EMIKO - PART I

Emiko has been my best friend ever since I was old enough to remember having friends haha. I think we met back in 2nd or 3rd grade? When we were little she used to live next to my Aunt and Uncle and I thought it was the coolest thing ever that I could go to their house AND her house in the same afternoon. She was always homeschooled, so we never went to school together... and when we were in the 5th grade her family moved to Japan for her dads job. Yet the distance seemed to affect us in a positive way and we wrote emails to each other like "Hi Emi I just got home from school and ate a popsicle. My dog is funny. bye" because that's what 10 year olds do haha. The best part is I would then print out every single email sent between us and put it in a special box decorated with AMIE and EMI all over it. I think I still have that box somewhere. 

So basically, having Emi visit me in Japan was a childhood dream come true. The absolute best week ever. Our friendship was solidified all those years ago when we were younger, and it has survived moves to Nagoya, OC, Brussels, London, Azusa, Redding, LA, and now Kashiwa. The running joke is that I have seen every place Emi has ever lived (and it has been a lot of places) so the tables were turned and she was able to visit my home here in Japan. 

We explored all over Tokyo and took a bazillion photos and selfies. When Emi left last week we literally both cried like our 10 year old selves and wished we could just be roomies already. 

We knew we had to recreate this photo from our time in Nagoya, Japan in 2003! We have come a loooooong way from our awkward teen selves lol. But its true, your best friends know you and accept you before you are ever anywhere close to being "cool" 

On our first day together I showed Emi Teganuma, the river by my house. 

Had to get some umeboshi onigiri! My fav. 

It was so hot out in the blazing sun, but the breeze was blowing pretty nicely for us and we had a blast running around the rice patties and unashamedly taking photos. This last one of her is my fav!

 

A few more of day 1 from my phone..

We woke up each morning to the always fabulous 7-11 coffee, oatmeal for Emi, yogurt for me, and some fruit. 

We ended our first night with an amazing Kushiage (a bunch of fried meat and veggies on a stick - chef's choice!) with two of my good friends Mina and her husband Aki plus their friend Shun! Aki's other friend owns the restaurant which is a cozy little place a few minutes from Kashiwa station. The food is so good and I even got an order of the most delicious umeboshi ochazuke! I could eat that everyday without hesitation. Because we were with such good company, it helped Emi fight most of her jet lag and stay up all day so we were sooooo ready for the next day...aka the day we took over TOKYO! coming next...

 

HAPPY JAPANNIVERSARY

365 days ago...I left LAX airport with a one way ticket and landed at Narita International Airport to start my new life in Japan.

That makes today my 1st official Japanniversary. wow.

This picture was taken over a year ago, at my going away party. 

A year? One entire calendar year? Through every holiday, season, and birthday...I have called Japan home. WHAT? That is crazy. What is even crazier is that I plan to stay. Two more years. 

Before I moved here I thought living abroad for one year was crazy. So three years seemed impossible. I had no grasp on how I would survive being so far away from my family and friends, and the time frame just seemed daunting. But now, here I am..and life has a funny way of working out because I love Japan more today than I did yesterday, and buckets more than I did a year ago. life. is. crazy.

I could go into detail about the things I've been learning, or all the little reasons why I love living here...but what I really just want to say is that I owe it all to Jesus. Because of Him I am here and thriving. He has given me a job I love, a church I can call home, friends and family to hang out with here, as well as the may friends and family that have visited. He has protected me everyday, provided for my every need, and comforted me through every moment of doubt. I have seen God in so many beautiful ways since moving here, and for that I am eternally grateful. 

I'll end with this...the greatest gift God has given me while being in Japan has been a heart for the Japanese. He has opened my eyes to the ways He loves these people and my heart now breaks for the Japanese people to know the love of God. This burden I have on my heart for the people I work with and the friends I have here has driven a passion in me and filled me with purpose every single day. Before I moved here I was so worried about being homesick, about doing things independently, or being lonely. I was worried about feeling the pain and sadness that would come from all of that, but let me just tell you this --> When you are filled with purpose you obliterate all of the pain. I am filled with purpose... and it is all from God, through God, because of God, and for God! Amen! 

^me talking with my hands, per usual. 

Thanks for all the love and support from afar! Cheers to two more years loving and serving God in Japan! 

*anyone who wants to visit, please feel free! I love sharing my love for this country with others. 

 

 

 

HANABI + YUKATAS

In the states, we associate fireworks (Hanabi) with the 4th of July.
In Japan, we associate fireworks with two things : summer + yukatas! 

A yukata is a casual summer kimono that is seen all over Japan in the summer. The girls yukatas are all BEAUTIFUL. Actually, the point is that each part of your outfit, the yukata (main cloth part), the obi (the waist tie), and the geta (wooden shoes), are all supposed to stand out on their own which creates very bright and colorful miss-matched patterns. aka AMAZING. 

So August 6th was our local Firework show at Tengauma river. Thousands and thousands of people come out to watch this 1.5 hour show (YES AN HOUR AND A HALF OF FIREWORKS) and Steph and were lucky that our two good friends saved a spot for us the day before! 

So, I don't have a yukata yet but my good friend Haruka is pregnant so she said "Amie, I can't wear mine so you can borrow it!" I then borrowed Steph's red Obi for a pop of color and we had a fun time trying to put the darn thing on!! haha it is not as easy as it may seem. 

Steph in her pretty yukata and yellow obi. 

The fireworks started around 7pm so we headed to the park around 5:30 and I was already VERY SWEATY. 

Feeling very 日本人 (nihonjin - Japanese) 

A sea of blue tarps reserving spots. We had THE PERFECT view of the show right on the water. Front row and center.

It wouldn't be a Japanese event without plenty of good food...I even found spam and it took me right back to my childhood! We grabbed some food and sat down on our tarp with a bunch of other snacks and drinks to enjoy the show. 

So. many. people. I even saw two of my students on a date which made me laugh that they somehow found Steph and I in this sea of people! how?! No idea. 

The show started at 7:10 and it was incredible. Forsure the best firework show I have ever seen. It felt like we were right under them! The atmosphere was epic too...just a hot Japanese summer, cicadas ringing in the trees, kids running around, ladies in beautiful yukatas, and the booming sound of the fireworks. I am approaching my one year JAPANIVERSARY (a year since I moved to Japan) so it made it more epic knowing that this place has been my home for the past year and will always hold a very special place in my heart.  

KOBE CAMP

Long before Kobe Bryant became the iconic image and hero of my generation...there was the city of Kobe, in Japan. Actually rumor has it Kobe Bryant's parents named him after the famous Kobe beef that comes from the area. 

Last week I had the chance to help out with a camp, and we all know I am a camp person...but get this...this was a BASKETBALL CHURCH CAMP IN KOBE! Talk about the most perfect combination. The only thing that would have made it more perfect is if KOBE Bryant was there himself. 

I took the Shinkansen down Tuesday after work. From my school, it took me an hour to get to Tokyo station where the Shinkansen leaves. From there it took me around 3 hours to get down to Kobe (it's far!!) and I made a pit stop in Osaka on the way.

There is an unspoken rivalry (I guess it is often spoken of but Japanese people are polite compared to rivalries in the states) between Osaka-Kansai people and Tokyo-Kanto people. The two cities try to differentiate themselves as much as possible so in Osaka people stand on the right side of escalators while in Tokyo people stand on the left - confusing!

Anyway, the reason I stopped in Osaka was to meet up with Kazue, who is marrying my brother-in-laws good friend Jose. Kazue was recently up at my place in Kashiwa with Jose and Ant, so it was fun to see her on her home turf. She took me out to eat Shabu shabu and it was so good! I hope I can visit her one more time in Osaka before she moves to CA to get married!

 

So after dinner with Kazue I finally made it to Kobe and stayed at a local church with the team of Americans I would be working with. The next day we woke up, met our campers at a nearby station, and drove into the Inaka (countryside) for camp!!

We stayed at this Rugby sports facility about an hour inland from Kobe city. My dad's friend Martin, organizes this basketball camp every year and that is how I heard about it. It combines the four things I love most JESUS + JAPAN + KIDS + BASKETBALL. So perfect

We partnered with a local pastor and his wife and they sent out the info for the camp to the public. In Japan, from a very young age, kids are highly involved in their school clubs so it is hard to find kids with a few free days to spend at a basketball church camp...so this year 7 junior high boys came! Everyone wished there were more kids, but we all understood its the cultural circumstance and were stoked to have 7 boys to hang out with!

On the first day, we played bball from 1-5pm!! The boys were excited to get on the court and if the sweat on their shirt is any evidence, they definitely played hard!

We were all tired that first night...so it felt nice to come into the cafeteria for a nice big meal. Like I said, this is a Rugby sports facility so the chef really cooks some hefty food. We had teriyaki chicken, sausage, cabbage, rice, and soup the first night. 

We wrapped up the evening playing camp games (ninja is always a huge hit with kids, especially boys), a time of worship, and a message from Pastor Taniguchi. 

Day 2! Wake up call was at 7am, for breakfast at 7:30, and I made sure to get up earlier to take in as much nature as possible. I found a nice spot out on the patio...and it reminded me so much of my time working at Forest Home back in college. There is something magical about that early morning sun on a summer day, with a full days adventure ahead of you, the peaceful moment staring at Gods creation, far from the hustle and bustle of the big city...ahhhh the best. 

Day 2 was a crazy basketball day. We played from 9:00-11:50am, had a lunch break, and then played from 1:00-5:00pm!! That is a lot of basketball even for me! We made sure to split things up between fundamental drills, plenty of water breaks, groups games, scrimmages, and the best part - Bible time! There were 5 of us coaches who each shared a devotional throughout the camp. We then split up into small groups to talk to the kids about what they learned. 

the gym was SO HOT. I want to guess it was 90 with 110 percent humidity haha. I was sweating just standing there...literally dripping sweat. The good thing is, at Japanese convenience stores they sell frozen drinks so this frozen aquarius (sports drink) tasted like HEAVEN. 

For lunch we all ate Hambagu (hamburger patty) with mushroom soup and rice. It was funny being with 7 junior high boys because they ate everything extremely fast. I think one kid ate his entire hambagu in 1 minute. 

It was fun sitting family style at camp and I loved praying with the kids before every meal. 

Phew! day 2 of basketball ended and everyone was exhausted...but in a good way. After finishing at 5, there is designated "bath" time where everyone washes up in the public bath. Yep, that Japanese life! I wish you all could experience public bathing here in Japan..it is so funny to me how it is so normal for them here but the weirdest thing for foreigners! Lucky for me, there were only 2 other ladies at camp with me so we took turns and went separately. *I don't mind using public baths if I am with strangers, but if I am with people I know, it's weird!

Night session on day 2 consisted of a lot of fun games outside in the dark...an awesome message by Pastor Taniguchi..a few worship songs in English and Japanese...and to top it all off we ate SMORES! Now, smores are not common here in Japan so for most of the students it was their first time eating them. As Americans we grew up with them, but can you imagine being a junior high boy and eating one for the first time?? They freaked out. They all ate at least 4 and some of them we had to tell to stop or else they would be feeling pretty sick!

Day 3 of camp. We all woke up to the classic Japanese breakfast of Miso soup, rice, a few veggies, and fish. (I passed on the fish obvi) but the miso soup was sooooo goooooood. 

I've been lovin this song off Hillsongs new album.. "And we owe it all to Jesus/ sin and all its shame deleted/ death and all its chains defeated/ and the light we see is Jesus/ and the air we breathe is freedom" AMEN!! 

Last day of camp...we played a full four quarter game all morning and had the best time. 

After our game, we closed things off with a short speech about each of the kids and gave them a gift bag of a framed photos of us, a manga Bible (so cool!) and a bunch of other stuff along with one of the camp balls to keep. One kid even ran upstairs after to immediately start reading the manga Bible because he was so curious. Praise God! 

Group photo. back row of coaches: Jen, Martin's daughter from Maryland...Russel from SD...Dennis from SF...and JJ from soCal. Front row is all the kids! 

After our last basketball session we headed into the cafeteria for...drumroll...CURRY!!! Curry is everyones' favorite comfort food, right? (side note: can you imagine how many basketball jokes could happen if Japanese people became fans of Steph Curry??) The boys dug right in...and we let them serve themselves which might have been a mistake because some of them put SO MUCH curry on their plates. But they ate it all! Every last drop of curry and rice was consumed. It was crazy. 

We were so far out in the inaka (countryside) that our gym was the true definition of a "jungle gym" with so much greenery surrounding it. My eyes were in heaven because we don't really get this type of greenery near Tokyo so it was a treat. 

On Friday we drove the boys back to the nearest station and sent them on their way. They all were traveling back towards Osaka and it was amazing seeing them just confidently take public transportation like it was no big deal! 

It was so refreshing for the soul to be out in nature, and it was even more refreshing to the soul to be reading God's word and sharing His love with these Japanese kids. I was so thankful for the opportunity to be a part of a camp like this, praising Jesus and playing sports. It was the best way to spend a few days and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

 

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new is here!" 
2 Corinthians 5:17

KASHIWA MATSURI 柏祭り

This past weekend was the Kashiwa Matsuri (festival)... aka a giant party in my backyard. Funny thing is, I had originally planned to travel down to Kobe on Saturday to help out with a basketball ministry camp so I wasn't going to be able to go to the festival. But at the last minute, the camp schedule got pushed back 2 days leaving me with a free Saturday to go, so it all worked out! 

The streets were packed when I got there at 3pm and the Odori dance competition was going on. Everyone looked so lovely, and the booming taiko drums and high pitched odori music created that quintessential-Japanese-matsuri atmosphere. 

Can we all take a moment to appreciate this man's incredible photography form. 

Kashiwa station is pretty big so all the surrounding streets were packed with booths selling snacks, drinks, and offering games for the kids. Steph's sister Courtney has been traveling through Japan these past few weeks and it was fun to have her in town for this specific matsuri. 

I loved these two girls and their grandpa.

On the other side of the station they had a big stage set up for many performances that ran throughout the weekend.

JAM PACKED! 

all kinds of seafood on sticks, amazingly crispy and delicious Japanese pickles, and these traditional candies...just to name a few snacks for sale. 

fresh squeezed orange jucie with a bit of sparking cider mixed in. 

As expected, Steph and I ran into so many of our students there. It was as if every 10 minutes or so we heard, "OH!? AMIE! STEPHANIE!" These girls are on the dance team at school and were dressed in the cutest Yukatas! 

ahhh...a nice cold bottle of Ramune! 

Ok, I think we can all agree that Japanese kids are reallyyyy cute...but Japanese kids in their summer yukatas take it to the next level of undeniable cuteness! 

It's not a true matsuri without some good Kakigori (Shaved ice) and this one did not disappoint. 



As a kid, I remember looking forward to the JCI (Japanese Cultural Institute) carnival every summer, which took place in the parking lot of our local community center. I have so many distinct memories of eating okinawa dango, yakisoba, shaved ice...playing bingo downstairs...making those tiny bead bracelets in the arts room upstairs (my Torrance peeps you know exactly what I'm talking about right?!)...fishing for goldfish using paper plates...saying hi to my uncle who sold plants from his nursery...and fully enjoying hanging out in the summer with friends. 

There is something so special about summers + matsuris and spending the afternoon in Kashiwa filled me with so much nostalgia. It was definitely the perfect way to spend a summer day in Japan!

GOOD FOOD, GOOD PEOPLE

Summers are for adventuring...and now that I get to call Japan home, I've been doing just that. 
 

SO...THE OTHER DAY I ATE MEXICAN FOOD. But wait one second...before that, I ate this really good little apple pie as a snack.

Okay so let's talk about this MEXICAN FOOD...

Here in Japan, people glorify Taco Bell which we all know isn't "real" mexican food, so I was more than stoked to actually get a taste of the real deal. 

The restaurant we (me and three homies) went to is right next to Hiro-o station and is called LA JOLLA which is so ironic considering I have spent a lot of time in San Diego and La Jolla with two of my best friends from college...so it was meant to be!

OKAY...DRUMROLL...

GUACAMOLEEEEEEEE AND STUFFED JALAPENOS!!! I ALMOST CRIED. THE GUAC WAS SO GOOD AND LEGIT. AND THE CHIPS WERE LIKE REAL SALTY, THIN, DELICIOUSSSS CHIPS. Lets all remember that I had a Mexican themed going away party a year ago because I knew I would miss it...so this was heaven

We split a chicken quesadilla. It was amazing. 

Steph got this beautiful chimichanga which was really really good. Love how they make the sour cream look like frosting lol. 

OKAY. THIS. THIS PLATE OF FOOD. I knew that I needed to order rice and beans. I am a rice and beans person (shout out to my Gulu peeps) so I was so happy to be eating this plate. Chili Verde enchilada too! 

The restaurant had a California vibe with maps of SD and the USA all over, and a bunch of signed papers from famous people. Right behind us was Earth Wind and Fire haha!

So after our amazing dinner (highly recommend to anyone in Tokyo)...we walked towards Roppongi area and stopped by this international super market where we found...

 H A W A I I A N S U N! Praise the Lord. I grew up on this stuff and it is not commonly found in Japan so I bought one for everyone haha. Lilikoi passion is the best and we drank them while walking over to roppongi hills, in perfect summer weather, playing a little bit of Pokemon go...

Our last stop was the Tsutaya + Starbucks near roppongi hills. Japanese people love love love chillin at starbucks and this one was one of the coolest I have been in! 

I already love Tokyo. But now that I know there exists a real Mexican food restaurant in Tokyo...I may never leaaaaveeee!! (jk mom) 

 

Ok now on to Sunday...

I finally got to spend time with Sayaka who is like a sister to me since she spent a lot of time with my family earlier this year when she interned in Torrance. We met up at Lalaport Tokyo bay after church for shopping and dinner!

We were unintentionally matching, and had a really good thai dinner at Monsoon. yummmm. I love Sayakas sweet spirit and her down to earth sense of humor...for example, when we go out to eat we always end up ordering a bunch of things like "oh hey wanna get fries and a salad too...and maybe smoothies?" hahaa love her!

I also got suckered into buying candy from Sweet Factory because it reminded me of home...but what I didn't realize was that this bag would cost $10. NOOOOOWHYY??? 

 

MONDAY

Since it is summer here, Steph and I don't teach classes...but we still have to come to school. Basically, we can come in anytime and leave around 3ish. We spend the day planning for next semester or meeting with students to practice for upcoming speech contests. On Monday we didn't have much to do in the afternoon so we left a bit early and went to the nearest mall so steph could buy Birks, which she has been wanting for a while. Before we went I literally said "Steph, don't let me buy any. I already have two pairs." But WHAT DO YOU KNOW....they had a sale and I accidentally bought a pair of blue ones. haha oops! Also, we had Komeda coffee's really good pancake/croissant ice cream snack thingie that was so good. 

 

TUESDAY

Tuesday was such a fun day. My fellow coworker and I held a small English Summer Camp for local kids who are interested. Japanese high schools often offer summer lessons to the public just for fun and for the school to get more exposure. So Tuesday we hosted a 2 hour little camp and had 6 cute kids!

We played a lot of number games, gave them silly bandz, practiced self introductions, ate snacks, and had the best time.

Little Riho was so cute! She is only 7 but speaks English really well because, as I learned from her mother, she watches Disney Channel! I guess that's the ticket folks..because this girl was amazing. Our conversation went something like this
"So what do you want to be when you grow up?"
"Oh, I haven't decided yet. But I like baseball. I play catch with my dad and I love English"
amazing!

My coworkers son, Kai, is one of my favorite little kids and he came to the summer camp with his classmate Tadakatsu. They were really fun to hang out with and after camp we had a little party eating eclairs in the English Office. 

After a busy day at work, Steph and I met up with our Mexican Crew (as in the homies we went to eat mexican food with haha) and we grubbed some amazing ramen. I got the tsukemen dipping noodles with a really good spicy shoyu broth. yummm. Then, we stopped by Lawsons where I got this pineapple horoyoi drink which contains 3% alc but really tastes like juice!! So refreshing, and the only alcohol I am willing to consume. After dinner and a snack, we all went to go play pool which is our new hobby haha! Perfect summer day.

 

WEDNESDAY

Liane, who is a former ELT at Ichikashi and a dear family friend, came to school to pick Steph and I up for lunch. She jokingly said she hijacked us (since we are technically "working") but she knows our Vice Principals so they were cool with it. She brought along her daughter, Mina, who is teeny tiny and the cutest little disney princess. 

Love this little girl! 

Liane drove us to eat lunch at a really good Okonomiyaki place. We ordered the "ladies set" which came with salad, soup, a small okonomiyaki, yakisoba, two meat wraps, all-you-can-drink-bar, and icecream!! All for ¥1000 aka $10! At the drink bar I got Melon soda + Calpis which made for the weirdest color of drink...but it tasted great. 

 

Well folks, this summer is off to a great start. I have the month of August to adventure around some more before school starts back up in September. The weather recently has been really nice...a bit overcast and not too humid...but I know the heat is coming! 

海の日- OCEAN DAY

Although Japan is technically an island nation, the beach is not as accessible as it may seem. I live an hour away from Tokyo...and although Tokyo has it's own body of water (Tokyo Bay), it is not swimable water. So the closest beach would have to be somewhere on the other side of Chiba, which is a good 2 hours away from me..noooooo.

Well, recently we celebrated a national holiday: OCEAN DAY, so I took it as a sign from the good Lord above that it was time for me to dip my toes in the other side of the pacific. 

I took the train 1 hour to meet up with my friends Haruka, Daniel, and Amy who I know from church...and we took another train 1 hour and then a bus 30 minutes to get to the beach! We went to Kujukuri beach in Chiba and upon first sight...I was in heaven. 

Haruka and Daniel are awesome humans who brought fresh watermelon (ICED!!!) and shared with us on the sand. It was perfect. Also how random and funny is that CHIBA POWER graffiti lol. 

Haruka and Daniel met back in the states and are now living in Japan expecting their first child! I love hanging out with them and Haruka is such a cute pregnant lady! 

Daniel trying to fold the tent lol.

Amy is a missionary here in Japan, originally from Oklahoma. Both her and Haruka have become big sisters to me here in Japan. I admire their wisdom, grace, love for nature, and unwavering faith in the good Lord. Thankful for them! 

This little dude was riding the back of his grandpas bike and was giving me this look like "OH YOU KNOW I'M SO COOL RIGHT?!" I was cracking up hahahaaa. so cute. 

Daniels idea..."oh! take a pic with our rings in it!"

I totally get why Japanese people love Hawaii. The beaches vibe the same way. Laid back, family style atmosphere with good food and drinks..totally a place you could hang out all day long. 

Bought this at a local bakery before going to the beach. Sesame mochi ball with anko inside yummmmmm!

For some reason, after a loooong day of activity I always crave this Georgia Caffe Late. Its super sweet and just the refreshing boost I need!

The bus ride back was beautiful...rice patties galore. After making it back to Funabashi we decided to get some good food to close out our perfect day...and we opted for Vietnamese food because Amy knew a good place in the station.

When we walked up to the restaurant...I saw a bunch of Vietnamese people inside and knew it must be legit! Sure enough...

...IT WAS SO GOOD. There are few things on this earth better than a fresh Banh Mi sandwich. 

The Pho was really good too. I was laughing because in Vietnam this bowl would cost $2 or something...but here it was $10. But hey, it's Japan you know. It was really good though and the perfect thing to fill our bellies after a long day in the sun.

After dinner, I took the train back to Kashiwa at around 9pm. I was so tired at that point that I knocked out...only to be woken up to the rush of everyone getting off the train because we had reached the last stop - Kashiwa. If the train would have kept going I would have slept straight through my stop and more...haha. 

Thank the good Lord for His creation! The ocean is so refreshing because it reminds me of our creator and all the goodness He has bestowed upon us on this earth. 

 

"For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea"
Habakkuk 2:14

LIFE LONG FRIENDS

There is something really special about having friends from home visit Japan.

Especially when that friend is someone you've known your whole life.

Most of us have those friends...the ones we've grown up with and have more memories with than we even realize. The friends you go to camp with, run basketball drills with, celebrate every birthday with, go through your most awkward teen years with. The friends who's house becomes your house, you know the taste of their moms cooking, and all the pets they've ever had. The friends that make you laugh effortlessly by just bringing up some silly childhood memory and the friends that are perpetually stuck with you in life because you've just done too many things together for there to ever be a divide.

To me, that friend is Kristen. (better known as Dresser, dress, kdress..)

We've been through it all together and she just so happened to be on the Japan mission team from our church that came through Tokyo recently. I was so stoked to see her, even if it was just for a brief dinner and hang out on the roof overlooking Tokyo Station. 

HAHA this is a pic of us during our F.O.R days. I was super chubby and she was tall, lanky, and always wore knee pads. We have come a long way folks!

This is Dresser in a nutshell : Right when I saw her she was like "oh I changed my clothes because I thought you were going to come all stylish since you live in Japan now!" HAHAHA. She didn't realize I was coming from a field trip with my students in which I was running around Asakusa all day so I was clearly NOT dressed to impress. 

The last time we saw each other was a year ago or so, right before I left the states...but we picked up right where we left off. She's one of the people that makes me laugh the most and anyone who knows dresser knows this to be true. 

She also hand delivered this B E A U tiful package from the kiddos! yay! Everyone was asking my mom "what should we bring Amie?" and the honest truth is, I have everything I need here so hand written notes and cards are the best!

Tiny bookmarks of the kids!!

We spend most of our time hanging out on the rooftop of the KITTE building which offers an awesome view of Tokyo station. 

We all had dinner at this popular Giant-bowls-of-udon place near Tokyo station. It was so fun to talk to everyone and just hear how their time in Japan was. You know, God really is so faithful and being around my brothers and sisters from GVBC reminded me of that truth. We all know Japan to be a nation of not many Christians, so having the team here and one of my best friends was just really encouraging and uplifting for the soul! 

"...so everything will live where the river goes." Ezekiel 47:9

 

 

野球の日-BASEBALL DAY

Sports are definitely a part of the fabric of any culture; deeply woven into childhood memories,  wrapped up in historical milestones, giving us heroes, rivals, underdogs, champions...and ultimately unifying a group of people over a common goal. 

In the states we have Super Bowl Sunday, the NBA finals, March Maddness...just to name a few. They're cultural icons woven into our American ideals and the moment you step away from the states you realize just how true that is. A few years ago when I was living in Uganda, I woke up at 2am to watch the Super Bowl with a room full of Americans. We bonded over the nostalgia of it all and found humor in the fact that we were all gathered around a TV in the middle of the night in the middle of Africa watching football. ahhh...sports. 

Now that I get to call Japan home (almost for a year!) I have gotten past the fact that my number one sport, basketball, just isn't the same here... and fully accepted a new sports hobby : Baseball.

Baseball is THE sport in Japan. Not only is it the sport that most Japanese people have been famous overseas for (ICHIROOOO) but baseball teams here have huge followings. Also, every summer there is a huge high school baseball tournament (similar to the Little League World Series) called Koshien. One school from every prefecture advances to the tournament and it is a big deal here. 

My high school had GAME 1 of the tournamnet recently and myself, and a bunch of other teachers went to watch. Coincidentally, on that same day, I had planned to see a professional baseball game with a few friends so this day was easily dubbed : 野球の日...BASEBALL DAY. 

The game was held at a nearby stadium and all the teachers drove there while most of the students rode their bikes. 

All of the sports teams came to support the baseball boys. The pic on the right is of me and two of the basektball girls, Saki and Hana!

The underclassmen baseball boys are in charge of the cheering...which is a huge part of the culture of the game. They lay out posters of song names on them that they have all memorized. A different song is held up according to each player and the band plays along.

Everyone was given a cone to cheer with...either shouting in them or banging them to make a loud sound. Everyone stands up while our team is up to bat, cheering, dancing, screaming, and rooting for the team like it's game 7 of the NBA finals!

The underclassmen working hard to support their team! so cute

Our team won 4-1 and moved on to the second round, where (sadly) they lost.

But, being able to attend one of their games was really fun as a teacher.  I have a lot of the baseball boys in my classes and they always greet me with an eager and LOUD "HELLO AMIE SENSEI" with a bow. I used to wonder why they were all so loud...but after attending a game it all makes sense now haha. 

 

So after attending our school's game, Steph and I headed into Tokyo to go see a game at TOKYO DOME! I was all excited to wear my Giants hat, but then I looked at the tickets again and realized I wasn't going to a Giants game but a Softbank VS Marines game LOL. That's like bringing a Lakers hat to a Clippers vs Warriors game. No.No

Even though Tokyo Dome is usually home to the Giants, the home team this night was the Marines so everyone got a free Marines Jersey. 

KARAAGE AT A BALL GAME YESSSS PLEASE. 

I met Saki back in 2008 or so when we were highschoolers and we recently reconnected back in Japan. Saki mentioned she loved baseball so I got super excited and we scheduled this game together. It was so fun cheering on the team with her and her favorite player Navarro who is from Dominican Republic LOL...not even Japanese! 

EDEMAME > PEANUTS 

The Softbank Hawks KILLED the Marines...and although the game wasn't terribly exciting, I still had a great time with Steph and Saki, and Saki's friend!

野球の日 was a crazy day but I learned that baseball in Japan is much more exciting than back in the states. I can't exactly say why...maybe it's because back in the states there are so many competing sports to watch so for me, MLB gets swept under the rug. But here...baseball really is life. People are die hard fans and the cheering at games is non stop. I love it though, and I love that I have found a sport to follow here in the motherland!

ENGLISH CONVERSATION CLUB : ASAKUSA

One of my main responsibilities at school is to lead the English Conversation Club (ECC) with Steph! This year we have about 30 students in ECC which is awesome considering English is not the easiest subject for students and they tend to shy away from speaking. We meet every Monday after school and usually do English conversation activities, holiday parties, prepare for English speech contests, or just hang out! 

One annual event ECC does is a trip to Asakusa (famous sensoji temple) to talk to foreigners. This year, Steph and I ordered shirts, planned the route to get all the kids there, and made interview sheets so they could ask questions in English. 

We had been preparing for many months in advance, getting the students pumped up to speak to strangers in English and the day turned out to be just as awesome as we anticipated! We had a group of about 25 and we split them up into smaller groups of 3-4 to go talk to people. I brought my camera along to document the day and a couple times I kept telling myself, "I can't believe I get paid to do this..." 

These two call themselves "da brothers" since they do almost everything together! haha. Avhishek is from Nepal and Kurt is from the Philippines so English is their most comfortable language together. 

Our route to Asakusa...SCHOOL --> BUS --> TRAIN 

Steph chose the shirt design and I chose the colors in honor of USC HAHAHAA. Well, I thought they would look nice in contrast together and also rep the cardinal red and gold you know. 

Thankfully the train from Kashiwa Tanaka station (nearest station to our school) goes straight to Asakusa (30 minutes) so it was easy to get there with a big group. 

I let one of the students play around with my camera for a while and when I was looking through photos after...I saw this shot and loved it. 

Official Logo for the Tokyo 2020 olympics. 

When we arrived to Asakusa we went to the information center across from sensoji and ate lunch on the 6th floor free communal room! It was air conditioned and a perfect gathering place. 

ALSO, TOKYO SECRET: the 8th floor of the information center across from Sensoji has a SICK view of Tokyo skytree and the big golden poop as most people call it (aka Asahi beer hall) haha! 

NOTHING LIKE A KILLER CITY VIEW! 

Steph and I, being the photographers that we are, were freaking out over this view. I think I took 100 pics of this one spot haha...SO DOPE. 

A couple of my students were talking to this group of tall Europeans who happened to be in Japan for the World Ballroom Championships...what!??? They were representing the Czech Republic and when I asked them to show us an example they happily busted out their best moves in the middle of the street. Gotta love Tokyo man...

For those who know this about me (mom, sis, and rin) I am slightly obsessed with everything about dance, specifically the show So You Think You Can Dance (watched every single season) so when they were dancing I was kind of having a fan girl moment and did not want them to stop...

My students were also freaking out saying things like "HE IS SO COOL" "SHE IS SO BEAUTIFUL!"

Good job boys!

The modern kimono look...with selfie stick

Cute moms. Side note: moms in Japan are seriously so cool. Especially in Tokyo. They are always dressed super cute yet still conservative, pushing their little babies on bikes being so active and awesome. Love it. 

I made these signs for them to wear in case they were too nervous to just walk up to people.

Miriam is from Egypt and she is normally a bit shy, but she really loved chatting with people at Asakusa - especially these ladies from the states who were here to sing in a concert!

I love melon pan...so melon pan WITH ICECREAM INSIDE was next level. WOW. 

group shot!! Love these kids and so blessed to work with them.

The extremely tan men pushing Rikshaws around for $80 an hour. nuts. 

"the brothers" said to me..."hey take a pic of us in the street.." lol these kids crack me up 

Funny story...Don Quijote is a huge chain store here in Japan that is comparable to a slightly more chaotic Walmart or Target but people in Japan just call it "ドンキ" literally pronounced "DONKEY" (everything in Japan is shortened!) It is so funny to me because I remember reading Don Quixote in school so I know the story, but the translation doesn't go that far in Japan so students don't really get the name...anyway we were walking in Asakusa where they happen to have a HUGE Don Quijote and one of the only stores where DON QUIJOTE is actually written out (usually just says in katakana) so one of my students was like..."Amie sensei what is DON-QU-EE-JO-TAY?" I just started laughing...hahhaa

Phew...so there you have it. Crazy day in Asakusa! Not sure if you can tell from the photos but it was literally 85degrees that day with 90% humidity...yikes! The kids were troopers though and all had a good time. I was so proud of them for stepping out of their comfort zones and talking to a bunch of friendly foreigners. I really can't believe I get to call this my "job" and I am loving every minute of it! Thank you Lord! 

THE BUSIEST WEEK

Now, there have been times in life where I have been pretty busy...you know, finals in college, or wedding season, or before I moved to Japan...but this past week goes down in the book as being one of the craziest/busiest/most full weeks ever. Luckily for me, every single thing I did this week was FUN hahaa so I am praising the Lord for that since I know "being busy" means different things to different people. Anyway, welcome to my world and the busiest week ever...

*a few of these things will get their own post later on where I'll expand upon things...but this is just a post about the events in succession.

Let's kick it off with a fun hang out in Tokyo...

 

- SATURDAY -

My good friend Naomi introduced me to a few new homies in Japan (if you know Naomi, you know that she knows everyone) and on Saturday we all met up in Tokyo. I had never met these guys before but when I met them on the train, it felt like seeing old friends again! The Torrance connection is strong, and knowing these guys went to West and Mira Costa bonded us immediately. We cruised around Shibuya (they all speak fluent Japanese), ate sushi (I know, crazy), went to a game center, played pool, they taught me Japanese slang, and we had the best time! 

 

- SUNDAY -

THE KANESHIROS IN JAPAN!!! I grew up with this family...or more like...I watched this family grow up! Mr. Kaneshiro was my volleyball coach in high school and my mom has been babysitting the kids since they were tiny tiny little ones, which is how I will always remember them except NOW THEY ARE SO BIG and mature and old and it is so weird!! haha. They came to church with me on Sunday and I was so happy to have them and their grandma there. After church, we headed into Tokyo and went to the Tokyo skytree together to eat lunch and do some shopping. It was so fun to be with them and just be around family again. I loved it and was so thankful for the time with them. 

 

- MONDAY -

Monday was crazy! I went to school in the morning to get prepared for our ENGLISH CLUB TRIP TO ASAKUSA! We had been planning this for a while now so the fact that the day had finally arrived was a thrill. The kids all met up in one of the classrooms at 11am and we took the bus, and the train together and arrived in Asakusa to eat lunch and talk to foreigners. *this day will have its own post later*

After a fun and HOT day in Asakusa, Steph and I hopped on over to Tokyo station to meet the GVBC team who were here on a missions trip...and it just so happened one of my oldest and best friend KDRESS was on the team so we got to hang outtttttt!!!! *also more on this later*

 

- TUESDAY - 

So Tuesday I declared BASEBALL DAY. This will also have it's own post. But basically my high school team had a game AND I went to a professional game ON THE SAME DAY...haha. 

 

- WEDNESDAY - 

Wednesday was a somewhat normal day at work, but for dinner Steph and I headed to our friends house! These ladies are incredible and are SO SO kind and hospitable to everyone. The Kanekos host a lot of students from the states so we met two of them (Colorado and Taipei) and we all enjoyed a backyard bbq together. It was such a fun evening and I definitely felt right at home. 

 

- THURSDAY - 

Thursday was an exciting day! The TSCA (Torrance Sister City Association) group came to Ichikashi!!! This group of students from Torrance (West and Bishop) are here in Japan for three weeks and they kicked off their trip visiting our school. I always love seeing Torrance students in Japan so this was a fun day forsure. 

We gave the group a school tour and then they were invited to a special performance by the brass band which is ALWAYS a hit. Our band is seriously SO SO GOOD. I've seen them perform many times now and they still blow me away every. single. time. After a powerful show, the Torrance students and a few our our kids headed to the Yoshida House...which is a historical house a few minutes from school. This house was owned by the Yoshida family who were samurai, farmers, and soy sauce producers. The house is the quintessential Japanese home full of 165 years of history. I am definitely going back there!! 

Also, fun story, Jennifer is the adult leader of the TSCA group this year and I actually met her last year before I moved to Japan...at church!! One Sunday my dad was like "Amie come meet Jen and her husband, they lived in Japan" so we chatted for a few minutes and she gave me her contact in case I ever needed anything. I didn't think I would see her anytime soon...but it turns out she was selected as the adult leader so seeing her in Japan was such a trip! I love the connections via church, Torrance, and Japan!!

 

- FRIDAY - 

Now the only proper way to end a busy week is with a...you guessed it....NOMIKAI! hahaa no kidding. I was invited to the second year Nomikai (with all the 2nd year teachers) and happily accepted. But, the night of, I was so exhausted and tired I found myself wanting to sleep more than I wanted to socialize. But, as I was sitting in my apartment complaining, the Lord spoke to me and told me that the purpose in me going was greater than my own desires to stay at home. whoa. OKAY. So I went knowing God wanted me to love these people and just be open to what He would do.

I ended up sitting with 4 lady teachers and we chatted about a bunch of stuff...and then one of the ladies turned to me and said "Amie, you're Christian right?" WHOA where did that come from! To be honest I was eating my food and they were chatting in Japanese so I wasn't really following the convo...but I answered "YES!" and we then talked for a good 30 minutes about my church, why I go, what we do there...and I even pulled up the church website and invited all of them to come ANYTIME!! One of the ladies is a history teacher so she had so many questions about my denomination and the things we do at church. When I told them "yeah I go every week- it is so fun!" they had this shocked look on their face and couldn't wrap their minds around the fact that church=fun...I think most Japanese think church=boring! HAHA.

Oh man...it was such a cool conversation and when I left the party that night I just laughed...because God is just that good you have to laugh sometimes. Here I was, all wrapped up in my own desires and tiredness...when God had plans for me to invite these women to church and share with them a bit of the Father's love. DANG!!!! How good is He?? 

Alright well that wraps up my crazy week. It is Saturday now, and I am writing this outside at a nearby shopping mall. The breeze is so nice and I am just so thankful for all the adventures God has taken me on here in Japan...and all that is to come. He is such a good good father, so full of grace, wisdom, patience, joy, understanding, peace, and so. much. love. 

"What happens at Nomikais, stays at Nomikais"

As the school year wraps up and the temperature gets hotter by the second...I have found myself attending quite a few Nomikais. A sure sign that you have assimilated into Japanese culture is if these Nomikais become the norm for you. 

"Nomikai" basically translates to "drinking party" ...but my working definition of the term is this: a social gathering where coworkers let their guards down and are their true selves. 

Araki Sensei, Tamaoki Sensei, and myself at a recent Nomikai for the music teachers. I am not a music teacher, but as the resident American, I get invited to many Nomikais! 

Araki Sensei, Tamaoki Sensei, and myself at a recent Nomikai for the music teachers. I am not a music teacher, but as the resident American, I get invited to many Nomikais! 

Here's a rough idea of what goes on at a Nomikai.

A few weeks in advance, an invitation in sent out. You circle your name to RSVP and return the paper to whatever teacher is planning the event. (i.e Welcome Nomikai, End of the year Nomikai, Sports Nomikai, Ladies Nomikai, etc) When you arrive at the restaurant the day of, you first must pay your $40 or $50 and then find your seat among the crowd. The tables are usually stacked with delicious looking food set on small plates to share, along with tiny beer glasses. These beer glasses are meant to be refilled time and time again by your coworkers, who fill your glass as an act of courtesy and greeting. 

The food continues to roll out steadily, and those who don't like beer (me!) can order juice, or any fruity drink of their choice. These gathering are all-you-can-drink-2-hour-events that include an array of speeches and plenty of toasts "Kampai!!!" When it comes to teacher Nomikais, people mingle with those in other departments and are way more approachable than they are within the walls of school. It is fascinating to watch people's true sides come out, and the two hours alway go by too quickly! 

By the end of the party, groups of people head off to nijikais (second parties) where they sing Karaoke, go to a smoking bar, or my favorite option... go eat a huge bowl of ramen. 

Finally, the night wraps up and people say their goodbyes and return to work the following week as if nothing every happened! HAHA. That part, to me, is the funniest and best part of Nomikais. It is like Japanese people live secret lives outside the workplace. They are really into separating work from play and in a way, live that motto "what happens at Nomikais, stays at Nomikais." Some teachers who work together for 10+ years don't even know if the other has kids or not!

Needless to say, I have loved every Nomikai I have attended and hold some fold memories of the conversations I've been able to have at these events. How interesting is it that what is normal in one cultural context could be completely foreign and odd to another culture? There is a lot of beauty to be had in experiencing these things first hand, and sharing them with others. 

Cheers to many more Nomikais and getting a "real" look at the people I work with everyday. 

柏 - KASHIWA

As much as I love Tokyo, Kashiwa will always be home to me. It's the same feeling I have with LA. I love Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Venice Beach, The Arts District...but Torrance will always be home. 

Last weekend I decided it was time to bring my camera around Kashiwa and take some pics of the places most familiar to me. Welcome to my hood...
 

I walk past this car every time I go to the station. I really wanna know who owns this sucker, and why they never drive it?! I wish there was something standing next to it for size reference...it is SO TINY. 

Funny story, I bought these shoes from Zara recently and my friend at church was like, "amie I thought you were wearing socks!" as in she thought my shoes were tan socks... LOL. 

北柏駅- Kita-Kashiwa station. (Kita means "North" in Japanese) this is my home station, a 7 minute walk from my apartment. It's tiny and cute and I love it.

柏駅- one station over from my home station is Kashiwa station which is a pretty big and busy place. Some people have even dubbed it the "Shibuya of Chiba" and considering there are 3 starbucks within 30 seconds of one another and hundreds of students filling the streets...I'd have to agree. 

This is the main exit where a lot of people wait to meet up with friends. Whenever I walk through this part of the station, especially on a weekend, there is a 95% chance I'll see one of my students. All high schoolers in Japan wear uniforms but every school is different so I've become an expert at spotting my students blue uniforms in a crowd! 

I always walk this way to Asahidori to go to my Japanese lessons!

Three major lines run through Kashiwa station...the Joban local line, the Joban rapid line, and the tobu urban park line. From Kashiwa, if i take the rapid line I can get to Tokyo or Ueno station in 30 minutes.  

Japan life = train life

A day is not complete w/o a bathroom selfie...haha jk.

I also spend a lot of time at Kashiwanoha and Nagareyama-Ootakanomori (longest name ever).

Down this street you'll find a ton of restaurants, Kashiwa shrine, a DonQuijote (like target on steroids) , my fav place white gyoza, and eventually the Kashiwa Reysol stadium where the soccer games are held. 

At Kashiwa station there are a bunch of malls...Soho, Takashimaya, Marui, Vat...and they're all sort of connected but hold a variety of stores. I get lost all the time when I'm like..."wait was the Disney store here or in the other mall?" "Was it on the 2nd floor...or 8th floor?" Malls in Japan are tall and narrow so often times there are 10 floors to get lost on. haha 

So there you have it folks...the place I call home and the station that will always feel the most familiar to me. There are a lot of station in Japan, all with their own character and vibe, but I love that I get to call this one home.  

FOOD DIARIES

Most days, I stop by the convenience store in the morning to pick up some yogurt, small bento or sandwich for lunch and head to school. Our school doesn't have a cafeteria and it's not really practical for me to make a bento every morning for myself, so convenience store it is!

The weeks usually fill up with dinner with friends, dinner in Kashiwa before my Japanese lesson, or various events and outings so I find myself eating out a lot. In the states thats a no-go, super unhealthy and expensive...but in Japan, eating out is the easiest, most delicious, and best way to go for me! 

Feast your eyes on what I have been eating lately...

TABLE BEET - Talk about some beautiful vegetables. I grew up eating my grandmothers incredible pickled beets (seriously, so good) so to have a restaurant in my hometown here called TABLE BEET was just so perfect. Along with some beautiful vegetables they also serve a mean cafe mocha. 

KAITEN SUSHI-The life of a non-seafood-eating-human in Japan. Yes, yes all of you sushi lovers are shaking your head looking at this photo...but the truth is this is all I eat at sushi restaurants and I am perfectly content! Tamago (egg), corn+mayonnaise, and hamburger sushi!! 

BASEBALL GAME BENTO - You know you're in Japan when they sell amazing beef bentos at baseball games. This one came with pickled veggies on the side...and the meat was so good!

ROKURINSHA - classis. This is a hot spot for tourist (mostly foodies) and locals who know a good bowl of tsukemen when they see it. The broth here is a littttttle too shrimpy for me but honestly its so good I don't mind! 

GYUKATSU MOTOMURA - once again, the 4hour meal. Literally waited 4 hours for this plate of food. It may look simple, but BOY LET ME TELL YOU THE BEEF WAS OFF THE CHAIN. Next time I am going at an off hour and ordering two filets haha. 

THIRTY-LOVE - this cafe is conveniently a 5 minute walk from my house and feels more like your best friend's mom's kitchen rather than a restaurant. It's that cozy! They have this crazy good katsu-donburi (amazing friend pork over rice smothered in delicious sauce and topped with EGGGG YUMMM). 

*side note, in Japan it is not common to have to-go boxes. Probably because Japan actually has proper portion sizes so people can actually finish a meal. But this restaurant has to-go boxes so when I order the katsudon I get two meals in one!!

MARUCHO- this is a tiny restaurant down the back streets of kashiwa and is always booked months in advance. My coworker called in for us three of us to go and we got a tiny table there and enjoyed some really really good yakitori! The raw egg with the chicken meatball skewer was out of this world...and ironically, my fav was the bacon wrapped tomatoes which had no chicken at all but was so so good.  

These beautiful looking onigiris are from the basement of kashiwa station. These are honestly the most beautiful inari I have ever seen and getting food in the basement of the shopping mall is one of the best parts of Japanese life. 

SENJU- Yakinikuuuuuuuu!! My friends Mina and Aki took me here and we feasted on some amazing beef. Beef tongue is super popular here in Japan, it's a little too chewy for me, but this place had pretty good tongue! 

On weekdays when I don't have a dinner to go to I usually stop by 7-11 next to my apt and get dinner. The food there is really good and this time I tried the buta tofu (pork tofu). They even warm it up for you at the store so you are good to go. I ate it while catching up on the NBA finals. *also, for size reference, that's my ipad not my phone!! 

FESTA MARIO - Paella! Found this new spanish spot earlier this year and they serve a killer paella. This whole giant plate cost like $10 and this cheeze one was amazing. Definitely good to mix up the cuisine every once in a while so I always love coming here. 

TRIBE VIBES - what a cool name right? This tiny burger spot is a bit of a walk from the station but they make one of the best burgers I've had. My friend got this one with a MARSHMALLOW INSIDE. YES, A MALLOW IN A BURGER WHAT? I got the super spicy one with jalapeno and hot sauce...amazing. 

MOS BURGER- the McDonalds of Japan and the spot for rice burgers! NOMZZZ. You know you're in Japan when you can order a rice-burger at your nearby fast food spot.

This was another basement-floor-of-the-department-store lunch I had. How perfect is it? Two onigiri (love the umeboshi one) two karage, and tamago It cost about $3...so simple, so good. 

7-11 TACO RICE!! For those of you who don't know, there is a thing that exists in Japan called TACOS RICE. It is basically all the delicious ingredients of a taco eaten over fluffy white rice. HAHA...I LOVE IT!! 

TORIKIZOKU - the every glorious yakitori chain that serves up a plethora of delicious chicken on sticks, plus snacks, and drinks...everything you order costing $2 !! 

 

So there you have it folks...just a few recent things in my food diary. As you can see, I am not lacking in good food options around me. Thankfully, I live in a very active country so the amount of food I consume is quickly balanced out by the amount of walking I have to do just to get around...so there you have it, the secret to a long happy life haha. 

But really - come visit me and try for yourself!! 

良いの日・GOOD DAY

Here is a very useful Japanese phrase: 良いの日 ..."ii-hi"

To say this properly you can say the letter "E" combined with "HE" and you have basically just said in Japanese "what a good day!"

This past Saturday was an E-HE forsure.  

The plan was to meet my friend Yuki in the afternoon to go to the Vietnamese festival at Yoyogi park. Vietnam will always hold a special place in my heart since I have been there twice with my sister-in-laws family and have made many memories there! The weather was seriously so nice...80 degrees, a little overcast, not too humid...ahhh.

I had time in the morning to walk around and take some photos of Omotesando area before meeting up with Yuki. One thing I've notice about living here is that I will often see random extremely long lines of people inevitably waiting for some tiny delicacy or hyped up food item. Sure enough, this line was for lobster sandwiches...no thanks, I'll pass. 

Is it a cafe....or a wall?? Also shout out to my elder homie over there. I was tempted to walk over and join the convo...

OKAY THIS STORE IS CRAZYYY. I stumbled upon this place while walking to Harajuku station from Omotesando and immediately said to myself, "wait. what. is this place real. why have I never been here before??" It was literally full of incredible textiles, navajo prints, Japanese dyed fabrics, incredible leather shoes, intricate pottery, bedazzled and embroidered vintage dresses...HEAVEN. (couldn't take pics inside) I soon realized that EVERYTHING was out of my price range ($60 keychain anyone?) but I was still obsessed with the place and claim this spot and Dover Street Market the two top stores in Tokyo. Check out their website HERE 

Harajuku station is a small station that is always jam packed with people so I was laughing when I eventually found Yuki because it was just two Japanese girls trying to find eachother in a sea of Japanese people lol. Then we walked over to Yoyogi park for some food! 

YESSSSS. Chicken+amazingspicysauce+rice. I could eat this everyday, without a doubt. 

The chicken pho was bomb! Can't compare to the pho I've had in Vietnam...but still really really good. Especially with all that cilantro on top...YUMMMM. Fun fact: in Japanese, cilantro is called パクチー (pakuchi) and most people HATE it. 

There were a bunch of vendors selling every kind of amazing food...there were also live performances and other food booths there which made me laugh (Indian, thai, hawaiian...haha) because I was confused if this was the "Vietnamese festival" or the "call-every-asian-food-booth-in-Tokyo-festival" 

Had to get my hands on some vietnamese coffee. The man who was selling this spoke perfect English, Japanese, and Vietnamese. Impressive. 

The festival was poppin!! 

This is Yuki. She is so laid back, loves shopping at Zara with me, drinking coffee, and trying new restaurants...basically the perfect Tokyo travel friend!

She wanted to try taking a shot on my camera... so here you have a rare photo of me in front of the lens. 

cute grandpa.

Yoyogi park is an awesome place to chill on the weekends. People were having picnics all over the place!

There is something quite magical about a piece of the forest hidden in the middle of a big big city. 

After enjoying the festival, strolling through the park, and then shopping at zara...we walked over towards Aoyama area to grab our traditional coffee+cake (we always find ourselves at a cafe when we are together!) This time Yuki took me to Coutume...yet another super hip and cute coffee shop that felt very European.

I took the train back home at a decent hour and while I was sitting there on the train back I was thinking of how much I really do love this city.

For now, this in my home...and sometimes I feel so comfortable here that I forget it is not for forever. On this day, I was reminded of how rad it is that at this point in my life, I get to explore Tokyo on every free weekend I have filling up my calendar with experiences like eating pho at a Vietnamese festival in Yoyogi park! 

So I am staying thankful for every day here and I am also gearing up for all that summer has to offer! (i.e, a lot of sweating, cold drinks, AC, and wishing it was winter) 

This morning I woke up to tragic news. 50 dead in Orlando. 53+ injured. Gay club. U.S Citizen. Parents from Afghanistan. ISIS. Guns. Terror. Panic. Chaos. Heartbreak. Anger. 

The words hit me with a sickening feeling. I left my apartment in a daze, not sure if today was even real. I stepped outside to the pouring rain. Pounding. Windy. The worst it's been in a while. It's as if the weather was portraying the emotions of so many grieving hearts today. 

I write this as an American citizen, living in Japan, observing America go down in ruins.
It is an eerie feeling to be on the other side of the world scrolling news channels online trying to stay up to speed with all the information swirling around...while the country I am in goes about their day per usual and I am left here a pocket of emotions about to burst. 

In a way it is relieving, to be so far away..as if the chaos happening back home is all some horrific nightmare that will end any moment now and we will be awaken to a field of love, acceptance, and safety. I am tempted to feel that. I am tempted to shove everything negative under a blanket. Ignoring all that is happening. Focusing on where I am at right now.

But I have lived long enough on this earth to know that is not the answer. Ignorance is not love. Avoidance is not love. Apathy is not love. Walking away is not love. I am challenge more than ever right now, to kneel at the feet of Jesus and beg him for mercy on this broken broken world...to beg him for peace amidst the chaos...to beg him for guidance on where to go from here. 

God is love.

Jesus is the only answer. 

 

 

THAT TEACHING LIFE

I imagine some people think to themselves, "so what exactly do you do everyday?" Or I'm assuming people think that because that is what I often think about other jobs. Most of us can imagine what teachers do, since we were all students at some point and have spent many many hours within the walls of a school...but from my experience, teaching in Japan is quite different.

For starters, I teach English writing classes to Seniors (3rd year students) as well as communication classes to Juniors (2nd year students). In Japan, students have different classes every day so the periods are never the same (makes things much more complicated).

Example : One of the classes I teach is Upper level Writing. I teach the 3AB homeroom as well as the 3C homeroom. I meet with 3AB Mondays and Tuesdays during 2nd period...but I meet with 3C Tuesdays 5th period and then Fridays 3rd period. See how confusing that gets?? Throw in an assembly, holiday, or any student being absent because of sports and the whole schedule gets thrown off. But alas, I often remind myself that this is normal to them and all I know is the American school system... aka 1-6th period exactly the same Monday through Friday!

I teach most of my classes in these classrooms...aka the homerooms. Interestingly enough, every homeroom has a chalkboard and not a whiteboard so I had to learn how to write on a chalkboard again haha. I have come to a conclusion that Japanese characters (especially kanji) are much easier to write on chalkboards than English words are, so that is why Japanese people are perfectly content writing on chalkboards all day while Americans cringe at the sight (and sound) of them.

In my senior writing classes, I use a textbook for sample ideas but basically create my own lessons that spring off what the students learn in their other English class with a Japanese teacher. I have them write about a topic, I rough edit it for them, return it to them, they edit it themselves, and re-write everything in pen.

When I came to Ichikashi, the writing classes were taught a bit differently and I noticed the kids weren't able to catch their own mistakes, they were just moving on to the next lesson. I remember growing up having to write, and re-write, and re-write my assignments again and again and at the time I did not like it - but it made me a better writer. So now I make my kids do it because we teach the way we were taught right?! 

This is a lesson we just did this week, where I asked the students a series of 5 questions (one at a time) about their experience hosting the Torrance students and had them write their responses. I always challenge them to write as much as they can. When they turn in their final responses I always get super happy (the small joys of teaching) and congratulate them on completing an entire entry in well-written English. 

At the beginning of the semester I told the students they were lucky to be in my class because in my class there are NO TESTS and NO HOMEWORK. My rule is that they must turn in their notebook at the end of the class period...thus ensuring they don't "forget to do their hw" or loose their notebook, I don't have to keep an eye out for late work, and they have to focus in class to make sure they finish the assignment. Funny enough, there are still those few students who can't finish in class and then forget to tell me about it...and like this student, he turned his notebook in the next day with this tiny note written inside HAHAA! 

Teaching is a funny job because you are responsible for passing on knowledge to a lot of people (all your students) while simultaneously continuing to learn and educate yourself along the way...throw in a different country/culture in there and every day is an adventure. 

When I was in college, I took that one test...you know the strengthsfinder...and at the time I thought it was a bit silly but there is one word that has stuck with me all these years - DEVELOPER. I remember getting the results and seeing "your number one strength is developer" and thinking, "uhmm what the heck does that mean?" Then I scrolled down and read the definition  that simply said... "you see the potential in other people." boom. That one sentence has helped me learn so much about myself, teaching, people, and work in general. Being able to see potential in your students has got to be the most important part of teaching and the reason why I love what I get to do everyday. All thanks be to the good Lord for how he orchestrates things within our character and personality to make us better workers for His kingdom!

Last weekend my childhood friend, Asami, was in Tokyo! She has family in Senju, which is conveniently on the way to Tokyo for me so we met up in the morning for church and then an afternoon exploring the city!

I loved introducing her to my church family and they welcomed her with open arms...and were especially impressed with her Japanese! For lunch we headed to Roppongi where we ate at Afuri (yuzu ramen). Then we headed to Ginza, found some amazing icecream cones...as well as your average $200 mango. 

It worked out for us to stay on the Eastern side of Tokyo (as opposed to the shibuya side) since Senju and Kashiwa were both on that side of the city...so we hit up Asakusa and Tokyo Sky tree. This senbei was so fresh and so good!

One day with Asami in Tokyo was way too short! We are already scheming up our ideas for a reunion in Japan again next year. I love love love having visitors and seeing people from home in Tokyo. 

After hanging with Asami on Sunday...I had to turn gears and get ready for a busy week ahead.

This past week my school here in Japan, Ichikashi, hosted the high school I attended as a student, North High, in our annual exchange program. It was so crazy being on the Japan-side of things this time around...since I grew up knowing this exchange program as both my brothers, my sister, and myself were all a part of the program when we were in high school. Life has a crazy way of coming full circle.

We welcomed the group of 16 students and two teachers on Tuesday at our school in a very formal assembly. The North students were all a bit nervous and intimidated by the formality of it all, but they soon warmed up to things and enjoyed being reunited with their host students (who they hosted in Torrance back in November).

A quick flashback to...7+ years ago when I was a high school senior and I hosted students from Ichikashi! I loved being a part of the exchange program and it is just so funny that now I am working at this exact school that we hosted students from.

The assembly was all 1st period and it included a lot of speeches, some formal gift giving, and both the Japanese and American National anthems which was actually the first time I've heard the American National anthem in Japan!  

The students were very busy all week....Tokyo on Monday, Welcome assembly and school tour on Tuesday (some of them went to Dland after), Calligraphy, computer class, kimono wearing, kendo, P.E., English classes, Japanese classes, and a private concert from the brass band which made all of the students cry (our brass band is seriously top notch)!! Being on the teacher side of things, we had a dinner every night this week. One with the principal and staff, one with KIRA city members, and one with just the teachers from North.  

This was from one of the dinners, where we all went to Tonkatsu. I am a HUGE fan of every and all kinds of Katsu and this was some of the best I've ever had. I mean just look at that perfect meal!!

After a busy week, we had a Sayonara (farewell) party at school on Thursday night. The underclassmen helped decorate and set up and the students performed a dance and shared some highlights from their trip. They ALL cried when they thanked their host families and it just reminded me of what an incredible program this really is. 

These kids (underclassmen) are so full of joy!

I was cracking up when I turned around during the group shot and saw this scene...haha!!

Our awesome school principal gave out awards to all the North students. He even gave both his welcome speech and farewell speech in English! Impressive.

Here's a group shot of all the North students and all of the Ichikashi class 3A students who hosted them.

What an awesome week! I love that this is my job and I get the opportunity to work with these students and staff. God is so good in how He works things out and sets up situations years and years in advance. Back in 2009 (and way before that when my mom practically ran the program!) when I was hosting a Japanese high school student from a city called Kashiwa...I would never have imagined I would be LIVING in Kashiwa one day and calling Kashiwa Municipal High School home. That's all God... and it's all for His glory. 

THAT'S A BEAUTIFUL SANDWICH.

You may be wondering what I do in my free time here in Japan (as in the time I am not at school teaching) and the answer is simple - I hunt down new food spots to try. 

Thankfully, I live close to Tokyo which is one of - if not THEE - top culinary city in the world so exploring the vast array of food options is a never ending hobby of mine. I usually search the web for highly reviewed restaurants, or sift through instagram food pages to find beautiful looking creations that can be found in this city...and recently I stumbled upon one incredible looking sandwich...

After seeing a photo of a beautiful sandwich...I immediately knew I had to find the next free day in my calendar and go to the restaurant ASAP. The sandwich spot, King George, just so happened to be in Daikanyama aka one of my favorite neighborhoods of Tokyo so I gathered my two friends Yuki and Steph and made a day out of it.

BEHOLD. VEGETERIAN + TURKEY.
We got to the spot and saw a long line outside and knew it must be as good as the photos make it out to be...and even though there were 10 people in front of us, we got in pretty quickly (15 minutes). The interior is so cute...artsy cozy hipster vibe...we walked up to the third floor and sat at a nice  table and ordered right away. I got this BEAUTY which is the vegetarian + turkey on sesame bread. Not only did it look amazing...it also tasted BOMB!! 

Steph got the 8th avenue, which is also a fan favorite. The sandwiches were HUGE and filled you up to the brim making the 1500yen price not so bad. Also, we chatted with the owner who started the restaurant with her husband a few years ago. They are from Canada/Hawaii but now live in Tokyo and started the shop because they noticed a serious lack of good sandwiches in Tokyo...the American in me almost cried out of gratitude to them! 

After devouring that sandwich, we went walking around some of my favorite shops in Daikanyama. 

Coolest dude.

After meandering around Daikanyama we walked 10 minutes over to Naka-Meguro which is a hot spot for young working people and a cool place to get coffee and shop. 

Typical High School students and their uniforms (this was on a Saturday and they were still wearing them! Must have had a school event...) 

A lot of dramas (tv shows) are filmed in Naka-Meguro by the water and it is an ideal place for people to live (if you have a lot of money). 

We made a pit stop at Onibus coffee...a popular spot for coffee aficionados. Leave it to Tokyo to be home to some of the coolest coffee shops in the world. 

After a nice cup of coffee we headed to Traveler's factory (they also have a story in Narita airport) where they sell the cutest leather journals, pens, notecards, etc. After spending 30min browsing through all their goods, I finally bought a spiral notebook, a bookmark, and a few pens. This might be my new favorite store in Tokyo. 

In Japan, practically everyone hangs their clothes to dry. Although I have a two-in-one washer/dryer machine, I usually just use my washer and hang dry my clothes. The thing is, I am still a bit lazy and hang my clothes over my doorframe, or on my door handles haha so I greatly admire and respect people who take the time to hang their clothes properly. This apartment is probably home to an elderly couple but that is me just guessing based on their fashion style and immaculate pinning!! I aspire to be like them. 

I loved this grandpa just hanging out outside. 

As I mentioned before, Naka-Meguro is a popular location for a lot of Japanese dramas. There is a popular drama that airs on friday nights and one of the main characters is a chef at a restaurant...THIS restaurant to be exact! haha. We walked past it and recognized the long walkway leading to the front of the restaurant and had a slight freak out moment knowing that some famous Japanese actors have stood in this exact spot! lol. 

After coffee at Oni bus and shopping at Travelers, we walked back to Daikanyama to get the ever popular Paletas fruit popsicles. The line was out the door but it moved quickly. Now that the weather is warming up, it seems as if everyone wants their hands on some fresh fruit popsicles. These did not disappoint. 

So after a nice afternoon, Steph and I said bye to Yuki and headed to Suidobashi station where we met Ikeda sensei for a Tokyo Giants baseball game. Ikeda sensei has a relative who got us discounted tickets and he invited us to join him and his son Kai for our first Japanese baseball game! 

One obvious difference between American baseball games and Japanese baseball games is the FOOD. I am talking bento boxes, curry, yakisoba, karage (fried chicken), edemame, etc...not to mention 'beer girls' aka girls who run up and down the aisles with giant backpacks filled with beer refilling peoples' cups time after time. 

I've never been much of a baseball fan, but living in Japan has changed that a bit. Japanese people are serious about their baseball teams and games are really lively and fun. In this game, the Tokyo Giants played the Hanshin Tigers and were playing well the first few innings but then gave up 4 runs in one inning and 2 home runs in the 9th!! Basically, it ended in a blowout. 

Awesome plate of Karage and french fries!

Tokyo Dome is exactly that, a dome...making the weather next to perfect (no sweater needed, and not too hot either) and we had so much fun cheering on the teams and watching the many mascots dance around.

We took the train back to Kashiwa with Ikeda sensei and Kai, who conveniently live 5 minutes from where Steph and I live. We passed the time by playing Japanese word games and talking about Kai's school friends. Funny thing, the lady who sat next to us at the ball game thought Kai was a girl because of how cute he is! haha.

It was an awesome jam packed day in the city! Definitely going back to King George to try more of their sandwiches (and salads) and definitely going to another ball game soon! 

THE DREAM TEAM IN JAPAN.

People who happened to be in Tokyo last weekend:
Ant, my brother in law
Jose, Ant's friend
Kazue, Jose's fiance
Kevin, my friend from high school
Bryce, my cousin

Yes...true story. They all happened to be in Tokyo the same weekend and we all cruised around the city together on Saturday and then all went to church together on Sunday. It was such a random group and yet somehow it felt like we were all family. I love how that works! Here are some pics from our crazy day on Sat. 

Ant, Jose, and Jose's fiance Kazue took the shinkansen up from Osaka and our first stop in Tokyo was...TSUKIJI!

Tsukiji fish market (aka biggest fish market in the world) is moving locations at the end of this year..and although the new building will be cool and modern...there is something so intrinsically Japanese about the original spot. The wholesale side of things is like stepping into another world.

Rows and rows of vendors sell seafood at wholesale prices. The people work here have been at this for generations and they are definitely professionals in what they do. The stalls are all super old, there are holes all along the cobble stone flooring, there are stacks and stacks of boxes everywhere just waiting to fall over, it's chaotic, messy, smelly, and oozing with a kind of culture and tradition that can only be created after 80 years of fish selling.

*fun fact: the most expensive fish to ever be sold was at Tsukiji back in 2013. It was a 222kg blue fin tuna and it sold for 1.8 million. WHOA.  

One thing Tsukiji is iconic for (at least in my opinion) are these carts that the men drive around. I'm pretty sure at least 1 person gets their foot run over everyday by these things because the guys drive them extremely fast down the narrow rows of stalls moving boxes around all day. For tourists visiting Tsukiji...follow the guys driving 80mph in tiny carts and you know you're headed in the right direction. 

Tsukiji is just a hop skit and a jump over from Ginza, which was the next spot we hit up. Ginza is the Rodeo Drive of Tokyo and is home to one of the dopest stores ever - Dover Street Market. I had to take Ant here since he is a shoe and art aficionado. It is more art museum than clothing store and I get inspired every time I go there. You're not supposed to take pics of the art - I mean clothes - but I got this shot of a line of shoes that were a mere $250 a pair. 

On the weekends at around 12pm, the main street in Ginza is closed off to cars and then tables and chairs are brought out to experiences "hokoten" "pedestrian heaven" which is one of my favorite things in Tokyo. I was glad to have Ant there to be my model for the day lol! 

After shopping in Ginza we did something ridiculous...I wanted to try this Gyukatsu place in shibuya so we headed that direction and saw a long line wrapped around the corner and decided to join. I imagined it would take 1.5 hours or so to get through...BUT IT TOOK 4 HOURS. AM I INSANE!?? Ant is literally the chillest person ever so he was cool with it, but half way through the line I was like...is this the dumbest thing we have every done?? haha. Anyway, we finally got into the 9 person restaurant and payed $10 for some insanely good meat...but at the end of the day I concluded that no meal is worth 4 hours of time haha. But, my good friend Kevin met us in line and the three of us had a good time hanging out and awaiting our feast. It was definitely a meal to remember.  

After our meal, we headed to the scramble where we took some pics and then I took Ant and Kev to my favorite building in Shibuya - Hikarie! At the top you get a nice city view and a good cup of coffee. 

From Shibuya we walked over towards Omotesando area...and connecting the two neighborhoods is a street called Cat street. It was my first time there and we were joking that Kev knew Tokyo better than I did because he had been there before. 

That night we got crepes down Takeshita dori, met up with Bryce and hung out at Asakusa. It was a crazy day and we were full out exhausted when we got back home...but it was worth it! 

There was a moment on the train to Asakusa when I looked down the row of seats and there was my bro-in-law, Jose, Kazua, Kevin, Bryce, and my coworkers Steph...and I just had to laugh at the randomness of it all. Traveling is cool like that...you could be in a foreign country thousands of miles from home but it has a way of making bridges and connecting you to people in a way otherwise impossible.