Hashtag Illiteracy

It’s been one month since I’ve arrived in Japan, but it feels much longer.  The first few weeks were overwhelming, with moving in, getting settled, and adjusting to life in a new country.  I’m still trying to get fully settled (I still need furniture…like a futon that actually feels like sleeping on something), and I still don’t really know anyone in my area, but it’s starting to feel more normal than it did in the beginning.

~ Just Japan Things ~

The Gaijin Effect

In general, I feel like most people don’t care that I exist in Japan.  Sometimes, though, people really, really do care.  Some people will stare at you.  Sometimes little kids will walk by your table at a restaurant four times so they can look at you.  Sometimes little old ladies will stop you in the mall to find out what you’re doing here (they will speak to you in Japanese, even after you tell them you don’t speak Japanese.  You will then proceed to respond in Spanish, because you want to say SOMETHING and that’s your default foreign language).  Sometimes people working in shops will automatically speak English to you because you’re foreign, or they’ll apologize for not knowing English (imagine?).  Mostly, though, people are just interested in you.  Or generally concerned for your well-being, like every person at my job.  I’m pretty sure they think I’m going to die.

Your Illiteracy Has Screwed Us Again

(Actual photo of me trying to read kanji)
The thing I was worried most about when moving to Japan was the language barrier.  Surprisingly, this has not turned out to be too much of an issue.
Except, of course, when paired with my illiteracy.
When people realize you don’t speak Japanese, they tend to speak in simple Japanese.  Sometimes I sort of understand what they’re saying, and sometimes I just nod and say hai and move on with my day.
But being illiterate makes even simple tasks difficult.  I can’t read my own mail. I can’t figure out what days the garbage is supposed to go out because I can’t read the schedule.  I can’t order food in restaurants unless they have an English menu (or I just say karaage and hope its on the menu). The other day I went grocery shopping and my phone decided not to work, so I had to leave without a few things on my list and come back later when I could Google Translate the labels (which, admittedly, still doesn’t help at all because Google Translate is shit.  I’m still not 100% convinced I brought home soy sauce, but it’s some kind of sauce, so it’s fine).

Toni, It’s So Hot

Ever sweat so much you literally can’t get your clothes off?  Ever had to consciously decide not to wear shirts that aren’t black or white because they’ll just get sweat stains on them if you leave the house for more than five minutes?  No?  Then you’ve never been to Kyoto in August.


Work Flow

For the first few weeks of August, there are no classes but teachers still have to go to work.  Some teachers teach summer classes, some handle club activities.  New ALTs…don’t do much of anything.  It’s just a lot of sitting around.  Which was great at the beginning, because I got a lot of stuff done.  However, now that I’m mostly settled, it’s just a looooong day.  I’ve already lesson planned my self-introduction lesson, which I’ll be teaching repeatedly for about a month once classes start, cleaned my predecessor’s crap out of my desk, and put together my English board.

I’ve also got my board prepped for the next six months.  There’s a lot of hours in a day and not much to do.

Luckily the board has made some students interested in me, and quite a few of them have come to talk to me at my desk after I put this up, which is a nice break in the day.

This Friday is the opening ceremony for the second term.  I have to give a speech…in Japanese…in front of the entire school (RIP me).  And then on Monday classes start, so things will begin to pick up.

Things I Love

It’s only been a month, but here’s some things I love about Japan (it’s mostly food).


Fettuccine are these sour gummy straw things that come in a wide variety of flavors, and which I buy at least four of every time I go to the store.  They’re amazing and I already don’t know how I’m going to live without them when I go home.

Generally I’m a grape girl, but the もも (peach) flavor is what I imagine ambrosia tastes like.  But a friend of mine found watermelon flavor at a store near her, so the feeling may change after I try it this weekend….in case you were wondering what a weekend in the cultural center of Japan is like #liveitup

2. Dango

Dango are “sweet dumplings” made from rice flower.  They come three to five dango to a skewer, and they, too, are amazing.  I’ve tried mitarashi dango, which come with a sweet soy sauce glaze:

And the far superior hanami dango.  And in case anyone is wondering, the pink one tastes best.

3. Salt Ramen

There’s a ramen shop in the shopping district in Kyoto-shi near Nishiki Market that has a banner outside that says “Salt Ramen.”  This is not the name of the restaurant, but I can’t read the actual name (because of illiteracy), so I call this restaurant Salt Ramen.  The ramen I got there (number five on the machine) is the best meal I have eaten since I got here.  The broth is, for some reason, much thicker than the average ramen broth, and the noodles are thin and perfect.  I get broth on my shirt without fail every time I eat ramen, but at Salt Ramen it doesn’t even matter.  I love you Salt Ramen.

4. Time

Time is an illusion.  Right now I’m getting ready to go to sleep, but people back home are just starting their day.  At home I have time anxiety and am constantly looking at the clock, but since coming here I’ve been doing things at my own pace.  And people here are super punctual, which I love.  They even apologize if the train is a minute late.

I could do without the whole military time thing, though.

5. Small Victories

While getting used to things here, doing normal stuff is kind of a big deal.  I was really proud of myself after I (semi) successfully grocery shopped.  I thought about how I remembered to say ごちそうさまです after eating at a restaurant the entire rest of the day.  I’m still excited that I figured out a system for organizing my coins.  Moving abroad, especially to a country where you don’t speak the language, really makes you appreciate the little things you can do.

6. Kindness

People here are really, really kind.  People at school are constantly worrying about me and helping me take care of things.  My old man friend always checks up on me on Facebook.  A lady I met one time in passing asks my friend about me all the time.  The きょと-せんせい (vice-principal) at my school drove me home one time.  Despite the fact that I’m constantly asking people for help, I feel welcomed, not like a burden.

Things I Miss

Other than the obvious, here are some random things I miss about home


I come from the suburbs of Long Island.  My house has a lawn, and there are trees, shrubs and plants all over my neighborhood.

Technically I live in a suburb in Kyoto.  But last week I passed a tiny, tiny park and I stopped for a moment to think to myself, “I miss grass.”

2. Not Having to Cook or Clean

Adulting sucks.

3. Driving

Mostly I miss blasting my music and belting while driving.  But you know how it’s almost like a game to see if you can get your groceries from the car to your house in one shot?  I have to do that all the way from the store to my apartment.  And it’s not a game, it’s my life.  While I’m perfectly capable of walking a half hour to get to a store, walking home with all those bags is not a fun time.

4. Knowing What/Where Things Are

On my first day in Japan, I went to a store called Don Quijote (also known as Donki.  It’s like Target but on crack), and right there on the shelf was a bottle of “Skin Vape.”  If anyone knows what that is, please let me know, because I can’t read the label. Hashtag illiteracy.  Just the other day, almost a full month after arriving in Japan, I finally found Daiso, the 100 yen shop.  It was on the top floor of the mall where I go grocery shopping, and I had no idea until I decided to explore.


3 Responses to “Hashtag Illiteracy

  • I think about the time thing all the time! (No pun intended lol). I always say wow, amanda is already into her next day, and it really blows my mind. And the best place to get your candy at home is ar Epcot, duh! I guess that means we will have to go on a trip there; twist my arm. Miss you! Keep up the blogs!

  • What do the pink ones taste like??

  • Finally just had a chance to read your blog! Getting ready for school has been crazy over here in america. I love reading about your adventures! Sorry about all your sweating. It’s the heat.

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