Tag Archives: nihon

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

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