Press "Enter" to skip to content

Category: Thoughts

Shiken: TEST LIKE YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT

(Remember how I said I was going to just write about stuff without so much unnecessary nitpicking? Yeah, my computer crashed and burned a little while after that and I still haven’t got it fixed. I have bad luck with them.)

What if your whole life depended on a test? I’m not talking about a medical test in this case (though I’m willing to bet that quite a few people have had their lives hang in the balance of one of those). Instead I’m talking about an educational test. I can’t quite fathom the amount of stress that must get put on a person when they know that their ability to to pass an examination could be a huge determining factor in the groundwork for the rest of their life.

What were you like when you were a high school student? I think I was a pretty average kid. I did pretty well in school, took some honor classes, and had some friends. I generally did my homework, played some sports, and hung around my house doing normal teenagery things. If you had told teenage me that my entire future could potentially depend on a test I’d be taking my senior year of high school with no real chance for a “re-take”, I’d probably have been a little worried.

Yes, American students do have the SAT test, which is a general aptitude test. Some might argue that the SAT is a future-determiner of a test, but I disagree.

I remember my very first full day in Japan. Jet-lagged though my Grandmother and I were, we hopped on our trusty yellow Hato Bus and took a day tour. That tour included a visit to Meji Jingu, right smack dab in the heart of Tokyo. Part of just about any religion I can think of is prayers (or some variation of that; you might call it a “wish”). Shintoism incorporates prayers/wishes as well. At shrines, visitors can purchase small wooden placards, write their desires on them, and hang them up in the shrine, hoping to get a little extra attention from the powers that be.

Our tour guide asked us what we thought was the most wished-for thing. Of course, we guessed: “Health?” “A happy relationship?” “Money?”

Nope.

The #1 wish is to pass the university entrance exam.

Every year, in winter-spring, universities have tests. Part of the application process for university in Japan means you take this test (and pass) to become a student. There are some tests that can be applied to several universities, but many universities also have their own tests year after year that students must study specifically for.

Yesterday (February 25th), happened to be “shiken” day, or “test” day at the university where I work one day a week. Exam day is taken very seriously. I had to show ID to gate guards just to be let on campus in the morning. Motley crews of what were obviously high school students milled around looking nervous.

It’s easy to forget what it’s like to be a high school student when you are not one yourself, and you don’t really spend much time around one. Could you imagine being that high school student and being asked to take a test that might determine the rest of your life? One of my coworkers explained that there really are no options for “transfer” within universities, or “community college” options for students who cannot pass these tests. Admittedly, some tests are much more rigorous and difficult than others, but could you imagine what life must be like in the lead-ups to these exam days? When I was teaching, I remember learning about how some of my senior-year high school students no longer studied regularly for the last half of their final year. Instead, their curriculum shifted exclusively to studying for these tests. Thankfully, my students all passed their university tests and got into universities they were very happy about.

I suppose when this sort of educational culture is what you grow up in, it’s perhaps a little less terrifying to think about (but maybe only slightly). I’d have been  a ball of stress and angst at that age without the fear of such a test looming overhead, but I like to think I could still have done it.

It’s an interesting and different approach to higher education, and it makes me think about what sort of programs and curricula are in place in other countries.

What do you think? If your future, your education, your job, and your livelihood could all potentially ride on a pass/fail on a single test, do you think you could pass? Or would you turn into a shriveled ball of terrified humanity? Would you even try?

Non-Resolution

A few weeks ago, I saw this comic from The Oatmeal about making content for the web. If you are a content creator in any capacity, whether you write, make videos, draw, sing, whatever…take a few minutes and click the link. Even if you don’t consider yourself a creator, go check it out. Maybe you’ll learn something. Or maybe you’ll just be entertained. It highlights a lot of the struggles content creators encounter. The portion that stood out most to me was this section regarding inspiration and when it strikes (or doesn’t):
Frame from "The Oatmeal" about making content for the web

Source

The act of creating something isn’t necessarily difficult. In theory, a person just has to put pen to paper, hit the “record” button on their video camera, or start typing into the word editor of their choice. One of the struggles, however, comes when a person DOES create something and they hate it.

We all have standards for our work. We all try to put out something we find “acceptable”, or even “good”, and we all have different ideas of what “acceptable” means. Of course, we all also have different styles. It’s how we determine what sorts of content we choose to create and/or consume; our standards.

I haven’t updated the blog in a little over a month,  but it isn’t because I haven’t been writing or taking photos or experiencing things. I have. It also isn’t because I’ve been “too busy to write”. That’s also not true. I’m very busy, but I still have time to write a few times a week, and I do it.

One of the notebooks I write in.

See? I’ve been writing.

My blog hasn’t been updated because, like the bottom frame in that comic above, I really don’t like most of the stuff I produce. I have a certain standard for the content I share with the internet. I can’t articulate that standard in words; I just know something is “pretty good” or “sucks” once I’m done and look it over 2 or 3 or 18 times. Every time I write a post or share a tweet or a photo, I try to make sure it has some sort of value for whoever is taking the time to look at it. Value can manifest in many ways; via education, humor, emotional impact, etc.

I love the idea of a daily blog. I love the thought of putting up a little post or a recap of some interesting tidbit of information from the day, but realistically, I know there is little to no chance of me ever doing that. I’d just never be able to keep up. Besides, the information in those posts would likely not be particularly valuable, since I’d be spitting out some half-assed BS once every 24 hours.

The point of this increasingly essay-like post is this: I want to be producing more content. I like producing content. It is fun and it gives me the unique opportunity to interact with people from all around the world.  There are so many people sharing so many great things out there. They inspire me to share more and to do more. So, I’m lowering my standards for myself. Has anyone ever said that? Eeep.

NOTE: I am aware that there is a chance this post reeks of arrogance. When I say “lowering my standards for myself,” please read this as “I will try to be a less nit-picky, perfectionist twerp about my own creations.” When I say “standards” I am referring to my own expectations for myself, not any sort of comparison to anyone else’s work. Most of the nitpicking I do is likely very, very stupid stuff. I would like to NOT do that anymore. Or at least, not do it QUITE so much.

I’m not making a resolution, really. Or at least, I’m telling myself it’s not a resolution. Every time I seem to label an action with something like “resolution” or “lifestyle change” or “healthier diet choices” I fail miserably. So this is not a resolution. This is just a thing I now do.

One of the things that motivates me most to go jogging in the evenings when I get home from work is this: “You never regret the times you get up off the couch and go for a run. It’s all the times you don’t go that you find yourself regretting.” If you don’t put any of your energy out into the world, how can you ever get anything back? We can’t just hang out doing nothing and expect good stuff to happen to us. We have to take action and move forward. That’s what I’d like to do.

Frames from The Oatmeal's comic about making content for the internet

This post is my first example of my lowered standards. I am typing this post directly into WordPress rather than writing everything down in one of my stack of notebooks, which is making me feel antsy. I keep facepalming and asking myself: “WHAT IS THE POINT OF POSTING THIS SELF-CENTERED DRIVEL?” I guess the answer is just that I want there to be a clear line between my previous content and what I want to try to do more of in the future. Also, I guess I hope that this post might inspire someone else the way The Oatmeal’s comic inspired me. I actually DO have stuff to write about, and I DO write about it. I just don’t post it because I am weird and a bit scared, I suppose.

All right, this needs to wrap up. I have no idea how to end this post. How about: If you, like me, have a “non-resolution”, SHARE IT! Try beginning with the comments section of this post!

Oh, right: Happy Holidays and have a great New Year!
(We’re off to a good start!)

Season Three

Life never ceases to be boring, if you make efforts to keep yourself interested. At least, that’s how I feel after the last three months.

I mentioned near the beginning of the year that I’d be leaving my job with American Language School in West Tokyo to move on to other things. That all went very smoothly. The woman who replaced me is a lovely, lovely human who I hope is enjoying herself in her new position. I haven’t received any desperate phone calls from the office asking if I can come in to help, so I’m assuming things are going great! Saying goodbye to some of my students was emotional. Saying goodbye to some of my other students was, honestly, a relief. Thankfully, the ones I had the strongest connections with I’ve been able to keep in touch with. I’m still on good terms with management at the school, too.

While I had written on this blog a few times about my feelings regarding my teaching job, there were a number of factors that went into my decision not to renew my contract. One of the biggest factors was a family plan that would take up most of the month of June and the first few days of July. If you followed along on YouTube at all, you’ve likely already seen some video footage.

My family went on a month long trip to Europe. We explored Italy and Croatia, and got to meet distant relatives for the first time. My father competed in a worldwide swimming competition (and got 10th place in the world for his age group!). We rented a sailboat and island hopped around the Adriatic, stopping in the evenings at beautiful harbors to eat delicious food and enjoy the summer. It was a whirlwind trip and an incredible series of experiences. I’m still in the process of completing videos of our fun.

Milna, Croatia, on the island of Brac. The first place our sailboat stopped. Absolutely gorgeous!
I arrived back in Tokyo at the beginning of July to a mailbox full of junk and bills. Ah, reality.

To finance my trip and my anticipated period of unemployment that would inevitably follow, I sold my car (in the US) in spring with the help of my family. I had some cash stocked up to help make the transition to a new job easier, but knew I needed to find a new position by the end of July. As much as I wanted to get going and start working right away after arriving home from my long vacation, jet lag and and a brief sickness got the best of me. I suppose it was just my body’s way of reminding me that having a few days of staycation following a vacation are very important.

Over the last 6 months, things have really picked up on the activity front for me here, though I didn’t blog about it. For about a 2 month period in spring, I worked with a Tokyo based law firm helping with some stateside liaising and document checks. My agreement with them ended when I left for Europe, but through their connections, they (totally on their own) hooked me up with a university job one day a week. I met my former employer and their university connection for dinner and drinks (AKA “an interview”) one evening. This was followed about two weeks later by an interview with the managerial staff of the department interested in hiring me at the university. It all went well, and I secured a once-weekly position doing editing/proofreading work. It’s great, but one day a week doesn’t pay the bills.

Japan’s payment system operates a little differently than the US system. Paychecks are delayed by a month. For example, if you begin work on the first of April and work full time through that month, you are not paid for that month of work until the end of the following month (May). Keeping this in mind (along with my slowly draining bank account), I knew I had to find something by the end of July, or I’d be in deep trouble.

I got lucky. I sent one resume and one email to a listing I saw online. The listing was for a data entry job, and it was close to home. The listing used words like “flexible” and “part time”. I figured it couldn’t hurt to chat with them and see what they needed. If we could come to an agreement, it would be great. I figured I still had other options, if absolutely necessary.

I went in for an interview and had a great time. To make an increasingly long story slightly shorter: they hired me. 4 days a week. 9 hour days. And it’s definitely not data entry.

So, what’s my primary job now? I work for a beer importer! The company imports beer from all around the world. Delicious, delicious beer. I’m split between two divisions of the company. One of my jobs is to work with the company’s owner/COO to manage branding and planning activities. This so far has involved preparing presentations for him, monitoring promotional activities, going to events, and checking out sales data to start forming marketing plans. I am thoroughly enjoying myself and learning a lot in a very short period of time.

A summer rooftop pool party I went to last weekend. Free of charge, with a guest. Because my boss asked me if I could make it. Life is sooo hard. Just terrible.
The other portion of my job deals with assisting in the development of the company’s new e-commerce project. Readers who are in Japan: think of it as Rakuten, but for craft beer. It is awesome and I can’t wait for it to go live so we can all take advantage of it. The site is both a collection of media and resources as well as a beer shopping site. However, you won’t be finding Asahi, Sapporo, Suntory, or Kirin available for purchase. Instead, you’ll be choosing from beers produced by Japan’s 200+ local brewers. We’re very, very excited about it. It’s going to be ready for users soon. Really soon. Like, make sure you know where your wallets are, residents of Japan. I can’t wait.

In addition to these jobs (which have me working Monday-Friday, 9-6 or later), I’ve also been doing more and more media-related work this year. Some readers may be familiar with the JapanesePod101 series, or other language study services provided by the same company. I’m now working for them on a very part time basis to produce video lessons and to provide voice support for audio lessons.

The video lessons I’m doing are to teach more natural English phrases to people who have already been studying for some time. There are a few free sample versions available for viewing on their official YouTube channel, but the full package is a subscription service. My role in all of it is pretty small; they set a time for me to come in to film a few lessons at a time (from 7 AM, ARGH). I show up and try to stay awake and energized. They put a script in front of me, I read it, they edit it a few days later, and then give it to people. Feedback has been good. They tell me I’m their only host that nobody has written bad comments about. Huzzah! I’m contracted to do 25 lessons with them, and we’re at about the halfway mark.

The voice recording work I’m doing for the same company is fairly easy; I sit in their teeny little studio and read vocabulary words into a large microphone. Occasionally I also work with a native speaker of another language to be the English support for individuals learning something else. For example, most recently I worked with a native speaker of Arabic. My voice is the one saying things like “When you want to express that you like a food, try saying…” For the most part, it’s easy work.

I also have an online editing job. I do it when I can. Pretty self explanatory.

Lastly, and most recently, I have one new media project on the horizon working with NHK. I met with the producers of a show a couple weeks ago, and things are now in progress for…something! I don’t want to say too much here and risk counting my chickens before they’ve hatched. News will be announced when news is available.

So! That’s how season 3 of ArishaInTokyo starts! I realized today that I’d forgotten completely my 3 year Japan Birthday. July 19th marked the date! My, how much has changed. I’ve been reading through a lot of my old posts in the last few days and have wanted to write something, but wasn’t sure where to start. I guess this is it!

I hope that everyone has had an amazing summer thus far. Mine has been fantastic. I’m very, very excited about the latest turns my life has taken, and I’m excited to be sharing it with all of you. While I’m afraid I won’t be writing much about my experiences with students, the last few weeks have shown me that my new positions are going to be anything but boring. I’m busy, but not in a way that makes me feel frustrated. It seems as though these changes have been for the good!

I have a lot to get caught up on, blog wise. There are draft posts sitting on my wordpress account just waiting to be finished off, plenty of pictures to share, and more videos to be made. My hiatus was a good one. It was absolutely necessary! I’m looking forward to making the next year the best year yet.

Thanks for reading, as always! Have a wonderful week!

Two Years In: If you want my job, come and take it (really)

Two years ago today I returned to Japan after a three month absence following the conclusion of the internship that brought me here in the first place. I was excited, hopeful, and jet-lagged, but most of all, I was overwhelmingly happy to be back in Japan. I had a week of training with a few other new teachers at my company’s headquarters and then a week of class observation at the school where I now work.

Over the last two years, I’ve come to know most of my students well. I know their names, yes, but I also know their strengths, their weaknesses, their personalities, and their skills. They are all unique and challenging in a variety of ways. My classes consist of 55 students with 60% being children (age 3-12), 30% teenagers (13-19), and 10% adults (for reference, I have only 3 adult students). A majority of my students are young children and a few of the teenagers still behave like they’re six or seven at times.

I have no education in teaching (other that what I’ve gained working here). I have no knowledge of early childhood education. I get by in my lessons, and actually do a pretty good job. But I’ve finally decided that teaching kids just isn’t working for me. I have little patience when children act out, and am uneducated regarding how to properly deal with it. I feel frustrated often because I know most kids don’t want to be in English class, and it shows. I feel frustrated for their parents (who are spending money to have their kids take lessons) because even though the kid learns in my class and makes noticeable progress, they have a crappy attitude. I feel frustrated for the kid because they don’t understand how any of this can benefit them, despite having me, a real life foreigner, in the room with them for 50 minutes a week.

Admittedly, a lot of this sounds like whining, and it is. I’m aware that much of this perceived “problem” I have is my own attitude toward the situation. I resolved some time ago to change things. I intended to end my employment here six months ago, but things didn’t work out, and I was uncomfortable quitting without having a clear transition plan to a new job. Now, however, I’m ready. I signed a contract on January 24th of this year confirming that I will be vacating my position. There are a number of reasons for this: a) the above mentioned frustration, b) the school is far from my apartment and I’m spending a ton of money just getting to and from work that isn’t being reimbursed, c) my family has exciting plans for 2012 that I would be unable to take part in because this position does not allow unscheduled time off, d) I want to work in a different position (one that doesn’t involve children), and e) the owner of my school came to me and said the school imposed a three year limit on all teachers. I work for a franchise, which means to some extent they get to make their own rules. He explained that this was because he wanted students to be exposed to a variety of different native speakers over the course of their English education. While I can understand this, it does seem somewhat risky to throw out what may be good instructors and replace them with something unknown. My coworker is one such instance of this occurrence – his three years are up in March, which means his replacement will arrive that month for observation. My coworker has been looking for a new position for several months now.

I decided I didn’t want to have to deal with that. This three year limit isn’t something that was outlined in my employment contract, anyway. I’m not even sure if the imposed limit is legal. Regardless, I chose to make now the time for my transition. I don’t want to put it off for another year and grow progressively more frustrated. My last official day under my current contract is Sunday, May 27th. My last teaching day is Friday, May 25th.

Teacher Contract Extension Form

If you’ve ever wanted to come to Japan, this is an opportunity. There are many, many other teaching jobs out there. This one is based in Tokyo and is about 30 minutes west of the city center. The staff are all extremely kind and helpful. The students are fine – I’ve just come to realize that teaching kids isn’t for me.

My company is called American Language School. If you’re interested in taking my job (or another job that may be available in Eastern Japan), you can apply by sending them your information to the email address on their website. They even currently have an ad up on Dave’s ESL Cafe. This is the same website I visited to get my current job. I will have zero influence over whether or not you get the position, should you choose to apply. Even if I did, I’d leave it up to the recruiters to decide because I don’t know the first thing about who to hire or not hire.

What I can tell you is this: You must be good at, and enjoy working with children. You must be friendly, approachable, and outgoing. You must not be overly sensitive. You must be okay with making mistakes. If you have some skill in Japanese, it’s helpful (but not necessary). There are a couple times a year you will be asked to dress up in a costume for a week and take pictures with kids (much like a Disneyland character). My working hours are typically from 2PM to 9PM Tuesday-Friday. I make just enough money to break even every month (I pay rent, bills, student loans & other debt, and feed myself (sort of)). If you don’t have a lot of financial obligations and are okay living nearer to the school than I do, you can feasibly save $300-$600 a month (depending on how important entertainment is for you).

It’s a great place to start in Japan. I can’t say enough how kind, wonderful, and helpful the staff at the school are. They can help with teaching questions as well as life in Japan questions you may have trouble with. Everything from getting a health insurance card to searching for a new apartment (initially a guesthouse room is provided for you) to recommending restaurants is something they’ll happily help you with. You’ll pick up some Japanese while working here, too. I couldn’t have asked for a better first teaching experience. I highly recommend the school.

If you’re interested in this position or other similar positions within the company, head on over to their website and send them your info. If you’re serious about coming to Japan, send your info to as many different places as possible. There are tons of opportunities out there; you need only take action to give yourself  a chance.

If there are any questions regarding my experiences I’m happy to answer them in the comments. Please remember that if you decide to apply with my company I will not be influencing any decisions. I will have no say in who my replacement is. It’s up to you to make a good impression.

Best of luck to those who apply! I’m looking forward to the next phase of my life in Japan. This job has truly been a learning experience.

Japanese Kids: Not as Smelly as You Might Think

When I think about children, I tend to think of noisy, moody, grabby creatures that pick their noses ferociously and consistently smell questionable. They do have their good moments, yes, but I am still at a point in my life where I am less than enthused about spending long periods of time with them. Of course, due to the nature of my work, I am regularly put into rooms with children for 40 to 50 minutes at a time. After a while of this, you start to notice things about the kids you spend your weeks with. As an American, I tend to draw frequent comparisons between Japan and my home culture. Kids do not escape this. There’s one thing in particular I’ve noticed (or haven’t noticed, I suppose) that has made lessons a lot more tolerable than they could be.

Farts.

Yes, that’s right. This blog is about farts, or lack thereof. When I think about American kids and my own childhood in the states, I remember things as being much smellier than they are here. Kids in class at school would silently smell up the room. There were kids who were known to be more gaseous than others, and classmates would giggle when/if someone broke wind audibly. Boys even used flatulence as a weapon; helpless individuals could be the victim of a drive-by-farting at any time. It was a natural (though embarrassing at times) part of growing up. Young children are typically not particularly practiced when it comes to containing their own noxious fumes.

Here, however, I rarely experience this. My school-age students range in age from 5 years old to high school aged, and in about two years of teaching them I can confidently say that I can count on only one hand the number of times an unpleasant smell has mysteriously arisen in the room or a surprising outburst has been released from a student. I’m not complaining, by any means. My classrooms are pleasant-smelling learning dens.

I notice that even in crowded public spaces like trains I rarely notice anything farty (drunken salaryman breath/sweat, however, is another matter). Overwhelmingly, the Japanese just don’t seem to be a very stinky people. This may be part of the reason foreigners like myself can be somewhat paranoid of being regarded as a smelly gaijin.

I’ve thought about why our cultures seem to have such distinct differences on the smelliness scale, and believe it can be traced back to diet. Research shows that foods like dairy products, high fructose corn syrup, cruciferous vegetables (like cauliflower and broccoli), and wheat tend to produce gas when eaten. Additionally, red meat can also produce gas – not from the enzymes in it, but simply because it takes longer for the body to digest, which allows gas to accumulate in the digestive system. These foods are also typically more prevalent in American diets than Japanese diets. While Japanese meals incorporate cuisines and ingredients from all over the world, foods do not rely as heavily on fart-inducing substances. Rather, the Japanese diet utilizes elements like rice, fish, tofu, and non-cruciferous vegetables, which tend to produce less gas.

Onigiri, a Japanese Rice Ball
Behold, the onigiri. An essential part of the Japanese diet, it is simply a ball of rice wrapped in seaweed. This one has meat in the center. Others have fish, fish eggs, and mayo inside.

Of course, this could all just be hot air. While diet may play a role in the gaseousness of an individual, there are a number of other factors that could determine a person’s fartiness. Some people are lactose intolerant. Others may swallow more air when they eat, or chew a lot of gum (during which air is swallowed). People may drink varying amounts of carbonated drinks (those bubbles have to go somewhere). Additionally, anti-gas medicine may play a part. We have remedies available stateside; names like Beano and Gas-X were mocked openly throughout junior high school for being related with excessive amounts of flatulence. Products like this are available in Japan, too. In addition, there are also products used to negate smells in the bathroom. These are sprays; users spray the surface of the toilet water before use to neutralize any smells that may result. I’m guessing that gas stopping products are used more often in Japan because toilet humor just isn’t as widely giggled at among adults. American life is riddled with bathroom jokes, rude noises, and a litany of impolite phrases. Japan is a little better about not openly sharing bodily functions.

Whatever the reason may be, I’m grateful that my classrooms and my life are, for the most part, smell-free and pleasant. If anything, I am probably the smelliest person in my lessons by default because I’m foreign. That’s OK…until the day one of my students blames me for one of their farts.

Photo Post: Scenes from Spring, 2011

This spring has been a little strange for Japan – March was eaten by a series of disasters we’re still dealing with, and April flew by in much the same way.  The end of April and very early May, however, brought some beautiful weather and a series of national holidays referred to as “golden week”, where much of the country has a few days to an entire week of vacation.

The last month has been an attempt to return to normal here, and I think in many ways, it has worked.  I’ve been out enjoying the sun and stimulating the economy as best as I can, and it’s been a very nice way to spend these spring days.  The blooming of flowers in Japan follows a schedule, and many parks even have posted information regarding what time of year to come to see X flower.  Shortly following the earthquake, the first park visited was Furukawa-tei in Komagome, an English-style rose garden with a little Japanese influence.  At that time, the ume (plum blossoms) were showing their colors in pinks and whites.  It was a nice way to remember that life goes on, despite what had happened up north.

ume blossoms, furukawa-tei
ume blossoms, furukawa-tei
ume blossoms, furukawa-tei

The next park visited was a few weeks later, at the tail end of hanami season, which was sadly, much less fun this year than expected.  Government requested that people show “self-restraint” regarding their yearly hanami parties as a gesture of politeness to those affected by the earthquake in northeastern Japan.  While I can understand the sentiment to some degree, it seems to make more sense to get out of the house and stop using electricity for a few hours (like everyone has been trying to do) rather than sit glued to a TV waiting for news.  Regardless, I did not participate in any hanami parties this year, just took in the cherry blossom trees in parks on my way to work.

cherry blossom tree

This park is Korakuen, in central Tokyo.  It’s a Japanese style garden built right next to Tokyo dome, which provides some interesting background noise at times from cheering baseball fans or other events, but the day was very nice.  Some of the cherry blossoms were even still going at this point in time, though certainly on their way out of bloom.

Korakuen
Korakuen

Today, May 4th (may the 4th be with you, haha, I know, fellow star wars nerds), was “midori no hi” or “green day” or “greenery day”, whatever you want to translate it as.  Regardless, this is supposed to be a day to go out and celebrate nature and greenery.  I had completely forgotten about this until I arrived at my destination, a park in Shinjuku near my home.  Shinjuku Gyoen (Shinjuku Park) is only about a 10 minute walk from my apartment.  I woke up on Wednesday, the national holiday, and saw the weather was beautiful, so after breakfast and a coffee, headed out for the park.  Of course, seven million Japanese people had the same idea I did.

I love the area surrounding Shinjuku Gyoen – there are tons of cool shops and restaurants with outdoor seating and funky, interesting stuff.  Its proximity to my apartment is one of the reasons I chose to live where I do now.

Shinjuku Gyoen Mae

Shinjuku Gyoen is a huge park in the middle of Shinjuku.  It’s a 58.3 hectacre (144 acre) park done in a combination of styles – Japanese, French, and English.  I walked around every inch of the park over the course of about an hour and a half, enjoying the beautiful sunshine and people watching.

Shinjuku Gyoen

These were pretty much the only thing in the park that was a bright purple against an almost sea of green.  Grandmothers and men with zoom lenses were pushing their way up to these flowers to take their picture.  I, thus, decided to be a jerk too and take a picture:

Shinjuku Gyoen

A Chinese style building at the back of the park:

Shinjuku Gyoen
Shinjuku Gyoen

Spotted this guy as I walked down the path:

Caterpillar
CATERPILLAR, GO!

Other influences besides Japanese are evident throughout the park – some pinks and lighter color shrubs are near the back of the park.  This area had a very Alice in Wonderland feel about it.  Minus all the Japanese people, anyway.

Shinjuku Gyoen

The whole park is beautiful, and the contrasting styles keep it interesting.  I was in no rush, and spent a good portion of my afternoon relaxing here.

Shinjuku Gyoen
Shinjuku Gyoen
Shinjuku Gyoen

As I mentioned before, this park is right in the middle of Shinjuku, arguably the heart of the beast that is metropolitan Tokyo.  You can see some of the buildings in the background of this photo.  Amazingly, however, the sounds of the city disappear while you’re inside the park.  It’s easy to forget where you are while you’re wandering around these grounds.

Shinjuku Gyoen

Expansive lawns leave plenty of space for family and friends to play.  Shinjuku Gyoen restricts activities that other parks do not – there’s even usually a 400 yen admission fee for adults to visit.  The pamphlet available at the entrance states that no alcohol is to be brought onto the grounds (yes, drinking in public is allowed in Japan), no lights/lanterns, no tripods for your cameras, no smoking, no music, no pets, no bicycles, and no sports equipment.  Whew.  Big list.  Regardless of this, families and friends still visit the park to play, chat, and nap in the sun.

Shinjuku Gyoen

Japan seems to have done a good job of celebrating greenness today, at least from what I saw.  It’s evident spring is in full swing, which means that summer is right around the corner (ugh).  Bare legs now appear more and more often on both men and women not just to be fashionable, but because the days are also getting warmer.  Today I watched people relaxing and having what I think was a much needed vacation.  Even the vigilantly beautiful Japanese girls went for a walk in the sun.  I sat on the grass near two young women who had kicked off their heels and nice sweaters to play catch with a shiny pink makeup bag.  Today was a day for us to do the human equivalent of a lizard basking in the sun.

Shinjuku Gyoen

For all the reputation Japan has for being stoic, there was no shortage of cheery faces at the park today, and it was infectious.  After my long walk around the park, I sat barefoot in the grass and remembered: these are the moments life is really all about.