Tag Archives: Japan

When Foreign Becomes Normal: Reflections on Living in Japan

Where to begin with such a title? As I am American, I guess that is where my story starts. Moving to Japan in 2000 was a life changer.

When you go from a place of long cold winters with brilliant summers and tree covered, well-everything, moving to a new land offers many jarring sights.

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Electric poles stick out into the streets. Not on people’s property-that would be taking up their land. Nope, right in the street where you have to weave and bob around them in traffic. I have become adept at this and now do not even notice when I do it.

Food is fresh. As in you buy the food you are going to eat that day, you eat it, and you go shopping for 15 minutes again the next day. No more buying food for 2 weeks. No more thoughts of, “Why don’t I just go to Burger King and eat a bacon cheese burger?” No, you don’t do that anymore. Well I don’t do that anymore. I eat more vegetables and fish than before. The rice we buy and eat was grown in the prefecture we live.

Every year I go to a health check that costs me the equivalent of $12USD. It includes: barium stomach cancer check, lung cancer x-ray, urinalysis, fecal coliform check, blood pressure, EKG, blood test (cholesterol HDL/LDL, hemoglobin, etc.), height/weight check and a check by a doctor.

I never had, save for kids checks at elementary school, a health check growing up. I am much more likely to go to a doctor here if I think something is wrong-a big difference from my homeland where I avoided doctors because essentially I am cheap and do not have deep pockets.

People marvel at how Japanese live so long. If you could have a doctor tell you what to do every year and just followed 25% of the advice it might add years to ones life. Not to mention the tie in with my second observation about food and its freshness.

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Oops, do you see what is happening here? I am starting to turn this post from an observation of what becomes normal into a comparison between two places and there is always something bad when you do that. Why? Because one side will always be demolished. It’s an unfair thing to compare one country or people against another-unconsciously I was stacking the deck in the Japanese favor. No, Japan is not better than America, just different. So after nearly 20 years what is normal that was not normal before?

I am. I don’t see myself as a foreigner here, even though my face clearly is. After such a long time and coming here relatively young I am a man betwixt nationalities. I relate to Japanese people, but I am not from here. I understand some of what Americans think, but have supplanted it with another set of mistranslated rules.

I have changed as I lived here to the point where I am now comfortable being a resident. Life feels normal in every way, even if I marvel at the different sort of life I am living from the rest of my family. Again not positives, just differences.

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I hope that where ever you may be, you are taking note of the people and things around you. If you are a writer this is an essential point. Observe people, learn and understand them if at all possible. Write it down and relive what you have observed. Pass it on to the next person to savor, to enjoy. Make the normal in your life the extraordinary for others lives. And above all-

Keep writing.

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Yellow Raspberries

A good 6 years ago my wife and I were looking for flowers at a spring festival when I found yellow raspberries for sale. We got them, and a fig tree too, and I planted them in a deep long pot. They grew like crazy and eventually we moved them to our new home where they are growing in a nook of my yard.

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Yellow raspberries you say? Well they are the best tasting raspberries I have ever had, especially when they get to about a peach pink color. I should know raspberries, I grew up eating them in New York, picking them in the abandoned fields and then also in the woods in Maine as a teenager. During the rainy season the humidity shows you just how sweet they are-they will start to mold almost immediately as the sugar content is so high.

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Here in Ishikawa we often see raspberries twice a year, around late May-early June then again when the weather cools in early November some appear. The stalks with bark on them will give you the berries as the green stalks will not produce flowers until they are mature. I am planning to propagate them into big pots and increase the yield next year so I can eat them more often. As raspberries don’t all come ripe at the same time the effect of picking a few every day for a month is what makes them so memorable.

In fact, I can’t wait for my next bite!

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Keep writing, and seeing the flavors of the world.

The Big Question

If you are a follow of this blog you might have noticed my silence for a couple of months. This always boils down to writing-as in I have been writing so much the blog suffers!

I published a new book on Amazon last month titled Gas Station. It is fiction, but really autobiographical of my time spent behind the counter of a gas station convenience store at the end of the 90’s in Maine. You can find in here.

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When I am busy writing a book I get lost in it and progress is made, but the blog articles dry up like grapes in the sun. So let me extract a few points from those raisins to see what I have learned.

Point #1.

Writing is always work. There is just no getting around it. I enjoy writing, along with blogging, but to create good “product” you must really think and make it work. To do this you must re-write, rethink and re-invent.

One example was how I had to reorganize my chapters to be more interesting for the reader. Another lesson is how to use seasons in timing a story to build up tension or release it just as spring releases new leaves.

Point #2.

Good advice can de-rail you sometimes. I started back into exercise by joining my old gym. Everyday I used the exercise bikes and would read during this time. This meant I needed new content to read and decided on finding books that would help me write better.

I found a really good book-How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson. I enjoyed reading it, but the advice-which is good-derailed my current novel that I was moving fairly briskly on.

When you follow advice and it punctures the balloon of your imagination then you need to step back and re-evaluate things. Again, the Snowflake Method is a good one, better than the method I was using (which was a mix of seat-of-my-pants writing and rough outlines), but it’s emphasis on getting the first draft as good as possible derailed the mentality that I had focused on before it, e.g.: Get the first draft out and you are already on your way.

I get stalled when I write, like most everyone, but the ideas usually come around and re-invigorate my project eventually. The Snowflake Method helped me see the importance of conflict and a 3 act structure, but bogged me down in trying to plan out each scene, detail the devil out of each character with a character bible (a good idea, but I am also a person who has other things to do with my life-still I did make one for the main character of my novel using this list on thinkwritten.com).

Advice is good, but it can also push you into the dangerous territory of doubting your own methods. I have been able to process the method now and see that some of the ideas will be VERY valuable to me from now on. However, I also know what was working for me-get it out or you’ll go nuts NOT writing!

Point #3.

Life is busy. My wonderful daughter started elementary school in April, which is the start of the school year in Japan. This has taken a while to get a rhythm down so I have had a little stress from this aspect of life!

The gym is another. Why would I start again after 6 years of absence from the gym? Health of course, but also to be in better shape for my community health check that is coming up for me very soon. I figure the ounce of prevention will save me. Even if it doesn’t I was more active than I would have been and that makes me positive.

Thank you all for reading my blog in the past and I hope to get more posts out in the future. I am still here and as always want to encourage you to write. Don’t be afraid, fear is the death of all good art.

Keep writing.

Posting Author Cards

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If you’re reading my blog for the first time then I would first like to say, Thank You!

Blogging is a great opportunity to talk about life here in Japan and about other things that surprise me. I haven’t been posting many blog articles recently, mainly because of my Daily Video Blog project that posted 315 videos last year (2017).

That was a lot of fun, though it did get in the way of me posting more informative posts I feel at times. Still it was a goal and I did it, which makes me feel good!

So check back soon and see what I’ve posted and thanks again for stopping by. If you are a Japanese reader who got one of my Author Cards thank you even more!