DIY · Home · Japan Life · Rental Decorating

Tiny Pantry Renovation |Rental Friendly Decorating

We have had small pantries before, but man, this one in Japan takes the cake for BY FAR the smallest. We have tons of drawers that we can pile stuff in, but honestly it’s just so hard to find what we need when things aren’t sorted and organized.

I have found a bit of a love for open shelving, especially when items are displayed in beautiful jars and are so easily accessible. That being said, I also have a deep-seated hate for paying a lot for my home decor. (Hence my DIY hacks that are almost always under $20.)

So of course, I turned to my trusted Japanese Dollar stores for help.

 

So, I made a trip to both Daiso and Seria (the dollar stores here in Japan) and I got to work. In all reality, most dollar stores will have containers similar to the ones that I bought here. I decided to only stick with glass, simply because I knew it would probably withstand future moves better. (Fingers crossed for smart packers, right?)

I do recommend ONLY buying jars that are airtight for storing food, though. I purchased ones that were airtight, but also totally dishwasher safe.

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Daiso flowers displayed in a Daiso feed sack
All jars from Daiso. Top jars were 250 yen each, and the bottom ones were 100 yen each.
The hooks installed on my wall are also from Seria, and are the same hooks I used to make my DIY coat rack. I have not yet gone over the screws with my iron paint to make them not a super glaring silver- oops. 😉 The two small grey baskets can be found at Daiso, and come with the lids. They are also stackable! Jars with the white handle lids come from Seria. These are the BEST with our toddler, because he picks up what he wants and carries it to us.

First, I removed the doors and hardware from the main pantry cabinet in our house. Read below for some tips on successfully removing hardware in rentals.

My white bowls are from Target YEARS ago, unfortunately they no longer carry them, but I am waiting to find some similar to link for you. The regular mason sized jars on the bottom come from Daiso.

Next, I removed the hardware and doors from above the sink, just to give an accent cabinet to the room.

300 yen jars from Daiso- these hold our entire supply of rice, pasta, and several boxes of our cereal. Get rid of ugly boxes, and you can see EXACTLY how much you have. Win-win.

Tips:

Take off hardware, and store them in a plastic baggy.

I mentioned this in my past post about how to convert a small closet to a mudroom, but here is the information again!
So, yes. Take off all of the hardware, and store them in a plastic baggy. Or, simply leave it attached to the doors! We take all the screws and pieces that don’t remain attached to the doors, and store them in a plastic baggy, then tape it with painter’s tape to the door. This way the tape doesn’t damage the door, but we are able to know for SURE that the hardware stays put with the door. When moving out, we just place the door with the taped hardware beside the closet for our housing inspection. (Or if you are required to replace the doors where you live, all the hardware is right there, and you don’t have to go searching for it!)

Store your doors under a couch or bed.

This way kids, pets, or adults don’t damage them in any way, and they are totally out of the way! We store ours underneath our king size bed, so they are totally hidden under there. (Thanks to our sweet friend Sierra, for the idea of storing things under couches or beds. This works so well for us.)

The largest 300 yen storage containers.
These are 100 yen containers that I believe that have BOTH at Seria and Daiso. If I remember correctly, these came from Daiso. It was just big enough to hold our bag of granola and our bag of quinoa.
All of the above are from Daiso. The cross hatch storage baskets are my FAVORITES too. I have these in our closet upstairs, and you can also purchase lids that allow them to be fully stackable.
I keep my non-refridgerated pantry items in small crates from Daiso (100 yen) that allow air to flow through them.
Very top containers are from Seria, and 100 yen each. I use these for my granola and overnight oats. The beige containers are from Daiso (100¥ each!) Unfortunately my flour and sugar jars (the four across with the pattern) are SUPER old and from Target. I will link some if I find them!

Happy hunting for those dollar store bargains, and be sure to share your pantries on Pinterest with me! (Here is a link to the board this is pinned to.) If you redo yours, I would LOVE to see the results on the “try it” section of my pin!

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Japan Life · Travel Guides

Tenno Shrine | Azalea Festival – May 12

This was our second year visiting the azalea festival, and again, it didn’t disappoint. We even went before the azaleas were in full bloom this year, and it is SO worth the short trip from base. Located maybe 3 minutes from Namiki gelato, it really makes for a great day trip for families or even single service members.

Here is the pin directly to the parking lot: 40.697251, 141.151309
(If you go on the weekends, typically there will be city workers directing traffic.)

Here is the pin directly to the main shrine:
12ー1 Tenno, Shichinohe, Kamikita District, Aomori 039-2525

Here is the pin to the small park with playground equipment & other couple shrines:
30 Shichinohe, Kamikita-gun, Aomori 039-2525

There is LOTS of open space for kids to run, just please be respectful as the shrines are a place of worship. We brought our two year old and 8 month old, no problem. But we do make sure to keep them quiet and not let them run right next to the shrines.


The azaleas bloom in mid to late May, and usually there is a pretty good update on when they are fully flowered posted on Out the Gate. Most of these photos from this past weekend are when the blooms are only around 50-60% bloomed. Last year we went at full bloom- both trips were absolutely beautiful.

From Spring 2018, when the azaleas were at full bloom.

The shrines right around the big hill of azaleas are absolutely beautiful too, and it is worth climbing the HUGE hill to the left of the main hill to see a couple different shrines.

 

Even at partial bloom, the flowers are gorgeous!

After parking, there will be a small walk to the hill that the majority of the azaleas are planted on. Before you reach this, there is a small road to your left that will lead to a couple other shrines- this is where the tiny azalea trees are sold, as well. If you go under the big arch and up the big hill, there is also a small playground area for the kids. There are water fountains, porta-potties, and plenty of room to sit out if you decided to have a picnic as well. I recommend you wear bug spray though, because last year the mosquitos were pretty bad. This year we didn’t notice them.

Nothing better than good friends that will wrangle your toddler.

Would be a very pretty place for a picnic, but this area is PRISTINE, so PLEASE make sure to clean up after yourself!

We kept Henry (2.5) to the smaller wooden playground, but there are a couple pieces of equipment for bigger kids, too.

From 2018, at full bloom.
From 2018, at full bloom.

Definitely a must-see during the Spring. We always hit up Namiki afterwards, and did this day too- but I have SO many photos from this day, that I will save that for another post. Stay tuned.

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Japan Life · Japan Life Updates · Misawa Guides · Our Life in Japan · Travel Guides

Cherry Blossom Guide – Misawa City, Aomori

My first cherry blossom season in Misawa was spent wandering about pretty aimlessly, trying to figure out where the best places to view cherry blossoms were. I stuck mostly to base, because I was really afraid of accidentally wandering somewhere that I wasn’t necessarily welcome. And don’t get me wrong there- the blossoms on base are totally worth driving around to see. They are so beautifully and strategically planted, and they are some of the trees that seem to bloom the soonest. As I have explored more of Misawa, I have found that very few places seem to be unwelcome to Americans, as long as you are respectful, clean up after yourself, and don’t let your kids run completely wild. On the contrary, the Japanese at the parks seem to absolutely adore respectful American kiddos.

Icho park last year, mid-week. (If you go on a weekday, or early in the morning, it is beautifully quiet here.)

Last year, I thought the only place to really see blooms was at the Statue of Liberty (Icho) Park. I missed out on some of the most gorgeous blooms, because I spent ALL my time there (also because I had mini sessions nonstop, which was AMAZING, but also so draining.) It definitely is one of the best. But I wish I would have known about all the available parks for blossom viewing within like 20 minutes of base, where to park, and where was the most kid-friendly.

My kiddos were sick this week, so I will be updating this post in the next couple days with more photos and more information about each park.
For now, here are some photos of VERY early blooms that I saw at a couple parks I have visited this week- which will be updated soon! (April 24 update.)


 Also, here are a few reminders for you about being kind to our Japanese hosts, please don’t take these tips lightly! They may be common sense to most, but I have seen them all happen, which is why I include them.

• Please don’t let your kids pick cherry blossoms or any flowers, for that matter (and don’t pick them yourself.) If you want ONE blossom for a photo or something, that is one thing. But these gorgeous blooms don’t last long, and it’s incredibly sad for me as a photographer to watch other kids stripping entire branches to throw them in the air for one photo, you know? Be smart, and realize that there are a lot of people trying to view these trees in a very tiny amount of time, and half the time a giant rain or winds will strip the branches, anyway. If you want blooms, pick up ones that have already fallen!

• If you go to a dog-friendly park, PICK UP AFTER THEM. Keep your dogs on a tight/close leash, don’t let them jump all over people. I’m a dog lover, but I am absolutely a supporter of keeping your dogs at home if they growl at people or easily escape a leash.

• Try to keep your kiddos under control. Parks are obviously for running and fun (I have a toddler, trust me, I get it,) but I have seen people be drilled in the head with soccer balls by American children at these parks. Realize that these are THE ONLY parks for local Japanese families, and we are visitors in THEIR country.


Lastly,
Komaki and Tateno are VERY close together and could easily be hit in the same day.
Swan and Icho Parks are also VERY close together.

Also, as a disclaimer- these are all Google Maps pins. I know sometimes the difference between Google Maps and Apple Maps can be huge.

1. Statue of Liberty Park (Icho/Oicho Park)

(40.610026, 141.439702)
TONS of blooms here. The entire park is covered. 

If you go early in the day, you can park in this lot that the pin takes you directly to. I have always been routed through a very tightly-packed residential area to find the park- it will seem like you are going the wrong way if you are routed this way too. This lot does fill up quickly though, so if it is filled, you will have to take a right out of the parking lot, and drive until you see a one-way street. This will take you to a loop that drives directly above the park (directly above the playgrounds.) When the actual parking lots are filled, overflow parking has always parked on the grass above the park on this loop. I personally do not park here unless I see a JN (non-Y plate) car already parked there, just to be sure it is okay.

• stroller friendly almost completely through, almost all of it is paved walkways
• great place for a picnic when it is not insanely busy
• HUGE State of Liberty
• playgrounds, swings
• completely open areas for kids to run
• giant roller slide
• dog friendly
• large and beautiful lake
• fishing friendly
• has restrooms

This is one of the very best parks to visit for lots and lots of cherry blossoms. There are even a few different kinds of blooms here.
That being said, it gets BUSY towards the end of the day, and especially towards the afternoon on the weekends. During full bloom, the place is sometimes PACKED. It’s sometimes hard to find a parking spot, and the parking in this park is a little squirrely sometimes. I recommend visiting Icho for SURE, but recommend going during the early morning, or on a weekday. (Sunrise in Icho is spectacular, you NEED to see it.)

2. Swan Park (Hachinohekitakyuryoshimoda Park)

(40.611883, 141.401523)
TONS of blooms here. The entire park is pretty much covered.

This is the one park I have not visited yet- I will update this description in a little more detail in the next few days. You can Google images, or search Misawa Asks for more info on this one. (Swans come out in the winter, so don’t expect to see them in the spring haha.)

NO DOGS ALLOWED
• large and beautiful lake
• playgrounds
• has restrooms

3. Train park (Central Park)

(40.683702, 141.370212)
Lots of blooms, small park but pretty heavy cherry blossom coverage 

This is a very small parking lot, and make sure that you do not park in the Library parking lot on the other side of the building. They are pretty clearly marked.
This one is a family favorite of ours- it has a huge stationary train that our toddler LOVES to walk through. Lots of playground equipment- but it does get relatively busy because it is such a small park, and it is right in the middle of town. The blossoms are gorgeous here, though! Great 5-10 min walk, or like a 1 minute drive from base.

• stroller friendly on the outside perimeter, but this one is so small you probably won’t need to bring strollers
• playground
•  walk-through train

4. Tateno Park

Main parking lot by scenic area- (40.6155691, 141.3323448)
Dirt lot by the playground side of the park-
(40.611648, 141.330215)
TONS of blooms here, and lots of different kinds of cherry blossoms. Do be aware that some trees bloom at different times, though- so all trees may not be in bloom at the same time

I personally park in the dirt lot by the lake (it is located directly next to a huge and beautiful shrine tucked into some pines. I am not 100% sure this is parking for the park, but it was closest to the park that I wanted to explore, and was not full- so I considered it safe to park there.)

• stroller friendly for the most part, some paths are not paved, but are smooth enough to navigate a stroller over
• playgrounds/play equipment, swings
NO DOGS ALLOWED
• large and beautiful lake
• tons of picnic areas/ grills available
• fishing friendly
• has restrooms

Lots of lower hanging branches here, and a VERY pretty picnic area in several places in the park.

I could be wrong about this park NOT being dog friendly, but I am almost certain I saw signs posted saying pets were not allowed. I will update if I find this to be incorrect.

I have only visited this park once, and have not gone to the half that is not right around the lake.
It was BEAUTIFUL when we visited, and would be perfect for a picnic. There are several tables, lots of places to sit down for a snack, and LOTS of places for kids to run. The place is absolutely huge, and if you have loud and crazy kids- I would say this or Train Park would be your best bet.

This park has 2-3 different areas to it, and it is the PERFECT spot for a picnic.

5. Komaki (Komakionsen Shibusawa Park / Hoshino Resort )

Train station side parking: (40.667054, 141.353918)
Hotel side parking:  (40.663124, 141.354045)
(I usually park at the hotel, then walk down to the other area near the train station.)
Less cherry blossoms, but enough to make it worth visiting- beautiful during literally any season/any month

• completely stroller friendly
• dog friendly
• foot onsen
• big red Japanese style bridge
• lots of Japanese style buildings & shrines
• large and beautiful lake

Buildings on the hotel’s side. The umbrellas were set up for a festival of some sort. There are often festivals held right on the lake.
Train station side, these gorgeous and HUGE white blooms appear before cherry blossoms are in full bloom.

Komaki is a little less kid-friendly in the fact that it is usually VERY quiet, and there aren’t open spaces for kids to run. When festivals are going on here, I would say it is much less quiet, though.
Komaki area has two small parks- one right by the train station, and one by the hotel and onsen. (The onsen is no longer open to non-hotel guests.)
The train station side of the park has a lot more open space, but is much smaller- if that makes sense- and generally has less people occupying it. There are also FAR less cherry blossoms on this side- if any. (I will update this with certainty when I return after full bloom in Misawa.)

Hotel side-
When you park in the parking lot that the pin takes you to, it is REALLY confusing the first time that you try to find the scenic area. You will park in the lot, and see a bunch of hotels & buildings. (If you pull up Google Maps, you will see a lake. If you simply navigate yourself to the lake, you will find the loop easily.)
If you don’t have Maps readily available, walk into the building area. You will take a right before the main building, and will walk past a couple parking lots on your right. Once you go under the arch, you have found the scenic loop, and the foot onsen is directly to your right, overlooking the lake.
Our kids love this park because they are pretty quiet and calm kiddos, and like to just take stroller walks. If you have children that are excessively rambunctious or like to run, I actually don’t recommend walking the loop with them, simply because Komaki isn’t a park, just a gorgeous paved loop around the hotel. The hotel is just kind enough to allow non-hotel guests in.
That being said, there are miniature ponies and horses that are very friendly, and the entire place is gorgeous and interesting for kids- just maybe not the best for toddlers or kiddos that can’t be relatively calm while outside.

The foot onsen is open to the public, but please be respectful and quiet when using it.

I would consider Komaki more of a scenic walk/ cultural experience vs. a park. Cherry blossoms are supposed to be gorgeous here when in full bloom, though.

There is also a small bamboo forest on the train station side. And there is always BBQ sauce on Henry’s shirt. Haha

I hope these recommendations help you some! Even if you don’t visit during cherry blossom season, these parks are our absolute favorites to spend time at in Misawa, and are the best to get your family outside of the gate for a day. Hope you enjoy them as much as we have!

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Japan Life · Japan Life Updates · Travel Guides

Hakkoda Mountain Snow Wall- April 14

This is just a super quick photo dump, and a super quick recommendation that you should GO SEE THIS SNOW WALL. Seriously, if you’re in Northern Japan, this is a must-see during the early Spring. I believe it usually opens around April 1st. I mean when else are you going to get to see like 20ft of snow on either side of your car?

Drew also loves the skiing on this mountain, but says he doesn’t recommend it for beginners, as there are tons of sulfur pits hidden in the mountain. (Had I known that I would have totally worried about him more while skiing- haha.)

We made it a fun day and just took the road all the way up to Aomori after seeing the wall. Got some ramen at a tiny ramen shop, and turned around to go home, all in one day. Around $30 for gas, and $10 for food, and it was a great and super cheap day date with the kids!
We stopped in Towada City for gas, as it has one of the only self-service pumps that I know of on the way. We also made sure to bring the kids lots to play with and stay occupied with, since the total drive time there and back was probably 4-5 hours after factoring in the fact that we went all the way up to Aomori.


We chose not to do the snow walk because we have an infant and a toddler, and it was still worth the drive to see. You are actually only supposed to do the walk if you are with a tour group, anyway.

We stopped at the rest area to take a couple photos and use the bathroom, shown on the right.
Busses from some of the tours. We didn’t bother doing the tour this year since the kids are young, but likely will next year when they are both bigger and walking.

The snow by the rest area was actually the tallest we saw anywhere.

Not a sight you see every day, haha.
On the way home from Aomori. We saw the wall, ate, and turned around back home all while it was still light outside. One of the easiest day trips we have done, and also one of the coolest.

Let it be known that Google Maps will immediately try to route you down back roads- most of which are still partially snow-covered. I know we saw several posts about getting turned around on various roads while trying to go here.
We tried to take highway 394, but were turned around about 25 minutes down it.

Instead, we took highway 4 to Towada, and then took highway 102 all the way around. It was a longer drive, but it was worth it to not get turned around a zillion times. It’s also a really pretty drive, so that’s a plus.

Then, as mentioned, we drove up to Aomori after stopping at the rest stop. Hit up a small ramen shop on the main retail strip, and headed back home. The ramen was excellent, and the husband-wife pair that hosted us were so incredibly kind. They catered to our silly, little kiddos so well. even giving Henry a HUGE brownie free of charge.

Definitely a trip worth taking, and a great one-day adventure.

Japan Life · Life · Parenting · Shop My Instagram

One Japanese Custom Americans Should Adopt | Why You Should Take Your Shoes Off in Your Home

dearfoams pin

If you know me, you know that there are so many things I love about Japan. Just the other day, I was telling Drew that I am beginning to ache for the place, and we still have a little over a year left in the country. I could go on and on about the kindness of the Japanese, the beautiful rural countryside, and all of the customary Japanese things that I love here.
One of the things that I love most about the Japanese people, is that they are very conscious about cleanliness.

I’m telling you, I am going to cry when I return to American gas station bathrooms. There’s nothing like walking into a FamilyMart and using an absolutely spotless bathroom ANYWHERE that you stop on a road trip.

Being in Japan, there are several roles on our base that are filled by the Japanese nationals vs the US military. In particular, most of our housing maintenance department is managed by the Japanese people. This means, when your toilet breaks, they are the kind ones to come fix it.

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Do babes ever chew on anything SAFE for them?

And because toddlers seem to have a life goal of flushing things that shouldn’t be flushed during the fifteen seconds that you decide to look away to load the dishwasher… in a nutshell, we see maintenance a lot in our home.
One of the things that I was most startled by when welcoming the Japanese into our home for the first time, was the fact that they carried two sets of shoes with them. Without asking, they removed the shoes that they were wearing outside our front door, and they immediately stepped into house shoes to wear within our home.

As we have integrated into life in Japan, we have quickly realized that this practice is not just isolated to homes.

You go to the doctor, you will put on slippers.
You go to the hospital for a procedure, you will put on slippers.
You stay at a hotel, you will put on slippers.
You go to the onsen, you will put on slippers.
You go out to eat, you will put on slippers.
Even if you go to the bathroom, sometimes, you will put on slippers.

At first, I just didn’t really get it. To be honest, when we came to Japan, we were not big on the “no shoes in the house” rule. After the first week of culture shock from constantly taking off my shoes and replacing them with house shoes everywhere, I finally decided to do some reading on WHY I was constantly swapping shoes as I entered these various buildings. I was disgusted with my own ignorance, because the reasons are numerous, and they are pretty monumental.


This post is sponsored by Dearfoams, but the content was researched and written 100% by me, and all opinions are 100% my own. I agreed to work with Dearfoams because I genuinely love their company, and I will never speak highly about a brand that I don’t sincerely love.

4 Reasons You Should Remove Your Shoes at the Door | Why Everyone Needs House Shoes


 

“What did you say is on your shoes?!”

1. Outside shoes are GROSS

Did you know that almost ALL shoes that are worn outside of the home for at least one month carry fecal matter on them? Yep. Your outside, everyday shoes are covered in poop. A study from the University of Arizona on this particular topic says that up to 93 percent test positive, in fact.¹ When I first read this little bit of information, I was absolutely horrified.
In homes with children, this is obviously an even bigger deal, too.
Think about it this way: right now, Ellie spends 95% of her day on the floor. She touches it with her hands, then chews on her fingers. She rolls all around, and sometimes even falls asleep with her face smashed against it. Wearing house shoes or slippers that NEVER leave our home insures a clean environment for her to explore, drool, and chew happily (and safely.)

2. It keeps your house clean

I mean, this is kind of a given, right? This is probably the main reason that most people choose to remove their shoes at the door.
We live in the snowiest city in the world presently.  And what happens when snow melts?
MUD.
Our porch is constantly covered in dirt, mud, and water, and during the early spring, everything in sight is covered in pollen from the cherry blossoms. Being able to swap out our muddy/dirty shoes at the door, and put our feet into nice, clean soles, keeps our house so much cleaner. I mean, anything that makes my mopping/vacuuming schedule much easier to handle is a must- do for me.

Heck, you can even wash house shoes in order to help keep your floors that much more clean. Did you know that Dearfoams created the very first washable slipper with comfortable foam padding in it? Even all the way back in 1948, they were committed to creating a product that was safe and easy to keep clean for your family. To this day, most Dearfoams slippers are machine washable, meaning even your house shoes can be cleaned periodically- keeping your home as clean and safe for your little ones as possible.

3. It is so much more comfortable

You might be asking, “why wear shoes at home at all?”
If you are asking this question, I venture to say: you clearly do not have a toddler.

Legos. One word. One scary, painful word.
LEGOS.

But in all seriousness, it is incredibly convenient to own a pair of shoes that are comfortable enough to wear all day inside of your home, yet protective enough to shield you from the plethora of sinister little bottom-of-the-foot hazards that are children’s toys.
Perfect trade off. Your feet remain protected, and you remain comfy.

4. It is polite

This is HUGE in Japan, and I wish it was something that was better practiced in the states. While I don’t think America will necessarily begin carrying a pair of house shoes with them when going to visit friends, I do wish that it would become customary to remove shoes at the door.
It is respectful to the family that is hosting you, it is cleanly, and it is so so easy to do. In our experience in Japan, hosts customarily actually provide YOU with house shoes upon entering their home. Talk about a way to personify “Mi casa es su casa,” right?


 

There are so many huge reasons to begin building the habit of wearing ONLY house shoes in the home. Mum Ana Lucia Komori puts it best in my opinion:

“When we take our shoes off we are free from all the things that happened to us during the day but that don’t belong to our intimacy and spirit at home.”³

I LOVE that concept. As you shed your dirty daytime shoes, and put on your cozy house shoes, you are leaving the heavy parts of your day behind. You are settling into your own home for the night, and allowing your burdens to stay at the door, where you can pick them up to deal with the following day.

So I challenge you, start taking off  your shoes immediately upon entering the home. If you’re like us and like to wear shoes anyway, buy yourself a pair of house shoes. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, Dearfoams are absolutely our favorite.
Cozy up, leave your burdens behind, and keep your floors clean for the tiny hands and feet that are exploring their little world.

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Sources:

  1. https://www.today.com/home/health-reasons-why-you-shouldn-t-wear-shoes-house-t129820
  2. http://alt.npo-glad.org/taking-off-shoes-japan/
  3. http://www.essentialkids.com.au/health/health-wellbeing/should-you-take-your-shoes-off-before-entering-your-home-20180723-h1316l
  4. https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2001.html
Japan Life · Our Life in Japan

Both Hands

I grew up in the textbook definition of a small farm town. For eighteen years of my life, I lived where you could catch index finger waves every time you met another car on the single lane highway. The one fast food drive thru in town would recognize my voice or vehicle, and ask “the usual?” always around 3:17pm on my drive home from school. The river was a 15 minute drive away, but driving to a mall was an all-day ordeal.

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18 year old Em, providing the Valedictory address to our class of sixty-or-seventy-some.

My boyfriend was from a rival high school about 28 miles away, and our houses were only about 5 miles apart. We dated through college, and I will forever be proud to say that I married my high school sweetheart. Businesses in town were small, people were kind, and the nights were quiet. There were some generally awful people mixed in, as will be in any place you live, but for the most part, it was a beautiful thing to live in a population of just a little over 2,000.

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An oldie, but goodie for your viewing. We had been dating for around 2 years at this point. Our first official school dance.

 

A lot of this small-town awareness and kindness left my memory when my husband and I moved around 3 hours away to a town of around 50,000- maybe close to 100,000 when you include the suburbs. To some, this is still a small town, but for me, it was the biggest move of my life. Finally, I lived in a town with a Target, and it was only 7 minutes from our apartment.

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Our last photo outside of our first home together in Joplin, Missouri.

We loved the new town, the new found freedoms that retail convenience brought, and the new friends we found in this town. Don’t get me wrong, Joplin will forever hold a very dear place in my heart, and the friends that we left behind there are some of the best people I have met in my twenty-three years of life, but Joplin also provided me my first real taste of how unkind human beings can be. It was my college town, my first years on my own, and my first chance to see exactly how corporate, big America functions on a daily basis.

I so thankfully graduated with enough scholarships to cover all 4 years of my post-secondary education. So before Drew and I were engaged, I was just a college kid lucky enough to only want a job for a little extra gas money to make it home on the weekends. In October of our first year in Joplin, I applied at probably 40 different places in town, and immediately received a call back from Kohl’s, looking for holiday hires. I accepted a position as a temporary entry-level floor associate, was kept on permanently after the holiday season, and got my first experiences in retail.

Over the first two years I worked at Kohl’s, I was promoted a handful of times until I finally accepted a position in management. Still to this day, I have nothing but good things to say about the company, my co-workers, and the management at the store. Seriously, the people that work there and the company itself FAR outweigh the cons I’ll talk about shortly. But it was in this position that I realized just how awful people can be to a complete stranger.

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My coworkers from Kohl’s hosted my baby shower, we attended each other’s weddings, birthday parties, and showers, and I cried big ugly tears when our family moved. These are my people, and I love them dearly.

I managed the customer service department for a while, which meant I got a LOT of phone calls, a LOT of “can I speak to the manager”s, and a LOT of threats to call corporate with my full name on their tongues. Sometimes it was hard for me to separate the angry yelling of a 40-something year old woman from my own self-worth. The lack of a $4 savings that some individuals would get absolutely irate about made me question if people were inherently just really, really crappy humans. I was often called stupid if I counted back change wrong. I was often called a liar if I told a customer a price wasn’t what they thought they saw. I was once even called a bitch when I asked a woman to leave the store after she THREW a pile of clothes at me for telling her we had sold out of her size. Daily, I had men and women come through my line, and not once say a single word to me due to the fact that they were talking on their phones or buried in a post on social media. I had days that I desperately needed a warm hello from a customer, and didn’t even get so much as eye contact. Let me tell you guys, if you work retail, customer service, or food service anywhere in the states, from all I can see and tell- you are a saint.

After getting married, we moved to a suburb of the city in hopes for a little quieter atmosphere. Unfortunately we often found flashing headlights on our street corner, loud banging/kicking at our door in the middle of the night, and possessions missing from our car or truck in the mornings. In the four years we lived there, we only met one set of our eight neighbors. I feared taking my baby out of our SUV if it was dark already, and I called 911 and the police station more times during our stay there than I have in the rest of my twenty-two years combined. My friends houses were broken into, my wallet was stolen twice, and we had to lock our cars even if we were just running quickly into a gas station. We trusted very few people, and we spoke regularly to even fewer.
(Please don’t get me wrong, Joplin is a beautiful and wonderful place to live… this is just the worst of the things we experienced in our part of town, and is just sometimes the nature of a bigger city.) But after around 5 years there, I cried myself to sleep most nights. It was a hard place for me to be after so many years in a town where your neighbors were your family, and you left your purse in your car overnight to find it unscathed the next morning. I wanted something different; I wanted a new existence. I wanted people that knew my name again, or at the very least made eye contact with me before they walked away from my register at work. I was convinced that the only place for us was back in our hometown of 2,000 people- where we could raise our son to graduate high school in a class of around sixty-five other students. But, when my husband and I moved the next time, it would be overseas.

At 18, I thought I would live in my hometown for the rest of my 80+ years of life. Never in a million years would I expect to be 23 and sitting in my new apartment in Japan. It’s funny how God takes us to the last place in the world we would ever think we would want to be, and shows us just how wrong our assumptions are most of the time.

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Even if nothing else made me love this country, the Pacific coastline 100% would.

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When I boarded our plane at the coastline, and said goodbye to America, I expected another Joplin experience. I expected to cry often because our families are 6,000 miles away, and I expected to ache for the states- especially for my hometown. I expected to find more people who were too caught up in their own lives to care in the slightest about mine. And again, don’t get me wrong- I miss my hometown and my sweet family terribly, and I miss those dirt roads and the quietness of Southern Missouri. But what I have found in Japan so far has left me absolutely astounded.

The Japanese people have a way of existing that makes me yearn to be like them.

From the first time I was bowed to, to the first time an elderly Japanese couple stopped in the middle of the mall to give my cranky toddler son a cookie they had just bought for themselves, I find myself never letting the corners of my mouth drop in this country. I could go on and on all day about how incredible this experience has been so far, but I will tell you the one thing that catches me off guard still- almost a full month after we have arrived.

Upon my first trip to a grocery store, I brought our items to the front for checkout while my toddler swatted at everything possible on the counter. The sweet cashier tried her best to make conversation with me, and I half-heartedly tried my best to reply while doing a million other things- though the extent of my Japanese so far includes “hi”, “thank you”, and “how much is this?” I struggled to pull the correct amount of money out of my wallet, while trying to text my husband who was on the other side of the store waiting for me. At the end of the transaction, I experienced a gesture that I never had before in the states. When she handed me my change, the bags, and the receipt, she fully extended both of her hands to do so.

My thoughts at first were probably similar to any other American’s. “Ah. That’s kind of cool. But so what? It’s a customary thing, right? Just a difference from America? A cultural thing? It isn’t even THAT big of a deal.”

Yes. And those thoughts are precisely what make my heart hurt. The attention and care that she showed me were out of the ordinary for me, though they are a daily occurrence here. I realized in that moment, that I could not accept what she handed to me with both of my hands, simply because my hands were full already. I gripped my phone, illuminated from the conversation I was attempting to have while speaking to her. My keys were intertwined between my fingers in an effort to have my car key separated and ready before we walked into the cold. I had held the receipt, immediately and instinctively trying to check the amount I was charged. I could barely carry the bags she handed me, because I was already so engrossed in everything else that I was trying to do in that checkout line. During the drive home, I reflected on the fact that I was culturally so unprepared for the full attention that cashier gave me.

In this city, the public transportation is quiet. The people on the trains always use headphones to avoid disturbing others. The only people sitting are the elderly, the pregnant, or those with children. Others only sit when there is room, and they often stand up for others when they board the bus or train. People rarely walk and talk on their phones. You see very few phones on sit-down restaurant tables. The service at every restaurant, every store, and every gas station is impeccable. The hosts try to help you understand signs, menus, directions. They attempt to explain what your food is. They tell you the secrets on how to eat it. People notice your baby/toddler and accommodate you when you are struggling. They give your toddler a cookie they themselves just paid several dollars for. Nobody in this town locks their doors. Merchants leave items on the streets overnight. The people here are so kind, but more importantly- the people here are so present.

Since arriving, I have noticed myself putting down my phone more (aside from snapping photos of everything and attempting to translate words and signs with Google translate, of course) and have found myself trying to be present in my attempted conversations with the Japanese locals. Even in my hometown, while the pace is much slower, I can’t say that the people are as present as they are here. It is an incredible feeling to have a human- who is wholly uninvested in you personally- hand you something with both hands, make eye contact, smile, and even bow to you as you leave.

It is so funny how God can take a die-hard hometown-forever kind of girl like me, and thoroughly convince her in just a month that everyone in America needs to leave the United States for a little while just to get some perspective, but I fully believe this now. I wish that every person could spend a week in Japan, just to realize what a shallow person you can be at times when it comes to your attention and who and what you give it to.

Regardless of political view, regardless of gender, regardless of race- these humans we do life with and around deserve our attention. They never deserve a half-hearted conversation, and they never deserve to be spoken down to for something that is completely out of their control. I wish we all could remember that every single person we encounter is a child of the King. They are made in His image, and they deserve our respect. These beautiful people in Japan very rarely even know the name of Jesus, and they get it so much more than I- a hometown bible-belt Christian- ever did.

I never realized what a difference it makes to have someone hand you something with both hands, and to have someone fully invest in your presence before them, even if only for a mere 2 minutes. But this is the attitude of Christ- the One who understands, the One who listens, and the One who is always fully invested in us. Attention and investment like this is somewhat startling, but it is remarkably wonderful. Make conversation, sincerely care about another person’s existence, make eye contact.

Offer your attention. Offer both hands.

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