Being Sick in Japan

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I hate being sick. I hate being sick away from home even more!

When I travel anywhere – within the US or to Japan – and especially when I fly, I usually get sick. Being in a small space with other people and sharing recycled air allows those nasty little bugs to invade.

At least when you are home and you get sick, you are in familiar surroundings and the medicine or foods you need to feel better are in easy reach. In a foreign country, you often have to figure out what medicine to buy in a language you haven’t entirely mastered, and then if you need to see a doctor that’s a whole other problem.

Getting Sick in Japan

So what happens when you get sick in Japan? I’ve gotten sick enough times that I’ve learned to be prepared for the eventuality.

If you are on a student visa or any visa that gives you access to healthcare, go to the doctor (isha 医者)! They have national healthcare and it will cost you nothing to very little to go to the doctor. As a student, I went when I got injured playing soccer. I had an X-ray and got some painkiller (I had a collision with another player, but it ended in just some bruises) and I walked out of the hospital without a bill.

If you’re a visitor, you don’t have access to the national healthcare system, but I got an IV drip (this is pretty common in Japan for flu and cold treatment) and some medicine the last time I was sick in Japan, and got out for under ¥5000 (~$45).  Some copays in the US can be more than that. You can also go to a pharmacy or convenience store, and explain your symptoms to the clerk (there are free Japanese-English dictionary apps available!). Ingredients are often listed in katakana and if you know the ingredients you are looking for, you can make educated guesses.

My advice? Figure out what kinds of (minor) illnesses you are most likely to get when you travel (if you get sick enough times, you’ll know). Bring medicine with you, just in case. I’d recommend bringing over-the-counter cold medicine if you’re going during the winter, or pain killer if you’re prone to headaches when you travel. If there’s anything you are prone to (like.. gasp.. diarrhea), pack medicine that you know works so you don’t have to find something when you’ve already gotten sick.

If you have a chronic condition that requires medication, of course you should be sure to bring it with you. But if it’s a narcotic or prescription strength, it’s a good idea to check and make sure that you can enter the country with it. Japan is a bit stricter on drugs than the US, and you don’t want to be stopped because of drugs that are legally in your possession. And don’t bring illegal drugs to Japan, because that’s just asking for trouble!

I’m Getting Better…

My Japanese husband and I have different ideas about comfort food and home remedies when it comes to being sick, and so when I bring back a cold I picked up on a business trip, we end up with an interesting meal plan.

Sometimes we eat ozosui お雑炊 – a soup with rice that’s almost like a porridge – and sometimes we eat chicken noodle soup. The most important thing about comfort food is that it soothes the symptoms of being sick, and often it isn’t the food itself but the memory of eating it as a child that makes you feel better. When both of us are really really sick we obtain calories from store-bought bottled smoothies (US) or from jelly drinks (Japan).

Usually Japanese people think that American medicine is too strong, while Americans think that Japanese medicine is not strong enough. My husband and I each have a different combination of American and Japanese medicine that we prefer for different symptoms, and thanks to his parents we have an abundant supply of both!

Sometimes I wonder if the perception of a certain medicine not being effective enough can affect the way that the medicine actually works – like a placebo effect. If you always used the same medicine to cure your cold, and you are positive that any other medicine won’t work, is it because it really doesn’t work, or because you don’t think it will work?

What is your favorite food when you are under the weather? What do you do to prevent illness? Have you ever had any problems with medicine in a foreign country? Let me know in the comments!

Coming of Age Day in Japan 成人の日

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In Japan, the second Monday of January marks the Coming of Age Day or Seijin no Hi 成人の日. On this day, anyone who turns 20 between April 1st of the previous year (2016) and April 1st of the current year (2017) officially becomes an adult in the eyes of Japanese society.

In addition to the new adults being able to vote, smoke, and drink in Japan, each ward holds a ceremony called seijin-shiki 成人式 to officially introduce the newly minted adults. Women wear special kimono with long sleeves, called furisode, and often with fur trim since it’s still winter. These are usually rented because they are quite expensive. Men can wear hakata, or traditional baggy pants, but most often they wear suits with ties.

Usually friends gather after the ceremony and celebrate at an izakaya or Japanese pub, at karaoke, or even in parks (but usually it’s pretty cold for this). Even if they haven’t officially reached 20 on the day of the ceremony, Japanese izakaya won’t card on this day.

Many new adults go to the shrine after the ceremony, to offer prayers for their future. Since the Coming of Age Day is close to the New Year, many people are still making their first trips to the shrines and it can be quite crowded!

Hasedera Temple, Kamakura

In recent years, participation in the Coming of Age Day ceremonies has declined. Some people say that not as many people are participating as they used to, and some people say that there just aren’t as many young people are there used to be (the aging society problem of Japan). While I don’t know the reason why participation is down, I know that my friends – in past years as well as this year – are very eager to participate!

What kind of celebrations does your country have for coming of age? Let me know in the comments!

Photo Friday: It’s Not This Time of Year Without… Illumination

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Landmark Tower Yokohama Illumination

Photo Friday Challenge: It’s Not This Time of Year Without… 

This week’s Photo Friday Challenge is perfect for the season – It’s not this time of year without… Illumination! Yesterday I talked about my Christmas wish list of things that remind me of winter in Japan, and today I have narrowed it down to the one thing that I miss most about Christmas in Japan. Illumination イルミネーション consists of Christmas light displays that range from local characters to famous Disney princesses.

Venetian Glass Museum

Santa’s escapades at the Venetian Glass Museum, Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture
– photo by kei

Crowds of people mill around the light displays, taking photos and enjoying the spectacle. Couples on a date, families with children, and spectators of all ages can enjoy the illumination. Despite the cold everyone enjoys the atmosphere of the season. While there are Christmas displays in major American cities too, Japan’s illuminations are a completely different event.

Tokyo Skytree Illumination

Tokyo Skytree Town Illumination – photo by kei

Visiting different illuminations in different cities gives you a small taste of the local culture, show off amazing creativity, and I love to try to visit as many as possible. For example, the Disney princesses are located throughout Tokyo in major shopping centers, etc. So if you visit each of the areas where the princesses are, you can take photos of all of them. I suppose it’s like collecting trading cards or Pokemon!

What completes your holiday season? What about holiday traditions from other countries that you enjoy? Let me know in the comments!

My Japanese Christmas List

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Happy December!

It’s the first day of December, and that has me in the Christmas mood. I was thinking about what I want for Christmas today, and the top thing on my list is a trip to Japan… However, due to financial constraints and job obligations, it looks like two tickets to the island nation will not be under my Christmas tree this year 。゚(゚´Д`゚)゚。

So, instead of taking a trip to the land of the rising sun, I made a list of things that would make my Christmas in America a little more like the holidays in Japan.

Japanese University Christmas Trees

Kotatsu 炬燵 – a small square table with a heater underneath, usually accompanied by a futon 布団 or heavy blanket, used to keep warm in the cold winter months

Kotatsu

You can also put a PC on a kotatsu for hours of gaming under a warm futon ^^;

Mikan みかん – a small orange, in season in the winter, often eaten while seated at a kotatsu

Christmas cake クリスマスケーキ – a sponge cake with cream and strawberries, not too sweet and in a perfect portion for two people, eaten during Christmas in Japan

Illumination イルミネーション – Christmas lights, big and fancy, done in a style special for each different location – I love strolling through light displays everywhere, from the high fashion streets of Ginza to a rural town at the foot of Mt Fuji

Christmas Illumination in Ginza

Christmas Illumination in Ginza

How does your Christmas list compare to mine? Is there a Japanese Christmas tradition that you would add? What about your favorite Christmas tradition from your own country? Let me know in the comments!

Halloween in Japan

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Happy Halloween! This weekend both America and Japan are in full Halloween mode, so it’s the perfect time to write about the differences between the Halloween celebrations in both countries.

In the US, Halloween has a long history that was created by a blend of European traditions, that I won’t go into detail with here. These traditions eventually accumulated into a celebration marked by handing out candy to small children who dress up like the most popular pop culture characters of the year. For young adults, that tradition involves parties and any costume that starts with “Sexy” (Cat, Policewoman, or Chinese Takeout for example).

In Japan, the holiday is a little newer. It’s also not focused on children, but mostly young adults and quite a few foreigners. There is no trick-or-treating, and most of Halloween happens in large public gatherings. In recent years several problems due to the large amount of people in small public areas has caused a few problems, so Japanese officials are stepping things up to make things better for those who celebrate Halloween, and those who don’t.

Shibuya

Shibuya Halloween

Shibuya 渋谷, in Tokyo, is a huge center for fashion and pop culture in Japan, which sometimes involves a lot of intricate costumes and make-up, so naturally Shibuya is the center for young people who are cosplaying (costume play or cosplay means dressing up in character). Thus, in recent years, people have gathered in Shibuya for Shibuya Fes on Halloween night to cosplay, meet friends, and meet other people celebrating Halloween.

Many other places in Tokyo, including Tokyo Disney, have started their own Halloween parades and parties. Not to leave out the Kansai area, Dotonbori 道頓堀 in Osaka has another huge Halloween night gathering.

Cosplay

Deciding what costume to wear is one of the best parts of Halloween, for both kids and adults, in both the US and Japan. In the US, kids get to wear their costumes to school and have a party in class. My husband never had this experience in Japan. October 31st was just a regular day at school. In recent years, Japanese school children wear costumes to school and have Halloween parties like we do in the US. They also get to experience trick-or-treating, going to other classrooms to get candy, as the American traditions have become more well-known in Japan.

In a place like Japan, where cosplay is huge no matter what time of the year, it’s no wonder that Japanese young adults have started to adopt their own Halloween traditions. Like in the US, they usually cosplay the most popular characters of the year, and a zombie anything is always a great option. Theme costumes are popular, and groups of friends dress up in the same theme – like superheroes or Pokemon. Sexy costumes for girls are just as popular as in America, and some of the cosplayers go all out in really intricate costumes.

Something that I’ve noticed in Japan (that is not very common in the US) is that groups of friends often dress up as the exact same thing. It’s not uncommon to see groups of zombie nurses, sexy Pikachus, or any set of 5-10 people who are all wearing the exact same costume. My Japanese friends in the US also do this kind of group costume, although when I joined them in group cosplay I thought it was strange because I’m used to choosing my costume on my own in America. Group cosplay is a lot of fun!

Shibuya

Learning How to Halloween

Halloween in Japan is a night of revelry and partying, just like in the US, but when it’s concentrated into a few small metro areas that means a lot of people and trash. The problems that arise include trying to keep the huge amounts of people safe, and the huge amounts of trash that they produce. Since Halloween is a new festival in Japan, the first few years were pretty crazy because both the cosplayers and the police were trying to figure things out. Now that it’s been happening for the past few years, things are getting a little easier.

If you’ve seen the Shibuya scramble, you know how many people can cross the road at once. But when the number of people increases during Halloween, it’s harder for people and cars to coexist safely. The police have stepped up their Halloween weekend presence and they conduct the traffic over loudspeakers, and to further ensure the safety of the crowd they shut down two city streets during the Halloween celebrations. Not everyone in these areas is a Halloween fan, so the police are trying to keep order so that local businesses, employees, and residents won’t get overwhelmed by the party-goers. The Halloween cosplayers are also paying more attention to the fact that not everyone is partying, and people who don’t want to join in avoid Shibuya if they can avoid it, so it seems like crowd problems might get a little better.

Japan doesn’t have public trash cans, unless you count the trash cans outside of convenience stores (but technically those are for convenience store trash…), so the huge crowds that bring lots of trash with them leave a lot of that trash behind. It’s caused major complaints in the past years, so this year the police will also be involved in picking up trash in festive jack-o-lantern trash bags. And now that everyone knows that it’s a big problem, many cosplayers are pitching in to collect trash in those bags during the festival.

What kind of Halloween celebrations does your city have? What is your costume this year?

Photo Friday: Fun! / Sanno Matsuri Children

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Sanno Matsuri Children

Photo Friday Challenge: Fun!

What expresses Fun better than children? These kids are pulling the mikoshi 神輿 (also 御輿), a portable shrine in which a deity is enshrined, at the 2016 Sanno Festival or Sannou Matsuri 山王祭 in Tokyo, Japan.

The Sanno Matsuri is a summer festival, held in mid June on even numbered years in Tokyo. The Kanda Matsuri is held on odd numbered years. This photo was taken during the grand procession, which begins at Hie Shrine 日枝神社, winds its way through Tokyo for nine hours, and then finally returns to Hie Shrine. There are several places to view the procession, and we caught it on June 10th in Ginza.

Watching the children, who had already been traveling around Tokyo in the hot sun for hours, give it their best as they escorted the mikoshi, and still having fun as they walked beside cars and waited at stoplights in the heat, I was quite impressed at their endurance. As people lined either side of the Ginza streets, we cheered them on in their efforts. Even the adults accompanying them seemed to be having fun!

What do you think of when you hear the theme of fun? Let me know in the comments!

一期一会 Ichigo Ichie

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The Japanese idiom 一期一会 ichigo ichie literally translates to “one opportunity, one encounter.” The meaning of this idiom is to treasure every encounter, for it will never recur.

The idiom is derived from Zen Buddhism, and is particularly associated with the Japanese tea ceremony or sadou 茶道. In the context of sadou, ichigo ichie reminds participants that each tea ceremony is unique that will never recur in one’s lifetime, and thus each moment should be treated with the utmost sincerity.

In the context of daily life, think of each encounter as a once-in-a-lifetime chance. So, why not seize the day?