Life · Osaka

Universal Studios Japan in 2021

On the suggestion of my friend Farrah, I made a pit stop at USJ on my way back from Faith’s wedding in Kyoto.

I’m not a huge theme park kind of person, and I especially wouldn’t usually go on a weekend. But being that there’s still no international tourism and the park is still capped at 60% capacity, I though I’d chance it and I’m so glad I did.

One of the main draws for me was the fairly new Super Nintendo World area, the first of it’s kind in the world. I’m really glad we went for opening, because we got there at 9am, and by the time we got to the timed entry ticket booth, tickets were already sold out until 3pm.

Of course while we waited for 3pm to roll around we explored the rest of the park…

I found the flying Ford Anglia!

All attractions (except the new Demon Slayer ride) were under a 15 minute wait – so amazing! I’m not a big fan of rides as I get really motion sick, but I thought I’d be brave and go on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

Know that I absolutely screamed my head off all the way around, much to the amusement of the bairns either side of me. (I ended up going on two more times, since there was no wait!)

The cast members are all amazing, everyone from characters to cleaners stop and wave at you – I bet they’re exhausted by the end of the day from being so cheerful.

I had a bit of a funny turn when I was in the queue for The Three Broomsticks. Embarrassingly I suddenly felt sick, dizzy and claustrophobic and when I asked a friendly witch that I wanted to leave the line, they sat me down at a table with a large glass of ice water and an ice pack. So kind – Madam Rosmerta should be proud of her staff.

Originally I thought I was just tired from lack of sleep and a bit dehydrated and did feel much better afterwards. However now I do think it was the start of my gallbladder going haywire. I was able to enjoy the rest of my day – the only downside being that I lost my appetite and didn’t get a chance to try most of the snacks I was eager to. しょうがない!

Its creator is a transphobic TERF but Hogwarts welcomes *EVERYONE* home.

I enjoyed the other areas of the park – the only place I avoided was anywhere I saw signs for Minions. Japan seems to have a blind spot for the annoying yellow wankers.

After a quick bite of some overpriced pizza…it was finally time for Mario.
Let’s a-go!

I treated myself to a Luigi Power-Up band which you can use to interact with the world around you and collect coins on the USJ app. Usually I’m not lured in with gimmicky crap you can just use in the park, but as it’s also an amiibo, it at least has another use.

I really loved the open area, reminiscent of the famous grassland-themed worlds with heaps of easter eggs to find. It was the only part of the park that was a little too busy for my liking, but it’s kind of to be expected.

I didn’t have a chance to have a close look at everything as there were a lot of excited bairns running about giddily, but I thought it was really great and inventive for casual and hardcore fans alike.

I spotted some cranes in the background too which looks like it’s the beginning of the recently announced Donkey Kong extension opening in the next few years.

Because I’m a giant kid, one thing I really wanted to do was go to the Mario and Luigi meet and greet – and know that I’m not even joking a little bit when I say that when I heard the announcement I practically yeeted kids out of the way to get to the front of the line. Not my finest moment.

Worth it tho:

We of course went on the two Nintendo rides – Yoshi’s Adventure and Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge.

I was originally going to give Yoshi a miss as it looked like it was mostly for little kids – but when I saw a big group of fanboys in their 30s mooching on ahead of me, I thought I’d give it a try.

It was so cute and full of easter eggs from various Mario games!

Sadly, I found the Mario Kart ride a bit of a let down – the inside looked very impressive with the walk-up themed around the various Bowser’s Castle tracks and cast members in cute pit-crew gear. But for the actual ride you have to wear these VR goggles and they didn’t fit on my head very well so I had to move around a little to make the 3D effects work.

When they did work though, it was pretty cool!

All-in-all I really enjoyed my day, and we managed to spend 8 hours in the park before starting to lag.

I’d really recommend giving it a visit, especially if you’re currently in Japan and before the park gets packed again.
It was only about £59 for a day ticket which was well worth it in my opinion!

~ Carla

Friends · Kyoto

Faith’s Wedding

I met my friends Sam and Faith my very first day of orientation when we were sat next to each other and we instantly bonded.

They say you don’t really make friends in training (mostly true…everyone else was rather odd) but I guess we were the exceptions. Unlike everyone else, Faith had plans to stay in Japan forever after meeting her Japanese boyfriend when he was an international student at her university.

By the time we were drinking in Sam’s hotel room on the final evening, there was already a special bond between us. (I managed to K.O. before they went out drinking…missing the chance to meet my bestie, Felipe!)

The Golden Trio on our sakura road trip earlier this year. Know that Sam said something incredibly vulgar to make us laugh like that.

After training, Sam moved further north east and after six months Faith went even further out to Shiga in the south, but we’ve managed to stay close. And when Faith finally set a date for her wedding a few months ago we were delighted to attend.

Due to the travel ban, Faith’s family were unable to make it over to Japan from the US, so the three of us were the only gaijin there. I was also the only (non-family) female in attendance which was so funny!

I’m glad I read up on Japanese wedding customs while planning my trip as some aspects are very different to UK weddings.

First, instead of presents it’s mandatory to give the bride and groom money instead. Asking for money is still slightly frowned upon in the UK, which I’ve always thought is kinda stupid – I’d much rather the couple spend the money on something they really want, rather than ending up with seven toasters – especially when most couples are already living together and have all the essentials they need.

(Saying that, the last few weddings I’ve been to, the couples have asked for money specifically towards a house deposit or to help pay for their honeymoon which I think is really nice. My friend Claire softened the blow by doing it in poem-form.)

You also have to prepare your gift in a special money card called a shugi-bukuro (祝儀袋). The bills have to be crisp and brand new, facing up and in specific denominations. (For example: the bills can’t be directly halved as it is a superstition that this symbolises the couple splitting up, the bills can’t add up to the number 3 or 9 as this is unlucky in Japan etc. oh it goes on and on.)
Furthermore, the card needs to be wrapped in a special envelope made of material called a fukusa. Silk ones can cost upwards of ¥3000, but I picked mine up for ¥500 because I knew I’d only be using it once.

White and red are lucky colours in Japan, but there are more modern ones available featuring Disney and Sanrio characters.
I went quite traditional and chose this one – I especially loved the crane on the bow, a symbol of love, honour and fidelity in Japan.

The dress code is also definitely more conservative in Japan. I’ve been to weddings in the UK where people have worn dresses that don’t leave much to the imagination and wouldn’t look out of place on Saturday night down the Bigg Market.
(It’s getting more common to go out drinking after the wedding ends, especially for younger people – I guess it’s the UK version of the nijikai!)

I asked my friend Haruna to show me some photos of recent weddings she’d been to, and most girls seemed to be wearing long dresses in quite muted colours – as with most Japanese fashioned pretty high-cut and covering the upper arms.

I had absolutely nothing suitable in my wardrobe (my friends often refer to my dress sense as “quirky”) so I had to do some shopping beforehand. I’ve never dressed more conservatively in my life, but it was kinda fun for one day, like I was playing the character of a classy lassy instead of a lairy Geordie bird. I even bought some fake pearls and matching earrings.

I looked a bit like a Tory’s mistress or a Republican running mate (I’m a socialist), but whatever. I like that I matched Sam’s navy suit.
(All the other male guests wore black suits, but I thought he looked lovely! It’s kinda frowned upon to wear dark suits at UK weddings – black suits are specifically for sombre events like funerals.)

It was a really beautiful, intimate ceremony given the circumstances, a perfect mix of western and Japanese traditions. And of course I bawled my eyes out as soon as the double doors opened and Faith gracefully walked down the aisle, beaming at Wataru waiting for her.

Afterwards during photos, the family gently nudged me and Sam to the front for pictures next to Faith.
It really is true – the expat life really does turn friends into family.

Being that the bride and groom are massive foodies, it came as no surprise that the food was an absolute highlight.

In the words of Michael Scott: “They say that your wedding day goes by in such a flash that you’re lucky if you even get a piece of your own cake.”
So, I was relieved to hear that as part of their wedding package, they could go back the following day to properly enjoy their wedding meal.

One thing that surprised me was in the middle of dinner, the groom’s childhood friends provided some entertainment in the form of a few rounds of the Mr and Mrs game (usually played at hen parties in the UK with smutty questions not suitable for polite company). Everyone at each table also had to stand up and say something nice about the bride and groom (thankfully, Sam did this.)

At the end of the wedding, every guest is given a present from the happy couple – Faith and Wataru’s was very on point: a bottle of champagne, chocolates and coffee. I told you they were foodies.

Thank you so much again for inviting us, Feesu. It was a wonderful, once in a lifetime experience.

Sam took Polaroids throughout the day and presented them to the couple at the end of the day – such a lovely idea!

~ Carla

Food · hospital

Hospital Food in Japan

As you may have seen in my last post, I recently (and unexpectedly) spent two weeks in hospital with with cholecystitis (inflamed gallbladder), gallstones and ended up having surgery to get it removed.

For the first few days I was given an IV and put on a fast – I wasn’t too fussed because I’d had no appetite for days already and been unable to keep anything down anyway.

Days 4 and 5 I could only have this high calorie protein drink three times a day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It had a sort of yoghurty-texture and a sweet apple flavour. Not too bad, but after a few days I was sick of the sight of it.

Six days in, I was allowed to have actual food. Some days were definitely better than others, but I ended up taking photos and logging what I ate because frankly there wasn’t much else to do.

Nearly every meal came with some sort of rice and green tea. While I couldn’t get enough of the tea (I’m British after all!), I quickly tired of eating rice three times a day.
In fact they sent a nutritionist round one day as they were so concerned I wasn’t eating much of my rice…of course in Japan you are expected to clear your bowl. But once I explained I’m not used to eating rice so often, they understood.

Rice porridge, fish, carrots and onions, tomato jelly, yoghurt drink, green tea:

Rice, chicken meatballs, braised spinach, apple, green tea:

Rice, teriyaki fish, cabbage and tomato salad, spinach, orange, green tea:

Rice porridge, prawn dumplings, sweet potato, meat and vegetables, mixed tinned fruit, green tea:

Rice with furikake, miso soup, Japanese fish cake, egg salad, yoghurt drink, green tea:

Rice, silken tofu, pumpkin, brocolli, carrot, pickles, green tea. (One of my least favourites because it was all the same soft, claggy texture.)

Rice, miso soup, salmon, ham salad, green tea, milk (I forgot to tell the staff I can’t drink milk beforehand):

Rice, white fish, green beans, steamed sweet potato, aubergine, kiwi fruit, green tea:

Rice, fish, cabbage, mikan orange, pickles, green tea:

Vegetable curry and rice, salad, pickles, green tea. (This was luuuuush!!)

Rice and furikaki, pork, broccoli, daikon, green tea:

Oyakodon (egg, chicken and scallions on rice – loosely translates as “mother and child”), miso soup, pickles, apple slices, green tea:

Rice and furikake, fish, mixed vegetables, pickles, green tea:

Bread, margarine and peach jam, scrambled eggs, tuna salad, Yakult, green tea:(This was my last breakfast and it was SO good not to have rice for once!)

Know that I still haven’t touched rice since I came out of hospital.

While there were some hits and misses, it’s definitely healthier than the fare masquerading as food in UK hospitals. I remember when I had my kidney operation as a teenager I refused to touch the hospital food and instead survived on saltines and Lucozade for a week.

Unlike the UK, Japanese hospitals aren’t free (even with health insurance) but the meal plan wasn’t too bad at ¥700 per day (around £4.50 or $6.00USD).

~ Carla

hospital · Personal

An unexpected turn of events…

Proof that you never know what’s around the corner… last week I was rushed into hospital with cholecystitis (inflamed gallbladder) and gallstones.

I’ve already had my first emergency procedure the night I was brought in which has controlled the inflammation, and I’m due to get my gallbladder removed tomorrow morning.

Japanese doctors aren’t really forthcoming with a lot of information, they really seem to take it one day at a time and I’ve really have had to politely but firmly badger them for updates and time frames.

I was a little freaked when I was first admitted as you can imagine. My Japanese still isn’t great and I only have an interpreter with me when I have an actual operation. But all of the staff are really kind and we rely on broken English, broken Japanese, gestures and Google translate. I’m also well brushed up on hospital lingo now!

But onwards and upwards – let’s hawk this thing out then it’s the finishing stretch.

See you on the flippity flip!


~ Carla

UPDATE: 01/11: I’ve had my surgery and after another week in hospital I am finally recuperating at home – sans gallbladder! It hurt more than people on the internet told me it would – and I’d consider myself to have a pretty high pain tolerance. But I’m doing OK!


Music: The Go-Bang’s

The Go Bang’s: Kaori Moriwaka, Misa Tanishima and Mitsuko Saito

As some of you may know, one of my favourite genres of music is punk in all it’s forms.
Punk rock, punk pop, art punk, riot grrrl, skate punk, ska punk, dance punk, post-punk, horror punk, synth punk – as long as it’s something I can stomp around to in my docs, sign me up.

This randomly showed up on my Youtube suggested one day, proving the algorithm really does know its prey (me).

The Go Bang’s, an all girl band active in the late 80s/early 90s were a fantastic blend of punk and bubblegum pop…and in the first case for some reason: showtunes.

When you have band practice at 3 and drama class at 4.

While sadly not enjoying huge mainstream success, other less-campy (although a substantial amounts of camp is always appreciated) bops include:

I NEED YOU! (1989 – interestingly, this song was released just 15 days after I was born!)

ダイナマイトガイ [Dynamite Guy] (1993)

愛をこめて、もっと!もっと [With More, More Love!] (1987)

スペシャルボーイフレンド [Special Boyfriend] (1989)

The band split up in 1994 following their final single キスしたい [I Wanna Kiss]

Lead singer Kaori Moriwaka who went on to have a solo career briefly reformed the band with a whole new line up in 2016, but the other original members have faded into obscurity.

~ Carla

Drinking · Lifestyle

Hungover in Hamamatsu

NOTE: The sale of alcohol in bars and restaurants has been banned for two months already in several prefectures in Japan – including Shizuoka, and looks like it’ll be extended until October. Just know that I’m absolutely clamming for a pint.

Just like the UK, Japan has a big drinking culture. From cheap beer to expensive sake, if you enjoy hitting the sauce then there really is something for everyone.

With inhibitions lowered, Japan transforms into a different place at night – akin to a session down the Bigg Market in Newcastle on a Saturday night.

The same people who go to work with their heads down, eyes fixed on their phones, nodding and bowing and agreeing and hai hai hai-ing all day really know how to let their hair down at the weekend. In a matter of hours these same people are shouting, screaming, singing, hugging in the streets well into the early hours.

Public transport stops pretty early in most cities – around 11pm-midnight, so your options are run for the last train, pay for an expensive taxi or – the most popular option – stay out all night until the first train home at 5am. (Karaoke is a good call for this. 24-hour McDonalds are commonplace too.) Most train stations even have guards stationed at the weekend to stop merrymakers falling onto the tracks.

I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve almost been steamrollered by a group of guys holding each other up, almost tripping over the most kawaii of kawaii girls puking in the street while their friend holds their hair back, or people flat out fast asleep in bars, on walls, in bus stops, on the pavement still in their black business suit.

As you can expect of course, the last train home is definitely an experience.
One of my favourites was a group of salarymen literally threw their colleague (who was wearing a silly hat) out of a train carriage presumably at his station. He waved and shouted a hearty おはようございます (“Good morning!”) as the doors closed. As the train pulled away, we all saw him fall backwards in the direction of a bemused guard, a look of elation on his face.

But as always – what comes up, must come down.
Even as someone who is a bit of a seasoned drinker (annoyingly, Felipe can still outdrink me) and a Geordie, living in Japan has blessed me with some of the worst hangovers (“futsukayoi” in Japanese…as I’ve now learned) in my life.

Thankfully, Japan is well prepared for such situations because of course they are.
Here are my favourite hangover remedies…

Before (and/or after): Ukon no Chikara

Famous Souvenirs from Japan: Ukon No Chikara (ウコンの力) - Easy Travel

As always in life, it’s all about preparation, preparation, preparation.

There are a plethora of little bottles of liquid cures in every conbini containing ingredients such as tumeric, vitamin C, B, and iron which are believed to help break down toxins and alcohol during the night.
They’re also pretty helpful the day after – but some are pretty gross tasting (such as Ukon no Chikara above, the top seller) and difficult to keep down after a particularly heavy night. Apparently.

During: Ramen

It’s very popular amongst Japanese drinkers to stop at a ramen place for a pick-me-up.

Personally, I can’t stomach a bowl full of rich broth and noodles while drinking (my drunk food is McDonalds) however at my last niji-kai before the ‘rona, I told my co-teachers I would just order a pop. But because they were all half-cut and eager to treat me, I suddenly found myself with five glasses of Coca Colas in front of me.

After: Pocari Sweat

ポカリスエット(POCARI SWEAT) ポカリスエット 500ml (メンズ、レディース、キッズ) 通販 LINEポイント最大0.5%GET |  LINEショッピング

My favourite hangover remedy is a cold bottle of Pocari Sweat, a delicious electrolyte drink with a terrible name. Similar to Gatoraid in the US and Lucozade in the UK it contains potassium and magnesium to rehydrate you. However unlike them, it doesn’t have a lot of carbonation or a strong taste – a little citrusy and a little salty which I appreciate.

It’s available in convenience stores, but most vending machines also have it – really easy to grab a bottle (or two) as I’m stumbling home.

Also trust me, it pairs perfectly with a few 7-11 hash browns. *chefs kiss*

So there you have it, you’re now prepared for a big Japanese night out.
After the ‘rona, of course. Stupid ‘rona.

~ Carla

Bite-Sized Japanter

Bite-Sized Japanter #21: Famisocks

The current trend among Japan’s trendiest influencers and the like are these ¥429 (around £2.80) socks from convenience store chain Family Mart, lovingly referred to as ‘Famisocks.’

There are nearly 4,000 results from the hashtag #ファミマソックス on Instagram and a lot of Family Marts are selling out instantly.

Pairs of the elusive Famisocks are currently selling for upwards of ¥3000 on resell sites such as Yahoo Auctions and eBay.

Gen Z are wild. However as a teenager in the early 00s I vividly remember the charity wristbands craze. They only cost £1 but they were sold out everywhere.

~ Carla

P.S.: Hello, I’m back! As always, I take a little break from blogging during school holidays – this summer I got the full six weeks off. ❤️


BBC Newcastle Interview

This weekend I had a chat with the lovely Tamsin Robson at BBC Newcastle about being the Geordiest gaijin in Japan.

Our actual interview was around 10:30pm Japan time due to the time difference, but the beeb made me sound a lot more coherant than I actually was. ありがとうございました!!

If you’d like to listen, you can here for the next 27 days:

~ Carla

PS: Also, I’m aware that I messed up the phrase for “good luck” – it’s きっと勝つ ”kitto katsu” not きっと かっと which is literally “KitKat”. ಇ(˵ಠ_ಠ˵)ಇ

On top of being tired I was kinda nervous too! ごめんなさい。私はミスをしてしまいました。

JKMH · Seasonal

Japan Keeping Me Humble #19

A Bug’s Life

Recently some of the kids asked if I’d like to meet their class pets.
The class pets:

For some godforsaken reason, it’s somewhat of an annual tradition for Japanese kids to spend the summer raising and caring for these beetles (kabutomushi and kuwagatamush), dutifully feeding them fresh fruits and jellies.
Apparently, they’re “cute”.

It’s a no from me.

~ Carla


The Leaving

After living away from your home for an extended period of time, it’s kind of inevitable that you start looking back on your life retrospectively:

“What have I achieved?
What did I come here to do?
What is there still for me to do?”

Failure to answer these questions and one living in Japan could perhaps find themselves in what I call ‘ALT-limbo’ – simply drifting from home to school, school to home, lather, rinse, repeat.

While the pandemic has moved these goalposts somewhat through nobody’s fault, it’s sometimes hard to see the 森 for the 木 so to speak. But I also don’t want to become another resentful, bitter gaijin; burdened and resentful of one of my favourite countries in the world.

Japan is currently going through its *counts on fingers* fourth state of emergency, mostly a consequence of a government who are frantically scrambling to save an Olympics that no-one wants.
It was golden week in May, a 5-day weekend that pretty much everyone in the country gets off – and just like last year, everyone was encouraged to stay home.

After the best part of five months I recently reinstalled my social media apps on my phone. While I’m usually pretty good at keeping up to date with the happenings in jolly old Blighty, I don’t think I’d realised how much the UK is beginning to open up again.

I saw my friends smiling and waving and clinking glasses in places I know. My mam sent me a selfie in Primark. My best-friend Sam threw a peace sign from our favourite pub in Glasgow.

Meanwhile, for the past few months it’s mostly just been me in my apartment. Alone.

“What the f*ck am I doing here?” I actually said aloud to the four walls on particularly gloomy Saturday, and threw my phone huffily away from me after an hour of scrolling through happy reunions at pub gardens and bottomless brunches.

What have I achieved?
What did I come here to do?
What is there still for me to do?”

Too much time indoors means too much time to think.

Japan isn’t my first time living abroad.
I left Australia in 2013 after living there for a year and it felt right. I was ready. Honestly I don’t think I even cried properly. I caught my flight from Melbourne with nothing but excitement and anticipation ahead of me. There wasn’t a single regret in my bones as I landed at Heathrow, caught the tube and saw Sam waiting tearfully at the Kings Cross barriers.

So, when do you know that it’s time to leave Japan?

I had this conversation with my friend Liz – who is actually leaving Japan this summer – over a socially distanced al fresco lunch as she prepares for a period of uncertainty and unemployment ahead.

“Six years in Japan is quite enough for me,” she said. “But I don’t think I’ll ever know if it’s right.”

She’s right about the six years thing. After just two years, I sometimes find myself weighed down with cultural fatigue.

My pal once described Japan as “one big, awesome theme park.”
I sort-of get what he means, but living in Disneyland would do your nut in after so long.

After two years at the same schools I now feel like part of the furniture – which has it’s pros and cons. I’m sure teachers letting me have free reign in class comes from a good place as they find me reliable and have confidence in my lessons, but working in the confines of a tight schedule plus ad-hoc duties, I have extra responsibilities compared to a lot of ALTs.

However I am given the greatest gift of all: that I’m usually left alone to my own devices.
Many ALTs find themselves under constant surveillance from their schools. But long as I look busy and don’t take the piss, I’m free to do whatever I want between classes.

While age is a social construct (at least that’s what I keep telling myself), I recently turned 32 and it’s kind of unavoidable to look towards the future.

Sure, if I was a 21 year old fresh out of university with body parts that are still perky and a back that didn’t worryingly creak first thing in the morning, then staying in Japan for years and years and years would definitely be a good option.
But there are simply other things in my life that I want to achieve.

It’s easy when you’re living on the other side of the world to put higher stock in connections made here as you find yourself content in your gaijin bubble, warm and fuzzy like mold.

The longer I stay in Japan, people I’ve grown close to inevitably move on, either elsewhere in Japan or back to their home country. I find constantly both making new connections and letting friendships go mentally taxing, often akin to the grief of a break-up.

Unfortunately, that’s just a fact of expat life and comes with the territory. This didn’t bother me much when I was a young’un in Australia, staying in hostels and taking day trips to see koalas with people I barely knew and would probably never see again.
But the older I get, the less tolerant I am of such relationships, preferring a deeper attachment with a smaller group of people. It’s exhausting to constantly be saying farewell.

So while I’m not saying I’m about to split from Japan anytime soon, I am asking myself when will the (rising) sun begin to set on my time in Japan?

I’ve always toyed with the idea of moving to Japan ever since my friend Hayley suggested it to me nearly ten years ago now over pizza in her Sydney apartment, recounting tales of working at an eikaiwa during the day then partying in Tokyo until the early hours.

I started officially planning to come to Japan in 2017, then actually applied in January 2019 for an Autumn arrival.

During this time at my old job in the UK – through every crappy shift, being yelled at down the phone day-in-day-out, through every event I declined, everything I sold on eBay – I counted down the days until the big move.

Now what?

Is there really a perfect time to leave Japan?
Honestly, I’m not sure.

Even when the day comes and my plane touches down in Newcastle, I don’t think I’ll ever be sure.

~ Carla