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.

 

Have you gone to a concert in Japan? Did you find the food to be more expensive than this concert? What else was different from concerts in your home country? Feel free to comment!

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.

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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.

Challenge: Choose Only 2 Things That Represent Japan

Yesterday a Japanese person asked me what 2 things I would pick that best represent [my impression of] Japan.

I found this to be a difficult question because so far I love everything about it.

Choosing just 2 aspects of life in Japan was very challenging, but after some thought I was able to pick 2 that best represent my experience here:

1. The Train System

I think that Japan’s train system is a metaphor for modern Japan culture.

I’ll often see women in kimono as they go to and from work, which is a reminder of how rich Japan’s culture is and how seamlessly the past blends with the present here. On the same city block you will see a mixture of old wooden homes alongside modern structures, so the blending of past and present is something you will instantly be aware of.

The trains are efficient, on time, and reliable. The signs are in English, which shows how willing the Japanese people are to accommodate travelers who speak other languages. The station is packed with delicious smells and foods, gifts, convenience store items, grocery stores, and sometimes even department stores, so you’re never at a loss for something to buy that you need or want.

The passengers are quiet, respectful, and keep to themselves. I find that the majority of people follow the established rules of the train system:stand on the left of the escalator and walk on the right, no talking on your phone in the train, move quickly, and don’t stop the flow of traffic. To me, this behavior shows how disciplined, respectful, and orderly the Japanese are- and I love it.

Then you have those passengers who sleep on the train. Many Americans I know think this is very funny (for some strange reason), but I think that these sleeping people represent the long work day and diligent work ethic that Japan culture celebrates.

2. Gadgets That Make Your Life Easier

Japanese gadgets never cease to amaze me. Every time I see a new one it makes perfect sense and I wonder why I haven’t seen it before now. I think that Japanese gadgets (for the kitchen, organization, storage, bathroom, and the like) are a perfect example of the efficiency and ingenuity of the Japanese culture. These products exist because there was a need that wasn’t being filled. Sure, there are some products out there that are probably useless, but there hasn’t been a single product I’ve bought that hasn’t helped make my daily life easier.

If you had to choose 2 things that best represent your impression of Japan, what would they be?

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?

DIY Fix-Snowboard Jacket Waterproof Lining Flaking Off

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Does your snowboarding jacket look like it has dandruff? If so, the waterproofing/waterproof liner is flaking or falling out because of it was put in the dryer, because of age of the jacket, or both.

You’re sick of having white flakes everywhere when you put it on or take it off, so how do you fix it? The good news is that (in most cases) your jacket is still perfectly usable.

I spent a lot of time researching how to fix this issue on my husband’s snowboarding jacket. He is new to the sport and bought a jacket at a thrift store for a decent price, but once we got it home we saw why it was there. We actually thought that the flaking lining was the pattern on the inside of the jacket.

Upon closer inspection jacket looked like it had dandruff- we had to vacuum the floor just from taking it out of the shopping bag. So it stayed in the closet until I found a solution.

The fix I found online was for a tent, but waterproofing is waterproofing and the jacket is fine. He even used it on the mountain and it worked great.

How to remove the waterproofing from your snowboard jacket:

1. You’ll fill the washer with just enough HOT water to cover the jacket.

2. Start the washer put in 1 cup Parson’s ammonia. This kind has suds.

3. Let the machine agitate a few minutes before putting the jacket in.

4. Let the jacket soak overnight. I checked it a few times to make sure the jacket itself wasn’t getting discolored or falling apart (since I found no specific how-to for snowboard gear)

5. Rinse the next morning

6. Line or air dry.

You may have to do this process a few times depending on how much lining is left in your jacket to begin with.

7. *Optional* Spray the inside with CampDry if you want to, but my husband skipped this step and said the outside lining was intact and that he had no waterproofing problems on his snowboard trip.

I hope this works for you!