My Pregnancy and Birth Story in Japan

My second born son, Kai, was born in March this year. The pregnancy journey in Japan was an interesting one. Being in Japan means a lot of things are done a certain way but overall I had a positive experience. I am currently on maternity leave in Kenya, finally reunited with Jeremy.

36 weeks pregnant at Koishikawa Botanical Gardens. I did this fantastic photoshoot with Janine of @ippei.janine on IG.

I did a very detailed interview with Kay over at Tiny Tot in Tokyo, so check it out if you would like to know more.

Below is an excerpt from that interview:

That morning, in my cozy “hotel room”, I woke up and wore compression stockings and a blue surgical gown. I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything from the night before but I had an IV line already. At 11:30 I walked into the theater room which had been prepared already. I was told to lie on my side on the surgical bed and thus began a 10 minutes-or-so nightmare to find the right spot in my back to inject the anesthesia. I have a short torso so I was very “full” during my pregnancy, I literally could not curve my spine no matter how hard I tried to make the letter C or to imagine a shrimp. I’d also gained some weight, naturally, so my spine wasn’t standing out. The older doctor tried 3 times and failed; each time he poked my back I prayed that this was it. I was sweating and the tension in the room was rising. Finally, the younger doctor, who’d been encouraging me to make the letter C and to imagine a shrimp, tried it. He said I have a narrow spine but he was able to successfully inject the anesthesia. Everyone in the room breathed a huge sigh of relief. Everything had literally stopped and suddenly there was so much movement.

Immediately after the injection, I started feeling a tingling sensation from my waist downwards. I’d expected to “go numb” immediately and I was numb to pain but not to some sensations, which took time to go. I could still wiggle my toes while the nurses put my legs into protective gear because it was going to get messy. Someone drew down the privacy screen so I couldn’t see what was happening below my chest but not before I saw a nurse inserting a catheter. I didn’t feel a thing, thankfully. I didn’t like the lack of control over my lower body: the first time I have ever experienced such a weird sensation. But there was no time to mull over such things. My left index finger was placed in a pulsometer, the IV Line had 2 other types of fluids added, ECG sensors were attached to my chest, a blood pressure cuff was cuffed around my right arm, and an oxygen mask placed over my mouth.

The surgery commenced. I felt terrified imagining I was going to feel the pain as they cut along the very same incision scar from 8 years before, even though the doctor assured me the anesthesia was adequate. That was when the nurse on my right, who was to receive the baby, took my hand. The room went quiet, all the bustle having died down. But soon, the sounds picked up again. The snipping and snapping, the clanging of tools back onto metal trays, the medical chatter between the doctors, the suction machine bubbling. When I looked up at the green ceiling, a red spot was reflected. A few minutes into the surgery, one of the doctors started to push down on my stomach, literally pushing the baby out. The nurse on my left was telling me push, push, like there was anything I could do in my immobile situation. Then I could feel the tugging. They make a 10cm or less incision through which they pull out the baby. I thought I wasn’t supposed to feel a thing! They pulled out the baby and the nurse on my right brought him to my face so I could look at him and touch his foot. He was so beautiful and so full of life, and he started crying then. Congratulations for a baby boy, everyone said. Genki, genki, they said.

I’ll be blogging more soon. Stay tuned!

Posted in Blog, Life in Japan, Motherhood | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Proles, We’re Going to Need More Wine! (A Quick Review of Books Read in 2021 so Far)

This year, I picked up my reading habit from where it had lain for ages, gathering dust. I know that reading is helping me cope with the isolation that comes with living in a pandemic, and for sure it helped get me through some tough work days in January and February.

Here is a brief review of the books I have read so far:

  1. The Cure by Rachel Genn ★★★★
The Cure by Rachel Genn

I gave this book 4 stars for its poetic writing style, I quite enjoyed it. This is a book you read at bedtime. “Escaping heartbreak, a raw and humble Eugene Mahon leaves small town Ireland for London. His horizons expand as he meets and befriends men from all over the world on the Shoreditch building site where he works.”

However, there is something missing in this book. I don’t know if it’s because the characters felt immature and the setting is unrelatable to me. As someone else said on goodreads, “the storyline is too slight to sustain a novel of nearly 300 pages, and many of the detailed descriptions of everything feel a bit like padding”.

Don’t ask me what The Cure is. I’m still mulling over that one. If you insist, I would say it’s the truth. The truth is the cure.

2. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold ★★★★★

The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold

I purposed to read more women and more black authors this year and it just so happens that these two books (The Cure and The Lovely Bones) that my friend lent me are written by women.

The Lovely Bones was a solid 5 stars for me. I enjoyed the narrative style. The book is narrated by a dead girl in heaven who was murdered when she was 14 years old. It’s not about heaven or what happens in the afterlife, but about how the characters left behind deal and learn to live with the loss. The ending is a little meh but I think I read this book in a couple of days, it’s an easy read. I hadn’t heard of the hype around this book so I picked it up with no expectations. I don’t think it should be read as literary fiction; this is more of a pop culture book. I think a lot of the people disappointed in it expected critical literature.

3. Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

I wish there was a 0 star rating because that’s what I would award this book. It’s neither quirky, nor funny, neither witty nor interesting. It’s the worst book I’ve read this year but luckily, it is short.

It follows a character who has worked in the convenience store all her life, makes a half-hearted attempt to move up in life career-wise and socially, and gives up and goes back to the convenience store. I don’t know why international media is gushing about it, honestly. Maybe it’s because it’s based in Japan, then it must be quirky? I think that because I am living in Japan, I don’t have the rose-tinted glasses that the Western media views Japan with.

My review on goodreads:

It was never funny, nor quirky, nor exhilarating. It’s rather sad and depressing, and worst of all, boring

4. 1984 by George Orwell ★★★★

1984- George Orwell

Forgive me for not having read George Orwell before. 1984 is a novel about a dystopian future “of a totalitarian, bureaucratic world and one poor stiff’s attempt to find individuality.” There are certain parallels of that world with the current world. For example, we have devices watching and recording our every move – our smartphones.

It’s not an easy ready but it is a haunting one. Makes you really think about the political and social structures we have today. It’s quite grim so be ready for that. It’s where the term “proles” comes from. “The proles made up almost 85% of the population in Oceania; they receive little education, work at manual labor, live in poverty (although in having privacy and anonymity, qualitatively better off than Outer Party members), and usually die by the age of sixty.” Sounds like a description of the masses in Kenya.

It wasn’t required reading during my time in school, but I see why it is in many parts of the world.

5. Tropical Fish: Tales From Entebbe by Doreen Baingana ★★★★★

Tropical Fish: Tales from Entebbe by Doreen Baingana

The book gets 5 stars from me for the narrative style. It is in form of short stories told by 3 sisters. I wish it was longer and told from one person’s perspective, that way there would be more depth and connectivity to the book. I could relate to the characters in the book as it’s mostly based in neighbouring Uganda. There are a lot of similarities. An easy and enjoyable read.

6. We are Going to Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union ★★★★

We are Going to Need More Wine: Gabrielle Union

In this no-holds-barred memoir, Gabrielle Union talks open about her life and background, and her life’s journey into Hollywood. It’s “a powerful collection of essays about gender, sexuality, race, beauty, Hollywood, and what it means to be a modern woman.” I really enjoyed it. 4 stars.

7. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett ★★★

The Vanishing Half: Brit Bennett

“The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical.. Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past.”

Interesting premise, right? This book explores race and gender in the US. The storytelling is great, but the jumping between timelines and characters frustrated me, hence the 3 stars. You read a chapter, it ends in a cliffhanger but the next chapter is a scene from a faraway character in a faraway time and place. In this sense, it’s kind of like soap operas that rely on cliffhanger scenes but fail to deliver by switching to other scenes. The book then starts to introduce new characters with tons of background info that I don’t care for.

It would make a great TV show though. Correction, it will. “HBO and Brit Bennett made a 7 figure deal for the adaptation of the book into limited series!”

8. This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga ★★★★

This Mournable Body (Nervous Conditions #3) by Tsitsi Dangarembga

This book is not an easy read. It’s a sad and depressing read, told in second person so you can’t escape feeling what the character is feeling. You cannot disengage, and that’s what makes it powerful. It was shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2020.

This is my review on goodreads:

This is a very complex novel, to be unpacked in a literature class. I suspect I barely scratched the surface when it comes to understanding it. While the book is titled “This Mournable Body”, the main character is actually never physically harmed, she’s more psychologically tortured. It’s all the women around her who endure so much violence. It’s like she absorbs their pain when she’s not the cause of it. Right up to the very end, we never know if the main character got her redemption.

I just discovered that it is a the third book in a trilogy. I think it would be a more enriching experience to read the first two books before this one, but it’s too late for me. Still, I will go hunting for the first two books.

So there you have it, my review of the 8 books I have read so far. Which one do you think you’re likely to pick up based on my reviews?

What books would you recommend for me?

Posted in Blog, Book Review | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Of Mortgages, Pregnancies and Video Games

On the last Saturday of February, I started my maternity leave. On that particular day, a friend and colleague invited me to her home for a housewarming. We completed our PhDs in the same school, although we were in different labs. We got recruited into the same company and joined at the same time. A couple of months ago, she informed me she had bought a house.

I was like, what? How? You mean you can afford to buy a house at this age?

Then I realized, oops. I am in my 30’s. I am at that age. That age of getting married, getting mortgages, making babies. In that order perhaps. Especially in that order if you are in Japan.

I had just never considered I could ever afford a house in Japan, but it turns out that the amount I pay in rent for a 2LDK in Tokyo’s suburbs is the same amount my colleague is paying for a 3LDK, standalone house in Tokyo’s more suburban suburbs. I just have to commit to a repayment period of 34 years (shudders). I can’t make that kind of commitment to Japan. Plus, the value of a house starts depreciating the moment you put your signature on the purchase form. So selling your mortgage later becomes quite difficult.

It turns out you can get easily get a mortgage even if you are a foreigner if you work for a big company like ours that’s still known for lifetime employment. Most of our bosses have worked for the company for 30 years or more. You don’t even need a permanent residency visa if you can pay a large percentage (20%?) of the mortgage value as a down payment. Not forgetting that you can get some tax discount because of having a housing loan, which you can’t do as a tenant, even with the property tax that you have to pay annually.

Anyway, I was quite impressed by her house. It feels like such a grownup thing to do, buying a house.

A 3LDK House in Tokyo
A an example of a 3LDK House in Tokyo

I met another colleague, who had also been invited, at the station and together we went to her house. She lives with her boyfriend. There was another couple already there, setting up some kind of game on the TV. She had invited us for lunch and yakiniku and associated vegetables were prepped on the dining table. She gave us a tour of her home and we admired how lovely it was.

Coming down the stairs, the gaming couple also informed us they were pregnant. You couldn’t even tell that she was 6 months pregnant, she’s so small. I started chatting with her as her husband continued setting up the Nintendo. We were comparing notes on morning sickness and kicks, and how whenever you want someone else to feel or observe the kicks, the baby will somehow sense it and become still. The moment the other person averts their attention, pong! comes the kick.

“Luckily, I didn’t have any morning sickness, but I have a lot of orimono“, she continued in Japanese.

Orimono?” I questioned as she gestured ‘down there’ and looking it up in the dictionary on my phone, I was like ugh, can we switch to more pleasant aspects of pregnancy. I don’t want to talk about your vaginal discharge.

I have this photo of printout of an ultrasound of my baby’s face on my phone. One eye is open and it’s almost like a black and white photograph. I showed it to her and to everyone else to admire the miracle of ultrasound; the ability to reconstruct a face from just sound.

One guy (not the dad-to-be) wasn’t impressed, I think he just couldn’t see the face. He said it doesn’t look like a human. Like, couldn’t he see it? It was so clear to me. In fact, he said, 「なんか気持ち悪い。人間じゃないみたい。」Disturbing, doesn’t look human at all. Were we looking at the same photo?

Excuse me, mister? I fumed inside. Your job is to admire my ultrasound pic even though it horrifies you hahahah. Keep your feelings inside. I vowed not to show anyone the photo anymore, but I am tempted to share it here just to prove that it does, in fact, look like a baby.

I have given in to the temptation. Let’s play “spot the face”. Can you see it? (Just pretend if you can’t).

Can you spot the face?

Anyway, after that, we had a pleasant lunch while conversing in Chinese, Japanese and English. The dining room was flooded with light from the ceiling to floor windows on the South side of the house and it was a lovely Saturday afternoon.

The pregnant couple’s male half told us how he got 100/100 points on the permanent residency application. He’s got a PhD and is also a colleague at the company. He’s got publications in international journals and had passed JLPT N1, plus the work experience and income needed to get all the points. Amazing.

I could apply for PR myself, I do qualify, but eh.. still making that commitment to Japan….

After lunch, we played video games on the Nintendo gaming set. As you can tell from how I am describing it, I don’t play any video games. But these were simple games, just shaking the controller up and down, or swiping it to slice fruits or such. We went on a quest and managed to complete one journey, and that felt so great! I can only imagine how addictive it can get. We also played a card game, suitable for ages 6+. We were all 30+, thank you very much, but we enjoyed it a lot.

Before we knew it, it was past 5pm and it was time to get going. The pregnant couple dropped us off at the station.

A lovely time had been had by all.

Posted in Blog, Life in Japan | Tagged , | 2 Comments

2021: A Bullet Journal Kind of Year

Image from https://collegeinfogeek.com/bullet-journal/

I got inspired to start a bullet journal after watching my friend Bern’s video on youtube. If you want to know all about it, just watch the video, it will be worth the 10 minutes.

I don’t know why I have never taken up bullet journaling before, it’s ‘write’ up my alley. Get it? I love making to-do lists, goal lists, bucket lists, and all kinds of notes. I scribble down on several notebooks all day. I’m really enjoying the process of working with pen and paper, and of course, there is the colouring. I like the idea of having everything in one notebook. I’m not actually using it on a daily basis, but more of a monthly basis. The main tasks on my monthly to-do lists in the journal help me to focus on what’s important. It’s from these that I make my weekly/daily to-do lists.

I wanted to share some of my goals this year but I’ve realized they are rather personal. Let’s just say I have life goals, career goals, financial goals, health and fun, and creativity. The health and fun category includes such delightful goals like exercising and sleeping well. The life goals include goals that will transform my life. I guess I can only blog about them after the fact.

Reading goals bullet journal
How I’ve set up my reading goals in the bullet journal. I know I have no talent when it comes to artwork but I am so satisfied with my drawings. These are the 4 books I read in Jan and I hope to do a review post soon.

One of my goals is to read 20 books. Last year, the number of books I read was an atrocious 6 books.

I hope to write more this year. To grow my vlog. To spend more time with my family. I can’t explain how much I’ve missed Jeremy. I’m looking forward to welcoming the new baby some time in March. To enjoying my maternity leave in Kenya, reunited with Jeremy.

I look forward to getting the covid vaccine. To the reduction of covid infections to manageable levels. I’m so tired of covid.

What are your goals this year? And what do you think of the bullet journal?

Posted in Blog | 2 Comments

Taking Stock of 2020

The days are long but the years (months) are short, so they say. Can you believe January 2021 is over? This post was supposed to have been published in late December but unfortunately, I have been having a writer’s block. Anyway, better late than never.

I write down my goals each year and 2021 is no different. This, of course, necessitated a reflection of the year 2020 and what a clusterf*ck of a year that was, huh? Not that 2021 will be any better but at least we are more prepared. Aren’t we?

Anyway, here is how 2020 went down for me.

Achievements in 2020

  • In September, I did the IELTS English Proficiency test and passed. Well, this really isn’t an achievement to brag about. I hate these English proficiency tests that we Africans are always subjected to but as an educated Kenyan, it would have been super embarrassing to get a low score.
  • I made the decision to expand my family and made a baby, who is due March 2020.
  • I traveled quite a bit (see further below)

Things I did not achieve

  • One of my biggest goals of 2020 was to reunite with Jeremy, my 7 year old son currently living with my parents in Kenya. Unfortunately, COVID-19 threw a wrench into my plans and we’ve had to endure a longer separation than I had hoped. This remains my top goal this year.
  • Two publications: I had a goal of publishing my work. Sadly, my first paper got rejected and then coronavirus happened and I would say my productivity dipped a bit. But I don’t want to talk about my work on this blog. With my maternity leave starting in March, it seems like I won’t be publishing anything in 2021 as well. In research, it’s a game of publish or perish. (I hate the game, just saying.) I did submit a patent though, so all is not lost.
  • I did not even get started on my goal of studying Japanese and sitting for the JLPT N1 as I lost all the enthusiasm I had for the language somewhere along the way. Life is like that sometimes.
  • French? was a question on the list of goals for 2020, for which I have no answer.
  • I did not read or write as much as I would have liked. I hope to improve that this year.

Places I traveled to in 2020

Looking back to last year, despite COVID-19, I did manage to get around quite a bit.

  1. 5 Days in Okinawa in July:

This trip happened after the initial lockdown in Japan was lifted. Suddenly, it seemed like everything was back to normal and in fact, the Japanese government was encouraging us to Go-To Travel. Other than the continuous use of masks in public, there was little else to indicate a pandemic was ongoing.

Initially, we had hoped to go to Okinawa during the Golden Week but that happened to be during the state of emergency. After six years of living in Japan, this happened to be my first (and perhaps only) chance to go to Okinawa.

This being our (my housemate and I) first time in Okinawa, we had to pay our visit to Naha, the main island, where we set up base. Our itinerary on the day after arrival included exploring the area around the American Village, North of Naha. It was easy to access it by bus. We walked around the near empty shops and in the afternoon, swam at the beach there.

On our morning there, we took a boat to Zamami Island where we stayed for one night at a friendly hostel. (Tip: do not take the fast boat (Queen Zamami), riding the waves wasn’t fun. Take the Ferry Zamami, a slower and more leisurely ride.) We had planned a hike to the Observatory Deck on top of the hill but it rained all afternoon. The rain finally stopped near twilight and we walked to Ama beach to see the turtles that frequent the beach. Unfortunately, they didn’t come that evening because of the rains and the water wasn’t too clear. We swam anyway.

On the fourth day in Okinawa, we finally had clear skies and we enjoyed the morning away at Furuzamami beach. We took the slow boat back to Naha in the late afternoon.

Day 5 in Okinawa was also a clear day. We had booked a snorkeling trip to the Blue Cave via Airbnb’s experiences. Swimming with the fishes was fun but I was grossed out touching them when we tried feeding them.

After the snorkeling, which barely lasted an hour, we went to a nearby beach to while away the afternoon and to catch the sunset as it was our last evening there.

2. Shizuoka in October

For a while, there were no more outings after coming back from Okinawa. The number of covid-19 cases was rising as more and more people heeded the Go-To-Travel campaign call. We were also becoming more conscious of our actions in spreading the event and were staying at home as much as possible. I personally, have been working from home since March 2020. Inevitably, cabin fever struck. By October, we could bear it no longer. We decided to avoid public transport, rent a car and enjoy a weekend away in a ryokan. At the ryokan, we had no interaction with other guests at all. (Unfortunately, we did have some interaction with the staff during checkin/checkout and when they served our meals.)

The drive to and from Nishiizu in Shizuoka was so nice, with lovely views of Mt. Fuji on the way. The views from the ryokan by the sea side were the best I’ve had from an onsen. We caught the sunset in the evening as we enjoyed the onsen, and enjoyed the sunlit ocean during the morning bath. 10/10 recommend. One thing I’ll definitely miss about Japan are the onsens.

This image is taken from their website

3. Kenya in November

As mentioned in a previous blog post, the trip felt absolutely necessary for my mental health.

4. Takayama End of Year

The end of the year changed from sunsets to snowscapes. We again hired a car and drove to a ryokan to spend the last night of 2020 enjoying the onsen in snow. On the way back, we passed by Matsumoto Castle in Nagano.

Have a productive 2021! What do you hope to achieve this year? 2021 goals is going to be the theme of my next post. See you then.

Posted in Blog, Japan, Life in Japan, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

To Kenya and Back: Traveling in a Pandemic

It’s not travel as usual these days. The airlines have their requirements, the destination countries have theirs. The lower demand hasn’t led to lower ticket prices either. Flights are fewer and may be cancelled or rescheduled, which would invalidate any old COVID tests you’d already done. My flight to Kenya even had a 12 hour layover at Doha! I wouldn’t recommend traveling unless you absolutely had to.

In my case, I felt like I was drowning in Japan and desperately needed to come up for air by seeing my family. It had to be in November because I knew that in December, the COVID infection rates would skyrocket with the cold weather in the North and new travel restrictions may be put in place. In addition, more people would be traveling during the holidays meaning a higher chance of being infected in transit. I couldn’t plan my travel for after the holidays either: in Jan/Feb I would be 7 or is it 8 months pregnant and really shouldn’t be flying!

Before booking my flight to Kenya, I had to make sure I could return to Japan. At the start of the pandemic, Japan had closed its borders to everyone except Japanese citizens. Even permanent residents had no permission to return to their “permanent residences” if they had left the country after that announcement.

But finally, in September, Japan loosened the entry restrictions and residents could travel freely out and back into the country, subject to some conditions such as a negative COVID test result.

To be clear, the test should be negative or you may not be allowed to enter Japan. Or Kenya, for that matter.

Before Leaving for Kenya

Initially, I had asked my company if it was possible to “work from home from Kenya” but was told that due to tax reasons and such, working from home can only be done within Japan. So I had to take all my remaining leave days to maximize my time in Kenya. The sad reality is that I cannot afford to take unpaid leave. Yet. Especially not with another child on the way (so excited, I can’t wait. Does pregnancy need to take this long?)

To enter Kenya, I needed:

  • a COVID certificate showing I had taken a test 72 hours before (departure from Japan or landing in Kenya, I don’t know). Anyway, here are places where you can get a COVID-19 test in Tokyo. You can also Google, there are more and more places now, including at Narita Airport. You can do the test on the day of travel. Warning, the average price is around JPY 40,000. Some people are really making money in this pandemic.
  • to fill a health surveillance form by the Kenyan Ministry of Health that asks for your contact details, etc. After filling the form, I got a QR code that I had to show at the airport in Nairobi before proceeding to immigration.

In Kenya for three weeks

The three weeks went by in the blink of an eye. My mum, ever loving, ever giving, was up waiting for me when the taxi dropped me home at 1am. I finally hugged and held my son, after nearly 10 months of not seeing him. He has grown up so much. He told me, as we were brushing our teeth one morning, “I had really missed you.” 😭😭😭😭

He has picked up Swahili (or the version of Swahili that Kenyans speak) and Kisii, having stayed in Kisii for almost 6 months during Kenya’s lockdown. His fluency in English is now at “native” (I hate this term) level: he can read the newspaper (not sure he understands it all though). Still, he refuses to speak English, preferring Ekegusii and any attempts at good morning will not be answered until you ask, bwakire.

Then you get a cheery bwakire buya.

He is forgetting Japanese. しょうがない。It can’t be helped. The words are still there but with no chance to use them, they are receding. His favorite show used to be Pokémon on Amazon Prime (.co.jp). We used to watch it in Japanese but now he watches the show in English on Netflix. He was explaining to me that Pikachu can “evolve” into Raichu and it was kind of cute when the word that came to him was 進化。

“Mum, it can.. it can.. shinka into Raichu.” Japanese used to be his primary language.

He is completely obsessed with football, and Barcelona is his favorite team. My mum told me he once said he wishes he was Messi’s son.

Most of all, he is happy, outspoken, friendly and back to his old self. I would never consider a return to Japan for him, unless for a visit.

There was so much to do. My grandmother passed away last year November, so we traveled to Kisii for a small memorial. I had errands to do, like replacing my expired ATM card. I’m completely satisfied with my bank Stanchart (not a sponsored mention). I also had to get some legal documents sorted.

Me, my son and my niece in Kisii.

I met my niece, Sam’s daughter, for the first time. Our youngest brother’s son was also born a week before I left. I was so happy to have met him as well. At one time, my brothers and their families, me and my son, and my parents were all living under one roof. Talk about a full house.

I met many cousins I hadn’t seen in a while, although I didn’t meet all of them. I met most of my friends from campus (undergrad days), we’ve been friends for over a decade now.

The newest member of the family, my nephew. May you live long and prosper, R!

Nairobi is dusty, with all the construction going on. The traffic on Mombasa Road was a nightmare. Kisii was nice and green, but when it rained we could go nowhere with the muddy roads.

And then, before I knew it, it was time to leave.

Before Leaving for Japan

Japan demands a covid test with a negative result done within 72 hrs before the departure date. Plenty of hospitals in Nairobi offer tests, including Gertrude’s and Nairobi Hospital.

My brother drove me to the airport, with my other brother, mum and Jeremy coming along. I arrived in good time to check in, “balance” the weight of my luggage and even have a cup of coffee before take off.

But then, the Qatar Airways agents started with their nonsense. They claimed we (me and another passenger who was also going to Tokyo) needed explicit permission to enter Japan, even though the rules for reentry had clearly changed. She claimed that since August, they had been handling entry into Japan, and I told that since then, so much had changed. She refused to read the latest on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. She had to take our passports with the landing permission slips, our residence cards, covid certs, etc and send them to the embassy in Japan for confirmation.

We almost missed that flight. We were checking in past 4:20PM for a flight taking off at 5:10PM. My luggage was overweight and I had to leave behind all the precious chapati, ugali and uji packets of flour. No time to “balance my luggage” by selecting what to leave behind. Qatar Airways’ 30Kg allowance is quite low.

We were the last passengers to board.

At Narita Airport

The rest of the flight was uneventful. The transit at Doha in Qatar was a couple of hours or so. We arrived at Narita and the first thing we did was a COVID test (saliva). We had to wait an hour or so for the result and could then proceed to immigration if it was negative. I don’t know what they did to those whose result turned out positive. We had to fill forms with our contact details and where we would stay for the following 14 days. I opted to use the Line app to communicate my health status for the next 14 days. It was either Line or they would call you on your phone/school’s/employer’s phone to follow up on you. We could not take public transport. You had to arrange for someone to pick you up.

In Japan

I got home on Saturday night, barely rested on Sunday and was back to work on Monday. The three weeks full of activity in Kenya, plus the jet lag, meant I struggled to focus on work this past week. Today, a week later, I feel recovered. My energy levels are back up. I do feel like going to Kenya was akin to taking a much needed deep breath. However, I’m back in the water, treading it, and so I’m just taking it one day at a time.

P.S. I am starting a YouTube channel/podcast soon. Should have the first episode out this coming week.

Posted in Blog, Life in Japan, Travel | Tagged , | 9 Comments

Struggling with my mental health in Japan

A lot of people tell me I’m strong. But I think that I’m just independent, organized and a dreamer. I’m always forward-looking, if optimistic. The way I get over the present (if it is not pleasant) is by focusing on the future. More accurately, futures. I visualize all kinds of futures. I dream up stories and conversations and adventures that I will have. Of course, the future rarely matches my dreams 100%, but so far it has turned out great.

I guess the hardest thing you could ever do is become a parent. When I got my son Jeremy 7 years ago, I was hardly 25. Oh, how happy was I to see his cute face for the very first time. I had been dreaming about meeting him for my entire pregnancy. I was going to become a mother, and married or not married, that was not going to affect my status as a mother. Of course, I couldn’t do it all on my own and had support from my parents.

When I was coming to Japan in October 2014 to pursue my PhD, it was only natural that I planned to bring Jeremy along. I envisioned a future in which I would study while he was at daycare, planned for it and that’s how it turned out. I completed my PhD in the stipulated time while singlehandedly raising him. Again, I had a lot of support from a lot of people. I learned to speak a 4th language: Japanese. I got a job at top-tier Japanese company.

However, underneath all my achievements, I think I have suffered from low grade depression throughout my entire time in Japan.

If only everything was this still and beautiful

Like everyone else, I of course have ups and downs. But I cannot say that I struggled with my mental before coming to Japan. Like many young adults who had just finished their undergraduate, I struggled with what to do next; with finding my purpose; with the pressure to find a well paying job that I was passionate about while also miraculously bringing about wonderful change in the world. I was disillusioned for a while, but in that post-campus period I managed to travel to Rwanda for 2 months, got a scholarship to do a master’s degree and found a part-time job. I partied a lot in that period, 2011-2012, until I got pregnant and then the reggae stopped, as Kenyans like to put it. Real life was here.

But I looked forward to the motherhood challenge. It gave my life new purpose and I started to dream of possible futures with my son, my baby, my Jeremy. When I got the scholarship to come to Japan, it felt like new horizons were opening. I was finally going to get into the AI field.

In Japan

I had no idea how lonely and isolating life in Japan could be. I come from a warm country, climate-wise and people-wise. Japan is so cold. In both respects. (Of course the summers are extra hot, but it never makes up for the cold). I am an extrovert. I like going out and being in the middle of it. I like talking to people and making a (few good friends and) tons of acquaintances. I feed off the energy of the crowd, if that makes sense. I speak my opinion. I (am)was loud. My friends used to say to me, since high school, “Harriet, modesty is a virtue”.

The very things that made me who I was are frowned upon in Japan. Suppression of emotions, both negative and positive, is probably the first lesson you learn as a child growing up in Japan. I have witnessed parents shushing a happy baby making bubbling noises in a train.

At first I resisted these changes, and tried to stay true to who I am. I tried to get into the middle of “it”, but there was literally nothing happening in my rural campus in the middle of nowhere-ville, Ishikawa. Don’t read me wrong, the people are nice and friendly, but the place has no heartbeat. No vibe, as my friend Savanna puts it. Sometimes I feel the feint murmurs of a heartbeat in a lively place like Shibuya or Shinjuku, but when I peer closely I see lonely individuals in crowds, their glassy eyes glued to their phones in packed trains. The daily grind takes the joy and the very life, the heartbeat, out of the living, who are being ferried endlessly in Tokyo’s thousands of trains.

Pedestrians at rush hour in Japan.

As I said, at first I tried to resist. But the culture in this country is very strong. You simply cannot swim against the current and still survive. You’ve got to float along with it, and try to stay afloat. That’s what I’ve been doing, surviving rather than living.

I’ve learned not to speak what’s on my mind but what I’m expected to speak. I have learned to keep my opinions to myself. I avoid all topics with strangers except food and the weather. In fact, it’s hard for me to start a conversation with a stranger. I long ago stopped asking why to nonsensical rules.

One day, I got into a Chuo Line train, and although the seats around me were empty, I found myself trying to be smaller, gathering my clothes and bags tightly around me, and trying to be as if I were invisible. On that day, I texted one of my best friends in Kenya and told her to please remind me to leave Japan someday.

I cannot blame Japan for what I’ve become: a stranger to myself. There are tons of foreigners who are thriving in this country, who knew who they were and what they wanted. Perhaps, Japan was their dream country. Coming to Japan for me was an act of serendipity, I had never planned to come but then I have stayed this long.

However, this year has been the hardest. First of all, I am separated from Jeremy, as I have blogged before. This will always tinge the brightest of my days a tad grey. Then, the coronavirus pandemic happened. The working from home, the isolation, the scrambling of my plans to reunite with Jeremy… Of course, being the dreamer that I am, I have adjusted my plans for an alternative future. But the pandemic is a grey horizon that is hard to see beyond.

This October has been so hard that I’ve decided I need a break. I got my leave approved and will be going to Kenya in November to spend some time with my family. I’ll be blogging about that process of traveling during covid19 later.

Usually, my ‘downs’ never really last for more than a couple of days. Previously, my mood was so stable (if constantly on the lower side since coming to Japan) that when I studied the ‘down period’, that couple of days when I didn’t feel like doing anything, it turned out to be post-ovulation blues. I was never really moody or anything, not even during my periods, but I’d be lazier and less creative than usual. I was more likely to binge watch TV and overeat during this time.

I recently binge-watched Criminal UK, France, Spain, Germany. These British actors were so brilliant. I cannot believe that’s Raj from the Big Bang Theory! He killed (pun intended) it with this character Sandeep. Kit Harrington was great as well.

But this month, my downs have refused to go away. It was a gradual decline from the beginning of the year, through covid19 and everything. The downs cannot be explained away by post-ovulation blues, since I am currently pregnant (and very excited about it. Reading this post, it might not sound so but I assure you I am. It’s my one bright candle in a sea of darkness. Another baby to the rescue. Is this a pattern?). I’m now in the second trimester by all calendars and ways of counting, so I should be getting my energy levels back and that pregnancy glow.

At Shibya recently. I do glow, sometimes.

These have been my signs:

  • Can’t eat – nah, I kid! Surprisingly, I’ve always maintained my appetite in good times and bad.
  • It’s extra hard to get out of bed in the morning. I guess in sleep, my mind is at rest and I can escape my reality for a bit. I have never been a morning person and it always took me a while to “get started” but it has been getting harder and harder every day, and some days I just never start. I hum and drum and push myself around to get things done, but I never really start, you know? To the point that I sometimes I have meetings in bed (shhhh please don’t tell my bosses this). I have always been someone who enjoys going out and spending all this time indoors has been too much. This past weekend, I literally did not step outside for 3 days, not even to take out the trash. This can’t go on.
  • I can’t do very simple tasks. Simple coding tasks at work that usually take an hour are taking an entire day now, even stretching to a couple of days as I join the ranks of procrastinating pros. I had a mountain of clean clothes I had laundered sit on the desk in my bedroom for an entire month! I usually enjoy folding and putting away clothes but I lacked the energy to do it.
  • Can’t exercise. Sure, blame it on the pregnancy but I couldn’t even go for simple, 20 minute walks. Yet exercise is one of the best ways to get out of the downs.
  • Did I shower today? Is a question I find myself asking.
  • I cannot write. I don’t mean serious writing. I mean just blogging. Since coming to Japan, my blogging frequency went down. I found it hard to be open about myself and my life, while I transformed myself to fit into the society. Yet I can never fit in, always the gaijin in the margins. I have never given up on the blog though, and I will continue to write. If you are wondering what happened today, I finally had a good day! I’ve been productive since morning, went for a 5KM walk, and I’m now blogging ‘creatively’ at 23:26. Hopefully, this is the start of a turnaround.
  • I cannot read. I enjoy reading all sorts of stories and books, except self-help. I hope I can revive this hobby that once filled my head with even more dreams.
  • Joy never ‘peaks’. I find that can no longer focus (hence cannot complete simple tasks including writing). My feelings are kind of even-toned, leveled, monochromatic, pastel at best. Never bold nor bright. I fear I am acquiring the emotional acuity of the people around me: recognizing feelings are coming and promptly shutting them down. Must not make decisions based on logic or emotion, must follow rules. Must not show emotions. Must put on my outside face. Tatemae.
  • Worst of all, I have stopped dreaming. I have no daydreams or fantastic tales living in my head. It is hard to envision the future – normally I live in like 3 different futures simultaneously. In September, I sat for the IELTS English language test, in order to prove my proficiency to the gods and gatekeepers of the “native” English kingdom.
    While preparing for the test, I read an essay about three types of people: past-focused, present-focused and future-focused. Within those groups are two types: the negative/positive types. For example, past-focused negative are always regretting the past, while past-positive live in nostalgia. Of course, we are don’t all fit 100% into one category. I would say that normally I do spend a lot of (my thinking) time living in a positive future. But these are not normal times, and I’m in danger losing the dreamer in me.

Read more about the three types of people here. Which one are you?

On to the future. These individuals are always doing something, going somewhere, and, in general, multi-tasking. They are natural managers and planners. They are responsible, capable, perceptive and excellent thinkers. Take a task or event and they will be the ones to break it down into manageable steps, look at it from many different perspectives and tell you what could go wrong or how it should be done for the best outcome.

I’d like to end this post on a more positive note. That I’ve written such long and beautiful prose is proof that things are getting better. I’m even thinking of starting a vlog (in a podcast format) so watch out for that soon. I will blog more. I will submit another story to another writing competition. I will start working on my first book. Eventually, I will dream of bright and colourful futures and one of them will come to pass. The Japanese say “kotodama‘.

Posted in Blog, Life in Japan, Motherhood | 23 Comments

October Update: A Special Announcement

And you ask me what I want this year
And I try to make this kind and clear
Just a chance that maybe we’ll find better days

Lyrics to Better Days by Goo Goo Dolls. This is my prayer for 2021 as 2020 is already a nightmare and we need a do-over.

Well, it’s been over two months since I last wrote here. In the last post, I wrote about my Lasik surgery back in June. I am happy to report that the dryness I was experiencing is gone. My eyes are fully healed, and I have even forgotten that I had Lasik. I am enjoying perfect eyesight without the contact lens struggle or the smudgy glasses.

In July, I took a social media break for a couple of months to concentrate on a certain project that I shall blog about later – it is not related to the special announcement. I didn’t delete my facebook, Instagram or twitter accounts. I merely deleted the apps on my phone and stopped logging into the websites on my laptop. While I’m now back on twitter, I haven’t checked Instagram or facebook for a couple of months now and I don’t think I will. I had also given up on Netflix but that only lasted a month.

In mid-July, my housemate and I stole away from Tokyo to enjoy a few days of sun and sand in Okinawa. This was after Abe had lifted the state of emergency in Japan and coronavirus cases had dipped slightly, and hope was in the air. We had a great time chasing the sunset during a rainy summer in Okinawa. I will blog about that later. Apart from the automated infrared gates checking our temperature, there was little else at Narita Airport to indicate that a pandemic was going on. Of course, everyone on the Peach Airlines flight was wearing a mask, but check-in was by the automated machines and nobody asked questions. The flights to and from were nearly full. Okinawa wasn’t crowded but there was a sizeable number of domestic tourists. This was before the Go-To travel campaign had been launched, but after the state of emergency had been lifted.

Since coming back from Okinawa, all of August was spent indoors. I definitely had a case of “working-from-home” fatigue. The tweet that “2020 is the year of zoom and gloom” hit home. I missed my family and pre-covid19, I had planned on going back to Kenya in July to visit them during the summer holidays. However, with airspaces mostly closed, there wasn’t anything I could do. All this time, I was off social media.

I know you are wondering what happened to the plan to reunite with Jeremy, after he was bullied out of school in Japan. Earlier this year, it had been my aim to relocate from Japan. I had even consulted my bosses;they were very understanding and supportive. However, the coronavirus pandemic started and everything was put on pause. The US even stopped issuing new H1-B visas (or is having issues issuing skilled visas) and nobody knows when they will resume. Companies froze hiring, much less international hiring. There was really nothing to do but stay put and stay safe for the moment. It really, really breaks my heart to be apart from my little one for this long. I hope to see him soon and I really hope we can live together again soon.

Jeremy hanging out with his cousin. I can’t wait to see them both.

After a slow start, work picked up well as we got used to working from home. I’m now in my second year of work. This, coupled with my previous corporate experience at Ernst & Young, and my PhD, puts me on the cusp of seniority in my career (I hope). I realize that in the next couple of years, my responsibilities at work are going to increase. Even if I changed jobs, I would probably be interviewing for senior/managerial roles. I know this because recruiters lurking on LinkedIn send me “senior researcher” roles. I’m excited about the future of my career.

On the other hand, I have been thinking a lot about having another baby. I would see cute, fat babies on the trains and long for one of my own. I’m 32 now and my career is about to pick up, and I may not be able to take a long break from work in the future. At the moment, I’m still relatively “junior” at work. When I had Jeremy 7 years ago, I was only able to take 3 months of paid maternity leave. Only 3 months! That’s what is mandated by the Kenyan constitution. Your employer pays you your full monthly salary during the three months of maternity leave. However, I’m grateful I was able to take paid maternity leave, however short. I joined Ernst & Young when I was 5 months pregnant and they had no problem with me taking maternity leave 4 months later.

How about Japan? Well, you are guaranteed leave 6 weeks before your due date (or until the day of the actual birth) and one year after the baby is born. However, whether it is paid maternity leave or not depends on whether you had been contributing to employment insurance for at least a year. For the 6 weeks prior to birth and for about 6 months after birth, you get paid 67% of your average monthly salary based on your earnings from the previous year. But there is a maximum cap: ¥287,000. For the remaining 6 months, you will get 50% of your average salary, again with the same maximum cap. For some reasons such as inability to find a daycare center for your child after their 1st birthday, you can extend the leave for another 6 months, again at 50% of your salary.

The timing of the maternity leave is certainly generous. The pay comes from employment/labour insurance. To be entitled to this pay, you must have paid monthly premiums for at least a year, unlike in Kenya where your employer is obligated to pay you even if you joined during your 9th month of pregnancy. That means you can’t join a company immediately and get pregnant soon after, or join a company already pregnant, and expect to get paid childcare* leave. You are entitled to the time off, but it is not necessarily paid. Furthermore, it puzzles me that it’s your employer who has to file for these payments, and they need to confirm every two months that you will still have your job at the end of the leave. If for some reason your employer terminates your contract, you will lose your childcare leave payments. Worry not though, it is illegal for your employer to fire you while you’re on maternity leave, so unless something drastic like your company going bankrupt happens, you should be okay.

Why is there a maximum cap though? Although you get 67% of your salary for 6 months and 50% thereafter, it is capped at ¥287,000 Yen, as I mentioned earlier. It means the more you earn, the more income you will lose during your maternity leave. If I take one year of maternity leave right now, I am going to lose up to ¥2.5 million in annual income, which is about half of what I make right now. Right when my expenses are going to be increasing as I bring forth into the world a brand-new human being. However, if I do take maternity leave in the future, that means losing even more income (remember the maximum cap). In fact, if your title is executive director or CEO, no matter your actual income, you will not get any pay during your leave! (Read more here).

But still, the prospect of taking a year-long break (haven’t had any since the PhD), and spending time with Jeremy in Kenya (or in Japan) in the coming year was tempting. The coronavirus pandemic means the world is on a bit of a go-slow at the moment. I’m early enough in my career that it’s possible to take a break and bounce back, and I can afford to lose half of my income for a year, painful as it may be. I also know that after 35, my body may have a harder time with pregnancy.

One July evening, I was meeting my partner at the station. As usual, he was early, and I found him waiting for me by the escalator to the station entrance. He’s always well dressed in fitting suits but without the coat in the summer. It’s not so much his looks as his confidence that gets me. While waiting for me, had had been looking up restaurants and asked if I would like pizza. Of course, any time.

Now, don’t be surprised to know I have a partner. I know I blog and complain a lot about dating in Japan, but don’t take everything I write too seriously.

We ended up at this pizza restaurant on the 5th floor of an old building neatly tucked between a newly built pachinko parlour on one side and a karaoke bar on the other side. We chose to sit outside. It felt safer to sit outside in these corona times. It turned out to be a Chicago pizza restaurant, the pizza with a deep crust. It tasted Japanese. It was delicious. We had a couple of mojitos to accompany the meal.

“Listen,” I said to him. “You know… I’m 32 now… I want to spend some time next year in Kenya… Japan has generous maternity leave… I’m not yet a manager at work… I love you blah blah blah… “

“unhh,” He said patiently in that nasal way that Japanese men do.

“I was thinking, could we make a baby?”

“Sure.” He answered.

“Really?” I asked. I hadn’t thought it would be this easy.

“Yes.”

And so, we made the baby.

Thus, the special announcement. I am now about 14 weeks pregnant. The due date is early April 2021.

Little alien at 12 weeks 🙂

I shall be blogging a lot about my experience being pregnant and working in Japan, pregnancy and childcare expenses, and the paperwork, especially if you are not married (yet). I’ve already informed my employer. And my parents. And some close friends. Apologies to those I should have informed personally who are learning about it from the blog. This should explain the tweet below:

Wait, wait! Sadly, I am not getting married (yet), but I do need the certificate for other related reasons so I will take your congratulations!

*There is a difference between maternity leave and childcare leave in Japan. Read more here.

Posted in Blog, Life in Japan, Work | Tagged , , | 14 Comments

Vision 2020: I Had Lasik Eye Surgery in Japan!

Before you panic thinking I had some kind of medical condition and didn’t inform you, my dear family and friends, I want to state that I simply had lasers fix my eyes so I don’t have to wear glasses or contacts anymore.

Lasik eye surgery is an elective procedure to correct myopia, hyperopia and astigmatism. It’s been around for more than 25 years, getting safer and better as technology improves. There’s little to no pain, recovery takes a day, no blood, no stitches, no general anaesthesia. You just walk out of the surgery room, straight back to your life and you can go back to work the next day. Read more about it here.

I don’t remember when I first heard of LASIK or when I seriously started considering getting LASIK.

Myopic History

I discovered I had myopia in secondary school. I probably had it for a really long time before then, but I had never had an eye test my entire life. In Kenya, I don’t ever remember having any vision tests when I was young. When Jeremy, my son, was in kindergarten here in Japan, I think they had the eye tests (in addition to hearing, dental, pin worm, cognitive and other tests) done annually from around 3 years old.

In secondary school, I always sat in front of the classroom because I wanted to see the blackboard clearly. I realized I had myopia when I sat at the back one time, and realized I was the only one who couldn’t see the blackboard. My classmates around me could clearly take down the notes and I had to copy from their notebooks. I went back to my seat in front of the class after that and didn’t think much about it.

When I entered university, I, of course, sat in front during lecturers. Unfortunately, my myopia had gotten worse, and even at the front, I could no longer see the board clearly. I told my parents I wanted to get glasses and they thought I just wanted to get glasses to look cool. Nobody in our family wears glasses, they argued.

It was true that I thought glasses looked cool. (And we called them spectacles or specs for a long time, until Americans influenced us more than the British colonized us.)

Yet, here I am, almost 13 years later, burning my corneas with lasers so I don’t have to wear glasses anymore. How times change.

Anyway, my father told me to go to Kikuyu Eye Hospital to get my eyes properly checked by the best eye doctors *ophthalmologists* in East Africa, and not just the opticians and optometrists along Moi Avenue who just wanted to sell you glasses.

At Kikuyu Hospital, I was diagnosed with Myopia and given my first prescription glasses. Finally, I could see everything around me so clearly. So this is what the rest of you had been seeing?

Here I am wearing my first prescription glasses 10 years ago, in 2010. I was with my brother Albert, watching a Harambee Stars football match at Nyayo Stadium.

A couple of years later, I got a more stylish pair of glasses. Since then, I’ve had two or three more pairs.

With my best friend Phyll in 2012. I think we were attending some event I don’t remember.

When I came to Japan in 2014, I was content with my glasses at first. But gradually, my vision had become worse and without my glasses, I couldn’t even drive. I couldn’t read road signs, forgetting my glasses was not just a minor inconvenience as it had been in Kenya.

Contact Lenses for Lush Lashes

A few inconveniences of wearing glasses could be sorted out by wearing contact lenses. Like if I wanted my thick, mascara-coated eyelashes to be seen, I’d wear contacts. Also, big eyes are considered beautiful in Japan and my glasses were covering them up. If I wanted to wear sunglasses, or I was going to watch a 3D movie, then contacts it was. I bought the daily soft lenses and went through an entire struggle learning to put on contacts and take them out. I need to write a book on that whole journey. How to not blink as your finger puts a foreign object directly onto your eye.

Can you see my beautiful eye lashes? 🙂 I was wearing contacts in this photo

But soon enough, even contacts weren’t enough. Even when I got the two-week ones that could last longer.

I couldn’t wear contacts when swimming. So, I couldn’t see well around me, couldn’t tell the time on the clock to know when it was time to get out of the pool. If I went out to the sea, the same thing. The joys of scuba diving were lost on me. If I came back after a night out, I couldn’t go to sleep right away. I had to take out my contact lenses and soak them in the lens solution overnight. If I had contacts on too long, they would dry out. If I was flying and knew I’d fall asleep/have irregular sleep, it was back to glasses.

There was a permanent solution to it all: Lasik surgery. I did some research online. Watched videos. Talked to people or read about who had had Lasik or PRK (also uses lasers but it’s a little different).

Googling LASIK

I heard it’s cheaper to get it in South Korea, which has the best cosmetic surgeons in the world. But we happen to be in the middle of a pandemic, COVID-19. I can’t just fly to South Korea to get it done. Luckily, we are now working from home so this felt like a good time as any to finally get it done.

After Googling about Lasik clinics in Tokyo, I settled on Shinagawa Lasik Clinic because they have an English page on the website and a representative who speaks English who will guide you throughout the entire process.

I dialed the number on the website and Richard Masuda, the English rep, picked up the phone. I thought I would just ask some general questions, and ask for a consultation. He said, the examination is free (except for a ¥10,000 DNA test) so I could just book any time to go do it one morning. And if I was a good candidate for Lasik, then I could have the surgery that same afternoon. Oh, it was that simple? Yes. However, if I didn’t want to go through with it, it was fine. I had up to 3 months after the free assessment tests to make the decision. If I didn’t get surgery within the 3 months, I’d have to repeat the tests. I decided to go for the tests on 6/22.

With Lasik, you can literally go back to work the next day, but I took a couple of leave days, to be on the safe side.

I arrived at the clinic in Ginza on Monday, June 22nd at 9:30am. It’s called Shinagawa Kinshi Clinic but it’s actually in Ginza. My appointment was for 10am so I decided to get a 7-11 Latte and watch the trains from the 13th floor where the clinic is located, as I waited.

At around 10am, I went to the reception and they asked me if I had had chocolate or coffee. Unfortunately, I had and they asked me to rinse out my mouth because one of the tests was an Avellion DNA test to check for any corneal abnormalities. Testing positive means you are not a good candidate for LASIK. Richard then helped me fill in the forms and explained what they all meant. There is no hurry to sign the consent forms for the tests and if you need more time, it’s acceptable to cancel the whole thing and go home to first read the terms and conditions.

I signed the forms and was then led through a series of various eye tests to check my visual acuity, corneal thickness, the shape of eyes, astigmatism, night vision, etc. They put some stinging eye drops into my eyes, the medical assistant apologizing profusely the whole time, to dilate my pupils so the doctor could look deep into my eye (and brain probably LOL). Then they gave me a cotton swab to collect DNA cells from my inner cheek and by noon I was done. I was told to go for lunch and come back by 4pm to have the surgery of the results were all OK.

Infidel at Starbucks

I went to Cafe Gusto for a cheap lunch, with Infidel as my companion. I really enjoyed reading that book. Then I went to Starbucks where I made one ‘tall’ Yuzu Lemon Tea last a whole two hours, as I read my book and occasionally looked up to admire the tall Japanese guy working on his MacBook opposite me on the table. When I cast my eyes downward to read my book, I could feel his eyes on me as he stole glances. So this is how you guys pass time at Starbucks? Hehehe. When I rose to leave at 3:45PM, he finally looked me straight in the eye, and I asked him if he was writing a book, he had been typing furiously. He said, no he was working. He started small talk – where are you from, how long have you been in Japan, your Japanese is so sugoi, so amazing – I cut him short and told him I had a LASIK surgery to get done. He said, why don’t we exchange line, I said sure, let’s arrange a date to answer all your questions (and some of mine as well). Truly Infidel behaviour.

With my copy of Infidel at Starbucks.

LASIK Surgery

I went back to the clinic and was informed that I had passed all the tests and could have the surgery as planned. I put all my stuff in a locker, took off my glasses for the last time, wore a hair cap, and followed the nurse and Richard to the theatre. I was all calm until the moment I had to lie down face up under the machine which I knew was going to cut open a thin layer of my eye’s epithelium to expose the cornea. I felt it was too late to chicken out.

In a way, I was glad Richard was there. He psychologically held my hand, encouraging me to take deep threats, to relax, this will all be over soon. He can also physically hold your hand if you felt scared. The first step was to create the corneal flap. The hardest part was when they used clamps to keep your eyes open. There was someone there the whole time generously ‘pouring’ anaesthetic eye drops into your eyes and gently wiping away the overflowing ‘tears’. When your eye is in position, you are told to stare at the blinking green light. Then there is some suction as the machine keeps your eye in position. Then the surgeon says lights off, everything goes dark and you feel nothing as the machine uses a laser to create the flap. The countdown begins, I remember clearly hearing 26 seconds, 10 seconds, done. The lights came on and the surgeon moved the machine over to the left eye to repeat the process.

Image from https://theyenews.com/prk/

Since I had myopia of -3 and just a touch of astigmatism on my right eye, I had chosen to use a cheaper machine which didn’t combine corneal flap creation and laser sculpting. So I had to get up with blurry vision after the corneal flaps were created and walk the short distance to the next room for the laser sculpting.

I remember I had a feeling that something was very, very wrong and I just wanted to be held by my mummy and sleep and wish everything could go back to normal. My eyes weren’t in any pain though.

The next step took even less time, except this time my eyelashes were taped first. Then the clamps to keep my eyes open. I could feel and see the surgeon lifting the corneal flap. Then he told me to look at the blinking green light. He aligned the lasers, which were blinking read. The room went dark. Someone counted… 10 seconds, 7 seconds… I smelled the singeing. Then the surgeon replaced the corneal flap and I could feel him brushing it smooth. Then the other eye. Then more singeing, a smell like when hair or wool catches fire. Countdown was from 7 seconds I think. The surgeon smoothing the flap. More numbing eye drops. It was over.

お疲れ様です。 Good job, the surgeon said.

Arigatou gozaimashita, Richard and I answered. I walked out. I could see, but it was a bit cloudy like when you have been swimming with eyes open underwater for a long time.

I rested for a while and then Richard got me eye drops and explained to me how to put them on every hour. By the time, the feeling in me eyes had returned and it felt like I had crushed onions in my eyes. Stingy, but bearable.

My housemate came to pick me up and we rode on public transport home. The lights were too bright for me, probably because my pupils must have been still dilated. I had to wear dark glasses to make it more bearable.

By the time I went to bed that night, I could already see so clearly.

On the way home from LASIK surgery

The Next Day Checkup

When I woke up in the morning after a deep sleep, I was pain-free! I was seeing clearly, better than vision 20-20.

I went back to the clinic by myself. I was still sensitive to light so I wore sunglasses, but overall it was nice seeing in HD, better than glasses (my lenses had -2.25 power but my myopia was -3).

The doctor looked deep into my eyes, and then declared that my cornea was healing normally and I should continue using the eye drops as instructed and come back for another checkup after one week.

Mirror selfie, day after surgery. This time, the sunglasses didn’t need to be too dark.

One Week Later

Last Monday, on June 29th, I went back for the one-week checkup. I was declared healed.

Surprisingly, my vision had come down a bit compared to Day 2. That’s because my cornea is now healing, on the day after everything was fresh. On day 2, I could read the bottom line with either eye, very clearly. One week later, only with my left eye. My right eye could see up to the second-to-last line. This is better than the target anyway, and might become better or slightly worse as the healing process goes on. Still better than 20/20 vision.

I can now go back to running, I still have another 120 days left to run in 2020. I can wear eye makeup. I still shouldn’t swim or go to the onsen for a month. I’m still using the eye drops, but just 2 or 3 times a day. I wake up with dry eyes but it’s been getting better and the eye drops help.

Yesterday as I was going out, I kept thinking I had forgotten something. Ah, my glasses. Then I remembered, I don’t need those anymore. Not for a long time to come.

I went outside to enjoy my life in HD.

I took some photos with my housemate who just graduated with her master’s degree in psychology.

I’ll go back to the clinic for another checkup after 3 months.

P.S. The cost of LASIK will vary depending on how your assessment goes which determines which machines will be used. Also if you have a referral code, it can give you a discount. If you want a referral code, let me know.

Posted in Blog, Life in Japan | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Running in Japan – 200 days of running in 2020

Growing up, I was never an athletic child. In high school, I couldn’t complete one lap. You wouldn’t know it if you’ve recently followed me on social media.

I started running in February this year. When I say running, I mean jogging. My best pace thus far has been 7:02 minutes per kilometer when I ran a total of 6 Km. That’s another thing when you start running, you realize that runners focus on pace, the inverse of speed. For reference, Eliud Kipchoge’s pace is around 3 min/km. At his fastest, he ran 2:52 min/km.

I run along this road in Mitaka City, Tokyo. It stretches over 10 KM and has a cycling/pedestrian path that’s decently shaded even on sunny days.

Why am I running?

Why did I start running? I don’t really know. I think I am motivated by a desire to get fit, to reduce body fat so I can look better. It’s also probably a way to cope with the stress and anxiety that is guaranteed when you’re adulting. I definitely run to cope with the separation blues – I haven’t seen my son in over 5 months. I missed his 7th birthday. I’m no closer to engineering our reunion, and then covid-19 happened…

Maybe I’m running from my demons. Either way, I kept running until I reached a point of no return.

Anyway, this isn’t my first attempt at regular running. I jogged infrequently over the course of my PhD, and then I would slack off after a few weeks.

When I was in campus, doing my undergrad, I woke up at 6am for a few months to jog in the morning. Then I didn’t jog again until like 5 years when I was doing my PhD. I’d do 2-3km stretches.

But now, this current streak is the longest I have done. It’s also the most serious and most dedicated.

Just do it. My running outfit. When I started, my pace was quite slow. Now, 3 months later, I cover this distance in about 45 minutes.

Feb – The Beginning

When I started in February, I did not use any app to track my distance. I just ran to the nearest Gyomu Super(market) and then turned back. I felt so good and thought I had run so far. I would then get home and feast bananas, apples, yoghurt, thinking ah.. fruits, so healthy. (Wrong, they’re actually full of sugar). I’d weigh myself and wonder why the scale was trending upwards!

Only later, when I started using Runkeeper to track my distance, did I realize that I had been covering only 2.4 KM! Barely burning 200 calories.

I was also running 2-3 times a week. I realized if I needed to complete my goal of running 200 days, I would need to up my frequency to 4 or 5 times a week. I was hoping to reach 100 days by the end of June.

March – The first 5K

I ran my first 5 Km race one morning before work. It was quite easy to just keep going once I reached the Seven-Eleven convenience store that marked the turning point for 3.3 Km.

Well, approximately 5KM. There is no natural turning point (traffic light) that gets me to exactly 5KM.

April – Getting to 10K

By April, we were completely working from home. I realized I could use the commuting time to exercise.

I was running 4-5 days a week, covering 5-6 KM each time.

I also got proper running shoes with good sole support.

Got a pair of Adidas running shoes. I got them at a discount for about 30 USD.

I did my first 10K in early April. Thereafter, I did 10K every weekend but I realized I needed a couple of days after to recover. I learned to take it easy whenever I had to.

May – No turning back

My weight stabilized. I am probably losing fat at the rate I’m building muscle, so it is all balancing out. I look leaner though. My skin has experienced the biggest change so far. It’s always been smooth but now it’s silky soft.

I enjoyed the flowers blooming in May, especially azaleas and roses. See the header image..

On Sunday, May 30th, I decided to keep going 20 minutes after the temple that marks the 10K run. I realized I had succeeded in running 14KM!

This temple marks the 10K turning point.

When I realized I could do 14KM, I realized I was finally within my bucket-list goal of running a half marathon.

June – Weight Worries and the Unofficial Half-Marathon

As I write this, I’ve run on 79 different occasions. I still have another 121 more days of running to do before the end of the year.

My weight is not going down, and my housemate is impatient with my whining as I step on the scale daily. If you are running, please don’t frustrate yourself with the scale. Keep it out of sight.

I’m now watching what I eat, even as I keep running.

Saturday June 13th – Unofficial Half Marathon

It was forecast to rain from Saturday at 8am. Figuring I needed about 3.5hrs to do the half-marathon, I woke up at 4am! I never knew I had it in me to wake up this early.

I carried my phone (I have a phone holder) and some cash to buy water at the convenience store on the way. I also carried 3 tablets of these hydrating salts.

It is summer now, so the sun was already rising! It was a dawn kind of light, and it got daylight-bright by 5am.

I started slow and just kept going and going.

At the 7KM mark, I popped in the first tablet and felt refreshed – ish.

At the 10KM mark, I stopped at a vending machine and got a 600ml bottle of water. I kept sipping and kept running. I also took the second tablet.

I had to keep running with the bottle of water in my hand, taking frequent sips.

It was past 6am when I neared the 14KM mark, I think. I took the final tablet at the 15KM mark. I had finished the water and disposed of the bottle at the next convenience store I came across.

I had only 5KM left to go when it started raining lightly at first and it increased in intensity. My legs, especially my knees, were starting to feel the strain. I told myself if I kept going, I would get home to rest. I was soaked to the bone.

There was no turning back. The sooner I got home, the sooner I could rest. I took walking breaks when it got too much.

I was expecting to take 3.5 hours (the average cut-off for a medal in official half-marathons), when I was pleasantly surprised to find I had finished after 2:40!

And even though I still had over 1 KM left to make it 21KM for an official half-marathon, I knew I could cover that in less than 10 min. So I can do a half-marathon in less than 3hrs. When COVID-19 is over, I’m signing up for an official half-marathon.

I may not be able to run in the coming week, for reasons I shall blog about later. (Subscribe so you don’t miss it!).

But I am very proud that I was able to run an unofficial half-marathon. My smartwatch told me I had done 22KM and that’s why I stopped, although Runkeeper recorded only 19.71 KM.

I was surprised to find I was able to move about the next day and went for the Black Lives Matter March in Shibuya the next day. I walked over 6KM.

I rested for a couple of days, doing some light walking. On the 4th day after the half-marathon, I was able to do a 5K recovery run.

Running in Japan

I am happy I can run safely in Japan. Even at night, it’s relatively safe to jog in my neighbourhood. No white men will come hunting me down and shooting me in broad daylight like they did Ahmaud Arbery.

#BlackLivesMatter.

Follow my running journey on Instagram Stories or Twitter. I still have 120 days to go this year.

Posted in Blog, Life in Japan | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments