The haves and have nots – A Japanese Year in Review

All I brought to Japan

All I brought to Japan

A year ago, I lived by the ocean in a small apartment. I dreamed of traveling, and a life with no possessions (can you imagine?). I got rid of most of my stuff, put the rest in storage and moved to another country. Now, I still have a small apartment by the ocean, but I live my life quite differently. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to join witness protection and start your life all over, moving to a foreign country will give you a good idea.

At the year’s end, it is typical to see lots of lists: 2013 Year in Music, 2013 in Movies, Top 10 Moments of 2013’s Latest Party-girl-Musician-Celebrity-Whatchamakalit… This year has been pretty momentous for me personally, and I love making lists, so here is my 2013 Year in Review. Two lists actually, what I have lived with this year, and what I have lived without. Without further ado:

What I have lived without in 2013:

A car: I have driven a car only once since moving to Japan, don’t need to do it again.

Driving on the wrong side

Driving on the wrong side

An oven: Proving that toaster ovens, while not ideal, can roast veggies, meat, garlic bread and cookies.

A microwave: While available, it’s more of a counter space issue. Ever reheated mashed potatoes on the stove? Now I have!

Dishwasher: I have been dishwasher-free since 2011 actually.

Central heating and air conditioning: This is a hard one, mostly because of the terrible weather here that leads to an abundance of mold growth.

What happens without insulation

What happens without insulation

Insulation: I know we have earthquakes here, but seriously Japan!? You won’t realize how important it is to live with insulated walls until you don’t.

TV/cable/Netflix: TVs are just too expensive, and we can’t stream anything from home anyway. Hey Netflix, want to make some more money? Offer your services to expats in foreign countries!

High heels: Yes, a glorious year without stepping into a pair of torture devices, A) because I didn’t bring any and B) because Japan doesn’t sell shoes in my size.

A bed: Just two futons on the floor.

American holidays: I spent years having to suffer through the holidays at work in a restaurant, and now I’m finally free to enjoy the holidays that no one here knows exist. 4th of July, what’s that?

My kitchen

My kitchen

Good wine and beer: Horribly spoiled by California craft beer and wine country, nothing from Japan comes close.

Kitchen gadgets I had come to rely on: No blender, food processor, immersion blender, cocktail shaker, meat thermometer, food scale, zester, hand mixer, slap chopper, salad spinner… Time to put my culinary instincts to the test.

My friends and family: While Face Time technology is truly wonderful, starting your social life from scratch is hard. This is my second time in three years, and it doesn’t get any easier.

This is not pizza Japan!

This is not pizza Japan!

FOOD: here’s all the things I don’t get in Japan – turkey, gouda, American pizza, cottage cheese, phyllo dough, pumpkin pie, bacon, chili peppers, Srirracha, cilantro, fontina, catfish, whole grains, artichokes, spinach, yams, wheat bread, romaine, bagels, pita, hummus, goat cheese, ricotta, blue cheese, halibut, mussels, chicken broth, beef broth, limes, chives, lamb, Greek yogurt, chorizo, arugula, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, pretzels, lemongrass, raisins, heirloom tomatoes, sausage, flavored coffee cream, flavored vodka, cranberry juice.

So no good Mexican food or cosmopolitans, which was basically my diet in Southern California!

What I have lived with in 2013:

Clothing: 6 pairs of shoes, 6 pairs of pants, 2 dresses, one coat. It’s possible ladies, really, I promise.

A bad complexion: Perhaps a combination of the weather and the diet, will I never be free from acne?

A new language: Halting as my speech may be, I have learned more about linguistics in 8 months than four years of foreign language study in school.

Bike riding every day: Rain, snow, 100 degree heat, 100% humidity, groceries loaded in the front basket and small appliances tied to the back, I depend on my little bicycle for everything, although it needs a horn to contend with the traffic…

Public transportation: An afterthought in Sacramento and a joke in Orange County, I now rely on fantastic trains, buses, subways and ferries to get me all over the country.

Awesome karaoke houses: Karaoke back in America is truly an awful, amateur attempt at imitating the amazing private karaoke booths in Japan that you can rent for a few dollars, that sometimes come stocked with free snacks, slushies, curry and rice and…

Nomihodai!: All you can drink! Have you ever been offered this at a restaurant or bar back home? Yeah, that’s what I thought!

Real Japanese food: Did you know there is more to Japanese cuisine than sushi, tempura, miso and teriyaki? I have tried so many new dishes, it makes me want to come home and open a restaurant to show you what you’re all missing out on.

My kitchen: 3 pots, 2 burners, 1 toaster oven, and 1 knife. That pretty much sums up what I have to work with, plus about one and a half square feet of counter space. Limiting? Slightly. Totally adequate to cook delicious food? Indeed.

So another year older, another year wiser, and another year being completely blown away by this little world of ours. I am amazed by the resilience of the human spirit; from those I’ve met here who only two years ago had their lives literally washed away, to the fellow travelers and expats spreading English and love around the globe, to my own ability to take a risk and join them. Happy New Year, and may it bring you as much joy, wisdom and understanding as it brought me!

4 comments on “The haves and have nots – A Japanese Year in Review

  1. TonyJ2 says:

    Nice to see a reflective comment, particularly about downsizing! I think many is us westerners fear it, but you show it can be done with not too many negatives.

  2. Lanni Butterworth says:

    Good post. I’m finally catching up on this blog. Very insightful catalog Shana-san. Oh, and yes, the Saint Young Men anime is delightful.

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