Association of Foreign Wives of Japanese

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

  • 03 Feb 2020 2:03 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    At the time of writing this, the New Lunar Year holidays are ending and they have been dampened by the presence of a new version of the coronavirus, presently referred to in English as Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). As of this morning, February 3rd 2020, 360 people in China and one person in the Philippines have died and over 14550 people have been infected around the globe, including 20 in Japan. A coronavirus is one of the types of viruses responsible for the common cold. It is also responsible for more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A Novel Coronavirus is a new strain of the coronavirus that has not been identified in humans previously. People of all ages can be infected with the coronavirus but, as with most illnesses, people with pre-existing medical conditions such as asthma, cystic fibrosis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are more at risk of becoming severely ill. 

    The main concern when it comes to complications from respiratory infections, such as the novel coronavirus, the common cold and influenza, is that they can develop into viral pneumonia which is hard to fight off if you are already in poor health. Colds can also put you at risk for developing bacterial pneumonia, which can be treated with antibiotics, viral pneumonia cannot. Viral pneumonia can only be treated with rest, fluids and lung function support if hospitalized. Other complications of colds and influenza include dehydration, bronchitis, ear infection, sinus infection and heart complications such as pericarditis and myocarditis. 

    Before we look at how to prevent ourselves from getting sick or start panicking about the novel coronavirus, let’s take a look at the mortality rates for respiratory illnesses:  

    • Novel Coronavirus, unknown at the moment but current estimates are putting it at around 2% with high-end estimates around 4%

    • Common cold, not typically fatal - presumably those who die from what starts out as a common cold are likely at risk individuals who go on to develop pneumonia or other complications so it is hard to find clear statistics on its mortality rate.

    • Seasonal Influenza, varies depending on the season and the strain, often around 1%

    • SARS, 10%

    • MERS, 30%

    Even if you have no preexisting conditions or other risk factors, no one likes getting sick. The novel coronavirus, the common cold and influenza, all spread through the air via particles from an infected person’s cough or sneeze; by close contact, such as shaking hands or touching an infected person; by touching surfaces with viral particles on them and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands; in rare cases, from fecal contamination. 

    The best ways to avoid getting a respiratory illness include:

    • Avoid close contact with people suffering from respiratory infections 

    • Frequent handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after contact with ill people or their environment

    • Try to avoid large crowds

    • Avoid touching surfaces with your bare hands if you can - try wearing gloves while you’re out and about, or using your elbow to open doors when possible

    • Do not to touch your face 

    • Stand far away from people who are coughing and sneezing - droplets from coughs can travel up to six metres and up to eight metres from sneezes

    • Don’t smoke 

    • Get enough sleep

    • Eat a healthy nutrient rich diet - a rainbow of plants, mostly whole foods, adequate calories

    • Maintain a healthy home environment - a comfortable temperature, no mold/allergens, frequently clean and disinfect surfaces if a member of your family is sick

    • Minimize stress - try relaxation techniques and don’t panic over the new coronavirus!

    • Exercise

    • Get vaccinated against influenza

    Masks will not protect you from the novel coronavirus as they are not designed to prevent virus particles from penetrating them. To make matters worse, masks may encourage infection as they are a breeding ground for bacteria and may also cause you to touch your face more with dirty hands to adjust your mask. Gargling has been promoted in Japan as trusted measure against getting sick but American experts disagree with its effectiveness. 

    Symptoms of coronavirus include cough, fever, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. Symptoms may appear between 2 and 14 days after exposure, with an average of appearing 5 days after being infected. Symptoms of influenza include fever or feeling feverish, cough, sore throat, runny nose, headache and body aches accompanied by fatigue, stomach-upset may occur, especially in children.

    If you find yourself feeling under the weather, there is no specific treatment for coronavirus infections and most people recover with rest and plenty of fluids. You can treat symptoms with over-the-counter medication and by using a humidifier. If you think you have influenza there are antiviral medications available from your doctor that can help lessen its severity and duration. When seeking treatment be sure to inform your doctor if there is a possibility that you have been exposed to the novel coronavirus so that the outbreak can be traced as accurately as possible. 

    If you are sick, please stay home and rest, not only to help yourself recover but in order to prevent the infection from spreading. Practice good etiquette by maintaining distance from people, cover coughs and sneezes with tissues and then dispose of them promptly, if you don’t have a tissue handy, sneeze into your elbow rather than your bare hand (do not sneeze as noisily as possible into the air, which is a popular bad habit of a certain demographic in Japan). Masks may be helpful for catching droplets from coughs and sneezes if they are worn correctly with a tight fit and the elastics on the outside of the mask, not against the skin of your face which will cause gaps; they must be changed frequently and remember not to touch your dirty mask and then touch other surfaces without washing your hands. 

    Be sure to seek medical help if you have a pre-existing condition that puts you at increased risk of developing pneumonia or other complications, or if you develop any of the following symptoms:

    • Chest pain

    • An auxiliary (armpit) temperature of 38.5

    • Confusion in people over 65 years old

    • Difficulty breathing 

    • Rapid breathing 

    • Can’t sleep or consume adequate liquids/foods

    • Severe pain 

    At the moment there is no need to panic over the Novel Coronavirus but it is still important to take the same precautions against infections as you normally would during cold and flu season. Stay informed on the latest developments on the spread of novel coronavirus but remember not to let media hype stress you out as that will make you more susceptible to infection! 

    By: S.Suzuyama

  • 15 Jan 2020 12:11 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Happy New Year!

    It is 2020, the year of the rat/mouse, the beginning of a new 12 year cycle in the Chinese Zodiac, and the year of the much anticipated Tokyo Olympics. Big things are sure to happen this year! What kind of fortune will it bring to you and your household? 

    Now that the winter holidays are over and we have all settled into our usual routines, it is a good time to take stock of our lives and see what we can put in place to ensure our well-being and success during the year. In order to do this I have divided important tasks into 3 steps you can take to success in 2020.

    Step 1: Survey

    This might be the most important step in your yearly life-check and may save you from a huge headache, or worse, down the road this year. At the beginning of the year it is a good idea to go over all your important documents to see if anything is expiring or needs updating this year. This is especially important for those of us that live abroad and need to maintain current passports and visas or risk getting into big trouble. Sometimes reminders are sent to you from the city office, prefecture, or immigration bureau, but not always so don’t rely on them. Check each document and write reminders on your calendar when the deadline to renew them is coming up. Better yet, set alarms in your digital calendar to remind you 2 months in advance and then again a month before the deadline, so you are sure not to miss it.

    Are these items up for renewal?

    • Passports: your own and your children's
    • Visa
    • Alien registration card: even if you are a permanent resident, you need to renew the card every few years in order to update the picture.
    • Driver’s license
    • Health and/or life insurance plan

    While you are taking a survey of important things in your life, here are a few more items to check on at the beginning of the year to make sure everything is in order: 

    • Check to see if documents like your last will and testament are still current, perhaps they need to be updated if there were any big changes last year. 
    • Go through your emergency supplies and see if anything is missing and if any of the items are reaching their expiration dates. 
    • Review your and your children’s health records to see if there are any specific medical checks or vaccines needed this year.
    • Look for any big birthdays, anniversaries, or memorials coming up that might require some extra spending money or travel time. 

    Step 2: Make Goals

    Many people talk about making new year’s resolutions but it is wiser to make goals and set a plan in action to achieve them. A great way to do this is to use the S.M.A.R.T method of goal setting, smart goals are goals that are:

    Specific - rather than a vague resolution, make your goal as specific as possible. For example, rather than: “I want to improve my Japanese” try: “I want to pass the N2 level of the JLPT next December” or “I want to read the novel Botchan entirely in Japanese”.

    Measurable - make sure your goal is something you can measure in order to see whether you reach it or not. This relates somewhat to setting specific goals, as in our example above - it is hard to measure a vague improvement in your Japanese language skills but passing a test or being able to read a novel is measurable.

    Attainable - your goal should be something attainable by you, this year. Don’t set yourself up to fail by setting goals that are too lofty. For example, if you are just starting to study Japanese it probably isn’t wise to make the goal of reading a novel in Japanese this year, try to aim for mastery of hiragana and katakana or perhaps the N4 or N3 level of the JLPT.

    Relevant - having a goal that is relevant to your life will make you more motivated to attain it. If you are never going to live in Japan or use Japanese, why make a goal based around learning the language?

    Time Based - this is one of the most important parts of setting goals that you will actually reach. Plan the steps you need to take in order to achieve your goal and then build them into your monthly calendar, with alarms if using an app/digital calendar. For example, in order to read the novel Botchan in Japanese, first you need to be pretty comfortable with kanji and vocabulary around an elementary grade 6 level, say you are only comfortable at a grade 4 or 5 level, so you plan to spend January to April brushing up on kanji and vocabulary. Then you might want to get a little more familiar with the dialect and older style of Japanese that Soseki uses in the novel Botchan so you plan to spend May and June looking into that. After that, you break the book’s 140 pages down to 28 pages per month from July through November, so you will read about one page a day - a pace slow enough to use a dictionary and check understanding, but regularly enough that you don’t forget where you are in the story. Finally, you decided to reread the whole book again in December. In this scenario each step is broken down and set out in an achievable timeline to keep you on track as you work towards your goal. 

    Step 3: Plan

    Now that you have surveyed your documents and important dates and set your goals, it is time to make sure everything is entered in your calendar and you have a solid plan for the year ahead.

    • If you need to take time off of work in order to renew your passport, driver’s license or visa, now is the time to think about how you are going to build that into your schedule and get time off. 
    • Schedule the steps and timeline to reach your S.M.A.R.T. goals. 
    • Plan to schedule doctor and dentist appointments for yourself and your children by entering them in your monthly calendar and setting an alarm so you will remember to do it and do not put it off. For example: March 1st - make appointments to have the whole family’s teeth cleaned, September 1st - schedule my yearly health check. 
    • Plot out any big work trips or vacations and how you might rearrange your daily schedule to fit them in - and if there is anything you need to do before them, such as renew your or your child’s passport. 
    • Think about any big expenditures that might pop up in 2020, or even in the upcoming years, such as tuition or a new appliance and start saving your money for them - you might even want to make a S.M.A.R.T. financial goal! 

    I hope I have given you the tools to help you have a great year in 2020. If I have left anything off that you think belongs on the list, please leave a comment below. We here at AFWJ wish you a happy and healthy 2020!

    By: S.Suzuyama 

  • 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

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