Anxiety · Japan · Minimalism · Osaka · Overseas · Photography · Stress · Travelling · Visas · Zero Waste

Umeda Sky Building, Grand Front Osaka, and Germany Update.

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Dillon and I visited Umeda Sky Building today, where I took this photo from the rooftop observatory. We were over 150m high and could see the whole city as well as the mountains that surround Osaka and out to the sea. We still have not visited Abeno Harukas, the tallest building in Japan at 300m tall, but we will go there in early December to visit an exhibition on Studio Ghibli, so hopefully we will get a chance to take some more photographs of Osaka from above then too. In the gift shop, I managed to find some beautiful handmade Japanese craft items, including some handkerchiefs, hand towels, and body towels, all with lovely traditional designs. I also bought a little pouch in the shape of a rabbit to keep the smaller items in, as well as a kanji keychain for us both. I have been looking for items to bring back from Japan, but I have some criteria that they must fit into first:

1) The item is light, and will not take up much room in our suitcases

2) The item is handmade in Japan, and meaningful to our experience in Japan

3) The item is something I have already been looking for because we need it

We also visited Grand Front Osaka, a huge shopping mall with a whole floor dedicated to gorgeous stationery and specialist stores. I have never seen anything like it, and I don’t think there is anything like it in the UK that I can think of. I often find it is too difficult to buy anything when I visit those places, because there is so much choice, and everything is so special, so I just enjoy walking around and looking at different things instead. It is giving me lots of ideas for nearer the time when we leave Japan and I will be looking for some gifts to get people, though.

Finally, an update on our move to Germany: after going back and forth trying to get the right documentation, I have managed to set up an account to transfer money from Japan to the UK, so we will be able to pay for things like our plane tickets and deposit on a new apartment now. Secondly, I have completed the work documentation necessary for me to begin working in Germany, and we are lucky enough that the relocation agency who are helping us to move have said they will organise all appointments needed and provide translation services whenever required as part of their service. Lastly, we have sent a copy of our marriage certificate to the UK to get an apostille, and once we have received that we will be able to continue with the visa process for Dillon. We are a lot further along now than we were two weeks ago, or even last weekend, so I am feeling more relaxed about the situation now.

Anxiety · Decluttering · Fashion · Japan · Minimalism · New Year's Resolutions · Overseas · Photography · Stress · Zero Waste

And now for something completely different …

Tomorrow is Respect for the Aged Day in Japan, one of a number of National Holidays that fall in the autumn and winter months, so Dillon and I are currently in the middle of enjoying a three-day weekend. I thought I would do something a bit different today, so I’m going to do a personal update about the different things that I’ve been working on and some changes that have been happening in our lives.

The first photo you can see here is my half of the clothes rail in our apartment. While I don’t hold too strictly to it, I like to try and ensure that all the outdoor clothes I own fit on the hangers I already have. We have a build-in storage area with two sectioned areas separated by a shelf, so we store our suitcases on the floor and our towels and other belongings on the shelf. I keep my lingerie and pyjamas in this section, and I have one pair of shoes out in the hallway, but otherwise all my clothes are shown hanging on this rail (my two other pairs of shoes are below the clothes, unpictured).

I came to Japan in March a UK size 10 (US 6), at that point still eating meat. Walking at a decent pace to and from work for about an hour every day, and adapting my diet slightly due to the different products available in Japan, I began to get a bit slimmer, although since I did not measure myself and I do not own scales, I am not sure by how much. I have struggled with chronic illness in the past, and was diagnosed with IBS in 2014 and put on medication to deal with numerous symptoms, the worst of which included persistent vomiting and literally immobilising stomach pain. Because of this, I am highly conscious of the effect the food and drink I take into my body has on my health and well-being. A couple of months ago, I watched a number of documentaries on the effect of eating animal products on individual health, the environment, and the welfare of animals. These included ‘What the Health’, ‘Forks Over Knives’, ‘Cowspiracy’, and I attempted to watch ‘Earthlings’ but couldn’t get past the first ten minutes.

Dillon and I adopted a plant-based diet and went vegan on the 1st August. Since Dillon and I eat our meals together and he had been a vegetarian for a decade, and I had almost cut out meat entirely by accident due to our move, in the end I only had to make a couple of changes: stop eating ice-cream, stop eating snacks that contained animal products, and remove the egg from my rice meals. I have to say that it was a fairly painless switch. I didn’t find myself craving any foods, and at this point roughly six weeks into veganism, I have no desire to eat any animal product. I also found myself eating more healthily by necessity: I had the desire and motivation to research what foods to include in my meals, and the results for me personally are beyond anything that I could have imagined.

  • I have slimmed down further, to the point where my clothes were at risk of falling off me at work (which was my red flag moment to go and buy the clothes pictured above). I am now a UK size 6 (US 2), and measure 32″ 23″ 32″, certainly the slimmest I have been since I hit puberty. My stomach is flat (though not toned), and I have a thigh gap. I should say that I don’t mention these things to intimate that they are better or worse than any other way of looking, only that they are important for me to recognise, and to feel proud of achieving personally.
  • I have huge amounts of energy. On my commute to and from work I can walk faster and for longer without tiring. I feel lighter and brighter in myself. After about seven hours of sleep I am wide awake and ready for the day, without needing an alarm clock.
  • I am far more confident in myself and with my body. I have lost the sensation that people are looking at me. I have lost the dysmorphic sensation of looking at myself in the mirror and seeing an idea of what is there rather than what is in front of me. I am able to go into clothes store changing rooms and come out feeling happy.
  • I have experienced no menstrual cramps, bloating, or PMS symptoms.
  • I have experienced no IBS symptoms, which has meant I have been able to get rid of my medication.
  • I feel far happier and calmer in a day-to-day sense. This may also be to do with taking up daily yoga and meditation, and listening to meditation and anxiety management podcasts in the evening, as well as using the ‘Sleepy’ body lotion from Lush, but taking up these practises was also connected to my adoption of a plant-based diet, so I’ll include it here too.

Now, I have aspirations to go further. I still need to buy a jumper or sweatshirt for the weekend, and one work dress, as well as bras in my correct size, but I am determined to maintain my minimalist approach to clothes shopping and consumption, and my new project is to transition to a zero waste lifestyle. Dillon and I both bought a stainless steel water bottle from the Natural History Museum in Osaka, so we no longer drink from plastic bottles, and I have cut my consumption of drinks from vending machines down to one a week, with the aspiration to cut them out completely. I have some documentaries to watch including ‘Speciesism’, ‘A Plastic Ocean’, and ‘Fed Up’, and I am gaining so much value and enjoyment from learning about different ways of living that leave a lighter impact on the planet.

PSA: I hope that by exploring this article, my readers are able to accept and appreciate the positive impact that veganism is having on my health and wellbeing. I am conscious that there are a number of topics I have written about today that may make some readers react differently. While everyone is free to think what they like, I would encourage you to consider – after reading through my bullet point list of the benefits I am experiencing and how much happier I am in my life currently – whether it is necessary for you to tell me that you disagree with the choices I am making in my life. Just a thought!

Berlin · Day Trip · Japan · Nature · Osaka · Overseas · Photography · Teaching · Travelling

Summer Vacation, Nagai Botanical Garden, and Big News!

I’ve taken a break from blogging over my summer vacation, but I’ve just completed my prep week back at work, and the Autumn term begins tomorrow, so I’m going back to weekly updates from today.

Both Dillon and I had a bad cold over the summer, so we spent the first few days of my holiday resting and getting over our illness. We went for a walk around one of the local shopping malls, Namba Parks, and sat up on the rooftop garden admiring Osaka from above. Something I really like about this city is that despite it being so busy and there being countless things to do, there are lots of quiet spaces interspersed throughout it, where it stays peaceful and you can enjoy some peace and quiet. For my 26th birthday we went bowling at Round 1 in Namba, where I did surprisingly well considering there were no bumpers, and the Japanese guys in the alley next to us who were on their twentieth game applauded Dillon’s strikes and my spares! We also went out for soy burgers (this Friday marked one month since Dillon and I adopted a wholly plant-based diet). We went back to Round 1 later in the holiday to play pool, and we also visited an amusement park in Misaki Koen, outside of Osaka on the coastline.

This week at work was a preparation week, spent mostly in meetings. I met a new student who will be joining some of the classes I teach and did some assessment with work him. I also had some time to complete my planning and resourcing for the new term. Thursday and Friday were spent in a workshop focusing on teaching the Primary Years Programme (PYP) for the IB. The lady who ran it reminded me a lot of my PGCE tutors and I was pleasantly surprised at how interesting and helpful the workshop was – it’s always great to come away from something like that feeling as though I’ve learned lots of new things.

Today we went to Nagai Botanical Garden, an incredible natural space in the centre of the city, full of flowers, herbs, bamboo trees and areas of ancient forest. We saw turtles, huge koi and other fish in the lake, dragonflies, butterflies, and even some Japanese beetles in the roses.

I also have some big news! Dillon and I have wanted to move to Europe for some time, and once term broke up in July, I had some time to put together application materials to submit, and I saw an advertisement for a position similar to a SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-Ordinator), which is a role I always aspired to take up in Britain, had our circumstances been different. The position is at another international school, this time in Berlin. As well as leading SEN provision for the Primary School, I will have some responsibility for EAL support. The job starts in January, so Dillon and I will be leaving Osaka in December and travelling to Germany. The school are covering my flight and our relocation costs, and we have been put in touch with their relocation service, which is brilliant and very reassuring. Until then, our plan now is to enjoy our last few months in Japan as much as we can, before beginning our next chapter in Berlin!

(It is also our second wedding anniversary today, and next week will mark three years since Dillon and I met in York for the first time ♥)

Day Trip · Illness · Japan · Osaka · Overseas · Photography · Teaching · Travelling

Mega Dinosaurs Exhibition, Sigur Ros & I finished Summer School.

Four weeks after the official end of term, Summer School is finally over. I have experienced very mixed feelings about Summer School over this last month. It’s true that some of my favourite kids were there (even though you’re not supposed to have favourite kids, but anyway), and it was a really nice experience to be able to spend some time actually teaching them rather than just chatting to them briefly or supervising them at lunchtime, as they are in different grade classes to the ones I teach. I can’t pretend that it wasn’t lovely to receive daily drawings and notes from these students, either, and you can see a selection here:

However, I couldn’t get past the psychological block that ultimately I believe it’s not appropriate to offer or send kids to Summer School. They work hard enough during school hours, and the summer should be for playing, having fun, relaxing, seeing family, or whatever else they want to do outside of school. My other problem with Summer School is that it was a glorified daycare service, because all the teachers were too exhausted to do much of any educational value. I think I would have preferred it being officially called summer daycare, because then at least we could have done fun activities without feeling guilty about doing so, and we could have planned outdoor activities and trips to make it a more enjoyable experience for the students.

Between Summer School, Dillon and I went to the ATC Hall in the Osaka Bay area to see the Mega Dinosaurs Exhibition, which was very impressive. It was right at the end of the subway line, at a stop called Cosmo Square, which is one of my favourite names. We also went to a music venue called Zepp Namba, about a ten minute walk away from where we live, to see Sigur Ros live. I’ve caught a summer cold, but we bought some cold medication today and it has cleared up in a couple of hours, so I think over-the-counter medicine is quite strong in Japan compared to the UK!

The temperature is still in the mid-30s every day with high humidity, making it feel like low 40s, so I’m not planning to over-do things in the couple of weeks that I have off for summer vacation. However, I am hopeful that we can go back to the Tempozan area of Osaka to ride the ferris wheel and visit the animal petting zoo; there are a couple of exhibitions on at one of the art galleries that we would like to see; and there is an amusement park just outside of the city with lots of water rides that I would like to go to. It’s also my birthday next week, so hopefully we can go bowling and then to our favourite burger place for lunch.

Japan · Nature · Osaka · Overseas · Photography · Shinto · Teaching · Travelling

Shitennoji Temple.

We have been meaning to visit Shitennoji Temple for a long time, as it is very close to where we live, but we have been saving it for this weekend as there was also a market taking place on the same day. The pond was full of turtles, and we decided to go early in the morning so that we didn’t get too exhausted by the heat – not much luck there!

The temperature has been close to 40°C this week, and hotter with the humidity factored in, so we’ve been trying hard to stay anywhere indoors with air conditioning. We have been experiencing walking around the neighbourhood underground, by making use of the subterranean Namba Walks shopping arcade complex, which is like a whole new city underground, and takes us from the subway station at the top of our street to the local cinema, our favourite restaurant, and beyond. We visited the Studio Ghibli shop, where I resisted buying a bit of everything there(!), but I think I will probably end up getting a rucksack bag before we leave Japan to take wherever we go next.

I have also applied for a position in Berlin, teaching primary-level Special Educational Needs classes. I’ve really missed the SEN aspect of my role, and I have always hoped to live and work in Europe, so hopefully I will hear back from them in September when the school re-opens after the summer vacation. It’s still a bit early to be expecting positions to be advertised for when I need one, but I will have a quick look every weekend to see what comes up. Right now I’ve completed one week out of four of summer school, which, although I feel better about it at the end of the first week than I did at the beginning, I still have extremely mixed feelings about.

This week Dillon went to Tokyo to organise renewing his passport. After his successful lecture at Kansai University, he has also had some more good news – one of his essays is going to be published in an exciting new academic journal! The book with another one of his essays published in it will also be released next month. I’m hoping that when I have some vacation time in October, we can visit Tokyo again to go to the Hayao Miyazaki Studio Ghibli museum. Last weekend we went to watch the new Pirates of the Caribbean film, and during the week we caught the last showing of Beauty and the Beast too. I really enjoy going to the cinema so I’m glad that lots of films are shown here locally. The only problem is that the anime films are all in Japanese of course, but without any subtitles! Maybe one day we will live somewhere that has the best of both worlds.

Anxiety · Japan · Nature · Osaka · Osaka Castle · Overseas · Photography · Teaching · Travelling

Nishinomaru Garden, Osaka.

This morning Dillon and I went to visit the Nishinomaru Garden by Osaka Castle. Despite the cloudy skies, it was over 30ºC, but because we went out early and there was a little bit of rain, the garden itself was very quiet. We spotted a cat in the grass, and when we paid our entrance fee the lady at the counter invited us to write out wishes on a piece of paper and tie it to the bamboo tree in the grounds, which is part of the celebrations for the Tanabata Star Festival.

In Japanese legend, on the seventh night of the seventh month, the weaver star and cowherder star travel across the Milky Way to renew their ancient love. Wherever you go during the first week of July, you see countless pieces of coloured paper tied to bamboo trees with wishes written on them, and on the night of Tanabata ceremonies are held at numerous shrines to burn the bamboo and wishes. 

This was my final full week at work before the end of the first term. We took the students on a field trip to the Meiji Chocolate Factory, and I had my first formal observation and appraisal. It was very different from the system I’ve been used to in the UK! Instead of a number of senior members of staff standing at the back of the room observing my teaching and taking notes all lesson, the vice-principal stayed for about thirty minutes and sat doing his own work for much of the time, took a look around my room at the displays and what the students had been working on, then thanked me and left. It was a pleasant surprise not to experience any anxiety before or during my observation; during my PGCE year I would be experiencing panic attacks before every single lesson. Instead, though, I’ve been having reoccurring nightmares about being told I have to do another observation, or the observation happening in the nightmare and going terribly. Very strange!

 

Anxiety · Illness · Japan · Nature · Osaka · Overseas · Photography · Recovery · Shinto · Stress · Teaching · Travelling

Sumiyoshi Taisha Grand Shrine, Osaka.

It’s been a while since I last updated, but I’m glad to say that my illness has passed, my fatigue has now lifted, and I’m feeling much better. I always experience a few days to a week or so of real exhaustion and fatigue after illness, and it always takes me a couple of days of feeling that way before I remember that I experience CFS, so I need to take it easy on myself and let myself recover properly before throwing myself into everything again. That’s difficult for a definite Type A perfectionist like myself, especially when you have a job that means you have to be a leader, a positive role model, and alert and effective from the start of your day to the end of your day, but I think I’ve done a fairly good job of managing it over these last couple of weeks.

This morning, Dillon and I walked to Namba Station and took the Nankai Line overland to visit the Sumiyoshi Taisha Grand Shrine, an important Shinto site and originally the entrance of the Silk Road into Japan. It was lovely to see people paying their respects to the trees and the water, and lots of newborn babies had been brought to the shrine today as well. As it was so hot in the afternoon, we walked back home through Namba Walk, an underground shopping mall that runs underneath the street that takes us from Namba Station back to our apartment. We stopped at Mos Burger, the first place we have eaten out in Japan, to have lunch, and it cost us the equivalent of £2.50 each to have a really tasty burger.

This week I have been trying to do work on a number of different strategies for my anxiety. I had previously cut out caffeine by stopping drinking coffee, as the smell is enough for me to enjoy without needing to drink it, but I had not been consistent with cutting out soda, which I am trying to do better at now. I listen to a number of podcasts to help relax me in the evening and encourage a nighttime winding down routine, including Audio Dharma, Tara Brach, Anxiety Slayer, and my favourite, The Anxiety Coaches Podcast. I do yoga and meditate while listening to these in the evening. I have also started hula-hooping, thanks to Meagan’s advice!

My anxiety is usually worst in the morning, when my cortisol levels are naturally highest, so during these times I am trying to focus on mantras such as ‘Right now I should be sleeping’ or ‘My thoughts are like clouds passing me by and I don’t have to engage with them’. I am also trying to use my morning commute for mindful awareness of my surroundings and positive reflections, and to leave work behind at the end of the day by shedding my worries and stresses as I walk down the stairwell on my way out of the building. I am doing a media fast and have blocked all access to anxiety and stress-inducing websites on my phone. I am hoping that by being consistent with these actions I will see real improvements with my anxiety levels.