Different Country, Different Candy

The wonderful world of Japanese candy includes a lot of Western candy, but the flavors are different. This Kit-Kat bar is a strawberry shortcake flavor bar, a flavor I have yet to see in the U.S. Even though strawberry shortcakes are notorious for their high sugar content, this Japanese spin on an old favorite concentrates on the taste, not the amount of sugar.

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Goodbye,Rabbit. Hello,Dragon.

2011 is coming to a close, and I couldn’t be happier. With the U.S. economy in a downturn and the politicians doing more to make the situation more disgustingly difficult, this year has been a year of ups and downs.

Since I’ve become used to Japan, being there is like a lifesaver for a recent college grad as myself. I’m still doing a good and comfortable job in English teaching that grants me a relaxed atmosphere in both my work life and my personal life. Professionally, I’ve made a few good decisions, like renewing my contract for another year of teaching in case the U.S. economy continues to be a sanctuary for severe underemployment. Although I did well to continue with a good job and stable income, I’ve tried my hand at writing and art while in Japan. It’s a bit laughable how I haven’t won even one simple writing contest or that I’ve left my favorite manga writing position for writing for myself, but regrettable things happen like that every year, so it’s no big deal.

Financially, my life could’ve been better starting out. I didn’t really know how to save, and when I finally found an attainable goal, I learned. Still, my husband likes to make fun of how much I blew before he came to live with me and how bad I was at money. Now that I’m saving, the future looks a little brighter financially for the year 2012.

As for my personal life, I think my life went in the direction as the economy, with fluctuations here and there, and I’m not sure how I should feel about them. I can’t say I personally became a better person this year. I usually concentrate a lot of energy on my overall goals in my professional life while balancing a healthy relationship with myself. I usually dig a little bit deeper into my psyche and try to fix damaged areas, finding more and more reasons to be comfortable in my own skin. But I don’t think I’ve actually repaired anything within myself this year. I feel like I’ve taken a step back, and at times, I feel like I’ll break. I’ve thought that maybe 2011 was for me to change and break down and rebuild even stronger than before, like a fatigued muscle. But people don’t operate the same way as muscles.

As 2012 looms, I have no resolutions. They all seem futile  when I look at the scheme of life. But there are things that I want to accomplish while I’m trying to live. I want to go back to volunteering in my community so I can feel connected to people somehow. I want to make a difference somewhere in the world, and going away from that makes my heart feel heavy. I also want to work on being less selfish. My husband says I’m a brat and selfish. I won’t discount this because it’s true. I have an expectation of what I deserve, and there are a lot of things that I don’t feel like I deserve just because of certain nonsense things. And I have to work on being more loving and caring for my husband, being more understanding and be like an extension of him. If not, I’ll probably be a bad wife or a continuous selfish person. We won’t have to fight about my selfishness. We can just be a happy wedded couple. If I keep my professional life separate from my personal life, keep my finances controlled and abundant, and become less selfish and more understanding, I’m sure 2012 can be a great year for everyone and myself.

It’s Not All About Democrats and Republicans

It seems 2011 has been the party-hater year. When people start talking about politics, the first thing that comes up is ‘party’. “Oh, Obama is a Democrat.” And the second thing that comes up is ‘division’. “Oh, Obama is a Democrat. I‘m a Republican, so let’s not vote in a Democrat.” But when it comes down to deciding crucial plans that deeply affect the American people, Democrats and Republicans can’t ban together to make the best choice for their constituents. In the end, the division between Democrats and Republicans only makes the poor and middle classes of the U.S. suffer.

What I absolutely hate about party division is how making informed decisions takes a backseat to a party’s ego. For example, many people voted for McCain because they were Republican, not because of merit. Some people voted for Obama because they were Democrats, not because of experience. It’s almost useless to have a democratic political system if the people can’t see past the political party lines and find concrete reasons why a candidate should be granted the honor of being the president of the United States.

In the 2012 presidential elections, Americans shouldn’t be looking at the candidate’s party. The people should be looking at the candidate’s political track record, their platforms, their plans for executing their platforms, their intelligent diplomacy, their ability to be cool under pressure, and their ability to lead without an ulterior motive. None of the things that I’ve noted are about the candidate’s religion, sexual orientation, skin color, gender, former occupations, personal assets, or physical appearance. These things are not important compared to being the representative for the top First-World country. A candidate needs to prove to the American people that they can concretely change America for the better by mending the broken economy through creating jobs, increasing the middle class population, and ceasing useless spending on tarp and “world policing”.

My husband, a Democratic voter, and I, an Independent, are considering voting for a Republican candidate if that candidate has all of the noteworthy qualities that a president should possess in meeting the needs of the people. We’re not here to pick sides or play the blame-game. What my husband, myself, and the American people need to do is strip each candidate’s campaign down to their essence and ask, “Can you meet the needs of the people in a realistic and timely manner?” No frilly rhetoric. No beat-around-the-bush speeches. No more talk. The American people need action–and the American people need to be the action by being intelligent about politics, not political parties.

The Personal Side of Being an “Expat in Japan”

There are many expats in Japan, many of which are under the guise of the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme. I happen to be one of those expats. It’s not so much the fact that I’m outside of the United States, my home country, that makes me an expat. It’s based off of a matter of choice; I wanted to get out of the United States. I felt suffocated being there. Don’t get me wrong, the United States is pretty cool. Home of the Free. The American Dream. But sometimes, there’s a deeper calling in life than the commercialization of everything that was once precious. I decided that I wanted to develop outside of American culture because there was a whole world to experience. Why not go to the country I’ve always wanted to live in?

Now that I’m here, I’m glad I made the choice. Some things I’ve come to realize aren’t tangible or measurable. I came to Japan, thinking the same thoughts as all otaku think when they arrive in the Land of the Rising Sun: “Oh my God! I’m in Japan! Anime! Manga! School girls! Weird stuff!” Of course, Japan’s culture isn’t just about those things. There’s a quiet respect for people–though, some people will argue it’s a facade–and people will come to help someone in need without expecting something in return. You can’t find that freely in the United States. Also, there’s a need to connect to and respect nature, such as appreciating the flowers and the rich, green landscape that can unfold in the middle of nowhere.

Besides those extrinsic aspects of Japanese culture that I’ve come to love and respect, I’ve realized more about myself. This was my first time striking it out on my own without any of my family members to guide me. I was making my own money (which wasn’t new, by the way), but I was responsible for everything–rent, utilities, food, and entertainment funds. I had to learn how to ask questions. If I didn’t ask, I was bound to miss something and pay the price, literally and figuratively.

Not only did I have to come to terms with my responsibilities, I had to come to terms with myself. I had rid myself of the negative aspects of my American life. No more nagging, nosy mother. No more people assuming because I’m black, I’m stupid or lazy or like all of the stereotypical things. No more having to deal with bummy guys. I was separated from those things, and I could develop into someone that I thought didn’t exist. This development prepared me to accept certain aspects of myself that I saw as faults, as well as accepting others more, like marrying and living with my husband. (Let’s just say that marriage is a whole different blog post to begin with.)

Aside from my personal growth, the things that were tangible and measurable became more apparent with life in Japan. My husband and I realized that being in the United States at this time period was devastating to working people. The economy is currently disastrous, and even some of our friends are having difficulty finding a minimum-wage job, though they have a Bachelor’s degree. Frankly, being able to save up in a different country is fun and economical, especially when the dollar is so weak and federal taxes give you a “pass” card the first year abroad. In monetary terms, being abroad is great. On top of the savings, there’s gaining work experience in a prestigious field along with learning Japanese that makes being an expat in Japan pretty appealing.

But being away from the United States gives any open-minded expat a common foundation: there’s a new perspective on the United States waiting to be scooped up. It could be a positive perspective, like seeing how people the U.S. are free to speak out, or simply understanding more of the good points of the United States. The perspective can also be more negative, such as realizing how spoiled Americans can be, or realizing the bad aspects of American cultures mostly visualized through obese people and the growing numbers of prisoners. Either perspective that expats choose to acknowledge, being an expat in Japan is one experience that can never be forgotten.