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Book Review: My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy!

My Japanese Husband Thinks I'm Crazy!Title: My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy!

Author: Grace Buchele Mineta

Genre: Non-Fiction, Comics, Autobiographical (to a degree)

Don’t let fear prevent you from doing something you love.

INFO | Goodreads

BUYThe Book Depository


Grace Mineta became popular with her blog and YouTube videos documenting life in Tokyo as a Texan married to a Japanese man.  My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy! is a collection of some of her earliest comics about her experiences in Japan, and the struggles and joys of intercultural marriage.

As a big fan of Texan in Tokyo, it seemed quite obvious that I would at some point support Grace and buy her book, firstly because I think she produces excellent content online but mostly because I love comic books!  The comic had quite an amateur feel to it, but I think that was half its charm, and I think rather than a criticism that became one of its greatest strengths – there was a real sense of authenticity with the stories told.  Also, I think it shows the journey of Grace’s artistic talent; looking at more recent comics on her website, you can see how she has progressed creatively from those first doodles.

Saying that, I was a little underwhelmed by a few of the comic strips but many of them were very informative, or just fun; ‘Introducing the ‘Earthquake Game”‘ made me chuckle, because that’s exactly the sort of thing I would do.  Every so many comics there would be an article or list, and these were some of the most engaging parts of the book.  Titles included “7 Questions Interracial Couples are Tired of Hearing” and it was surprising and sad to see the prejudice that Grace and Ryosuke have been subjected to.  The section on onsens was also really fascinating, and I would visit an onsen during my next visit to Japan on Grace’s recommendation alone.

I’ll be buying her two other comic collections in the next few months, mostly because I am interested in learning more about the Japanese culture, and I enjoy Grace’s perspective of her experiences in Tokyo.  As a result, it does pain me to say that I think the comic book could have been better, though I wonder if my criticisms are more just “teething problems” that are smoothed out by the second and third books.  After all, as Grace says in her introduction, she never intended these early drawings to be published.

Before buying the comic, I definitely recommend checking out the Texan in Tokyo blog and YouTube – it really grounds the comics in reality when you remember they are a real-life married couple, and their ‘Day in My Life’ videos are very interesting.  Here’s one of my favourites: A Day in My Life (#18): Hunting for crafts at the 100yen shop.

Star Rating: ☆☆☆½ (3.5/5)

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery


You can check out my own adventures in Tokyo here.

Happy reading!

Emma

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January 9, 2017
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Our Last Day in Tokyo: Odaiba

10 Days in Tokyo

On the last day of our trip, I had mixed emotions – excited by the prospect of seeing family and friends again, but sad that nine days had already passed and we had only scratched the surface of the city.

I was actually prepared to drop Odaiba from our itinerary (with so much else we also wanted to see and visit), but it sounded like a fun day out, so we tagged it on to the end of the trip.

It took a little while to get there from Ueno, but the view from the train going over the water was incredible.

Our first stop was the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan).  We arrived very early, and were possibly some of the first visitors through the door that day!

Odaiba

En route to Miraikan

I had been particularly interested in visiting Miraikan because of its robot exhibitions.  We’ve all heard of Japan’s progress with robotics, and I was excited for what we might discover.

The museum was very hands-on, and everything on display was also in English.  It was amazing to see ASIMO, after seeing it on TV so much – we watched it hopping up and down, kicking a football and running.  It also sang a little song, which wasn’t really our cup of tea… but the technology was impressive nonetheless.

Odaiba

The highlight of the Miraikan for me was the android child reporter, who sat in an eerie white room, viewable through a long slit in the wall.  It was uncanny, only made ever more strange by its young Japanese voice.  It is an experience that will definitely stay with me forever, as I pondered the question the exhibitions were prompting – ‘what is human?’

There were also some other fun exhibits and experiments we were able to take part in.  The museum was like nothing we had ever visited before, and we were relieved we had made the effort to go to Odaiba on our last day!

We made our way over to Decks Tokyo Beach for lunch, before stumbling on a whole floor of retro arcade games.

Odaiba

Odaiba

We spent much of the afternoon visiting the shops and playing on the many games there!

One of our final stops was to visit the ferris wheel (Daikanransha) in Palette Town, which was 115 metres high!  We also finally captured a picture of Mt. Fuji through the window, after it had been obscured by cloud on the three other chances we had to see it – it was a momentous moment!

We finished our last night in Tokyo at the huge arcade in Palette Town.  We must have been in there for at least two hours, determined to use up the loose yen in our wallets.

My visit to Tokyo was epic beyond words.  It was everything I had hoped for and more – the food, the hospitality, the culture, I was seduced by all of it.  Ten days was never going to be enough to explore the wonderful city, and I don’t regret our decision to stay put in Tokyo for our entire trip – Ueno quickly became our home, and proved an excellent location for us.  There’s so much we did that I haven’t even had time to cover – crepes in Harajuku, visiting Shinjuku and experiencing the wonders of Daiso for the first time (literally the highlight of the trip for me).  I’m sure those photos and stories will materialise on here eventually (probably during Wanderlust Week), but I feel it is time to move on to other exciting things, like my recent trips to Dunster Castle and Bath!

When I first boarded that long flight to Japan, I was sure I never wanted to be on a plane for that long ever again!  Now, I can say with confidence that I’d do anything to return there, and hopefully one day will get to go back.  Watch this space…

You can view a list of all my Tokyo posts here.

Emma

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May 19, 2016
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Views of Tokyo: Tokyo Tower

10 Days in Tokyo

Tokyo Tower could easily be considered a day trip in itself; the building and surrounding area have a lot to offer.  The foot of the tower – known appropriately as Foot Town – has lots of shops and attractions, including a horror house, aquarium and a One Piece theme park.

tokyo tower

Tokyo Tower is actually taller than the Eiffel Tower, though is several hundred metres smaller than the Tokyo Skytree.  Nonetheless, with its bright red colour, it makes a bold statement among all the grey of the skyscrapers surrounding it.

We had wanted to walk the steps up to the observation deck, but upon arrival found out that is only available on weekends and bank holidays (maybe it was for the best, as we’d only walked Mt. Takao the day before).

Nevertheless, the lift to the top was good fun – heights make me feel a bit wobbly, so I tried not to look down at the transparent floor beneath us as we were whizzed up to our first stop!

View from Tokyo Tower

The main observatory had a cafe, gift shop and viewing windows in the floor.  I couldn’t bring myself to even stand on them, but I did peek – it was a long way down!

View from Tokyo Tower

I think we were a little disappointed by the observation decks in the end.  We paid to access both decks, and there is no denying the views were incredible, but The Government Building observation deck in Shinjuku (which we visited later in the week) felt it had more to offer, and that was free entry too!

More than Tokyo Tower itself, we enjoyed the grounds of Zojoji Temple, which sits within walking distance of Tokyo Tower.

Zojoji Temple

The temple grounds include rows and rows of Jizo statues, decorated with red bibs and hats.  In Buddhism, Jizo is believed to alleviate suffering and protect children; there’s an interesting website talking more about the meaning of the Jizo statues and their different forms, found here (for those who are curious!).  Personally, I found their presence very moving and quite beautiful.

Jizo statues

I’m glad we went up Tokyo Tower, but despite looking forward to the observation decks the most, we actually enjoyed the other features of the area more.  Sometimes exploring is the best bit!

Don’t miss the last post in the 10 Days in Tokyo series: Our Last Day in Tokyo: Odaiba

Happy adventuring!

Emma

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May 11, 2016
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Book Review: For Fukui’s Sake by Sam Baldwin

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Title: For Fukui’s Sake

Author: Sam Baldwin

Genre: Non-Fiction, Travel, Memoir

First Published: September 2011

INFO | Goodreads

BUY | Amazon


review

The book is a memoir of author Sam Baldwin’s experiences of the JET (Japanese Exchange and Teaching) Programme for the two years he taught abroad.  Upon opening his acceptance letter, he sees the word ‘Fukui’ and assumes he is being rudely rejected – hence the book title.  In fact, he is sent to the rural Japanese town of Fukui, where he makes friends, goes on adventures and must adjust to Japanese customs (often with hilarious results).

Having been gifted this back in Christmas 2015 by The Geek Undergraduate, I had been told to wait until my flight to Japan until I was allowed to read it.  Though it took the flight and then a good month afterwards to actually finish it, I’m glad I got to experience the Japanese culture first hand before reading; it made the jokes and certain moments in the book more relevant and funny.

The book started strongly – Sam’s story of applying for the job and initially adjusting are some of the best chapters.  Even the people he met while abroad had their own quirks and wild backstories.  It’s a great advert for the JET Programme; I actually know someone who has been on the programme, and it seems like an incredible opportunity to be integrated into a whole new culture whilst making a good wage.  The website can be found here, for those of you who may be interested!  I was intrigued to read as much as possible about Sam’s teaching experiences, but he predominantly talks instead about the trips he goes on with the new friends he makes.

My only real criticism is that there doesn’t seem to be any chronology to the events that are told.  Sam jumps from one great story to another, and at times this can feel random and disjointed.  This is made up for by the fact that Sam is clearly passionate about his subject; he talks of Fukui and its community with such love and fondness, and it is easy to feel his loss when his time there comes to an end.

Star Rating: ★★★★ (4/5)

You can actually check out a trailer for the book here:

Emma

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May 9, 2016
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Hiking Mt. Takao

10 Days in Tokyo

I’ve always wanted to hike up a mountain.  It’s been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember.  So, as you can imagine, I was thrilled when I discovered that Mount Takao was only a short train ride away from Tokyo.

Due to our aching legs from city exploration, we had pushed back the trip later than planned.  By the time we arrived at Takaosanguchi Station, we had lost the blue skies and were met with cloud.

Mt Takao, view on the ascent

View on the ascent.

Retrospectively, I’m pretty relieved that we sacrificed a clear view for a cooler ascent – I think I would have struggled if it had been a humid day!  There is the option to take a cablecar or chair lift part way up the mountain, but we opted to walk so we could proudly say we had hiked the whole thing.

Trail 1, Mt Takao

Trail 1 up the mountain.

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There were dozens of shops and shrines up the mountain.  Halfway up I bought and tried dango for the first time.  It was… interesting; definitely a unique texture!

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I’m ashamed to say that most Japanese families we passed, even older hikers, overtook us.  It took us just over two hours to reach the summit in the end (599 metres high), which included food and toilet stops.  Unfortunately, the amazing view we had been looking forward to was non-existent, as the fog was so thick we couldn’t see a single thing over the rail.  It still felt pretty good to reach the top though!

Fog

The higher we climbed, the thicker the fog!

One thing I hadn’t been expecting – there were vending machines and shops dotted up the mountain, as well as a monkey park, temple and other curious places.  There were even vending machines right at the summit!

We decided to take a different route down the mountain, and finally decided on the Inariyama trail.  It ended up being quite rough terrain, and we witnessed our fair share of slips as we descended!  Unlike Trail 1, the fog really lingered on the path and between the trees.  We only passed about a dozen hikers on the whole trail, and it felt very different from our experience on the way up (we felt more like real adventurers).

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The Inariyama trail was eerie in the fog.

Hiking Takaosan was easily my favourite day of the trip.  I love hiking, and it was incredible to have the opportunity to do something like that so close to Tokyo!  Next stop: Mt. Fuji?

Look out for my next Tokyo post: Views of Tokyo: Tokyo Tower

Until next time, happy adventuring!

Emma

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May 7, 2016
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Day 4: The Imperial Palace and Tokyo Skytree

10 Days in Tokyo

We didn’t get lost often in Toyko, but the moment we stepped out of Tokyo Station we were disorientated.  Having set off in the wrong direction (which led to us stocking up on picnic food – a silver lining), we eventually found our way to the Imperial Palace Gardens.

After being absorbed into a huge moving queue of people upon arrival, we decided to see where it might take us.  After a bag check and body search, we began to wonder what exactly we had signed up for, until we saw a (very small) notice explaining we were heading towards Inui Street, which isn’t usually open to the public.  It was a particularly beautiful walk with the cherry blossom, and we got to see buildings that we wouldn’t have otherwise seen, though it was very busy!

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After taking some photos, we sat in the gardens for lunch, looking out across the sea of picnickers.  We also visited the foundations of the former castle tower, which was destroyed by a fire in the 17th century – you can walk to the top of the stone structure that remains.

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In the afternoon we visited the Tokyo Skytree, an amazing piece of bold architecture that you can see from across Tokyo.  At the foot of the building is several floors of shops, which are a great source of souvenirs!

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We didn’t go to the observation decks (we had Tokyo Tower on the agenda for later in the week), but we did go to Sumida Aquarium, which is a staggering five floors up the Skytree!

The aquarium was smaller than expected (though I suppose space wasn’t abundant due to location), but a great deal of effort had been made to create a modern and calming atmosphere.  Coloured lights shone through hundreds of jellyfish, and we were even treated to a light show with soothing music while we viewed the seals and penguins.

The highlight was certainly the shark tank, which we spent at least an hour viewing.  A man was cleaning the rocks at the bottom of the tank with a tiny scrubbing brush, and we watched with morbid curiosity as the shark swam round and round above his head – we wondered if he was being punished for bad behaviour, as surely he could have been given a bigger brush!

It was also fun to watch the penguins being fed, and then weighed afterwards.  The girls feeding them seemed to really enjoy their jobs, and it was really interesting to watch!

Look out for my next Tokyo post: Hiking Mt. Takao

Happy adventuring!

Emma

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May 4, 2016
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Pandas, Polar Bears and Cherry Blossom: Exploring Ueno

10 Days in Tokyo

This is the first of a number of posts about my experiences in Tokyo from March to April this year, during the beautiful cherry blossom season.  The trip was my first experience of a long haul flight (the longest leg was 14 hours on a plane) and also my first time out of Europe!

I’d read somewhere that Ueno was one of the less desirable areas of Tokyo, which before my arrival to our Ueno-based hotel had me just a little bit worried.  Yet by the end of my trip, it would become one of my favourite places!

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After the long flight, and an afternoon of rest, we kick-started the trip the following morning by exploring the local area on foot.

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We had breakfast people-watching in the park, before walking the short distance to Ueno Zoo.  The entry fee – 600 yen – was unexpectedly cheap considering the number and variety of animals they have, and it was our first attempts at some full sentences of Japanese!  I was really excited about seeing some animals I’d never seen before.

Ueno Zoo Pandas

The first animals we encountered were the two resident pandas.

Ueno Zoo Pandas

Unbeknownst to us, Ueno Zoo was hiding more than just panda bears… The highlight was definitely stumbling across the polar bear exhibit, where we experienced a polar bear swimming in front of our viewing window before climbing out and chewing on a toy right above our heads.

Ueno Zoo Polar Bears

Ueno Zoo Polar Bears

I was also fortunate enough to get some bear close-up shots.  We were winding our way around the bear exhibits, when an elderly Japanese man gestured for us to follow him.  He led us to a little window, which was tucked out of view, where the enormous bear stood, looking right at us!

Ueno Zoo Bear

One thing I had read before visiting the zoo was that there has been some controversy surrounding the size of the enclosures.  I thought this might be an overreaction until I saw some of the enclosures myself – a few of them were really quite depressing.  I think the most startling of these was the hippopotamus, whose face was buried in the one corner that seemed to allow it any privacy from the crowds – it was awful to see.  I appreciate that space is scarce in a city location, but it was my one and only criticism of an otherwise brilliant day trip.

Gorilla Ueno Zoo

Red Panda Ueno Zoo

We only spotted the Red Panda when we were preparing to leave. We ran down the bridge we were on and managed to snap a few photos. It seemed to be a favourite animal as the enclosure was swarming with visitors!

After Ueno Zoo, we followed our noses down a long street of vendors selling food, and visited the Toshogu Shrine, our first real taste of Japan’s beautiful architecture.

Street Vendors Ueno

Toshogu Shrine Ueno

Ueno Ema

Ema plaques at Toshogu Shrine.

Ueno

The day was drawing to a close, so we used up the last few hours in the National Museum of Science and Nature, which is also in Ueno Park.

Blue Whale Ueno

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We didn’t get to complete the whole museum before closing time, but it was still interesting to see some pieces of Japan’s history and the beautiful architecture inside the museum – the stained glass windows were a personal favourite of mine.

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Has anyone else visited Ueno? Did you fall in love with it as I did, or were there other parts of Tokyo you preferred?

Next up: A Day in Akihabara and Asakusa

Happy adventuring!

Emma

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April 12, 2016
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10 Days in Tokyo: Touchdown!

10 Days in Tokyo

I’ve just reached Tokyo!

I’ve been anticipating this trip for so many months now, and I can’t believe it has finally arrived.  We’ve planned an action-packed week and a half, so Wandering Words will be a little bit quiet for a while, though there are a few scheduled posts due while I am away (Book Club posts will appear as normal).

Still, I’m looking forward to catching up with everyone on my return!

For now, I’ll leave you with this photo of some cherry blossom trees in Ueno Park, and I hope you all have a wonderful ten days while I am away:

Ueno Park

Happy adventuring,

Emma

Follow me on: Twitter | Tumblr | Instagram


View posts from this trip:

Pandas, Polar Bears and Cherry Blossom: Exploring Ueno

A Day in Akihabara and Asakusa

Day 4: The Imperial Palace and Tokyo Skytree

Hiking Mt. Takao

Views of Tokyo: Tokyo Tower

Our Last Day in Tokyo: Odaiba

March 30, 2016
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First Lines Friday: 4th March

first lines fridays

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?  If you want to make your own post, feel free to use or edit the banner above, and follow the rules below:

  • Pick a book off your shelf (or your current read) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first
  • Finally… reveal the book!

Please comment below or tag me in the post, so I can check it out!

I find great irony in my choice of profession.
A first-class geiko is constantly in the glare of spotlights while I spent much of my childhood hiding in a darkened cupboard.

 


Read on to find out which book this extract is from…

Arrow

Arrow

Geisha of Gion by Mineko Iwasaki

Geisha of Gion

Goodreads | The Book Depository


Summary:

Captivating and poignant, Geisha of Gion tells of Mineko’s ascendancy to fame and her ultimate decision to leave the profession she found so constricting.  After centuries of mystery Mineko is the only geisha to speak out.  This is the true story she has long wanted to tell and the one that the West has long wanted to hear.


I finished this book just yesterday, and was feeling really positive about it until I read some Goodreads reviews.

There was clearly some conflict between Mineko Iwasaki and Arthur Golden (author of Memoirs of a Geisha), and it led me to question the motives of both books!

Regardless of that, this book was amazing, and I whizzed through it in a matter of days, taking it everywhere with me to get it finished.  I highly recommend reading it; the history and culture of Gion is fascinating.

Happy reading!

Emma

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March 4, 2016
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Book Review: Just So Happens by Fumio Obata

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Title: Just So Happens

Author: Fumio Obata

Genre: Graphic Novel, Cultural (Japan)

‘Life has a time limit.  And we are changing all the time… So are our ambitions, desires, and purposes.  The important thing is to find something that never changes in you.’

INFO | Goodreads

BUY | The Book Depository


review

I picked up Just So Happens on a whim, drawn in by the beautiful watercolour paintings and Japanese theme.  The story follows a Japanese girl living in London, who must fly home to Japan after receiving news that her father has died; she must come to terms with losing her father while readjusting to the Japanese culture she had left behind.

After reading Goodreads reviews, I see that a common perception is that although visually stimulating, the book loses points by having a weak plot.  In a sense, I can agree with this.  The overall message I took away after reading was ‘life just goes on’, and I wasn’t sure that Yumiko, our protagonist, had truly found closure by the time she returned back to London (and therefore neither had I).

However, perhaps those critics are missing the point of it all.  Due to her cultural displacement, caught between her London identity and her Japanese one, she can not find peace within herself.  I sensed her confusion, but I think it could have been portrayed even better than it was.

Most of the star rating goes towards the illustrations, which depict Japan beautifully.  Maybe I was generous giving this four stars, but despite the thin-at-times plot, it was a very pleasant read, and I will definitely be reading more from Fumio Obata.

Star Rating: ☆☆☆☆ (4/5)

Have you read this book, and if so, what are your thoughts on it?  Do you agree with my review or did you interpret the book in a different way?  Comment below!

Emma

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June 14, 2015
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