Six months ago I promised a packing post, but I failed miserably at getting my act together/packing my travel essentials into two suitcases for the year. There were a great many – okay, TWO – challenges.
First, there was sorting through and boiling down of all of my belongings that I had accumulated for the past six years in Vermont into, like, six manageable piles: donate, throw away, pack in storage in Vermont, drive to Ohio (that one was carefully looked over because I have little sisters with sticky fingers), take with me now, and mail to Japan later. As my friend Liza tells me, “I like my things,” which is a nice way of saying I am a slight pack rat. Don’t we all want a shelf of cake stands? Three cabinets full of plates and bowls and glasses for one person? Bookshelves bursting with young-adult books? Enough scarves to outfit an elementary school? Mom came up to help me, but it was more like, “Sorrrry, welcome to the fray.”
Second, sticking to my strict minimalist traveler’s wardrobe wishlist was damn near impossible, I don’t care what Rick Steves’ says. There was packing for a summer month in London, which usually is chilly and wet, in conjunction with packing for a year in Japan. Summer and winter come with their own opposite set-of challenges. Summer in Toyama-ken is about 9,000 degrees; winter means living like an Eskimo. I need to look business-appropriate at work year-round – and, of course, all of the different shoes you need in Japan – becomes complicated by the fact that I knew shopping in Japan would be major muzukashii. My build is more that of a sturdy Irish farmgirl, designed to pick potatoes on rolling Irish hills all day long if need be, rather than the petite Asian frame. (Note: Tis true! Nothing really fits over here. At least I save money!)
Therefore, I tried to take TOO MUCH. When Jen dropped me off at the airport in Burlington at the start of my 13-month sojourn, I was already 11 pounds overweight since they changed the luggage allowance since I flew last time. WHAT? I balked at airline counter when the woman told me the price of overweight luggage, so I called Jen to U-turn it back to the airport and she witnessed a mad woman on the floor, frantically yanking things from her carefully arranged suitcase (thanks mom!) in order to make weight and boarding time. I was sweaty and disheveled before it even began.
So, let’s just talk about the things I love right now.
It is the middle of winter in my area of Japan, which means lots of snow, sleet, chilly temperatures, and an overall lack of heat or warmth. It is actually colder in Vermont, but I am exposed to the elements more so in Japan since my apartment isn’t heated, the hallways at school aren’t heated, my shower water is only lukewarm, and I have to commute about an hour a day by walking in whatever weather. As someone who battles Raynauds (when I get cold, my fingers and toes go numb), it was a bit uncomfortable in the beginning.
After a few weeks moaning, SAMUI, NE! (IT`S COLD, RIGHT?!) to everyone and fearing I could potentially kill myself with my kerosene heaters, I am faring much better now that I have settled into my little wintertime routine.
It may come as a big fat surprise that I live in fleece, corduroy, scarves, mittens, and down jackets. I wear Dansko clogs that my parents mailed me (aren’t they lovely) at work after I sweated through my Tom’s during the hot summer months and they started to smell like foul workout clothes in need of a good washing. I still can’t read very many Japanese products, so I rely heavily on toiletries from the States. I walk everywhere in Sorels and two pairs of socks. I use my electric kettle about five times a day and drink a whole lotta coffee and tea. Because it is so cold in the morning, I am a fan of instant oatmeal and coffee. YES! I swaddle myself in my REI down sub-zero sleeping bag at night and an electric blanket topped with a down lap blanket during the day. And I have gotten over my fear of using kerosene because like my supervisor first told me after I babbled on whether or not it was safe to use: “It’s warm.”
Errrrbody, let me break down my winter uniform.
//Eddie Bauer down parka. // It is a sturdy, no frills winter coat that won’t break your bank account, yet still gets the job done.
//Patagonia R1 jacket.// My parents are the biggest fans of this jacket, so usually I get one as a Christmas present. I currently have a yellow one and a turquoise one, which is perfect because I ALWAYS have one on at home.
//Uniqlo Heattech.// Cheap, but good, lightweight long underwear.
//Sorel boots. // I purchased them in a spring sale in Vermont for a steal! Around $43 and I WEAR THEM EVERY SINGLE DAY.
//J. Crew black corduroys.//Warmer than jeans and I can tuck them into boots and get away with wearing them to work. They also feature a high waist, so I dig.
//Ugg Slippers.// A Christmas gift from my Aunt Nettie. I…..even take them with me if I go away for the weekend.
//Hats + scarves.// My favorite hat is a men’s American Eagle hat purchased a few years ago. I lost it in the fall and hunted it down a la Sherlock Holmes. Here I left it at this Blueberry Cafe in Himi and a student who lives nearby brought it to me at school. Oh lucky day!
P.S. I could not live without my plethora of (new and old) Apple products, which are worth their weight in gold over here!