Sunday, August 31, 2008

That Something New

My scalp is pink and my car is scattered with sand. I woke up, this morning, next to the ocean, tangled in my sleeping bag.
Tomorrow morning, junior high schools across Japan will hold the fall semester opening ceremony and I feel cleansed, ready to begin that something new.

Summer spirits end with August. And September brings hope of new dedications. I will introduce some new things into my life:
I will actually study Japanese.
I will eat more raw vegetables instead of Asian noodles.
I will do yoga more frequently.
I will watch more Japanese films instead of American television shows.
I will save money.
I will go to bed earlier instead of napping.
I will find moments to remind myself- hey, I live in Japan and that is interesting/weird/challenging/ a good place to do the above things.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Youth in Asia

Last weekend I went to the J-pop concert Monster Bash.

I got on an early train with Ashely and Hiro. On the train, we sat across from Ashely's high school students and the vice principal of her school who were also going to Monster Bash.

Once we got off the train we had to wait for the shuttle to take us to the venue, thus beginning our wait in the first of many cue's for the day. Everyone stood patiently and orderly in the well organized line.

And once we arrived at Monster Bash I was surrounded by Japanese Youth who were ready to dance and sing along to J-pop.

They were armed with wristbands like this:
(which I do not really want to talk about).

They held tight to their matching hand towels that were swung around in unison, in time with the music.

Everyone sang along to lyrics of songs that featured English words about "living to be an American."
And there were moments of everyone grabbing the shoulder of the person next to them and jumping up and down while smiling and giggling.

Last year I went to this same event and I was enthralled with the extreme fashion and haircuts. This year I stood around, dodging the rainfall, as I had seen it all before and perhaps seem to have a better understanding of where it all stems from. Though the Engrish on many of the t-shirts suggested a rebellious attitude the reality of these individuals are far from that.

When it comes to rebellion America is far ahead of Japan. Being progressive and somewhat rebellious to the youth of Japan means living alone as an adult. "Mortgages for unmarried home buyers were only available after 1981" (Perfectly Japanese).

Musicians stood on stage, telling the audience to "fight through the rain." And everyone did fight really hard, to smile and laugh despite being wet.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Leah- chan in Japan

Early this summer I had moments when Japan and I were not getting along so well. I missed my family. I missed my friends back home. I was tired of people asking me to put on a Yukata, so they could take a picture of me. I thought I threw away my pension form because I can rarely read my own mail. I was tired of "cute" being the only adjective that was used to describe me. I kept reminding myself that my cousin Leah would be in Japan next year and even if she was far away I knew I would be able to see her at some point and that made me feel good.

Then I found out that she would be in the neighboring prefecture, Kagawa. And I could not have picked her placement better.

I went to visit her the first weekend she was here. I drove up and down the mountains that face my apartment and 50 minutes later, I was at her door.

She took the train to Ikeda last weekend and we shared memories of the sleepovers we have had in our lifetime.

I recollected an evening when my immediate family was heading to Squirrel Hill to spend the evening with her immediate family. Right before we left, my mom asked me where my sleepover stuff was because the plan was that I stay to spend the night with Leah. I was so mad at my mother because no one had asked me about this. I was being told about this sleepover. So, I decided, on my own, that I would not spend the night.

As I told this story to Leah she said, "I remember that, that was not that long ago!"
And I replied, "I think I was eleven or twelve." But, I guess if you have known someone for 22 years eleven or twelve years ago could be classified as somewhat recently.

Now that Leah is just over the mountain, I am the one who wants to have the sleepovers. She has a full sized bed.

I sleep on a futon, on the floor, every night.
While I miss family and friends, I still long for that queen sized bed I slept in when I lived in Greensboro, NC.

And now a comparable bed exists just around the corner.

After years of dinner with the entire family, around large dinning room tables, Leah and I can share the tatami floor, make our own dinner, and share a bottle of wine between just the two of us.
And she is yet another person in my life that could go on about Pittsburgh being one of greatest American cities.
A person with enough pride to buy a pair of shoes (that she found here in Japan) due to two famous colors and three famous numbers.

And I found my pension form this afternoon, buried under a bunch of other papers on my desk.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dancing Fools

As far as I am concerned, Awa Odori is the biggest thing that ever happens in Japan. Tokushima hosts Awa Odori every August. Awa Odori is said to be the second biggest dance festival in the world, behind the Brazilian Carnival.

The people of Tokushima prepare for Awa Odori all year. I went to an Awa Odori dance practice in February. And tonight is the first night since early June that I have sat in my small apartment, with the windows open, and not listened to the constant beat of the familiar Awa Odori taiko drum.

In it's most simplistic form, the Awa Odori dance involves lifting ones arms over ones head while rhythmically tapping feet leads ones body forward. These simple steps can be complicated into choreographed dances of flipping fans and lanterns, jumping in and out of spectators views, and balancing acts of wearing traditional Japanese shoes. And of course, the dancers find ways to incorporate bottles of sake and manage to maintain their grace as sake is being poured into one another's mouths.

During Awa Odori, dancers dance in groups or "rens." Each ren has it's own style and name. Musicians follow close behind their ren playing shamisens, taikos, and fues.

I danced with the Arasowaren in Tokushima city, with a bunch of other foreigners. I danced with the same ren last year when I first arrived.

But, due to larger numbers, this year we danced in rows of six as opposed to last years rows of five. And taking advantage of the free beer was not of such high concern.

After one night of being a spectator and one night of being a participate, in Tokushima city, I headed back to Ikeda for the smaller and perhaps more raw, mountain version of the festival.

On the last night of Awa Odori I had more people crammed into my small apartment than have ever been here before. An old Japanese lady made Leah and I put on yukatta's.

And I balanced a beer and my camera while I waved to my students whom I would like to take dance lessons from.

The people of Ikeda have stopped their daily practices of the Awa Odori traditions, for the summer. But I know I will find myself pulled into some impromptu Awa Dance situation dozens of times before I am able to leave the country side of Japan.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


17 days in the US of A and I have returned to Japan feeling blessed. Blessed to have the family and friends I have. I spent 17 days falling deeper in love with every person I reconnected with. And those 17 days served as CPR for the next year of Japanese self- discovering solitude that all foreigners frequently find themselves in.

My vacation could not have come at a better time. I would like to know what happens in the human body when a person knows that vacation is on the way. Every time I am about to have a break, from whatever it is I am doing with my life, it is like that break could not come at a better time. My trip to the USA was no exception. Perhaps it even came a little late.

On the morning of July 16th, Brad and I boarded, yet another, flight together. We finally landed in Pittsburgh via Detroit a couple minutes early. Brad's father met us at baggage claim and my parents were a few moments behind him. I hugged my mother and father and cried. People around us stared and smiled. Greetings at the arrivals gate hold a sort of safety where people hug and their hands and heads find those familiar spots of home and love.

My mother turned 61 on July 16th and my niece Caroline and I created a life long bond that I will miss more than anything else while I am away from home.

The family members of Squirrel Hill threw a party that weekend. Caroline maintained her role as the star of the party.

Other's patiently watched.

By the end of my first week at home I was more than ready to get in my car and begin my great American road trip of summer 2008.
Wednesday evening I got on the Pennsylvania turn pike heading eastward to Philadelphia.
Rachel met me outside her home at about 1 a.m. We wasted no time. We blew up the air mattress, watched the somewhat frightening show "I Survived" and nervously giggled.

Then Matt Goldman came! And of course Adam was there! And that Friday night we giggled even harder, until the sun rose.

While we laughed the thought that consumed me most was how much sense it makes to take your shoes off inside, the way people do in Asia. And how is it so weird that people in America even wear their shoes in the bathroom.

I got back in the car Saturday morning and spent nine hours driving south toward Greensboro, NC.

Again, no time was wasted. I met Molly at her new home at the Melrose Place of Ed Mckay's. And it was right back in the car to the place I might have missed most, College Hill.

For the sake of tradition, that Sunday morning was spent at Smith Street Diner.

Summertime in North Carolina means breaking and entering and swimming. Whether this be by day at an apartment complex where no one I know lives.

Or by night where I might need the assistance of a friend to help me over the inconvenient gate.

It was a good time to be in Greensboro. Both Eryn and Emily were moving at the end of the week, so the city was consumed by vibes of partying and hugging.

Eryn is moving to Louisville, KY- a southern city that manages to keep its cool. Eryn's going away party consisted of cupcakes, dogs, more giggling, and the movie Smiley Face.

That night could be placed in the role call of some of the best nights of all times. It began as we roasted marshmallows. Once everyone was full of smores we made our way to blankets and lawn furiture. I sat down with Cara and Rory and the movie was projected onto the homemade, outdoor, big screen.

And I was reminded of how much Greensboro loves The Everybody Fields.

The night ended with yet another swim.

While I was in Greensboro, Cara cut my hair in her new, fancy, place of employment. Emily Mayer loved me enough to convince Molly and I to come to Westerwood Tavern.

Goodbye hugs were given around bonfires.

And friends wrapped their arms around me in ways that people do not do in Asia.

Most importantly, I shared similar glances with people that I had shared when I was just 18.

And if those looks have survived the last six years, I feel secure that they will last for years to come.

On Wednesday evening, I drove past Pilot Mountain and said goodbye to North Carolina once again.

My last few days in the USA were spent buying gifts for people in Japan and more shoes that comfortably fit my feet.

I rode a ferris wheel with Caroline and we looked down on the rest of the world, smiling and waving to those who will always stand close by, making sure we are safe and happy.

On Saturday morning, Caroline and her family came over one last time to say goodbye. As we walked outside, my dad carried my bags to the car and Caroline looked around asking, "where is the airplane, is it here now?"
At the airport, I cried, my mother cried, my father teared up, Brad had to watch me cry again, and I think Brad's brother felt awkward.

After a Japanese meal in the Detroit airport, Brad and I had a final farewell to American soil.
A few hours later the Japanese sun and Mt. Fuji welcomed us back.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Corner of Scott and Walker

Shared a home for a year. And have, possibly, always shared a similar love for boys and television.

Golly Gee

I am back and big in Japan. I am hoping to laugh, love, and speak as much as I did while I was in the USA.
That means taking big steps away from all the screens that typically consume my life and trying to understand why instant coffee is so appropriate in the summer.