I’ve now been living in Tokyo for a little over 2 years!  To celebrate this milestone (okay, fine, the milestone is just a coincidence; this blog post has nothing to do with it), I thought I’d share something I find delightful in the Japanese language, and that is its onomatopoeia.

Just like English, Japanese has words which are formed “from a sound associated with what is named.”  They are very often repeated.  Here are some examples of their words for sounds:

  • wan wan: a dog’s bark
  • nyan nyan: a cat’s meow
  • zaa zaa: heavy rain falling
  • mogu mogu: someone eating (maybe like omnomnom?)

However, Japanese also makes ample use of onomatopoetic words for things where the connection to a sound is less obvious, such as:

  • dan dan: gradually (the sound of footsteps)
  • don don: quickly (the sound of larger footsteps)
  • doki doki: nervous/excited (the sound of a fast heart beat)

And I mean waaay less obvious.  Ever wondered what sound something sparkling sounds like?

  • kira kira: sparkling, twinkling
  • peko peko: hungry (the sound your stomach makes as it gurgles perhaps?)
  • fuwa fuwa: fluffy
  • giri giri: barely

I think one of the things I love about these words (and there are oodles more) is the fact that they’re often used in casual conversation among adults.  Just this afternoon, as I was watching the Olympic men’s free skate while eating lunch at a restaurant, one of the women at the table next to me used the phrase doki doki shimasu to her companion, expressing the nerves/excitement of watching the athletes do breathtaking quadruple jumps.

My 2017 by the numbers

2573 song tracks scrobbled to last.fm.  This is a fairly random number — I actually listened to much more.  The artists I played most included Joe Hisaishi, The Shins, Finest Kind, The Idan Raichel Project, and Delta Rae.  My top album was the Hamilton soundtrack.

209 kanji learned.  I can only read, not write, and it’s not as many as I would like, but it’s gratifying that little by little the world around me is becoming more comprehensible.  I also enjoy the “aha” moments of learning what kanji make up words that I’ve already learned.  For example, I knew “chairo” meant brown, but I didn’t know it was written 茶色: 茶 = tea (“cha”) and 色 = color (“iro”).  So brown = “tea color!”

42 new books read.  This is less than my 2016 record of 54, which I shall claim is the result of having a social life (though some of the time was in fact spent watching The Great British Bake Off and other shows…).  It’s hard to pick favourites, but I particularly enjoyed The Watchmaker of Filigree Street and Ancillary Justice.

23 new friends on Facebook.  Most of these are from the Tokyo Embassy Choir, which I joined in the fall of 2016.  Auditioning was the best thing I’ve done since moving here: not only is it wonderful to be singing regularly, but I finally made friends and found a community outside of work. cf. having a social life and reading fewer books.

14 international plane flights.  I traveled internationally approximately every other month, which was far more than I anticipated at the beginning of the year.  In addition to spending just too much time sitting on planes, I felt bad repeatedly abandoning my kitty.

10mg of escitalopram that I am no longer taking.  Escitalopram (brand name Lexapro) is an antidepressant that I started taking around 2011 for depression and anxiety.  For a variety of reasons that I won’t share in detail here, I wanted to see how I would feel without it.  Tapering off of an antidepressant is often rough, and my experience was no exception.  I felt tearful and emotionally fragile for a long time.  In fact, I still cry a lot more now than I have in recent memory.  However, I also feel many positive emotions more intensely, which makes me suspect that the medication was blunting all emotions to some extent.  It’s strange to respond emotionally to things now that I didn’t before, and I’m still adjusting to this new facet of my identity.

3 good friends visited Japan.  In 2017, my three best friends from high school, college, and grad school respectively each came to visit me in Japan!  It was wonderful to see them and travel to new parts of Japan together.  The song says, “make new friends, but keep the old / one is silver and the other gold,” and I’m truly grateful to have such golden friendships.

1 little black kitty.  Has it really been over 7 months since I adopted Sumi-chan?  Getting through the first 6 weeks, during which she wouldn’t let me near her and cried in constant distress, was the hardest thing I did this year, and also the thing I’m the most proud of.  As I write this now, Sumi is curled up next to me, where she has spent most of the last 2.5 days since I got back from California.  She’s still quite a talker, and spooks easily, but she’s also sweet and adorable and I love her.

Reading back over this post, I realise that it doesn’t reflect what was going on in the outside world during the past year.  But if you’re anything like me, dear reader, you probably need a break from the disasters and tragedies and outrages sometimes, so I’ll post this anyway and try not to feel too guilty.

Banking in Japan, Part 4

In which I get money in the bank!

Disclaimer: Due to my long hiatus from blogging, I cannot guarantee that my memory of these events is accurate.  Also, this will be long, because I just want to finish the darn saga.

Where we left off our story, I had successfully prepped my Japanese bank account to deal in international wire transfers.  The next step was to register my American Charles Schwab bank account as a transfer/source destination.  Believe it or not, this is something you can do online!

if you have a one-time password (OTP) device.  In order to get an OTP device you have to have provided the bank with your Individual Number.  Which I had!   But all that meant was that the device would be mailed to me sometime soonish.  So back to paper forms it was.  Being a thorough, prepared sort of person, I took the appropriate form with me when I went to the bank to inform them of my Individual Number.  I handed it over to the nice teller lady, sat and waited for 5 minutes, and then was told that instead of providing the SWIFT code (an internationally used bank identifier) for my Schwab account, I  should have provided the ABA (American Bankers Association) number.  This made no sense, because as far as I know, ABA number are only used within the U.S.  I politely disagreed with the teller, sat and waited another 5 minutes, then learned that I had in fact been correct.  Hooray?

At this point, I’d done absolutely everything I needed to do on the Japan side, so I figured I was home free.  Oh, the optimism of youth.  Or something.  At home, I logged into the – all English, no special forms or devices required! — Schwab website, and navigated to the online wire transfer form.  So easy!  Filled it out, hit submit and… ERROR.  SWIFT code not recognized.  I double checked my Japanese bank’s website and tried again.  No dice.  The webpage I was looking at helpfully suggested I call the Schwab International Wire Transfer Specialists, so I did, and was informed by a recorded message that I was calling outside of normal business hours.  The message did not, however, tell me what normal business hours were, nor could I find it anywhere on the Schwab website.  GAAHHHH.  I tried again at another time and got the same message.

Frustrated to be so close to my goal and yet still thwarted, I called regular ol’ Charles Schwab customer service, and they said, oh, yeah, if it doesn’t work online, you can print out a form and mail it to us in Texas.  ::facepalm:: I’m pretty sure I ended up faxing it instead, but still.  On that form, there was a note that I would receive a call to verify my transaction during their normal business hours, which were something like 9am – 5:30pm ET, which is 10pm – 6:30am in Japan.  Oh goody.  I was determined to get this transfer through, however, so I ended up blearily answering my phone at 2:30am to verify the transfer.

Several days later, the money came through, I paid for my Japanese lessons, and I felt an immense sense of accomplishment for having achieved my goal.  I tried to explain this to other people, but somehow they just didn’t think it was that exciting :).

Banking in Japan, Part 3

In which I prepare to receive an international transfer to my Japanese bank account.

Having determined that I would not receive a paycheck in time to pay for my language classes, I decided to transfer money from one a U.S. account to my new Japanese bank account.  Wire transfers have been around for a while, so how hard could it be?

First, a bit of background.  Upon moving to Japan — or within Japan — you are required to register your residence at your local ward office.  I did this on my second day in Japan, and my helpful translator informed me that I would be receiving an individual number (also called a “my number”) from them within “a few weeks.”  An individual number is similar to a social security number, but the system was only launched last fall, so it’s still very new.

As observed previously, Japanese banks are much more security and procedure conscious than most American banks.  At my bank in Japan, in order to send or receive money from international bank accounts, you have to provide the bank with your individual number (on a physical form, of course).  Around the time I needed to make the wire transfer, I received a piece of mail from my local ward entirely in Japanese, which had a number on it that Google Translate said was my “resident code.”  Guessing this was my individual number, I went to fill out my bank form, but discovered it had the wrong number of digits.  Confused, I asked my orientation consultant and found out that this was in fact a different number — one for which I have yet to find any purpose.  She advised me that if I needed my individual number right away, I could return to my local ward office and request a “certificate of residence registration” with the number on it.

So one morning before work, I walked to the ward office, filled out a form, paid 300 yen, and acquired the certificate.  I didn’t want to lose more work time that day, so I waited until Saturday to go back to the bank, shiny certificate in hand.  Wrong choice.  That particular Saturday, I was exploring a new area of Tokyo, but I had verified beforehand that my bank had a branch there.  Confidently, I walked into the bank and handed the representative my form.  His English wasn’t great, so I still don’t understand the reason, but he basically told me, “Sorry, your account is closed at this branch for today.  You have to go to a different branch.” Uh, what?

Irked, I returned Monday morning to my local branch, where the lady teller took my form and helpfully informed me that no, the certificate I had provided was not the appropriate documentation to notify the bank of my number.  Thankfully, I was able to point out that the certificate did in fact have my number on it, and she changed her mind.

Success!  Now I could… register an international bank account as a transfer source or destination?  Sigh.  To be continued…

Banking in Japan, Part 2

In which I set up my Japanese bank account to send money.

My second week in Japan, I started intensive language lessons.  Unfortunately the language school does not accept credit cards as payments — only cash or bank transfer, with the latter preferred (this is normal in Japan).  Assuming I will soon get paid and have money in my account, I resolve to pay by bank transfer.  In order to do this, I must register the recipient’s bank account information with my bank.  It’s the 21st century, so I figure I can do this on the internet, right?  Wrong.

Steps to register a domestic bank transfer recipient

  1. Print out form from bank website
  2. Fill out form
  3. Take form in person to local bank branch
  4. Get asked to re-sign your name because the final “d” looks different
  5. Wait 15 minutes while the teller (presumably) enters the information on a computer
  6. Get informed that your recipient will appear online to receive transfers within 2-3 business days.  Because it takes time for the information to… uh… yeah I have no idea.  Reasons.

Unfortunately, pay day comes and goes and I don’t get paid, because paychecks are monthly, not biweekly here, and I arrived after the “cut off date” for getting paid in February.  Which means I need to transfer money from my American bank account to my Japanese bank account in order to pay for my classes.  More on that later, though…

Banking in Japan, Part 1

In which I acquire a bank account.

My second day in Tokyo, I was accompanied to the bank by a helpful lady from Tokyo Orientations.  She acted as an adviser and translator during the process, without which I would have floundered.  Things were going along swimmingly, until the nice bank representative went to make a copy of my residence card.

Bank rep (via my translator): Your last name on your residence card is spelled with a space.  But here you have written it without a space.

Me: Ah, yes, see, it’s on the card like that because it was on my visa like that because apparently it’s on my U.S. passport like that*.  But I don’t actually spell my name that way.

Her: Preeeeetty sure the name on your bank account has to match your residence card.

Me: Okay, but that isn’t actually my name.

Her: I’m sorry but rules are rules.  Please cross out each incidence of the space with two horizontal lines, and then sign your name to acknowledge the correction.  Also, you spelled your address wrong (it’s how the hotel spelled it!), so please fix that too.

This meant attempting to sign my name inside the small boxes which were already filled with the original text entries on the form, so I had to squeeze.

Her: I’m sorry, you must sign your name all on one line.  Please cross it out and sign again.

I dutifully comply.

Her: Now you have fixed the signature, but you must sign your name again to acknowledge that you crossed out your signature.


Despite some stumbles, I came away with a shiny new Japanese bank account!  That was the easy part though.  To be continued.

*I have no idea why the United States decided to insert a space in my name, but it turns out it’s the same on my dad’s passport.  No one in our lives has ever before noticed or cared.

Starting a new chapter of my life… in Japan!

I keep intending to write blog posts, because now I’m living in a foreign country, so I must have lots of interesting things to say, right?  Only it seems like a lot of work to organize my thoughts and post things that are interesting.  This post is premised on the assumption that it is better to post something than nothing, even if it is not organized or interesting.

I’ve been here for two weeks now, and even though this past week I went to work, it hasn’t really sunk in that I’ve moved here.  That this isn’t just temporary.  When I think about this fact too hard, it scares me, so I try not to do that.  Tokyo is a very big city. Like, really really big.  Nearly every subway stop you get off at looks as though it could be in downtown San Francisco.  I’ve got the hang of getting from my local station (Azabu-juban) to my temporary apartment, but anywhere else I go is a challenge adventure.  Thank goodness for smart phones and Google Maps.  I do love that you can get just about anywhere on public transit in the city, despite its size.  I’m excited to experience a car-free lifestyle for a while.

My new office is on the 30th floor of a building on a hill, so there’s quite a view of the city.  The immediate surrounding area is pretty upscale; I walk past Louis Vuitton and other high-end boutiques on my way to work every day.  In general, people here dress very well during the week, especially women, even at Google.  I don’t understand how everyone does so much walking in high heels; I’ll take looking less classy over foot discomfort any day (though I do sometimes regret how un-put-together I must appear, especially with my frizzy hair compared to all the sleek black tresses).

I could ramble on, but that’s enough for now, I think.

Almost there…

My goal this year was 50 new books, and right now I’m at 49, so I better get started on another book today! Here’s what I’ve been reading (if the widget doesn’t show at first, try refreshing the page):

I think my favourites were Ready Player One and Where’d You Go, Bernadette. What books have you enjoyed this year?

Tuesday in Tokyo

[Note: wrote but never edited or published this while in Japan.  Figured there’s no reason for it to languish in the intarwebs.]

After crashing at 8:30ish last night, I woke up around 2 and couldn’t sleep — no surprise, really, given the time change.  Chatted with Esther for a bit, checked up on the intarwebs, and tried to sleep again.  Gave up, and read The Signature of Things until maybe 5, then slept until 7:30.

My first order of business after breakfast was to visit the local 7-11 in hopes of finding delectable Kit Kats.  No dice.  I’ve been told candies and such are also sold at stations like Shibuya, but I have no idea where.  In case you’re envisioning the likes of say, a BART station, think again.  Shibuya is bewildering.  It’s not even a single station; there are at least 2 separate rail companies, probably more.  I walked around it 3 times today and I still have the barest sense of geography.

I did find my way to the JR Yamamote line, which circles central Tokyo, and went one stop north to Harajuku, where I wandered around a colourful retail area for a bit before retreating to a Starbucks.  With the help of free wifi, I got my bearings and directions to Yoyogi Park and the Meiji Shrine, which were my destination.  The park and shrine were relaxing and beautiful, despite the rain.  I might have spent more time exploring the park, but I thought I’d try to get to Google for lunch.  However, after 1/2 an hour searching for the right bus and getting progressively wetter and hungrier, I gave up and went back to the hotel.  Thanks to recommendations from other Googlers, I found a nice Nepalese place for lunch and enjoyed curry, naan, and chai.

Thus fortified I set out once again and this time found the bus, paid the fare without too much fumbling with coins, and even managed to get off at the right stop.  The Google offices are on the 26th floor and up of an office tower, offering great views of the city (when there isn’t so much rain and clouds).  After a brief visit (everyone was working, after all), I hopped on my fourth transit system so far, the Tokyo Metro, to get to Akihabara. [meant to write more here, but never got around to it]

Back to Shibuya, where I spent another hour attempting to find a vegetarian restaurant recommended on TripAdvisor.  I think I ultimately ended up in the right area, but either it doesn’t exist, or I wasn’t clever enough to locate it.  Navigating is more challenging than I imagined it would be.  Felt like a failure when I resorted to eating pizza at a restaurant attached to my hotel.  Incidentally, it was a “vegetarian” pizza that turned out to be a cheese pizza with a salad on top.  Odd, but perfectly decent, and at least a more proper dinner than last night’s Kashi bar.

While I did get around to a few places, and never got particularly lost, today felt inefficient.  On the bright side, between eating two meals alone and riding around on transit all day, I’m nearly done with The Signature of All Things.  I’m also exhausted, so it’s off to another early bedtime for me.

Patellar what?

Nearly four years ago, I spent my first New Year’s at Camp Harmony. Afterwards, I wrote

Unfortunately between all the dancing and some steep hills at the camp site, my right knee got sort of wonky and I had to take it easier the second half of camp.

It seemed simple enough: my knee was aggravated, and resting was enough to recover. As the year wore by, however, I noticed my knee hurting more often. After I hiked down Squaw Valley in July, my knee was killing me. I resolved to do something about it, and went to see a doctor on August 24, 2009. I was told that I had “jumper’s knee” and was prescribed rest, ibuprofen, and physical therapy. A week later, a physical therapist gave me a regimen of strengthening exercises and suggested that I might feel better in 8-10 weeks.

I mostly tell people I have patellar tendinitis, because that was my earliest diagnosis, and tendinitis is a term familiar to a lot of people. Here’s what patellar tendinitis entails:

  • Pain at the bottom and front of the kneecap
  • Caused by overuse, especially jumping-heavy sports like basketball
  • Inflammation of the tendon

When I looked it up online, I learned that

Initially the pain might be present only during the start or after completing the sport or work out which then worsens to becoming more constant in nature. Everyday activities such as climbing up and down stairs might be painful too. [source]

which seemed apt enough, especially the part about going down stairs. My pain was clearly not caused by sports activities, but I thought maybe my dancing was a factor, or possibly poor seat adjustment on my bicycle. As time went on, however, my pain persisted despite a (reluctant) hiatus from dancing and reasonable diligence with my exercises.

The next term I heard to describe my knee was patellar tendinosis. Where -itis means inflammation, -osis, according to Wikipedia, “implies a pathology of chronic degeneration without inflammation.” Degeneration? Yikes! Damage to a tendon at a cellular level? Double yikes!! Fortunately, I was told that exercises which focused on eccentric loading — some of which I was already doing in physical therapy — had been shown to be very helpful in recovery [ref]. So I continued with my squats and clamshells and quad sets. By the time I went to Ireland in March 2010, I’d been assigned about an hour’s worth of exercises a day. Let me tell you that it is bloody hard to motivate oneself to do any boring and/or uncomfortable exercises without seeing positive effects, much less an hour of them.

Around that time, I expanded my medical vocabulary yet again with patellar tendinopathy. Time for more etymology! -opathy comes from the Greek pátheia meaning suffering (cf. pathos). In medicine, however, it really just means disease. That’s right, I had a disease of (or more accurately, problem with) my tendon. Good to know.

The next phrase I heard spiced up my growing vocabulary by leaving out the tendon altogether. On the surface, patellofemoral syndrome seems even more useless than tendinopathy; no fooling I have a syndrome that relates to my patella. Back to the internet went I and found this page, which clarified matters somewhat:

  • “a syndrome is a set of symptoms that tend to occur together rather than an actual diagnosis of the cause of the symptoms” (ohhh)
  • “patients may complain that there is discomfort on descending or ascending stairs, or walking downhill or on uneven surfaces” (check!)
  • “The knee may become stiff and uncomfortable after sitting for a long time” (check!)
  • causes including hip weakness, IT band tightness, quads/hamstrings imbalance, and arch abnormalities, especially flat-footedness (aha!)

This certainly wasn’t the first time my feet had been brought up; the first orthopedist I saw watched me walk and suggested I get new orthotics to replace the ones I’d had for almost 10 years. However, what was emerging was a picture that suggested that the dysfunction in my knee wasn’t caused by particular activities or injury, but rather by biomechanical issues above and below (i.e. in my hips and my feet), probably ones which had been developing over some time.

It’s past my bedtime, but stay tuned for the rest this riveting saga, featuring needles, a detour to cartilage, and yet more etymology.