Thursday, January 29, 2015

Gravy

So, I'm sitting here whipping up a lovely (and lazy) dinner of chicken and rice and I'm thinking to myself "I wish I had something to make it a little less dry!" Oh yeah! "GRAVY!" As soon as my chicken finishes cooking in the frying pan I add some water, flour and spices and, as soon as I put the spoon in my mouth for a taste test, I'm suddenly homesick. It's funny how things like that work.

On a gravy related note, mashed potatoes and gravy. Suuupppeeerrr easy way to impress people here. I served it at my Christmas dinner and the Japanese attendees were super ecstatic about it. Apparently the ones who had never been to the U.S., etc. before had never had it! So. No need to work hard if you're looking for a good western food to serve up in Japan! (Or even at one of your first meals together if you've got a home stay student stateside or elsewhere!)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

2 years...

Coming into the new year I realized something that perhaps shouldn't have been as startling as it was. I realized that it has been two years since I first came to Japan.


It's been a little over two years since I submitted this photo to my study abroad program. Two years since the me who was terrified and who didn't know if I could make it in Japan stepped onto a plane. The me that took that step from which there was no looking back.

This was me two years ago after first arriving in Japan.

 
I was SUPER excited to be here.
Like. Over the moon.
EVERYTHING made me interested, curious (sometimes intensely frustrated) and, overall, happy.
More than anything though, I was trying new things. Doing new things. Who I was as a person changed. It wasn't bad because I was changing into the person I was supposed to be. I was becoming more me, so to speak.

Today, this is me.


I look back at the me of two years ago. The one who was balling at the airport as soon as mom and dad couldn't see me anymore. I remember the fears and the uncertainty and I wonder how I ever took that step and got on the plane. (Honestly, it's probably because I'm stubborn as all heck and my family wouldn't have let me NOT get on the plane.)

Even still, I look back at the me who had just arrived. The me who saw nothing but how magical this place was in my eyes. Now, the magic has worn off some. Things aren't always as shiny as they were then, but there is still no place that makes me happier.

For me, Japan has changed the concept of home. When I used to think of home, I would imagine the house where I grew up. The loud noises of my siblings while I was tucked off in some corner trying to read a book uninterrupted. I would think of the yard with the pool that I admittedly stopped using as I grew up and the garden that literally sprang up where there was once only blackberry bushes. That used to be home. That one, specific place.

Now, when I think about home, that idea has changed. It is no longer synonymous with family, or the house I grew up in. Home is the place where I am happy and content, even if I'm having a horrible, horrible day, at the end of the day, there is nowhere else I would rather be. As long as I am in this country, I think, I am home. Home is where the heart is and I found my heart.

I don't think it was a concept that the me of two years ago would have understood. There are many things about the person I am now that that me wouldn't understand. (Yes me of two years ago. I like beer. Get over it.) I have changed and I will continue changing until I'm the most me I can possibly be. I am also home. That feeling, more than anything is the most important thing in the world to me because it allows me to fully be me.

I think that every person should try to find this feeling. Try to find the place you can call home. For you, home might be being with a certain person. It might always mean that place where you grew up. For some of us, however, we need to look a little bit farther. Stretch your wings.

So, you have homework this year. Yes, I can do that, I'm a teacher. Yes, it might be difficult. No, it's not impossible. I want you to look at where you are. Ask yourself one question and be totally, 100% honest with yourself. Don't second guess yourself, don't make excuses. Answer honestly, yes or no.

Are you home? If your answer is yes, then blessed be your life. If your answer is no, you have some searching to do. Look for that place. Even if you don't find it this year. Look for the person or the place that is home to you. Stretch your wings. It's scary, the scariest thing you've ever done, to step outside your comfort zone. To step into the unknown, not knowing if you will succeed or fail. But sometimes you have to push your boundaries to discover who you really are and to be able to find that place you call home.

Monday, January 5, 2015

To the Supermarket!

I’m no stranger to the shopping game. It’s been a part of my existence since I was a wide eyed, most likely drooling, baby. Frequent trips to the store with mom growing up led me to be confident in my shopping abilities. Moving out after high school and being on my own on a food stamp budget (I went to school and worked, but never had enough to make ends meet) I thought I was pretty good at grocery shopping. I could make $200 worth of food last an entire month 90% of the time.
When I came to Japan last year though, it was a whole different ball game. I remember walking into the grocery store for the first time on my own. My friend was letting me stay with her and I wanted to surprise her with dinner when she came home. A simple trip to the super market a few blocks away should be easy, right?
No, no it wasn’t.
I don’t think I ever wrote to you guys on this particular topic, but let me tell you. It was a nightmare. I started with fruits and vegetables. At least I knew what those were, right? Well. At least most of them? Maybe half of them. Of the half I did know most of them I couldn’t afford. Sticker shock set in almost immediately, so I hurried off to other areas of the store.
I must have stared at the walls of food like an idiot for at least an hour. I knew that these things in front of me were used to make food one way or another. However, I was so utterly lost I think I almost broke down in the store my first trip. And my second. And my third. After a while, it got better, but those first trips left me feeling so hopeless.
No amount of knowing what a tamanegi (onion) or ninjin (carrot) was was going to help me figure out the rest of the food in the store. It didn’t matter that I had studied Japanese for 3 years and could hold a basic conversation. Staring at the grocery store aisles, I was lost. Flabbergasted. Utterly alone. I felt like a lost child amidst the countless colorfully packaged boxes.
I still remember that sometimes when I go to the store now. I’m not as much of a stranger to the grocery store and I can usually read packages without a lot of effort these days. But at first, not know what was what, or where to find anything or even how to cook it if I DID buy it, was a huge problem. I’ve recently made a new friend who is going through this exact same thing. He keeps worrying he’s going to bring home dog food.
              My words of advice? There are none. It’s every man for himself. Good luck. Take a friend with you and they can point things out and eventually you’ll get the hang of it. Eventually, I want to post a few recipes for you guys, including pictures of the packaging, so that you can maybe find your way around the grocery store a bit better. Or if nothing else, show the picture to someone and they can point you in the right direction.
              If you are having problems finding food at the grocery store in Japan, or simply don’t know what to look for once you get there, I have a website to recommend.
              Cookpad (no, not sponsored or anything, just a website recommended by almost every person I know on the JET program). It has real Japanese recipes which (if you use the English side of the site) have been translated from their original recipes for you. The best part is, since the recipes have been translated directly from Japanese ones, you should be able to easily find all the ingredients at your local supermarket. However, if you don’t know any Japanese/how to ask “Where is this?” then you might still be in trouble, but if you master the simple “X  wa doko ni arimasu ka” question, you’ll be a pro in no time.

              The other good thing about this site is its recipes are designed with the Japanese kitchen in mind. No calling for American sized ovens. No calling for that thing you don’t have and are entirely unable to buy in this country. Which makes it a fantastic source any day of the week. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year!

Obligatory post, welcome to 2015!

Mini-Japanese lesson.

開けましておめでとうございます!
Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu!
Happy New Year!


Or in the kind of "slang" way young people sometimes use,

開けおめ!
Ake ome!