Monday, July 27, 2009

kiotskete ne

My internet will be turned off tomorrow so I suppose I should take this moment to write one last blog while in Japan. But I am really tired from crying at work and having the craziest karaoke time ever last night. I woke up this morning feeling like I had been beaten up. That is how crazy the karaoke got.

teeth sucking emotion

It is strange saying goodbye to things and people that I know I will probably never see again. People that I am sure I will not even have a chance meeting with because they will just go on doing their thing over here in Asia while I will be millions of miles away. It is stressful to have my work basically dictate everything about leaving this country at this point. But, I do feel incredibly lucky to have worked with some of the people I did. Especially the woman I worked with at the Junior High School for these last two years. She is an amazing teacher and I know that if I had had her as a foreign language teacher while I was in Junior High School I would have felt much more enthusiastic about that subject.

At least I do know I will be going out on a high note among the English teacher community in Tokushima. In some superlatives I walked away with best dancer, best dressed, and best personality. I think superlatives are a little dumb and I did not vote for anything. But, I will be real, when I heard about my big wins I basically thought that high school can suck and then I felt good about myself.

And saying goodbye to my foreigner friends is just really really sad because there are a couple of them that I just really like. I know I will see the important ones again. But, we will probably never get naked in a bath together again or casually eat dinner while sitting under the kotatsu.
Bar G
sweet ladies

And these are some of the most genuinely kind people I have met.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

What I Have versus What I Do Not Have

I have a lot of things I need to do. I do not have much time to do them. I need to be out of my apartment on July 28th. At which time I will no longer have a place to live. I do have a one way ticket to Beijing and a train ticket to Mongolia. Soon I will not have a job or health insurance. But, I did have the chance to do this:
Pass the Mic
The finger and floor

Which was important because it was really fun.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Meditating on the Good

This past week has been full of goodbye ceremonies. From Tuesday- Friday I went to a different school and was involved in some sort of ceremony. The most fun was certainly at Kawasaki Elementary School. There are only 10 students at that school and they did two dances and we ate homemade cake. Everything about that afternoon was just about perfect.
On Thursday, Hakuchi Elementary School held a farewell ceremony for both myself and another Japanese English Teacher. The students and teachers at Hakuchi have been wonderful these past two years. I wrote a speech in English and a Japanese friend kindly helped me translate it. I said it first in English and then in Japanese.
Both Julia and Brad have inspired me to write my farewell speech on my blog. I will write it in English only because, honestly, it is when I read the English words that I began cry and felt sincerely moved. I could have written so many things to this school but I kept it simple do to the fact that I had to read the Japanese and I wanted some people to understand the English.

Hakuchi Elementary School,
The first time I came here I was nervous. I remember meeting Morimoto Sensei and she said I looked very young. I was worried I could not be your English teacher. But everyone was very nice. Soon I felt welcomed.
When I came to Japan I thought I might be lonely because I was far away from home. I lived alone for the first time and I did not know anyone in Ikeda.
Because all of you always chatted with me, I felt comfortable and happy at school. I was not lonely.
Sometimes Japanese people seem to be nervous when they talk with foreigners. The teachers and students at Hakuchi Elementary School were not nervous. All the students talked to me. Now, everyone at this school can speak English to foreigners. All of the teachers can easily have conversations in English. And that made me feel very welcomed here.
Thursday became my favorite day of the week. Thank you very much for welcoming me into your community. I will remember you forever. I will miss Hakuchi Elementary School very much.

On my last Thursday at Hakuchi, students continued to hand me origami and personal notes. Girls told me again and again (in English) that they loved me. And unlike most people in this culture the students at this school give and get hugs. While I understood the significance of the ten year old who deeply bowed to me at other schools, the hugs I received at Hakuchi felt really good. The teachers also find it endearing that these students love hugs.
At the end of the day I ate cake with the teachers in the staff room. I said a few more words and the principle and two of my favorite teachers walked me to my car. After I put everything in my car I gave them each a hug. I drove off, feeling overwhelming sad that I may never see them again

On Friday, I asked the Japanese English teacher at the Jr. High to call my supervisor to tell her that I will have no where to stay once the new English teacher moves into my apartment. The only thing that was resolved from that call was that she can not help me close my bank account.

I went to a final work party last night. I thought I was going to walk out of there and feel more accomplished than I felt when I graduated from college. Instead, I spent time at the party talking about the many things that I need help with in my last few weeks here. My supervisor is refusing to speak with me directly because she finds it to hard to communicate with foreigners and others talk about how busy they are. Luckily, I have slowly found resources.

Feeling like I am putting others at such an inconvenience is defeating to say the least. One of the many things I have learned in the last two years is that Japan can be a xenophobic country. I have been refused at restaurants, told I am 'thin for an American', and had $200 taken from my wallet because people did not want to ask me for it directly.

But, for now, in these last two trying weeks, I am really attempting to meditate on the good things that have happened in the last two years. Because there have been plenty. The grandmother of a special needs student at one of my schools engraved my initials on a wallet. I have never met this woman but when I received this gift I thought that some of these students might genuinely remember me as a good teacher.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


This Tanabata I wished for an interesting and healthy future. Tanabata is up there in my top favorite holidays. Having the chance to legitimately make a wish is an incredibly hopeful feeling.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Naoshima's Bartender

I have been whining about returning to Naoshima for well over a year now. This past Sunday, Leah and I finally made it. The weather was beautiful and the only thing that went wrong was that no one brought sunscreen.

We took the ferry and rented bicycles.

We biked to the big pumpkin and took some pictures.

We went to the same museum I went to last time I was there. But this time the sun was out. So we went outside and took more pictures.

Then things began to take turns for the worst. People were hot, sunburned, biking up and down hills looking for some other exhibition, and no one had eaten lunch. We decided on the second cafe we found and agreed that just having a beer was going to be amazing. Leah started to fantasize about Hoegaarden. I told her to stop because we were probably going to have to drink Asahi. But, after walking our bikes up a narrow path we took our seats, looked at the drink menu, and there it was, Hoegaarden.
Summer Beers

We introduced the concept of putting a lemon in Hoegaarden to the cafe owner/ bartender. He drank one with us and we ordered another. He then let us sample the other brews he had along with the local sake.
Cafe Owner

Three hours later we finally left and laid in the grass to take more pictures. We only made it to one of the houses in the James Turrell Art House Project. Once we finally figured out where to go it was the last show in an exhibition about light. We got to go in for free. It was completely dark so Leah and I held hands. And after about ten minutes of complete blackness light gradually entered the room, giving us a perception of the space we had been sitting in.

We caught the ferry back and decided the sunburns were well worth it.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

What Perfect Smells Like

Sweaty, drunk, summer nights.

Fresh flowers in my kitchen.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Nothing is on Time

When nothing is coming when it is supposed to, it is hard to keep track of all the things you could do while you are waiting.

For example, still waiting for my passport with a Russian Visa inside.

My rental car oil light was on this weekend. Instead of paying attention to that I drove it to the beach and back on a rainy Saturday. I played in the waves and sat on the sand till my lips turned blue because it is hard to stay warm in the rain on a cloudy beach.
Then my car broke down on the highway Monday morning. When I finally got to work I cried in the staffroom and a co-worker I have never really talked to offered me his onigiri. I refused it.

The distance between places that have become home and places I have never seen is growing shorter.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

My life being reduced to pop-culture

Most mornings I wake up and put on colors that do not match because I cannot understand the concept of anything working in an uniform fashion. And somehow I have lived in JAPAN for almost two years.

In my sixth grade language arts classroom there was a sign that read something like "Never start a sentence with and, but, or because." I knew that was wrong. And I make it a point to always include one of those three words in the beginning of a sentence in something I write. I even ended up majoring in English in college; where those three words were encouraged (in the beginning of sentences) by brilliant professors of English. Though I know I have only begun my journey in mastering the English Language.

One of the few times I attended a full day of school my senior year of high school was Senior Skip Day. Just because I thought it was really dumb that everyone needed a scheduled day to play hooky to enjoy the sunshine.

I felt like the bumblebee girl in Blind Melon's No Rain video when I found Guilford Quaker College where boys demanded the right to wear skirts while they were giving campus tours.

After I graduated I spent a year working at an elementary school in North Carolina where I was the only 20- something neither married nor engaged.
That was hard.

Summer in Japan makes me feel crazy because everyone wears socks despite the warm weather. Even women in their twenties wear pantyhoes with their skirts at work.

I had to drive forty minutes out of town today because I needed a moment of anonymity. And when I got home I danced around my apartment because I am from America. Because America is a place where people eat outside, walk around barefoot, and dislike uniforms. But, I do love Japan. I love Japan because I have built relationships with second graders that have resulted in them sticking up for me when first graders question the presence of a foreigner on their playground. And I have gained the trust of co-teachers that call me to give me a lesson plan at 7:30 in the morning before they even call the school to say that they will not be in. And those two things are only the beginning in a list of reasons why this country will keep a piece of my heart.

Last year at this time I was going crazy and relating to a specific scene of the television show Weeds. This year I can taste freedom and I still relate to that same television series:

God only knows what I would have done had I not met people that refused to eat the weird meat at school lunch, mastered Japanese despite never having slept with a Japanese person, or been honest (in a mature fashion) about their sexual orientation while managing to be the town's favorite ALT.

And I will be able to tell everyone in this delicious and beautifully clean country that my only plan is to give up on making plans as I leave. And that certainly confuses and blows the minds of this organized culture.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A shortness in breath (and time).


A Final in Having Visitors

My parents have come and gone.
They arrived on a Thursday night from The States and left on a Tuesday afternoon for Thailand. I made reservations, I bought bus tickets and I led them through the doors of my life. Everyone got along and the only ailment was my mother's carsickness.
Everything went smoothly- god bless.
I met them at the airport and we took the train to Osaka. I could not figure out what train to transfer to and my father wanted to look at the directions. I figured it out and the following day my parents were at my mercy as I got us to Kyoto and Kiyomizudera temple.
In front of Kiyomizudera

Rainy Day

I made reservations at a fancy Japanese Ryokan. My parents found it to be the highlight of the trip. The room was beautiful and I understood what people in their sixties want to do when they have just traveled thousands of miles from home.
Our Room from the Garden

We were served dinner in our room and the multiple course meal was the most fabulous Japanese culinary experience.
Dinner Time

We went to the Kyoto botanical gardens. And, perhaps, most importantly, my parents really understood karaoke.
Mom and Flowers

Brad picks Songs

After a bus ride and car ride we arrived in Ikeda. We went up the mountains where my mom got car sick and my father looked genuinely pleased to be outside on the Iya Valley vine bridge.
Posing on Bridge

I took them to my favorite elementary school where the students and teachers showed my parents the same hospitality they have showed the other visitors in my life. Gifts were exchanged. My mother gave a book that her school had made. My parents were given fans.
A Gift from St. Pauls
Everyone got to the bus stop on time. And I took the last and deepest visitor breath.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

I Would

I would move to the countryside and find a ballet school that puts on the ballet Sleeping Beauty in a junior high school gymnasium.

Last Sunday I wore a tutu, a lot of make-up, and a crown.

I took stage directions in Japanese at the dress rehearsal on Saturday night and Sunday morning. I did not understand any of them.
My costume had to be sewn up in the back when my Western Style curves busted through. This was after a woman pretended to squeeze my breast.

The costumes and make-up were more involved than anything I have ever been a part of before.

My ballet teacher was in the ballet and when she dances I am convinced she is one of the most beautiful women on earth.

And now I would be perfectly happy never hearing the music to Sleeping Beauty again.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Talking about her TV

Discussing the important things.

"You shouldn't let poets lie to you."

More Friday Nights

To keep calm and sane.

Dinner 1
Ashely pops the cork

And the company that binds the comfort.
Smoke Break

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Trusty Toyota: What a Waste

The phrase 'mottainai' is a common Japanese phrase used to describe wasteful situations. I often hear it when school lunch goes unfinished. Or, perhaps, when shoes are thrown out because they were found on the back porch upon moving in.
A friend of mine moved to a different apartment, discarding old spices (that had probably been in the kitchen for years). His garbage bags of seemingly useful condiments did not go unnoticed and he said he heard a series of "mottainai" in his move.
I sort my garbage into six different types. This is a fairly common number. And to throw out any large appliance one must pay a fee. Japan claims that this is because they are eco with a "mottainai" mantra.
BUT I have to pay $1200 to KEEP an old car that is running perfectly.

Every two years Japanese cars must have a sort of inspection to renew the shaken. My shaken ended May 13th. When I went to the repair shop to get my shaken renewed I was laughed at and told my car should be scrap. Everyone thought it ridiculous to spend that amount of money on that car. Especially because it has a dent in it.
Shaken simply exists to keep old cars like mine off the road in Japan.

It is hard to justify spending $12oo on a car when I will be leaving in two months and cannot find anyone who wants to buy it from me. And when I realized I would have to pay a $370 car tax and renew my expensive car insurance to keep my car I gave in and decided to scrap it.
Hopefully Japanese society is happy now that I got rid of a perfectly good car that has (in my opinion) aged gracefully.
Sending this car to the junkyard is the most wasteful thing I have ever been a part of. But I was not willing to give up $1800 to prevent this waste.

Japan is priding itself on not committing the "mottainai" crime as everyone drives around in new cars and refuses to waste rice from school lunch but will walk away from sashimi at a work party.
So I gave over my car keys today and some man with bad teeth in dirty mechanic's clothes will come pick it up tomorrow.

A lot of kilometers where put on that car. By some people that I never even met. I put about 40,000 of those kilometers on it. I drove myself to work almost everyday. Happy to not have to rely on someone else to get me there when I have to rely on other people to help me with virtually everything else I do. I spent Monday mornings driving across Tokushima, after spending Sunday nights eating relaxing dinners in the company of a friend. I drove about an hour from home on solo thrift store trips when loneliness was heavy and used clothing was as familiar as anything could get. I drove over mountains on Thursday nights to spend the evening with a family member and sleep in a bed.

One of the first seemingly adventurous trips I took in the Toyota one was up the narrow, gravel road to Hashikura temple.

The last was a trip around Kyushu.
last car

When the Sunday of my 25th birthday weekend came my car had gone west to have thanksgiving with family, east to do karaoke with friends, west (again) to give a speech about Obama, back (a little east) to dance with smoke machines at a club, east to give Christmas gifts to orphans and finally back a little west toward home. With the end of that weekend my car was scattered with empty champagne bottles, birthday gifts from friends, birthday cards from students, wrapping paper, and probably some weird food.
Countless other adventures were had in that car. Some of which are so precious they will only exist in my handwritten journals. Some of which are just weird and I would not want to write about them on the internet.

Thus is the beginning of a series of memories that will be associated with Japan, more specifically Shikoku.

RIP Toyota Tercel
Me and my trusty Toyota


And what a waste.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

How I come to school

Last March the junior high school I spent almost 20 months driving to closed. The building was not up to any current building codes (though I do not think too many buildings around here are). Somehow no natural light made it into any of the rooms and the staffroom either smelled of kerosene or was unbearably hot.

I now have to actually be at work at 8 a.m. which is both unfortunate and difficult. But the new school is close enough to walk to. Spending the first 10 minutes of my day walking to work as opposed to driving improves everything about the very beginning of my day.

I listen for my neighbor to leave, wait a moment, and enjoy 10 minutes of solitude, in the sunshine, on my feet.



I walk past the weird old liquor store. Up the hill, staying to the left of a temple. I watch the elementary school children, who clearly do not want to go to school, pick up rocks or take a long pause while they drink from the water bottle that hangs around their neck. I can completely empathize with those students.
I then walk past the elementary school and the nursery school.


Then I get to the new junior high school building. Which uses solar energy and has a ton of windows allowing for natural light. The staff room and many of the classrooms smell like new wood.

And once I get there by foot it is a little easier to deal with the weird things that go on inside, despite the buildings pleasant appearance.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

It was so fun I could hardly hold a camera

Last weekend Ashely celebrated her 25th birthday. She rented a few bungalows on top of a mountain in the town of Mino. We barbecued and drank beer and wine. I have been to this bungalow area a few other times before to lay on the rope pirate ship/ castle structure and star gaze. Never though in the company of so many people.

A bunch of twenty something English teachers slide down the slide to arrive on the rope pirate ship. I sat next to Brad and Christine and reminisced about my first weekend in Japan when I went up there with a few people that live near me. That evening I remember talking to Brian about my teaching goals and feeling confident that Ashely would become a friend I could confide in. At least, I think I reminisced about that with Brad and Christine, I cannot be entirely sure what was going on.

One thing that I do know, I had so much fun I was only able to take these pictures:


And the next day standing up was hard.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I found those shorts in the supermarket lost and found and they fit me like a glove.

On Sunday I believed that that day was one of the worst days of my life. I suppose having the worst day in your life in a fairly standard procedure for many people. Typically, mine revolves around the fact that I did not do some productive thing I was supposed to do or wanted to do due to some seemingly tragic circumstance. I then lay in bed till an obscenely late hour and do not eat enough. Chances are, I will spend time in my head feeling anger towards most people I had any sort of recent interaction with.
I think that is a common worst day of my life scenario. That was Sunday.

On Monday I did not have to go to work. Neither did Ashely and Brian. I wore shorts that I found at a supermarket. The three of us had a pizza picnic and we waded around in a river because the countryside we live in is beautiful in the springtime.

That day made the worst day of my life seem really far away.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Kyushu Road Trip

The beginning of May is Golden Week in Japan. Or a succession of holidays. On Saturday I reset my car odometer to zero and Brad, Dianne, and I set off to the town of Yawatahama to catch the ferry to the island of Kyushu.
My car came on the ferry with us. Our first destination was Mt. Aso, an active volcano in the center of Kyushu. Once we arrived in the Aso area we drove past a sign for Ubuyama camp grounds. We debated making the right turn towards the camp. Dianne chimed in with a certain "yes" and making that turn was, perhaps, one of the better decisions that has been made in my lifetime.

The campground turned out to be abandoned. But a friendly elderly lady came to tell us that we were more than welcomed to stay there. So we did. She told us that it had been abandoned for two years. And assured us that the vicious sounding dogs were in fact cute.

We set up the tent, built a campfire and drank whiskey. We wrote a number of songs next to the camp fire. Perhaps the most memorable being, "Nobody Goes to Shikoku".
It was a perfect evening. Freestyle camp fire songs and whiskey are about all I need to keep me happy.
We emerged from the tent the following morning to play on the bull at the campsite and pack up the car to drive towards one of the largest active volcanoes in the world.

We wanted to walk to the volcano as opposed to drive. I do not think many people walk as we could not find any sort of path. Luckily, the volcanic terrain kept many trees from covering the hills so getting lost while wandering did not seem too likely.
We made it to the summit of some mountain and decided to continue towards the famous crater as opposed to scaling back down the side of the steep hill we pulled ourselves up. By the time we got to the base of the crater it was closed do to the toxic gas that volcanoes emit. A policeman gave us a ride back to our campsite. Though we were unable to make it to the volcano all the citizens of Shikoku were elated to just be outside, surrounded by so much green grass.

Rain hit the tent through the night at our campsite next to Mt. Aso. And the following morning we drove to the crater, just catching a glimpse of it through the rain clouds. With gray clouds in the sky we decided to take a drive further south to Takachiho Gorge.
The gorge was picturesque, but full of Japanese tourists with their cameras.
I payed about $3 to go into the Fresh Water Aquarium. Which was basically the goldfish section of a pet store.
The three of us then came to the decision to drive back to our beloved Ubuyama campsite. After an onsen and supermarket stop I drove in the dark, through the rain to arrive well into the night at the abandoned campground. Only a few minutes after our arrival did the friendly old lady pull up in her car to greet us once again and let us know we were still welcomed.

We woke up to the sound of weed whackers and lawnmowers. We played frisbee in the grass and Dianne and I showed proper appreciation to the egg gift that the friendly old lady had given us upon our first visit.
The last day was spent in the onsen town of Beppu. Despite all the complaining I do about Japan I am certain that Beppu is one of the most special places on earth with it's 400 plus hot springs.

After one of the worst dinning experiences of my life we took the bus to the mud onsen. Sulfuric gas naturally heats the water and mud under your feet. Dianne and I covered ourselves in the smooth gray mud and crawled around like monsters with a Japanese child who we befriended.

After four full days in Kyushu we boarded the ferry back to Shikoku. By the time we arrived in Ikeda I had clocked in just under 900 km on my car.