10 Tips on Buying an Engagement Ring

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Valentine’s Day is around the corner and I know some of you might be thinking of popping the question to that special someone. If you know me, you know that I got engaged this past December in Tokyo.

I told my fiancé that I wanted to pick out my engagement ring with him, so I was able to learn a lot about the ring buying process. I wanted to write a post to help guys who are feeling lost in how to purchase a ring. I wrote these tips based on my experience shopping in Tokyo, but overall I’d say you could apply these same ideas to ring shopping in America or any other country.

Let’s get started!

Tip 1: Study up on the 4Cs before you go

There’s nothing worse than feeling like a complete idiot when the jeweler starts spouting off jewelry jargon you’ve never heard in your life.

To prep for your visit, study up on the 4Cs. The 4Cs are Carat, color, clarity, and cut. These are 4 ways in which jewelers describe diamonds across the globe. Regardless on whether you speak Japanese, this is the universal language of the diamond world and will help you understand your purchase.

These 4 words are going to help you figure out the difference between the 4 identical looking diamond sitting in front of you with very different price tags.

There are plenty of websites out that can educate you on what these words mean. So before you go, take 20 minutes and google “ the 4Cs of diamonds”. Trust me. You will feel SO MUCH better that you know a little bit about what’s going on before you arrive. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Did you do that? Good. So now this brings me to tip # 2.

Tip 2: Know your priorities

Maybe you know your girl wants a 1 carat diamond. Maybe she cares less about the carats but is looking for a particular cut. Maybe she doesn’t mind a diamond with a little bit of color it. If you know where you can be flexible, this could save you a huge amount of money.

For example, the difference between a colorless diamond and a near colorless diamond to the naked eye are VERY subtle, even for a trained expert. But you could save yourself hundreds of dollars.

Also, jewelers know that people like even numbers, so if you’re willing to go just under 1 carat, say .7 carats, you can find yourself savings as well.

Similarly, if your lady is into something more unique and diamonds aren’t her thing, you can get yourself a large sapphire for the price of a small diamond.

Tip 3: Know your budget

This is a probably a given but you should know your budget before walking in. Not only will this keep you from splurging on something you can’t afford, but it will help the shop attendants show you great options in your price range.

Tip 4: Make an appointment

If you’re shopping during engagement season, the shops are VERY busy and which can leave you left waiting for a free shop attendant. This is a very big moment in your life so it’s okay to want someone’s full attention. Save yourself time by booking appointments in advance. Most stores make it easy to do online. Just look on their website for a button that says 予約, pick your store location, your time, and contact information and you’re done! If you need help figuring out some of the questions in Japanese, let me know and I can write a post on some of the useful vocabulary you will need.

Tip 5: Don’t be afraid to ask For Native Language

In big cities like Tokyo, shops know that they’ll have customers from out of the country who come may not speak Japanese. If you ask in advance, you can sometimes find a shop attendant who can speak English or Chinese. My fiancé is Chinese and we were able to get a sales attendant who spoke both Chinese and Japanese.

Tip 6: Look for discounts

Thanksgivings to Valentine’s Day is Engagement Season, the time of year when most couples get engaged. On the other side, summer is when more people are hosting and attending weddings. So, during the summer, engagement rings go on sale.

But summer isn’t the only time for discounts. We found that nearly every store we visited had a Christmas sale that began around December 1 till Christmas Day. We were able to save a TON on an otherwise expensive diamond and setting because of the Christmas deal.

TRAVELERS LISTEN UP. Depending on where you are, some jewelry stores will offer you a traveler’s discount or allow the purchase to be duty free. With a purchase this size, that could mean hundreds of dollars saved.

I know no one wants to take about savings when it comes to something as romantic as an engagement ring, but think of it as savings you could use toward a bigger carat size or a nicer cut.

Tip 7: Bring pictures

This is the most important advice I could give you. Even as a girl who spent many hours on pinterest looking at rings, once I was in the shop, I found it difficult to put into words the kind of look I was going for. Having 2 or 3 photos I liked as a reference helped the attendant give us a better starting point.

If  you don’t have any clue what your girl might like, snap a few sneaky photos of the jewelry she normally wears or ask her best friend to help you out. Who knows, your girl might have an entire pinterest board of rings all her girlfriends have seen but you have no idea exists.

Tip 8: Ask about insurance and protections plans

A ring is a big investment of your money and of course your relationship. Make sure it’s going to be protected. Ask what the store’s police is if the ring gets damaged, lost, or stolen. Ask what sort of cleaning and repair services they provide for customers after the purchase.

Tip 9: Leave about a month for the ring to be set and resized

In my mind, we would walk out of the jewelry shop the same day with our perfect ring. But if you want to choose your setting and your diamond (which you most likely will), most stores will need between a week to a month to get your ring set and resized for you. This is because a lot of the times they’re not doing the setting in house. It can take even longer if you’re doing any other more customized services.

Tip 10: Take your time!

It took thousands of years to make this diamond so don’t feel like you have to make your decision in a day. Don’t be afraid to step out and come back. The shop we eventually purchased from was the first place we visited. I came back later to take a second look before finally deciding it was the one. Visit lots of shops! Look online! This is your big moment so take all the time you need.

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I want to give a quick shout out to Ginza Shiraishi where we ultimately purchased our ring. We received really great service and an amazing discount on our ring which allowed us to get a slightly bigger carat size. I’m still crazy about this ring and find myself admiring how beautiful it is during quiet moments of the day.

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Whether you’re celebrating with your special someone, friends, or Netlflix + wine, I hope everyone has a great Valentine’s day.

♥︎K

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A Week In Tokyo – Day 3

Welcome to Day 3 of my Week In Tokyo series. If you want to go back to see Day 1 and Day 2, see the links at the bottom of the post.

DAY 3 | Odaiba 

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Take the Monorail

Today we’re taking you to Odaiba and one of my favorite ways to get there is by taking the Yurikamome line, Tokyo’s first fully automated train line. Land yourself a spot in the front car and take in the sights as you cross the sea. You can hop on at the start of the line at Shimbashi station.

Hours: 5:45 – 00:30

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Miraikan | Science museum

I enjoy visiting the science museum for it’s special exhibitions. Last summer, I went to a video game exhibit where you could play dozens of arcade games or preview a new VR game for the price of admission. From April to September, Miraikan will have an exhibit called “The Art of Disney”, with drawings, sketches, and behind-the-scenes materials. You can see what new exhibit will be on display during your visit by checking out the website linked below.

Hours: 10:00 – 17:00

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Gundam | Diver City Tokyo Plaza 

After the museum, head over to Diver City mall to check out the Gundam statue. Standing at 59 feet (18m) tall, this is the world’s only full-size Gundam statue. Even if you’re not an anime fan, it’s a sight to be held.

Update: I just read that the Gundam statue will be leaving Odiba after March 5, 2017. Fingers crossed that this only means the statue will be gracing us in another section of town soon. I’ll keep you posted.

Hours: 24/7

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Food Court 

Grab some lunch in the Diver City food court. I know you might be thinking, “Food court mall food!? That’s not why I traveled here!” But trust me. This isn’t Panda Express. The first floor offers an array of delicious options like tonkatsu ramen, takoyaki, Hawaiian food, and more. After lunch, you can go shopping or head to our next stop.

Hours: 10:00 – 22:00

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Joypolis 

Joypolis is an indoor amusement park but that label doesn’t do it justice. There are arcade games, rides, simulators, laser tag, food, and more! Nobody does arcades quite like Japan. Joypolis can be found in other cities across Japan as wel,l but usually on a smaller scale, without the rides.

Hours: 10:00 – 22:00 (Last entry 21:15)

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Venus Fort mall

With the mood lighting, painted sky ceiling, and the medieval European architecture, this mall feels like a Vegas casino. It’s a nice place to walk around, especially in the summer when you want to escape the heat. Venus Fort is part of a larger complex which also includes other attractions which we’ll talk about below.

Hours: 11:00 – 21:00

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Toyota History Garage

This mini car museum is located on one side of Venus Fort mall. Here you can view many historic cars from all over the globe. It’s not worth a trip to Odaiba just for this exhibit, but if need something to keep your boyfriend or dad busy while you’re off shopping, this a good place to drop them off.

Hours: 11:00 – 21:00

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MEGA Web Toyota City Showcase 

After you’ve taken your selfie with the car from Back to the Future, head over to the Toyota City Showcase. This exhibit showcases the future of Toyota technology and is much more interactive. You can play a few video games or try out the Toyota Winglet (think Segway only much more compact). Like the historic garage, this exhibit is also located within Venus Fort.

Hours: 11:00 – 21:00

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Daikanransha | Ferris wheel

Adjacent to Venus Fort is my favorite ferris wheel in Japan. I’m slightly biased because this is where my fiance proposed to me. It’s colorful and beautiful against a blue sky. You can choose one of the colored cabins or one of the glass bottom cabins for the 16 minute ride. I like coming during the day but it’s also romantic at night when you can see the sparkling city lights.

Hours: 10:00 – 22:00

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Statue of Liberty Tokyo 

For any American readers out there, you might enjoy this next spot. Outside of Aqua City Odaiba mall, there is a replica lady liberty that makes a great photo opp. Overlooking the bay, this spot is where you’re going to want to camp out to get a good view of Rainbow Bridge. Which brings us to our last recommendation…

Hours: 24/7

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Rainbow Bridge 

Stay till after dark and you can see Odaiba’s beautiful and iconic rainbow bridge. The colors will change depending on certain holidays or events. During the month of December, there are winter fireworks at Rainbow bridge every Saturday. This is one of the best places to view fireworks in Tokyo outside of the summer season. Check out the site below for schedules.

Hours: Sunset – 00:00

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If you liked this post and want to see more recommendations in Tokyo, check out the links below.  Be sure to follow the blog if you’d like to receive guides for Days 4-7. Thanks for reading!

Day 1  | Day 2 | Day 3

♥︎K

A Week In Tokyo – Day 2

Welcome to Day 2 of my Week In Tokyo series. If you want to visit go back to see Day 1, see the links at the bottom of the post.

DAY 2 | ASAKUSA + UENO

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Asakusa Shrine | Sensoji 

Start your day at Asakusa Shrine and beat the crowds. This is one of the most beautiful Shinto shrines in the city. The entrance is marked by the Kaminarimon Gate and a huge red chochin lantern. In front of the shrine is an area of market stalls with food and souvenirs. The whole area is charming for tourists and locals.

If you’re lucky enough to be in Tokyo for New Year’s Eve, Asakusa Shrine is filled with thousands and thousands of people counting down to the big moment. It’s wonderful and exciting but also terrible if you hate crowds.

Shrine Hours:  Typically 06:00-15:00 (Temple Grounds always open)

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Sky Tree

Sky Tree is another great place to see a beautiful view of the city. In addition, there is a large shopping mall, an aquarium, restaurants, and more all in one centralized location. Be sure to grab your day tickets for the tower before heading into the mall. Day tickets do not have a specific time window so you may have to wait. Or save yourself time by purchasing tickets in advance. Having opened in 2012, Sky Tree is still relatively new so there will likely be a crowd to go up the tower.

Hours: 11:00 – 20:00

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Ueno Park

Ueno Park is one of my favorite places to drink a cup of coffee and people watch. Grab a cup of coffee at the Starbucks and grab a seat by the fountain or under the tree and relax. If you happen to be visiting during sakura season, you’ll find Ueno filled with friends enjoying food and drinking under the beautiful pink blossoms.

Hours: 05:00-23:00

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Visit a Museum or the Zoo 

After you’ve enjoyed a coffee break, you can visit one of the many wonderful museums in Ueno Park like the Tokyo National Museum, the National Museum of Nature and Science, or the Ueno Zoological Gardens. Most have entrance fees under 800 yen (about $8!) which is a bargain.

Hours: For most 08:00-17:00

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Ameyoko Shopping street

After you’ve become more cultured, take a break and do some shopping. Ameyoko shopping street is once of my favorite places to walk around. You can find everything from sneakers to perfume to spices along the road and alleyways. My favorite purchase I made here was my Japanese sukajan bomber jacket.

Hours: Varies per store

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Izakayas

All that shopping probably made you hungry. Luckily, Ueno is filled with many izakayas for you to choose from. This place transforms into a lively bar scene when the sun goes down. Izakayas serve Japanese bar food mostly in small dishes meant to be shared over drinks. I LOVE izakaya food. When I went to Japan in December, this was our first stop. Order a “nama biiru” (draft beer), any of yakitori (skewers), karage (fried chicken), edamame, a grilled fish, and potato salad. That will get you started in the right direction. There are izakayas all over Tokyo and I recommend visiting as many as you can. Tokyo Cheapo made a great beginner’s guide to izakayas that I recommend reading if it’s your first trip.

Hours: Typically last order around 23:00

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If you liked this post and want to see more recommendations in Tokyo, check out the links below.  Be sure to follow the blog if you’d like to receive guides for Days 3-7. Thanks!

Day 1  | Day 2

♥︎K

A Week In Tokyo – Day 1

Tokyo is one of my favorite cities on the planet and I feel very lucky I got to call it home last year. After our recent visit in December, I was inspired to write a guide to some of my favorite places. For anyone that’s traveling to Tokyo (or living there now), I’ll be writing a series called “A Week in Tokyo” where I give you a day by day guide on places to visit/eat/shop. So here we go!

DAY 1 | ROPPONGI + SHIBUYA

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Roppongi Mori Art Tower (Tokyo City View | Sky Deck)

Get your lay of the land with a beautiful view of Tokyo. This is my favorite place in all of Tokyo. If the weather isn’t great, you should switch this day with another. The view is still amazing but you won’t be able to go out on the sky deck. If you’re traveling with a significant other, you might want to come back just before sunset. It’s very romantic.

Hours: (usually) 10:00-23:00

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Tokyo Midtown 

After visiting the sky deck, head down the road to Tokyo Midtown. You can enjoy some shopping in the mall then head out to the man-made park to enjoy some beautiful nature right in the city. If you visit during the summertime, grab some snacks at the grocery shop in the basement of Tokyo Midtown then have a picnic outside.

Shop Hours: 11:00-21:00

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BrewDog Roppongi

This recommend is more for the expats who have been in Tokyo for a while. Sometimes you need a break from Asahi and Kirin. A great spot to grab a few non-Japanese beers with friends is BrewDog. This place is extremely foreigner friendly and many of the staff members speak English. They have a wide selection of beers on draft and a delicious menu to go with it. There’s also a Super Nintendo you can play. Get your Street Fighter on.

Hours: 15:00-24:00

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Shibuya Crossing

Catch a bus or the train from Roppongi and head over to Shibuya. This is the famous crosswalk you always see on the movies. It’s something to be experienced. Look for the Hachiko exit when exiting the station.

Hours: 24/7

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Shopping at Shibuya 109

See what Japan’s young and fashionable ladies are wearing by heading over to Shibuya 109. For the guys, there’s a Shibuya 109 Men’s across the road.

There’s tons of other places to shop in Shibuya but for now you’ll just want to browse so you’re not carrying lots of bags for the rest of the night. Besides, it’s day 1, you have plenty of time for shopping later! BUT if you can’t help yourself and you buy too much, you can usually rent lockers in the train station for a few hours to store your goodies until you’re ready to head home.

Hours: 10:00-21:00

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Dinner at Genki Sushi

This place is my favorite kaiten sushi (conveyor belt sushi) restaurant in Tokyo. It’s delicious, affordable, and it’s a chain so you can find them in different locations around the city. Try to go slightly before or after regular meal times or you’ll find yourself waiting for a seat.

Hours: 11:00-24:00

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See a Concert at the Chelsea Hotel

I love live music and I especially love live music in other countries. You don’t need to understand the language to feel engaged with the music. This basement venue is a great place to check out a punk/rock show. Check out their schedule online to see if there’s a show when you’re visiting or just drop by and take a look.

Hours: Varies

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I hope you enjoyed this list for Day 1. Subscribe and stay tuned to get guides for Days 2-7.

♥︎K

Education in Japan

Both of my parents work in education and one of the things I like about working in education myself is that now I can talk to my parents like a peer in the same industry.

Education is one of the toughest fields around. Being a teacher is easy, but being a good teacher takes years of dedication and a passion to help students. And patience. A saintly kind of patience. But before you can begin to teach, you need a student who’s willing to learn.

Now, I’ve worked in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles and dealt with a wide range of personality types. I’ve dealt with demanding clients with ridiculous expectations and even more ridiculous deadlines. It was demanding. It was stressful. But give me room of surly 10 year olds…. that’s a hell of a lot scarier.

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*No teachers or children were harmed in the making of this photo* Halloween Night

I’ve had many talks with my mom about the differences between the education system in Japan versus in Texas. Now I’m not saying Japan has all the answers, but I can tell you, my experience teaching there was a dream compared to what my parents deal with everyday.

There are a few key things I noticed in the Japanese public school system that I believe lead to stronger, more disciplined students.

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Students looking captivated by my English lesson

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1. Students walk to school

There are no buses. There is no line of parents dropping students off by car. Students are expected to walk to school rain or shine. When you reach junior high school age, then you’re allowed to ride a bicycle to school.

Now I know the distance that American students live to school makes this kind of arrangement impossible, but it’s still interesting to observe.

2. Students are greeted every morning by fellow students

When I arrived at school each day, there were 3 or 4 students whose job it was to tell me good morning and give me a high five. This is such a small gesture but it makes you feel like you are coming to a place where you are wanted. A place where you belong. I don’t know if I ever felt that while I was in school. This starts in elementary school and continues up through junior high school.

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3. Students serve each other lunch and eat in their classrooms

Each day, students wash their hands, walk to the kitchen area of the school, and pick up large pots and pans with that day’s lunch. Students carry it back up the stairs to their classroom and begin to serve food to their classmates. Other students help by handing out trays and preparing the desks.

No one can begin eating until everyone has food. Then, everyone claps their hands together and says, “Itadakimasu!” which roughly means, “I humbly accept this food” and everyone eats!

When everyone is finished, students return their trays and bowls themselves and carry it back down to the kitchen where they will be washed later by the staff.

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Photo borrowed from online

 

4. Lunch is healthy 

No french fries and pizza found here. These meals are prepared by community members (often retired grandmas) for the students from fresh ingredients. There is rarely anything with sugar. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a small piece of fruit as dessert. Students are also required to finish everything on their trays. No exceptions.

I’ve posted before about the delicious lunches I ate while in Japan. I still dream about school lunch…

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5. Students are responsible for cleaning their school

Each day, there is a 30 minute window where every student takes out a broom or a rag and cleans their school. They clean the classrooms. Their desks. The bathrooms. The hallways. The courtyards. The teacher’s room. There are no janitors. This begins as young as 1st grade.

Now most of the first graders just run through giggling and don’t really clean so an older student is assigned to help. But either way, the students learn from day 1 that this school is their property and they need to take care of it.

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Borrowed from online

6. Students perform for their parents 

At least twice a year, students host a special performance day on the weekend where family is invited to watch each student’s performance. There’s usually a song, or a play, or some kind of talent show.

Students and teachers work very hard on this performance for months. This is on top of their regular school work. Students are given a lot of responsibility for the execution of this day and they deliver.

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7. Students support their fellow students

When the 6th graders were moving on to junior high school, the students in grades 1st-5th put together the most beautiful graduation ceremony/performance for them.

They were given flower necklaces to wear. Each grade prepared a song or a dance. There were banners and speeches. There was a video made by the teachers of their photos from 1st grade until now. Anyone could see how much this small school cared about their students. I’m not going to lie, I cried like a baby. It was a beautiful ceremony.

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My adorable 6th graders

There’s a few other things like wearing summer uniforms year round in classrooms without heaters that I could add, but these are the things that come to mind at the moment.

I hope teacher’s in America realize how important their job is to the future of the world. I truly believe education can solve 95% of the world’s problems. Don’t give up. Realize that you’re not alone and connect with your fellow teacher’s. If your school isn’t supporting you, connect with teacher’s around the world! Anything that will help you realize there is a community out there who wants to help you do your job well.

 

Hang in there.

♥︎K

Life Lately

DSC_0213So much has happened in the last 3 months. My half year contract in Okayama came to an end. I said goodbye to all my schools. I said bye to all the amazing friends I made in Okayama.  I went on an amazing week long trip by local train from Okayama to Kyushu with my boyfriend. I visited my Chicago friends in Nakatsu. I moved from Okayama to Tokyo. I left Interac. I started a new job at an international kindergarten. I saw sakura season for the first time in Japan. My boyfriend moved to Shanghai to start a new job. I traveled to China for a weekend to visit him.

And that’s the short version.

DSC_0395I can’t believe only 2 months has passed since I came to Tokyo. It’s been tough getting used to this new city alone. Life in Tokyo is much more hectic than life in the countryside. And without my support system of friends and my boyfriend, I’ve been struggling to adapt. Tokyo can be isolating and stressful. It’s the kind of experience I expected to have when I first came to Japan….only it’s 6 months later.

DSC_0515.JPGNow that I’ve adapted to my new situation, life is going more smoothly. I’ve got a routine going at my new school. I’ve made a few new friends. And I know the difference between a local and an express train (and which one stops at my station). The once unsolvable Tokyo subway system no longer feels like such a mystery.

DSC_0498.JPGNow it’s time to start looking forward. In August I will have been in Japan for one year. I’m excited for a new chapter to begin and for new adventures later this year.

♥︎K

My First Trip to Japan

I first traveled to Japan back in November 2014. It was my first trip as a solo female traveler.

While my girl friends glamorized the idea of solo traveling, I thought it sounded awful and swore to never do it. But when my best friend could no longer come with me, I had to make a choice: give up on a trip I had been planning for a year and dreaming of for decades, or travel alone.

I tried to keep my anxiety at bay by planning, researching, and creating all kinds of lists. I had screenshots of maps, PDF guidebooks saved to my phone, Japanese dictionary apps… Backup copies of my passport and all my hotel bookings. Backups OF THOSE backups. I went a little overboard. But I think most people do on their first trip abroad alone.

I’m so happy I came because I gained so much more confidence in myself. And that trip was what ultimately let me know that I could live in Japan on my own.

While working on a video today, I found an old edit I made of my first trip. I don’t know why I never posted it but here it is. It’s been long enough that the shots all feel dreamy and nostalgic.

Right now, the biggest news in my life is that I’m moving to Yokohama next month! I’ll be staying with Interac and starting a new contract with a few elementary schools for this coming school year. I can’t wait to explore Yokohama and discover a new part of Japan. And I can’t wait to be closer to the madness that is Tokyo. I always dreamed I would live near Tokyo and now that’s a reality.

Dreams do come true kids.

 

♥︎K