Read about AFWJ and matters related to life in Japan and beyond.

  • 10 Feb 2021 11:38 AM | Anonymous

    Knowledge is power and if you have been sent reeling by a cancer diagnosis, you will want to arm yourself with as much information as possible. You can start by checking out the National Cancer Institute’s website ( which has a wealth of information from the basics of what cancer is, to coping, to current research. The Union for International Cancer Control ( has the latest international news about cancer, as well as resources for patients and their families on their resource page. 

    If you or your loved one would like to find out more information about cancer in Japanese, take a look at the websites for The Center for Cancer Control and Information Services ( and the Japan Cancer Society ( There are also 3 hotlines available for consultation:

    1. General Cancer Consultation Hotline/がん相談ホットライン: 03-3541-7830

    2. Consult an Expert Hotline/専門医によるがん無料相談: 03-3541-7835

    3. Employment Hotline/就労相談(社労士がん相談): 03-3541-7835

    Once you have started to arm yourself with knowledge about the type of cancer you are facing and its treatment options and outcome, you are going to need support. Healthcare Institutions in Japan often have medical social workers in them to help with the economic, social and psychological problems that patients and their families face. To find a member of the Japanese Association of Social Workers in Health Services at a hospital near you, you can consult a map on their website ( You can find support as a cancer survivor in Japanese in the Cancer Survivor Club ( which has its own social networking site. 

    If you are a caregiver in need of support you can find it at Help for Cancer Caregivers ( and at the Caregiver Action Network (, which has at telephone hotline, as well as email and chat options. 

    Coping with a cancer diagnosis can be hard on your mental health and if you or your loved one find yourself in need of support or counselling, the Tokyo English Lifeline ( offers an English telephone hotline, a text chat, as well as counselling options in both English and Japanese.

    This small list of resources only scratches the surface of what is available, but I hope it can give you a starting place from where to proceed if you find yourself facing a cancer diagnosis for you or your loved one. Please do not hesitate to reach out to AFWJ members for support and guidance, that’s what we’re here for.


  • 28 Jan 2021 11:59 AM | Anonymous

    The Association of Foreign Wives of Japanese is run entirely on volunteer power, from the Executive Board, to the District Representatives and Chapter Leaders, to various member-initiated Committees. It is amazing what kind of things can get done when people give their time to do unpaid labour for an organization! Women already perform a lot of unpaid labour around their homes, so it is truly amazing the amount of time they are willing to give to our group. However, it makes one wonder: when we all have our own busy lives to worry about, why take the time to volunteer? I know in my role as a volunteer for AFWJ, I have learned a few things and made a few new friends, so I already knew about a couple of the benefits of volunteering, but I was surprised to learn that there are some other surprising perks. 

    1 - Volunteering fosters a sense of community. I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of  “community” recently, so much so that I chose it as one of the upcoming Journal topics! With the pandemic forcing everyone to distance socially from their family, friends, peers and neighbours, what does it mean to belong to a community in 2021? It turns out that having the feeling that members matter to each other and to the overall group is a key part of belonging to a community. Volunteering gives you that sense by including you in more interactions with the community and giving you a role to play within it. You also end up interacting with a wider variety of community members than you might otherwise not get to know. Even though we haven’t been able to meet in person this last year, we have still been able to feel a sense of community as we interact online, and often, in our roles as volunteers.

    2- Volunteering is good for your health. Social activities and interactions can combat stress, anxiety and depression. Keeping in regular contact with people helps you develop a solid support system, which helps boost your mental health. It also gives you a sense of purpose, which keeps you mentally stimulated and engaged. As an added bonus, humans are hard-wired to be helpful so we get a burst of feel-good hormones and brain activity whenever we help others. Volunteering might also help you stay physically fit, depending on the activity. Last fall there was a member-initiative Ride for Charity that had members of the AFWJ Cycling Group take part in a virtual cycling tour to raise money for two charities that are near to our hearts. Staying fit while helping others is a great way to spend time!

    3 - Volunteering can help you build and practise useful skills. If you are thinking about changing careers, but don’t have the skills needed to get a job in the field you’d like to transition to, you might be able to access training opportunities through volunteering and a chance to practise those new skills. You can also network with people in that field in order to gear up for a career change (and volunteering looks good on a resume). Stepping into a volunteer role will give you experience in a new position, and you can use that experience to gauge whether or not a career in that area would be a good fit for you. However, you don’t need to be focused on your career and the skills that might benefit it, learning something new can be fun and rewarding in itself! Offering to help an organization gives you a break from your usual routine, and allows you to explore new interests and develop a new outlook on things. I know I learned a whole lot more about how our organization runs and how decisions are made while volunteering on the Board — plus I really enjoyed working on the Journal and learning about design and layout. 

    There are many volunteer opportunities in AFWJ. If you’re looking for leadership skills, perhaps a role on the Board would be a good fit? Perhaps you’re more interested in meeting local members, try being a Chapter leader or District Representative, or organizing a local event. If you want to meet members from all over Japan and the world, we now have many zoom events, you could offer to host or help run one. If you want to focus on a particular project, why not join one of the committees that are around? If you don’t see anyone working on a project that you think our members would like to be involved in, start it yourself and get others involved with the help of the current Board. I am sure there is a place to volunteer that would be just the right fit for you. 


  • 13 Dec 2020 6:08 PM | Anonymous

    One word

    Frees us of all the weight and pain of life:

    That word is love.


    Somehow it has become mid-December and the year is drawing to a close. What can we really say about 2020, other than maybe ”oof”. Those of us lucky enough to have been born and raised fairly privileged in wealthy countries, collectively have probably never had such a strange and difficult year in our lives. Many of us have lost loved ones, or have had to stand by and worry about losing them when they got sick from the new disease. Many of us have had to face financial difficulties, unable to run our businesses or keep our jobs during the economic shutdown or slowdown. Almost all of us have had to adapt our jobs, education and lives to new measures of distancing to “flatten the curve” and slow the epidemic. 

    Just when we needed our family, friends and  community the most, we were told we had to stay away from them — for some of us that has meant staying an ocean away from our loved ones while worrying about their physical and mental well-being. How can we wrap up this tough year and celebrate the holiday season when we can’t be with our loved ones? I think that this year, more than ever, we must try and turn to love to get through the season as we head slowly towards the light at the end of the tunnel (I am not talking about the changing of the calendar, I am talking about the rollout of the covid19 vaccine)! I don’t blame you if you are tired and limping toward the finish line and think I am crazy to suggest “love is all you need”. Please just bear with me for a minute and read on.

    First of all, if you are barely hanging on, you need to love and show yourself compassion before you extend it to anyone else. In September I wrote about recognizing and coping with stress, please take a look and see if you might benefit from anything written there. Increasingly throughout the year, I have seen the advice to not beat yourself up if you haven’t accomplished much more than existing this year and I think that is appropriate to some extent. However, I would caution against using that advice to glue yourself under the kotatsu watching Netflix 24/7. Sure, watch some Netflix, rest, read a good book, but also take care of yourself in other ways: eat some vegetables and fruit, go for a walk to get some fresh air and see some nature, do something that stimulates your mind. Loving yourself means caring for yourself; at some point binge-watching Netflix moves from appropriate resting to unhealthy sloth. You’ll know when you’ve crossed that line, be honest with yourself and gentle — no need to feel guilty or anything like that — just do something to take care of your body and reset your emotions, maybe even just taking a nice warm bath to help you shift gears. Taking care of yourself also means reaching out if you need to. Ask for what you need from your friends, family, and support group (being AFWJ is really helpful here) and if you think you need an unbiased shoulder to lean on or some professional mental health help, don’t hesitate to contact TELL or a medical professional. 

    If you have the capacity, you can move beyond showing love and compassion to yourself and extend it to your friends and family. Even though we can’t be physically together this year, you can still share the holiday joy and love with them — love can be expressed across great distances. Phone, write letters or send cards to those who may find those modes of communication easier or warmer than internet communication — or if those modes allow you to more easily express your heartfelt love! Send messages to friends you haven’t heard from for a while. Plan a video chat with family and friends who are comfortable with that. For those of us with social anxiety or strong introvert tendencies, this holiday season might be more comfortable than usual as it lets us reach out in ways that aren’t as overwhelming as big in-person gatherings. Sure, you can send gifts, but I strongly believe a kind word and connection is far more appreciated than an object, especially this year. Getting in touch with people might help you notice if anyone you know is struggling this season and needs some extra help. If they are in Japan and Japanese speakers, you can guide them toward their local 命の電話 helpline, which you can find here: prefectural helplines or to the internet consultation here: internet consultation guide.

    Now if you are feeling robust enough, I would encourage you to spread the love beyond your inner circle out to the greater community. As I mentioned above, many have had financial struggles this year and may need help. If you have the means, consider donating to your local food bank or kodomo shokudo. Or chose from the charities I wrote about last December in The Giving Season blog or a charity that is close to your heart. I bet all organizations that run on donations are really feeling the pinch this year and need every penny/yen they can get. If you want to extend your love internationally and stretch your donation as far as possible, but don’t know where to start, check out the Effective Altruism movement. It uses evidence and analysis to determine the best causes to work on. If you don’t have any extra money but still want to express love and compassion through and action, try to give some time. It is a little hard to volunteer at the moment when many volunteer options require being around other people. Consider showing the environment some love by cleaning your little corner of the earth, whether that means in your neighbourhood or doing a forest, beach or riverbank clean-up. Many cities offer “volunteer bags” for cleaning up public spaces, so check if your city does before you head out there. 

    Don’t feel bad or guilty if you aren’t at a place to go out and save the world at the moment. Just start with taking care of yourself. If all you can do is sit under that kotatsu with Netflix, then do not underestimate the value of watching documentaries. Learning new things is good for your brain and it might help you see a bigger picture and inspire you to loving actions further down the line. If you are ready to save the world, remember social justice fuelled by anger can burn out quickly but rooting your social justice action in love will help sustain you through the most difficult times.

    Now that I have come to the end of my wish for you to nurture your capacity for love, I hope you don’t think this blog was too… idealistic? Hippy-dippy? Unrealistic? Whatever you think, may the final days of your 2020 be filled with kindness, love and compassion. Happy Holidays from all of us here in AFWJ. 


  • 09 Nov 2020 2:34 PM | Anonymous

    Long before the pandemic started and we all became housebound for longer time spans, we were already spending a lot of our time online. In the past couple of decades we have gotten used to online services that help take care of our daily needs, everything from shopping to banking and more can be done online. We have user names, passwords, and other login info for all the sites that we use, and passwords have gotten increasingly complicated requiring upper case letters, lower case letters, numbers and symbols, oh my! Are all of these security measures enough to keep our information safe? 

    If our personal information falls into the wrong hands we might become a victim of phishing. Which can be followed by fraud and even identity theft! What’s phishing, you ask? It happens when cyber criminals pose as a legitimate institution and contact potential victims via email, telephone or a messaging platform, in order to lure them into providing data. They are looking for personal details, banking and credit card information and passwords. Some ways of phishing are super sneaky - did you know that by taking fun quizzes on social media platforms, you might be giving up precious personal information? Next time you see a fun post stating something like: “find out what your holiday name is by choosing your birth month, birth day and the year you were born”, think twice about answering! Besides avoiding silly social media quizzes, how else can we keep our private information private online?

    Rule One: Consider What You Post Online Carefully. 

    Many of us are relying on social media to connect with our chosen community while we can’t meet friends or family in person during these difficult times. It is truly a blessing that we have this avenue of connection available! However, anything written online can last forever so consider your words carefully before posting and avoid sharing anything that you wouldn’t otherwise share publicly. Even when you’re sharing within a group, keep in mind that most online groups have varying degrees of privacy and anyone can always screenshot your words to display even after you’ve edited or erased them. Be sure to keep your personal information - your hometown, birthdate, phone number, address etc. - off of social media networks. It is a good idea to only friend or connect with people online that you actually know in real life. 

    Rule Two: Never Reply to Spam or Suspicious Emails.

    Emails from the prince of a random country asking for a little money to help him out probably sets off everyone's alarm bells. What about the not-so-obvious emails we should watch out for? This can be tricky because cyber criminals are getting more and more sophisticated and emails are looking more and more realistic. Recently I have been getting emails that look like they are from Netflix asking me to update my account information or my account will be cut off. Oh no! Can’t live without Netflix! These emails have the Netflix logo, are “signed” by Netflix and have all the right language and the right look, coming from an email address that looks like an official Netflix address. However, they happen to be coming to one of my email addresses that is not associated with my Netflix account. Upon closer inspection and expanding the email address to show the full address that they are from - these emails are not from Netflix. You might receive similar emails, that look like they are from other companies like amazon, paypal, or even from banks or governments. Always check the full email address they are from closely and never click reply from an email and login to a site. If you need to check your account because an email says your information is out of date, go directly to the site and login in, rather than clicking a link in the email. This goes for messages that you receive via SMS, IM or social networking sites too. Do not reply to people you don’t know, especially if what they offer sounds too good to be true!

    Rule Three: Don’t use Public WiFi to Pay Bills or Shop.

    Do not send personal information anywhere when you are connected to public Wifi. This means no shopping or banking while you hang out at McDonalds or when you’re using your hotel’s wifi on vacation. Any information you input on a public wifi can be stolen by someone else on the same network.

    Rule Four: Keep your Browsing as Secure as Possible.

    You can keep more to yourself by using private browsing mode (going incognito) on your browser and turning off cookies. When you’re providing any personal information, make sure that the site you're using uses encryption (look for https:// in the URL). You can also check to see how they are using your personal data in their privacy policy. Make sure all your devices are protected with some sort of security service that provides antivirus, anti-spyware, anti-phishing, anti-spam and a firewall. Don’t forget to be aware of location services with your smartphone or tablet - you can turn off the GPS on your mobile device so your location isn’t accidentally broadcast to all your instagram followers. You don’t want everyone to know that you’re away on an awesome holiday while your house sits empty and ripe for robbery!

    Rule Five: Keep your Settings Up to Date.

    Routinely check and update your social media privacy settings. Policies surrounding privacy on networks changes so be sure to have a glance at them once in a while - especially after you get one of those “we are updating our terms of service” messages that most of us ignore. Check that your profile is appropriately private and make sure to change your passwords on your accounts at least 3x a year.

    Take care and stay safe!

    P.S. I am not technologically very competent so if I got any of the lingo wrong, please forgive me!  


  • 15 Oct 2020 5:07 PM | Anonymous

    When I signed on to be the Journal Editor for the Association of Foreign Wives of Japanese, I only thought about the tasks that I would have to do in order to produce 4 Journals a year. I did not think about the fact that as Journal Editor, I would be on the National Board of AFWJ and thus be responsible for writing reports and attending Board Meetings. To be honest, I never really gave much thought as to what goes on at our organization’s Board Meetings. I just trusted that the group of members who volunteered for the job of running AFWJ had our best interests in mind. I didn’t even consider how important the Board is to the smooth operation of AFWJ and how important our Board meetings are. Afterall, we’re a club that offers support and friendship to those who have or have had relationships with culturally Japanese people, what important issues are there to discuss? 

    Why do we need Board Meetings?

    According to the AFWJ constitution, the National Board of AFWJ is required to meet up to twice a year and two-thirds of the National Board must be present to make the proceedings of the meeting valid. If you recall from our post All About Membership Dues, the yearly membership fee that we pay to belong to AFWJ goes towards various items, such as publishing and distributing the Journal, travel, technology and T.L.C.. Wherever there are financial decisions to be made, it is important to have a reliable and efficient process to make them. With over 450 members it would take a long time to get everyone’s opinion on matters and we would never reach a consensus, so we rely on our National Board. Not only do Board Members conduct our business, they also make decisions on behalf of our members for the smooth running of our organization. The Board does their best to take into consideration the varying needs and opinions of all our members in order to steer our course in line with our organization's current needs.

    Who decides when to have a Board Meeting?

    The President of AFWJ.

    Who attends an AFWJ Board Meeting?

    The Board 

    The Elected National Board Members:

    • District Representatives
    • the President 
    • the Vice President
    • the Journal Editor
    • the Treasurer
    • the National Secretary
    • the Membership Secretary

    Non- Elected Officers:

    • the Historian
    • the Pubic Relations Coordinator
    • the Membership Services Coordinator
    • the Website Coordinator

    Any current member who wishes to attend may observe, but she must let her intention to attend be known to the President beforehand. 

    How are Board Meetings Conducted?

    AFWJ Board Meetings follow Parliamentary Procedure so that everyone can be heard and decisions can be made without confusion. You can find out more about how this works at

    How are decisions made at the Board Meeting?

    • Items for the agenda must be submitted to the President/National Secretary at least two weeks before the Board Meeting.

    • Any member can make a proposal or raise a discussion point through her District Representative or through any of the elected officers. 

    • Members can review the items on the agenda and give their feedback to their District Representatives so that the District Representatives can be prepared to best represent their districts

    • Elected officers may make motions, second motions and debate motions

    • Once a motion is stated, the person who presented the motion will get 2 minutes to speak in favour of the motion, then the other Board members can comment on it before a vote is taken

    • Elected officers can vote on motions, except for the President who will only vote in the case of a tie

    • Non-elected officers are allowed to take part in discussions but may not vote on motions at this time

    • Observers may only observe the meeting and may not participate

    How do we know the Board isn't made up of power-hungry tyrants making decisions however they want?

    You’ll just have to trust us. 

    Just kidding.

    The Board aims to be as transparent as possible. As stated above, any current member of AFWJ is allowed to observe the Board Meeting and see what goes on in there. All members can find the minutes from past Board Meetings in past issues of the Journal or on our website. By reading the minutes from Board Meetings, members can read all of the officer’s reports and see what motions were presented, the rationale behind those motions, and the discussion points raised. 

    Board Meetings take place only once a year but the Board is in contact all year long in order to discuss any issues that come up throughout the year and handle any pressing problems. Each of the volunteers that make up the AFWJ Board have their own duties, besides trouble-shooting and making decisions, and that means everyone is working hard year round to provide the services that an organization with 450+ members requires. The month or two leading up to the Board Meeting are very busy for the Board as reports are written, wording of proposals is tweaked, and the agenda is made. This year we have the added pressure of having our meeting conducted via zoom for the first time! However, even though the Board is busy and a little bit stressed out, they really do have our organizations and its members’ best interests in mind.


  • 07 Sep 2020 3:38 PM | Anonymous

    This year has not been an easy one for most people and time seems to be warped and weird. How is it already September when it feels like it was just March? Did summer even happen? On the other hand it feels like 2020 has lasted about 20 months, not just 9ish. I completely missed writing a blog for August, partly due to my misunderstanding the passage of time and partly due to my inability to think of something helpful to write when everyone seems to be struggling. I read the news from around the world and I read about personal experiences in my own community and I am struck silent by how much stress everyone is enduring. Unless you are a really skilled Zen practitioner, you likely have been experiencing more stress than usual this year. Sure we’re all in this together, but that doesn’t really help us feel much better — so what will? Before we take a look at some methods to relieve stress, let’s review some of its symptoms so you know what to be on the lookout for.

    Symptoms of Stress

    Let’s start with some of the physical symptoms of stress to watch out for, sometimes we don’t even realize that we are experiencing some stress or anxiety until we notice them start to pop up. In my case I might think I am handling life well but then start to notice my jaw hurts from clenching my teeth all the time. Other physical symptoms might include: trouble sleeping, general malaise, headaches, stomach aches/upset stomach, dry mouth, fidgeting, sweaty palms/soles, loss of libido, tense muscles and the most scary sign in times of Covid19 — frequent colds or infections! Even if you think you’re handling the pandemic pretty well, take stock of your physical condition and if you’re having any of those symptoms you might be more stressed than you thought. 

    Besides physical symptoms, stress can cause deterioration in your mental condition. If you are experiencing high levels of stress, you might find it hard to concentrate or you might become forgetful and disorganized. You might find yourself constantly worrying or ruminating and becoming more prone to pessimistic thoughts than usual. This can lead to emotional symptoms such as feeling overwhelmed or agitated and having difficulty relaxing. You may find yourself avoiding others, not because you are practising social distancing, but because of you’re feeling overwhelmed. If the stress continues your self-esteem might go down and you might move beyond feeling stressed into experiencing depression. 

    Experiencing stress puts you at risk for behavioural changes, such as lashing out at loved ones, forgoing activities you normally take pleasure in, and procrastination. You might also try to self-medicate with drugs, alcohol or cigarettes in order to try and feel better. Changes in appetite may also signal that you’re not handling stress in a healthy manner. Eating too much or too little, or using food as a means to exert control over your life can be signs of stress. 

    How to Deal with Stress

    Now that we know the signs of stress to watch out for, it is time to take a look at healthy ways to help us feel better. First of all, I think it is important to accept that there are events in life that you cannot control, especially at the moment. The pandemic means we are all riding the rollercoaster of ever-changing health-protocols — sometimes we need to stay home and there is no school, sometimes the schools are open and we can go out, travel restrictions are evolving, clusters are popping up in our neighbourhoods, the research on and knowledge about Covid19 is constantly expanding. Acknowledging that these are facts of life now and they are out of our control is an important step in starting to handle your stress. Focusing on the things you can control can help you begin to feel better. Things like hand-washing, mask wearing, following guidelines and taking care of your body by eating well, drinking water and getting some exercise are things you can do during this pandemic to exert some control over your well-being. Your body will be able to fight stress better when you take good care of it. 

    If you find yourself having trouble concentrating, try making lists and setting calendar reminders in your phone. This will help prevent any added stress you would get from missing an important deadline or forgetting to buy something on your once-a-week trip to the store. Do not be afraid to say no to requests that would create excess stress in your life at the moment. If you are not comfortable going out to eat in a restaurant while Covid19 is happening, it is ok to turn down an invitation to lunch. Do not feel guilty if your comfort level is different from that of your peers, it is ok to protect yourself in a way that you feel good about. If you are questioned about it, try to clearly assert yourself without being aggressive, angry, defensive — everyone is on edge right now and small differences can explode like friendship-bombs. However, you do not need to explain yourself if you do not feel up to it and you are free to take a step back from any relationship that is causing more stress than support in your life right now (or at any time).

    Investing some time in learning various relaxation techniques in order to find one that works well for you, will pay off now and for the rest of your life. Do not be afraid to try new things like meditation, yoga, tai-chi or forest bathing even if they sound strange or unappealing. I recently tried a sleep-meditation podcast to help me fall asleep, something I thought sounded a bit silly. When I first heard the slow quiet voice of the host I thought it was totally cheesy and there was no way it was going to work for me, but surprisingly I found myself sinking into relaxation and fell asleep faster than I have in months! I was happy to find this new way to fall asleep because getting enough rest is so important in helping your body heal from stress. Besides trying new stress-relieving activities, do not forget to make time for old hobbies and interests that you may have been neglecting recently, or maybe even have neglected for a long while. Instead of zoning out on Netflix every time you have a spare hour, why not return to an old activity that you once loved? Loved art in High School? Why not pick up some cheap art supplies at Daiso and have fun? Haven’t picked up your guitar in a while? Dig it out of the closet (or try and find a second hand one somewhere if you don’t have one anymore). Miss sports? Get active!

    Once you have thought of ways you can handle stress on your own, supplement them with social support. It may be hard to spend time face-to-face with friends and loved ones at the moment, but try and keep in touch via zoom, skype, messenger or on social media forums. Humans are social creatures and we need to connect to feel good. Having a supportive community is important to your mental health, even if it is an online one. 

    Last but not least, if you are struggling to cope with stress do not be afraid to seek professional help with a psychologist or other mental health practitioner, in person or online. A person trained in stress management or biofeedback techniques to help you learn healthy ways of dealing with the stress can make a huge difference in your well-being. If you do not know where to find someone, you can reach out to your community for advice, consult your doctor or give TELL a call. 

    It is so important that we take time to find ways of relieving our stress because long term/ chronic stress can have serious health impacts, from triggering mental illness to cardiovascular disease, menstrual problems, skin and hair problems, digestive disorders and sexual dysfunction. Here at AFWJ we are all feeling the effects of the pandemic and unfortunately we have extra stress created by worrying about our families who are separated from us by borders that we cannot easily cross at this time. Luckily we also have our community that can understand what we’re going through — thank goodness for the support we can give each other during this time and always! We hope you have the support you need to get through this stressful period. Please try to stay healthy, both physically and mentally. 


  • 10 Jul 2020 9:50 AM | Anonymous
    • If you've been following the news about Japan at all, you will have seen that we are once again in the midst of a natural disaster. Kyushu is being hit especially hard by torrential rains again and over 60 people have lost their lives and some people are unaccounted for at the moment. Between earthquakes, tsunami, typhoon, volcano eruptions, torrential rainfall and more, Japan sees more than its fair share of disasters. Whether you live in Japan or elsewhere, it is always a good idea to be prepared. This month on our blog, we are featuring an article by a member that first appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of the AFWJournal. i hope you find it as useful and informative as I did. 


    Preparing for Disasters and the Unexpected

    by Ann (a long-term resident of Japan) 

    2019, and now the beginning of 2020, have seen more natural + manmade trouble around the world than ever before. My birth country is either completely parched, scorched, battered by golf ball sized hail, or been hit by the worst floods in 50 years. Sometimes a combination. Though many of us focus on Japan as we live here, some of us live elsewhere, and no country is safe from harm. Dealing with a possible disaster, or multiple ones within months, is something that the whole globe has to consider.

    I honestly think we cannot escape from disasters, but I even more strongly believe we can mitigate what directly happens to us, our family, and hopefully even our close community. I’d like to do a Q&A with you, and I sincerely hope you’ll take a little time to answer for yourself. I am writing ‘home’ to keep it simple. Please think of this as ‘home + workplace + where you/your family is’ at that time.

    1.     What are the POSSIBLE disasters that might hit your home? All of them, maybe ones that haven’t happened before to that area, but that are technically possible.

    2.     Go back to your list and put a memo next to the PROBABLE ones. These will have top priority. If it makes you feel better, you could add impossible ones and cross them out. If you want to, you could re-write your list in some kind of frequency order to prioritize things.

    • serious typhoon (certainly several times a year), 

    • super typhoon (probably at least once a year), 

    • absolutely devastating typhoon (once in 20 years – maybe shorter),

    • roof blows off

    • heavy rain that causes serious worry (once a year), 

    • heavy rain that causes possible underfloor flooding (perhaps once a year if we don’t manage things well), 

    • life or death flood

    • landslide

    • volcanic eruption

    • serious earthquake, 

    • tsunami, 

    • wildfire

    • drought (possible but remote at this time) 

    • snow disaster

    • 3.      What are the most likely to occur? How can you plan for them? 

    • For me, typhoons are an absolute certainty, but luckily, we have some days advance warning. There are two vital points: 1. secure the house so it isn’t damaged, and 2. secure the yard so that our things don’t fly and damage someone else’s property. Our house is concrete with a concrete roof, walls and roof in good repair. We cannot do more for them. 

    • Windows mostly have heavy storm shutters that we set two days before the storm is predicted to hit (no struggling with shutters in wind and rain). (You should slide out, check, and set the shutters at least once in spring to make sure they are okay and that you can operate them.) Other windows are protected by film directly on the glass, security bars, and bamboo shades that allow wind through but will stop flying objects. That is the best we can do for the windows. 

    • Anything in the yard that can be picked up by a woman with one hand most certainly needs to be secured, and even heavier objects moved if possible (as in potted plants). Do not forget ‘big’ items like washing poles and bicycles. If you live alone and you are at an absolute loss, before typhoon season starts, get some netting (even at a 100yen shop) and some nylon rope. You can shove all the items together and tie them up with the netting and rope, of course making sure that they are truly tied up and your netting isn’t going to flap about. Do NOT use tarps! (wind catches them and they will flap off and wrap around electricity wires …). 

    • We have nylon sandbag bags, and before typhoon season I will buy about 20 small bags of potting soil. The bagged soil can go inside the nylon bags and be set here and there to block runoff water from going under the house, or from flooding the car parking space. I can protect sapling trees with these, too, so they don’t get torn out of the ground by the wind. Later I can use the soil and store the nylon bags again.

    • 4.     For your Q3 disaster(s), what ‘survival for one week’ things do you need? And for how many days?

    • The last devastating typhoon to hit my city was in 2003. (Google it if you want to be shocked 平成15年台風第14) Apparently my neighborhood had no electricity for a month. Mostly I choose to put that aside and think about ‘super’ typhoons. I always have pet-bottled water but before a typhoon I make sure I have about 80 liters, and about the same of tap water in poly-tanks. Actually, in a regular super-typhoon the water supply won’t be cut, but you never know. We have batteries and battery packs to last up to one week for lights, probably more. Cell phone charging for about 5 days if I’m careful. Gas is okay as we have propane cylinders. Food for at least 1 week, but not things that need to be cold. Cat food for THREE MONTHS! (Cargo ships cannot come to islands in heavy seas.) But basically, we should be ready to have no electricity and therefore internet for 3 or 4 days. Water is okay but food supplies will be patchy for a week or so. And for ‘just in case’ I do have a portable gas stove, the type for cooking nabe hotpots, and about 4 gas canisters for it.

    • 5.     Do you have ‘survival’ things that you literally cannot survive without? That is, joking aside, you may die or get sick if you don’t have them?

    • For us, no. We don’t take medications or have any illnesses. The cats might get sick if we suddenly changed their food, hence 3 months’ worth in stock. Please ask your medical provider(s) about what you can do to prepare. Our scariest thing is possible heatstroke, but luckily it is usually cloudy for days after a typhoon here, so not so hot. Both cars are filled with gasoline before a typhoon so in the worst case, we and the cats would have to stay in a car with the air-conditioner on. We have a small electric power source that would run our small fan for up to 8 hours for just air circulation.

    • 6.     For your Q3 disaster(s), what does ‘evacuate’ mean? What is the timing and where should you go?

    • This is not a question to take lightly! Very tragically, most of the people who passed away in the flood disasters after Typhoon 19 in autumn 2019, left it too late to evacuate.

    • In my city, those who are elderly, weak, or whose houses are in a possible flood area, or those whose houses are not strong enough, are warned by community loudspeaker to evacuate many hours in advance. The warning messages continue. The bridges are closed to traffic many hours in advance, after advance warning about the closures. There are only 3 designated typhoon evacuation centers. As the wind zone approaches, the messages stop – it is too late to go outside and evacuating would be more dangerous than staying put. That is, if residents feel any risk, evacuate very early. If your area is prone to flooding, you should leave as early as you can. Note that typhoon/flood/heavy rain evacuation centers might NOT be your local elementary school or other places used after an earthquake disaster. Ours are not.

    • 7.     Do you have an ‘emergency grab bag’ AND an ‘evacuation kit’?

    • {Huh? They are two different things?} Yes, there are two types in my opinion.

    • The grab bag is small and has things like copies of health insurance cards, hospital patient cards, medicine notebook, memos of family allergies, contact phone numbers, a small amount of money, extra charged prepaid card (Nanaco or the like), a little of your necessary medications, etc. If you have really little kids or often go to clinics, you probably already have most of these things together and then just move them to your regular handbag when you leave the house, and you would have real cards instead of copies. If you are not Japanese, you MUST add in at least a copy of your passport and resident card (alien card). Moms probably have a grab bag of a change of clothes for a baby, too. You will know what you need in your grab bag. Other family members could make one, but they really do have to limit what is inside. Maybe a big Ziplock bag for each person to keep the limit, and if you have kids, make sure one of the kids puts playing cards in their bag. This ‘grab bag’ is what it says – grab it and go! You can stuff it under your bra strap as you dash out the door, if needs be! (Not to upset anyone, but in the 2011 multiple disasters, many people took just their passport and cash and went to Narita. You may have to do that.)

    • The evacuation kit would hold the things you need to get by for some days. You can buy simple ones that are already prepared or check online for what they usually hold – first aid, batteries, chargers, flashlight, etc. Your life might be uncomfortable without those things, but they are not vital like the grab bag is.

    • NOTE: If I had little kids or elderly parents, I would have pin-on name tags to ID them. Pin the tag on their shoulder or somewhere where they can’t take it off by themselves easily. I’d put the ID tags with my grab bag and pin them on as soon as I could – if anyone was lost or separated, they could be found easily. (Add in your mobile phone number.) Super worst case, I’d write my phone number on my baby’s leg with a black marker if I thought a pin was dangerous. My cats have microchips, babies do not. If you are worried about poisoning your baby, then buy a felt-pen type waterproof eyeliner and write on your kids with that!

    • 8.     What is your evacuation plan, and do you have several plans for different times?

    • If everyone is at home at night, it is pretty straightforward, but at the time of the 2011 March 11 disasters, family members were scattered at home/school/work. Do some drills on how to get to the evacuation or meeting place you decide. Especially kids and elderly family members might be reassured if they can actually go to that place several times. I cannot say where or what is best – please decide for your family. I have made my husband promise that he will either stay in our house and put the cats in their carry cages, or if he feels this house is at risk of a tsunami (it most likely isn’t) then to go to a nearby park that is on higher ground, taking the cats with him. If I am out, I will drive/run by that park on my way home for 99% of the possible routes home I would normally have. The way to the park is also the way back to my house for me.

    • 9.     Leave notes!

    • It is good evacuation policy to leave a note on your door, on the outside, for anyone to see. (Yes, looters and thieves will see it too, can’t be helped. Write it in English and hope they can't read it!) You need to list: where you have gone and with who (list names of all members), if it doesn’t freak you out then put your mobile phone number. This information is not only for your family members, it is for rescue staff too. If you have time, put on it “no injured people inside” (中ケガ人いない) or something like that – for the rescue teams. TURN OFF YOUR ELECTRICITY AND GAS!!! Put it on the note “electricity mains off, gas off”. This is also for the rescue teams – electricity can cause fires in both earthquakes and flood disasters. You can write a lot of these notes now, or ask a Japanese person to help you write them, and just keep them with your emergency kit with some gum tape or other strong tape. The time you take sticking something to your door could save someone’s life later. Not joking, not even exaggerating.

    • 10.   Make a list of possible people and phone numbers that you need to contact in the first few days of an emergency. Tell those people how you will try to contact them, being realistic. Your phone might not work if the system is overloaded. Many cities and prefectures have disaster preparation websites where you can register. Check now. The list should be updated a few times a year and be kept in the grab-bag.

    • 11.   This next part is extremely depressing and sensitive, so stop reading now if you are feeling blue. I mean it – it is not nice, so take care ….

    • In the worst-case scenario, someone may be injured/trapped/incapacitated in some way and you can’t take them with you. You will have to make the choice to save your own life or that of other family members. This happened in Tohoku. Indeed, many kids were saved because an expert had told them to run for the hills and to do so alone without thought of others. In that case, if you have time, write on the person you can’t take with black marker – put their full name and your phone number. Write it on their forehead if you can. Emergency rescue people will see it. Put a note on the door that a trapped person is inside and leave the door open, or pin a note where it is very visible. The job of the rescue personnel is to save as many people as possible, quickly. ID on the trapped person will help immensely, and you know your person will be returned to you smoothly. If they are taken to a hospital on the other side of the city, you won’t find them for days without an ID.

    • 12.   Don’t give up on disaster preparation because you think it is troublesome. A lot of people plan a holiday like they were the chief strategist for a Napoleon Bonaparte campaign, but roll their eyes at the thought of disasters. But the comfort, and more likely, safety and well-being of your family members and your pets depends on you. Why can we color coordinate our daily pairs of underwear for a 5 day trip, but balk at even having a grab-bag? And many women I know have a makeup kit with more stuff in it than an evacuation kit – more expensive, too.

    • 13.   Contagious nasties…

    • Until now we’ve only had to think about influenza, etc. and evacuation center planning does plan for the flu (I know because I’ve done evacuation center simulations for my prefecture and I’m an evacuation center volunteer member if the worst comes to pass). Obviously, in 2020 we have a much more serious situation and disaster management staff are carefully drafting new plans for natural disaster + Covid19. We can also think of it by ourselves. Again, I am not a professional so I can’t tell you what to do. For many people in my city, a tsunami will be sure to hit their houses which is a much more immediate and deadly threat than possibly contracting a virus (at first, at any rate).

    • That is all for this time, but if you are totally overwhelmed and are at a loss, here are two things I think you really should do:

    • Make a grab bag (see above)
    • Clean out your entryway/entry hall (genkan) to make sure that in a big earthquake, you’ll be able to escape freely. Coat racks and umbrella stands, etc. will topple over in an earthquake and block the door. Get rid of them, move them, or at the least, secure them. 


    A big thanks to Ann for giving me permission to share her article on our blog! It's a great example of the kind of help and support that AFWJ has to offer, and a testament to the high quality of submissions we receive and publish in our Journal. Until next month, take care and stay safe.


  • 15 Jun 2020 1:30 PM | Anonymous

    The primary role of the Association of Foreign Wives of Japanese is to offer support to its members. Many of us are finding ourselves more in need of support than ever, overwhelmed with how the Covid19 pandemic has reshaped our lives in ways we could not have imagined only a few short months ago. There are constant updates on the disease itself, changes to hygiene protocol, travel restrictions et cetera, et cetera, it is nearly impossible to stay on top of all the developments. In order to help you get through the pandemic, back in February we offered advice on how to Stay Healthy on the blog (updated research shows that wearing masks does offer some protection!) and in March we told you how to Navigate Clinics and Hospitals in Japan. This month we want to make sure that you get the money the Japanese government wants to give you.

    Municipal governments have started to send out special fixed benefit (特別定額給付金) payments of ¥100,000 per person as directed by the national government to help households weather financial difficulties caused by the current pandemic. All residents of Japan born prior to April 28th, 2020 are eligible to receive the handout. This includes foreigners, as long as they are registered in the Basic Registration System (外国人住民に係る住民基本台帳制度) as of April 27th 2020. Foreigners who were registered with the Basic Registration System in the past but have recently entered Japan and have not been registered yet, but will be registering again, are also eligible. The children of those who are applying for refugee status are eligible even if they had not been registered in the Basic Registration System prior to April 27th, due to being on a short stay. It is not dependent on income and those receiving pensions, welfare or unemployment benefits are also eligible for the payment. Basically, everyone is eligible for the special payment other than foreigners who are not registered, either due to being short-term visitors of Japan or those who do not have legal status. If you have not applied yet, now’s the time! 

    The applications and administration of the payments will be handled through local municipal offices, so there will be some discrepancies in the timing of the application period and the application form. There are two ways to apply for the special payment. The first way is through an application form (特別定額給付金の申請) sent via post from your municipal office to the household; the second way to apply is online through the MynaPortal using your My Number Card. The head of the household (戸主) will receive the payment for all of the beneficiaries in the home, so each household will only receive one application. For the postal application you will need a copy of your ID, such as your My Number Card, drivers license or health insurance card, and a copy of the information page of the bank book of the account in which you wish to receive the funds. If you wish to apply online, you will need the My Number Card and its password, a document to verify the bank account the funds will be transferred to, and a smartphone capable of reading your My Number Card or a computer with an IC card reader. Although application forms will vary somewhat by municipality, the Gaijinpot Blog has provided a step-by-step breakdown of a typical form with English translations, along with tips for applying online.

    Most municipalities have already started processing applications and the deadline for applying for the special payment is three months from the date that your municipality started accepting postal applications. The time it takes for the money to appear in your bank account will also vary by municipality. Please visit your municipality's website for information about their application deadline and processing times. 

    Take caution against scams related to the special payment, do not give out any of your personal information, bank account information or pin numbers by phone or email. No part of the application process requires you to reveal information via phone or email. 

    For more information on the special fixed benefit you can consult a special webpage set up through the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications or check out this article in The Japan Times

    Besides the special fixed benefit for individual residents of Japan, there is also a Subsidy Program for Sustaining Businesses (持続化給付金) of up to 2 million yen for a corporation and 1 million yen for small businesses and individual business proprietors, including freelancers. For more information and to apply, see the Sustainable Benefit website (Japanese) set up by the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry or check out their FAQ on the Subsidy Program for Sustaining Businesses webpage.

    In spite of the plastic barriers hanging in front of cashiers all over the place, ubiquitous masks, and social distancing stickers on floors and chairs in public spaces, life seems to be getting back to normal little by little around Japan - a new normal, at least for now. We here at AFWJ hope you and your loved ones are safe and healthy.


  • 23 May 2020 3:01 PM | Anonymous

    In most places in Japan it seems like life is slowly entering a new kind of normal now at the end of May. Schools and businesses are reopening with special social distancing measures in place, as well as the ubiquitous masks and hand sanitizer. It is tempting to get out and about now because the rainy season (or the second wave of Covid19) is just around the corner and we may once again be stuck at home looking for ways to keep busy and entertained. Luckily, the final installment of our AFWJ Articles series features a member’s daughter whose cooking Youtube channel and special zoom sessions have been a big hit with fellow AFWJers and their kids during the stay at home period. Her culinary prowess might just inspire you to try whipping up some new dishes in your own kitchen! AFWJ member Chriss MacPherson and her daughter Kiara were profiled by Louise George Kittaka in Savvy Tokyo and you can read all about how the young chef has turned her passion for cooking into a way to connect with others by clicking the link:

    Cooking Up A Storm With Junior Chef Kiara

    We hope you enjoyed catching a glimpse into the lives of a few of our members and their families in our AFWJ Articles series. Wherever you and your family are, we hope you are doing well and staying healthy. 


  • 16 May 2020 11:00 AM | Anonymous

    The state of emergency was lifted for most prefectures around Japan this week and cautious steps towards the resumption of normal activities are being taken. Although Japan never went into a formal lockdown like other countries in the world, people have been encouraged to stay home and practice social distancing. While we all want to avoid a second and third wave of Covid19 infections, long term lockdowns are not a state in which most people can thrive. Ideally, we all need to be in a space that allows us to live a comfortable life and fulfill our potential. This week’s article highlights the choice a family made to move to an environment where their son could have a better chance to do just that. In the Why Did You Leave Japan section of The Japan Times, Louise George Kittaka writes about Satoshi Eric Asato, son of AFWJ member Sheila Asato, and how his family helped him find a place where he can thrive. Click on the title to read the article:

    Finding new beginnings in the United States

    Whether you live in one of the prefectures where the state of emergency has been lifted or not, we hope that you and your loved ones are safe and well. Check back here next week for the final installment of our AFWJ Articles series, featuring another one of our members and her child. 


If you are a member and would like to be a guest blogger for the AFWJ blog, please contact the Journal Editor at 

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