat ourselves by going to an onsen. Now, for Western people, this might seem like a really weird thing to do, but for Japanese people this truly is a relaxing activity. Bathing naked together. As we pulled into the parking lot, the first thing we saw was a giant sign saying “under no circumstances can we allow people with tattoos inside this onsen”. I’m sorry, but I guess we can’t go…. The guys simply responded with “no, no, it’s no problem”. As we entered the building, another sign, as we got to the reception desk, another sign. Just to clarify, men and women are separated in onsens, so, the guys would go to the men’s onsen and I would be alone in the women’s. My fear was that the staff would see my tattoo as I nakedly walked into the pool, but when they came to kick me out, I wouldn’t understand Japanese and I’d just politely nod or something like that and then they’d end up dragging me out. Naked. As I told the guys this they just said, if that happens, just wait outside for us. Great…..

So, I made my way into the changing rooms and, as pre-informed, just naked people everywhere. I mean, props to the women who are comfortable enough to hang out in an onsen with their family, friends, or coworkers, but I’m just not there yet. Now, as with anything Japanese, there are rules. Rules of course which I can’t read because I’m illiterate in Japanese. So, shyly and in a state of complete awkwardness, I just followed everyone else. Like a baby deer learning to walk on its own for the first time… Well that’s a really majestic way to describe me trying to somehow achieve a state of invisibility. Walking, well shuffling, with my legs somewhat crossed enough to cover the tattoo on the side of my left foot with my right while trying not to draw attention to myself: the only white woman in sight.

Now, they give you two towels: a big towel for after, and a tiny, hand towel sized towel to take into the onsen. So I walk out holding this tiny thing over myself like a weird sarong of sort. And there it was…. The area I had been warned about…. The washing station. I’m going to paint you a picture, close your eyes… Wait no, don’t close your eyes, keep reading…

A line of tiny wooden stools, like toddler sized, each sitting in front of a shower hose. You are expected to crouch on one of these stools, naked of course, and scrub every part of your body before entering the baths. Next, you can choose which bath to enter. This was a large onsen and had 8 options… I went into the closest one, which happened to be a laying down one with jets. It was actually quite nice, until I realized…. Laying down, the water covered nothing, it was the closest pool to the door, and I was the ONLY non-Japanese person there… It was like, every person who came into the onsen, I was just laying there, nakedly-foreignly greeting them. People were staring, and instantly I remembered my tattoo. So I went to a deeper bath that I could cover my foot, and the rest of my body for that matter. The hot water, mixed with no sleep, no food, and complete exhaustion, made my stomach queasy, and I desperately wanted to take a dip in the cold bath, but nobody had touched it and I wasn’t about to be the first. Like, oh, typical Westerner doing the opposite of everyone else. Finally, someone tried it out and I waited until they left (as it was a really small bath) and then I hopped in. It was so cold and felt so good, but as soon as I got in, like 7 people joined me. I kid you not, it was like naked shoulder to naked shoulder. I was just standing there like…. What do I do next? I’m going to cut it short and say I got out of there awkwardly, but successfully without accidentally violating anyone. When I met up with the boys in the lobby again, they asked, “so, how was it? Did you make any friends?” (Dead serious) Friends?! Friends?! A: I can’t speak Japanese, and B: I was NUDE!

So there you have it folks. The story of my first onsen. Oh ya, I also giggle when I’m really uncomfortable…. So that happened too.

Adventure 3: Big in Japan

Finally, I know you’re all wondering if I’m Big in Japan yet. Well, I truly don’t know how to answer that one. I mean, literally speaking, I am significantly larger than pretty much all of the women here, and many of the men as well. So I’m going to go with yes, I am big in Japan. In reference to stardom, I’m going to have to say no, but I’ll tell you about it anyways.
Friends of mine own this awesome little cosplay photo studio in Osaka. He is American and she is Japanese, and they do all sorts of traditional to modern cosplay shoots. Most of my coworkers have had their pictures done at the studio and they all turned out awesome. There is a TVshow in Japan called Kansai Joho Net Ten, I think it’s operated by YTV, but I could be wrong (sincere apologies, but I don’t even own a TV in Japan so I have no idea), and my friends got the opportunity to have their studio appear in a episode. The show was looking for some foreigners to partake in the episode and they asked me to be one of them. Obviously I said heck yes! So, I showed up without knowing anything that was going to happen. It was myself, another Canadian guy, an American guy, and a family of 4 Chinese people. We were instructed to go to a seafood market and purchase fresh seafood. Again, if you know me, you know how much I absolutely DESPISE seafood. So when the old shopkeeper jokingly came at me with a live lobster, I FREAKED out, screamed, and jumped backwards, almost knocking over a tub full of fresh eel. They were filming at this time, and a crowd of people had gathered around the store in hopes they would see someone famous inside (sorry for the disappointment). I tried to keep my cool, and purchased lobster, clams, shrimp, octopus, and some beef. The crew walked ahead of us, filming as we walked down the streets of Shinsaibashi. People were taking pictures of us with their phones, clearly thinking we were some sort of celebrities. I couldn’t help but laugh.

They took us to a tiny shop where we were taught how to make たこやき takoyaki (basically dough balls with, usually, octopus inside). たこTako means octopus. やき yaki is like, grilled. It’s actually quite difficult to get the hang of it. After many burns and casualties (the takoyaki, not people), we finally were able to enjoy some delicious takoyaki featuring different ingredients. I even tried some seafood for the camera. Octopus is ok, beef was great, shrimp I’d rather not, and clam I wanted to throw up. Next we headed over to the studio (Japanese Cosplay Photo) and I had my first experience in a kimono. A not so traditional kimono actually. At the studio they had so many awesome outfit options, but I got to try one of the traditional-meets-modern-with-a-twist outfits. The crew filmed as Sayaka dressed me in the many layers that make up a kimono, and pose me with traditional Japanese props.

I was so happy with the pictures and the experience, I went back and got a few more pictures done in both the traditional kimono and the short, unique one. I’m so happy I have such an awesome souvenir to take home with me and I would definitely recommend this to anyone in Japan. Check them out! 

So my TV debut is set to air next week and I’m awaiting to see what scenes actually make it on TV…. My guess, is it will be the scene of me screaming at the lobster. So this month has awarded me with some unforgettable experiences. In the next few weeks I’ll be going to my first Hanshin Tigers baseball game, spending the day at Universal Studios Japan, and taking a trip to Hiroshima, all while starting to wrap things up here. I have given my resignation at all three jobs, gave my move out date for my house, started working on closing my bank and phone account, and even set a date for my sayonara party (which I get to share with one of my great friends who is also leaving Japan at the same time). I’m missing the fall vibes from home: pumpkin spice lattes, crunchy leaves, hazelnut everything, and my fall playlist (yes I have a set playlist for each season), but on the bright side, I found pumpkin pie here. I’m now taking suggestions for a Halloween costume. My ideas so far include Sailor Moon (come on people, I’m in Japan), a storm trooper, or _______________________. Fill in the blank and help a hopeless hallowe’ener out. 

Happy fall! The countdown is on. Mark your calendars, December 13 my feet touch Canadian snow again.

Forever and always,
Your Armstrong Abroad

The Extension Begins, Cause I Gotta Catch Em All

When I graduated high school, I thought it was all down hill for me, that the best days of my life were over. Boy, was I wrong. Since my graduation day in 2010, I’ve traveled 10 countries and counting. I’ve lived in a town of 3,500 and a city of 2.4 million. I went from cleaning toilets as a summer job to pay for my first Euro trip, to working on the 24th floor in the business hub of one of the biggest cities in the world. I’ve lived in one of the coldest, driest regions of the world, and in one of the hottest, most humid. I’ve seen the oceans of Spain, the mountains of Montenegro, the volcanoes of Italy, sunsets in Greece, waterfalls in Croatia, cherry blossoms in Japan, and the Aurora in Canada. I’ve seen natural and man-made wonders across the globe that even my wildest imagination could not have created. I’ve studied two languages and countless cultures. I’ve worked and volunteered in 4 countries, enjoyed sports on 3 continents, and tasted Heineken in 7 countries. While I’ve loved and learned so much from being away, I’ve had to miss out on some really important things at home. I’ve missed some of my best friends getting married and having kids, I’ve missed family birthdays and Christmas, and I’ve missed annual events with the people I love the most. Although I feel terrible not being there for them and it breaks my heart sometimes to see pictures of everyone together without me, I don’t regret the choices I’ve made that have gotten me here. The only thing I can do is promise that I will come come eventually and that I will be back in those pictures next time. Don’t stop sending me pictures, videos, and updates from home, as it reminds me everyday what I have to look forward to about going home. I miss you all and appreciate your love and understanding in what I have chosen to do with my life so far. Now, back to the present, It’s been months since I wrote a proper blog. Not because I didn’t do anything, I’ve actually been running like mad. Rather, I didn’t have the ambition or inspiration to write. Writing is like travelling for me, I’m passionate about both of them, but sometimes you just need a break to regain some motivation. My last blog, for example, was just words on a page for me. It was lacking the Jody quality I try and bring to all my writings. So I decided to wait until I had something to say again. So, hello friends, I’m back!


It is officially につやすみ (natsuyasumi – summer vacation) and I couldn’t be happier. For those of you who think my life is like just one big vacation, you can all go stick your heads in the freezer until you get a brain freeze because that couldn’t be further from the truth. I work my little English butt off. I work more here than I did when I had a full time government job at home. So ya, I deserve this break, and I deserve the countless bees, ice cream treats, and guilt free matcha frappuccini that come with it. So, suck on that. ( and ya I know how to correctly pluralize frappuccino)  In the last few months I’ve embraced the “what the hell am I doing here” feeling, and started to work on answering that question. I traded in my Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night Netflix binges for time with real people. That’s right, I have friends now. A mix of coworkers and randoms, Japanese and Gaijins like me. I’ve joined an acroyoga group, started taking Japanese language classes, and started coaching a university cheerleading team. I’ve started saying “yes” to things I previously said no to. 

  • “Want to try grilled meet at a traditional やきにく restaurant? (Yakiniku – grilled meat) “yes, I do.” 
  • “Can I flip you upside down using only my feet?” “Yes you may.” (Context for this one might help. In acro yoga I actually go in the air… That’s a first for me)
  • “Want to jump off this waterfall into a river of nibbling fish?” “Sounds exhilarating, sure!”
  • “Want to go for さしみ (sashimi- raw fish)?” ” no….” The answer for this is, and will always be, no, because some things never change.

By saying yes more often, I ended up spending Canada Day in a Canadian pub in the middle of Osaka, where the staff were serving grilled cheese and poutine, while wearing Tim Hortons tshirts and passing out Canada flag tattoos. I happily wore my Canadian winter mittens in the 30 degree heat that day as I passed out maple cookies and candy to the students and my coworkers. Most Japanese people had never heard of Canada Day, so I got to shamelessly brag about all the wonderful things that come from my great country (surprise, it’s more than just Avril and Justin)  A great friend took me to たなばた (tanabata), which is where they write their wishes on streamers and hang them on the bamboo trees. It was like a Disney Fairytale land. I also went to Gion-Matsuri, which is one of the biggest festivals in Japan with massive floats, street food for blocks, and literally millions of people. ​​The next week I watched 40,000 はなび (hanabi – fireworks). There was 3 million people in attendance. That’s like if everyone from Saskatchewan, Manitoba, P.E.I., Newfoundland, and New Brunswick all got together for a night… Just to give you some perspective. 

Finally, after two and a half years, I met up with a Japanese girl that I taught when she was an international student at my university in Canada. It was so nice for the roles to be reversed. In Canada I took her to a hockey game, ate thanksgiving dinner together, and taught her about Canada and about English culture. This time she was able to teach me things about her country. So nice to see you Anna! 

After six months of being here, I’ve gone through you’re typical stages: overwhelmed, excited, hopeless, motivated, homesick, angry, and finally content. There are still some things that stump me on a regular basis though:

  • Why do you not use soap after using the bathroom….?
  • Why is Avril Lavigne so popular here?? And why do some people think the Spice Girls is a new band?
  • How is it possible that nobody knows the word ‘gymnastics’?
  • To the old guy casually walking around with a live canary on his head… Why?
  • It seems mathematically impossible, but every Japanese girl knows how to walk perfectly in 6″ heels…

I always get people to guess my age, and the average guess is 27. Some people even ask how many kids I have…. Like, people, I’m 23 here. I’m the same age as some of you! The university keeps me laughing and has introduced me to great coworkers and hilarious students. Thanks to them, I am now fluent in nerd…. I mean, fluent in Japanese Pokemon. To add to the “ridiculous things my students have said”, (and I’m going to leave these out of context to make them even more hilarious) here’s a list, because I love lists:

  •  “When you go camping in Canada do you just tap the trees and drink the maple syrup for food?”
  •  “Do you have summer where you’re from?”
  • “So there’s no octopuses where you live?” “I live in the middle of Canada” “ya, but there’s no octopuses?” “There’s no ocean” “yea, but are there octopuses?”
  • “You’ve been in Japan for six months and you can’t speak Japanese? Really?” … Well, you’ve been studying for 9 years and you can’t speak English yet….
  • “Does everyone in Canada have a special wallet for business cards?” “No.” “WHAT?!”
  • ” I’ve been listening to a new English group, theyre called the Spice Girls, have you heard of them?”
  • “Everyone in Jakarta hates you” …. “What?”
  •  “I know how to swear in English, but can you teach me how to say subtle dirty things?” ….. “No, absolutely not!”
  • “I had to work late today.” “Oh, that’s too bad, why?” “My boss went into rehab again.” …
  • “What kind of work do people in your town do?” “It’s mostly agriculture.” “Ohhh, so how many rice fields does your dad have?” ……

My students always make me laugh, but on the other hand, I’m sure I make them laugh too. Like: that crazy white girl… What will she say next. I can’t count how many times I’ve cried from laughing in a lesson.

I’m finally starting to climatize. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, considering I’ll return to Canada in the middle of winter. Either way, I’ve been able to go a whole day without taking all my clothes off. It sounds crazy, but when it’s 35 feels like 42 with a 90% humidex, sometimes it’s the only way to stay cool. I’m basically personally employing the ice cream and iced coffee industries at this point. I’ve also accepted the fact that deodorant has no effect on people in August. We will all continue wearing it and reapplying it, but the results will always be unsatisfying. I generally don’t eat lunch because it’s so hot the only thing my body wants is water, yogurina (water with yogurt in it, I’m not even kidding you), or うめしゅ (plum wine – it’s like alcoholic juice). I’m on holidays, it’s okay. 

So on my 12 days off, I’ve visited the Byodoin Temple (it’s the temple that is on the 10 ¥ coin if you’ve ever seen it), enjoyed playing tourist in Kyoto, and took a day trip to 赤目48滝 (akame 48 taki – Red Eye 48 Waterfalls). I rode passenger on the highway in a Porsche… Pretty much an awesome start to any day. I always say, having friends who can drive is the best way to see things. We even jumped off the waterfall into the water below (while reading this, my mom is going to be imagining me jumping off something like Niagara Falls… Relax mom) it was so refreshing and natural. The only thing being, it was full of fish. Little ones, but unfortunately they were the nibbly ones. Once they started biting my legs I was out of there so fast… All in all it was one of the best things I’ve done so far. 

I just got back from 4 days in the Hawaii of Japan: Okinawa island. Guys, this is the weirdest place. It took me 3 days to even begin to wrap my head around what kind of atmosphere it was. I went on my own and stayed in a hostel in an area “owned” by the Yazuka (Japanese Mafia basically) in the middle of the soap lands (look it up yourself, I’m definitely not explaining that here). It was definitely one of the rougher areas I’ve seen of Japan, which may have been why it was the cheapest hostel on the island. However, it was 42 steps from the beach and all of the lifeguards were living there so it had a really cool vibe. As opposed to mainland Japan, people in Okinawa didn’t seem to mind tanning, spending time in the sun, and wearing a bathing suit. When I got off my plane I headed straight for the beach, as it was 33 felt like 49! 

I must have been a strange sight as I pulled off my dress to reveal the whitest skin most of them have probably ever seen. Swimming in the ocean was like taking a wonderfully cooling bath, and I made it my mission to hit the beach every day. I even got to teach a very informal English/swimming lesson to two guys who realized I was the only person who could actually swim at the beach and asked for my help. During the days I found myself at a summer festival, scored VIP tickets to watch a drum show front row, toured the World Heritage Site, and did some shopping. As Okinawa plays host to a huge American Army base, it has a lot of Western influence, while still holding strong to Japanese and Chinese history. I mean, I found Roxy flip flops in my size. Hallelujah, take me money, just take it! 
Over the past months of being here, I’ve been communicating with a Canadian guy who has been living in Japan. He is a friend of a friend of a friend type deal from back home, but we have never actually met face to face. He helped me with housing, setting up my phone, and making travel plans. It just so happened that he moved to Okinawa a few days prior and so we finally got to meet! Him and his wonderful girlfriend took me for dinner, drove me around the island, and took me to see some very unique limestone caves.

During those 4 jam packed and delightful days, I had a few reoccurring thoughts:

  • It’s 49 degrees. Why are you wearing pants, socks, shoes, and a sweater?
  • It feels like I’ve been wearing a wet bathing suit for 4 days straight
  • How many tacos could I eat today?
  • *while choosing outfit. Which shirt will show the least back sweat?
  • SPF 50 and water resistant? LIES
  • How is it possible you live on an island but you can’t swim?
  • $139 for a mango…. Is it filled with the answers to all life’s questions, or?

I really hope time lets me get back to that island before I leave from Japan, as I felt strangely comfortable there. It was like Japan, with a dot of Chinese influence, a dash of Spanish lifestyle, and a dab of Western culture, all rolled into one beautiful paradisio! I have a few more days of unplanned vacation before its back to work. The great thing about going back to work is I will only be 3/4 time instead of full time! Leaving me with some extra time in my last few months to continue my travels in order to make the most of my extension. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for me next.

Where to next? My. Fuji, Hiroshima, Tokyo, Cambodia, and Thailand….. Here’s to a full passport and camera, and an even fuller heart. 125 days till my feet hit Canadian soil, I mean snow, again.

Until next time,

Your Armstrong Abroad

Dear Mom: A Letter to My Family 

On April 10, 2009, you drove me to the airport. I had a blank passport and a round trip ticket to Europe. I didn’t have a choice, not that I would have protested, but it was just expected that I would follow what my sister did 4 years earlier with her high school class. You paid for everything. The plane tickets, the tour costs, the insurance, and many more things I probably don’t even know about. I had 4 disposable cameras packed in my carry-on and my 2 best friends in the whole world next to me. You took pictures with your windup flash camera as we stood in front of the departure gate with Canadian flags pinned to our bags and terror and excitement in our eyes. One by one, the three of you wished me luck, health, and fun on my trip. First you, Mom, who probably said something like “be careful, have fun, and call us!” (This was before the days of smartphones, and pay phones were our only means of communication). You probably teared up as you said this, and I did too. Next, Dad, your speech might have gone like this, “have fun, be smart”. You would have added a slight nod in my direction as you said the “be smart” part, as if there was a deeper meaning that would be communicated with just a nod. There was. Lastly, Grandma would have stepped up to the plate for a big hug. I don’t know what she would have said, something ridiculous, possibly inappropriate, but I don’t remember anything other than the giant kiss that inevitably followed. It would have lasted for approximately one calendar year (realistically about 10 seconds) and included some side to side rocking. We would have made kissing noises and finished with a big “muah!” followed by a loud laugh that only comes from a Grandma. You stood at security and waved until I was past inspections and safely through the gates. You then waited at the giant window overlooking the runway until my plane had taken off and was safely out of site. I know this because I have pictures from the disposable camera. You then returned home and ultimately didn’t sleep for 12 days. Your biggest worries in the world were over once I set foot back on Saskatchewan soil.

Seven years and multiple passport stamps later, you now know that that day in the Saskatoon airport was only the beginning. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, growing up, I never wanted to leave Saskatchewan. 12 days in Europe completely changed the course of my life and this was of your making. I had mono for that entire trip and you told me you wanted to send me on the trip again the next year so that I could have a better experience, but that it wasn’t fair to Wendy who only got to go once. I understood this, but it broke my heart and for two years I dreamed of going back to have this “full” experience that everyone, who wasn’t infected with mono, had. 

Fast forward 3 years to where, again, I held a round trip ticket for 17 days in Europe. I had only a backpack and was prepared for my epic return to finally experience Europe the way it was supposed to be experienced, without mono. Again, I had my best friend by my side, but this time I was the “expert” and she was the one with terror and excitement in her eyes. I had paid for my own trip this time around. During the previous summer, I had worked 4 part time jobs, most of which I detested. On many occasions, I wanted to quit, but you both encouraged me to push through it and reminded me that I was an Armstrong and could make the most of any situation. I stuck it out for a whole summer and banked enough money to fund my journey. I ditched the disposable cameras, because I was fancy now, and took my digital with me. Upon arriving home, you all sat down with me and I got to share my pictures and my stories with you. Never having travelled overseas before, you told me that you couldn’t believe places like these existed. The Sagrada Familia, the Firenze Duomo, the Ponte Vecchio, and the Colosseum. I tried explaining that it was even more amazing in person and that pictures would never do justice to the real thing, but it was a lost cause as you would never leave home; you didn’t even have a passport.  

 Two years down the road and we stood at the airport again. This time, I was the only one holding a ticket and a fresh passport. My “goodbye entourage” had grown to include my university roommates, and my previous travel companion and her mom, but you remained the same. Before leaving home, Grandma said to me that if she couldn’t hold me in her arms, at least I could hold her in my hands. She gave me a picture of herself to take with me. She always traveled with me. She probably gave me some wildly inappropriate advice, but all I remember is the kiss that lasted a few decades, swaying back and forth, ending with a loud “muah!” and a hearty chuckle. At the airport we engaged in small talk to ease my nerves, but when the time came to say our goodbyes, we all teared up. It was going to be a long time apart this time. Mom, you would have said goodbye first, telling me to have fun, be safe, and make sure to text when I got there (we upgraded from pay phones). Dad you would have followed by telling me to have fun, and be smart, with an Alistair nod. Wendy ended the line with a hug and a promise to see me soon. You stood outside security, waving until we couldn’t see each other anymore. Staring out the large window at the runways, you watched my plane take off and safely fly into the distance. As if, in some way, if it were to fall from the sky you would at least be there to watch it happen. 

 After years of you supporting me, I was so excited to finally support you as you got your first passport and you and Wendy purchased flights to come visit me. It was one of the best experiences of all of our lives and we have the pictures to prove it. When we returned home, we were flipping through our photo album of travel pictures, showing your friends over a coffee break, and you said something that I’ll never forget. As the ladies were commenting on the beautiful pictures, you told them, in your recently acquired “I’m such a world traveler” voice, that pictures will never do justice to the beauty of the real things. You had directly quoted me from two years earlier and this was the most obvious sign that you had also caught the most dangerous disease: the travel bug.  

 A few months after returning from my study abroad, I felt as though my world was ending. My life took so many twists and turns that I had never anticipated and I threatened running away back to the other side of the world where “all was good”. All it took was one text from Dad. You said now was not the right time. That’s all I needed, as over the years I had learned that only one person could give advice that, despite my greatest doubts, was spot on 100% of the time. You were right, again, and you all supported me through the difficult times and celebrated with me as I began to smile again. To travel angry is not travelling, it’s only running. Somehow, at the time, you knew this better than I did. 

On October 18, 2015 we stood back at the Saskatoon security gates where it all began 7 years earlier. Before leaving home, Grandma made her inappropriate comment about bringing home a Japanese baby before she planted one of her famous smooches on me. Light years passed, and she ended it with a “muah!” and a delightful little cackle that I can still hear. At the airport, Dad had accompanied me to the check in desk, as he always does. He seemed to be the most ridiculous person to be there with me, as he had never flown before, but at the same time I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else. Keeping the “I am Alistair and I am the calmest person in this airport” vibe going strong. We small talked over cups of Tim Horton’s until the time came. We snapped a few pictures, all of us red eyed, but smiling. You’d think by now, we would all be used to these moments, but it was never more difficult than that morning. Dad, you were first this time. We hugged and you reminded me that you were proud of me, told me to have some fun, and to be smart *cue nod*. I nodded back in agreement, as if to say “I promise no midnight phone calls from the Italian police”. Mom you were last, and we sobbed and laughed at the same time as we do. You told me to have fun, be safe, and you would see me soon. I sobbed my way through security, alongside the business men and families. You waited at security, waving until we could no longer see each other. Yet again, you stood at the giant window as my plane pulled away from the gate and took flight.  

 Three months later, mom, you world traveller you, arrived in Florence. Not only had you navigated the airports along the way without Wendy’s help this time, but you had also committed to seeing new countries (countries you didn’t even know were countries until I asked if you wanted to go). You officially had the “fill up the passport” mentality. On our final day in Florence, while sitting at a large table of my friends, you started to cry listening to this group of 9 young women talk about their traveling lives. You said it was because you were so happy to see me here with these people all doing what we love. On our way out that night you hugged me and said “You might not know it yet, but I know you’ll be back”.  

 You returned home, and I continued on my journey. Now here we are, 6 months into my travels. This is the longest I have ever been away from home and away from you all. Yesterday, I told you about my decision to extend things, delaying my return for another 8 months. After many sleepless nights, thinking of how I could possibly tell you this, your reaction was nothing short of supportive, yet again. You told me that although you were saddened by this, that it was not entirely a surprise. 

I have met hundreds of people over the course of my travels. Many of them have told me how easy it was to leave home and travel because they had nothing at home. I have experienced the entirely opposite. I have the most supportive family in the world waiting for me at home, and that is what makes it easy for me to travel. Knowing you are at home, waiting with open arms, means I have a reason to go home and a reason to keep travelling instead of running. 

 This was never how I intended to live my life and this was never how I intended to spend my money, but this happened because of you. You supported me financially as a small town high school student, emotionally as a rebelling university student off to experience the world, academically while pursuing my studies around the world, and now professionally and lovingly as the adult I have become. That adult being obsessed with the thought of experiencing life from as many different perspectives as possible. The best decision you ever made, was signing me up to get on that plane in 2009.

I don’t know what the future holds for me, or for my passport, but I know that you’ll be right there with me, staring out that giant airport window as I depart to God-only-knows-where and standing right there when I return again. 


Holy Hello Kitty, We’re in Japan now

Well, there is no doubt in my mind that I am officially in Japan. At first it didn’t seem real, like it was just another layover and my final destination was still to come. I’m not too sure what the exact moment was when I realized this IS my new life, but it might have been the first time I sat on a heated toilet seat. A lot of life’s big realizations happen in the bathroom, but let me tell you, there nothing like coming to the realization that Japan has heated toilet seats and CANADA doesn’t. Come on.   

I’ve been writing this blog entry in my head for the last month, but never wrote any of it down. So, this is my attempt to remember everything in one go. I want to first say that the chaos you imagine when you think of a tiny island country containing over 125 million people is surely overwhelming, but in reality, it is the most organized place I have ever seen. When I was getting ready to leave Croatia on the 22 hour journey through 8 time zones (we call this Hell), I had major anxiety. Not necessarily about the thought of committing half a year to a country I know nothing about other than what I’ve learned from stereotypes and Sailor Moon, but rather from looking at how to get from the airport to my hotel in Tokyo. A tram, a bus, two planes and an expensive layover in Qatar, a train, and a subway, And then walk. Simple as that… After getting to my hotel that night I simply lay in my bed thinking, how was that so easy? I’m not joking. It may sound crazy, but it wasn’t. And it has been like this ever since; from major trips, such as Tokyo to Kyoto, to everyday transport, such as the subways, trains, and buses, to constant occurrences like crossing the street. It’s like they had a general meeting that everyone in Japan attended, and they just decided as a country how to do everything, and then nobody strayed from that. It’s amazing.  
Anyways, my first stop was Tokyo. I spent a total of ten days in Tokyo, many of which were focused on figuring out what day it was. I did do some sightseeing and walked around famous areas such as Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Asakusa with my mouth hanging open and my eyes as wide as they could open, trying to take it all in. Shibuya is known for having the busiest crosswalk in the world. I giggled to myself as I walked across it with the thousand other people, video taping it while at the same time trying not to get trampled. More people crossing the street in a mere half hour than live in my hometown. Organized chaos. This was also my first “you don’t belong here” encounter. A guy walked right up to me on the sidewalk and this was the conversation. “Don’t be afraid. I’m not a crazy person” (interesting opening line). He followed up by telling me I was beautiful, that I, and I quote, “look like an alien from another planet”, asked if he could kiss me, and told me he was going to call me Jeriko. I really didn’t understand much of it, but kindly declined the kiss. He eventually walked away after I also politely declined his invitation to go sing karaoke with him. Too soon. After that encounter, they just kept coming: young boy fell UP the stairs while he was intensely staring at me, elderly man asked what I was doing here and when I told him I taught English he started just saying “thank you, thank you, thank you” over and over again as he slowly walked away, I had an entire conversation made up of only sounds with two elderly Japanese women about the wonderful taste of the new Starbucks coffee we were both enjoying, an elderly man STOPPED his bicycle as I was jogging and started trying to have a conversation with me (but… I’m jogging, sir), a grown man asked his girlfriend to take a picture with me (alien status officially reached), a Starbucks barista asked where I’m from and then said “you are so cute, you must be a kindergarten teacher”, and the list will continue.  
 In Asakusa, my favourite part of Tokyo, I joined a traditional Japanese dance class and had a blast! Even got to keep my two-toed socks called “tabi”, made specifically for wearing with flip-flops. Japan just hogs all the best inventions. Admit it, you want some. 

 Finally, it was time to journey to Kyoto, where I was hoping to settle down (hopefully not under a tree or a bench). Before I left, I had my first job interview for an English teacher position while I was in Tokyo. They informed me they had no positions in Kyoto, but had openings in Osaka. At this point I was basically given three options: choose to live in Osaka instead of Kyoto, look for a new job, or commute from Kyoto to Osaka every day. After much thinking, I decided on the commute option. I really had my heart set on Kyoto for some reason, and I wasn’t in any financial position to give up a potential job at this point. So, without any job guarantee, no house, and just my giant blue backpack, I hopped on an 8 hour night bus headed for Kyoto. This was literally the worst idea. Tip: Pay the extra $10 and take a “comfort” bus instead of the cheapest option available. Plot: 8 hours, packed tightly on a bus, trying to fight off a cold while trying to get any amount of sleep on a bus as cold as a deep freeze. I think I slept two hours. We arrived to Kyoto at 6am and with nowhere to go, I found the nearest McDonalds wifi hotspot and booked a hostel for the next two nights (hoping to find something more permanent ASAP). After realizing I accidentally booked a hostel in the next city (Osaka), I threw my hands in the air as I silently cried into my egg McMuffin. It sounds dramatic, but if you know “over-tired-Jody” you’d know this is right on par. It’s amazing how many times I’ve whispered to myself “you can do this” in the last few months, but it seems to work. Just as I repeated this to myself for probably the millionth time, I opened my email to see that I had been accepted by a housing company in Kyoto and would be able to move into a room in 3 days! Oh the joy! (Que over-tired-Jody crying into her McMuffin again). 

 One week later and I was settled in my own room in a beautiful neighbourhood in Kyoto. If you’ve ever moved to a new country, you know how difficult the procedure can be. If you’ve lived in one country your whole life, you can not possibly understand this. Here’s what I did in one week: opened a bank account, registered my address with immigration, applied and received a SIN number, ordered a cell phone, signed a housing contract, accepted a teaching position in Osaka, set up two more interviews for other part time positions, applied to volunteer assist with the Osaka University cheerleading team, got furniture and groceries, and figured out the train pass system. Keep in mind, this was all in Japanese and all had to be done in a specific order. And no, I did not suddenly realize I was fluent in Japanese. Every form I had to fill out took an incredible amount of time and brain power spent translating, asking questions, using a ridiculous amount of sign language, and thanking the many people who voluntarily assisted me, the alien.  

 That’s probably the most amazing thing here. People are so willing to help. If you’re standing on the street staring at your phone, looking at a map, or inevitably just looking confused, someone will stop and ask if they can help you. If you accept help, usually they won’t just point you in the right direction, they will actually physically take you there themselves. 

I feel I could go on forever here, but I want to play a little game here: Fact or Myth

  1. For the most part, only tea is available, not coffee. MYTH. Coffee is a huge part of the culture, which makes sense when you think about the work ethic here. 
  2. Comic, anime, animation is a big part of everyday life. FACT. Even the Armani posters have animated models and some government documents have animated characters on them, such as bunnies.
  3. Japanese people are small. FACT and MYTH. Fact in the sense that buying shoes is almost impossible and it looks like I’ll be making flood pants come back in style. Myth in the sense that although I stand at the same height as everyone, I don’t exactly TOWER over the general population. That being said, I have seen some of the tiniest people here that I’ve ever seen in my life.
  4. You can’t see the stars at night. MYTH. and I’m really excited about this one. You can indeed see the stars at night
  5. The buildings are all really tall. I’m going to go with MYTH. This surprised me because I knew how limited space was here, and in the centre, yes, the buildings are really tall skyscrapers. However, in the more liveable areas, the houses are about average of 4 stories I would say… It’s not that bad.
  6. People sleep on the train/subway. FACT FACT FACT. Heck, I’ve already done it. On my morning commute the other day, a guy fell asleep on top of my head. On top!   Some other interesting facts for your enjoyment:
  • I have now counted 6 flavours of kit-kats (regular, dark, white, strawberry, sake, and matcha)
  • Heated toilet seats are everywhere, even my house, but not the subway station… That’s literally just a hole in the floor. Advance in toilets, yet it is not super common to find soap.
  • Fish is in everything, even when you think it’s not, it is.
  • Vegetarian here means you still eat seafood
  • Television is as ridiculous as you can imagine. 
  • Don’t walk and smoke. There are signs reminding you of this everywhere. In fact, don’t walk and text or eat either. Just walk. (Done it)
  • Don’t eat or drink on the bus, subway, or train. It’s rude (done it)
  • Don’t cross your legs if you are in a professional position, such as a teacher, and absolutely never cross them to show the bottom of your foot. That’s incredibly rude. (Done it)
  • Don’t shake your knee. It’s called the poor-mans shake and it’s very rude. Just sit with your knees together. Properly. Everywhere. Although, as I’m sitting here, the woman to my left has her legs crossed and the man to my right is showing me the bottom of his foot…. So maybe these are just for when you’re in the office and not relaxing at a coffee shop. Or maybe these two people just happen to have a hate out for me.

I am officially working at my first job. I also was hired for two other part time jobs, which I am training for now and will start in April. This is going to be an exhausting next few weeks to get into a schedule I can handle. Thank goodness I am no longer sleeping on the floor, thanks to my awesome landlord who gave me a free “bed” (aka fold up single futon) Really, If you knew me in school, you know I love having a lot on my plate, but this is a whole new level. I’m also trying to fit in Japanese language lessons, helping out a family in my neighbourhood once a week with their English in exchange for cultural activities, and my own daily activities (I still have to eat at some point). I’m struggling to find time to sleep, or even socialize. That being said, I have met a few awesome people here so far who have reached out to me and offered their friendship and their assistance.  

 Sometimes, anytime you’re travelling really, you just have those days where you just need something familiar. No matter how badly you want to fit in with your new surroundings there is something so comforting about hearing a good Canadian joke, hearing Arcade Fire play on the radio, or finding that one familiar food that you actually never thought you’d missed until now. For real, I’ve heard some decent Canadian music represented here. I’ve also managed to find good coffee, Canadian syrup, Chicago mix popcorn, Canada Dry ginger ale, and Ol Del Passo Taco shells! It feels so good. Usually when I hit a grocery store I have to pep talk my way through it. “Okay, what’s that? Ok that looks like some good rice and… No, no that’s a fish head hidden in the corner there. Nope. Ok move on, shrimp, shrimp, I don’t even know what that is. Ok that’s a fish isle, move on. Ok yogurt, yes that’s yogurt! Ok that looks like a strawberry. Buy it, in fact, buy 10. Yogurt for every meal.” I say this out loud. Sometimes you need the “you can do it” confidence boost in the most random of situations. Although, I am getting much better at shopping. In fact, I even know what veggie sushi looks like, AND how to ask for it in Japanese. Bam. I also ate chicken this week for the first time in a month. One month without meat and running constantly every day, I could feel myself getting exhausted. So, ok, I’m not vegetarian. That’s been decided then. But going through the meat section in the store is the worst thing for a normal person… Can you imagine how I feel? (Side note for people who don’t know: I have an extreme disgust and fear of raw meat… If you didn’t know this, you don’t know me very well) I didn’t even know that an animal could have that many edible parts. You don’t want details trust me.

I finally had two days off, and to recover I went hiking. Oh, did I mention that my backyard is literally the Japanese wilderness. Amazing. Within walking distance of my house there are about twenty shrines, a National World Heritage Site, a monkey park, the wildly known Bamboo Forest, and some amazing hiking. And sometimes, sometimes, when you go past the signs that say “the park ends here” you see some of the best things. I hiked for an hour into the forested mountains, didn’t see another human, but came to this viewpoint and I just sat there. It was truely peaceful. No cell service, not too hot, not too cold, just peaceful.   

  I have so much more I wish I could share, but it’s impossible. Someday I hope they invent some sort of memory stick (hah, memory stick) that you can load all of your thoughts and memories on to and then directly share it with other people. Mind you, someone would probably find a way to use it for interrogation and warfare of sort, so I guess on second thought I’ll keep my thoughts to myself. Wow, that saying just took on a whole new meaning for me now. 

 And, if you’ve stuck it out and actually read to the end, I can now share the biggest, most exciting news yet. Jenna is coming to visit! I am so excited. After being away from home for 5 months now, i couldn’t be more excited to have some girl time with one of my best friends. Sleepover! 

Stay tuned, as I’m highly positive I will have some hilarious stories to come. I laugh every single day. Sometimes to myself, sometimes out loud. I’m allowed to be that crazy person for now. 

Love always, 

Your Armstrong Abroad