Back Home and My Fortune (New Year’s 2021)

So, I’m late on the new year’s wishes and felicitations. That’s OK, right?

I travelled back to my hometown of Gotemba for the occasion. Arriving at night, the town was as quiet as ever. But I could see that the old royal residence wasn’t immune to the tides of time.

The Subway I had eaten at many times was no longer there, much to my dismay. They’ve been disappearing slowly across the country, I feel. Would anyone be interested in investing in some sub stock? I could really use a good sandwich!

A few steps from Subway, there was a ramen shop I’d aim to partake of every Friday to celebrate the end of the week, but that too was either closed or gone. I still couldn’t tell after squinting in through the window from across the street.

Here are some more highlights from my trip:

When I lived in Gotemba, there was a Tourist Information shop underneath a hotel across from the station on the north side. Imagine my surprise seeing this new, fancy building on the south side. Not only was this there, the city had refurbished its shuttle area, too. It’s certainly more organized now!
Sun Sun Plaza was a shopping center I’d often go to. It had a drug store, a supermarket, a Daiso, a small arcade, and a few clothing shops. No longer will it be standing there in the future, as it’s gated off to be demolished. I still have the sweatshirts from that place!
Mt. Fuji in the background. My camera phone simply cannot catch the closeness in which the mountain is. Truly, I feel such kinship with this icon of Japan.
The Gotemba Premium Outlets are a hotspot for shopping and deals on expensive items. The lines for Nike and Adidas were out the door with scheduled time slots for the Pokémon Store. I managed to score some new sweatshirts that are… hand wash only. UGH!
The hotel I stayed at had some osechi for breakfast! The konbu roll hit me a bit hard. They must’ve used something that tasted like peppermint. I didn’t enjoy it.

Lastly, I took some time out on Sunday to hit up my local shrine for my yearly fortune. Before you skip ahead, you can read what last year’s fortune had in store for me!

The quote about the plum blossom blooming after a hard winter fulfilled its prophecy as we all stumbled into a year with Uncle Covid. Seriously, who invited him? Not only did I have familial brushes with possible infection, I also lost my Aunt Judy. She had a brain aneurysm that ripped her rather violently from us and I’m still sad knowing I won’t ever see her again.

Let’s have a moment of silence. That 2020 fortune had “a sad event” pinned down to a T.

I panicked too after hearing that my only grandma had fallen and broken her leg. What a heart stopper that was! I thought I would have to drop everything and move back home. Mixed in there was a several month-long mental breakdown that had me questioning if I even belonged on this earth.

At Kenroku-en, a former royal garden! It was “super green” if y’know the reference.

Through it all, I managed to regain a sense of myself by concentrating on my painting, floral wreaths, and my relationships with my friends. Yay!

Another something that came true was the advice not to travel. I don’t think any of us saw a worldwide shutdown in the cards, but it happened! I ignored the warnings and was extra careful taking some time for myself as I worked my way around Kanazawa.

This year in 2021, my fortune is extremely lucky! I had some help from an acquaintance translating it. Thank you, Mika! The words of wisdom, too, are very auspicious.

渦を巻く (うずをまく – As the whirlpools spiral)

谷の小川の丸木橋渡る (たにの おがわの まるきばし わたる – Cross the log bridge over the valley river)

夕べの心地するかな (ゆうべの ここちするかな – You’ll arrive at your heart’s hearth tonight)

My interpretation is affected by others’ interpretations on Japanese ask sites in that there are difficulties ahead, but I have the faculty to overpower them and reach the other side. Life is a powerful current that pulls and pushes us where it may, just as the water in the river ebbs and flows.

Below is my complete fortune for the areas of life:

  1. 願望 (ねがいごと, negaigoto, hopeful wishes) – You’ll remember how to get over your misgivings.
  2. 待人 (まちびと, machibito, awaiting person) – They won’t come.
  3. 失物 (うせもの, usemono, lost item) – It’ll be difficult to find. It might be low to the ground.
  4. 旅行 (たびだち, tabidachi, travel) – Travel on a lucky day.**
  5. 商売 (あきない, akinai, business) – Buy stocks that have a low risk of loss.
  6. 学問 (がくもん, gakumon, school) – Be relaxed. It’s a good time to study.
  7. 相場 (そうば, souba, stock market) – Sell; you’ll have a large profit.
  8. 争事 (あらそい, arasoi, quarrels) – You’ll come out the winner if you wait.
  9. 恋愛 (れんあい, rennai, love) – You’ll have happiness.
  10. 転居 (やうつり, yautsuri, moving) – Now is not a good time.
  11. 出産 (おさん, osan, pregnancy) – If you are careful, you’ll have a safe delivery.
  12. 病気 (びょうき, byouki, sickness) – If you believe in the gods, you’ll be cured.
  13. 縁談 (えんだん, endan, marriage) – You will be tempted by others’ words.

**Have you ever noticed that there are markings on each day of the month on a Japanese calendar? These are called 六曜 (ろくよう, rokuyou) or the “days of fortune” and follow the Buddhist practice of auspiciousness. Nippon.com offers a succinct chart.

Screencaptured from Nippon.com

How was your New Year’s celebrations? Did you do anything exciting or did you just chillax and hang out?
Let me know!
Until next time.

What have you been doing lately? (Part 1)

I must be honest with you, my sparse audience. I attempted to write an entry for you a couple of days ago, but for some unknown reason, it wasn’t saved. Out of frustration and disinterest, I gave up. I said, “ENOUGH!” As it’s now a brand new day and I’m feeling quite relaxed, I suppose I can give it another shot.

What have you been doing lately?

As I understand it, the world is a bit of a mess right now (when is it not?), and that’s keeping people inside; or at the very least, our activities have been severely limited or altered. Here in Hamamatsu (probably due to the 4-day weekend a week back), COVID cases have gone up significantly. As of yesterday, there are 129 total with 27 discharged/cleared of symptoms.

My reaction to dumb people.

It’s becoming more and more evident that, despite living out in the countryside, the virus will spread as long as people keep moving around, unaware they’re contaminated. And would you believe I STILL see people not wearing a mask?

ANYWAY.

As I look out the window now, I see the sky is brilliantly sunny and the air soupy and hot. This oppressively heavy heat signals the end of the rainy season here. And boy! was it a long one.

Are you the kind of person who enjoys the rain? While I appreciate the petrichor, being a captive in my own apartment for days on end is no fun. I’m a baby that way — I absolutely hate the process I have to go through in order to run my errands. But with the rain comes the beautiful hydrangea and that’s exactly what I had the chance to savor with the group from my part-time job.

Hydrangea Temple

Truly, I love the delicate variety you can experience with a flower only available when the angels weep. Naturally, it was hu-mug-ity and uncomfortable, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying the atmosphere of our very own Hydrangea Temple. 

There are many “hydrangea temples” around Japan. This particular one is Mitaniyama Gokuraji Temple and it’s been in service since around 712 AD. We don’t have anything remotely this old back in the United States. So, anything that can give me a peek into an ancient past is exciting. It certainly juices up my imagination picturing what the people may have looked like as they ambled along similar paths I was walking. (You can read more about the region I live in here and here.)

Afterwards, we all partook of a late lunch of cold soba noodles. It was my first time eating at this kind of restaurant and, I must admit, my eyes were bigger than my stomach.

Soba noodles, seasonal tempura, tempura dipping soup, toppings for the noodle soup, pickles, and a fried chicken cutlet bowl. Can you believe me if I told you that I had ice cream after all this, too?

There’s a lot more I can talk about, but for now, I hope you find this small bit interesting. See you next time!

Chichibu-no-miya Memorial Park

Are you fond of nature?

Do you like to take big whiffs of that fresh mountain air?

Does your throat freeze with overwhelming emotion?

Your heart is light when you think of the wind making the leaves giggle, the brooks babbling to each other, and the creatures making their chitter-chatter. You want to play with the deer and antelope and be euphoric!

Do you also like to scavenge and scrounge; to escape the light and purity to muck around in the damp earth?

Do you take pride in your humanly power when you hear Mother Nature cry out under your harsh feet?

You are shrouded in malice as you find monstrous treasures under the centipedes and pill bugs. You want to make a cave your hideaway and be forever a grungy hermit. Who needs society anyway?

But isn’t there a part of you that trembles at the magnificence of it all? Of trees so tall that you swear it would take years to climb their branches?

Chichibu-no-miya Memorial Park (秩父宮記念公園, chichibu-no-miya-kinen-kouen), often shortened to simply Chichibu Park, is such a world that elicits much feeling from me. I visited this place back in September when I saw an advertisement there was a craft fair. Being a crafty person myself, I couldn’t resist the charm of the local talent. Also, there was going to be snack stalls and I can never say no to food.

Before I knew there was a free shuttle that would transport me to the park without much effort, I trekked the half hour up the hill. It’s funny how, when you return, the trip goes so much faster. Winding my way through the side streets, I chuckled at the clash of old and new houses, marveled at the smallness of the streets, and enjoyed my walk overall. Upon arriving, I was greeted with a wall of towering pines and a giant sign saying “Handmade Crafts!”

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Walking down to the wide pathway, I was in awe. I felt I could have been a princess in a fairy tale. Never having really experienced a forest before (unless you count dried up ol’ Mt. Charleston), my mind couldn’t help comparing it to Rumiko Takahashi’s Inuyasha. There was such glory! I was immediately humbled.

All too quickly, I was brought back to reality with a handful of fliers being shoved into my hands: pamphlets describing the booths, amenities available in the park, and a map (thank goodness for those). Too afraid to venture far from civilization, I stuck close to the booths. Having gone there early in the morning (apparently I’m too early for even Japanese standards), there weren’t that many open for business. They were all still at some stage of preparation.

The first things I purchased were cookies and a handmade bag. The cookies were more like shortbread than anything and the bag was required when I found out my little purse wasn’t going to cut holding everything. Amongst my paraphernalia were magnets (one for my mom and one for her friend) and two crafted owls (one for my mom and one for my dad). As I’m writing this, I should have purchased one for myself. They were awfully cute.

Giving my wallet a break, I decided to look around. This is where I give you your history lesson.

Gotemba’s characters (御殿場) stand for “palace place.” You see, Gotemba is only 2 hours away from Tokyo, formerly known as Edo. This area was a prime location for His Majesty and his entourage to vacation and rest on their way to the capital. It also proved to be a handy spot for daimyo and their families while they traveled. Because Edo was a time of peace, the Tokugawa shogunate wanted to make sure there were no uprisings so a hostage situation was arranged (参勤交代, sankin koutai). The conversation probably went a little something like this:

Shogun: (surveys the area) I see you have a large amount of land and your fief respects you.
Daimyo: Yes, sir.
Shogun: I also see you have a beautiful wife and two sons. Your daughter is rather pretty.
Daimyo: (starts to sweat) …yes, sir
Shogun: To show your loyalty to me, you will hand over your family. They will live in the capital with me.
Daimyo: But…!
Shogun: (hand pompously flies up for silence and with a stern expression) They will live in the capital with me. You will remain here for two years. Once your time is up, we will exchange your person for your family. Understood
Daimyo: (near to begging) Your Highness, I can assure you I will remain loyal! Please, don’t take my children! They are so young!
Shogun: You will heed my order. They will be well taken care of. The money will come from your coffers. (with finality) There won’t be any problems.

All expenses accumulated were to be paid by the daimyo. We all know war costs money and without it, there was no way for them to rebel. I digress.

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There was a typhoon swinging through the area that day.

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Bomb shelter.

The main house in Chichibunomiya still stands in its original form although the inside has been gutted and maintained as a sort of museum. The information pamphlet takes pride in it being 280 years old.

The last royal to stay there was Prince Chichibu and his wife, Masako. The son of Emperor Taisho, he was the second son and took up a successful life in the military. He was also an avid traveler and the royal villa in Gotemba became his favorite place to escape. Dying before his wife, Princess Masako made sure to detail in her will that the house be given to the city for preservation. I originally thought this to be a good gesture on her part, seeing as she and her husband never had any children, but there may have been a more selfish (or selfless) reason. The princess may have been avoiding taxation (酷税 or 国税, kokuzei) and by selling off the land to the city, she saved herself and any future holders of the house from being indebted.

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Prince Chichibu looking out towards Mt. Fuji.

Not only is the house interesting, but so is the nature. There are plants on the premises that bloom every season so you have something to look at while you’re walking around. Also, you wouldn’t be in Japan if there wasn’t a cherry tree. Those are scattered about as well. I happened to be there when the spider lilies were opening up.

Before I left, I popped into the gift shop/rest stop by the front gate. I was aware there were some workshops going on as part of the fair and thought I’d look around. In a far corner were some children playing with pressed flowers, arranging them on a paper lace background. The women running the shindig were welcoming and were eager to get me to join in. Between broken Japanese and selective listening, I was able to participate. Luckily for my wallet, my inspiration to do this as a hobby was short lived. I wouldn’t have even known where to get the materials.

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For ¥200, I took home a unique souvenir that I’ll always be able to treasure. The women also treated me to an arrangement already made. It now hangs above my bed with my collection of pinecones.

See you next time!

Jumping Jellyfish and Bouncin’ Bars


I’ve got chills and they’re multiplyin’! And I’m losin’ control for the power you’re supplyin’ is electrifyin’! I’ve certainly got chills, all right. Autumn has swept through the mountains of Gotemba with a vengeance not in the form of hail and catastrophe but with a slanting mist. If it were any colder, it would have been snowing. My hair and clothes become flat in no time. Unfortunately, there has been no changing of the leaves to mark the coming of the season. They’ve just been dropping dead on the ground like flies, riddled with black spots of rot. The spiders have yet to leave. In the meantime, today bodes rainless.

On Saturday, I took my friend Toby up on his offer of joining him in Numazu for a get-together. He was pleasant enough to introduce me to his companions (Yoko-san, Aiko-san, and Kaoru-san) and we had a grand ol’ time. The girls were eager to introduce me to various aspects of Japanese cuisine at this little ramen-yakitori shop next to the train station. As a side note, yakitori shops are amazing. Oriented around appetizer-sized meals, you can share and eat and not get overwhelmed by portion sizes. It was definitely a night of firsts.

To begin, up was a glass of Coca-cola. Harmless, right? I had to explain to Aiko-san what would happen if she told the wait staff she wanted to drink a “cola.” Next came the edamame and pot stickers (餃子, gyouza). Those were things I was familiar with and chowed down on with no problem. The following addition was intestine (もつ, motsu) soup. In my head, when I hear “intestines” or “tripe,” I see this gelatinous pile of white goop all shiny and translucent. Never having had it before, there was no basis on which to compare this tantalizing tongue experience. Simmered in a broth with burdock root and green onion, it looked like any other kind of soup with chicken or beef in it. I will never forget how everyone leaned forward in anticipation of my reaction. Boy howdy, it was delicious! I worked on two bowls of the stuff.

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After some conversation with my dinner mates, a plate was brought out to us that appeared to have sashimi on it. Laid out a bed of onions with garlic and ginger on the side, I was prompted to request identification on its origins. They replied, 「馬です。」(“Uma desu.” It’s horse.) At first, my American sensibilities were in conflict. There was a brief tug of war on whether or not I would be betraying anybody by eating an animal my country deems as special. My adventurous side and hungry stomach won. Placing a bit of this and a bit of that on a slice of meat, I liberally lathered it with soy sauce and wolfed it down. Chewing ponderously, again, as everyone was transfixed on the O Unaccustomed Opinion of the American I thought it was quite tasty but nothing I would prepare for myself.

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There was some debate that followed about Japanese and Chinese stereotypes on who ate what animal.

I won’t go into too much detail about the kim-chee, Korean pickled cabbage. I like pickled vegetables, but not kim-chee. Sorry, Korea. I don’t appreciate spicy things.

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We thoroughly stuffed our faces and enjoyed each other’s antics. I even fought over some octopus with Toby. All too soon, it was time to be scooting along to the bar: Merry Go-Round.

This was SPEC-TAC-U-LAR! Walking in, you wouldn’t even think it was a bar. Decorated in everything old school, I was transported to something akin to a cool uncle’s garage. There were signs, gas tanks, an old slot machine, mannequins, kewpie dolls, neon lighting, lava lamps, and Spiderman toilet paper. Our bartender, Wataru, was even dressed up in a black bowling shirt and pompadour. If you’re looking for a joint to bring a few friends without the publicity, I recommend this place. I also suggest you play the small drum set that’s next to the door. To complete the picture, disco ball-type lighting was flashing and tambourines were provided.

 

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A panorama of the bar.

 
I’ve only sung karaoke once in my life and that was when I was attending high school and it was required. It’s funny how being alone and having friends makes a difference. Not a drinker, I still managed to get drunk off the happy vibes my newfound friends were throwing helter-skelter. All too soon, I found myself singing off tune to Blondie’s Call Me with Toby backing me up. Some ballads and a few Disney songs (I managed to find) were belted out before we moved onto Japanese numbers. I was able to find the only Japanese song I know relatively well: Kyu Sakamoto’s Sukiyaki (the original title is this:上の向いて歩こう, Ue no Muite Arukou; I Look Up as I Walk Along). It’s a 1960s love song. Throughout, I was served Coca-cola with a twist of lemon, cooked chestnuts and popcorn.

This was a night of firsts and it was all great fun. See you next time!

 

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さようなら!

 

The Arrival

日本へようこそ!I have arrived in Japan and the mixed feelings I was having the morning of my departure are still rattling me. Before I go into depth on them, I must elaborate on the longest flight of my life.

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Flying over the Pacific Ocean.

When I began flying, my first trip of remembrance was to San Francisco when I was dating Dean, my ex-boyfriend from when I was 18.

That measly hour and a half was a nightmare.

Some time after that, I branched out to Iowa with its gnarly 8 hours. Soaring across the Pacific Ocean to Tokyo’s Narita Airport only added 2 more hours to my existing record but when my muscles ached like the devil with a kidney stone and my backside had gone numb with the lack of movement, I found it hard to be exuberant about the whole affair.

Adding to the situation was the girl I had the (un)fortune chance to sit next to. I thought I was messy! Not only was I being crowded into the wall of the cabin, my limited foot room was being compromised.

I walked away from that flight with plastic wrappers stuck to my feet. I don’t want to think if it was static electricity or something else more suspicious.

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Entering Japan. The weather was quite foggy.

I was aware coming here involved my going through Customs and Immigration, but I had no clue that I needed to bring my entire amount of luggage. I assumed that it would find me at the end of my trip, but I was wrong.

When I got to the counter to check in for the flight from Tokyo to Nagoya, I was questioned about the rest of my bags. I’m sure the look on my face said it all. I have to hand my hat off to the staff that helps keep the airports going. My bags had been set aside and retrieved. Off we ran to the baggage claim area!

I just about gave myself a stroke running around that much all of a sudden.

Back towards the plane! Even though my legs were cramping something fierce, I made it to the plane! If I could give any advice to anyone, it’d be, “Make sure you bring everything through Customs.” I had nothing to declare, so the whole situation worked out.

Here’s another tidbit of advice: Use duty-free shops to purchase your goods, souvenirs, etc. These are tax-free items and are waived by Customs. Lastly, if you know you’re going to need a hotel, please book ahead of time.

There are three hotels that surround the Chubu International Airport: Comfort Inn, Toyoko Inn and Chubu Hotel. Already exhausted from my mad dash, it nearly killed me to walk and find a location that would be put me up for the night that wasn’t already full. Turned away from two, Toyoko Inn took me in.

I don’t know what the Japanese standards are for a hotel, but I thought mine was well off after I figured out how to turn on the electricity. With the help of Google, I was able to connect the dots and insert my key stick into this little hole in the wall. The downside to that simple trick is that you’re forced to turn off the flow when you leave the room. How else are you going to get back in?

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Not all hotels have this key option.

Being a girl who is used to all kinds of space in the bathroom, I was rather cramped whenever I needed to use the one in the room. Funnily enough, having been so interested in the modern Japanese WC, I wasn’t too surprised to see it. There’s a bathtub, a sink, and toilet. How unusual is that?

I was familiar with the Japanese concept of showering before bathing; however, I was concerned about getting what I had set up in there wet. Without seeing another’s arrangement, my own cultural norms dictated I take a simple rinse and run. Yes, I did use the bidet on the toilet. Not every toilet in Japan will have these, though! I felt foolish after realizing the water spraying my undercarriage wasn’t going to stop automatically.

Despite the humor of my sticking out like a sore thumb, the toll of it took a hold of me after attempting to sleep for about two hours. I was away from my family, my dogs, my be-starred bedroom… I was desperately alone. My only lifeline was the cell phone sitting on the desk.

Every adult will have moments in their lives where they revert back to being a child. As I sit here now, calmly typing this recent recollection, I will never forget how much of a failure I felt.

“How can I do this?”

“How could I be so crazy?”

“Why did I get on that plane?”

“Why did I even apply for this job?”

All I wanted to do was go back home in that moment.