7 Apps That’ll Most Definitely Help You Out with Japanese (They’ve Saved My Hide, Anyway)

1. JED for Android
JED is my first go-to as a Japanese/English dictionary, and honestly, I don’t know where I’d be without it. While it barely takes up any space on my phone (about 5MB), it is also offline, meaning it doesn’t need any internet access for use (other than updates) and its lookup speed is super quick. Which already makes it top Weblio in my book.

Another feature that really makes this app stand out, in my opinion, is its ever-convenient tag feature, which lets me create decks of vocabulary words that I save and look up for later reference. I’ve got decks for JLPT, for questions I plan on asking my fiance when he’s awake (US/Japan time difference is a bi*ch), and for the words I’d like to review and make into flashcards for word memorization.

Unfortunately for you Apple people, I haven’t been able to find this app for Apple devices, but I’m sure you Apple people will be able to find something similar. Or maybe it’s already released a separate version by now, I’m not sure.

2. Weblio
Weblio is more popular for Japanese-speakers looking up English, I notice, but one thing Weblio does better than JED is its ability to look up phrases like slang, idioms, or proverbs that aren’t typically found in a traditional Japanese/English dictionary. It does require internet access for use (or at least, I haven’t found a roundabout way for this), so if you’re looking for a word mid-conversation, there may be a bit of awkward waiting for that word to load for you.

3. Google Translate
I can’t deny the power of Google Translate. My most common uses for this app are probably three-fold:

For taking pictures of kanji I don’t know.
For getting the furigana and romanji of kanji I don’t know.
For writing in the kanji I don’t know.

…Yeeeeeah, I don’t know a lot of kanji.

First of all, it has this pretty great Camera Mode that lets the user take pictures of Japanese text and then translates it on the spot. Naturally, this can be a bit buggy, but if you’ve got a whole block of text from a page of a book in front of you that you just don’t feel like translating yourself, this feature can give you a great start.

Second, a quick tip I learned is that if you translate into the Japanese language (say, even Japanese to Japanese), then not only does it show the native, written language itself, but it also shows you the romanji, so that you can easily read and look up those words you stumbled over.

Third, it’s Writing Mode, predictably, is great for hand-writing unknown kanji to look up. When it comes to unknown kanji (depending on how many there are), this Writing feature is usually my go-to, since all I need to do is just write in in Google then copy-paste that sucker into JED to figure out what it means.

4. Kanji Study
So like most Japanese studyers, kanji is a major weakness of mine, and has cost me many retakes of the JLPT, admittedly. I just started using this app the last time I was in Osaka, because I really wanted to level up my kanji reading skills. I will say that the full version of this app is $10, but I would say that – for those serious about kanji, and for those who are disciplined enough to utilize it to its full potential – it is a price worth paying.

I love how this app is organized by school grade, meaning that we work in the official, standardized Japanese system, and that we work from easy to harder. For each grade, there is a flashcard study, a multiple choice quiz, and writing challenges for the masochistic. Outside the school-grade decks, however, there is a lot of customization that can be done, too, with the paid version; such as making your own decks for those pesky kanji you always seems to get wrong but you just want to move onto the next grade so it sticks around and you can keep practicing it untilyoueventuallymasterthehelloutofitorforgetaboutitamonthlater (inhale). We all have those kanji, I’m sure.

5. NHK Easy Japanese News
I was almost hesitant to write about this app, because for whatever reason, lately my luck with getting this app to load has been not-so-successful. Some days it just crashes, some days it takes a while to load, but on the days it works fine, it works FINE.

This is really a great resource, as you can imagine for a number of reasons. One, because the stuff you’re reading here is really beneficial if you want some legit reading practice. Especially for that next JLPT or to get your feet wet practicing reading actual Japanese newspaper-leveled material (bless you). Since I’m not quite at the newspaper level yet, I like going through this app, picking out articles that I’m not very familiar with that’s filled with a bunch of new technical terms for me to learn.

It’s an excellent source, but if you have trouble getting the mobile app working, I would still recommend the official NHK Easy Japanese News website.

6. Study Droid
I add this one to my list with a heavy heart. My main squeeze for flashcards and route memory learning is kind of majorly an abandoned app, and it’s no longer offered on Google Play. I will start by saying it has a couple of awkward bugs about it (if you still decide to try it out), like after you’ve deleted a card, it still shows up on the Search screen… I’ve emailed them about it before, but never got a response or update… Sad days.

However! Sentiments aside, I know that a lot of schools and teachers recommend Quizlet (which I also do, but for different reasons), but let me list thy ways in which a more simple, searchable flashcard app like this can work better.

First, no internet needed. It’s completely offline, which means no data/wifi being used, no battery life being drained, and no slow-moving search time. This app has been my best friend when I’m sitting/standing on the train and need some brainless repetition to keep my Japanese fresh.

Second, have I mentioned the Search option? IT HAS. A SEARCH OPTION. I’m not sure why Quizlet hasn’t thought of this yet, but to be able to search through decks of 1,000+ flashcards for a word that’s on the tip of your tongue or you KNOW you’ve learned before, but just can’t remember what it is… Well, it’s a wonderful thing to be able to reunite with it again.

7. Quizlet
Ladies and Gents, you knew this was coming. This one is good for those words that you don’t necessarily need on-hand, but still want to get some study time in for that next test coming up, for example. There are a few other things that Quizlet really does well, such as…

Number One. Detecting dupes of cards. Reeeeeally nice if you’ve got a deck for JLPT N2 that has 1,000+ cards.

Number Two. Its online compatibility. Because editing massive decks on mobile is very time-consuming and frustrating, all I need to do is just get on my Mozilla Firefox on my PC and start editing away,

Number Three. Its ability to be shared and viewed by other people, too. For group studying, this is nice. Or again, wanting to get some extra study time in on a different device without the pesky, distracting cell phone.

These have been my seven suggestions that hopefully can help you out, too. Good luck with your language acquisition and happy learning!

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How to Make Reservations at Ikebukuro’s Swallowtail Butler Cafe

Ikebukuro is my bae of Japan, seriously. Ladies of the interwebs that are interested in being treated like a lady, trying out some delicious teas, or just want to ogle the boys (let’s be real), then this is my recommendation for you.

One thing that really stood out for me with Swallowtail is its relaxed, very comfortable environment. Bit of back story. When my sisters came to visit me in Japan, I wanted to take them someplace where they could experience luxury and calm (in the busy city of Tokyo) and that would give them the culture shock of a lifetime (an experience that they – even today – can recall in STRONG deets).

Back then, I knew that host clubs are typically more accessible, but I also know that they are sometimes dangerous, expensive, and filled with pushy salesman that make you buy lots of alcohol. Just a heads-up for those staying in Tokyo, red-light district Kabukicho Shinjuku, in particular, is notorious for these sort of host club establishments. Avoid, (or visit, if you’re about that kinda life) at your own risk.

To avoid the pushy salesmen and sketch neighborhoods (though Ikebukuro does have its share; it’s a metropolitan city, after all), I decided to give Swallowtail a shot by myself, and if I was happy with the experience, I’d take my sisters with. Which I’m glad I did. And now, I’m encouraging you adventurous ladies to do the same.

For me (especially back when my Japanese was not at the level it is now), making reservations was a little tricky. When making up this tutorial for y’all, I noticed that their website has changed a bit (even an English Guidance page has been added since then!), but the reservation process hasn’t changed. I’m here to walk you step-by-step to get you through those doors and into a comfortable seat, where a butler can then tend to your tea and cakey needs.

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Unlike the infamous maid cafes of Akihabara, you can’t usually just walk into a butler cafe like Swallowtail without a reservation. Well, you can, if the time schedule has a vacancy. Which you can check near their front door, where they have a schedule of their business hours, open, and reserved slots.

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The Reservation Process

1. Check out their HP (https://www.butlers-cafe.jp/) Reservations are only made online, not through phone.

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2. Click 予約 (reserve) on the top-right corner (https://www.butlers-cafe.jp/reserve/)

3. Click on 予約フォームへ進む (continue to reservation form)

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4. Choose your preferred time and date. For this example, I chose 09/04 10:55, 3-4 名様(customers, people attending)

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5. Enter your Email address, Number of people, and Hit the 確認 (confirm) button

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6. Check your inbox for an email from this address “webmaster@butlers-cafe.jp”. Luckily, for non-Japanese readers, they’ve added English instructions to their emails. Do as the instructions indicate and follow the link to get to part 2 of registration.

7. Aaaaand back to Japanese-only stuff. Confirm your email address here.

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8. Fill out your information:

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  • A. Name (must be typed in Japanese characters, katakana or hiragana is okay)
  • B. Furigana (name again in hiragana)
  • C. What you would like to be called by your butler. Options for women: お嬢様 ojou-sama (lady, younger), 奥様 okusama (lady, older), options for men: 旦那様 danna-sama (sir, older), お坊ちゃま obocchama (young sir)
  • D. When it’s time to leave, what kind of send-off phrase do you want your butler to say to you (Options: おまかせ Omakase (Leave it to them.) お出掛けのお時間でございます。(It’s time to go out now.) ご出発のお時間でございます。(It’s time for your departure.) 乗馬のお時間でございます。(It’s time for your horse riding.)
  • E. Phone number. You can use your own number, it doesn’t have to be Japanese.
  • F. This section is if you have a members card. If you do (I do, they’re free, use like a point card, and make for a cute souvenir), you may enter your card number here, not including the front zeros. If no card, leave this whole section blank.
  • G. Are you ordering an anniversary cake or need a cooler bag for the cake? Choose なし (no) or あり (yes)

9. When done, hit 送信 (send).

10. When you get to this screen, check your inbox again to receive your final confirmation email.

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Aaaand you done, girl! Just show up on time, be somewhat nicely dressed, and enjoy your time there.

This blog post is really just meant to show you how to reserve a time slot, but I figured I’d also give you a heads-up about what to expect while you’re there, since the staff does not speak English there, and they do have a process and a couple house rules.

  • Once you arrive, you may be asked to sit and wait on a bench. First, an older gentleman (the owner) will greet you, take your coat and purse for you, if you’d like, and then your butler will introduce himself and show you to your table.
  • Your butler will take his time with you to introduce you to the items on the menu (if you don’t understand Japanese, you guessed it; just smile and nod). Afterwards, he’ll walk away.
  • When you want his attention, ring the bell. You will be asked to ring the bell for two other occasions, too: when you want him to fill up your water or tea (you don’t do this yourself, he’ll do everything for you), and when you want to go to the bathroom.
  • You don’t leave the table by yourself. You ring the bell, he escorts you to the bathroom, waits until you’re done with your business (or if he is busy and can’t, another butler may wait instead) and then escort you back to your table.
  • When it’s time to leave, your butler will lead you back down the hall, collect your things, and the owner may also send you off with a farewell greeting, too.
  • Another predictable house rule, no picture-taking allowed inside.
  • Also, quick tip! If you’re interested in purchasing some of the teas or sweets or some cute souvenirs from across the street, you can do that at the Swallowtail gift shop, where the cashier is also one of Swallowtail’s own butlers! Very nice marketing touch.

Nagasaki Must-Sees – I Got 6 Recommendations For Ya

Hey, squad-fam! I’ve been watching a few historical biographies on people who have promoted peace post World War II. (In particular, NHK’s “Houses for Peace” video on Floyd Schmoe is absolutely heartwarming and worth the read.) So this time, I went through some old pictures of when my host family graciously took me on a trip to Nagasaki, and I figured I’d dedicate this blog post to Nagasaki; things to see and do in this historic, beautiful city.

1. Huis Ten Bosch
Huis Ten Bosch is a huge amusement park, but first and foremost, rather than go for the rides and amusements, I’d say it’s well worth the visit to see the massive tulips gardens and Dutch-inspired landscaping when the season is right. When I visited, I ate lots of castella cake (famous to Nagasaki), saw some performers and magicians, and saw some and went to a bunch of different events, too. At the time, they were doing a One Piece special, which is an anime that’s apparently still very popular in Japan.

2. Glover Garden
After Huis Ten Bosch, we said goodbye to Sasebo and then headed to Nagasaki city to do more sightseeing. The first thing we checked out was Glover Garden. Glover Garden is dedicated to Thomas Glover, a Scottish merchant and shipbuilder. The architecture there was heavily inspired by the West, and it almost made me feel nostalgic looking around at the different residences-turned-museum.

Nagasaki’s really cool in the way that it became home to one of Japan’s first ports that accepted imports and exports from other countries. And so it was really neat to see “Japan’s first bowling alley” or “Japan’s first tennis court” and other influences that would not have occurred if Japan hadn’t opened it’s doors when Commodore Perry made them in the 1800’s.

3. Oura Roman Catholic Church
Another interesting side-trip I requested we make was to Nagasaki’s Oura Roman Catholic Church, Japan’s oldest church and first western-styled building built shortly after the Nagasaki port was opened. There’s not a whole lot to say, other than it was definitely worth the visit, and absolutely beautiful! (Note: Pictures were not allowed inside the building, so unfortunately, the only thing I can provide is this official link: https://nagasaki-oura-church.jp/

4. Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum
Visiting the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum was a very surreal, yet very concrete and almost oppressive experience. I took my time here, reading, learning, and ultimately failing to even fathom such destruction and pain caused by war. The photos and videos were informative but very painful to see (could not stomach the medical videos of radioactivity treatment).

5. Peace Park
I said many prayers to the victims and for peace, and then me and my host family headed to the beautiful Peace Park to get eased and to visit the infamous Peace Park statue. The statue’s pose, I learned, has meaning: the right hand points to the threat of nuclear weapons, the left hand symbolizes eternal peace, the mild faces symbolizes grace and prayer for the victims, and the folded leg and extended left leg symbolize meditation and the initiative to stand up and help other people of the world.

When I had gone to Nagasaki, spring was in full swing; the cherry blossoms were in full bloom there, so I got to take some lovely pics of my first Spring in Japan! I learned that Nagasaki is a generally rainy place, so a lot of my pictures were taken in the rain, too. :>

6. Dejima
Though this place isn’t as glamorous as the other five things I’ve listed above, for history buffs, I’d recommend Dejima since it was one of the only ports open that exchanged trade to other countries back during the Edo Period of Japan (roughly 1600s – 1800s).

Maybe this is all conjecture, but when you think about it, Japan’s still a baby country when it comes to globalization, given the fact that it’s only had its doors open to foreigners these past 400-ish years. Though a lot has changed since then, Dejima, I felt, has preserved a lot of its old-school charm.

Komeda Coffee – A Recommendation

So it’s 3:00PM. Time for tea. Or in this case, coffee. Nagoya-styled coffee. Your place of choice? Before you get comfortable and say, “Starbucks”, let me first urge you to “give Komeda Coffee a shot”.

Or “get a shot… of coffee… from Komeda…”

…I tried the pun thing. Maybe I’ll be more creative next time.

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Komeda’s Coffee is a great cafe that offers decently-priced delicacies from Nagoya. My favorite of which is the infamous Ogura Toast, which is basically a thick (and I do mean thiccc with three C’s) piece of bread, slathered with sweet, whipped butter and red bean paste. You can order this Ogura Toast thinly-sliced or thickly-sliced. But let’s be real, thick is where it’s AT.

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Their sandwiches are also excellent. I ordered a Fried Pork Cutlet Sandwich (no pic included) from them, which was quite sizable and tasted fresh. And, of course, I highly recommend their coffee (pic included way above).

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They’ve got coffee. They’ve got Ogura Toast. They even got fluffy, Shiro-Noir Danish pastries. For your viewing pleasure, the menu: http://www.komeda.co.jp/en/menu/index.html

Since Komeda Coffee started off in Nagoya, you can find them all over the Aichi prefecture, but I’ve also seen them around the Kansai area, as well. If you spot one, and if it’s remotely close to 3:00pm, I’d highly recommend popping in to scope out those sweet, sweet (and I do mean sweettt with three T’s, if that’s a thing) tasties.

Negative Google Maps Reviews in Japan that Forget to Faction in Culture

I try not to be too depend on Google Maps reviews, just like I try not to be too depend on Amazon reviews. However, I will admit that they generally can influence the restaurants I choose to go to. Or the hotels I choose to stay at. Or the sightseeing I plan to do with a limited amount of travel time.

…Okay, so I guess I rely more heavily on Google Maps than I thought.

This morning, I had a breakfast date with an old friend in Umeda, Osaka. In general, I noticed that breakfast restaurants or pancake houses are more rare in Japan than out in the States, and I honestly had never gone out for breakfast in the Umeda area. Meaning, it’s Google Maps time.

I pull out that sucker and start looking for places to eat. Although I’m typically open to window shopping for restaurants, this time, I was limited on time and wanted to find a decent place for the two of us, and as a rule of thumb, I generally go for places with around four stars and up on Google.

Which is where I noticed a bunch of very good, reputable restaurants with some not-so-great reviews. I wondered what justified these reviews, so I started scrolling.

And this is where I started thinking a bit more education on Japanese culture might help people to think twice about posting ignorant reviews.

Now, to state the obvious, I won’t be analyzing any high-horse whiners, who post shitty things like, “they cut my sushi too thick, i like it thin” or “this shopping mall is a maze like constructed building, prepare to get lost” or “its too narrow!1! too crowded!” or “the staff didn’t speak english”. As we know, these don’t have anything to do with the restaurants, food, or service whatsoever, just the salty griping of a self-centered creep that probably shouldn’t have access to technology at all without proper respect. As a wise woman once said, “You can’t fix stupid.”

Anyway, disclaimer out of the way, let’s get to analyzing and interpreting.

TOO SMOKEY (at a shopping venue)
I understand this reviewers frustration, but it may not be the shopping mall’s fault, since smoking tobacco cigarettes are still a thing in Japan. When I ask around, though, I find that the times have been changing, and you’ll find less and less smokers as time goes on. In general, tobacco is now developing a bad image. Although you’ll still might be greeted in a restaurant with a, “Smoking or non-smoking?”, I also know that the amount of smoking sections out in public is dwindling. Also, honestly, I’m not sure what the vaping or electronic cigarette scene looks like out in Japan (can’t say I’ve looked), but I’m willing to bet that it may rise with the fall of tobacco, but mere conjecture on my part. I mean, cigarettes still make bank out here (you can buy these things in vending machines, for Chrissakes), so who can say.

THE LINES WERE TOO LONG, HAD TO WAIT (at a museum)
I see this every once and a while. Trust me, I feel cramped and tired of waiting. We all do. But in Japan, this is a cultural difference where we just need to put up and shut up. There are a lot of people in Japan, and we all are expected to wait patiently for our turn. You can see this type of line-forming very prominently when you line up to get on the trains, for example.

OPENING TIME (at a grocery store)
I saw a review once that complained about the late opening time of a grocery store that opened at 9:00AM. News flash, most places in Japan open around 9:00AM. Or 10:00AM. Or 11:00AM. Or if it’s a mom-and-pop shop, they can open and close and have regular holidays whenever they feel like it. And that’s okay.

I think in America we’re so used to having everything open 24-7, that when a place is closed, it’s a “major inconvenience” to us. Rather than feeling inconvenienced, just feel grateful that the hard-working grocery store employees can get the rest they deserve and come in to work at a decent time. Surely, we can wait.

THEY MADE ME HIDE MY TATTOO (at a public bath)
Part of me thanks this reviewer for their warning, but I’m not sure this onsen really deserves such a strongly-worded, negative review. At many public baths, you’ll find signs that say, “No Tattoos”. The meaning behind this is because, traditionally, having a tattoo meant you were involved with dangerous people, like yazuka. Understandably, they didn’t want to serve customers that potentially worked for the mafia, and also probably feared having them inside.

Of course, now times are changing, and more and more foreign people are starting to come to Japan to enjoy their hot springs. Meaning that – I sincerely hope around 2020 Tokyo Olympics – Japan will become more globalized enough to understand that tattoos are a fashion fairly common among foreigners, and cut us some slack. It depends on location, of course, but this is a changing phenomenon in Japan. Instead of whining about it, or getting mad that “they just don’t understand me”, please understand where they’re coming from, and just do as your told. “When in Rome…”

Ikumimama’s Animal Donuts – A Recommendation

Here is another example of Japan being really good at producing quality goods that are detailed and downright adorable.

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Ikumimama no Doubutsu Donatsu, everyone! If you are lucky enough to happen upon one of these little shops, I highly recommend giving these delights a shot. Even for those foodies without a sweet-tooth, the taste of these donuts are very light, as the ingredients used are very raw; the eggs, wheat, salt, butter, and not a whole lot of processed chemical bits.

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But enough about the nutritional facts, let’s check the spoils.

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Handmade with smiles in mind, these adorable snackies are all shaped like animals such as cats, bears, tigers, penguins, and depending on the day and season, they also have a great selection of seasonal goodies, which you can check out on their website.
https://ikumimama.com/

DSCN9551I’ve seen these shops pop up around Tokyo, and now I’m super thrilled to have finally found one in Osaka. If you come across it, just remember these words of Runa, “Give into the cuteness, feast, and be merry!”

8 Tips to Help You Out During Jet Lag

Just arrived back in good, cold Chicago, and now a new foe has appeared: Jet lag.

“West is best, East is beast” definitely rings true with me, as coming home from Japan really seems to mess with my body clock. Jet lag usually keeps its hold over me for about 2-4 weeks, but I totally understand that it can effect everyone in different ways for longer or shorter periods of time.

This week, I’d like to share with you a few tricks that help me oust nocturality and get my body clock up and functioning again.

  1. Drink water. If you’re anything like me, you may have issues hydrating after the 12-hour flight to/from Japan. Especially if you’re spending more time sleeping than drinking lately. I know this sounds elementary, but keeping hydrated helps me from waking up in middle of the night with desert-dry feet or a parched throat.
  • Stay awake all day. I KNOW this is not easy. But by all means necessary, drink tea, coffee, or whatever keeps you healthy and caffeinated to last the day. However, it’s really important NOT to load up on caffeine, especially towards the end of your day, when sleep is absolutely necessary.
  • Avoid sleeping in. Set an alarm. I know it’s not easy, but there is a lot of wisdom to be learned from “Early to bed, early to rise.” I strive to go to bed early around 9:00pm while I recover. Don’t figure, “Oh, I’ll just sleep until 3:00pm over the weekend, since I’m so exhausted.” This just makes it harder to adjust into the current timezone and easier to become nocturnal.
  • Stay social among the living. Another thing that helps me stay awake is with I’m surrounded with other people who are awake. Coming home to my big family has proven to be one of the greatest methods for staying awake.
  • Limit phone time before bed. I know we all do it, but sleep is more important right now than catching up on Netflix or Instagram. Some reconnection is good, but don’t let it keep you up until 2:00am. (If you’ve got a blue filter or something on your phone to help you with the harsh, bright lights in a pitch-black room, I’d recommend utilizing those, as well, since I know too much cellphone use at night generally makes me less likely to sleep as well. Just remember, “anything in moderation”, and health is your number one priority.
  • Get some light exposure. It’s very tempting to stay at home and feel the need to relax. But I’d also recommend a drive or just a quick walk outside or to Target or something to get your body some exposure to those fine, vitamin-D-filled rays.
  • Shower before bed. So I know in the West, we most of us generally take showers in the morning, so I tried getting back into that habit when I came back to the States. But what I noticed was as soon as I was done with my nice, hot shower, I felt relaxed immediately ready for sleep. If possible, try showering at night instead, to avoid those sudden napping urges.
  • Eat, but don’t eat too much. I know you missed that Chiptole, but sleep coma is real. ‘Nuff said.

To narrow it all down. Sleep, but not too much. Drink, and eat, but not too much. Stay among the living, avoid the late-night Netflix binges, catch some rays, and reset that body clock by staying awake.

Before calling it a day here, though, I definitely want to add that if you really feel like you need a nap, please nap. Just make it a quick one. If you ever reach a point when you get so tired, you feel sick or you might be nauseous (been there, done that), then please don’t overdo it, and get some rest. Again, health is number one. Be gracious when resetting that body clock.

If you have any other tips for getting over jet lag, believe me when I say they are greatly appreciated. (Help me!)