Japan may not be everyone’s first choice when it comes to an OCONUS (Outside Continental United States) move, but it will definitely leave a lasting impression on you if you ever get stationed here.
As our time in Japan is coming to an end, I have been reflecting on all of the experiences we have had that we will probably never have again. Our son being born in a Japanese hospital, a private tea ceremony with one of my best friends, and hiking Mount Fuji are just a few of the memories that will always play in my mind.
Our lives will be forever changed by our time stationed in Japan. Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t always been sunshine and rainbows here; we have had our fair share of typhoons and landslides, but this place will stick with us forever. I am so incredibly grateful for our time here and the many things listed below.
Arigato (Thank You), Japan for this…
Thank you for being such a kid friendly country! It has become extremely common for Japanese people, especially elders, to offer assistance to me when I am out in town with my two children. I have had a complete stranger pick up one of my kids in a store to help as I deal with the other’s boo-boo and another time an older gentleman held my son’s hand as we crossed a street together. I think I would lose my mind if a stranger touched one of my kids in the States, but here there is a sense of community and safety that I will miss dearly.
I do not think I would have traveled as much as I did, alone with our kids, if Japan had not been so kid-friendly. I haven’t been back to the States in several years, so I am not really sure if this is a rising trend or not, but having a seat in the bathroom stall to strap a wiggling toddler in has been a real game-changer for me here in Japan. I am always grossed out by the thought of my child sitting on the floor or touching anything in a bathroom stall, but these baby seats make using a public toilet a stress-free experience and the single most important reason why I am willing to go out and explore Japan.
Thank you for having amazing preschools that have focused on the social and emotional development of my children while also fostering a sense of friendship and responsibility in them at a young age. My original intention when enrolling my children in Yochien (Japanese preschool) was for them to learn Japanese, but the life lessons the Senseis (teachers) have instilled in them is much more than I could have ever hoped for.
For Japanese teachers, it is not only a career, but a calling and it shows in their daily interactions with the children. These educators are some of the most amazing and passionate people I have ever met.
They have brought out so many talents in my children and loved them like their own children. My heart will truly break for my kids when we have to say our goodbyes.
Thank you for having the sketchiest, scariest, longest, most fun slides in the world. I never imagined I’d get such enjoyment from a slide that looked like a giant hotdog roller, but boy was I wrong.
Thank you for this delicious dish. Curry rice has saved me countless times when I struggle to find something my kids will actually eat! Make your own curry rice here!
Japanese toilets, the good and the bad
Thank you for warming my tush on a cold, winter day and playing ocean sounds as I do my business in peace. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I appreciate how strong my legs have gotten from all the squatty potties I have encountered over the years here. I also hope to never encounter them again!
Thank you for the Cherry Trees.
Though they are extremely short-lived, the cherry blossoms in Japan are the most spectacular sight I have ever seen.
The Japanese even celebrate the blooming cherry trees with Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties. Groups of family and friends gather under the trees to eat, drink and be merry while soaking in the beauty of the trees.
Thank you for the support and challenge. I have run a lot of road races in my life, but none have come close to the races in Japan. The Japanese people embrace the sport of running and come out in throngs to support the events. Not only are Japanese road races filled with enthusiasm and encouragement, they also are really freakin’ hard.
Japan is the only place I’ve ever seen participants turn and bow to a course once they cross the finish line to show their respect for being such a challenging and worthy opponent.
100+ different flavors of everything
Thank you for all the flavor options. We have been here almost three years, and I still haven’t tried all the different flavors of soft serve ice cream. I have some favorites like Honey Milk and Cherry Blossom Cheesecake, but there are crazy flavors that I never would imagine making into a soft serve like Tomato, Wasabi, and Miso (yes, these are real flavor options). Did you know that there are also different flavors of KitKats? Just like their ice cream, you can get swept up in the variety of flavors to choose from. Since the year 2000, Nestlé has introduced over 200 different flavors. The interesting flavors range from Green Tea, Soy Sauce, Sake, Creme Brulee and Ginger Ale.
Thank you for being conveniently located (over 20,000 locations in Japan) and stocked with any and everything I might need at all times. Seven-Eleven stores are the best and also have the most delicious food! I never imagined I’d willingly grab dinner from 7-Eleven for my family, but their premade meal options are phenomenal. Also, they have the best corn dogs in the whole world.
Thank you for being so adorable! Japan goes above and beyond with all things “kawaii” (cute). They exude a culture of cuteness here in Japan, and I honestly cannot get enough of it. From adorable bunny rabbits drawn in my latte foam to a panda shaped school bus and beautifully dressed people all around. One of the neatest experiences I have had in Japan was getting to ride a Hello Kitty Themed Shinkansen (bullet train). The entire exterior of the train was covered in Hello Kitty’s iconic red ribbon theme, while the first two cars were decked out in full Hello Kitty adorable fashion, with motifs from the famous Sanrio character and her friends. The train even had a photo booth! Oh, also the bullet trains are great for getting you places fast!
Polite, Clean and Safe
Everyone in Japan is polite. People are constantly bowing and being extremely respectful at all times. The parks, streets, and sidewalks are immaculate. You will not find litter. You won’t even find a trash can. People take care of their own trash. It was very foreign to me, but I quickly got used to carrying my own baggies around to dispose of ice cream spoons or beverage containers later when I returned home.
Japan is also extremely safe and as a mom of two young kids, I am most grateful for this. I have never once worried about my kids playing outside or my car getting broken into. I think I am going to be in for a rude awakening when we move.
This seems like an odd thing to be thankful for, but I cannot imagine our time here any differently. When we moved to Japan, I knew the chance of me being able to find employment as a chemist would be hard, especially since I do not speak Japanese. I embraced my sabbatical from work and soaked up every second that I got to spend with my children.
I am extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to stay home and raise my children for the last 3 years, and for that I am forever grateful for our OCONUS move to Japan.