After introducing the brand new online magazine “Tsuki” in my last recommendation post, I want to go ahead and present you a great blog today!
“Surviving in Japan (without much Japanese)” (click)
Although I’ve been in Japan for quite a few years now I always discover new, valuable information in this blog.
While it mainly aims at people living in Japan, it also has a lot of useful information for anybody who wants to visit Japan!
All articles are well researched, providing whatever information you’ll need such as where to find English-speaking doctors, how to read Japanese food labels or where to find the best fireworks in your neighborhood!
In short: It’s a blog you definitely should check out!
The mastermind behind this blog is Ashley Thompson, a former ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) of JET.
I think her life is quite interesting and not that of your “usual” former JET, so I want to share some more information with you.
I love to read about other people living in Japan, e.g. how they came to Japan, what they do now etc. How about you?
Ashley was so nice and let me interview her!
Zooming Japan: Hi, Ashley! Thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to interview you. Let’s jump right to the first question without any further ado: When and why did you come to Japan?
Ashley: I came to Japan in 2008, as a JET Program participant (like many). As for why, there were various reasons, but one big one was that I had been seeking out new opportunities outside of the US, as I needed a huge change. I did a lot between graduating high school and the time I came to Japan, which is another story, but it was time for me to experience a new culture, as I had hardly traveled anywhere but the western United States. I looked into different programs in various countries, but Japan stuck. My husband (then a friend), and his family have strong ties to Japan, so they were the ones to introduce me to the country. I hadn’t really considered coming to Japan at all, but as other doors closed, the door to JET and Japan opened, so I took a huge leap of faith. :)
Zooming Japan: Most people tend to go back home after a few years on the JET program. What made you stay?
Ashley: Well, I did have to leave JET early, in the middle of my second year, because of a serious illness. I also was transferred to a different school after the first year as my husband and I got married. Despite the fact I got sick, we still wanted to stay in Japan, and my husband was still doing JET, so we stayed. I started pursuing other opportunities (which came out of me getting back into writing and things while I was sick and couldn’t do much else) and that has led me to do what I’m doing now. We love Japan for the most part though, and feel very much at “home” here.
Zooming Japan: Did you have a culture shock at first?
Ashley: I think everyone experiences culture shock to some degree, positive and/or negative. I was overwhelmed and amazed with everything at first like most newcomers, like green tea in vending machines and huge electronic displays in the service area bathrooms showing which stalls were open.
I got engaged after my first month here though, and then married the following year, so I haven’t really experienced any huge culture shock lows in my time here (yet). Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had frustrating experiences (often relating to when I was sick, some when I was pregnant and when gave birth, etc.), and have definitely experienced personal lows. The longer we live here and the more we learn the more I feel we come across things that stand out and feel like culture shock, in a sense. After three years, I think all the newness disappears and you see a whole lot more than you can and do in the first two.
Zooming Japan: What do you like the most about Japan?
Ashley: Difficult question! One of the things I like the most is the nature (obviously, outside the huge cities!). The landscapes are just spectacular and remind me so much of Washington (state, where I’m from). Sometimes my husband and I talk about what we would miss if we left, and there are so many things, really, and not counting people and relationships, things like onsen/sento, Japanese curry shops, buying an onigiri at a convenience store…
Zooming Japan: And what the least?
Ashley: That’s a good question… Maybe dealing with egotistical doctors. I’ve had some very kind doctors, but for some reason I end up seeing a lot of the men who get upset and offended if you ask any question or go back to them for help because what they recommended to you before didn’t work. I don’t think it’s a “Japan” thing for the most part, but the whole idea that doctors are basically gods and must be obeyed no matter what does show itself sometimes. But I do want to reiterate, there are good, understanding doctors here too!
Zooming Japan: Do you plan to stay in Japan forever?
Ashley: I don’t make long term future plans. I think about what I’d like to do, but I try to stay open to new opportunities and my own growth, as well as circumstances, especially now that I’m married and have a child. Maybe we’ll stay in Japan for a long time, who knows, but as long as it’s the best choice for us and even those around us (are we helping others? Because for us, that’s hugely important, and we want to wherever we go), we’ll probably stick around. But really, we have no idea. We’ll be here a little longer for sure, anyway. :)
Zooming Japan: Please tell us a little about your great blog “Surviving in Japan – (without much Japanese)“!
Ashley: Surviving in Japan is basically a big how-to resource guide for expats living in Japan. It started out as just me sharing some things I was learning about life here that I hadn’t read or seen anywhere else. It didn’t make sense that most of the advice I had been given before coming was wrong or just all over the place, so I set out to make clarifications and hopefully help others in a similar position. Now it’s not just things I go through but reader ideas, tips, guest posts, etc., which is awesome because I always wanted this to eventually be more about the community in Japan and not just me.
(*click the banner to see one of her travel related posts)
Zooming Japan: Oh, that sounds really nice indeed! Now I’m curious! When and how was the idea for that blog born?
Ashley: Well, I guess I sort of answered the how. :) But basically, in Fall 2009, I got really sick. I almost fainted at work. (I lowered myself to floor before I blacked out, but everyone was freaking out around me.) Went to numerous doctors and specialists over the next few months and no diagnosis. We went back to the US for Christmas (a trip that had been planned before I got sick, so we couldn’t just not go and waste all that money, although we ended up delaying our departure a day because I was so sick and riding the train made me want to throw up). My doctor in the states told me I had labrynthitis and that it can take weeks to months to heal completely. So during all this time I couldn’t walk or move much, so I did a lot of writing. I had been involved in writing in the States, but it had been a while since I’d done serious writing, so I just got back into it again. And in February, the blog idea popped into my head. Nothing brought it about, it was just one of those ideas that comes like when you’re in the shower.
Zooming Japan: I’m really sorry to hear about that, but at least something very positive came out of it, right?
Ok, let’s continue with the questions: I’ve been in Japan for a few years now and I’d say my Japanese is quite decent. Yet I still find a lot of helpful links, ideas and blog posts on your website. How do you decide what to write about next? And how do you research your topics?
Ashley: I basically go off of things I’m researching for my own life and family, and also have a long list of reader suggestions! Sometimes the seasons shape what I write about, but otherwise I’m just trying to get through the list. :)
I research in different ways, and it depends on the topic as well. I’d say the bulk is online research, plus some in-person research (at stores, etc.) Sometimes I do interviews and ask experts for advice/help as well.
Zooming Japan: Do you have any topics you prefer to write about?
Ashley: Hmm… I guess I’d say things that interest me and apply to me directly. I mean it’s all interesting stuff, but I would say it’s natural to have more motivation to research the things that impact you directly. I love figuring out products and just finding new websites and resources to share. It’s very energizing and exciting!
Zooming Japan: Did anything change in your life since you started your blog?
Ashley: Haha, I had a baby! That definitely changed how I use my time, how much time I actually have, as well as energy, etc. It’s more difficult, but it does force you to really focus and prioritize. My family is most important to me, so I try to find balance (although admittedly it’s a struggle and I feel like I get it wrong quite a bit).
I also was asked to write the Lifelines column for the Japan Times last year, just before the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. That’s also been a great experience.
Zooming Japan: Mind to share how you got to do write for them?
Ashley: Well, basically I was approached by my now-editor, who had heard about my blog from a colleague and thought I might be interesting in writing the column as it’s similar territory.
Zooming Japan: How was your Japanese when you first came here? How is your Japanese now?
Ashley: Let’s see, I had a year of Japanese study from college under my belt coming in, but it’s just all the basics. Was definitely helpful to have those in those first months. I would say, my reading ability has improved leaps and bounds. I do a lot of research online so I am constantly looking up new words, learning sentence structure and patterns, etc. My listening has improved, but not as much as I wanted it to, mostly because I was sick from October to April or May and couldn’t go out much, or at all, and then when I was pregnant I slept most of the first trimester and took it easy the rest and worked at home to get stuff done before baby. Working at home has made it harder for me to improve, so I think that’s affected my speaking in a negative way. I try to practice when out and about, but it’s usually basic conversations and people never repeat something when I ask them to, they just say it a different way or in English, so it makes it harder to learn. But with a baby now, we’re trying to make sure she’s exposed to both languages, so I try to say things with her, although I don’t really want her speaking like me, lol, I’d rather she pick it up from a native speaker. :)
Zooming Japan: Any last advice you can give to anybody who wants to visit or stay in Japan, especially to “first-timers”?
Ashley: I would say, first of all, take any advice given to you with a grain of salt! We all have such very different experiences. A lot of folks are bitter or jaded and might not give the best impression or taint your own expectations. I had people tell me all kinds of things before coming that turned out to be mostly false, myths or rumors, etc. So take charge and just learn as much as you can and have your own experience. Don’t be afraid to just try things out, and be flexible! Also, travel off the beaten path a bit. Tokyo and Kyoto, etc., are great and all, but there is so much more to Japan than that.
Zooming Japan: Some really great advice. I hope my readers can find some inspiration for traveling off the beaten path here in my blog. *hint hint*
Ok, thank you very much. It was a pleasure!
Ashley: Thank you so much for having me! Best wishes to you!