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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

Beware Orivet Genetics and AnimalsDNA.com

This is one of the worst shopping experiences I have ever had, so I feel obligated to keep other people from making my mistake.

PLEASE avoid Orivet Genetics (AKA AnimalsDNA.com).

I wanted to see what one of our cat’s DNA looked like out of curiosity and after much research I found a company that claims to support breeders and individuals.

I’m honestly not sure how a breeder could work with them considering my one cat’s results have not been produced and I ordered it on February 18, 2014.

It is now August 12, 2014.

Below is the status of my test as of today.

—- DNA FINGERPRINT (PROFILE) – CAT Pending Tue, 18 Feb 2014

I searched my inbox and found 11 emails from the company since March 12 in reply to my questions about where my cat’s results are.

Each email promised my results in 1-2 weeks. Some even gave a specific date or day of the week.

Their emails contain excuses for the delay including :

  • they forgot (wow, really?)
  • that my several emails sat in Junk mail for a few weeks
  • that their email system was down for a long period of time
  • and that they had to “sit down” with their geneticist for a stern talking to.  That stern talking to happened June 27 and I have heard nothing since.

I was given 2 test results that I did not order as a consolation, but honestly I’m not sure if they even ran my cat’s sample to make those reports.

I imagine that falsifying cat DNA reports might be fairly easy by someone who knows how to do it, so I’m not even sure if the 2 reports I received are legitimate.

Please, please do not buy any DNA tests from this company. They have proven themselves to be both unprofessional and untrustworthy.

 

UPDATE 10/7/2014

After a few unanswered emails I got fed up and send another email that I had contacted my credit card company for a charge back/ transaction dispute. That email was answered within a business day and I received a PayPal payment. With the currency conversion and PayPal fee it wasn’t quite the full amount I originally paid, but I’m just thankful to get any of it back.

I still stand by my warning because it took 8 months to get a refund. Be careful when you do business online!

 

My septorhinoplasty and thyroidectomy

In the spring of 2014 I discovered that my thyroid cyst from last year turned into a tumor and was growing steadily.

I am at an air base in Japan on my husband’s military orders, so first I had to go off base to a Japanese hospital to have the needle aspiration biopsy done because the base hospital couldn’t provide this service.

The surgeon at Yokota still needed to examine me first and noticed that I had a severely damaged nose from an injury I received in kindergarten. A girl hit me over the head with her heavy 1990’s lunchbox complete with an old, heavy thermos and my nose has remained broken ever since. After he performed some initial breathing tests I was amazed at the difference that being unobstructed made and he agreed to revisit my nose problem after I had some more work on my thyroid done.

The second appointment was a consultation at St. Luke’s International Hospital in Tokyo, about 2 hours one way by train. I had to visit the bi-lingual doctor, then the surgeon for the needle biopsy, then re-visit the first Japanese doctor so that I could get the results back in English. February and March were exhausting with the back and forth appointments.

The FNA (fine needle aspiration) here was an experience I’ll never forget because Japanese medicine doesn’t use anesthesia like American medicine does. The doctor looked at me and said “don’t breathe, don’t swallow, don’t talk”  before shoving he long, thin needle into the left side of my throat. The needle could have been short, for all I know-it just felt like it was a foot long. My brain had no time to register what happened, so the pain didn’t come until an hour later.

He gathered cells twice (he called the needle insertions “punches”) and that still only took 10 minutes; the same procedure took 45 minutes with anesthesia last year in America.

The FNA results came back clear for cellular cancer, but the doctors were concerned with what we couldn’t see so I was sent back to Yokota to biopsy the tumor itself.

Here is another difference between eastern and western medicine; the Japanese doctors did not want to remove any part of the thyroid and only wanted to only take the tumor, but all the American doctors wanted to take both the mass and half my left thyroid.

Now I was faced with the decision of the actual surgery. I received a referral to the naval base even farther south (about 3.5 hours by train one way) and it was the same process. A consultation, a return trip for the surgery, and a lengthy stay.

I was really frustrated with the idea that I would have to miss more work to go even further away so I emailed the ENT surgeon I first met at Yokota.

This was around late April and as it turns out my surgeon was set to leave Yokota Air Base in July, so that is why my referral was for the naval base. I was able to talk with the surgeon and get him to accept my surgery before he left- both of them, actually. We decided that he would do both the  septorhinoplasty and thyroidectomy at the same time. The  thyroidectomy took priority, of course, and would be the first procedure he would do for me.

My surgery was the morning of May 28, 2014 and this is the story of my surgery and recovery.

I have never had surgery before, except for having my wisdom teeth removed, so I was pretty anxious about being down for so many weeks.

Luckily all of our bills, deposits, and withdraws are automatic so I had nothing to worry about there. I highly suggest you put as much of your life on “auto pilot”  as possible, it will make your life so much easier.

I finished graduate school a few weeks ago, so I have no loose ends to tie there, either. I only had to get my work assignments and tasks set up so that I can easily have someone followup on my work.

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Wednesday after waking up from surgery

It took 3 times to get the IV into my arm, and my wrists have the bruises to prove it.

The last full day I remember is Tuesday, and that feels really weird to have lost so many days.

Immediately after the surgery I felt great, which really alarmed me because I wasn’t sure if that was the drugs, or if I really did feel okay. I was eating, walking, and sleeping relatively well. I had crackers that night, and the morning later was able to eat everything on my hospital tray.

The incision on my throat is fine, and I have minimal pain and discomfort. I can’t really put my head all the way back, but that’s no big deal.

My nose? That’s another story. I never expected the most painful and irritating of the two procedures would be my nose, even though I read about nose work beforehand and expected the itching. I’ve got both a nose cast on the outside and splints on the inside, and the itching is driving me crazy.

May 31 was the worst day for swelling so far because it felt like my nose was going to break my cast in two. I was able to get the swelling down with ice packs throughout the night. June 1 I was reduced to putting on gloves while I slept because I had been waking up scratching my nose and the rest of my body like crazy.

The next day I had to file my newly-grown nails down quite a bit just to avoid accidentally hurting myself. Benedryl isn’t dealing with the itching anymore, either, but luckily I had a prescription for itching already.

I’m taking my pain medicine on schedule, and have not needed to take the full dosage but a few times, so I’m happy with that.

Overall it feels like have serious sinus pressure and/or a cold because of the nose pressure, my need to carry around a Kleenex to catch drips, and having to sleep propped up at at angle so I can breathe.

The saline flushes 4 times a day has already become my least favorite thing to do during this whole recovery process.

By Sunday the bruising is starting to change colors from black to yellow. My nose cast comes off this coming Wednesday and I’m really excited about that.

I have had some light numbness on my left fingers since the surgery and have read that it might be a calcium deficiency, but I’ll wait for my doctor to monitor my thyroid levels to see what he thinks.

Wednesday 6/4

1 week post-op and I had the cast and splints removed today.

The ends of the splints are wider than my nostril is, so the initial pull was both painful and satisfying as it passed though. There there was the weird sensation of what felt like pulling spaghetti through my nose (that was the rest of the splint).

Then I had to experience that again on the other nostril. While it didn’t hurt enough to make me cry from pain, the pulling and tugging around my nose area made my eyes water and tears began to run down my cheeks.

Then the cast came off. I expected that to hurt worse than the splints, but the cast was no big deal. Immediately after everything removed I recognized how freely I could breath.

My doctor says that my recovery experience isn’t typical and that I am bouncing back earlier than most people do. Now this could just be him trying to make me feel good, but I wanted to mention it here since other people may have a harder time than I did.

I was cleared to go back to work as soon early as Friday and I will be back to scuba diving and will get to try sky diving in about 2 months post-op.

I asked about the light numbness in my fingers and he said that, considering I had 2 procedures that was about 4 hour long, that he thinks the tingle comes from how they position your hand tightly against your leg during the surgery and that the tingling sensation should go away in a few weeks.

While I know I am swollen, I see a big difference already- no crooked nose and no bump! And most importantly, I can breathe correctly!

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2 weeks post-op 6/11

Wednesday 6/11

Today marks 2 weeks post-op.

6/4 was the last day I used the pain medication, so I’ve been managing my pain very well. Most of the bruising is gone and I’m only left with some light yellowing on my cheek and the throat incision.

The numbness in my fingers is nearly gone and I’ve been able to crinkle my nose when I smile for the past few days, as well.

About 4 days ago I noticed a very strange droop/sag in both cheeks and I panicked.

It looked like I needed a facelift before I was 30. I emailed my doctor and he said it was likely just swelling and not to worry.

In the days since the swelling has indeed gone done and my cheeks are starting to look normal again.

I still have some swelling around my nose and cheeks and a little numbness on the tip of my nose, but I’m still breathing well and everything seems to be working out.

I did, however, get news yesterday that my biopsy results did come back positive for cancer.

The tumor had papillary thyroid cancer with a follicular variant. The doctors say that this is very treatable and My husband and I are staying positive and we both feel really good about it.

I’m scheduled for another surgery later this month to remove my right thyroid just to err on the side of caution. I’ll be on a thyroid supplement for the rest of my life, but it’s better than the alternative.

The other thyroid will be biopsied, as well, but it will be about another 2 weeks from the date of surgery to find out if they discovered any more cancerous tissue.

I will keep this post updated.

3 weeks, 2 days post-op

3 weeks, 2 days post-op

—————————–

Monday August 4

It’s August now and I’m recovering pretty well. The tip of my nose still feels pretty stiff, but it’s not painful or uncomfortable.

My second thyroid surgery was successful and I was told I am cancer free at the moment, so that’s great news. That scar is healing up nicely and I feel so much better without the cancer in my body.

I did end up gaining 4-6 pounds after the second surgery, but I am working on getting that under control. Sometimes a few pounds take more work to lose than double-digits.

Overall I’m glad to have had the procedures, even though surgery and recovery took up the majority of the summer. I’m having some trouble remembering that it is August already because it still feels like the beginning of summer for me.

I hope writing about my experience can help someone who is looking to have either of these procedures done!

If you’re about to have one of these operations done-stay strong. Wishing you a smooth surgery and recovery.

Manicures for Short Stubby Nails

If you found this, then you probably have the same problem I do- short, stubby nails (and in my case hands, too).

I was blessed with terrible hand genes. My hands are tiny and my nail beds are wider than they are short (think “squatty”).

This makes my nails look short and unattractive. I also pick my nails and cuticles due to stress.

Lately I decided that, unless by some miracle of cosmetic science they discover a way to completely replace your fingernails (or even give me robot fingernails- that would be cool), then I’m stuck with these stubs.

I started googling it and discovered that, to my dismay, I’m pretty much out of luck. I’ve tried the hair and nail vitamins, I’ve tried acrylic nails (they destroy my real nails), and I’ve tried the Sally Hansen pink nail growth polish (I’m allergic to it).

Nothing seems to help. My nails are brittle, snag easily, and grow out strangely- they’re still wider than they are long and the nailtip is very flimsy.

Yesterday I decided that I was going to try to do something about it. I was going to try to embrace my nails since I’m stuck with them.

If you also have short, stubby nails, fear not. Think like an artist and use illusion to add length while you try to grow your nails out.

Here’s the steps:

1. Apply a basecoat

2. Find a design

3. Draw!

4. Spray your nails with hairspray from several inches away- too close and the Sharpie will smear.

5. Wait until the hairspray is completely try, then apply a thick topcoat. A thinner topcoat made my Sharpie design smear.

6. Do not clip your nails, file them. Clipping damages nails like ours.

 

1. I opted to buy a light nude color as a basecoat. I found Covergirl’s Outlast in “Forever Frosted” # 115. I’m very fair, so this color matches my skin tone.

At this point I have to say that I am incredibly inexperienced with painting my nails, considering I have never cared about them before. My paint jobs are always uneven, so I usually opt for a glittery or frosted polish because they seem to be forgiving.

Protip: if you don’t paint all the way to the edge of your nails and nail bed it will make your nails look a little longer. It won’t magically give you longer nails, but hopefully the results will be better than what you expected.

Use a small paintbrush dipped in nail polish remover to “cut in” around the edge of your nails. I also read drawing around the edges with Elmer’s white glue works, but I haven’t tried it yet.

I didn’t even even have nail polish remover (I told you I never cared about my nails before!) so I just tried to leave that gap around each nail by hand.

2. I started thinking about art and illusion. Vertical lines help lengthen the body, and patterns help hide imperfections.

I’m too cheap to go to the nail salon and I’m too embarrassed of my stubs to go if I wasn’t cheap, so I started researching something I had seen on Pinterest- Sharpie manicures. Here’s another great site for ideas.

I LOVE Sharpies. For our first Valentine’s day as a married couple I asked for Sharpies- and I still have most of them. That was 9 years ago, so they last a while.

Then I picked a color I liked- I’m really into teal and turquoise. image (1)

3. I just started dotting. Heavy dots, and light dots, in quick movements. The best part is that the Sharpie comes off with rubbing alcohol, so if you mess up or if you’re a perfectionist like me you can just take it off and try again.

I’m happy with it and I hope that it will encourage me to let me nails grow, stop picking my cuticles, and embrace what nature gave me.

4. Spray your nails with hairspray from several inches away and let them dry completely.

I discovered step 4 after trial and error. If you apply the topcoat without this step the Sharpie will smear (or at least it did for me)

5.  Add your topcoat. Also discovered through trial and error- if you use a thin layer of topcoat you risk more smearing. I used a thick layer and even then a few of the dots smeared to streaks. The picture above was taken before I added the topcoat.

6. Never clip your nails, file them instead. I read several articles that talked about how clipping short nails like ours causes more damage to our already delicate nails. File them lightly to shape them.

10 Handy Products from the 100 Yen Store

Recently I read another blogger’s roundup of his 10 favorite handy items from the 100 yen store, so I thought I would do my own.

There are a few different 100 yen store chains, but all of these gems are from the Daiso.

Think of the Daiso as a Dollar General that has higher quality items that you can actually use for a long time.

For the most part I agreed with the author, but I found 10 more must-haves.

1. Melamine Sponges (aka Magic Erasers)

Here you can buy a bag full of melamine sponges in a variety of shapes and sizes. I’ll never buy an overpriced Magic Eraser again!

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2. Wood scratch filler markerIMG_5713

Not only did I finally find a marker to match my espresso-finished furniture, it works like a dream and was dirt cheap compared to American home stores. This came in handy for both the scratches that our furniture endured during its journey here to Japan, and for scratches that had been there for years.

3. Rice washer and rice paddle holder

Washing rice is a breeze now that we found this washer/strainer, and our rice paddle is easy to reach.

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4. Hard Boiled Egg Punch

Use this tool to punch holes in the bottom of hard boiled eggs before boiling to make them easier to peel. It’s magnetic so you can stick it to the fridge when you’re not using it.

5. Sweater Fuzz Remover Tool

This handheld battery operated sweater fuzz remover is powerful and effective. I have never bought one before simply because they’re too expensive for me- I’m super thrify. For 100 yen this was definitely a must-have!

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6. Spray bottles and pump bottlesIMG_5903

This is the most effective spray bottle I’ve ever bought anywhere- it has a strong sprayer and  trigger. The pump bottles come in many sizes and are great for dish soap and shampoo.

7. Pantry and closet lights

I found both wired and wireless setups. Start a video recording on your phone, put it in the closet, and shut the door to make sure you’ve got the positive and negative magnets positioned correctly.

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8. Gifts for those back homeIMG_5717

The 100 yen stores are perfect for gifts to send loved ones back home. This is just 1 of the aisles full of Hello Kitty products.

9. Counter Top Storage

These glass counter canisters work great for holding tea.

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10. Bathroom storageIMG_5904

Most homes are small here, so making best use of your space is critical. We found these dish soap holders and use them for toiletries, instead. This suction cup office pencil holder doubles as a toothbrush holder.

We were also able to use these same items to mount our WiMax adapter to the sliding glass window for better reception. No fiber- I know. It’s terrible, and the internet options on the military base are equally awful-trust me.

So, what are your favorite 100 yen store products?

Tokyo Ume (Plum) Blossom Season 2014

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Ume at Koganei Park

It is early March, which means that the white and pink Ume (Japanese plum) blossoms are opening up and that spring is on its way.

Here in Japan people wait all year long for this display. Ume blossoms come first, then tulips, then sakura (cherry) blossoms.

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Ume at Koganei Park

Some of my Japanese friends told me that Japanese people enjoy the blossom season for a few reasons: the blooms are pretty to look at, fragrant, and the event brings people together…but also that the blooming period is so short, which reminds us of our mortality.

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Ume at Koganei Park

One man I know likened the ume and sakura seasons to loving a gorgeous woman, only she passes away quickly and at the prime of her life. You enjoy the blooms while they are here, but you also know they do not last long so you must make the most of the time you have with them.

Recently I learned that, similarly to how many Americans are divided by sports teams, that many Japanese prefer viewing ume blossoms over sakura, and vice versa. Being that I’m a foreigner I’m crazy for both types of blossoms; I want to see them all!

I made a list of popular ume viewing locations that I found online at websites like Time Out Tokyo and created pins on our collaborative Google map to make our adventures easier to plan; David’s schedule is very difficult to adventure with, so we have to plan wisely.

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Ume at Hamura Zoo

Last weekend David and I were able to get away from Fussa to visit  Koganei park to view the ume blossoms since they typically appear late February.

However, last month Tokyo got the biggest snow storm its had in over 16 years, so the ume blossoms seem to be delayed due to the bad weather. 

Koganei park did have a few dozen trees that had some blossoms showing, but you could see that many buds were still closed.

We probably should have waited another week, but I was going crazy knowing there were blooms out there that I needed to see. Always the hipster, I had to be among the first to ume blossoms. 

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Ume at Hamura Zoo

I think I’m also getting “spring fever,” or what some may call “cabin fever” due to David’s taxing work schedule. I keep feeling the nagging urge to get out and explore!

It isn’t as fun to go experience Japan alone, but today was my breaking point and I was determined to cross off some of my “must-see” blossom viewing points on our Google map, even if I had to go by myself.

I helped at the local English speaking coffee shop and afterwards opted to go to Hamura zoo. I thought that there might be some ume trees, and I was right!

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Ume at Hamura Zoo

I felt a little strange going to a zoo by myself at first, but then I saw other people who were there alone, so I didn’t feel too weird after awhile. Though, I did notice that the other solo viewers were older men with giant cameras.

Not only did the zoo have a great array of local and exotic animals, there was also a dozen or so ume trees in bloom that were very nice. Many people, local and foreign, will tell you that the Hamura zoo isn’t that great, but if you are looking for the standard fare of zoo animals with a nice park area you should visit.

I found it to be clean, quiet, and while some animals had small cages the cages were clean and the animals looked to be in healthy condition and in good spirits. Plus it only cost 300 yen for each adult and 300 yen for parking. I was able to spend almost 2 hours there watching the animals and looking at the the mini-bamboo forest and ume trees.

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Ume at Hamura Zoo

I saw a few  families having picnics on the grass, a father and son playing catch, and older Japanese people sitting at park benches in this area- all were enjoying the beautiful weather and lovely ume.

I wished I had brought thought to bring a blanket and lunch so I could sit under the trees and relax, too.

I noticed that while other people were enjoying the blooms that I was only person taking pictures. My guess is because the main focus here is the zoo, but I didn’t mind that I looked like the crazy foreigner who has never seen ume because it’s true! I have never seen Japanese ume before now, and I want to enjoy every moment I can.

Tomorrow  morning after I work at the cafe I want to go to a larger park where I can relax on the grass and read or write for a little while. There are just so many ume viewing locations to visit, and so little time!