Sunday, November 30, 2008

Happiness is a ...

November 28, 2008 was two things. The day I turned 25 as well as one of the best days of my life.
I made it a point to promote my birthday this year. Last year was somewhat of a disappointment. None of my co-workers or students knew it was my birthday last year and it fell on a Wednesday.

This year my birthday fell on the Friday after American Thanksgiving. I was sure to mention this date to my adult conversation classes, which mets on Fridays, as well as my favorite elementary school that I also visit that day of the week.

I woke up Friday morning at Leah's. We skyped our family who were just getting ready to sit down and eat turkey.
My niece Caroline joined the conversation and we spent time virtually kissing each other.

I walked into my beginner conversation class to see a table with pastries and coffee. One member of the class played Happy Birthday on her flute like instrument and I was truly shocked.
Japanese people do not treat birthdays the same way Americans do. Americans seem to place much more emphasis on individuals. Whether that be with hopes that one person can save a country or that a birthday is a day when one person should be given an obscene amount of attention.
When these ten Japanese people heard my subtle requests to have a birthday celebration I felt appreciated, among other things.
The following hour my intermediate class also brought sweets and tea.
The man to my right celebrated his 78th birthday on November 28th. He told me that being old is a struggle. I talked about how excited I am to someday be retired.

That afternoon a group of 5th grade girls stopped me, before I could walk inside the elementary school, to wish me happy birthday. And a steady stream of students followed this pattern giving me more hugs than I have ever received in one day.
The 3rd grade students would not let me into their class room for the first 15 minutes of class because they were busy preparing my gifts. They drew pictures of me and one girl gave me a four leaf clover. My favorite picture is of me (looking very Japanese, so maybe it is not me) in front of a mountain, captioned "Let's climb the mountain. It looks interesting" (in Japanese). Whoever it is supposed to be in the picture I love that that is something my students think of when they think of me.

I drove to Brad's that evening. Dianne provided the drinks.
Last year I ate Mexican food on my birthday. This year we did the same, but Dave (the cook and owner from California) brought out a brownie with a candle.
The party continued at karaoke.
And when we got back to Brad's out came the cake.
And the first day of my 25th year began with my favorite hangover meal of all time.
I could not have created a better day in my imagination.
Old friends and family took a moment to stay in touch. And relatively new friends gave me plenty of deserved birthday attention.
I constantly struggle with what it is I will walk away with after living in Ikeda for two years. Perhaps valued personal relationships is an obvious answer to that question.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Speaking English in Tokyo

Last weekend was spent in Tokyo, speaking English to Japanese people, and determining that I have spent a lot of time in this country which could someday result in me going crazy.

Leah and I got on the Shinkansen Friday evening. We made sure we had ample snacks for the three and a half hour ride from Okayama to Tokyo.
As well as a lot of plastic bags apparently.
We accidentally hopped on the smoking train. Which is basically a party for business men who just got off work.
The Shinkansen is the fastest train in the world. It was comparable to a spaceship which makes for an interesting setting for a bunch of salary men to get drunk in.

We arrived in Tokyo with time to grab one of the last trains to our hostel. From there the two of us set out to do some karaoke. Which is when it starts to get strange.
Just me, and my little cousin Leah, in Tokyo, setting out to find the karaoke rooms so we can do some sober karaoke.
We did and it was really fun.
But it is Japan. Leah and I both seem to have a sort of understanding of this country. Which results in utilizing the local culture for fun.

The following day Leah was my guide around the big city. After witnessing a line around the block just to get into the newest H&M it was determined that the economy in Japan could never really fail because people will always go shopping. Which could be perceived as a relief, I guess.

We ate spicy ramen at the only trendy ramen shop in existence.
As well as cake and pizza later in the evening.

While walking from the Italian restaurant to the subway a bunch of Care Bears caught my eye. The inner Japanese girl in me came out as my eyes glazed over and I whispered "kawaii."
I tried to grab one.
Leah tried to grab one.
And of course, we eventually won one.

We then boarded a shuttle to Ageha, arguably the coolest club in Tokyo. Which, I suppose would make it one of the cooler clubs in this little world. The Care Bear came with us on the shuttle, which in Japan is pretty normal.
The entrance fee for the club was about $35. And drinks were about $7. Luckily, Tokyo is full of people who speak English. And people that are eager to approach the foreign girl on the dance floor.
Tokyo was refreshing. I felt like people have seen plenty of foreigners. Many of the foreigners I saw looked as if they lived in Tokyo. Japanese people spoke English to me with ease Saturday night.
I spent most of the evening dancing near the outdoor pool. The DJ was to my right and the Tokyo skyline ahead of me. My new friends continually pulled me back onto the dance floor every time I attempted to slip away to go find Leah. As the sun began to come up I found myself wondering, once again, about this strange life I live. This huge club in Tokyo was fun. The pretty girl that kept grabbing my face and telling me I was cute was also pretty fun. But I think I discovered the definition of cool with ice burgh lettuce salads and episodes of The Office on DVD. But, for whatever reason, Japan seems to provide me with some sort of energy that motivates me to dance for hours and travel long distances most weekends. I think if I continued to thrive off the sort of energy that keeps me moving until 4 a.m. easily I would eventually go crazy.

Leah and I caught the first train home Sunday morning and made it to her friend's apartment to watch the sunrise over Fuji.
This weekend, two different people guessed I was between 19 and 22 . I will be 25 on Friday.
Oh. Japan.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Before last night, it had been a long time since I had been in the backseat of a cop car.

My Tuesday evening began as all good Tuesday evenings do. Leah cut my bangs, then we drove to the seaside town, Nio to eat at Cafe de Float. This cafe is a dinning gem. Alongside YRG cafe in Tokushima city, it fulfills the stylish fantasies I had about Japanese cultural before arrival. An interesting young couple owns and cooks at the restaurant. The specials are written in chalk on a small blackboard mounted on the wall. The collection of English reads are geared towards those who enjoy traveling. None of the tables look the same. Other young people always come in. And international music plays at just the right volume.

We left around 9 with the sweet and innocent intention of finding the nearby mall before closing time.

I took the left turn that the hip man at Cafe de Float had told me to take and I then drove over train tracks. Moments later police sirens wailed behind me and Leah and I laughed as we realized that I was being pulled over.

I had always felt invincible driving in Japan. Perhaps it is because others drive like maniacs. In Japan, no one slows down for yellow and speed limits are rarely real. I knew I had not stopped before the train tracks as the law suggests you do. But, I did not know that traffic laws were ever enforced.

The police men pulled up in front of my car and as they walked toward my car it continued to be comical.
The police in the States are frightening. They will always pull up behind your car. And they will wait about 10 minutes, with their lights flashing in your rear view mirror as they run your plates, before they get out of their car. As they approach your car their gun and billy-club stand out, no matter how dark it is.

As both a younger and an older police officer stood at my window I began with the "wakarimasen" (I do not understand). I thought they might just grow tired of this quickly and leave. They kindly told me to get out of my car and invited me into theirs.

The inside of this police car was clean and warm. The seats were large and soft. There was no glass that separated the backseat from the front. They began to take my information and I continued to suggest that I did not understand anything that they were saying.

The older man then began to write out a number on what appeared to be a ticket. I realized I did not have anytime to talk myself out of it.
I took a deep breath and collected all the tears I could. I began to sniffle and speak in a soft voice. I wiped my eyes with my shirt sleeves. I told them, "gomen, gomen" (sorry, sorry). They continued to write out the ticket and these tears only made them feel awkward. They then asked me how long I had lived in Japan. I told them (in Japanese) that I lived in Japan for one year. I said I came August. Twenty- Seven.

As they checked my license and wrote out my ticket they told me how good my Japanese is and said that they think I study.

I put my head on the back of the older man's car seat. It felt soft and new. They asked me my phone number and after I gave it to them (in Japanese). I leaned up into the front seat and pulled the sheet of paper towards me to double check the numbers.

They handed me my $90 ticket and I gave them a finger print. I felt as if I had sat through that process as a favor to them. I felt as if I could have told them that I was actually busy and I needed to go, anytime during that interaction.

They did not make me do a field sobriety test, they did not even ask if I had been drinking and there was no k-9 unit threat.

Neither cop attempted to intimidate me in any manner. Getting back in my own car I was disappointed that the dashboard is not fancy and the heat does not work as well as the police officers car.

As I walked from their car to mine they called out "take care, take care" till I shut my door. There was no concern from the pits of my stomach. Only a dent in my wallet. That being said, I hope you have enjoyed reading this because it cost me about $90.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Struggle

The kotatsu is on. It makes me delirious in a state of warmth and comfort.

Last week in my adult conversation class we talked about cultural stereotypes. I figured America would consist of big everything- houses, people, cars, meals. But, we sat around the table and took it a step further. To them, America is now a nation that is in trouble economically and sends soldiers to many parts of the world.
I hear that the unemployment rate in the USA will continue to increase. I have a feeling that things there might be a struggle.

A few weeks ago I joined my elementary school while we all watched sumo, for the first time. In a town where the isles in the grocery stores are narrow and a kitchen and one tatami room is all the space I use, the size of these wrestlers seemed inhuman.

Once this season of hot feet and more firsts is through I hope I can embrace the struggle.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Things must start somewhere:

One persons thought can lead to an action which can suddenly involve a community.
The original association may seem different to each person even if it is related, loosely, to the same picture.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

I am Over Anarchy

I came from Sano Elementary to Hakuchi Elementary. I asked the secretary to put on the news and I saw that Obama had over 100 electoral votes while McCain only had 40 some and Obama had taken Pennsylvania. I walked into the 6th grade class everyone was observing and, like so many America's did that day, I cried. I looked around the room realizing, like I often do, that I look so different than everyone else in that room. But I am the citizen of a country where these differences are embraced and President Obama understands the importance of cultural differences. For a moment, I felt like I was doing something that made sense.

I woke up this morning and I felt like I had spent the night with a new love. I walked around school with a smile and a glow. It was that feeling you get when you first meet someone amazing. You cannot imagine that there will be challenges or you could ever be angry again. You never really understood this feeling before. It is a feeling that has always existed deep inside you but only certain things could bring it out.
Today it was a feeling of actually loving the country I come from. I am not angry at it. Despite the Walmarts, fast food, ignorance, intolerance, nonsensical drug wars, really bad high school teachers, corrupt cops, high cost of prescription medication, abstinence sex education, and the many other things I have spent the last 24 years despising, I can look past it. The majority of my country just might get it. These things that made me want to move may be seen as retro in the years to come. Or, at least, that is what I rolled over to this morning.

Yesterday I drove for an hour and spent a lot of money on tolls to get to Tokushima city so I could hang out with other Americans to celebrate.
We ate Mexican food.
I toasted to not recontacting to another year in Japan.
Then we drove around shouting things like "Obama gozaimashta" and "OtsukareBama " which is really funny to people who speak the amount of Japanese that we do.
I have also realized that chills often begin in my knees and fingers. Then move to the rest of my body.

Monday, November 3, 2008

We have seen this all before.

I have spent the last six Autumns tucking sheets into the corners of different beds. But, this October I have been cooking in the same kitchen as I did last and cleansing in the same shower.
Last winter I constantly listened to the National album Boxer while I drove to Ikeda's various elementary schools and the Jr. High. When I listen to that album now the familiarity gives me chills. At the time, I was so curious as to how the sun was going to fall the following day at a certain hour. I had no idea what a mid-January evening in Japan felt like.
Now, as Japan never changes it's clock, a 6 p.m. dark sky in early November holds no anticipation.

Regardless of where I am or what I am doing I know each year will have differences. Some of them will be welcomed, some of them not. But, this last weekend I took the opportunity to embrace the familiarity of a Fall in Japan.

It was another Halloween of putting a costume on in Naruto. Then transporting into Tokushima city. Where singing,

and dancing

continued till a pillow was under my head.

As time has a way of doing, it just slips by when there are so many things to see. This weekend could serve as the last for some Iya Autumn camping. Brad and I packed up my Toyota once again and this time the roads were familiar.

I hate to say that I may never return to somewhere I love. But, Iya is a hard place to get to without a car and Fall is it's best season. So the 500 yen was dished out to walk across the vine bridge this time.

Of course there were more onsens and soba. As well as the general feeling of contentment that can only be found when a tent is unzipped to welcome morning's warm colors of leaves.

I am not sure if everything is the exact same or completely different this season. Either way it manages to feel unique.