Friday, February 29, 2008

Thank yous are expensive in Japan

Watashi wa keitai o nusumareta.
My cell phone was stolen ... I think.

Which is entirely unheard of in Japan.
I never lock my car doors.
I never lock my apartment door when I go to sleep.
When I go running, I do not bother locking my door and putting the key in the mail box. I just leave my front door unlocked.

This summer I was in New York City and I got a ride with an African cab driver. I told him I was about to move to Japan and he began to tell me about his brother, who had once lived in Japan.

In broken English, he told me how safe Japan is.
He proceeded with a story his brother had told him.
I leaned up in my seat and tried to peak my head into the front of the cab to better understand him.

"Japan. Very safe. You drop your cell phone in road. Even in big city. Someone will pick it up. But, only to move it. Pick it so it will not get hit by a car."

I thought that was a very nice story. But only a story. Perhaps his brother had told him this story to illustrate how safe Japan is.
I doubted that this could ever be a true story.
I just could not comprehend the idea that absolutely no one would steal that abandoned cell phone.

After only six months in this country I am beginning to forget what it feels like to never leave my laptop in my car, even my locked car.

I have never even seen anyone walk against a traffic light in Japan.

So Wednesday afternoon, when I was just going to run into the grocery store, I did not see any reason to bother locking my car doors. And I did not think twice when I left my cell phone on the passenger seat, in plain view.

But, when I returned it was gone.
No, It did not fall out of my car door. I looked.
And no it is not under the seat, I looked there too.

So I drove back to the elementary school I had just come from.
The young English speaking teacher had not seen it.
But she did call the shopping center I had lost it in. And told them to call me at work if anyone turned it in.

Then she went out to my car to help me look under the seats again.


She could tell I felt helpless.

She had been very kind. Dropping all her work for about half and hour to help this lonely American girl.

As we said goodbye I could tell she wanted to give me a hug.
Her body language stuttered. But the Japanese side of her prevented her from opening her arms up and welcoming me in them.

I waved, she waved, and I teared up as I drove off because I wanted someone to hug me.

The Japanese way to thank her would be to show up at the school next week with a small gift for her.
Perhaps some sweets or fruit.

I would have preferred to just give her a thank you hug.

The next morning I went to my favorite elementary school. I told the principal and, obviously, all staff members became concerned and involved.
I asked if I could leave briefly in the afternoon and go to my Board of Education, where I would hope someone would help me.

When I came back from teaching my next class the principal had printed off information about disconnecting my service, highlighted important parts, and was waiting by the phone to call the company for me.

I said thank you over and over and the principal told me, "okay, okay, no problem." And she meant that it was really no problem.

I have a very close relationship with this woman. We have gotten really drunk together and she has seen me in my underwear multiple times, as I seem to always be asked to put on a kimono and she seems to always help me.

So after she did all these complicated cell phones things for me, taking time out of her day to make my life easier, I would have liked to give her a hug.

But even the shortest smallest hug, the kind of hug where only your arms touch and neither person rests their chest on the others, even that kind of hug would have been obscene in the work place.

Instead, I am thinking about what I should buy to put in the staff room for everyone to eat next week.

When a Japanese person does offer their touch I welcome it and move into it.

On Fridays, when I leave my elementary school the vice principal will often take my hand and tell me to have a good weekend.
I love this weekly moment of hand holding.

This last week, as I was being dressed in a kimono some woman wanted to put a flower clip in my hair. She told me to sit on the floor and she pulled out her comb.
She put her hand on the top of my head and began to brush my recently washed hair.

I tilted my head back slightly, and enjoyed those few moments of someone else running their comb and fingers through my hair.

And for all these people that are so helpful when I want to put my head down and cry, I would like to hug them.
Instead, I should probably buy them something.

Monday, February 25, 2008


I will begin with saying that I honestly have not been doing that much drinking this winter.

Though my grandmother did read my blog and warn me that I better watch out for my liver, I think my internal organs are probably better than ever.

In fact, I do not think I have spent a winter drinking so little since before I paid $60 to have my date of birth changed on my Pennsylvania identification and I celebrated my first 21st birthday at Slap Shots in Dormont.

Saturday around 1 p.m., after not enough breakfast, I headed to the Ikeda sake festival.

I am pretty sure this guy got there at 10 a.m.

There was a large variety of sake to choose from and plastic tapped to the ground for those inevitable spills.

Everyone was handed small glasses as at they walked in. We sipped sake like we live in the country side of Shikoku Japan. No one pretended to be classy or well dressed. All the English teachers in the room agreed that the Gaijin (Japanese word for foreigner) sake was one of the best.

A sake festival anywhere else in Japan would never compare to one of small town Ikeda.

After I did all the drinking one can do when it is still light out Brad and I headed to an okonomiyaki restaurant.

The festival vibes spilled in the doors of the tiny restaurant.

In true Japanese fashion, we were handed a bag full of five different kinds of sake that someone had bought for themselves.
We refused the generosity for a good ten minutes, but the accounts of the day thus far made it difficult for me to hide my excitement regarding this strangers gesture of kindness.

Naturally, I poured more sake for myself and the owner of the restaurant.

Before the early evening hangover hit the decision to catch a ride with Jill to make it out to the big city was made.

Because there is no Sparks in Japan there was no other choice than to continue with beer at the mid-road trip dinner stop.

Somehow I managed to still look fresh as I tore up the Tokushima city dance floor that night.

And Sunday was a day of pizza, pajamas, Japanese sports drinks, and mysteriously light wallets.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Crazy Life

It is getting warmer.
It is no longer dark at 5pm.
It has not rained in two full days.

But, as I say to my elementary school kids when I want them to be quiet, "shhhhhhh. Secret."
I am afraid that if I say this too loud that horrible cold slush will reappear. Just to prove me wrong.

Tonight I even went running after dark.
When I first arrived in Japan, especially preinternet time, when it was too hot to function in the daylight, I would spend my evenings with my ipod and Saucony shoes (with the pink laces), thinking that the Yoshinogawa was a beautiful river.

I would lose my breath with the highway on my right and the river on the left.

Ikeda town has repaved the sidewalk next to the river, I just got my new 80gb ipod in the mail, and I have come to my senses- the Yoshinogawa is not that beautiful.

Tonight was a full moon. Mirah knows what I need to hear as she sings A Million Miles Away. Animal Collective has pulled me from hibernating under the kotatsu as I listen to Winters Love. And Jay-z is always a no fail when I am going up hill.

When I took those runs 6 months ago I could almost get a little lost in my neighborhood. I have gradually become familiar with my surroundings. I have finally found the crazy side of this little town.

My new neighbors and I have been having some really intellectual conversations. We like to talk about how is it snowing. They like to show me their toys that light up. And when we part ways our "BYE-BYES" are always a big deal.

The other day I even went so far as to tell the one on the right he was wearing a cute hat.
But today I heard one of them have a total temper tantrum and I was like- wow dude, not that cool.

Right down the road is the Hakuchi community center. This is where the majority of my crazy night time action takes place.

On Monday night I practiced Awa Odori.
Awa Odori is a dance festival that takes place all over Tokushima in August. But, it somehow becomes a part of your life year round if you live in the area.
My British friends Janet and Louise came too. I had to make sure that this is indeed real life and that these wild nights are not a hallucination.

They assured me that it was true. And when the three of us had to do the dance while everyone else watched they also assured me that we were in fact dancing monkeys.

Spring is creeping in but all I can think about is fall. Only a few more weeks until Brad and I get to watch the leaves change colors in New Zealand.

I will pick myself up from my tatami floor and turn off weird Japanese television for two weeks of road tripping and outdoor adventure.

Saturday, February 16, 2008


The direct translation of enkai is work drinking party.

Last night I attended an enkai with all the JETs and Japanese Teachers of English in the super inaka of western Tokushima.

A motley crew of people from The States, Canada, and England make up the western Tokushima JETs.

Last night:

This morning:

Aquarius is like Japanese Gatorade but it does not come in an orange flavor.
After I woke up at 7am to wonder if I could make it through the morning I went back to bed and had a dream about Gatorade.

I have exactly one month to get ready for a 10km run. I am going to put down my parliament lights and cake for now.

Friday, February 15, 2008


Today in my beginner adult converstaion class we did an activity involving compliments. I gave them little slips of paper with "to" and "from" written on top. Then a compliment written underneath.
The compliments I received included:
-Your clothes are very fashionable
-You make me smile
-You have a cute nose (which is the Japanese way of saying- holy shit your nose is so big).
-You have nice skin
-You speak English very well
-Your laugh is great

That class was just filled with the sweetest moments. Everyone read their compliments aloud, sitting tall to then thank the person who complimented them, bowing their head with a smile.

At the end of the class they all agreed that they had "good feeling."

In my intermediate class I tried to explain the Electoral College. Basically what happened was I explained it to Shu, who speaks awesome English, then he explained it to everyone else. I am pretty sure no one really understood. But at least when they hear Electoral College in the news they will feel like they sort of get it.

Maybe they understood. I will try not to doubt them.

Yesterday I did a lesson with 3rd and 4th graders involving compliments as well. I had them pick a name out of a bag and make a Valentine for that person. They were to write "You are" and then pick from the adjectives- pretty, smart, nice, funny, cool. I was pretty sure no one understood and I was worried I just fusturated them.

But today when I walked to the playground of that school one 3rd grader came up to me screaming, "Caity Sensei, you ... are ... pretty! pretty! pretty!"
1. She actually remember what she learned yesterday.
2. She told me I was pretty.

I have come to the conclusion that I just hate February.

I have heard from many other JETs who are remembering this time one year ago. It was the time when everyone had their interview.
My mother is even feeling the nostalgia. I woke up with this email from her:
"I am getting ready for my mid-winter staff meeting tomorrow and this time last year (the day of the mid-year meeting) you called me to tell me about how your interview went in DC. You felt reallygood about it - remember? It seems like it was just yesterday!"

Right after that interview I went to Benetton and bought a $50 dress. I am kind of convienced I had the best JET interview in the history of interviews.

In the spirit of vanity I will elaborate ...

I went in there and they talked about how awesome my essay was. Then I just started talking about myself and teaching and the tight relationship I had with my Czech host family. That went on for sometime. Then they look at each other, could not think of questions so I asked them some questions.

Then I went to Benetton, tried on expensive clothes and talked to my mother on my cell phone from the dressing room.

I am thinking that the insanity I was feeling at the time moved me to rock that interview.

And by March of 2007 I had had my fix of shooting hand guns with Emily and was gradually leaving that winter funk.

It is Feburary everywhere. It has been cold for too long. The winter break high has turned to a memory and spring break is not close enough.

I am making sure that the compliments continue to come in the cold weather.

This is probably the best thing anyone has said about my blog:
"I`ve been reading your dumb blog while sitting in class and its kind of addicting in a masochistic kind of way."

Thursday, February 14, 2008

There are few good reasons to be here today.

Lots of Yuki today.
Lots in the mind of a former resident of North Carolina and a current resident of Shikoku.
The Pennsylvania in me is not too impressed by the white dusting on cars and tree branches.

During these winter months I have somehow forgotten all that I learned in my 18 years in PA. I am feeling really North Carolinian recently.

And for that reason I could not find a single good reason to get in my car and drive to work in this weather.

This morning I climbed off the floor and out of my bed, hiked up my long underwear and opened my back door to hit the bottons on my washing machine.

I was greeted with fat white snowflakes covering the rooftops surrounding my small porch.

I was pretty positive that the students and faculty of Hackuchi Elementary School would have no problem finding their way this morning. Guilford County would have felt differently.

I was reminded of the one snow day I celebrated as a Guilford County employee. Katie did not have to work either that day. Her and I and the boys that kept us company welcomed a day of cabin fever. Watching, maybe, four movies, drinking spiked cider, and waiting a really long time for the Way Out Wings delivery guy to get to Walker Ave.

This snowy day in Japan I found my way to school, through the southern style blizzard, and was greeted with a new tea ceremony set. Which answerd my questions as to why I braved the roads ...I got a grown up tea set.

My principal got it for me to take to monthly tea ceremony lessons. I asked her how much it was and she told me "high price. Every month you give me 1,000 yen" (about $10). I have no idea how long this once a month thing will last.

It dosen`t really matter. The tea set is another essential prop in Caity`s Adventures in Wonderland.

I thanked her and she told me that I bring happiness to the hearts of the people in the Hackuchi community. I am not totally sure what exactly I do to provide this happiness, but I took the compliment.

This is the first and most likely last day that I am slightly disappointed that I am no longer at General Greene. If I were in North Carolina on this snowy February 14th I know I would not be asked to drive to work and if I was I would be walking out with handfuls of chocolates, small house plants, and other gestures of American love.

But I geuss the fixings for a fancy Japanese tea party is way cooler than Krispy Kreme doughnut coupons.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Coffee breath and Cake face and Winter things

Outdoor activity was on the agenda for Saturday. Naturally, Saturday morning greeted Japan with rain.

Brad and I decided to get umbrellas and head to Naoshima Island anyways.

Naoshima is an island, off Shikoku, that is home to 3 museums and various large installations scattered about.
Late Saturday afternoon we took a ferry from Takamatsu to the art island. When we got there only one museum was still open.

The rain had stopped and the umbrellas made good walking sticks while we got a little lost.

We made it to the Benesse House Museum with just enough time to leisurely check everything out. And late enough that no one was around to charge us an admission fee.

Next. Cake. Coffee. Kudasai.

Please help me find a way to spend the rest of my days only drinking coffee and eating cake.

Sunday night Brad and I walked a couple minutes down his street to Hiroko and Taka's place. Hiroko's brother came over too. We drank beer under the kotatsu and watched Riku-chan (their cool baby) fumble around his pile of books and point at pictures of himself in photo albums.

Being that Taka is Japanese he has good hair. He tried to give Brad some hair styling advice. He brought out styling products and got serious about it.

It was a unanimous decision that the new hair style was a fly fashion move.

And apparently Murakami's Kafka on the Shore takes place in the Inland Sea area in Kagawa prefecture, where I was this weekend.

A part of Japan that I am close enough too to consider it as home.
Opening that book is on my list of things to do before this hibernation ends.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Cross cultural thoughts on prostitution

Every Friday I teach two adult language classes. Sometimes it is really awkward and I find my self laughing at the jokes then realize that it was all in Japanese and I have no idea what anyone just said.

Recently, I have been enjoying my intermediate class.
They are always eager to ask me questions about American politics.
They cannot believe that Americans do not follow Japanese politics.

Currently, they are all Obama supporters.

Today the political questions got complicated. I started to kind of make up answers. Or told them that I do not know how to explain that in simple English and I will tell them next week. When really I started to feel bad about kind of making things up.

I could tell them that all Americans ... YES all Americans decide who will become President. Not some council or something. But ALL PEOPLE. We all get to vote on that fateful day. They did not know that. Fuck yea freedom.

Then we started to talk about stereotypes.
One guy said that he saw a Western movie about Japanese people and the husband was making his wife sleep with other men. In the movie, the man was giving his wife as a gesture of kindness.
The guy who saw the movie was like, "No way any woman I know would let her husband do that !"

I asked the women what they would do. Most of them shook their heads, looking a little embarassed.

My favorite student said she would take his money. "I would steal all money from man I share bed with."

I laughed and smiled telling her "I am glad you would take his money ... that is good."

Then she said, "No, I would take money and kill him before." As she made a stabbing gesutre.

Alright. That makes things even more interesting.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The happenings of my head

ヶ ke
キ ki
ke ki

チ chi
ズ zu
chi zu

ド  do
ナ  na
ツ  tsu
do na tsu

ヌ nu
ド do
nu do

ウ u
イ i
ス su
キ ki
u i su ki
It has only taken me 6 months to get over the fact that I went to a Quaker school where I did not have to take tests, only write papers, therefore never properly learning the act of mundane memorazation that could be called studying.
But this thing called studying, memorizing answers that are only right or wrong, just makes everything even more Japanese.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Our one year anniversary

I am jumping the gun a little bit, our one year anniversary is not officially until February 17th, but I figured I would address it now.

Yes! It has been an entire year since Britney took a razor to those locks.
Her and I have really shared some special moments since then.

It was a year ago that I climbed into my car to drive through a snow storm to Washington DC. Then to have some strangers parallel park my car because I could not do it in the snow storm.

The next day I was able to bear my high heels long enough to score a job in Japan.
That night Rose picked me up off the sidewalk when the vodka and OJ/ unsalted icy road put me there more than once.

On the 17th I pulled myself out of Rose's bed well after the sun had finished its rounds.

Puffy eyed and hungover I walked into a potluck of young professional Washington DC types.

But there was Britney. Shaved head and all.

I am pretty sure it was even on CNN.

It was a moment of clarity for me. Britney understood. Britney got it.

I pulled it together for the rest of the night.
I was the highly emotional, hungover, high school friend of Rose's that people might have felt a little uneasy conversing with.
But, in a room full of expensive beer and really intelligent people talking about law school and politics ... I had Britney.

Britney only continued to really shine the next couple of weeks.

I was right there behind her. Supporting her every step of the way.

Paris in jail.
That was baby sh*t.

Britney with the umbrella.
Hardcore and awesome.

Thank you Britney.
I could not have asked for a better year.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Underdog

Everyday I am faced with the genuine option of being deaf, mute, and illiterate.

Luckily, the woman that sits to my right is proud of me when I am able to sound out keki or karaoke when written in Japanese script.

And the man that sits to my left will say "ohayo gozaimasu," even if our eyes do not meet for 45 minutes into the working day.

Too bad these subtleties do not allow me to understand what my coworkers are laughing about. Or what one of my students is crying about.
In moments of spontaneous giggles or tears, translations become something that disrupt the authentic eruption of emotion.

But these "gap years" spent in some confusion while problem solving is surely building character before I enter the "real world"....

During an entire real world day of being mute, deaf, and illiterate I am sometimes curious as to why I chose to spend this defining year of my life as I am. Why I have decided to sign on to another such year. And how these years are significant movements to build upon.

I am currently able to understand Angel's mother. Why a tall, beautiful woman with amazing hair was so shy to walk into General Greene Elementary school and greet me in English. Why her demeanor changed so drastically when Isaiah's Spanish speaking father joined the rest of the moms who came to help the kids glue together a picture frame for Valentines day.

I know why Salvador seemed a little more at ease when his classmates were being told to "hurry up and finish their lunch" that was reminiscent of something his own mother would make for dinner.

I will replace arigato gozaimasu with thank you. I will eat pickled vegetables at lunch. But, some days I come across cultural familiarities and I find myself taking a deep sign of comfort.

Four months in a country is a long time. Six months in a country is when it begins to feel short.

I only just realized that a Japanese house would live up to American mansion standards if it has more than one room with holes in the floor that allow excessive cooking followed, of course, by eating.

And only six months does not provide me with the knowledge of how I find myself dressed up like a traditional Japanese bride, on a Saturday afternoon. Becoming the center of hundreds of strangers pictures. And being led around the room by a woman (whose name I forget) because I could not wear my glasses with that wig.

All I can do is try to someday build up the guts and smarts to be able to ask questions and remain patient enough to listen to the answers.

And think about that one elementary student who disrespects everything about English. But, in his frustration of my pretending to know NO Japanese he finally asks, "one or two?" Then he pretends not to smile.