When we were in Nemba Cultural Village two weeks ago, I bought some washi papers to make chigiri-e projects.
So, here’s our first attempt.
The first one with the purple flower is Mel’s. Mine is the persimmons.
11 years ago, my husband won a Monbukagakusho scholarship to further his studies in Japan. He decided to study MBA in Urasa, Niigata. Niigata had been hit by earthquake of 6.6 Richter scale just a year before in 2004.
Before the start of that daring adventure, we had to make many other brave decisions. He had to quit his job, I had to take unpaid leave from my job and finally we and our two kids had to move to Japan. We didn’t speak Japanese and we knew it wouldn’t be easy to get halal food here. We would have only the scholarship to support our family of four.
I had to wait till the end of school year for my eldest daughter Fa before we joined my husband Li in Urasa. He moved to Japan in September because his classes had already started and the three of us only came in late October. He was staying at the uni dorm in the beginning but he had found a little apartment for our family to move into as soon as we arrived.
It was Ramadan then and just five days before Eid. Most people were travelling back to their hometowns to celebrate Eid with their parents and families. I had a mixed feeling. I was looking forward to be with my husband again but at the same time, I felt sad for not being able to spend Eid with my parents. My daughter Fa was 8 and my son Ar was 4. Our flight was around 11 am but we had to be at the airport 3 hours earlier.
Each of us had a baggage allowance of 30 kg, however I couldn’t utilise it to the max since my biggest concern would be to look after the children, not carrying a lot of baggage. My brother-in-law who was then a pilot with the airline (and thus had a special pass) helped us to carry our hand-carries (Fa insisted on bringing her Serafina – a soft toy cat from Barbie the movie in her backpack – it occupied the whole bag) up to the plane. It was strange to be travelling abroad at this period, but the cabin crew just thought we were the family of a pilot going away a few days before Eid because the pilot had to be on duty.
I was fasting that day but Fa decided not to because she said she wanted to eat KFC chicken before the flight (the KFC in Japan is not halal). Unfortunately it was still too early when we reached KLIA and KFC was still serving the breakfast menu, so Fa didn’t get to eat her favourite chicken before leaving the country. Pity her, but life is like that. We don’t always get what we wish for.
The flight took 7 hours. It was time to break my fast just before we landed, so I ate the delayed meal served by the airline for those who were fasting. It took us a while to get through the immigration and claimed our baggage. Li was already waiting with a friend. The friend had a Toyota Estima and had previously lived in Tokyo before moving to Urasa, so he was somehow familiar with the road. The journey from Narita Airport to Urasa took about 4 hours. We only made a stop once to buy some food supplies – halal chickens, rice and so on.
Li had already rented a 2K apartment which came with a large fridge. It was past midnight when we reached the apartment so I didn’t get to see the outside yet. The house has 2 rooms, both with tatami mats. The kitchen served as living and dining as well. The bathroom was separated from the toilet. It was cosy enough for us.
When we celebrated Eid five days later, we still didn’t have much in the house, not even proper plates, but we were just grateful to be together. I had brought some Malaysian Eid food with me, but other than that, I didn’t cook any special meal on Eid morning. We just made do with whatever we had. The Eid prayer was held at 7 am at the university community centre and Li had classes immediately after that, so he went for the prayer alone. Alhamdulillah, there were two other Malaysian families there, so we celebrated by visiting their houses and on the weekend the Muslim Students Association at the university also organised an Eid gathering.
Urasa had a very heavy snow the first winter we were there. The first snow arrived on the 1st of December 2005 and the last one was in late March 2006. Fa had to walk one mile in the heavy snow to get to her school. I was worried at first but eventually got used to it.
Last December we went on a trip and stayed at an Airbnb in Yuzawa and decided to revisit Urasa and managed to take the photo of our old apartment. Other than IUJ, we also visited Fa’s and Ar’s old schools. We tried to look for an old friend from the Snow Flake Club at the school but unfortunately she was away for Christmas. Snowfall came rather late somehow this season. Usually by the end of December, there would already be one meter of snow on the ground but it was just starting to snow when I took this picture of our old apartment. Every morning, I had to shovel the heavy snow away from the stairs before Fa left for school, and then repeat it several times throughout the day.
Back in October, my husband’s family made a plan to visit us. They consisted of my parents-in-law, my sister-in-law with her husband and two kids and my brother-in-law with his eife and baby. Altogether there would be nine of them.
I was not worried about the rooms allocation so much but rather on the beddings requirements. I didn’t have enough for the guests.
I searched online on where to buy futons. I even went to the newly opened Nitori store in Nakameguro. I decided to buy them online but Li suggested that we waited till it’s closer to the date before buying anything.
By mid-November, we thought we should make the order for the futons and so confirmed with the guests about their date of arrival. My brother-in-law said he’d changed his mind. He was not coming after all because travelling with a baby during winter would be too troublesome. So we were down to six people.
One day, I mentioned to my Nihongo classmates about planning to buy futons. One of them suggested that I check the stock at Don Quixote. He told me there is one store in Nakameguro. I went there to have a survey but what caught my eyes were the Coleman sleeping bags instead. They were meant for going camping but I thought sleeping bags are much smaller and easier to store. I could let the two boys sleep in them.
I Googled again to find out if anybody ever let their houseguests sleep in sleeping bags rather than on futons. I couldn’t find any satisfactory answer other than about kids using sleeping bags when having sleepover. However, my husband agreed with me that getting sleeping bags would be a much better solution. Futons are harder to get rid off when it is time to go back to our country for good. The rest of the furniture in this house (everything from sofa, beds, tables, chairs, curtains and even beddings) are on lease. At the end of the contract, we will just have to return them to the leasing company.
Then we heard another news. My mother-in-law was not well and she didn’t feel like travelling. If she wasn’t coming, of course my father-in-law wouldn’t be coming either.
In the end, we were down to only four houseguests. Three of them already arrived late last night. One is coming later during the weekend. We didn’t need to buy any extra futon or sleeping bag after all my worrying. 😄
I didn’t even have to think where to bring them around Tokyo. They already had their own plan. At 9 this morning, the three of them were all ready to go out and explore Ginza on their own. They didn’t even have breakfast at home. Now, all that I have to do is plan what to cook for dinner. 😊
To summarise the past 10 months in one go is too much, so I decided to break them according to the seasons.
26th July 2016
We arrived at Narita Airport early Sunday morning and were taken straight to a serviced studio apartment (part of a hotel – Tokyu Stay Aoyama Residence) in Aoyama by an eight-seater cab which had been reserved in advance. The nearest train station to this apartment was Gaienmae. The place was rather small but it was just a temporary arrangement while we looked for a more permanent place to live. There was a queen-sized bed which could be separated from the living area by a sliding door. We requested for an extra bed for Ar, while Mel slept on the sofa.
My husband, Li’s office is in Omotesando which is within a walking distance from that apartment. A rice cooker was not provided at the apartment, however being Malays, of course we had to eat rice. Initially, we bought the instant rice from 7-Eleven which could be reheated in the microwave.However, after I ordered some halal chicken from Baticrom, an online store which I’d use during our previous stay in Japan, I could cook more properly, so I then learned how to cook the rice on the stove-top. I’d always relied on an automatic rice cooker before, thus to cook on the stove-top, I had to recall how my mum did it when I was small, long before our house had electricity.
Japan has a very hot summer, the heat is even worse than in Malaysia. During the period of one month, we went school-hunting, house-hunting and furniture hunting, all done under the scorching hot sun. Alhamdulillah, we managed to do it all just in time. August was my wedding anniversary month. We sort of celebrated by eating out at an Indian restaurant in Aoyama, Dip Mahal. We didn’t really plan it. We went out for a walk to Omotesando, saw the restaurant by chance and asked if they had halal food and they said yes.
During the first month in Japan, Li still used his Malaysian number and switched on the data roaming service when necessary. On our third day, I bought a data sim card for 4,900 yen which was valid for one month. Inside the apartment, we could rely on the wi-fi, but it was important to have a data network so that I could refer to Google map when going out visiting schools. I could not make phone calls using this sim card other than using the Whatsapp call.
25th August 2016
On the last day of our first month, a Tuesday afternoon, we moved to a rented house in Yakumo, a small town in the south of Meguro. Alhamdulillah, the agent managed to find for us a 4LDK, a charming two-storey house with four spacious rooms and sufficient compound planted with plants and trees, really a lot better than I had expected. Before we came here, I’d often thought that living in Tokyo would mean living in a small apartment and the only plants I would have would be potted plants. Now, this was more than I could ask for. I’m so grateful for it. The house is 10-minutes away from the train station. The walk home is uphill, thus it is rather tiring when we carry groceries home after shopping.
The budget allocated by Li’s company also provide us with most of the basic furniture, electrical appliances that we needed to live comfortably and even curtains. The furniture was efficiently delivered by the leasing company on the same afternoon. Even on our first night in the house, we could already sleep on comfortable beds. I just needed to buy cooking pots, some kitchenware such as knives and dinner plates.
On our first night here, we only had some instant noodles. The landlord provided us with an induction cooker stove and a built-in dish-washer. The first time I use the induction cooker was at our previous apartment in Aoyama where they also provided suitable cooking pots to use.
On Wednesday, we went to Jiyugaoka to look for the kitchen items. Because I was going to ship our dinner set from Malaysia, I didn’t want to buy expensive things, so we just bought some dishes and mugs from a 100 yen (Can Do) shop in Jiyugaoka. We also somehow managed to find a reasonably price Meyer’s set of pots and pans from Watashi no Heya also in Jiyugaoka. We were lucky because the cashier at the shop spoke some English.
Then on Thursday we went for registration at Meguro-ku Municipal Office in Nakameguro. Now that we have a permanent address, we could have it printed on our residence card (zairyu). With that also my husband could open a bank account and apply for a credit card. We needed to have a credit card before we could subscribe to a phone line. The next few days we were busy with the installation of home phone and satellite TV.
Our three kids’ birthdays were at the end of August, but Fa was away at her university in Malaysia. That weekend we went to Sunshine City in Ikebukuro to visit the aquarium because Ar loves animals. That was what we did 9 years earlier when we also spent our summer in Tokyo. I wanted to look for the Build-A-Bear shop where we bought a bear to mark his 5th birthday and Fa’s 9th birthday, so that we could make another bear to mark Mel’s 8th birthday. However, the shop was no longer there. In the end we bought a little penguin puppet for her from the aquarium.
31st August was Malaysian Independence, Merdeka Day. It was Ar’s first day of school. He started as a freshman, a 9th grader of a high school which follows American syllabus. Since he was not familiar with the public transport and didn’t have a phone, I had to accompany him to school and pick him up after school. He could use either the train or bus to go to school, but if he took the train, he needed to change train either in Denenchofu or Shibuya, so he preferred the bus. I did this for a week until he was confident enough to go and come back by himself.
As for Mel, school started on the 1st of September. She was placed in the 2nd grade rather than 3rd because she seemed a bit immature for the upper primary syllabus. I didn’t really mind, perhaps it’s better for her to be in the lower grade in order to feel more confident. Her school is actually only a 10-minutes’ walk from our house. However, during the first two weeks of school, the new building was not yet ready, so we had to go to the old building of the school in Jiyugaoka. On the first day, I had trouble finding the school even though it was so close to the station. It turned out, the school has 2 buildings in Jiyugaoka which caused the confusion. I was so relieved when we didn’t have to go to Jiyugaoka anymore. At least, we would have more time in the morning.
September was still rather hot here. We did not need to wear any jacket or sweater yet. Li’s birthday fell on Malaysia Day. Mel help me baked a small chocolate cake for him. During the 3rd week of school, Japan had a public holiday to mark the beginning of autumn, but this year we had extra holidays known as Silver Holiday. We did not go anywhere outside Tokyo during the holiday. We were still trying to settle in. Just when the kids had to return to school, it was Eidul-Adha, The Feast of Sacrifice. The kids went to school on that day, my husband was the only one who went for Eid prayer at the mosque in Yoyogi-Uehara. We did not have any celebration at home. I did not cook any special dish; we did not dress up and take photos. My husband and I went out to have our Eid lunch at an Indonesian restaurant in Shin-Okubo, Merah Putih Café.
It’s that time of the year again. Today is the third day of exam in the primary school and the first day of exams in the secondary school.
It’s not easy to make the kids study. I have to sit next to Mel in order to make her focus. As for Ar, he would sneak a novel when I’m not looking. He loves reading but only his novels not his textbooks. His novels look so worn out because he keeps on rereading them.
This is how some of Ar’s books look like.
I really pray that the kids will do well in the exams. Exams are not everything but that’s how most people judge others by. When one doesn’t get good grades, one might not get into the school or uni that he/she wants to. The grades also will determine whether one qualifies to apply for certain scholarships.
Even more important, as Muslims we’ve always been reminded to never stop seeking knowledge. The efforts we put in are as important as the end results, thus everyone must work hard, whoever and wherever he/she is. In the end we know, as we strive for what we want as humans only Allah will determine the outcomes, because as the Creator, He is the One who knows what’s good for us.
As my blog progresses, I guess I will mention my family members. So here is the introduction.
Altogether there’ll be 5 of us: my husband, myself and our 3 kids.
All the three kids were born at the end of August. If they go to schools in England where schools start in September, they’d be among the youngest in their classes. However, they don’t and school year in this country is from January to December, so it hasn’t been so bad for them.
My elder two had been to school in other countries before. As for Mel, even though she was conceived in a foreign land and born in another continent far away, she has never been to school in a foreign country. There’s a high chance that we might be moving overseas by middle of this year, so InsyaAllah Mel too will get to experience what her siblings had before.