A Foreigner’s First Concert in Japan

Last weekend David and I attended our first concert in Japan- the Sekai no Owari Twilight City tour in Yokohama. Much to my surprise the whole concert process is pretty different than all the concerts we’ve been to in the states. In the states when you want concert tickets you have a few methods of getting them:

  • winning them (free) in a contest
  • getting them through a fan club membership
  • buying them from the artist’s recommended venue
  • buying them from a ticket broker like Ticketmaster
  • buying them from individuals

It’s somewhat similar here in Japan, but we had some hurdles. First off, we don’t speak and read enough Japanese to buy tickets from auction sites or individuals. Second, we don’t have a Japanese bank account or credit card, so we can’t easily pay for them on said auction sites or from said individuals. This really limited our ticket buying options.

Getting Tickets: Japan has this really interesting lottery system that they use for many different things, including concert tickets. Each convenience store chain hosts a specific concert/artist. In our case we wanted to see Sekai no Owari. Lawson was the chain hosting their ticket lottery.

To enter the lottery you have to have a membership point card (at least you did for Lawson). Considering I don’t have a Japanese name it was a little difficult, but I just made it work on the online form. After you get a membership card it’s time to enter the lottery. You have to put your name, number of tickets, and date you want in the drawing. For really popular groups you can only enter once, so ask your Japanese or expat friends to enter their names in the lottery, too- but have them read the rules. For our show if you won you weren’t required to pay for them- no credit card was needed, but a friend did this for another band and ended up winning the lottery for 2 different shows. She had to pay for both sets of tickets! Luckily she was able to sell them.

Then you wait a month or so to find out if you won. We didn’t win with our entry, but my friend got the email that she (I) had won.

Winning the Ticket Lottery: Next you have to take the ticket lottery conformation number and go to your local convenience store and use their electronic transaction machine to get the placeholder tickets. These transaction centers can do much more than confirm event tickets, you can pay bills and utilities through them, too.

Loppimachineprintout

These are just placeholder tickets- no seat numbers listed!

There was no English option, so the helpful clerk typed in all the information for me after my 4th failed attempt at retrieving the paper ticket stubs. I finally got it printed out. Then you take it to the register and pay for your tickets. That’s right. You won the lottery, but it’s not free. You just won the right to have guaranteed seats. The tickets that print out don’t even have the seats on them. You could get amazing floor seats, or you could get nosebleed seats… that’s part of the lottery-ness of it all.

Going to the Concert:

11737931_1113099515384797_4219306806603641185_n

Sekai no Owari Twilight City set

Then you wait some more. You wait and you wait and you wait until about 2-3 weeks before the concert when your actual tickets arrive. Mine arrived to my friend’s house, because they were linked to her membership rewards card and online account. I anxiously waited to find out what the seat numbers were. Would we get lucky with those, too? Based on the online seating chart our seats weren’t great, but they weren’t terrible. We had our tickets and the day of the event finally came around. We had no idea what to expect at the venue, so we arrived about 4 hours early. In the future we could probably arrive 1.5-2 hours early.

There were a lot of similarities to US concerts, like the huge crowds and long lines- especially for the women’s bathroom. There were some differences, too. At this show the concession food was reasonable, maybe only $1.00 more than what it cost outside the arena. It might have been because this band had a theme relating to local festivals, and food at matsuri (festivals) are usually quite cheap.

Whatever the reason, for the first time I didn’t have to pay over $4.00 for bottled water! I also noticed that there was a lot of cosplay. I mean, a lot. There was also a ton of young guys and girls doing “twin style”- where friends dress alike. Twin style is really huge in Tokyo right now, so seeing it wasn’t a big shock. Seeing so many people in cosplay did surprise me, though, especially considering that it was such a hot day. Some people had very elaborate and heavy costumes on.

11745790_1113255302035885_7929247035108785612_n

Sekai no Owari Twilight City show

Another difference was that people picked up after themselves. In Japan, everyone is expected to pick up their trash, so people had little plastic bags to put their trash and bottles in. In America most people leave their concession trash under their seats if they can get away with it. Something else that stood out to me was that when the crowd went to clap along to the music…everybody was in time with each other. In America you hear all sorts of off beat, out of sync clapping, but I didn’t notice it at all in our area.

11745675_1113255378702544_9035529649797042914_n

Japanese crowds clap in time!

And what about an encore? They do it here, too…. except it’s more polite. In the states we all chant “encore, encore!,” but at this concert the crowd sang a sweet sounding song that I couldn’t catch all the words of except for “one more time.” Everyone was singing this nice, polite song asking the artists to come out and sing once more- and they did. And it was fantastic. If I didn’t hear Dragon Night I thought I was going to go crazy, but luckily it was part of their encore.   Overall, it was a great first experience, but we couldn’t have done it without the help of our Japanese friends.

My Time on NHK World’s Cool Japan TV Show

“My name is Angela and I have 2 cats.”

Since March I have appeared on 5 episodes of the long-running television show called “Cool Japan” that is broadcast on NHK’s BS1 channel, as well as on their global broadcast called NHK World.

Today I got my first message from a viewer through my blog (thank you for writing, Ich!), and it dawned on me that I should probably post about my experience on the show.

Whenever people find out that I have appeared on the program they always ask me how I got on the show, what it’s like, etc. so, there’s the scoop on it.

I started watching the program when we moved to Japan in November 2013. I enjoyed the show, and watched it almost every week.

Then in June 2014 I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and during my “surgery summer” I was home recovering, which meant I was able to watch every episode of the show.

During this time I also spent a lot of time online researching and happened to check out the Cool Japan website on NHK. At the very bottom of the site there was a button mentioning they were accepting new cast members, so I thought.. “what do I have to lose?” and I applied sometime in July 2014.

A few months went by without hearing anything. Then around September I got an email asking me to come for an audition. Of course I said yes. The only problem was that I was in Hawaii receiving cancer treatment and would likely not make it back to Japan in time for the audition. I said yes, anyway. I convinced my doctors to let me fly home maybe 2-3 days before my big audition.

I was jet lagged and filled with a low level of radiation. My hair was falling out and I was exhausted. But I made the trip to Roppongi from my city and auditioned. It was awful. The asked me to tell them about myself. I had not been asked that question since being diagnosed with cancer. I stuttered. I said “My name is Angela and I like cats.” I didn’t say where I was from, that I worked for Dell (at the time), that I was married, that I had a master’s degree…none of it. They looked at me like I was nuts.

It was a group audition with 3 other foreigners in my group. They were very genki and  from big metropolitan cities. I was sick and was from a small southern state in America. The audition topic was about night life. In my state nightlife consists of clubbing (which I don’t do), and going to the 24-hour Wal-Mart. We don’t really have anything else that’s open 24 hours, so I had very little to contribute to the conversation.

After the audition I was pulled aside and asked some questions about gachapon machines, but I didn’t feel it was a good audition at all. I was so sick, so I don’t remember much else about it at all.

10991502_949571619944_6994839351465835457_o

From my first episode- I was sure I’d never get asked back, so I wanted to be sure and get a picture!

A few more months passed-I assumed I made a fool of myself and would never hear from them again. I was so surprised when I received an invitation in February to appear as a panelist on the topic of Kawaii 2015 that would tape in March. I went. I talked. I had a blast.

It was so much fun! I couldn’t believe that I was sitting just a few feet away from people I watched on television every week. It was surreal and I turned into a fangirl for a moment.

Then I taped the other episodes I mentioned earlier.

 

 

 

For those interested, my episodes so far have been:

Kawaii 2015

Time

Edged Tools

Umami

Bridges

IMG_9876

It’s been a really fun and exciting summer, and I’ve really appreciated the opportunity to work on the show. I’m not sure if I’ll be asked back in the future, but I will always cherish my memories and experiences from the episodes I’ve done so far! I’m feeling better each passing month, and I think that being on the show and making people laugh has helped me in my cancer recovery.

If you’ve stumbled upon my blog because you saw me on the show, thank you for watching. I hope you enjoyed watching the episodes!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swallowtail Butler Cafe in Ikebukuro, Tokyo

Ikebukuro is known for being the Akihabara for women, so of course I had to check out the male version of the maid cafe, the famous Swallowtail Butler Cafe.

To get to the cafe you have to take a flight of nondescript stairs down from the street level. Once you get to the entrance it’s like walking into an entirely different world. You’re greeted by a white-gloved butler who welcomes you and asks if you have a reservation. You need a reservation, so be sure to make one.

When it is finally your turn to enter into the cafe you’re passed through a few mansion-style front doors that give you the illusion of entering a beautiful home. 2 entry-way butlers politely introduced themselves, helped me out of my coat, then and took my purse. Next he lovingly folded my coat and draped it over his arm, gesturing that it was time for me to walk down the hallway and into the dining area.

butler_floor

Photo of the dining area found via Google images

Inside it is just as fancy and delicate as you imagined. The ceilings are adorned with chandeliers and sconces dripping with crystals. The lighting is warm, but a bit subdued. Each table is masterfully set to welcome the next princess who walks through the door. I couldn’t wait to try it myself.

 

The well-mannered butlers cater to your every need. And I mean every need. You are given a beautiful bell to ring should you need attention, but my butler was so on top of everything that I never had to ring it. They even poured your tea (and then covered the teapot with a tea cosy, so your beautiful princess eyes didn’t have to look at it!).

butler_food-201x300

photo of one of the lunch sets found using Google images

Your butler took your plates off the tabletop serving tray, too. You instructed your butler about which dish you wanted to eat next, and he got it and set it in front of you. I wasn’t allowed to do anything that required effort, except eat and drink. I’m surprised they didn’t want to go into the bathroom with me!

 

I loved everything about the entire dream-like experience except for 1 thing. Phones and cameras were not allowed, so I have nothing but memories. After thinking about it more I think not being allowed to document your time inside the cafe adds to the allure of the experience they want their customers (princesses) to be left with, and encourages diners to return.

The entire experience is in Japanese, except for a couple of things I didn’t understand that our gracious butler tried to tell me in some English. If you don’t have a grasp of basic Japanese you’ll probably need to take someone with you who can translate so you can fully enjoy being treated like a princess for the afternoon.

And YES- I will be going back.

Fukuro Sabo Owl Cafe Kokubunji, Tokyo

You might have heard about the themed cafes here in Japan-cat, rabbit, bird, hammock, maid, butler- the list goes on.

Personally, they’re one of my favorite things in Tokyo because there’s very few themed cafes and restaurants in America.

In June my husband and I visited the Fukuro Sabo Owl Cafe in Kokubunji, Tokyo to celebrate our birthdays (he is 1 day older than I am).

The cafe itself is about a 15 minute walk from Kokubunji station and is situated in a residential area, so prepare for a short walk downhill.

It is very small and seats maybe 10 people, so be sure to consider that if you decide to visit the cafe. You might even have to wait outside for a table, but you can pass the time by watching the huge brown owls who live just in front of the indoor cafe space. I do not know the species, but they are really large and beautiful.

The staff speaks virtually no English, and back then we spoke and understood even less Japanese than we did now. We still had a wonderful time even though we couldn’t talk with the staff as much as we wanted to. Now that I think about it, we might go back there since we can at least understand more of the language, even though we both struggle to speak it.

The menu is also in Japanese, but there are pictures of a few of the items. If I remember correctly we just bought soda, but they offer coffee, tea, sweets, spaghetti, and a few other simple menu items. You are also given a picture menu of the owls they have available for you to hold and pet.

You eat first, then the owl is brought out so there’s no worry about getting feathers in your food! First the staff brings a leather glove and a few towels, then they gently place the owl on your arm and show you how to pet him/her. You can take as many pictures (without flash) as you want, so it was a really nice experience.

I chose to hold Shiro, a barn owl. I told the staff that it was our birthday and she let me hold the other barn owl for free as a present! The Japanese people never cease to amaze and humble me with their hospitality and kindness.

This was an unexpected experience in the center of a large residential district, so if you get the opportunity to visit the Sabo Owl cafe, please do so.

DSC_3972 DSC_3973 DSC_3974  DSC_3979 DSC_3980 DSC_3991 DSC_4002 DSC_4024 DSC_4025 DSC_4027 DSC_4070DSC_4030 DSC_4032 DSC_4040 DSC_4050  DSC_4094

Kawaii Neko (Cat) Marshmallows from Japan

I saw these neko (cat) marshmallows on the internet somewhere a few weeks ago and decided I had to check it out!

I am fortunate to live in Japan, because these marshmallows are not sold in stores, kind of like a direct mail-order situation.

However, fear not fellow foreigners!

With their popularity exploding thanks to the internet, the company created a version of their site that caters for foreigners living outside Japan. Their Facebook page also includes tips in English for foreign buyers.

It took about 2 weeks for these to arrive from Nagano to Tokyo, but I imagine it is because of how many orders they have received recently.

The cat marshmallows are my favorite, but the paws are cute, too. They float on top of your hot chocolate or coffee, and while they do eventually melt, they do their job. They entertain you while they’re solid, and taste great once melted.

The texture is just like mochi, and I think they’re the best tasting marshmallows I’ve ever eaten.

I hope you enjoy these pictures, and I hope you’ll think about ordering a box of your own!

 

Burger King Japan- Kuro (Black) Diamond Burger

American living in Tokyo, here.

Japan seems to really like promotional and limited edition items, and I’m starting to enjoy the novelty of it, too!

This October I finally was able to get my hands on a kuro (black) burger from Burger King Japan while visiting Akihabara.  The kuro burger has a black bun and black cheese colored with bamboo charcoal and squid ink ketchup.

I meant to try the kuro earlier in the summer, but with my whole cancer thing all my plans got put on hold.  Once I was feeling better I was relieved to learn that the kuro burger was still being served and that I hadn’t entirely missed it.

I rarely eat fast-food, but I was willing to give this a try since we never have anything like this in America.

So, how did it taste?

The bun was crispy; in fact, the bun was my favorite part.

I don’t like fast-food cheese slices, but I still ate it since it was limited edition. It tasted fine (remember, this is coming from someone who doesn’t like fast-food cheese).

The burger was good- the typical Burger King patty.

Would I eat it again?

Since I don’t like fast-food I have to say no.

But, hypothetically… if I was someone who regularly ate fast-food I’d say yeah, totally, but without the cheese. It tasted pretty good for fast-food!

Kuro Diamond Burger King wrapper

Unwrapping the Kuro Diamond burger

 

Kuro Diamond Burger King

Burger King Japan’s Kuro Diamond Burger

 

 

How Thyroid Cancer and Hypothyroidism Changed My Body

Here’s a link to my post detailing my Cancer diagnosis and treatment timeline . I used to have a very predictable, dependable body. I knew how much exercise I had to do to work off that cookie I had at lunch. I knew how long it would take for me to recover from vacation/travel eating. I knew my body really well. Then I got cancer. I think an active list of my symptoms might not only help me, but might benefit someone trying to figure out their new life as a hypothyroid patient. I am not a doctor, so please track your own symptoms and discuss them with your doctor. Symptoms I have experienced so far:

  • weight gain
  • hair loss
  • insomnia
  • nightmares
  • pungent body odor
  • brain fog/forgetfulness
  • language/writing problems

1. Weight gain After my other thyroid was removed I gained 10 pounds in a month. While I understand that 10 pounds is not much when compared to other thyroid patients, it is unusual for me. It is also a significant amount of weight for a petite person like myself. I am thankful for only gaining a small amount of weight, but I must note it as a way that thyroid cancer and hypothyroidism changed my body. I have lost 2 pounds since my RIA (radio-iodine ablation) mid- September 2014, but that’s the most my weight has budged.I have 8 pounds to go to be at my pre-cancer weight. I eat a calorie restricted diet and try to aim for high protein, low carbs. I eat a lot of fish, and soy. While soy consumption is controversial, my endocrinologist advised that I can eat soy, I just have to eat it 4 hours after taking my thyroid pill. Resolution (for now):  Yesterday (11/18) I started a 2 workout a day plan. I am not doing strength training, but have read that strength training/weight lifting might help with weight loss for someone in my condition. I don’t have easy access to weights, but I’m looking into how to change that. 2. Hair Loss After the second time my Levothroxine was increased I noticed that my hair began falling out. It isn’t coming out in huge clumps, but it does come out daily. I find it on my pillow, in my brush, in the shower, and in my bicycle helmet. This has never happened before. When I get my hair cut it is even worse, so I avoid going as often as I should. I had to explain to my Japanese stylist that I was taking medicine that made my hair fall out so he didn’t worry when he saw all of it come out as he cut. 3. Insomnia For the past 5 months I have been taking Levothroxine at night (per my doctor). I have never suffered from insomnia before, but I would lie awake for about 3-4 hours on average. Resolution: I decided to start taking my medicine in the morning (which is what is on the bottle) on 11/6.  The day of my first morning dose I had a lot of energy (ran/biked 2 miles) and I fell asleep within 30 minutes and had no nightmares. A week later and I still have had no more nightmares and no trouble falling asleep.

4. Nightmares

I would also have terrible nightmares every night. It became normal for me, but just a few days before switching to a morning dose my husband commented that I have had persistent nightmares. Over time I just stopped noticing.

Resolution: (see #3)  5. Pungent body odor I have tried many things to alleviate the body odor that has accompanied my thyroid condition. What was strange is that after I had my surgeries the odor was gone for a few months while my thyroid medication was very low. Once it increased to 125 mcg the odor came back. I don’t drink coffee, only 1-2 cups of black tea a day. I don’t drink much soda, maybe 1-4 diet sodas a month. I’ve tried washing my armpits with baking soda, stainless steel (smooth stone) soap, rubbing alcohol, lymph drainage massage, antibacterial body soaps, and all kinds of deodorant+ antiperspirant. I shower twice a day, sometimes more. One arm is stronger than the other, and it’s opposite the side of my body where the cancer was present. Very strange. I have tried a variety of laundry techniques, too. Baking soda, vinegar, ammonia, sun drying, boiling water, several different sports detergents and laundry scrubs. That worked for a while, but once my hormones start getting out of control the smell comes back.  Resolution (for now): I learned about transdermal magnesium chloride therapy while talking to another hypothyroid patient on Reddit. I figured that I had nothing to lose, so I bought a bottle on Amazon. I have been using it for 3 days, and my body odor is minimal, even while on my period. I did not ask my doctor about this, because he told me he does not believe that non-prescription methods work. He also did not believe that my strong body odor was related to my thyroid issues. I am not a doctor, but this is my body, and I disagree. Update 7/4/15: The transdermal magnesium spray was a game changer. I have been using it since the date of this post and am back to only 1 shower a day, no overwhelming odor (unless I drink cheap coffee), and I couldn’t be happier. My doctor still did not believe that this spray helped, but it worked for me.

6. Brain fog, forgetfulness, scatterbrain, thyroid brain I have always been known for my amazing memory and ability to complete tasks quickly and efficiently. However, after the most recent dosage increase I noticed I could no longer remember even the most basic of things. I repeat stories, I forget what I was doing, I have trouble completing work and household tasks. It is extremely frustrating for me. I have told my doctor, but the symptom remains untreated. I asked about taking ginko biloba, but the doctor told me  that it probably won’t work and that it isn’t FDA approved, and left the conversation at that. Resolution (for now):  I keep forgetting to take it (go figure), but I think that taking my Levothroxine in the morning has helped. I am still foggy and forgetful, but it seems like it doesn’t disrupt my life as much as it did before switching to a morning dose.Update 7/4/15: In May my doctor FINALLY listened to me (once my husband went in to the appointment with me- that’s a whole other blog post in itself) and increased my dosage to the next strength. I have had more energy, and less brain fog every day since then.

7. Difficulty writing/editing As a technical writer this is very difficult for me. My job involves writing, and having to proofread so diligently and STILL finding basic mistakes makes me want to scream. Writing and editing have always come naturally to me, but I can no longer do it in the same capacity that I could before cancer and hypothyroidism. Resolution (for now):  This one is tough. I keep making mistakes. I will keep making mistakes unless I am very careful with my editing. There are probably mistakes in this post that, even though I’ve combed over it a few times, I still don’t see. I just have to keep an eye on it and try harder.