I started January 2019 the same way I’ve seen in most New Year’s Days, curled up on the sofa watching TV with my family. It was a far cry from last year when I was in a club in Shibuya dancing to Ed Sheeran with some really friendly drag queens, but I wouldn’t have changed a thing. London’s fireworks came to a close and remembered staying up until 9am to watch them in twelve months ago (before falling asleep for a few hours after our all-nighter in Tokyo). This time however, I was tucked up in bed by half past one, ready for the day to begin properly.
After all, it was my grandfather’s birthday.
We had a quiet family meal in a local pub then headed home for a slice of birthday cake that my sister had made. Her baking is definitely one thing I miss when I’m not in the UK.
A short time later and it was time to say goodbye to my Grandpa and seeing as I left the country two days later this would be goodbye until the next time I’m home, whenever that will be. I did feel sad about it – I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t – but I was helped by the knowledge that I make time to call every weekend.
The next day, I took a trip into Chester to see one of my university friends. We had a good day talking and shopping, having a good catch up over a Gregg’s pastry. I always forget how beautiful the Cheshire area can be and I realised that I had a newfound appreciation for the place where I grew up after being away for a year. I had to leave earlier than usual to finish packing and I spent my evening getting ready to leave again.
I only managed four hours of sleep before I woke up. Once I was awake there was no going back to bed as my brain was too wired on pre-flight stress. I’ve done a few long-haul international flights on my own before but I still feel on edge every time. I don’t think my nerves were helped with the thought of my flight home still very fresh in my memory. With multiple flight changes, a missing bag, over 300 euros out of pocket, and six hours talking to airport staff after a computer error stopped me from boarding, I certainly didn’t want a repeat of that experience.
My brother heard me come downstairs so we had one last bit of quality time together before it was time to go.
While it’s convenient that my family don’t live far from Manchester Airport, it felt like absolutely no time had passed once we arrived (possibly because I was having so much fun singing along to the Hamilton soundtrack). Just like November 2017, I felt my heart sink to the bottom of my stomach as soon as I saw the airport entrance. Once a sight that would fill me with excitement, the last three times have ended up causing me pain. Self-inflicted pain, but pain nonetheless.
One emotional goodbye later, I was ready to leave the country once more, but not before cramming in a trip to ‘Spoons in Heathrow for one last proper English fry-up. I didn’t get all the options available but hey, I was just about to get on a 12 hour flight and I didn’t want to be uncomfortably full.
After a very uneventful journey, I was back in Japan. I thought I’d been sensible by allowing myself two and a half days of recovery time before going back to work but I was mistaken. The idea was good in theory but in practice I probably needed a little bit longer. I kept falling asleep at random times during the weekend, one time resulting in an unexpected four hour nap that did nothing to help fix my sleeping pattern.
Partly because of that, I spent my entire first week back in a terrible mood. There were quite a few other reasons for that as well, like missing my family, my hug to time ratio dropping drastically, and – after spending time somewhere where everyone understood me – feeling frustrated at my basic Japanese.
But I knew that staying in that mood would be very counter-productive. I forced myself out of the house the Monday after in an effort to snap out of it and I went to the Walt Disney Archives event at the Red Brick Warehouse. I honestly had so much fun and you can read my full account of the experience here.
I then spent a quiet couple of weeks settling back into a routine. With it being the start of the year, I’ve been thinking of any changes I could make in my life and how I could make things easier for myself. I ended up realising that I have saved up a bit of money in the last 14 months and there was no point in hoarding it all. I’ve been procrastinating and putting off buying a toaster oven until now, but when I asked myself “why”; the only issues my brain could come up with were easily solvable. So I ordered one online and so far it has been such a good investment. I’ve been able to make some of my favourite foods that I’ve missed and it’s helped a lot on the homesickness front.
I do like my quiet time but too much of it and I get a little irritated. As a result, the last week of January ended up being super busy to compensate for the past fortnight. On Friday night after work I went out for drinks in an area of Tokyo I’d never been to before and I spent the next morning trying to drag myself out of bed in time to go to Kamakura. I volunteer for an English conversation club sometimes and I’d already agreed I’d be there this week, so despite feeling awful I made the train with plenty of time.
A couple of hours later, after a good chat and a drink, it was time to finish. But the day wasn’t over yet and a few of us headed back towards Yokohama for an event at the Red Brick Warehouse. Yes, this was my second time there in less than two weeks but this time I was there for something different.
Every year around late January, the Warehouse is home to the Nabe Hut – where the courtyard turns into a market for multiple different kinds of nabe.
Nabe (鍋, short for nabemono 鍋物, which means ‘things in a pot’) is a Japanese hot pot that is popular during the cold winter months. A broth base is heated in a large pot in the middle of the table and when it’s hot enough, you put in the ingredients to cook. There are a range of different flavours available and ingredients vary per dish. Chanko-nabe is possibly the most famous variation as it makes up a key part of a sumo wrestler’s diet.
The version we had was an ankō nabe with a miso base. Not to be confused with anko (餡子, red bean paste), ankō (鮟鱇) is the Japanese name for the anglerfish. It’s probably a good job I didn’t know that before I tried it because my stomach was not very steady at all. Even though the fish itself creeps me out, it did taste good so I’m not quite sure how to feel about that. Ankō liver is considered a delicacy in Japan and that was mixed in with the soup .
There were also many different kinds of sake on offer, from different areas in Japan. Each stall had a sign telling you where their sake was from and we got a few different ones to sample. I had a very small glass of sake, using it as hair of the dog to temporarily postpone my hangover and besides, I didn’t want to be the only one not joining in with the toasts.
I like the idea of nabe as it’s a very sociable way to eat with the whole table sharing the meal together.
The next day, I was back around the Minato Mirai area. I’d got a complimentary ticket from the cinema last time I’d visited and it was running out fast. I’d made a decision that I wanted to watch A Star Is Born (Japanese title: アリースター誕生, Arī sutā tanjō) and they were only playing it around midday so this was my last chance to catch it. I accidentally showed up late but they were kind enough to still let me in. I haven’t seen any of its previous incarnations so I honestly didn’t know what to expect. But I’ve been a fan of Lady Gaga for a long time so if anything else, I figured that I’d least hear some good music. I’m not sure ‘enjoy’ would be the right word to use because it’s not exactly a happy film but I’m glad I got to see it.
Monday meant work again but I had run out of my favourite flavoured almonds so I decided to take a detour on the way home to get more. And it’s a good job I did. On the way through the JOINUS department store attached to Yokohama Station, I found a Marvel pop-up shop.
I hung around for a while looking at all the stuff, including some cute ‘chibi’ merchandise of Cap, Iron Man, Thor, and Loki. There were so many things I wanted, but realistically I couldn’t buy them all. In the end, I just settled for a new pencil case for work and some warm Captain America socks. I realised pretty quickly that they were playing the first Avengers soundtrack over the speakers because they were all songs I used to listen to seven years ago. A couple of my favourite bands had been chosen to be on the track-list and as a proud fan; I had listened to the album on repeat. And I still love them today.
I spent the last few days of January looking ahead to February, organising things for the month to come. This month felt really long but also like it took no time at all, so I want to make the most of the time I have next month.
What was one thing that made you happy in January? Let me know down below…