Taken from Yahoo Japan’s earthquake information site.

Japan has a long history of living with natural disasters. The nation has to contend with typhoons, volcanic eruptions, tsunami and earthquakes way more than any country should have to.

Last night there was yet another big earthquake here. The recent trend for these major earthquakes, for some reason, is for them to occur late at night. This one struck at around 11:30 p.m.

Where I am, I first got a notice on my phone that there was an earthquake up north in Miyagi Prefecture. I didn’t think much of it, though. Earthquake notifications grace my phone so often I react the same way I would to a weather forecast. It has to be a big earthquake to really grab my immediate attention.

A few minutes after the notification, however, the power went off in my place. That’s never happened before. I was suddenly thrown into complete darkness and utter quiet.

Then the ground began to shake. It feels like you’re on a table that someone is strong enough to move back and forth in a swaying motion.

The earthquake lasted about a minute, with the swaying of the ground gradually slowing until it came to a stop.

The power didn’t come back on, though. I found flashlights and checked around the place for any damage. Finding none, and breathing a sigh of relief, I picked my way through the dark and silent home until I got to the front door. I wanted to know if the entire area was affected by a power outage or just me.

Darkness greeted me outside, and a kind of quiet I hadn’t expected. I was assuming I’d see other neighbors out curious like I was, but it was like everyone had been abducted. I started thinking about zombie apocalypse movies that I think must have scene likes this. The quiet, the dark, the lack of nightly sounds like people coming home late from work. There was nothing. I quickly went back inside.

It’s amazing how events can completely change your train of thought. Not twenty minutes before, I’d been about to sleep, thinking about the day ahead. Now, I was wondering if the power would ever come back on, if I would need to evacuate, if I had enough dry food to survive, cursing myself for not buying more bottled water. Would there be a bigger earthquake? The swaying earthquake could’ve just been a prelude to the main destructive symphony.

Luckily, so far, where I am seems fine. The power came back on at 4 a.m. Everyone here is going about their lives like nothing even happened last night. I think maybe people living here are just so used to natural disasters that it has to be catastrophic to bring their lives to a halt.


So many events in life can be like a body slam into an alternate timeline. One second you’re doing all right in a relatively peaceful reality, the next you’re in complete survival mode. It made me think of how so many people in the world have had this happen to them, and how the two modes (what I like to think of as “Thriving mode” and “Survival Mode”) can be switched so abruptly.

Before you buy or rent in Japan

If you have plans on living in Japan long-term, there are a few things I think might be worth considering before making any solid plans.

Everything here is tiny compared to America

  • The average apartment and condo here has one bathroom; the average house has one and a half baths.
  • Counter space is usually one small counter, and that’s if you can make the space for it.
  • I’ve never seen a walk-in pantry here, though I’m sure they exist somewhere.
  • There is no laundry room that I’ve ever seen. It’s usually part of the whole bathroom unit (outside the shower room area).
  • Don’t expect to have a massive fridge. The best you can hope for is maybe what would be considered a small fridge in America.
  • Walk-in closets here mean you get to step into the closet and stand there while you look at your clothes. There’s no real walking around in the closet, despite the fact they’re still calling it a walk-in closet.
  • Storage space can be scarce. Some of the older builds especially somehow don’t see the need for things like an extra closet to store things like vacuum cleaners. Be prepared to get creative and scale down your stuff.

It can be hard to find a place to rent/buy if you’re a foreigner and not married/dating a Japanese person

  • Most landlords and real estate people in Japan, especially in places where foreigners like to live like Tokyo, are incredibly wary of foreigners. They see on the news that we’re all alike in that we like to be super noisy, wild and inconsiderate of those around us. They think we’ll waltz into the property, trash it and just dance back to our home countries.
  • I’m sure there have been some people who have done this, and I hate these people because they make it harder for the rest of us foreigners to live here. I hate how Japanese people just group us foreigners all together, too — if one of us non-Japanese does something wrong, it must mean all foreigners are doing it.
  • If you don’t have a Japanese spouse/significant other, things are going to be hard for you. You have to have a guarantor to do much of anything like renting. If you have a Japanese company sponsoring you, they might be able to help. Otherwise, you can see if the ward office/city office is able to help you figure it out.
  • Bring a Japanese friend with you to the real estate agencies. The agent will likely talk only to your Japanese friend, but they might be more willing to let you stay somewhere, too.
  • Having a permanent residency visa goes a long way in buying a house/condo, though it’s still not easy. Be prepared for lengthy red tape.

Buying a house or a condo is like buying a car

  • While in America perhaps you can buy a house/condo and see the value go up as you put time and effort into renovations and such, in Japan people usually want to have a completely new build. That means houses/condos depreciate over time like a car. The land the house sits on could potentially go up, but the house probably won’t.
  • People usually tear down the house when they buy it and build a new one on the property.
  • There is a small but growing trend of people renovating houses, but it’s still not super common, apparently.
  • Condo renovations are a thing, but that doesn’t mean your condo will go up if you’ve renovated it recently. People want to re-do things to their own tastes, and they take that into consideration when giving you a price.

Expect a lot of up-front costs

  • Whether you plan on renting or buying, expect to have at least one month’s rent/payment saved up. At least. It all depends on the property you’re looking at so be sure to read the fine print (usually in Japanese) or ask the real estate agent for all the possible costs involved.
  • Up-front costs include insurance, taxes and paying your real estate agent. Rentals also want one month’s rent as collateral for any damage you might do to the rental.
  • Taxes on houses can be apparently quite abhorrent so keep that in mind when thinking about a house.

Dune and the third-person

I finally got to rent the latest Dune movie on Amazon Prime.

I’ve never read any of the Dune books, so I was walking into the movie only knowing that Star Wars took the idea of spice in the desert from Dune.

I have to say the movie was fantastic. At times it had some clearly trippy moments and a few moments where I just didn’t know what was going on, but I have to say I loved it. I can’t wait for Part Two to come out.

Curious about the source material, I started reading Dune. Probably what I take away the most from what I’ve read so far is how author Frank Herbert uses the third-person narrative to float around among his characters and write what they’re thinking and feeling. I know the main character is Paul, but that doesn’t stop Herbert from telling me what his mother is thinking and such.

I also love to write in the third-person just for this perk that comes with it, though I’ve had a few friends tell me I’m not allowed to do this for some reason. For the first-person, I can completely understand why I’m restricted to writing about how only one character thinks and feels, but third-person shouldn’t be as restricting.

Therefore, I think if someone says to me again, “You can’t just go from one character to the next and tell me what they’re thinking and feeling — stick with one character only, even if it’s in the third-person”, I’m going to graciously point to Dune.

Third-person writing!

Asian Pear Trees

The bigger of the two Asian pear trees I found

I love how I can have a little garden at the back of our home, but given that our backyard is all concrete, my only option is potted plants. It has its good points (I can move them anywhere), but one of the big drawbacks is that I have a love of trees.

I’ve tried to satiate my love of trees by getting into bonsai, and while I have a nice little collection of them growing, my heart is set on growing fruit trees.

Specifically, Asian pear trees.

I grew up eating nothing but the Western variety of pears, and I have to say that personally I’m not such a big fan. I know plenty of people adore them, but I’m just not one of those people. I thought I’d never love pears. That is, until I tried an Asian pear.

In Japan, they’re called nashi, and they are a delight.

I have wanted to grow some forever, but pear trees don’t belong in pots. They are beasts that will consume all the soil they can get their hands on.

Still, there are such a thing as dwarf fruit trees, so I thought I’d look around for some.

We went to a home center (basically a hardware store and a general store like Walmart all rolled into one) and found a pretty nice-looking pear sapling to grow.

The woman working there had patience for me to ask about three questions before she started snapping responses at me. However, she was quick to point out I would need a different variety of pear tree next to the one they were selling in order to actually get any pears. I knew this already, having researched about pears beforehand, but I just nodded.

Despite the fact most pear trees need two varieties, the home center only sold one type. It wasn’t even a dwarf type, but I wanted to give it a try. The tree has enough branches that I think maybe I could even get fruit this year from it. The temptation was all too real.

More hunting unearthed another tree variety at a different home center, though it’s little more than a stick in the ground. This one isn’t a dwarf either. They seem to be available online, but who knows what you’ll actually get? I know people love online shopping, but I think I’ll always love in-person shopping so I can actually see what I’m buying before I buy it.

At one point we stumbled across a gardening store run by an old man. He almost laughed when I said I was looking for pear trees (“Wrong season! Try the autumn!”) and was quick to say, “Now, you’re planting them in the ground, right? No pots?” I didn’t want a lecture from him, so I just said, “Yes, of course, in the ground.” He seemed to visibly relax as he went on and on about how three pear trees can take over his entire greenhouse if he planted them in the ground there.

He said most of the little sticks in the ground you get at home centers won’t give you any hope of fruit for three years, at best. I just nodded and tried not to think of my little stick of a pear tree.

He eyed me and, with a laugh said, “Well, I mean you’re a foreigner so maybe you could get away with going to a pear orchard and asking them for some pollen for your bigger tree.”

I don’t know anyone who just grows fruit trees for fun in their backyard here, apart from mikan and persimmon trees. Those things are everywhere.

My probably misguided thinking is that I can try to bonsai these fruit trees. That means diligently pruning them in the winter and trimming their roots every so often in the winter to keep them from getting pot-bound (where the roots just go round and round in the soil).

I’m not looking to start an Asian pear business, and I’d be delighted to just get a few pears a year, so maybe, just maybe this is possible.

In the world of fruit-tree-growers, I am what is considered to be “a hopeless wreck”, and I’m sure any proper gardener reading this post will wipe a tear from their eye in pity for the fruit trees I’m about to probably massacre, but I’m going to try this thing. I’ll keep updates on here for anyone vaguely interested in getting a glimpse into the misguided optimism of a novice gardener.

The Weather Room

I’m happy to announce I had a short story published in Millennial Pulp.

The story is a not-so-subtle echo of my own frustrations trying to become an author. I feel incredibly happy and lucky to have found any success at all, but I’ve had quite a few rejections sit in my inbox, waiting to deflate any confidence I have that I can be a good writer.

I like this short story for having an open ending. Does the woman in question in the story actually come back to the bar/cafe and show the server her paintings, or was her laughter to suggest she didn’t appreciate what she clearly thought was him just trying to cheer her up? I have my own opinions of what she probably did, but I think it’s fun that it’s up for debate.

If you’d like to buy a copy of the story, please visit here.

An Endless Dance

I’m extremely happy to announce I had a short story published in The Worlds Within.

Called “An Endless Dance”, the story is about the sun as if it were a living being, feeling alone in the solar system. I realize it’s a bit of a bizarre story, but I’m proud of it.

The idea for the story actually came to me when I was sitting at my work desk facing a window on a cloudy day. I personally don’t like cloudy days, especially in winter, and I felt a bit gloomy as I sat there.

Suddenly, a burst of sunlight hit the window, and it was like someone had run up and hugged me. My mind, being a bit out there a lot of the times, started wondering about the sun and what it might be like if it was actually alive.

If you’re interested in reading the story, please pick up a copy here.

There’s a Kindle version and a print version for if you want to hold it in your hands as you read.

Visiting someone’s home (Part 2)

Given the pandemic is still raging, the following scenario likely won’t happen anytime soon, but if you ever find yourself in a situation like this, I thought it might be nice to have a few pointers to go by.

Let’s pretend you found the love of your life, who is Japanese, and they want to introduce you to their family. This happened to me, and here’s what I learned about how to make a good impression on a Japanese family (again, please note I can only speak from my own experiences and what I have witnessed here).

Always use your significant other’s full first name and attach “-san” to the end of it.

Even if you two have cute nicknames you always go by, in front of their family, use their full first name with “-san” attached. (“-san” is like putting a Mr. or Ms. in front of someone’s name) Not doing this gives the family the impression that you have absolutely no manners and that you somehow think you’re already part of the family.

For example, maybe you love a woman named Sakura, and you’ve given her the cute nickname Saku-chan. You can’t use that nickname in front of her family. Instead, always refer to her as “Sakura-san.” No “Sakura-chan” (“-chan” is often stuck to the end of girls’ names) either.

It doesn’t matter how long their full names are – you have to use their full name and stick a “-san” at the end of it.

There was actually an NHK morning drama series here called “Massan” about a woman from Scotland falling in love with a Japanese guy called Masaharu. In front of his family, she was expected to call him “Masaharu-san” but it was so long that she gave up and called him “Massan,” instead. It wasn’t a bad series, I think. It seemed to help my mother-in-law realize some of the things I’ve struggled with in living here, too.

I asked a Japanese teacher once for how long I’m expected to use my significant other’s full name and attach “-san” to the end of it, and she laughed and said, “Forever.”

No public displays of affection in front of their family

This can also mean no hand-holding, depending on how up-tight the family is. Unlike in the West, most families here don’t seem to appreciate you kissing your significant other, or beyond that, in front of them. Just sit next to them and don’t do anything else.

Dress conservatively

This is not the time to show off your muscles or curves or anything else you might think you have to show off. This is the time to act like you’re interviewing for a job. They might be a more relaxed family who doesn’t care about formalities, but I don’t think any family would hate that you overdressed to meet them, so dress nicely and conservatively.

Eat and drink everything given to you

I think this is common manners, too, but unless you have an allergy, make sure you don’t reject anything offered. If you don’t want to keep getting drinks, then leave your drink a little over half full.

Bring a gift

I think it can be helpful to bring a little gift. Usually it’s a box of individually wrapped snacks found at department stores, and you can ask your significant other what their family might like.

Offer to help out

They’ll probably not let you help out since you’re a guest, but it’s a nice gesture to offer to clear the table if you’re having a meal with them or to clean up in some way that you can see available to you.

Be modest

Even if you’re amassed a small fortune in computers or something else, this is not the time to brag about it. Be humble. I think usually the job of your significant other is to be your wingman to their family. Your job is to assure them you work hard at your job and are reliable, not that you think you’re amazing.

The Lights Above

I’m happy to share that I got a short story published in Orca, A Literary Journal.

Called “The Lights Above,” it’s a story I saw in my head when I listened to a song by Mannheim Steamroller called “Above the Northern Lights.”

I just listened to this song on repeat as I mentally saw a kid walking through drifts of snow with the stars overhead.

The whole aim of the story was to make it as beautiful of a story as I could, and hopefully it worked out well.

You can either order a PDF of it for $4 or buy a print version on Amazon, if you actually want to hold the magazine while you read.

If you want a nice winter’s story as we head into the depths of the season, please feel free to read it while listening to Mannheim Steamroller’s song.

Visiting someone’s home (Part 1)

Whenever the pandemic does finally calm down, I think a lot of people in Japan will go back to visiting each other’s homes. There are a few customs that seem to differ from what I experienced in America, so I thought I’d share a few I’ve picked up.

Visiting someone for the first time

Have a gift ready

If you or your kid has made friends with someone, and you get invited over to their home, make sure you bring with you a gift. This is usually in the form of snacks. If the host is gracious, you can expect them to offer to share the snacks with you, so prepare something you all can enjoy eating. To make a good impression, try to pick something fancy that no one would normally buy, like cake from the local cake store or high-end snacks grocery stores and department stores sell. It helps to ask them before visiting what kind of snacks they, or their kids, like. They might say, “Oh you don’t need to bring anything” but that’s just them being polite. Bring something.

If kids are involved, a great move is to prepare individual bags of snacks for each kid. If there are no kids and you can expect alcohol to be involved, then a great move would be to bring along snacks that pair well with alcohol.

Take your shoes off at the front door

I think a lot of households in America are getting into this, but Japan is huge about no shoes in the house. I can understand people here not wanting to track mug, dirt and everything else from the streets into their home so I love following this rule.

When you enter someone’s home, even if it’s a tiny apartment, you should notice some sort of divide between the front door area and the rest of the house. Either it’s a step up into the house or different colored flooring. Stay within the area near the front door to take off your shoes.

Take off your shoes and step into the rest of the house. Then turn around, line up your shoes and point them facing the front door.

Wash your hands

The pandemic has made everyone here a stickler for washing your hands, and I don’t think it’ll change after the pandemic has eased up a bit. So a good thing to do is ask where the washroom is and wash your hands.


The host should offer you something to drink almost as soon as you come inside. If this is a casual visit between friends, then you can tell them you’ve brought your own drink if you have. If you haven’t, or if this is more formal, then drink whatever they offer you.

Don’t ask for more to drink. Instead, wait for them to notice your empty cup and offer more. The only exception is if it’s a really hot day and you’re about to die of thirst. Ask for water, then. Also, if your kids are involved, you can ask for refills on their behalf.

Don’t wander around

I think that’s pretty standard manners the world over, but in particular do not try to see their bedroom. This is almost a sacred space in a Japanese household, and usually the door will be closed. You can ask for a tour of their home, but don’t expect to see all of it.

Instead, after you wash your hands, wait for the host to tell you where to sit (usually at the table or couch in the living room) and just sit there and wait for the drink to arrive. If you are on a playdate with your kid, then tell your kid to go play with their friend while you sit there nicely and wait.

Say only nice things about their home

Again, this is standard manners, I think, but in Japan it’s custom for the host to say something like, “Oh the house is such a mess” or “our house is falling apart” or something to degrade their home. This is an act of being humble. No good host will sit around bragging about their home, no matter how cool it is. Your job as the guest is to say, “Oh no, your home is so lovely and big.” If you guys run out of things to say, look around the home and pick something out that you think looks nice. “I love your feature wall” or “that’s such a lovely staircase design” or something like that.

Ask to do things before you do them

I don’t know why, but many hosts expect you to ask before you can use the bathroom.

You also need to ask to throw things out because most of the time, the trash can is in the kitchen. The kitchen is another almost sacred space that hosts don’t want visitors to get a good look at, so ask before throwing things out or carrying your plates to the sink.

Know when to leave

The host will rarely just tell you to go home. Instead, time your visit for about two hours if it’s morning, mid-morning or afternoon and one hour or less if it’s in the evening (try not to ever visit someone in the evening). It can be a bit longer if you know this person well or if the kids are really hitting it off.

A good sign the host is ready for you to leave is when drinks aren’t offered anymore or they start putting snacks they have offered away. Try to suggest you need to go home before this happens. If the person insists multiple times that you can stay longer, then go ahead. If they only say, “Oh no please feel free to stay a bit longer” only once, they’re just probably being polite. Go home.

Clean up before you go

If this is a playdate, make sure the toys get put away before you leave. If your kid is too young to clean up or annoying about it, then the responsibility falls on you to clean everything up, too. Usually the host will pitch in to clean it up, but you have to leave the home looking as it did just as you arrived.


The host will see you to the door, and if you have no idea how to get to the nearest bus stop/station and such, they might offer to walk you there. They will definitely walk you to their door, though. Put your shoes back on, thank them for the lovely visit and the nice food and drinks, then leave.