My New Year

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明けましておめでとうございます!今年もよろしくお願いします!

Happy New Year! Wishing you health and happiness in the New Year!

My husband is Japanese, I’m American, and we live in America. So we have an interesting mix of traditions for the winter holidays. We usually spend an American-style Christmas with my family, then spend New Year’s with just the two of us.

We try to incorporate a lot of Japanese traditions into New Year’s, although we can’t do some things, like hatsumode 初詣 or the first shrine visit of the New Year, we can do other things like eat (especially eat) traditional foods, and watch the Japanese New Year’s special Kohaku Song Competition 紅白歌合戦 (thanks to TV Japan).

I wanted to introduce some of the things that my husband and I do for our state-side New Year’s celebrations~

New Year’s Cleaning

Before the New Year comes we have to do a big cleaning called o-souji 大掃除, to clean out the old and dust and get ready for the New Year and good luck. We clean the house thoroughly (mostly) and the cars and yard (dead leaves, etc.). When I visited my husband (before we were married) in Japan for New Years a few years ago, we cleaned his apartment and part of his family’s house in the same way.

Apartments in Japan

Now that I’ve been doing this for a few years, I enjoy the sense of emptying out things I don’t need, cleaning out all the dust, and organizing my life before the year turns. Also, I have an excuse to sit around and be lazy on New Year’s Day!

New Year’s Food

My husband and I both enjoy eating, and although we have yet to make osechi ryori お節料理, or the traditional foods that are eaten for luck and health in the new year, we do enjoy making other New Year’s foods.

osechi ryori お節料理On December 31st, we eat toshi-koshi soba 年越しそば or year-crossing soba (buckwheat noodles). The history of toshikoshi soba dates back to the Kamakura period of Japan, where a Buddhist temple gave soba to poor people on New Year’s. During the Edo period, the tradition became a part of mainstream culture. Eating the soba allows you to cut ties with the old year, as the noodles are easily cut with your teeth while eating, and thus gives you a clean start to the new year.

On January 1st we usually make a sweet red bean soup with mochi (glutinous rice) called oshiruko おしるこ. Red and white are lucky colors for the new year, and the red beans and white mochi make oshiruko a lucky dish.

New Year’s TV Special

One thing that I am glad we have access to is Japanese TV, through a service called TV Japan. We get a variety of dramas, news, and special programs here in the states, so we can keep up with a lot of the Japanese programs. Some of the premium dramas don’t come out right away, but most of the NHK dramas come out at the same time as in Japan, so I don’t get behind my friends in Japan.

There are many New Year’s specials, but the first one I saw in Japan (years ago) was the Kohaku Uta Gassen 紅白歌合戦 or the Red & White Song Battle (official title: Red and White Year-end Song Festival). This is aired on December 31st leading up to midnight, and consists of popular Japanese artists competing on the Red team (girls) and White team (guys). It’s a continuous performance, with the popular songs of the year interspersed with commentary by famous actors, announcers, and comedians. Then at the end, everyone votes for the best team (Red or White).

Red & white ema at a shrine

They broadcast it on TV Japan live in Japan time, and then rebroadcast it on American time – so I can watch the whole thing in the morning on December 31st or as a countdown to midnight here in America. I enjoy it because it is a review of the popular songs of the year, and since I can’t go to a New Year’s live (or concert) in Japan, I can have my own in-house concert with all my favorite bands, talented enka singers, and other famous people.

Happy New Year!

The traditional greeting in the New Year is: Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu!

You can shorten it to: Akemashite omedetou! (for friends)

Or for really close friends: Ake ome! (The first two syllables of the first two words in the greeting, but this is much less polite than the longer version).

You can also add: Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegai shimasu!

This means, “please take care of me this year too,” and is also a standard and polite greeting.

So, Happy New Year, and please take care of me this year too! ^.^ Ake ome everyone!

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New Year, New Travel Goals

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My final New Year’s resolution for 2017 is to take a trip. I have been to Japan for the past 2 years and I would like to continue this tradition if possible. If not, I would like to at least travel to a place that is not my hometown or that isn’t required for work. I enjoy traveling to new places and exploring new cities, so I would like to take at least one trip to a new place.

When I was a grad student I spent a month with my then-fiance in Japan and was able to visit a lot of amazing places. However, when you are trying to adult and travel at the same time it can be difficult, because although you have a job and earn money, you can’t take endless amounts of time off, and sometimes you have to spend the money on adult expenses ( ´•̥̥̥ω•̥̥̥` )

In 2016, I was lucky enough to travel to my hometown four times and travel for work, plus I even got to visit Japan again! I can’t complain, and I love to visit my hometown, but seeing new places is always exciting.

My best advice for traveling? Plan ahead! Estimate the costs, save a set amount of money each paycheck, and remember that you might have to make sacrifices (like those new shoes that are super cute) in order to make the trip a reality. But it’s worth it in the end, isn’t it?

I’d also like to improve my photography skills during my travels! I always have the most fun photographing new and exciting places, rather than where I live. Although moving to a new town at the end of 2016 was almost like taking a trip, since everything is still very new to me!

Where did you travel in 2016? Where would you like to travel in 2017? Let me know in the comments!

New Year, New Japanese Goals

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I’ve always wanted to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), although it does nothing for me professionally, just to prove that I can. At the beginning of 2016, I thought I would take it by the end of the year, but I didn’t stick to any kind of schedule and in the end I never took it.

This year? I’m not confident that I will be able to take it this year either. But I would like to study as though I were planning to take it at the end of 2017. If for nothing else other than as personal growth in my Japanese ability. So, I have made Japanese study one of my New Year’s resolutions!

What went wrong last year? Last year I did not set any kind of schedule or routine for study, and therefore there was no motivation for me to study. I am good at setting long-term goals, but if there’s no plan it’s hard for me to keep on track. So this year I am going to make a plan from the beginning!

Japanese Study Texts

I am starting off with the Matome まとめ series for JLPT N3 (the middle level), and Kanji Step 6 to strengthen my basic ability. Then I plan to continue to N2 and N1, and to continue with the kanji series. I prefer a structured lesson set so I like the day-by-day worksheets in the まとめ series, but that’s a personal preference.

I’ve also started using an app called HelloTalk. This is a social language learning app, where you can find people who speak the language you want to learn, and who want to learn the language you speak. Then you can exchange messages in either language, and correct each other’s messages. I won’t be able to do all the worksheets every day, and so if I’m busy I can still practice reading and writing in Japanese with this app.

I also practice speaking daily with my husband (although usually only slang ^^), and listening daily with the Japanese news on the NHK cable TV channel that is offered through my cable provider.

So, will I end up taking the JLPT this year? I think I need to consider it a bit more carefully before I decide, but at least I hope to improve my Japanese ability!

Are you going to start learning Japanese this year? Or improve your Japanese ability? How do you plan to study? Let me know in the comments!

New Year, New Relationship Goals

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In 2017, my New Year’s resolutions include new relationship goals.

Wait, what? I thought you were already in a relationship? ∑(。・Д・。)???

Yes, I am! I’m happily married to my Japanese husband. Don’t worry, I’m not talking about a new romantic relationship, but rather new friendships.

In 2015, I moved to a new town after graduating from grad school and starting a new job. At the end of last year, I moved again for work to another new town. So the year after starting over in a new town and finding new friends, I’m starting over again!

It seems daunting to again try to find friends in a place where I know literally no one. But I’m making it a resolution to try to find new friends (again). The only question is how to do it when I don’t already have friends to introduce me to new friends (and coworkers probably won’t be able to help with this).

So I’ve brainstormed some ways to get out, be social, and hopefully find some people with similar interests:

  • Professional groups – This way I will meet people who work in my field and, even if I don’t make new friends, I will at least have a professional network
  • Young professional groups – This will introduce me to young professionals, like myself, even if they aren’t in the exact same field as me
  • Meet Up – This is an app I recently heard about, where people join groups and “meet up” to do activities about once a month, thus you can find a whole group of people with similar interests as you
  • Go somewhere new – At least once a month my husband and I will go to a new place (museum, park, etc) to get more familiar with the area and to broaden our horizons – at the very least we can see what this place has to offer!

These are the ideas I have come up with so far, and if I do at least one of these events at least once a month, I hope to meet some new people!

Do you have any other ideas about how to meet people in a new town? Please let me know!

New Year, New Blogging Goals

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Yesterday, I posted about my Blogging Goals. It’s easy once you stop posting regularly to stop posting altogether, and I like to blog so I’d like to post more often.

TL;DR: I want to post more.

Last year I tried different things to post more often (like participating in the A to Z Challenge), but at some point I stopped posting regularly. And then it became easier to post less frequently, and then not at all. Add in work, travel, and moving to a new city, and I was busy enough to put blogging at the very end of my list!

Tokyo Tower New Year's Decorations 2015

This year, I want to change that! My New Year’s resolution is to post 2-3 times a week. That way I can figure out what I want this blog to be, write about stuff I like, and maybe entertain someone along the way. However, I said the same thing last year, and I didn’t keep up with it to the end of the year. So, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t fall into the same rut again and stop posting by the end of this year.

How to avoid doing the same thing as last year? Make a calendar. After sifting through lots of pages about blogging, I found that making a blogging calendar kept coming up. This method seems like something that I can do to remind myself to blog, without taking a whole lot of extra time to do. The basic idea is to set up a road map that you follow for your blog, so that you can follow it even when you are very busy.

My personal calendar plan consists of setting aside days to blog that fit with my work schedule (because I definitely don’t want to write a blog when I get home after a long day). I will pick the topics ahead of time, then just write short posts about each topic. Then I can schedule the posts for later in the week and not have to worry about remembering to post them. Do you think I can keep up with this schedule? I hope so! Let’s see how this works!

Does anyone else have this same problem with blogging? Do you have any methods to help you blog more frequently? Please share in the comments!

New Year, New Me

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How many times have people made New Year’s resolutions only to break them soon after? The gym is full on January 1st, but empty by February. The salad-every-meal diet dissolves into the pizza-and-chocolate-cake diet. Let’s face it, resolutions can be hard to keep.

I’m just as guilty as most people of breaking New Year’s resolutions, but I try to prevent this by setting attainable goals. That doesn’t mean I always keep them, but I think it gives me a better chance!

I think that my 2017 resolutions will look a lot like my 2016 goals because I’m good at making long-term goals, but terrible at keeping on track unless there is a firm deadline. I think to have a chance of attaining my goals and keeping my resolutions this year, I will need to set some firm deadlines (like I did with my 2015 resolutions.

Kiyomizudera - Kyoto, Japan

Blogging Goals

I think that you, dear reader, will be most concerned with this goal. If you like my blog (thank you!) you might hope to hear more from me than you did last year (sorry!). Last year I resolved to post 2-3 times a week (which I didn’t, oops), but I think that this is a solid goal to try for again this year. If I can actually keep up with this goal, I think I can better shape my blog’s themes so that it isn’t as all-over-the-place as it typically has been.

Relationship Goals

In 2015, I moved to a new city and so my goal was to make new friends. At the end of 2016 I moved to another new city, and so now I find myself with the same goal to make new friends. Balancing work and personal life is important to me, but even though I have a lot of experience in moving to new places and starting over, I am going to have to get creative to meet some new people with similar interests! I am going to try to go to a social event at least once a month so I can meet new people.

Japanese Goals

In 2016, I thought I would study hard and take and pass the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), but between work and the lack of a study schedule, I did not achieve this goal. If I were to take the JLPT this year, it would fall at the end of the year, which gives me nearly an entire year to prepare. I am not ready to commit to the actual JLPT at this point, but I plan to make a weekly study schedule and to prepare as if I were going to take the JLPT. If nothing else, my Japanese skill should improve.

I’ve also started using an app called HelloTalk, which pairs language partners based on the languages they know and want to learn. It seems convenient because you can use it at any time and chat like a social app, but still keep your privacy. Let’s see how it goes!

Travel Goals

I love to travel, especially to Japan. I would like to take at least one trip this year (that is not to my hometown). This depends on work and financial status, but if I start planning now it will be easier to make a trip! And while I’m at it, I would like to take more photos and maybe improve my photography ability along the way.

Jenny Lake - Grand Teton National Park

What are your 2017 resolutions or goals? What are your strategies for keeping your resolutions? Let me know in the comments!