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  Association of Foreign Wives of Japanese

  Supporting women since 1969

 

AFWJ Member Blog

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  • 01 Jan 2019 12:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


    The biggest holiday in Japan is the celebration of the New Year. There are many different traditions to bring in the New Year throughout the country and our members at the Association of Foreign Wives of Japanese have probably experienced them all. Since I relied on AFWJ members’ input last month, gathering ways to celebrate the holidays as transplants in a new country, I thought I’d give them a break during this busy time of year. For this month’s post I will share the memory of the first time I spent the New Year holiday at my in-law’s home. It was definitely a learning experience!


    My first surprise during my first trip to my in-laws house for the New Year holiday was to find out how cold it was - inside the house! My in-laws live in western Kyushu and I was coming from northern Shikoku so I packed the same type of clothes I normally wore during the winter season, since the climate is exactly the same. Unfortunately I did not pack warm house-clothes, such as a big comfy sweatshirt to wear while sitting around the kotatsu or warm sleepwear for sleeping in a bedroom that was about 3’C. I only had my usual winter coat and it felt weird to sit around in that all day, and it certainly wouldn’t be comfy to sleep in! Luckily my husband kept some of his old clothes there and could provide me with some warm items to wear in the house. Coming from a tiny apartment that heated up very quickly and didn’t cool off too much at night, I had no idea how freezing cold Japanese houses could be - it’s basically like sleeping in a tent.


    Don’t even get me started on the next surprise, the huge amount of time we spent just sitting around the kotatsu not doing anything but staring at the TV, which only played Eki-den relay racing during the day and year-end variety entertainment shows in the evening. I hate those darn heated kotatsu tables that collect dust and make my legs a hundred degrees while the rest of me stays chilly. I know many people love kotatsu but I associate them with a cold nose, sneezes and boredom. Maybe I am doing something wrong? I’ll admit that there is one fun part about sitting around the kotatsu - when the evening comes, so does the never-ending sake, if you like good sake then having Kyushu in-laws is definitely a bonus. Once the sake starts flowing, communication starts happening and we all become one big happy family for the evening. A word of caution though - never-ending sake can be quite hazardous and you might end up laying down at the end of the night not only to find yourself in a freezing futon, but in a spinning room as well.


    The more solemn traditions began on the first day of the year, New Year day. First thing in the morning my mother-in-law chastised me for still being in pajamas when it was time to gather in the Buddhist altar room to begin. Of course I had no idea what was happening, so with my feelings a little bruised I changed into the most formal attire I had brought with me, a simple skirt with pantyhose and a dress-shirt. Any member of AFWJ can probably attest to the fact that skirts and sitting on the floor don’t mix all that well. Once I was prepared and disgruntled to observe that my husband could get away with wearing an atrocious purple track suit he had slept in, yet I was criticized for my pajamas, we began. The first New Year tradition my in-laws observe is to drink a sip of an herb-infused sake, starting with the youngest family member - a sort of toast to the New Year. Followed by a snack of dried squid, herring roe, kombu seaweed and a vinegared radish and carrot dish. Each item has a special meaning, for example the roe is to symbolize fertility and the radish and carrot are red and white, the most auspicious colours in Japanese culture. Some years my in-laws have ozoni, the special New Year soup with mochi and some years they do not. I do not think they had it that first year, too bad because it is one of my favourite New Year dishes!


    After the morning tradition was complete it was time to go out and make the first prayer of the year at the neighbourhood temple, local shrine, and at the Confucius shrine. The inclusion of the Confucius shrine is somewhat unique to the area my in-laws live in and is not something done throughout all of Japan. The Confucius shrine is the most lively of the three places we visited so I enjoyed going there the most and seeing all the people and food stalls, it was a bit like a festival! I was quite bewildered at the temple/shrine prayer tour at first, as I didn’t really understand what we were doing or that there would be three places to visit and the way we prayed at each one was slightly different - with varying orders and amounts of bowing and clapping. However, it wasn’t as confusing as the greeting-tour we did afterward, which consisted of stopping by various relative’s homes for a quick prayer at the family altar followed by a hastily drank cup of green tea, everything done on my father-in-law’s schedule, of course. Where I come from, a stop in to a relative’s home is a long affair with coffee and snacks and chatting about family news, completely different from the pit-stop approach of my in-laws. Everything was overwhelming that first year, but once I knew what to expect, I began to enjoy the temple/shrine tour and quick visits to relatives in subsequent years.


    The best part of celebrating the New Year with my in-laws are the parties full of delicious sake and food. After we had come home from the temple-tour and pit-stop style visits that first year, I thought we were done and changed into my more comfy (and warm) indoor clothes, only to be told we were going out one more time to an aunt’s house. I thought it would just be another pit-stop visit and was somewhat dismayed to arrive at a full-blown party totally exhausted and in my comfy clothes! It ended up being a lot of fun though with great food and tasty beer and sake. Now I always count on that particular aunt to have the good food trays that features tasty western appetizers alongside the usual osechi dishes. The partying didn’t stop there, the next day there was a party at my in-laws house featuring an obscene amount of sake, sushi, osechi food, crab from Hokkaido and more! It was very festive and a lot of fun.


    I don’t remember how long we stayed at the in-laws that first year but I have those first impressions of the traditions burned into my mind, for better or for worse. I certainly won’t forget that first year! I wonder if my husband feels the same about the first (and only) Christmas he spent at my parents home? I tried to inform him of all the traditions and expectations ahead of time, which wasn’t hard because Christmas at my parents’ basically consists of opening presents, eating a huge tasty brunch, relaxing, and then eating a big dinner. The holiday celebrations in my hometown are about a million miles away from the New Year celebrations at my in-laws, but both styles have their merits and all kinds of celebrations are fun.


    No matter how you choose to bring in 2019 I hope you have a lovely holiday and wonderful year. Happy New Year from all of us at AFWJ!



    ~Sandra Suzuyama

  • 01 Dec 2018 10:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


    The holiday season is upon us and it seems like everyone is preparing to celebrate and enjoy the year-end. This time of year can be busy and fun, but it can also make those of us living abroad feel a bit homesick or nostalgic for the traditions and celebrations from our home countries and cultures. In Japan the main event is the New Year, but AFWJ members come from various countries and have a variety of ways to celebrate holidays. Our members have a knack for bringing their own traditions to their new environment, as well as starting fresh family traditions of their own. As a special treat for this holiday blog, I asked for some help from some of our members, I hope you enjoy reading about their traditions as much as I did!   


    Sarah in Tokyo shares some memories of her childhood and wonders how she can incorporate them into Christmas here in Japan:

    “On December 24th it was off to Carols by Candlelight in the local park, sometimes stopping by a church (if mum had her way) for midnight mass. We often pleased mum by staying, but only because Christmas Eve bickies and cakes were the BEST. Tee hee hee . All the local neighbourhood kids would come and we would play catchies on the oval next door while stuffing our faces. Home we would go to set up the tent in the backyard. We wanted to catch Santa in the act! Not many chimneys in Australia, so he'd have to come in the door!

    Christmas (otherwise known as "Chrissie" in Australia) morning and the feast would begin. Always a box of fresh mangoes, a huge bag of prawns, croissants and bubbly in the garden, swimmers on and sprinkler going. The morning sun would rise high and the heat would set in. Time for a nap before the BBQ lunch. The Weber would be ready and coals set. A leg of lamb or pork crackling away. Oh, I can smell the crackling now. It was always a delight waiting for the first taste of the crackling. The eskys would be filled with a bit of ice and lots of beer and wine. If friends and family were coming over, more of this in the bathtub! A long leisurely afternoon in the backyard eating and drinking! Sun goes down, time for a swim in the pool, lake or surf. On return we might remember about Santa and check the tree inside. (we hadn't been able to see him as we were too busy playing UNO in the tent.) So, now you have an Aussie Chrissie image in your mind. You may think it's crazy to have a pine tree inside for Christmas. You're right! Our was either an apple tree or eucalyptus branch stuck in a bucket of sand. Decorations were red clad kangas and koalas.

    I wonder if I can incorporate any of these traditions into a cold Christmas Tokyo!? I always have prawns on Christmas day, wherever I am. They seem to keep the tears away! Cheers to Christmas wherever we are!”


    Stephanie in Kanagawa brings the warmth of Thanksgiving and Christmas to her home here:

    “We celebrate American Thanksgiving every year by having a potluck at our apartment. We get a Costco turkey and my husband brines and roasts it. We bought the biggest oven we could just for this purpose!

    For Christmas, I try to make a gingerbread house with the kids every year. We bake lots of cookies to share, go out for light viewing, and trim the tree together. While my family didn’t open an advent calendar when I was growing up, I started doing one for my kids on my first kids’ second Christmas.”


    Rachel in Oita explains how she learned to keep Christmas special for her and her loved-ones:

    “I do the works! Decorations, lights, Christmas Tree, Santa sack, stockings, a big turkey roast dinner and traditional NZ desserts, REAL Christmas cake, a gingerbread house, eggnog, presents, cards, movies and music!

    Early on, after my first few failed Christmases, I realized two things:

    1) A holiday is a FEELING. The objects and rituals are just to generate the feeling, a sense of stepping outside of ordinary time and life. What's lacking in Japan's Christmas is that feeling (the community here is busy building up that feeling for New Year).

    2) Holidays and festivals don't just happen, they are created - and mostly by women. I could see this as unfair emotional labor (and not just emotional, it's hard work!!) but instead I see it as a source of power. I have control over the family and home and use it to my advantage to create the day - the FEEL - of I want for my family at Christmas.

    To that end, here's what I do:

    1) Rule No.1: Do. Not. Leave. The. House. With the community around me not generating that special Christmassy feeling, and indeed usually physically dismantling Christmas by the 24th, I found early on that I could better sustain the feeling by not leaving the house. I don't want to drive through the bustle of a normal business day or see Christmas being dismantled. We always have Christmas at home, with everything we need prepared beforehand.

    2) An appropriate build-up. This includes decorating the house with lights, streamers, a nativity, advent calendars, and various Christmas ornaments. The tree goes up in late November or early December, and slowly accumulates a collection of gifts under it. I play Christmas music and we watch a few movies throughout December

    3) Rule No.2: NO TV! Another thing I do to give the day its special feel is ban TV (and any non-Christmas music). It's just for one day and it goes a long way towards helping us step out of ordinary time.

    4) Aunties and Uncles and cousins. Off and on over the years I've invited various others to our Christmas feast, usually foreigners (they know how to act Christmassy and I don't feel like I'm on display). All the kids running around and the grown-ups chatting are like surrogate aunts and uncles and cousins, and add to giving the day the family feel it has back home (and give my kids the invaluable childhood experience of 'the kids' table').

    5) Spread out the rituals. This is really my own innovation, but based partly on our family's tendency to have one Christmas feast lunch at home and then go to our Aunt and Uncle's for dinner (or vice versa). We never got bored on Christmas Day, and there were always more presents waiting! So I've developed my method of spreading out the joy: Santa presents first thing, followed by coco pops for 'first breakfast'. Then we go to church (sometimes) then a brunch of ham and eggs (my family's traditional Christmas breakfast). We get on skype after that and chat with Grandma or family back home while opening their presents. Next comes the big turkey roast, and whatever guests we may have (I like to do a white elephant gift round with adult guests). Then dessert, and finally, once everyone has gone home, and just the immediate family are there, we open our presents to each other.

    I've come to love our own family Christmas. Meanwhile, back home, everything's changed. With my mother older and Dad gone, they don't have the big family Christmas they used to. The torch is being passed to the kids, and that's still being worked out. So I feel less and less like I am missing something, and more and more nostalgic for what I have created.

    And this year... for the first time, one of us won't be here! I intend to make use of the final Dec 23 holiday and shift Christmas there (as I know many others in Japan do already) and I remain undecided about what to do on the actual day!”


    Charmaine in Oita tells us how she brings the flavours of home to Japan.

    “Home baked Christmas goodies are a particularly fond memory from my childhood...looking back, I spent an awful lot of time at weekends or after school either ‘helping’ Mum (by licking out the cake bowl) eating her wonderful cakes and steamed puddings or just flicking through pages and pages of her fascinating cookbooks.

    Christmas preparations seemed to start months before...with several evenings spent just hand mincing pounds and pounds of dried fruit ,peel,suet,apples and even carrots (for Christmas puddings). Mum was one of six siblings, and being the best cook of the three girls she made sure that various branches of the family were provided for at Christmas. Rows of Christmas puddings wrapped up and maturing on the pantry shelf, evenings when the whole house smelt of Christmas spices as several cakes baked in the oven, and minced pies being rolled out and filled by the dozen.....

    So....I had to continue this tradition somehow after I moved to Japan! As soon as I had a fairly decent oven in my flat, sold to me by a fellow teacher returning to the US, and had purchased enough mini packets of dried fruit, the Christmas baking began. Mince pies at first, then soon moving on to the traditional English Christmas fruitcake when I realized that what passed as Christmas cake in Japan was a sponge with strawberries and cream on top!  Reaching a peak at one point with orders of over 30 cakes, I’ve had to cut back to orders from a handful of ‘old friends’ only....those in AFWJ you know who you are. I love baking and decorating your cakes and for me, it simply wouldn’t be Christmas otherwise!”


    What lovely stories, thanks so much for sharing!


    As for my family and I, we’ve tried a few things over the years to make the holidays special. As a couple, my husband and I would always have fondue on Christmas and kept it as the romantic date night that it often is in Japan. Once we had a kid, we started in with traditions from my childhood - a tree, stockings, Santa and added Christmas karaoke in the afternoon. Now that my son is older, he just wants to stay home and play with his new stuff, so we've stopped with the karaoke and just hang out at home. It is pretty similar to my own childhood memories but we don’t have a big feast awaiting us at the end of the day.

    It is interesting to see how our members bring little bits of home to their celebrations in Japan, I hope you enjoyed reading their stories as much as I did.

    Have a wonderful holiday season from all of us here as AFWJ!

    ~Sandra in Okinawa







  • 01 Nov 2018 4:31 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Relationships are hard.

    Making the effort to combine two individual sets of backgrounds, ideas, wants, needs, hopes, and dreams, (not to mention the practical considerations of eating habits, levels of cleanliness, and financial habits etc.) is challenging at the best of times. Throw in two separate cultures, languages, one partner living outside of the country they originated from, and you have a recipe for difficulties and stress! You also have the ingredients to grow as a person, promote empathy and understanding, have many adventures and a few funny misunderstandings along the way.

    Aside from your partner, who can you share all your stories of misunderstanding and adventure with?

    Who understands what it’s like to be married to someone born and raised in Japan and the cultural common-sense that comes along with that?

    Who can you turn to when you are experiencing a miscommunication with your partner and need advice to turn it around?

    Who is there to help guide you through the Japanese health/education/insurance/pension system when it is all so foreign to you and you cannot make heads nor tails of it?

    It all can be a bit lonely and overwhelming at times.

    There is no need to worry! The members of the Association of Foreign Wives of Japanese are there for you, ready to support you and share in your journey of having a Japanese partner. Members are in contact daily via internet groups and meet regularly in person at events in districts throughout japan and overseas. We can lean on each other in times of difficulty and celebrate with one-another over happy occasions. AFWJ is also a source of great advice on topics ranging in everything from how to deal with Japanese immigration when you have a visa problem, to navigating the Japanese healthcare system, to finding a new career path - and of course how to deal with sticky situations that arise in your relationship! You never know how many ways AFWJ will be able to help you out until you see our network in action.

    In order to share some of our collective wisdom and introduce you what AFWJ is all about, I am excited to announce: we are reviving our blog!

    From the very first post in 2015:

    This Blog was started to show members, potential members or anyone interested in our organization more about us and our activities. AFWJ is a support group and networking organization for foreign women with Japanese partners. We have around 500 members worldwide. Our activities include meet-ups, online groups, a bi-monthly journal and an annual convention. If you are interested in learning more about us, don’t hesitate to contact us at info(at)afwj.org

    The contact email address is still the same and the idea behind the blog is too. We hope to make it a venue for AFWJ members to share their experiences, as well as make it a useful resource for people thinking of joining our association or for anyone who might benefit from our collective wisdom. Members of AFWJ have gained a lot of knowledge from living in Japan, being in a relationship with a Japanese partner, raising bicultural children, forging our own career paths, making decisions about retirement, and everything else in between. If there is anything you think we can help you with, please reach out and let us know in the comments, for more information about AFWJ please visit our homepage or email us at info@afwj.org.

    ~ S.Suzuyama


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