Happy 2018!

明けましておめでとう!Happy New Year!

“One of the greatest moments in your life is realising that, a year ago, you couldn’t do what you can do now.”
Mo Seetubim, founder of the Happiness Planner

26510442_10157017740918327_205654138_oI can’t remember a time when I wasn’t out doing something on New Year’s Eve. Even last year when I was really quite sick, I went to a house party (though I did fall asleep on the sofa at 1am…). This year my boyfriend and I cleaned our flat, wrote down our goals and New Year’s resolutions and drunk whiskey at home to welcome in 2018. I can tend towards over indulgence and hedonism so stepping back and not going out was… kind of liberating. I try to live life to the fullest, which most of the time is a good quality. However it can be a flaw when it leads me to feel that I have to be doing something because that’s what young, hip and alive people do on New Year’s Eve. It’s nice to go out when I want to go out, stay in when I want to stay in, regardless of an arbitrary day in the calendar. If I don’t party this one day I will not turn middle aged overnight and lament wasting my golden 20s. It’s all good.

26237858_10157017763463327_591999289_oThis morning we walked half an hour in beautiful sunshine to do 初詣 (hatsumōde, the first shrine visit of the year) at the same shrine as New Year’s two years ago. It’s nice to build our own traditions, even when we’re far from home. My fortune this year was really favourable and, though I don’t take these things too seriously, I do think good things are around the corner for me. I’m hoping that the seeds I sowed in 2017 will bear fruit.



2017 has been a year of excitement, doubt, self-discovery, some of the biggest challenges and most satisfying successes I have ever experienced. I wouldn’t say I have 100% got where I hoped I would be, but perhaps for the first time since childhood, I feel in touch with my authentic self and I am moving forward in the direction I want. There are many, many things I couldn’t have done at the start of 2017 that I can do now. And that is something.
Oh and I am now on my second Happiness Planner, something you might not expect given my entire personality. I recommend it so much to disorganised workaholics like myself who need to to write shit down and be reminded to chill out.

New girl-crush: Amina du Jean

How could you not listen to an idol track called ‘seppuku?’

‘seppuku’ is Japanese ritual disembowelment, originally reserved for samurai who wished to die with honour rather than fall into the hands of their enemies.

In the new track from former idol amina du jean, she takes these lyrical themes of graphic violence and atonement for grave wrongdoing and throws them at her ex.

Which I get. 20 year old women scorned in love are some of the most terrifying people alive. I should know. I’ve been one.

The resulting track is almost exactly what you would expect, in a good way. Addictive melody, syrupy beats, no fewer than three key changes. My inner music scholar cringes but the kawaii trash part of me is dancing around the kitchen. It’s difficult navigating these inner conflicts all the time.

Again, combing sugary brightness with gruesome subject matter is hardly new ground but there is a lot of interesting and amusing stuff going on from this bilingual wordsmith. There is so much potential for linguistic interest in the mixing of English and Japanese in idol music but it’s often mediocre. Amina chan expertly weaves her Japanese into English style rhyme and stress patterns, with just the right amount of F bombs for ex evisceration.

Basically I like it and you should download it on Amina’s bandcamp.

I would do a harp cover of it but with a mug like mine it would be just terrifying instead of cutsey terrifying.

So I’ve been listening to this track and stalking Amina on social media all day. Definitely a girl-crush but I think she is way too hardcore for me. Alas, like many love affairs with idols, maybe it’s better if it remains a beautiful (and vengeful) fantasy.

Amina du Jean
Photo credit: Shintaro Kago.

Kyoto in the Spring

I took my parents to Kyoto because they came to Japan in the spring and where else would you rather be?

The first thing I will admit about the gateway to old Japan is that, yes, it is crowded during cherry blossom season. But if you are willing to step off the beaten track you can still find those hushed moments of zen like calm that the ancient capital promises.

Dinner served to our room in the ryokan

I wanted my parents to stay in a traditional Japanese ryokan (hostel) and booking was a  nightmare even though I started the process early. Many ryokans aren’t on the internet yet so I searched for a place and booked through Japanese Guest Houses. To be honest their system isn’t super convenient but it may well be your best bet, especially if you don’t speak Japanese. We ended up staying in the Ischicho Shogikuen which wasn’t my first choice but was still lovely. I really recommend going for the full ryokan experience if you can – futons, tatami mats, sliding doors and Japanese cuisine served to your room. My parents had a couple of reservations about the food and my Dad sleeping on a futon with a bad back but they loved every minute.

I recommend walking between your destinations as much as you can because Kyoto is the kind of place where interesting things happen in between. There’s a small art gallery or a charming independent coffee shop on every corner.

The Famous Rock Garden at Ryoanji Temple.

Ginkakuji (which I prefer to its more famous brother, Kinkakuji)
Definitely walk along the Philosopher’s Path to get from Ginkakuji to Nazenji


It’s lovely walking around town as it starts to get dark. Oh and we did see a geisha- she was actually locked out of the building she was trying to get into, desperately ringing the bell and trying to remain graceful as the tourists crowded around her. I didn’t take a photo as it was actually quite alarming to watch the cameras swarm like flies and I felt sorry for her, so you’ll have to take my word for it that she was really, incredibly beautiful. Unfortunately I think hoardes of tourists goes with the Kyoto territory at this point but Kyoto was still able to capture my imagination.


(Presumed) American in Japan

When I worked in a Japanese elementary school, there was a homeroom teacher who refused to believe I wasn’t from the USA. I told her again and again that I was British, but there seemed to be some kind of mental wall there.

“Tell the students about Christmas in the USA.”
You tell them, I’ve never been there and you spent the holidays in California.

I’m not so sensitive that this bothered me, but it was bizarre. I mean most Japanese people have heard of London. Why was it so ingrained that foreigner = American?

Most of the stereotypes of foreigners in Japan are based on Americans. I don’t just mean the Japanese stereotypes of foreigners being loud, friendly, large, and loving hamburgers. I also mean, perhaps more importantly for me, that the ‘foreigner in Japan’ narrative as told by the English speaking media presumes ‘American-ness.’ Many of the difficulties described and advice dispersed on websites like Gaijinpot and the Japan Times applied to someone culturally American and much of it wasn’t really relevant to me.

“Japanese flats are small.”
I pay half what I did for rent in London for a place almost twice the size.
“You will have to get used to living without a car in Tokyo. You can get the metro everywhere.”
Anyone heard of a thing called the Tube? I believe it’s the oldest subway system in the world…
“Japan is different to your country because it’s an island nation with four seasons and a long history.”
Come now, this is getting embarrassing.


One of the scariest things to hear in a British office

When comparing Japanese, British and American stereotypes, I imagine a scale of 1 to 6, like the Kinsey scale. At 1 are the Japanese, indirect, super polite and reserved. The Americans are at 6, loud, assertive, direct and friendly. The British are probably sitting on a 4. Obviously we’re closer to the Americans, but those ‘Japanese things’ that I was told would bother me – indirectness, face saving, social awkwardness and only expressing our actual feelings when wasted – we do those too. And it’s for this reason that I think we sometimes adapt better to Japanese work culture than our friends from across the pond. It’s less of an adjustment.


Something strange has happened to me. Far from Japan making me more Japanese, I think Japan has actually made me more American. I’ve had British friends before saying that I may have the soul of an American, meaning I’m loud, assertive, overshare and I don’t embarrass easily. Nothing wrong with any of these traits, I just posses them more than your average Brit, especially your average British woman, so in the UK I would tone them down a bit. Now I’m in Japan I have very few British friends and spend my time surrounded by Americans as well as a host of other nationalities. I also am in an environment where this foreigner = American thing is the dominant narrative so people expect me to behave in an ‘American way,’ especially my Japanese friends. This is no bad thing as it’s nice to not have to restrain this part of my personality. Moreover, I genuinely get on well with the Americans I meet in Japan and mean no disrespect to your country. It’s just worth remembering that all foreigners bring something different to Japan and there’s no one ‘gaijin experience.’

I’ll leave you with a slide from the often amusing comic White Rice, which is about foreigners in Japan:


Image credit: http://www.whitericecomic.com





Rikugien Gardens in 2016

I love Japanese gardens. In my first few days in Japan when I was jet lagged and frantically house hunting I found refuge in Kiyosumi Gardens near the hotel where I was staying. I’d recommend nearly all of the traditional landscape gardens in Tokyo – for a few hundred yen you can have a respite from city life and breathe in hundreds of years of Japanese culture and appreciation for nature.

My favourite garden has to be Rikugien. I first went on the recommendation of a school friend in February and loved it so much I’ve been back several times this year. It’s been a pleasure to see it in different seasons. The gardens were built around 1700 and Rikugien literally mean ‘six poem gardens.’ Accordingly, 88 spots in the garden reference Chinese history and famous Japanese waka poems. Of course I don’t get any of the references, but the idea is so charming.

2016-02-18 12.16.10.jpgIn February one of my oldest friends was kind enough to come to Tokyo for me. Proactive as ever, she came with a list of things she wanted to do and as Rikugien was relatively easy to get to it was one of the first places we went to. As a Brit, it still surprises me how dry and sunny Tokyo winters are despite being almost as cold as London. This day was typical and the garden felt a little barren but somehow serene and tasteful.





2016-03-26-11-57-23The next time I went to Rikugien was when my family came to visit in the spring. We’d just had some bad news that had really shaken us so it was nice to be together. We went to Rikugien just as the cherry blossoms were starting to bloom so everything was a lot greener and more fresh than in February. I seem to remember that I took them there just before we left to go to Kyoto and they got more excited after having a taste of Japanese culture.




Along came May and I thought Rikugien was the perfect place to drag yet another group of visiting Brits. The gardens were a lot more colourful and vibrant this time around and I really enjoyed the flowers. One of my favourite things about Rikugien is that there is a traditional tea house by the pond where you can really drink up the essence of the garden and I have happy memories of sitting there with my friends in May.


After taking yet another group of visiting friends in early Autumn my poor boyfriend was a bit fed up. “You go to this garden with literally everyone except me!” So on a sunny day in November we went to enjoy the beginnings of the autumn leaves together. This was a few days before I left Tokyo to go for medical treatment in London and I was filled with a lot of complicated feelings about leaving the city I love during this beautiful season.



明けましておめでとう!Happy New Year

Happy New Year! New Years is the probably the most important holiday of the year in Japan, fulfilling a similar role to Christmas in the UK as a day where people spend time with their family and practice religious traditions, whether or not they themselves are committed believers. At the moment Tokyo is very quiet – many people have fled the city to visit family in their rural home towns, shops and business are closed and many will remain so until the 3rd.

There are two main choices of New Years greeting in Japan. 明けましておめでとう(akemashite omedetuo) is what you say during the first few days of the year. Be careful with this one, it is often simply translated as ‘Happy New Year’ but it is incorrect to say it on New Years Eve, unlike its English equivalent. If you want a season specific greeting on NYE, try the more general よいお年を!(yoi otoshi wo) which means ‘have a good year.’

My friends and I were at Shibuya crossing at the turn of the year, counting down to 2016 with the huge crowds present. Everyone went a little crazy  at midnight, popping champagne cheering and running into the streets periodically a bit like a mosh pit. It was intense but a lot of fun. After that we went to Womb, a nearby club, and had a great time dancing the night away. A good thing about going out in Tokyo at New Years is that the trains run on all night at half hour intervals. One of my biggest complaints about Tokyo is that the last train is ridiculously early and there are absolutely no night buses. This combined with the sky high taxi fares makes a sensible night out virtually impossible – you have to commit to staying out until the first train at 5am which usually leads either to being extremely bored or someone chundering in the streets of Roppongi. I escaped either of these fates, thanks to the trains allowing me to go home at 3am like a normal human being.

The only places that typically aren’t deserted on New Years Day are Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. Quite the opposite in fact – when my boyfriend and I headed to our local Shinto shrine today it was so busy we had to queue for about an hour to get in. It’s traditional to either go to a shrine on new years day or midnight – which is probably why the trains run all night, not to cater to disreputable young gaijin like myself who fancy a dance.

shrine queue instaI’m glad we chose to go to our local shrine instead of heading to one of the massive famous shrines such as Meiji Jingu – whilst I’m sure that would have been an amazing experience, the intimacy of our local shrine felt almost magical. We arrived a little before sunset and queued for about an hour so we watched the sun go down on the shrine and the lamps being lit which was lovely.

fortune instagramAt the shrine we washed our hands with ritual water and queued up to throw ¥5 or ¥50 yen into a box (these coins have holes in them, which is good luck), ring the temple bell, clap and bow. We also bought おもくじ (omokuji) – paper fortunes which make predictions about various aspects of your life such as business, family and romance for the coming year. They’re rated from really lucky to a big curse and I got 小吉 (shou kichi) which means ‘small luck,’ so not too bad. I was told that I will achieve what I wish for – my 願事 (negaigoto) – this year, but it will be tough so I have to work hard. Sounds about right to be honest 😉 Along with many others I tied my fortune on the wires in the shrine grounds in the hope of improving it.

I’m a Christian but I didn’t feel uncomfortable taking part in these practices. This is because, although some Japanese are institutional Shintoists, Shinto is widely regarded as a religion of ritual practices which are an important part of Japanese culture, rather than a dedicated and exclusive belief system which governs ones life. I’m confident that some of the people at my local shrine today were atheists, Buddhists, even Christians or Muslims, taking part in the rituals because it’s tradition, rather than because they have any serious belief. Like how we burn Guy Fawkes in effigy on Bonfire Night in the UK but less… horrible and bizarre.

(I love Bonfire Night, but looking at your country’s traditions from the outside makes you see them in a new light)

I really enjoyed my first New Years in Japan and I wish you all the best for 2016!

me at lamp