Restroom

I have recently decided that because this blog is primarily followed by my own family and friends, who, unlike me, do not spend hours reading about life in Japan via expat blogs on a daily basis, I should cover some things that one might take for granted until they spend some time abroad. Everyday things that you might have to think twice about, or even relearn, because they are done differently in your new home.

Today I am going to talk a bit about toilets in Japan.

Yes, toilets. Public bathrooms are plentiful in Japan, and can even be found in playgrounds. Rarely do I fret if we leave home and Ansel needs a bathroom, because one is almost always within a moment’s reach. Back at home in the U.S., if we were at the playground and found ourselves needing to use a restroom, we would have to rush home, guiltily waddle into a retail establishment and sneak into their restroom (ask them for a key, or even buy something first), or find a bush. I am grateful to be living in a place where bathrooms can be found just about everywhere, especially as a mother of a young child who was still being potty trained when I arrived. Many public women’s restrooms even have a small urinal for young male children to use when accompanying mom in the bathroom. Some have small toilets for kids.

Child's Urinal

Child’s Urinal

Bathrooms are different here than they are in the United States.

When I enter a public restroom and find a toilet like this, I exhale a great sigh of relief

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Western Toilet

Versus one like this

Squat toilet

Squat toilet

I have never been in a house with a squat toilet, but I know they exist. In public restrooms, however, you find both (often within the same restroom). Sometimes the door is marked “Western Toilet” or “Squat Toilet,” sometimes it is not. Squat toilets are fine, don’t get me wrong. I have heard of the wonderful health benefits associated with using squat toilets because of correct body positioning and such, but until you are trying to balance over one of these wearing a large winter jacket, heels, and/or other layers while holding several bags that you do not want to touch the urine soaked floor, you might hold them in higher regard than I do.

Western toilets can be quite complicated in Japan.

Control Panel

Control Panel

This toilet has a washlet bidet. This device heats the seat and has self-cleaning bidet functions that are user controlled. You can look at Japanese toilets on Youtube for what I am sure will be hours of people trying to figure these controls out and getting sprayed by spitting toilets. In reality, they aren’t that complicated (just don’t push any buttons while standing and you will be fine). Some of them even have a ‘powerful deodorizer’ button.

Most bathroom stalls have a ‘flushing sound’ button (some are automatic and go off the entire time you are in there for your convenience) that allows users to ‘go’ discretely. They look like this:

Flushing Sound

Flushing Sound

I have not encountered a bathroom in Japan that has warm water at the hand washing sink. Even the bathroom in my home has a cold water basin.

Public Bathroom Sink

Public Bathroom Sink

Restrooms rarely have paper towels for hand drying, though they do sometimes have hand dryers that blow only cold air. People carry their own hand towels for this reason, and there are even entire stores devoted to selling them. Some people carry an ordinary cloth around, but with designer towels by Cath Kidson, Louis Vuitton, Disney, and Studio Ghibli (just to name a few), there are many options to choose from.

My favorite hand towel

My favorite hand towel

In addition to this, ‘family restrooms’ can often be found outside of the typical men’s and women’s restrooms, and are designed to be used by handicap persons and families alike. Sometimes these rooms contain large pull down beds for dressing babies and young children, resting, or what ever one might do with a weird bed in a public bathroom. These restrooms are usually pretty clean, sometimes not so much, but never disgusting (in my experience).

So there you have it: more than you ever cared to know about restrooms in Japan! I could probably talk more about this, but I am not sure any of you care enough about toilets to even read this far 🙂

If there is something that you want to know about life in Japan, please let me know in the comments (here or on facebook) and I will consider posting about it. I hope to record my daily bicycle ride from home to Ansel’s school for you all soon so that I can talk a bit about riding a bicycle in Fukuoka.

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Year End Adventures

It has been so long since my last post that I don’t really know where to begin. Things got really busy toward the end of November because I was wrapped up with grad school applications. It felt like as soon as I turned them in the holiday season was underway and I became wrapped up in that as well. We have all had the past week off to decompress and ring in the New Year. I am excited to get back to work on my project this week when we all go back to our routines. My research took a back seat to graduate school applications, and I feel like I need to buckle down on my research on the history of Koseki so that I can start examining films (the bulk of my project). In November I started working with a Japanese language tutor who teaches Japanese language at the University of Fukuoka. Every Friday Chie-san and I meet at Starbucks in Tenjin for coffee, conversation, and Japanese lessons. I really enjoy our lessons and feel that my understanding of Japanese has improved significantly since we began. I still have a long way to go, but I finally feel that I am on the right path.

November:

Here are a few shots from the ‘Hakata Light Up Walk’ that I attended with my advisor and a couple of classmates. The shrines are illuminated, highlighting the beautiful colors of the autumn leaves and the manicured landscapes. The weather was a little chilly, so we warmed up with udon noodles and warm adzuki sweets from the outdoor stalls about halfway through our walk. It was a great opportunity to go out with some classmates and to learn about the history of the area from my advisor. At Kushida Shrine, a Shinto shrine in Hakata, I learned that the giant stones anchored beside one of the oldest trees in Japan were set there by the Mongols during their invasion of Japan in the 1200’s. The Ginko tree to which they anchored is giant and well cared for, with beams supporting its heavy branches. My camera battery died before I got the chance to take a picture, but I will add one when I get the chance to go back. Similarly, I have no pictures of myself with my advisor and classmates, but will ask my advisor for permission to add his photograph of us when I get the chance.

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From the local Hakata history museum

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When entering Kushida Shrine, everyone was handed a lantern. Occasionally, all of the lanterns would switch colors at the same time, syncing with the colors of the shrine illuminations.

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Hakata Shrine Illumination

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Gorgeous garden illumination

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Autumn leaves

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Amazing patchwork raking

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Kushida Shrine Illumination

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Mikoshi at Kushida Shrine

We initially planned a camping trip to Mount Aso for Thanksgiving weekend, but changed our minds because of the rain. This is probably fortunate because Mount Aso was actually experiencing volcanic activity during that weekend (I later discovered), so we have decided to postpone that trip until the spring. Instead, we rented a car and went to Kurokawa Onsen, a popular hot spring village in the mountain town of Minamioguni-machi, two hours west of Fukuoka. We stopped in the town of Hita along the way and saw some of the sights.

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Boiling river at Kurokawa Onsen

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Private family bath. The water was almost boiling at 80º celsius. Outside of this onsen eggs were placed in the stream that fed this bath to boil.

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Hita rest stop

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Hita

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Hita

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Hita

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Tunnel

 December:

We celebrated Sam’s 30th birthday with karaoke. Fukuoka is incredibly child friendly (I have probably mentioned this before) and the karaoke establishments offer family rooms that have kid’s corners, complete with toys and cartoons. We ordered food, had a few beers, and sang for hours.

The holidays were quiet, but we had a good time together. We ate Christmas cake, played with legos, watched movies, and ate a lot of food. Here are some pictures leading up to the New Year.

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He might be singing Type O Negative’s Christian Woman… or Billy Idol… I don’t recall

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Ansel taking a break from rocking out

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Oh microscopic Christmas tree

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Ansel receives a gift from Ami-Obachan in Shizuoka

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At Canal City

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Illuminations at Umi No Naka Michi

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Illuminations at Umi No Naka Michi

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Illuminations at Umi No Naka Michi

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Lanterns at Umi no Naka Michi This huge area was covered in lanterns that form pictures of sea creatures. It was a maze-like design that people were walking through. Ansel had a blast running through, jumping over, and crashing into these…

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Christmas

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Christmas Cake – a Japanese tradition

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Hakata City Christmas lights

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Hakata City Christmas lights

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Hakata City Christmas lights

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Hakata City Christmas lights

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Happy Holidays!

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Christmas day

As always, I am hoping to keep up with this more consistently so that I might actually be able to write on some of these things in greater depth and not have such long winded posts, but time will tell I suppose.

Happy New Year!

Settling in to routines

I am somewhat surprised that it has been almost a month since my last post, but then again we have settled in quite a bit, and with a daily routine and work to do, time has a way of condensing under such conditions.

I have been going to school four days a week. I have one class every day except for Thursdays, usually Japanese language, but I am also taking a course on Japanese culture, sociology, and film. I spend the rest of the day doing research independently (reading) and drinking coffee until I pick up Ansel from hoikuen (Japanese Pre-school) at 2:30. On Thursdays I see a dentist. Yes, on Thursdays. Every single Thursday for hours and hours. It has been time-consuming, but I am taking care of some problems that I have had for a long time and the work is good, and so is the price (which contradicts all of the negative things I have heard about dentistry in Japan).

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This is not my dentist… but the sign is pretty good.

Heading to Hoikuen for the first time.

Heading to Hoikuen for the first time.

Ansel is going to hoikuen every day from 9am to 2:30pm. It has been a bit of an adjustment for him, going from spending the entire day with either Sam or I, to being in a school where Japanese is spoken exclusively. He had a hard time at first, and we decided to shorten his day because of this, but he seems to be enjoying his time there. The hoikuen is located on the campus of Kyushu University, so the location is convenient. The bicycle ride takes a little over 20 minutes when I am riding with Ansel on the back (probably less for Sam). When I pick him up every day we find a playground to have lunch in nearby. Hoikuen is free in Japan if both parents are working or are in school (!!), so in order for Ansel to qualify I had to fill out piles of paperwork and make many trips to the local government office, and Sam had one month to find a part-time job, which he accomplished quite quickly: he is teaching English to preschoolers for a company that is new to Fukuoka (from Tokyo). He gets to sing songs, dance, and wear a suit and tie (among other things, I am sure).

Putting shoes away at Hoikuen.

Putting shoes away at Hoikuen.

Hoikuen - The slide

Hoikuen – The slide

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Rainy Day

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Bento Lunch after school

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IMG_6105 Lunch at quasi-abandoned cafe at Hakozaki Campus

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More shots of Cafe

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Hakozaki

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While we were having lunch on this particular day an older fellow approached us and asked if we would be interested in checking out his butterfly research museum… of course!

The butterflies were absolutely amazing, though I got more pictures of the taxidermy...

The butterflies were absolutely amazing, though I got more pictures of the taxidermy…

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He said this boar thing was caught on campus (the big one)

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Some more pictures from the month:

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From the Hakata Lantern Festival:

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Navigation

While riding through town I often affix a glance a moment too long on a sign as I am am passing by. As I gradually decode the meaning behind the combination of symbols, I am forced to relocate my gaze to the road or sidewalk before I even complete the task. From this point, I am once again catapulted into yet another mode of translation: navigation. Bicycles, pedestrians, motorcycles, and cars share the winding streets and sidewalks of Fukuoka, and if I let myself get caught up in translation, I miss something, somewhere. Sometimes something important, like the edge of the sidewalk disappearing, and sometimes it is just a sign for yet another place to get your suit dry cleaned. IMG_5779This is how it feels to navigate right now. Culturally, physically, linguistically. They are all connected anyways. I am riding a bicycle at full speed down crowded and winding street looking for a place to buy a coffee and trying not to run anyone over. Or, I am looking for the government office. Or I am trying to explain to the person behind the counter that I already got my Zairyu card stamped and that I just have to submit my son’s birth certificate, for a half an hour. It is all part of the process, I know. I am navigating for Sam and Ansel as well. I am a partially literate navigator who can barely speak and half understands. Sometimes it is exciting, but other times it can be exhausting. Translation requires a lot of brain space. I am tired at the end of the day from putting things together and taking them apart and doing the kind of work that my brain hasn’t done since I was a small child. I am grateful for technology that allows Sam to scan the text on the bottles in the grocery store and translates them to English for him (WeGo, for those of you who might need this). I am grateful for google maps. Remember how I did this in Tokyo in 2010 without a smart phone? I don’t.

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Kyushu University

I had my orientation at Kyushu University earlier this week and met myadvisor for the first time. The orientation was, well, an orientation. I am not the only American entering Kyushu University this semester, though I have yet to meet any. I have met a lot of people from all over the world though. My advisor is kind and patient and speaks to me in English and in Japanese. I am eager to start my Japanese language classes and feel wholly unprepared to talk about my research in Japanese, at all, whatsoever. I haven’t had much difficulty just chatting a bit here and there though. Today, Sam, Ansel, and I were hanging around in a park by the bay when we were offered beers and were invited to a barbecue with a group of folks whose children had taken a liking to Ansel. I didn’t understand everything that was said, but I was able to talk a bit and had a good time. It was a nice break from interacting with bureaucrats, of which I have been doing a lot of these days. As far as research goes, I have been adjusting my research plan and will likely attach a working draft when I feel it has taken some shape. Observation wise, it has been interesting to see how many involved fathers I see in the playgrounds and stores of Kashiihama; baby-wearing, hand-holding, and affectionate fathers can often be seen alone with their children. A contrast to the ‘kibishi otousan’ (strict father) or largely absent ‘sarariman’ (salaryman) that is often associated with Japanese family life. On the other hand, there is Sam, who came here with me with the sole intention of taking care of Ansel. I am often asked, “So, what exactly is your husband doing while you are at school?” and my response has caused surprise, “Oh my! Really?!” The American in me immediately goes to respond, “Well he helped out in the U.S. too, it is quite common there for men and women to share household and childrearing responsibilities,” but I have found it best to hold my tongue. I don’t want to be mistaken and accidentally give the impression that I am passing judgement, so a “sou desu ne,” seems to round out the conversation just fine. Navigation.IMG_5797

The Transitional Phase

It has been some time since my last post, but I am hoping to post at least once per week from this point forward. Daily updates would be ideal though, as they are an excellent way for me to keep track of my activities here for my monthly Fulbright reports.

A summary of the past few weeks:

We arrived in Tokyo on September 8th, and spent 8 days in an airbnb in Kanamachi, Tokyo. It was an excellent place to acclimate to life here, it was easy to get around, there was room for us to spread out and adjust to the time change, and we had some time to spend with my husband’s relatives who lived about 20 minutes away by train. We became a bit attached to the place and the neighborhood after having left our home in Boston at the end of August that we felt a little sad when we headed to the Asia Center of Japan hotel on the 16th.

A few pictures from the Kanamachi period

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On September 16th we headed to the Hotel Asia Center of Japan in Akasaka, Tokyo for the Fulbright orientation. Staying in a hotel with a toddler is difficult for a number of reasons, but that aside, the Fulbright orientation was a lot of fun. I met so many interesting people at the banquet dinner and have never been in a room with so many people who share my interests. It was amazing. The orientation was a great way kick off the experience, and really got me ready to begin my research. Between my husband’s relatives in Tokyo and the Japan-U.S. Educational Commission, I feel like I have a supportive family in Japan and feel at home. For this reason, leaving Tokyo was a little sad, though I was excited to get settled in Fukuoka. We left on the 20th by plane.

Some pictures from the Akasaka period

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Family

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Fulbright

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Tokyo Skytree

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Hotel Asia Center of Japan

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From September 20th -24th, we were in another airbnb in Chuo, Fukuoka. The apartment was nice, but it was a studio and therefore was as difficult as the hotel was. The neighborhood was really cool though, with an international grocery store, parks nearby, cafes, restaurants, shopping. Adjusting to Fukuoka was a little difficult all around actually. It isn’t as much of an international city as Tokyo is, there is less English, and so my husband (who speaks very little Japanese) was shy to go out on his own at first. It is less dense here too, and we stand out a bit more. The weather here is nicer than Tokyo though, as we have a nice ocean breeze cooling things down.

Some pictures from the Chuo period

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Fukuoka Tower, tallest building in Kyushu

Fukuoka Tower, tallest building in Kyushu

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airbnb

airbnb

View from the balcony

View from the balcony 

Moving in to our apartment came with a whirlwind of conflicting emotions. First off, I was warned that university housing can be a little, well, flat, but this was just kind of gross. The walls were moldy. The neighborhood was suburban. There were no mom and pop shops lining the streets around here. Instead, a large mega mall housed every kind of retail establishment you could think of. Rows of apartment buildings seem to go on for miles and miles, and in order to get to Fukuoka, Higashi-ku, Kashiihama, you have to pass miles of industrial ports. I was sad to leave the city on the other side of this port, but even worse, I was afraid that our apartment was unfit for living in. After so much transition, we were eager to settle down and didn’t want to hunt for an apartment again. After 24 hours of cleaning, shopping, and exploring the neighborhood by bicycle, we decided to stay. The apartment feels like home already. We are surrounded by green spaces, bike paths, playgrounds, and are just a five minute walk from the ocean. We found some more urban areas nearby too (investing in bicycles has paid off immensely), and it seems easy enough to ride downtown (between 30 and 40 minutes would be my guess). After riding in Boston for years, a half hour bike ride is a piece of cake.

Some shots from the Kashiihama period to date

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Before we got the couch

Before we got the couch

Ansel's room

Ansel’s room

Dining room

Dining room

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Just nearby

Just nearby

Our deep bathtub

Our deep bathtub 

Umi no Nakamichi Park

Umi no Nakamichi Park

Umi no Nakamichi Park

Umi no Nakamichi Park

Umi no Nakamichi Park

Umi no Nakamichi Park

Today, we are planning on biking out to the Kyushu University Campus so that I can get there on time for my orientation tomorrow without getting lost along the way. We also have to submit the rest of our paperwork to the local government office so that our residence in Fukuoka is officially recognized and our health insurance applications go through without a problem. I have a meeting set up with my advisor for thursday and plan on studying as much polite Japanese as I possibly can before we meet for the first time. This neighborhood seems like an excellent place to research Japanese family life; it is chock full of children! I am hoping Ansel can make some friends and am looking into preschool.

More soon!

 

And so on…

This is getting real.

We got our visas today. I was really, really worried about this part for some reason. So much so, that I have had a knot in my chest for much of the week. I had heard a horror story on the blogosphere about a Fulbright recipient not getting their visa for several months, missing her flight and the bulk of her time wherever she was going, and forfeiting her grant because of this. It made me nervous.

I have to admit that I am a bit superstitious, the root of which may be from a combination of having a superstitious (cough, Italian, cough) family and that I probably lack self-confidence and/or feelings of worth. Reasonable or no, I often fear that at any moment the ball will drop and the things that I look forward to and/or love will be taken away in an instant. I fully realize that this adds to my anxiety and is a complete waste of my time and energy. As the saying goes, ‘what will be, will be,’ so why worry? It is not that I feel unworthy, it is that I feel fortunate. I feel grateful. And I realize that nothing is guaranteed and no person is deserved in life. Last year when I was at the Federal building in downtown Boston visiting the Japanese Consulate, I was given a slip of paper stating that I had not passed the advanced Japanese exam and therefore would not be interviewed for the Monbukagakusho scholarship. After months of preparations and passing stages, with only a small a slip of paper in hand, the ball had dropped. And, even though I was deflated, I was not defeated. I took a deep breath and I applied for a Fulbright Fellowship. And, well, whadya know? I walked out of the Consulate today. This time with visas. For three.

Now my plane just has to land… and and that little thing about actually speaking Japanese when I get there. No big deal, right?

My home is in boxes, many of which will be moved over the weekend. We leave in about three weeks. 頑張ります。

Down to the wire

Reality is starting to settle in as my apartment empties and I begin to check items off of my list.
Flight: check.
Visa application submitted: check.
As of today, actually. I was becoming nervous about applying so late, after tickets are purchased even, but was told that it could be picked up on Friday.
Arrangements made for Tokyo: check.
Goodbye parties scheduled: check.
-Yes, that was plural-
This has probably been the most social summer I have ever had, and even though I am enjoying passing this state of limbo with friends and family, I am eager to get to some state of normalcy so that I might have the energy to focus on my work and my family and learning the language I am going to be speaking for the next ten months. Normalcy being just the three of us and a routine of some sort. Three and a half whirlwind weeks to go and we will be on our way.

Fukuoka

I very recently learned that I will be affiliated with Kyushu University in Fukuoka Japan. I have to admit that Fukuoka wasn’t where I had imagined myself going, but now that I have learned a bit about the city and the university, I could not be happier. London’s Monacle Magazine ranked Fukuoka the 10th best city in the world, and just knowing that it was chosen for its green spaces and number of cyclists makes me happy to be headed there (I bicycle in Boston and am looking forward to riding in Japan). I have also been watching videos on Hakata-ben (Fukuoka dialect), which doesn’t seem too difficult (embedded below, for those who might be interested). I am also excited about the possibility of visiting Busan, South Korea while we are there, as it is a relatively short and inexpensive ferry ride from Fukuoka; I’ve already purchased a Korean phrasebook, just in case.

At this point in the Fulbright process, I am officially applying to Kyushu University (preparing my research plan and taking care of formalities). I have yet to apply for my visa, which was making me a bit nervous, but I have been assured that the process in fairly uncomplicated and that it should begin in a week or so. I have requested that we arrive in Tokyo between the 8th and the 10th, so that my family has a chance to acclimate before I begin attending the Fulbright conference in Tokyo around the 16th, and so that we have time to catch up with my husband’s relatives in Tokyo. We should be making our way to Fukuoka on the 24th, where I am hoping to be placed in university housing.

For now, we are packing up our apartment, seeing family and friends, and tying up loose ends. Much to do with about six weeks left to go.

Patience

The primary purpose of this blog is to track my research and experiences as a Fulbright Fellow in Japan, but I also think it may be a helpful reference for others interested in pursuing a Fulbright Fellowship in Japan, or in general. I have found blogs by other Fulbright Fellows that have given me an idea of what I might be able to expect when I arrive in Japan come September, but as a non-traditional student who will be accompanied by a spouse and toddler, I have found few (no) others who can relate to me the Fulbright experience with an accompanying family in Japan. To give a better sense of who I am and where I come from, I’ve provided a link to my Personal Statement.

The Fulbright application process requires a lot of patience. Ridiculous amounts of patience, actually. My application was submitted in October 2013, and I was informed of my selection on April 4th. I turned in the requested forms immediately, and within one week of receipt of the medical history forms, I had them completed and submitted. It took about four weeks for the medical clearance to go through, and I finally got word last night that I am now an official Fulbright Fellow. I have yet to be placed at a university, and therefore do not yet know whether I will be living in university housing or will have to search for an apartment on my own. I am expected to arrive in Tokyo on September 15th for a four day orientation, but am not sure if this means that I will be in Japan on September 1st, or if I will be living in a hotel with my family until October 1st.

The logistics of arranging such a move with a family in tow are pretty much ridiculous. I am forfeiting my unbelievably cheap apartment in Boston, in which I have resided for 6 years, because I will be applying to graduate programs all over the U.S. (while I am in Japan), and have no clue where we will be calling home after our adventure abroad. This is a little scary, but I am trying to trust the process (and am debating finding a sublet for my cheap (read: dilapidated) apartment just in case I get in to Harvard -Yes, I said that). There is a lot to do before we take off; in order to have all of our documentation in order, I have married my partner of almost 11 years (with whom I share a three year old son), and am planning a ‘blessing’ ceremony with family and friends in July, after I take the GRE’s and finish my statements for graduate school applications. Oh, and I have to study Japanese. A lot.

It will probably be some time before I start posting on the regular, and though I do intend to use this blog to track my research progress, I am sure I will be touching on all of my experiences with Fulbright, in Japan, and with my family.

I would be happy to offer advice to others who are interested in applying for a Fulbright Fellowship, especially those who have taken the non-traditional route and are looking for some encouragement.