Thursday, March 27, 2014

Don't give up on a blog and other ramblings

We now have definitive plans to move back to California in December.   And now I am really regretting not keeping up with this blog.  I pretty much started using Facebook as my blog but Facebook is full of a lot of fluff and likes and memes.  Here is where I was supposed to put my deep thoughts.  My insights into living overseas with two children.

It is spring break.  We now live in Setagaya, Tokyo.  My daughter goes to an International School.  My son goes to a Japanese school and will start third grade in a week.

I decided to blog because I realized I had something to say about how long to live in Japan in general.  Others have said this but at some point you realize you are either going to dig in for the long haul and put real roots down or you are going to go back.  Roots are important.  For me, that would have meant buying a house.  Some people rent their whole lives but for people who like to tinker with their houses or for someone like me who wants to garden ALL THE TIME, renting leaves a hole.

I guess the other important thing, piece of advice is, don't come for a year.  It will be a year where you feel clueless most of the time, I mean like 90% of the time.  To get to the 80% level, you need to live here a couple of years.  To get past that you need to learn Japanese and learn it well.  Don't take a class once a week.  Don't think you will study the rest of the week on your own.   I would take a class (many are free and run by volunteers) and get a private tutor.

 Don't live in a neighborhood filled with other foreigners where the people in the stores speak English so you don't have to learn Japanese.  Throw yourself into a real neighborhood as if you were never going back.  Make friends.  Ask for help.  Put your kids in Yochien if they are the right age.  Did I say ask for help?  You have to.  Reach out, then reach out again, and again.  You will feel snubbed.  Reach out again.

Get out of dodge.  I mean out.  Downtown Tokyo is not Japan Japan.  Go to the places that aren't in the overview books for tourists.  If you are in Tokyo, get lost. Go to random train stops and explore.  Search for locations in Google and words of things that interest you and you will find blogs that tell you about local attractions that aren't in the major books.  I found this temple, turns out the only one in Tokyo, that has something so cool, I am not going to tell you about it.  If you get to the point where you can read Japanese, better than I can, there are regional magazines that have lots of cool walking tours.  Setagaya has a magazine.  Yokohama has a magazine.  I browse through them at the doctor's office.  Lots of pretty pictures and sometimes maps I can figure out the location.  And lots of hidden gems.

Parks.  I am a map head.  I love maps.  I manage to use my Japanese navi and its maps pretty well.  Sometimes I just head for the big green areas on the map and hope for a good park. (Ok, not so much in Tokyo but in Kanagawa).  Most parks have paid parking and are easier to drive to than take public transit.  I wound up knowing more parks than most of my Japanese friends.  As a parent parks are your friends.  In Tokyo, my favorite is Nogawa Park.  We will drive an hour to get there we like it so much.  Look for "Forest" parks if you like wilder parks.  Both Tokyo and Yokohama have websites with lists of all the parks and in English.  With that in mind, we are off to a park to see the cherry blossoms.  I don't know which park.  I am just going to head towards some green on my navi.

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