Association of Foreign Wives of Japanese

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The AFWJ Blog

Read about AFWJ and matters related to life in Japan on our blog.

  • 05 Dec 2019 10:09 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    It is the holiday season and everyone is busy with various preparations, including cooking, cleaning, decorating and spending money to buy gifts for loved ones. It is easy to get wrapped up in the heavy consumerism promoted this time of year, but if you are fortunate enough to have some extra money, consider spreading the holiday love around to those who are in need of a little help. There are so many worthy causes that it can be overwhelming trying to figure out which one to support. With that in mind, I have assembled a small list of organizations in Japan that could use your support, so you can get started on your way to celebrating the Giving Season. 

    TELL Japan - Tokyo English Life Line supports mental health in Japan by offering an English telephone hotline, a text chat, and counselling in both English and Japanese. It aims to provide effective support and counseling services to Japan's international community.

    Heart Tokushima - a registered NPO based in Tokushima run solely on a volunteer basis and funded entirely through donations. It is a no kill animal shelter with the goal of fostering a community in which companion animals can live free from suffering or cruelty. Their activities include rescue, care and re-homing of stray, abandoned, abused and neglected animals, as well as promoting spay/neuter and responsible pet ownership through education and support. 

    YouMeWe - is a Tokyo-based NPO with more than 10 years of experience building supporting relationships with local orphanages. Their main goal is to assist children growing up in institutionalized homes to become fully capable and financially independent young adults.

    Peace Winds Japan - provides humanitarian assistance around the world and also within Japan, including assistance for those affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami and the recent typhoons Faxai and Hagibis. They are an NGO with headquarters in Japan and operating in many parts of the world, devoted to supporting people in distress, and threatened by conflict, poverty, or other turmoil. 

    Japan Platform - an international emergency humanitarian aid organization focused on issues of refugees and natural disasters, offering quick and effective aid in response to global developments. They conduct such aid through a cooperation system with NGOs, business communities, and the government of Japan.

    Second Harvest Japan - Japan’s first and only food bank operating on a national level. Their goal is to create a Food Safety Net in Japan by delivering food to children's homes, single-mother shelters, centers for the disabled as well as other welfare organizations and individuals in need. They work with food manufacturers and other companies and aim to use food to create new partnerships between corporations and the community.

    Peace Boat Disaster Relief - an International NGO that assists disaster-affected people and aims to strengthen disaster resilience in communities within Japan and around the world. After the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011, NGO Peace Boat started the Peace Boat Disaster Relief to focus on relief and recovery of communities affected by that disaster. It also provides domestic and international disaster relief and promotes disaster risk reduction.

    Shurijo Restoration Fund - In a devastating blow to Okinawans, on October 31st 2019 the heart of Okinawan culture, Shurijo Castle, burned to the ground in a fire. More than 400 precious arts and crafts are estimated to have been lost. The Shurijo Castle Fund is asking for support in order to rebuild the castle and to collect, restore, and preserve precious cultural properties to display in Shurijo Castle once again. Donations can be made by using the bank transfer information at the bottom of the page. 

    This list is in no way all encompassing, nor formally endorsed by AFWJ, it is only a starting point to help you in your quest to support those in need. If you do not have any extra funds during this holiday season, perhaps keep these organizations in mind during the rest of the year when your wallet is a little fuller. Sometimes charities experience a surge of donations during the holiday season, or around significant anniversaries, but have trouble making ends-meet during other times of the year, so please keep the spirit of giving in your heart throughout the year. If you have a favourite charity that wasn’t included on this list, please feel free to leave a link in the comments so other people can find and support it. 

    Have a wonderful Giving Season from all of us here at AFWJ!

    By: S. Suzuyama 

  • 01 Nov 2019 1:38 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    With modern technology offering a way to connect us with people all over the world, from those with similar interests and circumstances, to various support groups; things are sure different from when the Association of Foreign Wives of Japanese started and other foreign wives in Japan were few and far between. Since there are all kinds of free online groups out there, prospective members might wonder why being a member of AFWJ requires the payment of annual dues. AFWJ is completely administered by people who volunteer their time, there are no paid positions, so where does the money from dues go? 

    One of the most prominent ways our dues are spent is the seasonal publication of the AFWJ Journal which appears both online and in print. There are expenses associated with the online platform that the Journal appears on, as well as the printing and mailing expenses for the print version. While the Journal is something that each of our members can enjoy, publishing it is not the only expense that AFWJ has. Our annual dues are needed to pay for the following 3 Ts: 


    The administration of AFWJ requires a Board and the Board needs to conduct meetings. Round-trip transportation to all regular meetings for the President, Vice President, National Secretary, Treasurer, Journal Editor and Membership Secretary is covered by the AFWJ treasury. There is also a transportation allowance to two meetings per year for each of the  District Representatives within Japan and a travel subsidy for the Overseas Representative.

    Transportation for non-elected Board members to each Board meeting and travel expenses for training purposes is also subsidized by the treasury. 


    The AFWJ website that you are reading this blog on has maintenance fees that need to be paid annually. Some of the Board positions require computers and software in order for the member to carry out their duties. For example, the Journal Editor needs to have a computer and software in order to assemble that journal. While these aren’t annual expenses, when a computer gets too old or breaks down, a replacement needs to be purchased so there needs to be funds set aside for that eventuality. Speaking of breaking down, the computers also need insurance so that if something were to prematurely happen to them it would soften the blow to the treasury.  


    AFWJ is a support network and we always want to be there when times are tough for one of our members or their family. With that in mind, we maintain a Donations Fund, which is used for offering expressions of sympathy on behalf of AFWJ. It can also be used to extend help to members and their immediate family suffering adversity or loss. This fund can be used at the discretion of the President.

    Now you know a little bit more about why AFWJ requires annual dues and where the money is spent. Besides the Journal and the 3 Ts discussed above, our membership dues are also used for a few miscellaneous expenses, such as: paying for the place to hold Board meetings and the equipment rental needed to conduct them, special cases of an emergency nature concerning AFWJ, and Board approved publications, such as our upcoming 50th Anniversary magazine. The treasury also maintains a Reserve fund for the dissolution of AFWJ - which hopefully never has to be used!

    Authour: S.Suzuyama

  • 01 Oct 2019 3:02 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    There are various local events held throughout the year but the annual AFWJ conventions is our biggest event and one that many members look forward to all year. If you look around the AFWJ website, you will find a section all about conventions. In this section you can read about how AFWJ conventions are held over a weekend once a year and include a dinner, cabaret, workshops and panel discussions. This year’s convention was held from September 6th to the 8th in Tokyo and had the added bonus of including our 50th Anniversary Gala Dinner at the Tokyo American Club, the same venue that hosted the very first AFWJ meeting. There is also a list of where conventions were held over the last several years. Our convention webpage has all the basic information about conventions, but it really doesn’t convey how amazing our conventions really are! Fresh on the heels of our 2019 and brimming with compliments for the convention committee and stories of what a wonderful time everyone had, it is a great time to take a closer look at AFWJ conventions.

    Who Can Attend?

    Conventions are only open to AFWJ members. They are a place where everyone can come together, relish in our shared experiences, offer advice, commiseration, a shoulder to cry on, and a group to laugh with. It is a great place to take a break from being a foreigner for a weekend. They are a place where members can really let their guard down as they know they are among friends. 

    When are the Conventions?

    They are held on one weekend every year, from a Friday afternoon until the following Sunday afternoon. There are no set dates or specific months in which conventions are held, it is entirely up to the convention committee each year to decide. 

    What Happens at a Convention?

    What happens at a convention, stays at a convention...just kidding (maybe)!

    A typical convention starts with a kind of warm-up dinner on Friday night where members who haven’t seen each other for a while can catch up, and new members can get to know everyone. This is followed by a day of workshops on Saturday. This can include anything from sight-seeing activities, to health and lifestyle classes, to art classes or any type of course that our members would like to share their expertise in. Saturday ends with an exciting cabaret in which our members can showcase their talents and have an evening of fun and laughs. On Sunday morning there is usually a panel discussion, where members can learn about and discuss a topic relevant to their lives. The last two convention panels have included an anniversary program and a panel on emergency management in natural disasters. 

    Where are Conventions Held?

    They have been held all over Japan, with recent locations including Kanto, Kyushu, Shikoku, Tokai, Chubu and Kansai. Sometimes they are held at luxurious hotels near the sea and other times they are held at more modest accommodations in the center of an urban sprawl. The venue is different every year, meaning each year has something new and exciting to offer. 

    Why do Members Attend?

    There are many reasons our members love to attend conventions. Some of us live in rural settings and AFWJ conventions are the only chance we have to meet and socialize with other foreign wives like us. Others enjoy an escape from the daily drudgery of work, mothering, and/or married life, with a chance to really let our hair down and relax for the weekend. Many of us go to meet old friends and catch up with everyone. While others see it as a great opportunity to learn from our members who are experts in various areas, a chance to share their own expertise, and network with other foreign wives in Japan. The reasons for attending a convention are as varied as our members, but pretty much everyone who does attend has a great time and looks forward to attending again in the future. Some of us start saving our 500 yen coins for the next year's convention as soon as we come home from this year's!

    How can I Attend?

    In order to attend an AFWJ convention you have to qualify to be a member, join AFWJ, register for the next convention, start saving your money to attend and then book your own travel arrangements to the next convention. For more information on how to join AFWJ, please check out our webpage on how to join.

    You now know a little more about AFWJ conventions, what they offer, and what they mean to our members. In order to really see just how wonderful conventions are, and how fun our members can be, you'll just have to sign up with AFWJ and join us at our next annual convention, we’d love to see you there!

    Authour: S.Suzuyama

  • 02 Sep 2019 3:57 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    It’s the beginning of September, the second term of the school year has started, obon vacation is becoming a distant memory, and everyone is getting back into their routines. Not here at AFWJ though - we are gearing up for our big 50th anniversary celebration and annual convention! With everyone busy preparing for the convention and still feeling the effects of the long, hot summer, I was at a loss of what to write for this month’s blog post. Instead of trying to come up with something totally brand new, I thought I’d share an article that I wrote earlier for the AFWJ Journal. Our journal offers an insider's look into the lives of our members and explores all kinds of topics that are relevant to us. This article is just one example of the many types of articles and information you can find in the AFWJ Journal.

    The Intractable Disease Financial Assistance Program in Japan

    A long-term illness requires long-term treatment which can put a financial strain on the patient and their family. In Japan the health insurance system is quite good, but even the 30% portion the patient must pay can really add up over time, especially if the drugs required for treatment are expensive. Luckily, there is a financial assistance program in place under the Intractable Disease Healthcare Act for those of us who have an intractable disease.

    What is an Intractable Disease?

    As of April 2017 there are 330 diseases classified as intractable diseases in Japan (難病). There are two prongs to defining an intractable disease: it must be a disease in which its cause hasn’t been discovered yet and there is no established therapy, such as Behcet’s disease, aplastic anemia, and malignant RA; and it must be a disease which is chronic and poses financial and burden of care problems, such as pediatric cancer, progressive muscular dystrophy etc. For practical assessment a disease qualifies as an intractable disease if it meets these 5 criteria:

    1. Rarity - affecting less than 0.1% of the population

    2. Unknown etiology

    3. Lack of effective treatment

    4. Necessity of long term treatment

    5. Existence of objective diagnostic criteria

    If you have an intractable disease you can apply for financial assistance, which will help cover your treatment. The amount that will be covered depends on your household income. The smaller your household income is, the more assistance you qualify for. Once you jump through the bureaucratic hoops in order to get your intractable disease financial assistance, you will also become part of the The National Registry of Designated Intractable Diseases, which maintains a national database of patients. 

    The Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare gathers the financial assistance registration forms for analysis in order to integrate individual research projects in four areas:

    1. Disease-oriented research

    2. Field-oriented research

    3. Cross-sectional research

    4. Practical research projects

    Congratulations! By registering for financial assistance you are providing the government with information that can help further scientific research of intractable diseases! 

    How Do I Get Financial Assistance?

    My doctor told me about the intractable disease financial assistance program right after he told me I have SLE and would be starting a small cocktail of drugs. He thought I would qualify because he assumed I was a Japanese citizen! I had to inform him that no, just because I am married to a Japanese man, that does not make me a citizen. He promised he would check into whether or not I could qualify for the financial assistance and let me know at my next appointment. I checked into it and as far as I could tell, if you are a resident of Japan and have health insurance here - either national(国民保険)or social (社会保険)you can qualify for the financial assistance. 

    Once you have been diagnosed with an intractable disease your doctor will need to fill out a registration form which may include:

    1. General information about you

    2. Your diagnosis

    3. The onset and progressive course of your illness

    4. Clinical findings

    5. The severity of your illness 

    6. Laboratory findings

    7. Differential diagnosis

    8. Treatment

    9. Prognosis

    The forms differ among the prefectures and I took a peak at mine and noticed that it only had about 5 or 6 of the items from this list - it was definitely lacking the prognosis part, which I was most curious about! Although the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare launched an online registry, I have no idea how this works in practice as I had to physically take my registration form, along with a multitude of other documents to my local Public Health Centre (保健所). Once you’ve gather the appropriate forms you will submit them to the local Public Health Centre for approval. The Public Health Centre will then turn your application and documents over to the governor of the prefecture’s office for approval. Once the governor’s office decides whether or not the patient qualifies for assistance they will send the claimant certifications back to the Public Health Centre, which will then send them back to you. All in all, the documents only have to pass through several offices and who knows how many hands in order to complete the process and only takes approximately 2 months - bureaucracy at its finest! 

    Once you’ve received your medical expense coverage certificate it will cover medical expenses that are incurred by treatment of your illness and only your illness, not anything else. The specific medical expenses coverage (特定医療費) kick in once total expenses per month exceed 33,330 yen for at least 3 months. Depending on your financial situation, coverage may be greater. You must also be sure to receive treatment for your illness at an approved hospital or clinic or your expenses might not be covered. The Public Health Centre will provide you with a list of approved places and you will need to pick your top 3 and list them on your application. 

    What Documents Do I need?

    Now, because this is Japan - the land of forms and bureaucracy - you are going to need about a zillion documents to support your existence, your financial standing, insurability, visa status, et cetera. Plus you are guaranteed to be missing or have the wrong forms at least once or twice during this application process. Each prefecture is a little different but here are the things needed to apply where I live:

    1. The clinical results form from your doctor (臨床調査個人票)

    2. Certificate of Residence

    3. Last year’s income tax records (or those of your spouse, if you are a dependent)

    4. Welfare Claimant Certificate 

    5. Application form

    6. A statement of earnings that qualify for insurance (医療保険上の所得区分照会)

    7. Copy of your Health Insurance Card (and that of the primary holder, if you are a dependant)

    8. A stamped self-addressed envelope

    9. Inkan

    10. ID of the person coming to apply if different than the patient applying for coverage

    11. A copy of the “my number” cards of the people under the primary holder’s health insurance 

    12. Credit limit authorization certificate

    13. A copy of your former designated intractable disease claimant certificate 

    14. Pension claimant income certification (the householder’s will be needed as well if it is higher than yours)

    15. Confirmation of medical expenses

    If you manage to gather all the necessary documents and head down to the Public Health Centre to complete the process all in one go - good job! If not, just keep at it and you will eventually gather all the documents you need in order to obtain financial assistance for your intractable disease. As an added bonus: since Japan is the land of bureaucracy, you’ll get really good at gathering documents and applying, since you need to do it every year in order to continue receiving financial assistance for the treatment of you intractable disease!

    For more information please see:

    The Japan Intractable Diseases Information Center = [the MHLW site with up-to-date diagnostic guidelines]

    An excellent article on The National Registry of Designated Intractable Diseases can be found here

    For an overview of the basic health insurance structure of Japan = [click on English link]

    By: S.Suzuyama

  • 02 Aug 2019 3:25 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    This year is the 50th anniversary of the Association of Foreign Wives of Japanese and we have been celebrating all year long with various events around the country. The main celebration will be held next month during the annual AFWJ national convention, at the Tokyo American Club, the venue that our founding members first met at. It is an exciting year to be part of AFWJ! 

    Fifty years ago there was no internet and no internet groups to connect foreign women living in Japan, so that first meeting was a pretty big deal. Staying connected and having other women to share your troubles and triumphs with as you navigated through life in Japan was, and still is, invaluable. Nowadays, with all the modern-day options for staying connected, some might wonder whether membership in an organization like AFWJ still has any merit. With this in mind, I thought I’d share my reasons for joining the organization.

    When I first heard of AFWJ, I was hesitant to join because I lived in rural Kochi and I didn't see the point of paying dues when I wouldn’t be able to meet any members in real life. There were no members around where I lived and I couldn’t travel to the conventions because I had a small child. I thought: “why pay to join an online forum”? Boy did I have the wrong idea! I could have used the wisdom and support of AFWJ more then than at any other time of my life. I was a new mom with a sick husband in a rural setting and I felt terribly isolated and stressed out most of the time. Having access to the AFWJ community would have been a tremendous help in making me feel less alone. I didn’t join until we had moved away from that rural life and into the city, where I met an AFWJ member in person. She was so warm and inviting and her enthusiasm for AFWJ  opened me up to the idea of joining. That was just under 6 years ago and I am happy that I took a chance, paid the yearly dues, and was able to see first-hand all that AFWJ has to offer. I just wish I had have joined sooner when I really needed the support and network that AFWJ has to offer. 

    AFWJ is often talked about as a sisterhood, but as a younger member I sometimes see it more like a network of wise Aunties. Members always have great advice, are there to offer encouragement and shoulders to lean on, and come along with enough fun and silliness to keep things interesting. Growing up I was lucky enough to have wonderful Aunties and now I feel like I have a network of Aunties here in Japan who understand the culture, the difficulties, and the funny things about being married into it and trying to raise a family here. I will try to be an awesome AFWJ Auntie to younger members and I hope the younger members help me to stay youthful and flexible in my thinking as I grow older. I think that being part of this community of women, with such a wide range of experience and viewpoints, helps me to see the "big picture"; not just about life in Japan, but life in general. I truly believe that age doesn't matter when you're kindred spirits. Once in a while there might be a little friction between members, but for the most part the hundreds of AFWJ members get along pretty well. I think it is natural for women to have a large inter-generational community, it feels comfortable and offers comfort; that's why I continue to be a member of AFWJ.

    With over 450 members, the reasons for joining AFWJ are as varied as our members, each one of us find our own unique reason for being a part of this organization. Fifty years in and we’re still going strong, so we must be doing something right! If you are interested in joining AFWJ, check out this how to join google doc or contact a member to find out more. 

    Author: S.Suzuyama

  • 02 Jul 2019 10:06 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Summer is here and that means festivals, beach time, eating cooling foods like shaved-ice and finding other ways to beat the heat. It can also mean travel time. Many AFWJ members take trips back to their home country to escape the summer heat or to take advantage of the longest school holiday. As much as it is lovely to return to our home countries to visit family and friends, a long day of travel on each end of the trip can be exhausting and stressful. Especially for members travelling with small children or babies! Do you dare take a 10 hour plane ride with a little one in tow? It may be difficult but it is doable and here are 10 things you can bring to make travelling a little more comfortable for you and your family. 

    #1: Extra clothes

    You never know when spills, vomit, diaper blowouts, etc. might happen so have a set of extra clothes in your carry-on (which can also save you if your luggage gets lost). It is also a good idea to have some layers to add once you get on the plane or even at the airport - the summer is hot in Japan and planes can be cold. Small towels are also handy, not only for wiping drool or sweat, they can be used in a variety of ways. Once I wet a small hand-towel to give to my friend who wasn’t feeling well on the shinkansen, she used it as a cool cloth on her head and it eased her discomfort. I also gave one of my towels to a mum seated behind me on a flight whose daughter was vomiting during turbulence (the flight attendants were strapped in too - keep your towel handy).

    #2: Clips or Clothespins

    As I mentioned in the above tip, you should keep your towel handy, so using a clothespin to clip it to the seat pocket will ensure it is there when you need it. Clips can also be used to pin wet clothes to the seat pocket. Even though you have packed a spare set of clothes, you might want to do some impromptu laundry in the airplane bathroom if you have more than one spill. The air on the plane is dry so if you clip clothes or towels up, they will be dry and ready to use again in no time. You can also use clips to fasten garbage bags to the chair, or even make a fun little hanging playstation for little ones. 

    #3: Plastic Bags

    Bring more plastic bags than you think you’ll need. They are small and light and easy to stuff into your carry-on. They can be used as garbage bags, vomit bags, laundry bags, stinky diaper bags etc. Even though I know this tip and my son is well over diapering age, I still never seem to have enough plastic bags. 

    #4: Something New

    Novelty will keep small ones entertained a little longer than their usual toys. You can pick up a few things from Daiso, or even dig out some old toys that they haven’t seen in a while from the bottom of their toy box. A new colouring book or activity book can also keep some bigger kids entertained for a while. You don’t need to break the bank here, especially because things get dropped or lost during travel. Having a few new novelties around might also encourage your kids to keep their favourite items tucked away safely in their bags so they don’t get lost. Some internet mums suggest wrapping up a bunch of new toys as presents so the kid will spend some time occupied unwrapping and then playing with them - it is not something I have tried due to my aversion to having to deal with more garbage, but it sounds like a fun idea! Don’t forget to include a new book or magazine for yourself too - you can’t always rely on the inflight entertainment and your electronics may run out of batteries. 

    #5: Snacks

    Although I have found the meals on airplanes generally offer enough variety to please even picky eaters, you can’t always count on them. Plus kids get hungry at inopportune times, like in the airport waiting to board or when the seatbelt sign is on. Throw in a huge time change and hunger can become unpredictable once you arrive at your destination, this goes for kids and adults alike. Try to bring easy to pack, somewhat healthy, appealing snacks. I like granola bars or something like that - filling enough to almost be a meal and small enough to fit in your carry-on without being crushed into crumbs. Don’t forget to buy some water or fill your empty bottle after passing through security so you have a drink ready for the airplane. Having something to suck on or snack on during take-off and landing can relieve some of the pressure on little ears and make for a smoother flight. 

    #6: Masks

    Long flights can be drying and wearing a mask can guard against your skin and nasal passages totally drying out. I hate the feeling of having a dry nose so I love to wear the masks that have those little pouches for moist-pads in them, they come in child sizes too so you can buy a set for the whole family. I don’t think masks offer much protection against airborne germs themselves, but keeping your nose moist might. 

    #7: Hand-sanitizer and Alcohol Wipes

    Speaking of germs, you are sure to encounter many on your journey through airports, and on trains, planes and automobiles; the last thing you want to bring with you on vacation is a cold or worse. Keep a small bottle of hand-sanitizer ready for a quick clean on the go - especially if you have kids that insist on touching every single surface within their reach at all times. A pack of alcohol wipes can be useful for wiping down surfaces like tray tables or airport tables before you enjoy one of your snacks. 

    #8: Lotion

    A nice not-too-greasy lotion can be used to perk your skin up once in a while on a long flight so you don’t arrive at your destination feeling like a dried-out raisin. 

    #9: A Mini First-Aid Kit

    You already have some sanitizer and alcohol wipes to clean a scratch or cut, but don’t forget to throw a few band-aids, some tissues, and maybe even some head-cooling patches into your carry-on. Having fever-reducing, headache, and stomach medication for you and your children can help if someone starts feeling ill during the trip. Eye-drops and nasal spray are also good to have on hand to alleviate some of the discomfort that dry air can bring. 

    #10: Patience, a Good Attitude, and Anything Else that will help you and your family arrive at your destination smiling. 

    All in all, international travel isn’t the most pleasant experience. Long flights, long lines and long waits can make for cranky travellers and family fights. So I say bring whatever you can to make it a more pleasant journey for you and you family. If that means letting your kids have hours and hours of screen time during transit, and watching 5 movies in a row yourself, go for it! If you are not responsible for any kids and you can take something to help you sleep the flight away, yay for you! Whatever makes travelling a little easier and more pleasant should be enjoyed guilt-free. Just be careful not to enjoy too many snacks or alcoholic beverages - you don’t want to end up with an upset stomach. 

    Bonus Tip for Parents of Wee Ones: 

    One of the best things to remember about travelling with babies or small children is knowing that they will only be ‘this small’ for one trip, by the next trip they will be bigger and easier. When my son was just over a year old and I took him on his first trip back ‘home’, our returning 10-hour flight was a couple hours delayed, so I walked him around the airport and thought he’d sleep most of the way to Tokyo...boy was I wrong! We were in the same row as another baby who seemed to wake up and cry every time mine was about to sleep. To make matters worse, that baby’s poor mom was suffering from some sort of illness and dad had his hands full trying to comfort both baby and mom. Luckily my son wasn’t too crabby, but needed to be entertained for 10 hours in a small space. That plane ride seemed to last about a thousand years, but it eventually came to an end and that is one of the most important things to remember on a hard trip - this too shall pass. Now travelling with my kid is a breeze, he is a better traveller than me! At 9 years old, he has the airport procedures down pat, plays a few video games, watches a movie or two, sleeps and arrives on the other side of the ocean refreshed and ready to cruise through customs and immigration. I on the other hand...well I still arrive a tired grumpy mess.  

    Whether you’re travelling far and wide or staying home, we at AFWJ hope you have a safe and lovely summer!

    By: Sandra Suzuyama

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

    It is the time of year when a gray cotton gauze hangs low over a myriad of lush vibrant green plants. Snails move slowly between puddles, frogs sing their lullabies and hydrangeas slowly change colour as they soak in the moisture. Who doesn’t love the sights and sounds of rainy season in Japan?

    Well, I guess there are a few things that can be a turn off - out of control frizzy hair, mold invading your living space, having to put up with constantly feeling damp from rain and/or sweat, et cetera. If you find rainy season something to dread, rather than relish, then this post is for you. Here are a few tips to help make this rainy season a little more enjoyable!

    1. Always carry an umbrella, even if the sky looks clear when you leave the house in the morning. A full-sized or foldable umbrella might save you from getting drenched later in the day.

    2. Get some cute rain boots because wet feet are uncomfortable and distracting.

    3. Consider keeping an extra set of clothes in your car, bag, or office in case you get caught in a downpour - maybe just an extra pair of socks! Sitting in wet clothes is not comfortable or healthy.

    4. Drive safely, slow down and use your headlights during heavy rain.

    5. Take care not to get sick by practicing good hygiene such as handwashing and not touching your face - conjunctivitis tends to spread during the rainy season, so be on the lookout for pink-eye. Food can spoil quickly in the heat and humidity, be careful not to leave any sitting out for very long.

    5. If your appetite isn’t great or your stomach is unhappy in the heat and humidity, eat light meals, full of veggies and fruit.

    6. Even though it is cloudy, the the temperatures start to soar during rainy season, so keep hydrated by drinking water or barley tea.

    7. Keep mold out of your home by using a dehumidifier and keeping rooms well ventilated. Air out closets and use desiccants in shoe boxes and other small places where mold can grow quickly.

    8. Don’t run your A/C at a much lower temperature than the outside, as that might cause condensation which will lead to mold.

    9. Consider putting indoor plants outside to reduce mold and save water while they get plenty to drink in the rain.

    10. Standing water is a place for mosquitoes to breed so check around your house and make sure there aren’t any big puddles or pots full of water sitting around.

    11. Focus on your mental health by socializing with friends and cheering yourself up during the grey days. Try going for a walk amongst the seasonal hydrangeas or buy some flowers for your home to brighten things up.

    12. Get around to doing some of those indoor activities you’ve been putting off during the pleasant days of spring: go to an art gallery, museum, or library. Better yet: make a little art of your own! Creative endeavours are a great way to pass the season while staying dry. Or perhaps you'd rather get down to work and organize that closet or cupboard that has been calling to you - an uncluttered storage space is less likely to become a home for mold!

    13. Rest up. Rainy season is a good time to rest up and fortify yourself for the scorching hot summer that is just around the corner. Take time to relax, read some good books, and watch some good movies inside where it’s nice and dry.

    From all of us at AFWJ, have a great rainy season!

    By: S.Suzuyama

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

    Do any of you remember Max Danger? That was the pen name of Bob Collins, a popular humor columnist in the Tokyo Weekender 30 or 40 years ago. In one essay, he likened the life of a foreigner in Japan to an onion: it has layers. Yes, he beat Shrek’s description of an ogre by several decades! The longer you live in Japan, the more layers you go through and the deeper your understanding becomes, both of Japan and of yourself, with Japan acting as a sometimes unpleasant but quite necessary foil. 

    Twenty years ago, my mother-in-law died. At that time we had been living in her house for 12 years, and the house was ever so gradually becoming mine, though she never would have admitted it. (In one of our quarrels she said, “Zettai ni makenai kara ne”, which roughly translated means, “Be warned, I will never concede defeat”. I didn’t even know we were at war.) She had determined that the best thing – certainly for me as well as for her – was to make me into a pliable, respectful, efficient Japanese wife, as soon as possible. Of course, she never had a mother-in-law of her own; her husband had joined the family, and she had been born into the house and never left it. So perhaps she was unused to the necessary give-and-take of such a relationship. In any case, she was the large unmoving thumb under which I spent my days. 

    After her death, I was angry with her, having nightmares and muttering to myself, for three years. Finally I wanted to change, so I went to a counselor in Kyoto. She was fantastic, very inventive, incorporating yoga and Tibetan Buddhism into her methods. Among other things, she said she wanted to explore the reasons why I made myself stay under that woman’s thumb with little or no respite all those years. In other words, what was the payoff?

    Of course, as a Japanese scholar, I wanted to learn about traditional culture, and it was excellent intensive training for that. I wrote down the knowledge and experiences I gained in my book At Home in Japan, published in 2010. I discovered that as I was writing all these Japanese details down, the emotional charge, the hold they had over me, was loosening. I would realize later that I had transferred most of my feeling about Japan into the book. At the same time, Japan started to be, for me, no longer a place of wonders, rife with inexplicable restrictions and potential for embarrassment and regret, but simply a place where I lived. My neighbors and friends lost their mystical superiority and shrank down to life-size human beings, with problems, sorrows and joys similar to my own. I had reached another layer of the onion. Now, Japanese culture is no longer an unreachable godlike ideal for me. It’s a way of life among many on this planet, with both positive and negative aspects. 

    There was, however, a deeper reason for my concession or resignation, the full ramifications of which have become clear to me only recently. When I first came to Japan at the age of 23, it was straight from my parents’ home. I had never lived by myself or been financially responsible for my own life. So when I got married in 1981, to the scion of this old country family, I realized (subconsciously) that here I would be protected. In this bubble of traditional culture I didn’t have to make the kinds of adjustments people usually make as they mature. I gave my free will over to this traditional life, much as a novice in a monastery hands over his autonomy to the system. The payoff, for me, as for the monk, was severely limited engagement with the “real world”, which to me felt like safety. 

    Something else I recently realized was that by living in Japan, I was reliving my childhood. My mother was repressed, quiet and outwardly pliable, whereas my dad was spontaneous, artistic, loud and free-spirited. Why didn’t I realize sooner that my Japanese part is my mom and my gaijin part is my dad? Of course, to us kids, my scary, loud dad was the bad guy and my quiet mother was the good guy. But my mom knew ways of inflicting pain that my poor dad just couldn’t match. Japanese people are so “polite”, and you feel like a total boor around them. But being a “boor” in Japan is just being ordinary in our home country. Why do the Japanese get extra points just because they have internalized the benefits of quietness and repression? There is plenty of passive aggression there, as we can all attest.

     As I felt the pressure of the thumb disappearing, I began to chafe under all that Japanese-ness. I started to realize what I had lost, and set about getting it back again. I was bolstered by a confidence that came with age and experience. I could figure out to what degree, in any situation, I could “be a gaijin” – a necessary determination, as I was the only gaijin for miles around for most of my life here. I valued the good opinions of my neighbors and didn’t want to freak them out too much… but at the same time, I felt a small amount of freaking out once in a while would be good for them. Being able to gauge how much the market would bear became an interesting exercise. 

    That’s where I am today, and I’m much happier for it. I’ve reached the point where, in most cases, I feel I can “be myself”, a free-spirited gaijin who can also walk the Japanese walk when necessary. And from this has come an unexpected bonus. Being more confident in myself as a human being, I have begun to feel much more poignantly the humanity of those around me. Huge revelation!! – their journey to “being Japanese” has actually been much like mine. All babies are born with their quota of spontaneity, curiosity, enthusiasm, and joy; it is only later that this is restricted. Some Japanese people rediscover their true selves and start to give themselves permission to express what they feel, as I did when the repressive thumb of traditional social mores was lifted. But for most of them, it’s just too scary out there by oneself – they prefer the safety of the group and the traditions. However, the largely unconscious sacrifice of the self to the larger society never pays the kinds of dividends that can be gained by allowing oneself to learn to ignore the “seken no me” or “Eye of the World”, in other words others’ judgment, and take some risks. Seeing this, I began to feel sorry for the Japanese people, sacrificial lambs systematically stretched out on the altar of a smooth-running society, and to cheer the ones who managed to break free. It’s taught me a lot about how this society works, and its incredibly strong instinct for self-preservation. Cracks are appearing now, be they ever so small, and I like to encourage these wherever I can. Awareness of oneself as a free individual is a precious gift, and one people can only give themselves. 

    At the same time, on a purely personal level, I am comfortable in Japan because of the discipline involved in being part of this society. I believe that discipline should come before freedom, and structure before spontaneity – it’s simply better to know the rules before you decide whether to break them. For children, structure is a proven plus in education (yes, of course, the Japanese tend to take it too far, because that’s what they are comfortable with, and most of us with children have struggled to give our kids more spontaneity in their home lives to offset what they get at school). And who hasn’t been grateful to some Japanese workman who went above and beyond the call of duty on a Sunday evening when the pipes burst or the car broke down? Dedication to the well-being of the group is often laudable, and there are times when I’ve done the same. But there are also times when I feel free to say, “Nuh-uh, no way” when an unreasonable request is made or something happens that rubs my sense of fairness the wrong way. 

    So – balance? For me the question of when and where to “let the gaijin out” is somewhat weighted on the side of the gaijin right now; I guess I’m still compensating for all those years when I was forced, or forced myself, to be as Japanese as possible. I probably wouldn’t be having so much fun with my gaijin-ness now if I hadn’t had to keep it under wraps for so long. Perhaps a perfect balance is impossible – balance is movement, after all, an eternal attempt to compensate as circumstances change, moment by moment. As I wrote at the end of my book, the Japanese part and the gaijin part are both me. There’s no need to throw away either one. Both are hard-earned, both are necessary, both are enjoyable. 

    Max Danger said of the onion-like layers of gaijin experience, “Tears are not mentioned, but someday somebody will work that in.” I’ve shed my share, and I’m sure you have too. But I for one would not trade my 40 years in Japan for anything easier or even happier. This is the life I’ve made. 

    By Rebecca Otowa

  • 01 Apr 2019 12:13 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    April, the beginning of the business and school year in Japan, is a time to enjoy the cherry blossoms and start your new life. If you have a child entering the school system it can be a time of great stress and panic as you try to figure out how to prepare your child for this big step, what needs labelling, what to wear to the entrance ceremony, how to buy gym clothes etc. There is so much to do! Fear not, you may have heard some scary stories about the strict school system in Japan, but it’s not as bad as you think. Hopefully this post can set your mind at ease a little bit about starting school in Japan.

    First of all, let’s take a look at the education system in Japan, for those who might be entirely unfamiliar with it. For the youngest children there is the option of daycare (保育園) run by the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labour, or preschool (幼稚園) run by the Ministry of Education. Basically, daycare is for households with working parents and preschool caters to households with a stay-at-home caregiver, neither is part of the compulsory education system but most kids attend one or the other.

    Compulsory education begins in elementary school (小学校), which has 6 grades; children start grade one the April after their sixth birthday. Middle school (中学校) is the second and final stage of compulsory education in Japan and it consists of 3 years, following elementary school. Both stages of compulsory education are free and starting from autumn of 2019, the government has decided to make public education free for children between the ages of 3 and 5.

    A large majority of students attend high school (高学校) in Japan, even though it is not compulsory and requires guardians to pay tuition fees. The cost of high school varies according to the type of school, whether it’s private or public, and how prestigious the school is. Getting into high school requires students to pass entrance exams; many students spend their third year of middle school studying heavily in order to ace the entrance exam of the school of their choice. This pattern repeats in the third year of high school when students focus on university entrance exams. In Japan getting into the university (大学校) of your choice might be difficult, however once you are in the structure is a bit different than western university and a bit more like high school with prescribed sets of classes according to your field of study.

    Starting any level of school in Japan comes with 2 important events - the explanatory meeting (説明会) and the entrance ceremony (入園式 for preschool, 入学式 for other schools). The explanatory meeting takes place before the beginning of the school year, often in March and perhaps as early as February depending on the school. At this meeting you will receive a large amount of papers explaining all sorts of things about the school, for example: the basic rules, what to do in case of absence, what uniforms you need, school supplies needed, availability of after-school care etc. The volume of information can be quite overwhelming! The meeting can also be quite boring and a preview of school-meetings to come as they tend to go through every piece of paper in the information package one-by-one, giving a detailed explanation for each item.

    Sometime during this meeting the PTA will come up and a representative will explain all the wonderful things the PTA does at the school and how great it is to be part of it. The things is, at many elementary schools doing your time on the PTA appears to be mandatory, whether you think it is great to be part of it or not. The demands and duties associated with the PTA are different at each school and for each PTA position, from rigorously time-consuming to totally lax. There may be a PTA sign-up form to submit at the end of the explanatory meeting, along with uniforms to order or buy, so don’t try to sneak out early once you have the information packet!

    After the explanatory meeting you can buy all the required school supplies prior to the entrance ceremony and the start of the school year. Buying school supplies can be a bit stressful as you have to make sure you buy the exact right type of bag/scissors/pencils etc. Not only do you have to buy a zillion items, you have to label them all - right down to individual crayons and such! One of the big items a child needs to start elementary school is a special backpack called a randoseru (ランドセル) that will last them all six years. These special backpacks can be quite expensive and are often given as a gift by proud grandparents as early as a year in advance. Randoseru are not exactly a mandatory school item but they hold significant cultural importance and most kids have them.

    Besides school supplies you might be worried about buying the right outfit for your child to attend the entrance ceremony (if they do not have a uniform) and the right mama-suit or outfit for yourself to wear. When you’re a foreigner, getting the right look for yourself and your child can be a source of extra stress as you don’t want to get it wrong and stand out more than you already do. Try not to stress about it too much, in recent years entrance ceremony fashion has become less rigid, with parents and kids are showing up in a wider variety of fashions then previous years. Just don’t forget your slippers - your nice outfit cannot be accompanied by your nice shoes inside the school.

    Entrance ceremonies take place at the beginning of April and as with all formal ceremonies in Japan, they are fairly serious. However, unlike the solemn sad graduation ceremonies, entrance ceremonies are happy occasions, marking the beginning of a new era students’ lives and welcoming them to the school. The fresh new students might march in looking timid and eager and then everyone will listen to numerous speeches by the principal, teachers, the head of the PTA, a senior student etc. welcoming them to the school. At an elementary school entrance ceremony, there might even be a skit by the sixth graders to welcome first graders and provide some entertainment amongst the many speeches. New teachers to the school will also be welcomed and will each give a small speech themselves. Once the entrance ceremony is done there may be group photos and you might be able to see your child’s new classroom and meet their new teacher. If you’re lucky, the cherry blossoms in your area will still be blooming and will add a lovely background to all the pictures you will want to take of your child embarking on their newest journey in education.

    Once all the formalities of the explanatory meeting and entrance ceremony have finished, it will finally be time for the first day of school. You will load up your child with the required school supplies and it will be time for them to begin their new life. As you deposit your child with their daycare or preschool, wave goodbye your first grader as they walk to school for the first time, send your off your nervous middle school student or high schooler, or move your university student into their new apartment, one thing is for certain - you will worry about them and think of them throughout their first day more than they could possibly guess. You may also feel the passage of time rather acutely as you look back on their former “first days” and think about how soon the next “first day” will be upon you both - and how it won’t be long until they are finished all their first days of school and are off to take on the world all on their own.  

    By: Sandra Suzuyama

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

    April marks the start of the new business year in Japan, everything and everyone must be in place and ready to work by then, which means March is moving month. All over Japan people are packing up bags and getting ready to take on new city or town and start their lives afresh. Sometimes this means the whole family, sometimes it means just the main breadwinner. That’s right, in Japan it is not uncommon for the main breadwinner (which is mostly dear ol’Dad in this country) to move off to a new locale and leave the spouse and kids behind for a year or two so that the kids can maintain stability. The practice of Tanshin-Funin and how families navigate it, could easily take up a whole post of its own, so watch out for that in the future. For this month’s post let’s just focus on the act of moving itself.

    Our family is no stranger to moving, having done it 4 times in the last 11 years so I would like to share some of my tips and advice for those of you out there navigating a household move this March. This is not meant to be all encompassing, just a few tidbits that I have learned along the way.

    First off, moving is stressful so try to pace yourself and try not to kill your partner or file for divorce. Seriously, moving can be a huge strain on a relationship. Both you and your spouse will have a lot to do in order to get ready for the move and this can put a lot of pressure on a marriage and lead to some amazing fights. So breathe, chill out and check-in. My husband and I had some clear divisions of labour in our moves - he was in charge of the bureaucracy and I was in charge of packing. My husband handled the hiring of the movers and general management of the move, making sure all the necessary paperwork and arrangements were made. There is a fair amount of paperwork to do when you move in Japan - you need to get a document from your current city, bring that paper to your new city to transfer your resident status, notify schools if you have kids, change addresses at various institutions, forward your mail, cancel utilities in your old place, set them up in your new place. Plus you have to arrange apartment inspections and moving dates - and probably more! This doesn’t mean my husband did all the running around, I would pick up documents here and deposit them there, but he was the person carrying the mental load of the move. I just packed.

    Packing can seem like a daunting task, so I recommend breaking it down into bite-sized pieces as much as possible so that it is less overwhelming. When we receive the boxes from the moving company, I like to start with the closets that contain things we don’t use frequently or things that are seasonal items. This way, you can start to make inroads early in packing, without it impacting your living conditions. I cannot stand living in a cluttered mess for a month or two around moving - I need to have my daily life running smoothly and unaffected as much as possible. It is a good idea to go through your food pantry at this point, the more you eat the less you have to pack and you can go through it and throw out any forgotten items that are long expired (which hopefully isn’t very much, food waste sucks). Don’t forget to try and eat all the sauces and condiments in your fridge, as well as the stuff hiding in your freezer leading up to the move. There is always more hiding in your closets and pantry than you think and somehow I always end up disposing of things that haven’t been touched since our last move.

    That brings me to my next point - start disposing of any items you don’t want to bring to your new place as soon as you have a hint that you might move. Get rid of books, DVDs, furniture, clothes etc, that have been dwelling unused and unwanted in your living space. In our last move we took books and video games to Book Off, clothes to second hand stores, furniture to recycle shops and junked a couple things via “sodai-gomi” (large garbage). Disposing of things in Japan isn’t always easy, but there usually is a way to do, check with your city office on how to dispose of items you’re not sure of.

    Once you’ve packed up all the seasonal items and things used infrequently from your closet, and disposed of things not worth moving, it’s time for to start moving-triage - what do you need up until the last minute, what do you want to use until it’s almost time to move, and what can you live without until you’re in your new place. You’re going to need clothes, dishes and other basic daily necessities right up to the last minute so leave the things you need to live until the last few days. Pack books, decorations, ornaments, outdoor items and anything else you don’t need for day to day life in the month leading up to the move - try to have all of those items packed by the one-week cut off before the big moving day. In the final week gradally pack items that you can live without for a few days and most of your clothes.

    Our last move required a long-weekend of transition and a climate change so I had to pack suitcases of seasonally appropriate clothes for our current and new location, toiletries, important papers needed for the move, and things I didn’t want going with the movers. That’s one last thing to keep in mind when packing, there may be stuff you’d rather not go with the movers “just in case” so make sure you have room in your suitcase or car for those items so that there is no last minute panicking about where they will fit. Movers in Japan are super efficient, they will arrive and load your life into their truck in no time flat, you can’t afford to be worrying about that thing you didn’t pack because you thought it’d fit in the backseat of the car but doesn’t!

    Above all else, don’t forget to take care of your emotional needs and the emotional needs of your family. Transitions are stressful for everyone, adults, children and pets. Everyone will have their own worries, fears and things that they are excited about. Try and leave time for enjoying a few things and favourite places in your current city before you go; talk about how you will miss them and how you’re looking forward to exploring your new town and finding new favourite places. Once you move, even though there will be a million things to do in order to set up your new place and unpack, try and set aside some time to go somewhere exciting and explore what your new locale has to offer. These little family adventures can go a long way in smoothing the transition and make it a bit more fun too!  

    To share another perspective on moving this month, here is a first hand experience of moving house by one of our members:

    Moving: The Good and the Bad 

    By: AFWJ Member, A.R.

    Before my children entered Primary School I thought of moving as some kind of long term sightseeing. Once they started school and making friends, I became to hate moving! It isn't only expensive with all the gift giving for greeting and leaving, but every time you have to start from zero, again, and again, and again. It is very tiring! Our moving notice usually comes in secret in early March, with vague information, followed by the public announcements with all the details around mid-march. And then the stress begins. If you are lucky, the housing will be provided. Most of the time however, you will have to find your own housing, at a time when half of Japan (or so it seems!) is moving. Your husband has to go to work as well, and finish every unfinished business, which leaves you with all things to prepare for the move. Packing! I try to keep our belongings to a minimum, and every year come February, I start decluttering and eating up what's in the freezer and pantry. With the children getting older things are getting easier too, because now you have actually help for packing and unpacking!

    I used to go out and buy a map of the city we are moving to, but the current city does NOT have a map! So Google maps and street view have become my best buddies. When moving here, about 2 years ago, I signed up for the 転勤奥様講座 (a course for wives who have just relocated, literally: Relocation Wife Course) which was very helpful. The very first time the topic was rubbish disposal, which varies in every city, and can be a huge cause of stress! There I met some like-minded ladies, and we got on really well, and still keep going out for lunch every other month. In September it was my turn to organize, but I didn't know any fancy places to eat out, so started searching the internet, and went to plenty of places to check them out! Sometimes alone, sometimes with children. It was fun, and something I would not have done, if it wasn`t for the ladies from the 転勤奥様講座.

    Over the years, some things have gotten a lot easier. You can now make many changes of address online, like for JAF or your credit card company. A change of address for your bank or postal account can be made at the local ATM, anytime. You can even do the forwarding service for all your Postal mail online, by simply filling out the form online (

    When we moved to our current place, the very first thing I did was sign up at a sports club. It is essential for my mental health, plus you get to meet people - which is very important when you move to a place where you don't know a single soul! You need to find places you enjoy going to, where you can meet people or just simply get (free) information for your area. While moving sucks big time, and makes you feel like a nomad, it has made me stronger and more outgoing, it is the only way for me to move forward.

    Thanks for sharing your experience A.R.!

    If you are undertaking a move this month, we wish you the best of luck in getting things sorted and starting life in your new place.

    by: S.Suzuyama

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