Friday, November 30, 2012

Mission: Boil water

When you suddenly become totally illiterate AND can't speak or understand the language, the most basic tasks get crazy complicated. And annoying. And hazardous. Annnnnd hilarious.

For example, I wanted a cup of tea last night. Simple. Until I met the talking stove. Oh, and I named her Yoko Ohno, just fyi. We're trying to improve our relationship, but I'm keeping my expectations low. Anyway, I figured this you should see for

I was so excited about my cup of tea that I forgot to go back and add that, YES, it did work! I'm still not entirely sure what I did, or what any of the buttons actually do, and I really wonder about her long instructions...she's a chatty little thing!! But I kicked back in my jammies and had the most American cup of tea EVER to celebrate my success:

Amerricuh. That's his "excited" face.
But Yoko has a whole house full of friends:

Microwave. Rice vs. shrimp? I don't know. I just stay close by and check my food every 20 seconds.

Rice cooker. This could end very badly.

Washing machine. Naming FAIL. Obviously you need to come to me for English lessons. And would some diagrams kill you?

The only part in English is the obvious part. Yes, this is for laundry, and yes, it is DEFINITELY Japanese.

The iron...which is going to be my fast friend, now that I have to wear dress shirts every day. I guessed about the settings, and promptly burned a hole through the test cloth. They don't mess around.


 And today I've expanded into mystery toiletries...I just hope this is handsoap:

I picked this one because of the frogs. Because what other criteria should I be using?
It does me good to bumble around all clueless, right? Builds character? You know what? No. It's just ENTERTAINING is what it is. Although if I could avoid household explosions or burning holes in my pants, that'd be good too. And I would REALLY like to keep my eyebrows! Just sayin'. But for now, at least I have my tea, and that's plenty. Me and Yoko will get it'll see. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

When even brushing your teeth gets interesting

I know you're dying to know: yes, I got my luggage. And by again applying a little monkey strength, I managed to haul all 3 of those behemoths up a narrow, twisty staircase to my room on the second floor. So I'm all settled in! Home sweet home! For at least this month...then we'll see what gem craigslist has to offer.

And I'm sure you're also dying to know that I am now sleeping on the proper schedule. But it is SO WEIRD that your body just KNOWS. For example, every evening about from about 5-7pm, which is 3-5am back home, a little voice inside screams "YOU THINK YOU CAN FOOL US WITH THESE SO-CALLED 'CLOCKS???' SLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!!!!" and it is PAINFUL to stay awake. But around 8pm, it fades, and I make it to bedtime just fine. Although I just watched the pilot of "American Horror Story" and I don't know that I want to turn the lights off tonight. Or ever. Mistake, that was. Anyway, I digress. I'm sleeping...yay!

I've had a very productive first few days. I registered as an alien (still so awesome), signed up for health insurance (thanks, Japan!), got a cell phone (with a two year contract? Eep!), opened a bank account (there are no such thing as checks?), went grocery shopping (or went to the store and stared at a lot of things that made no sense to me and brought home bananas and Cheetos), and got all moved in to the guest house (which would make for the quietest, most boring Real World ever, which is such a good thing). Each one of these items felt like a major accomplishment, and it really made me wish that high-fives were a little more universal. I need to make that happen. That's it...I'm bringing the high-five to Japan.  

Hey, wanna see my room?
Good thing we don't wear shoes in the house or  I'd definitely bash my head

Love the rice paper window screens

And the tatami mat flooring

And in the closet: a plastic magenta dresser - very traditional.

Closet is a little on the short side...or my pants are a little on the long side. Or both.

It works out well that I've always liked sitting on the floor

Yes, I brought my Hello Kitty snuggie

I feel like it's the Japanese version of my college dorm room

There's room for at least 4 Japanese people to live in that closet...6 if I launch them up to the top compartments too.

So that's my 104 square feet. It's more than enough for me, and very cozy, comfy, and most importantly for this Florida girl: WARM.

You know what else? I love that I already have material for an essay entitled "How a Nuclear Meltdown Made Me Dance While I Brush My Teeth." You'd read it, right? So when I checked in, they included a speech about saving energy, given the closing of nuclear power plants after the earthquake last year here in Japan. So to conserve energy, the common areas of the house have automatic lights with motion detectors. However, they are not very sensitive, so you have to move A LOT for the lights to know you are there. The first time I was brushing my teeth in the bathroom, the lights went off every ten seconds. Apparently I was not brushing vigorously enough. And who actually MOVES when they're sitting on the toilet? Well, if you don't want to sit in the dark, you better figure something out. Take a moment and let your imagination go. Yup, it's hilarious. I worry though that I will get used to moving around so much all the time that when I move out in a month, my next roommates will think I'm tweaking on crystal meth or something.

Speaking of's here! Next time I'll tell you about the talking stove.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Greetings from the future! (Unless you're in Japan too, then Hi!)

It is 5am and I am sitting in my Tokyo hotel room watching a Japanese infomercial for a water cooler. I can't look away! It's genius! And look...that woman is so happy she's dancing! Even babies are happier! Every sip is like reaching the peak of Mount Fuji! It's changing their lives!!!

Hi. So yes, I MADE IT!!! I'm here!!!!

Okay, so I got all of my suitcases down to under 70 pounds (68, 68.5, and 69 pounds, thank you very much!), and conveniently was met at the curb by a porter at the Miami airport who took them and checked them in, but not without a judgmental glare as he hefted each one.
Dude, don't look at me like that. Thank me for the free workout. No, I take that back, the workout I PAID YOU FOR.

I had been very concerned about how I would get my luggage from the airport to my guest house, and did a lot of research on luggage delivery services and worked all that out, so I breathed a sigh of relief and felt very relaxed about it once American Airlines took charge of my bags. It wasn't until about an hour before landing in Tokyo that I realized that I would have to collect my bags before clearing customs, and somehow get nearly 250 pounds of luggage (let's not forget my 2 carry-on items) onto a small luggage cart and maneuver it all through the airport myself to actually get to the luggage delivery service counter. Somehow missed that step in my planning...oopsie! But thank God I am good at looking helpless and that chivalry is alive and well in Japan. Once everything was on the cart, I relied on a little bit of magic my former roomie and I like to call MONKEY STRENGTH to get through the airport. And I made it. And I only ran into like 6 people. And everyone is so polite here that they all apologized profusely to ME. No one was bleeding, so I think they're okay. I hope.

Now here's a little secret: I may have lied to the luggage delivery people about having a Japanese phone number. They wouldn't take my bags without one, so I might have given them A phone number, but it's definitely not MY phone number. I opted to push the delivery date back a day to give myself time to go get a Japanese cell phone, and figure I will just call the delivery service once I have it and give it to them. Silly clueless American! Doesn't even know her own phone number!?! Psh!

So, speaking of clueless, I'd like to address this next portion to the man sitting in front of me on the plane.

Dear Sir:

If you’re on an airplane full of people and are wearing noise canceling headphones, don’t think just ‘cause you can’t hear your own farts, the rest of us can’t. Do us all a favor, man.

Love, Risa
A great idea that quite literally backfired. But once I put mine on, turns out I didn't care if he was farting or not. They really need to put that in the marketing materials!

Travelling allows you to meet all kinds of people! It's so great!

To say my life has suddenly become completely surreal is an understatement. On the plane I had to keep telling myself, "This plane will land in Japan. JAPAN." You would think actually being here would make it more real, but so far it still feels dreamlike. It's going to take a while to sink in. I'll keep you posted.

So far I've only been in the airport, the airport "limobus," and my hotel, but here are some pics to keep you vicariously here with me:

My last view of the US. After this, I pulled the shade and settled in for a movie marathon. Priorities!
For when your ions are in low supply.

Haha, fooled you! I'm in Paris! Or that's Tokyo Tower, as seen from the interminable bus ride. I bonked my head on the window at least 5 times nodding off.

Slippers EVERYWHERE! Take off your shoes, but don't let your feet touch the floor!!! And point your shoes the right way! And you better not have holes in your socks! WHY ARE FEET SO IMPORTANT, YOU WEIRDOS!?

Night view of Shinjuku from my hotel room

Part of the mirror is heated, so it never fogs. First world pointlessness at it's finest!

Robo Toilet. Who knew a heated seat could be so nice! 

Sun's coming up...better get this day started!!

Today's agenda:
  • First things first: Eat a donut. Krispy Kreme downstairs?? That's why I love this hotel!!!
  • Call my employers, let them know I survived the fartstorm. Or maybe just tell them I'm here.
  • Find the guest house office, check-in, then find the guest house. This is where my inability to understand Japanese addresses is going to make things superfun.
  • Go to the government office in my "ward," register as an alien resident (LOVE being an alien, btw) and sign up for health insurance (thank God there will be no blog post this year entitled "Japanese Pap Smear").
  • And if all that doesn't test the limits of cluelessness, then maybe I'll get a phone today too. I mean, I do want to see my luggage again!!
  • Dumplings. How did I get this far down the list without including dumplings?? That is definitely happening today. I almost feel like rearranging the list to move this higher up, but forget it. Trust me. They're delicious.
  • Stay awake until 10pm! MUST! I am a jet lag master. Jet lag ninja? Jet lag sensai? Whatever. Usually takes one day, and boom. Done. Travel with me, kids...I'll have you sleeping like a baby! Well, a baby that actually sleeps through the night. And I won't even swaddle you. Unless you like that kind of thing.
This was just on TV...I'm going to take it as a warning:

Have a great day! I know I will!!! 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

I've chosen steak and pizza as my last American meals...and maybe 12 pounds of peanut butter M&Ms.

In 24 hours, I will be on a plane!!!

Yeah, it has become impossible to sleep. I perpetually have that "I'm going to Disney World!" excitement, and my brain wakes up every couple of hours asking "IS IT TIME???" And then there are  the dreams. Here's my favorite:

New robotic prosthetic arms have been developed, and I've signed up to have my arms amputated to try them out. But before that happens, I get very anxious about the brief period during which my arms will have been amputated, but I won't yet have my killer robo arms. Here's the crux of my worry: HOW DO YOU GO TO THE BATHROOM WITHOUT ARMS? But, ever the problem solver, I find one of the occupational therapists at work (of course I pick the creeper), and he shows me how in the awkwardest dream sequence EVER. I'll tell you this: it involves using the little nubs on the bottom of the toilet seat to get your pants off. Horrifying. But once I got the hang of it, I was ready for my upgrade. Ta-da!!

What a bizarre yet perfect metaphor for this process and how I feel about so much of it. Though now I worry about that part of my mind that constructs these metaphors...what is she thinking??? REALLY.

At this point, all I have left to do is to make sure my three suitcases are down to 70 pounds or less...and since one of them weighed in at a hefty 82 pounds yesterday, all my Tetris skills are being challenged. Who knew candy was so heavy? (Ha...I jest...I DID.) Spending my last day eating candy wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. And it wouldn't be the first time. But seriously, is this not the most beautiful carry-on bag ever?

Oh, and if ever you hear yourself thinking "I'll only be outside for 5 much trouble can one little dog get into in 5 minutes?" then STOP. They delight in testing this kind of idiocy. In 5 minutes, a determined dog can find a ziplock bag full of mini candy bars, bite a hole in it, unwrap and eat 3 of said candy bars, doing all of it on your white bedsheets and freshly dry-cleaned beige coat. And then have the nerve to look lovably sheepish so you don't sell his sorry self to the neighbors. We had a serious talk about it, but I question the genuineness of his remorse. Behind his guilty puppy act, there was clearly a glimmer of "Go outside again, lady, and see what happens."

Okay, well, I've gotta go...I hear my darling nephew stirring and I'm going to get in all the snuggle time I can today.
Until next time...from Tokyo!! GANBARIMASU!!!

Friday, November 16, 2012


Here's something I will miss about America: Ovens.

That's right. Most Japanese homes do not have an oven. And I will now reenact how I felt when I found out: 

The Japanese don't bake stuff?!?!?!? HOW DO THEY SURVIVE??? Why do they hate cake?? And lasagna?? WHYYYYYYY????? WHAT HAVE I DONE???????

I need a minute.

But a lot of junk is going to be different and I better just DEAL WITH IT. I can live a year without an oven. I can, I can, I can. Can I? I CAN. And maybe I'm wrong...maybe I'll find an apartment with like-minded folk that also realize that life without an oven is unacceptable. Maybe. I can dream, can't I? I CAN.

And the #1 use for an oven? Cupcakes. Don't question it. I'm right. And as I may have mentioned yesterday, we took it a step further and fried them. That's right. FRIED CUPCAKES. And because I love you and care about your happiness, here's how it's done:

Step One: Skim someone else's super detailed instructions.

Step Two: Ignore the recipe, buy the best pre-made products America has to offer, and wing it.

OMG. I love everything about America.

You can't put a price on this kind of joy. Or you can. It's $2.89.


For breading, throw in a cupcake, cinnamon, and brown sugar. Do NOT lick the blades!! DO NOT!

Prepare your cupcakes for their destiny. A little peptalk doesn't hurt here.

Dip 'em. Wet then dry. Duh. And when the breading gets all clumpy on your fingers DON'T LICK THAT EITHER. Ugh. Don't. Just don't.

Why, hello little cupcake nugget! Aren't you just darling!!

Stop frying after five pieces because you just can't wait any longer to try them. And because you are a little concerned that they look so much like chicken nuggets that somehow they will suddenly taste like them, and while chicken nuggets are amazing, that would be SO DISAPPOINTING RIGHT NOW.

God Bless America.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Okay, so I'm a super sporadic blogger right now. I know that. But frankly I have more important things to do! Like frying cupcakes. And snuggling this little cutie:
Can't. Get. Enough.
I have TEN DAYS left!! The anticipation is killing me!!! And so is my I-won't-get-to-eat-this-for-a-long-time diet. If you listen carefully, my stomach is now actually moaning the words "The horrors!" over and over again. Sorry, tummy! You're a champion!!!

Of course, as I always do, I made a countdown chain. Oh, how I love a good countdown. This is why you should always keep a glue stick handy:

If you look carefully you'll see that Godzilla marks the last day. Some days I really can't get over my own awesomeness.
Yesterday I might have had a moment of panic when I realized that my Japanese consists of "Excuse me," "Yes, please," "I'm going for it!" and "Easy, tiger." Although I really can't think of a situation that those phrases couldn't get me out of, so I really don't know why I'm panicking. Plus I've learned ten of the 2100+ symbols, so that's gotta be super helpful too, right?

But just in case, I ordered some language learning software, flashcards, and a couple of phrasebooks. Oh, and of course I still have this in my Nintendo DS (YES, I HAVE A NINTENDO DS, IT IS AWESOME, WHAT OF IT?):

It uses whac-a-mole to aid learning. Winner.
So for the next ten days, I'm going to keep up the culinary horror show, snuggle babies (or one baby...don't worry...your baby is probably safe), soak in the love of friends and family, go to Miami to see Madonna, wrap up annoying logistical details (my accountant is such a nice's a shame how much I don't want to talk to him!), add more useful phrases to my Japanese repertoire, and tear off one lovely link on the chain per day. Goal: Godzirra!!!!

Monday, November 5, 2012

My preparations are THOROUGH

"In case the plane comes down..."

It's funny that they never said "crashes." It was always "comes down." Gentler, I guess. Less flaming ball of wreckage, know I don't even know what...plops softly onto a pile of pillows?

Anyway, this is how every conversation started just before my parents left on a trip when I was a kid. We're practical folk. You might say "morbid," I say "practical." You gotta be prepared. 'Cuz planes fall out of the sky and people die. And it could happen to you.

Is this all too grim? I can't even tell. We joke about what we want on our tombstones, and this week my dad actually asked me what I wanted done with my body if I die in Japan like it is a reasonable and regular thing to talk about. Which in our family I guess it is. AND I had an answer for him. Of course I did:

LEAVE IT. I'M DEAD. MAKE IT JAPAN'S PROBLEM. Save your money, stay home, eat donuts. And talk to my best friend...I put her in charge of my funeral plans a loooooong time ago. Come think I was raised in a family like this and don't have plans in place?? You taught me well, dad.

By the way, not that you should wish me dead, but my funeral is going to be a good time. Just sayin'.

So why am I telling you all this?


Of course I know I could have died any time in the last 35 years. Duh. And people would have gone through my stuff then too...but I DIDN'T THINK ABOUT IT BEFORE. This is the first time I'll be living apart from some of my belongings. And granted at this point, there is precious little left. Four boxes. But it's all the juicy stuff!!! And for whatever reason, having to leave it in my brother's attic has me all worried.

Okay, and now I'm all worried that just by writing this post, some of you sickos are going to try to sneak into his attic. DON'T DO IT. I booby-trapped it. Okay, I didn't. BUT DON'T DO IT.

And really, there's nothing all that exciting...but I don't need anyone reading my journals. I can't throw them have no idea how entertaining they are! AND YOU NEVER WILL. That junk is PRIVATE. And contrary to what this blog might say about me, I am a PRIVATE person. Although I will share this:

Best journal entry EVER. Age 8.
So my solution to my anxiety? Put the most mortifying things in a box, instruct my brother to burn it if I die, and hope for the best. My brother groaned through my whole version of the "if the plane comes down" speech, but he promised to burn the box. And you can't go back on a promise to a dead woman, right? Victory!!!! I AM NOT KIDDING ABOUT ANY OF THIS, SEE:

Here's what I really think though: know that this ride could be over at any time and live accordingly. Don't leave important things left unsaid or undone. Make sure people know you love them and don't save joy and fun for some future date that might never arrive. Live your life NOW, not in the past or the future.

And seriously, eat donuts.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Done and done

CAPTAIN OBVIOUS REPORTING: I had an awesome Halloween!!

I started a small circus, where OF COURSE I was the ringleader to an adorable jungle cat. And a burned out Superman. And Beaker. And the Iceman. Just exactly right, I'd say. If you don't agree, THEN START YOUR OWN FLIPPIN' CIRCUS.

Meow Meow Part Deux & Ringleader Risa
So handsome.

That expression really works for EVERYTHING.

Awesome night.

So, did I say I had my visa in my last post?

Haha, just kidding. HOOPS. THERE ARE ENDLESS HOOPS TO JUMP THROUGH. But thanks to 23 years of formal education, 2 years as a federal employee, and 3 years as a Medicare provider, I am an EXPERT hoop jumper. Just watch me go!!!

Here's what actually happened: the Japanese Immigration Bureau approved my "Certificate of Eligibility," which is a piece of paper that says I am now ALLOWED to apply for a visa. Right. So I filled out more papers, drove to Miami Monday, dropped off the visa application at the embassy, drove back down today, picked up my passport complete with visa, and NOW I have it. Yay! Riveting stuff, I know.

I'm so glad they let me use the smiling picture for my visa...the same picture which had been deemed unacceptable for the Certificate of Eligibility, and required a retake for serial killer-style pics. You think I'm joking? Compare:

She'll probably bake you awesome cookies and cakes.
She will stab you in the face and bury you in the backyard
Anyway, it's done now and I'M IN. I have a job, my flight, my hotel for my first night, and a cubicle room in a guest house for my first month...just look:
It's 104 square feet, but it's MINE.
I'm going to be sharing a house with 9 other foreigners. I suddenly feel as though I've been cast in "Real World: Tokyo." Let's all pray THAT'S not true. NO. JOKE.

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