A Weekend Diary: The Backwoods

Once upon a time, there was a sporadic blogger who disappeared. She was found a year later, quietly rotting away from overwork and self-imposed stress. If you listen closely, you can hear the tapping from the keys on her laptop and the frantic clicking of her mouse. She now serves as a living reminder to the young and carefree to not be so serious about life.

Just kidding.

Really, though, where has the time gone?! I suppose the stars have fallen from my eyes after almost two years of living in Japan. The adjustment time has ended. The urge to visit the places I saw in anime and other kinds of pop-culture has vanished and has been replaced with a desire to explore locally. As a challenge to myself, I will attempt to detail my weekend adventures instead of trying to remember everything I do on actual vacations. Mom, Dad! I’m sorry I’m such a failure!

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First, I have to say thanks to Niantic for bringing out PokémonGo. When I first moved here, I thought my area was a PokéStop desert – nothing to be seen or gotten. The oasis was an hour’s bus ride away if I wanted any action. So, having had a falling out with running, I decided to put my worn-out shoes back on and start walking. Luckily for me, my town has proven to be decently laden with Stops.

After passing through the local shrine a couple of times and seeing11325043_1559328200989984_1491583606_n a sign for “Hosoe Park – Welcome! Let’s walk together!” I got curious about what was actually up there in the woods. As a side note, I’m terrified of closed in spaces because I have no idea what will jump out and get me. The desert is much kinder and kills you faster.

Walking up the damn mountain was a bitch. After 5 minutes, I was huffing and puffing my way through dense foliage, rugged concrete paths, and glory-seeking spider threads. A glimmer of white finally greeted my vision and… wait! Is that a place to rest?! Do I spy a water fountain?! I’m SAVED! (‘cause, y’know, I’m a dummy like that and don’t hydrate). Oh… no. It’s just an observation deck with sour water.

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The view from the observation deck. You can see Lake Hamana on the far right side and the Miyakoda River leading to it under the landmark bridge.

As I continued trekking, I realized I’d come across a municipal hotel. No, joke, that’s what 国民宿舎奥浜名湖 translates to. Japanese lesson, go!

Japanese Lesson 1

I remembered an acquaintance told me there was a restaurant up here (coupled with seeing signs – am I psychic?!), I braved the front doors. As I walked in, unsure if the place was open to public patronage or not, I was greeted warmly and allowed to look around. Of course, in traditional Japanese capitalist fashion, a small shop dedicated to the local foods and souvenirs drew me deeper into the depths of a broke life. In case it wasn’t mention before, Hosoe is famous for tangerines (i.e. mikan), eel, and miso products. As it is March, there were also seasonal treats available. Anyway!

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My lunch. Rice, pickled vegetables, dipping sauces, red miso soup, a salad and fried shrimp.

I spotted a book titled “The Town’s Princess Road.” In Japanese, it’s 姫様道の町 (himesama dou no machi). Hosoe’s top festival is the Princess Road Festival and this book details important locations within the town that are relevant to the history of the area. Naturally, I had to have a copy despite the need to translate it.

This leads me to my next discovery: The Dual-Weight Saint. Thank you again, PokémonGo, because this place was listed as a gym. My original goal was to get to it and put a Pokémon in. (Tangent: the one I placed there stayed there for 2 days. No one battled it out.) But instead, I found a small shrine with a bunch of red-dressed monk statues commonly called Jizo* there. One in particular was singled out and protected with a bunch of origami cranes. Coincidently, the book I had purchased told the story of this place. Fast forward two days and here you go!

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The Dual-Weight Saint. It has since been enshrined.

おもかる大師
昔、おきぬという信心深い老婆が木の実を拾おうと気賀の裏山をさまよっていると、萩の下にお地蔵様のような形をした変わった石を見つけました。
「これはこれは、御大師様だ。何かのご縁に違いない」と、おきぬは、その石を近くの木の下に据えました。
その後、おきぬは毎日水や花を持ってお参りに来ていましたが、ある日、道順の良い所へ石を動かそうとしたところ、重くて動きませんでした。ところがある日、急に雨が降り出してきたため、石が雨にぬれてしまうと思い、動かしてみると、今度は軽く動くので、大きな松の木の下に移してやりました。そのうちに、おきぬは、この石には重い日と軽い日があるのを知りました。
この話が人々に広まり、多くの人が参けいに訪れるようになりましたが、願いをかけてそれが叶う時は軽く、叶わない時には動くて持ち上がらないことから、いつしかこの石は「おもかる大師」と呼ばれるようになりました。

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Jizo’s true appearance. He holds a wish granting jewel in his hand. (Props to you Inuyasha fans who get the reference.)

The Dual-Weight Saint
                Once upon a time, an old devout woman by the name of Okinu was wandering around the backwoods of Kiga when suddenly, she came upon a stone under a bush of clover in bloom. It looked like the saint, Jizo!
                “This… this is a saint!” she said, as she placed the figure under a nearby tree. “This must be fate, make no mistake.”
               After that, Okinu brought flowers and water for it every day. It became a ritual for her, when one day, she decided to move the stone to a better place. Upon trying to lift it, she discovered she couldn’t! Suddenly, the rain began to fall and she hurried to get it out of the way. It was light! She could move it! Quickly, she placed it under a pine tree. It dawned on her that the stone had its heavy days and its light days.
               The story became widely known by the townsfolk and they visited with their wishes. If the stone was heavy and they couldn’t move it, their wish wouldn’t be granted. If the stone was light, however, they could rejoice! Their wish would come true. It was from then on, it was called the “Dual-Weight Saint.”

I didn’t try to move it.

**According to Wikipedia, Jizo is a Buddhist deity. His original name is Ksitigarbha. He guides people through the 6 Realms of Existence. More information was found in The Japan Times article “A guide to Jizo, guardian of travelers and the weak.” Because Jizo is a protector of those who travel, he is often found at boundaries, physical or spiritual. Dressing and caring for this saint allows the soul to accrue karma for the afterlife.

 

 

Long Time, No See

みなさん、こんにちは!元気ですか。長い間休んで、ごめんなさい。数ヵ月、色々なことがありました。旅行の後、学校に来て、忙しくなりました。私はALTをしていた学校の卒業式を準備しなければいけなし、英語の授業を練習しなければいけなかったです。

そして、最近、御殿場市から浜松市北区まで引っ越しました。御殿場市に比べて、このエリアは何もありません。御殿場はマクドナルドがありますが、ここに一番の近いのはバスで40分ぐらいかかります。マクドナルドがあまり好きじゃなくてよかったですね。

(Translation: Hello, everyone! How are you doing? I’m sorry I took such a long vacation. Many things came up after travelling and I became extremely busy. I had to prepare for graduation and review my English classes.

Recently, I moved from Gotemba to Hamamatsu’s northern ward. Compared to Gotemba, there isn’t really anything here. At least Gotemba had a McDonald’s. The closest one to here is about 40 minutes by bus (that I know of). It’s a good thing I don’t really like McDonald’s.)

I’m sure you were wondering whether something happened to me, but I promise you I’m very much alive.  During the last few months, I have been travelling. All places are listed below and will be addressed in their own posts (if I ever get around to doing them):

  • Yokohama
  • Odawara
  • Kamakura
  • Shizuoka
  • Mishima

Thinking now, I’m overwhelmed with the amount of writing I need to accomplish in the coming days. Thank goodness for the pictures I take or else I’d have trouble remembering the places I’ve seen and the food I’ve eaten.

Backtracking, my turmoil began back in November when I planned what I thought was a harmless visit back home. It was my little secret, cloistered away in the depths of my heart. It was days before I could wipe the smile off my face; days before I could stop daydreaming of my parents’ reactions to my popping in unexpectedly. In the meantime, I was blissfully ignorant of the fact that Fate has its own agenda and I was helpless to stop it. Cue the last ALT meeting.

Surrounded by that tacky, office building interior with chairs that were too high, my trainer ominously beckons me over in that subtle Japanese way. “How would you like to move to Hamamatsu?” he asks.

“…what?” I blinked once, twice. What did I do wrong? What aren’t my teachers telling me? So many what-ifs flew around in my head. I was suddenly nervous.

“Yeah, we can’t keep you in Gotemba anymore,” he explained.

I handled the news quite well and, like a seasoned businesswoman, I asked, “Will the company pay for my moving expenses and will I have to come up with another apartment deposit?” Naturally, all my fears were laid to rest. Plus, the moving date wasn’t until the end of the school year.

I had nothing to worry about (or so I thought).

Reality came crashing down over my head when my credit card bill showed up. That meant time wasn’t waiting for anyone; including me. My secret was abruptly brought to light and it was imperative I tell someone in order to avoid any possible late fees. Who could I call? Who in my family wouldn’t bat an eyelash to help me…? Ah! Grandma!

How terrible of a granddaughter am I to rely on an old lady for financial assistance? Cynicism aside, she agreed and I was on the fast track to giving myself a heart attack. Without the absolute knowledge of my moving date or even where the hell I would be going, I was uncertain of whether I should start packing earlier or later. Even then, shoving things into boxes was double-duty. Not only did I have to make sure I was ready for my trip (without forgetting anything), I had to make positive I had my other things set up for the move (without forgetting anything).

Fast forward to Oh Shit Day and I was on a plane back to the desert. I thought I would be more excited to see home, eat Mexican food, and sleep under my glow-in-the-dark-star-dotted ceiling, but I wasn’t. I easily slipped back into the routine I was once a part of. My father even got some breakfast!

After a week of hanging out and being a fatty, I revved up my engines and went back to Japan. With the time difference, it was March 29th by the time I landed on the soil I’m quickly coming to call “home.” The rest of the week went something like this:

  • 29th: sleep in apartment
  • 30th: load up the moving truck, change addresses with the appropriate authorities, stay in hotel in Mishima
  • 31st: be homeless, register with the proper companies, and bum it out with a friend
  • 1st: attempt to locate the new apartment via Google Maps, get lost, have a breakdown

The day I got lost was the day I had never felt more foreign. Stuck in the middle of an area I knew nothing about, while it rained, with no knowledge on how to say, “I’m lost” was the most depressive state I’ve ever been in. I kid you not when I tell you my phone almost ended up in the gutter. Fear. Worry. Hunger. Hopelessness. It was all there in this ugly, knotted up thing lodged between my ribs.

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The Miyakado River. It used to be totally fresh but is now contaminated by the ocean after a large earthquake destroyed the natural dam that held Lake Hamana in.

Aside from a few odds and ends, I’m pretty much moved in and comfortable. There are other ALT newbies in the same apartment complex and I’ve been about as rude as I can be. So far, my only conversation with the lot of them has consisted of, “Hello. My name’s Ashley. Nice to meet you.” This love-hate relationship I have with people is going to see me as an unmarried spinster with plants and dogs clogging up my house in the future, watch.

I’m only sorry that I’ll be moving again after this school year.

…wait. What?

My new home is situated in Hamamatsu’s northern ward, quietly nestled in a field of rice paddies, surrounded by trees. The Miyakado River separates my apartment from my school and already, I’m enjoying having water close by. As the sun sets, I can see and listen to the fish jumping from the water. What’s incredible is that the waterfront is lined with cherry trees. This spring, I’ll have my chance to witness the epitome of Japanese culture every day I leave my apartment.

While my particular spot is famous for its oranges, Hamamatsu itself is famous for its gyoza, eel (うなぎ, unagi), music industry, and manufacturing. It was highly recommended to me to visit the unagi pie factory. They’re these crispy wafer-like cookies that are absolutely delicious. They’re often purchased as souvenirs.

Established along the Tokaido highway, Hamamatsu flourished with the constant flow of people coming and going. If you want to know more about the things that came out of this area, please visit the city’s website.

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An old photo. This is an older photo showcasing some of downtown Hamamatsu.

Recently, a drama was filmed here about a woman called Naotora Ii. Her original name was never recorded or never found, but she’s famous nonetheless. Born during the Warring States era and promised to her cousin Kamenojo (later named Naochika) in her youth, she was the only child in her family and unsuspecting of what life would give her.

As the political atmosphere heated up, Naochika was spirited away to protect his status as a potential heir. Because Naotora was left out of the loop, she thought he was dead and proceeded to be a nun. Over the course of 10 years, Naochika grew into a man of means, married, and had a male child: Naomasa.

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Promotional poster for the drama filmed last year.

This child was much beloved by all until his father was accused of rebellion and his family executed. Before the government could take Naomasa as a hostage of war, Naotora came out of seclusion, was declared lord of her clan and raised the boy. She sees him succeed as heir to the Ii clan before dawning her robes of religion.

The temple in which Naotora spent the majority of her childhood is about 20 minutes from here by car. It’s called Ryotanji. Every weekend, I can see the tourists gather at the Cultural Museum to get a gander at the historical artifacts… and buy some oranges. I’m sure they make their way up the hill at some point.

Overall, this is a town built for the quiet life and I’ll relish it (and the mosquitoes) until it’s time for me to start the next chapter in my life.

A List of Firsts.

It’s the day after Valentine’s Day here in Japan and it’s just as insane as it is back home. The only difference is that it’s the girls that declare their love for the boys rather than everyone braving their confessions. The men have their chance on March 14th, on White Day.

Never have I see so many advertisements impressing upon the public their ability to win over your love interest. Cakes, chocolates, cookies and bread could be found in all manners of bakeries and you would always be able to spot a home-making kit in just about any kind of store. I feel that Japan is more capitalist than America is sometimes. In my case, I drew a picture using the language of flowers since I enjoy the subtlety only a bloom can offer.

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The red rose for love and devotion. Valerian for readiness. White clover requesting him to think of me. Violets for loyalty, devotion, and faithfulness. Lastly, the morning glory for affection. I eventually colored it, much to my dismay. Despite what I think, he took my gesture to heart and appreciated my effort to turn his head. Unfortunately, due to reasons outside of my control, I was turned down. I quickly added this experience to my list of “Firsts in Japan.”

Since then, I’ve been going through this stupidly self-inflicted cycle of anger and depression. Anytime I remember something he told me, I get bummed out. As usual, I’m trying to blame everything on myself when that’s not the case.

A second “first” was my visit to a Japanese dentist. I had no idea what to expect. How much will it cost me? What tools do they use? Do they use a different method of fixing cavities? Do they even use Novocain to numb the teeth? The Japanese could definitely compete with the British stereotype in regards to gnarly teeth.

Don’t judge a book by its cover, folks!

The clinic I went to was near my main school and, despite my limited Japanese, I understood everything that was said, was very comfortable letting strangers root around in my mouth and was impressed by the efficiency.  An astonishing 6 cavities were found in my mouth. I blame stress and my penchant for sugary things. Needless to say, I’m now on the fast track to fixing them. No offense to my dentist back at home, but… Japanese dentists do a better job with cosmetics. Unfortunately, I can’t say that the amount of time I wait has changed. My 5 o’clock appointments might as well be called 6 o’clock appointments.

For anyone wanting to move to another country, check out what kind of health insurance system they have. Japan has two programs, a public and a private. I’m enlisted with the public one: National Health Insurance (NHI) and thank goodness for that. My first cavity cost me about $20 to fix. Last night’s lie-in was around $9. So cheap! Going to an all-Japanese staffed establishment really tests my language ability. I feel slightly guilty for abandoning what Spanish I learned back in college.

The third “first” was experiencing a yeast infection and discovering what medication was available and what wasn’t. My preliminary action was to see if I could get Monistat here. The only option was a vaginal testing kit through Amazon Japan. For any woman who has faced the fires of hell in the itching department down there will understand me when I say that that wouldn’t cut it. Back to Google I go and exploring the forums on GaijinPot and other ex-patriot sites. I kept seeing a few medications mentioned several times: Feminina (フェミニーナ), Torikomishin K (トリコマイシン), and Empecid (エンぺシド).

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Everyone that suggested them found them as reliable substitutes for the trip the Lady Doctor. Coincidently, there’s a drug store next to the dental clinic. I stopped in to question one of the employees and they flat out said they didn’t sell the medications; that I had to go see a doctor for a prescription. My friend in the city even told me via pharmacist she went out of her way to talk to said that the Torikomishin was now illegal. Feminina is only used externally and… I didn’t ask about Empecid. Behold! my first glimpse into Japan’s strict drug laws. I could feel me and my vagina beginning to panic. Without Monistat, what would we do? I didn’t even want to begin to dwell on what a complicated infection would be like. Luckily, I remembered searching for home remedies at one point and decided to dive back into the realm of alternative medicine.

The top choice was plain yogurt with live probiotics. The second choice was douching with apple cider vinegar (this has many other uses, if you’re interested in looking them up). The third was using boric acid tablets but wasn’t recommended if you had a complicated case. Pondering my options, I thought I’d give the probiotics a go. I happened to have some supplements I brought with me from America and well… you can connect the dots, I’m sure. With positive reinforcement from my mom, it’s now the 3rd day and my symptoms are subsiding. I can now sit without squirming.

As a precaution against further upsets, I caved and used my credit card to get some Monistat sent my way through the original Amazon. One online pharmacy wanted to charge me around $100 to ship a 7-day supply on the suppositories! Outrageous! I could hear the ATM crying from my apartment. $12 and some change later, my savior is now on its way.

As a rule of thumb, if there’s any medicine you particularly like back home, make sure you bring enough for one month as that’s the only amount Customs will allow you through with.

In other news, I got on the wrong train last night, not paying attention. That was a “first.”

Pain in the New Year

I had to stop and think about whether or not this was the first post of 2017 before realizing that I’ve already yammered on about something this month. Here’s another post that will drop your IQ a bit more. This will be a personal entry; a journey into my dilapidated mind.

Much like a good chunk of the people who inhabit the First World order, I suffer from anxiety and depression. How I yearn now for the times when I thought my darkest imaginings could go no further or farther. A word of advice that I can verify by experience: moving to another country point blank with no real direction is not for the faint of heart. I honestly feel there should be a disclaimer on these international job boards that reads, “Must be emotionally adjusted, have steadfast principles, work well alone and require no counseling.” Extroverts should have no difficulties.

I had been doing well lately in regards to all of this, I thought, until recently. Things have gone south for the winter and haven’t come back. It’s forecasted to be 13°F tonight, so I can’t blame them. I’m happy to announce, however, that I have a hunch about who’s causing my funk and am mad at myself for letting this person get under my skin. As Pink says, “…you’re just like a pill. Instead of makin’ me better, you’re makin’ me ill.” If you plan on hopping an ocean with your spouse or long-time significant other, good for you. If you’re doing this as a single person, you had best make sure your bridges are burned beyond ashes because when you are alone and not on solid terms with your emotions, you’ll discover how amazing your desperation makes you.

As a rule now, for my sanity, I don’t date. I despise this ugly, horrible troll I become. I often laugh (and excuse me, Mom, for saying this), thinking I transform into my mother. For as far back as I can remember she would always badger me. “What time are you coming home?” “Who are you going with?” “Where are you going?” “What is the place like?” Nag, nag, nag, NAG, NAG! It got to the point where I would give her a slip of paper that had the man’s full name, the make and model of his vehicle, his license plate number and a phone number. The “you’ll understand when you’re older” remark haunts me. Long story short, I morph into this clingy, jealous, overprotective show-off that, because of several failed relationships I forced on myself and others, I think all men can’t stand.

I read an article a few days ago in order to try and grasp some kind of understanding of the complex feelings I’m experiencing, posted it to my company’s Facebook support page, and ultimately had one of the top dogs messaging me seeing if everything was OK. I really should watch my mouth. The article was saying that, usually, a fresh incident will trigger a kind of psychological defense and that’s why we start wallowing in the sadness, fear, and mental self-mutilation. Unfortunately, it’s a vicious cycle with me and it all funnels down to one person. All it took for me to feel like this way was one picture of him on Instagram with a woman that wasn’t me. Like a childhood scar, all of my burgeoning issues that affect me now stem from that single, insignificant person. He was just like the others; the one relationship in my life that was so brilliant at first but has now rotted into this disgusting, decayed, putrefied lump of pain, self-hate, jealousy, toxic dependence and sexual frustration. A note: we are no longer together. We broke up in 2013.

This has led me to believe that my father is the only man in my life who can understand me. He is the only person I take comfort from. Unfortunately, my healthy (or unhealthy) connection with him has destroyed any resemblance of a chance an individual of the opposite sex may have with me. There are shoes on that front doorstep they will never be able to fill. This also has developed into a dilemma.

Will I always pine for my father and have this desire to be with him? I understand this might be getting a little weird, but I love my father. My throat chokes up with the emotion of it all and it’s a struggle to not cry as I write this. But would I throw away this fragile position I have here in Japan just so I can be close to him? It’s a question I have to seriously address. At this point, I can say I wouldn’t be sacrificing anything. All I would need to do is pack up my things, sell what I can’t bring along and that’s that. What’s waiting for me back home aside from family? It’s hard to tell at this point.

I always think about Eugene telling Rapunzel after she confides in him about her fear of the floating lanterns disappointing her and he says, “That’s the good part, I guess. You get to go and find a new dream.” That’s easier said than done.

100-yen Splurge

Hello! And Happy New Year! In Japanese, we say, 「明けましておめでとうございます。」(akemashite omedetou gozaimasu) and is often shortened to 「おめでとうございます。」(omedetou gozaimasu).  When you see a friend or a family member for the first time in the new year, you are required to say it. You’re also welcome to extend the politeness to strangers but it’s not necessary. No one has told me what happens when you don’t say it… It uses the same character as “bright.”

In the theme of the day, here is a bright, shiny, new post for you after a month of hitting the deck and kissing my ass (and sanity) good-bye.

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I told you once upon a time you can find just about anything at 100-yen shops, right? First, we have organizers. My rolling dresser that I was storing my hair things on wasn’t cutting it anymore after I purchased a small bookshelf, so now I have something a little more handy and accessible. What’s awful is that I hear my mom in my head whispering to me, “Y’know you’re going to have to bring all of that back.” Moms always know best, don’t they? It’s a shame we don’t give them enough credit most of the time.

The white bucket-looking thing is my pseudo-trash can for the bath. Japan prides themselves on convenience and I’m right on board with it. Using the small trash bags (in another photo), this will provide me a place to toss and amass dirty, slimy, minty-smelling dental floss.

Next, we have a tape roller and refills. Japan is big on reusing things and will often charge less for the refills. You definitely know you’re paying for the plastic here. Next to the refills, there is a silver-ion air filter for my aircon unit. Part of the reason for my inconsistent blogging is because I came down with a cold. I’m striving to keep myself from further marinating in any kind of contaminants while I sleep by utilizing this item.

Lastly, there is the filter for the exhaust fan I have above my tiny stove. That air filter is now firmly lodged in the darkness of a trash bag and awaits its fiery death. It caused me so much grief and prompted a panicked phone call to my ever-so-patient father at 1:30 in the morning Las Vegas time and a rapid skim through the manuals I never bothered to look at when I moved into this apartment. I swear he needs to be inducted into the Sainthood Hall of Fame. Thank you, Grandma, for raising such a wonderful son!

Moving along…

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Boom! Cosmetics, smelly things and… my feet. I’m so sorry. I seem to have unintentionally subjected you to a profound horror. Excuse me.

In this photo, we have Disney themed oil blotting paper for my face, Halls throat lozenges*, hair elastics (since I seem to be running out of the ones I use to tie the ends of my braids with)**, shower caps, nail cream that I intend to use for cracking cuticles and crusty nostrils, hand lotion and a body cream I was hoping to try out as a facial moisturizer (a note to the people who are used to using soft water: Japan has NO soft water. Prepare for flakage).  Oh, yes, and the aforementioned trash bags.

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A disclaimerthe pop-capped bottles on the left were not purchased from the 100-yen shop. I don’t know how or why I put them in this picture.

Snacks: cup ramen, cookies and popcorn. Last night, I got into the bag due to laziness in regards to dinner making and I decided that Family Mart definitely has better popcorn. It must be the oil (or they use MSG).

In the back, there’s a small box for sending packages. If you’re looking for much larger boxes, save the ones you get from Amazon or ask the post office.

Next is the Tupperware. The plastic used for these is relatively thin and I wouldn’t recommend microwaving them for too long even if the label says they can tolerate it. Use a plate and save yourself the grief.

Another miso bowl. Mini broom and dust pan (Remember: flakage. Every time I brush my hair, I shed this ungodly disgusting pile of human waste). Futon attachment for the vacuum. Vacuum bags. Crochet thread. If you go to a well-equipped 100-yen shop, you’ll find a decent selection of yarns and threads. They also stock various other craft goods for us folks who like to use our hands. There is an extra soft yarn they have that is oh-so-alluring and I’m tempted to buy it in a “Why not?” moment, but that’s how hoarding starts and my poor Japanese apartment can’t handle that kind of stress.

Anyway!

I hope you are well. I hope you aren’t sweating the small stuff and adding gray hairs to your scalp library. Breathe deep and be grateful for every moment you’re alive to experience. I’d like to think our thoughts and adventures will keep us company wherever we go after The Big One.

Happy New Year.

*If you’re used to the strong Halls in America, buy the black wrapper when you get here. Take my word for it.
**Japanese hair elastics, if they are unbaubled, require you to tie them yourself. For the longest time I thought all of my female teachers and students were having problems with their bands breaking but after buying mine, I understand. You will, too.

 

The Bread Knife.

Before I forget what happened, let me tell you about my day.

Grab yourself a hot beverage, preferably seasoned with marshmallows, and make yourself comfortable. I wish I could tell you to rest your feet by the fire, but I hope my electric heater will suffice.

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Today was a bruiser. Last night, I simply couldn’t sleep. Some kind of light bothered me, a Christmas song kept making an appearance in my head, or I ended up thinking about nonsense. All I did was toss and turn! That, in effect, made my Monday rather difficult. My last teacher of the day commented on my eyes looking heavy and patted my back all the way down the hallway.

After school, I talked the nurse into letting me take a nap in the infirmary. Naturally, there was too much noise for me to fully sleep but I think simply closing my eyes was glorious enough. It gave me the burst of energy I needed for what came next.

Most days, I make it a point to visit with the school secretary, Mrs. E. She was eager to assist me after I told her in casual conversation that I wanted to swing by the stationary store to see if they had what I wanted (Copic Multiliners). At this point, it was obvious I was a wilting blossom with petals too heavy to lift.

4:30 came quickly and off we went and I was pleased to see they had marker paper and a light board! The light board was too expensive, of course, for me to afford immediately, but I did escape with my paper, pens, and two folders with my favorite character on them: Panpaka-kun! (Click on the link to watch a video of his shorts.) You can find more information about him through Wikipedia. I was even able to redeem my point card for 5% off!

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Upon leaving the store, I made the comment about being hungry. No sooner did it leave my mouth Mrs. E. had us swinging into a local bakery. I had only browsed the selection here one time before as I was walking around a month or so ago. She insisted I get the curry bread (theirs was the best in town). I went ahead and indulged in sausage bread, a kind of sweet potato danish, walnut bread, teriyaki chicken bread, and some whipped butter.

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After she treated me to the carb package, Mrs. E. told me they had a campaign going on where you present your receipt, draw for a colored ball, and receive a prize. Luck must have been on my side tonight because I bingo-rolled for my ball and out popped the highest value I could get. What was my prize? A bread knife! The excitement my friend was feeling was contagious and I left there elated.

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With my arms full of assorted bread, art supplies, and my heart full of happiness, I returned home.

The Disease

I think it’s time I talk about “homesickness.” But, before I do, I need to get my thoughts out about what caused it.

I was watching a movie called The Little Prince based from a book of the same name. The side story introduced me to this little girl that was surrounded with the pressure of growing up and life plans. Enter this eccentric old aviator and a relationship was born. In the end, as heartwarming as it was, I still became overwhelmed with my emotions. They all centered on my grandma.

Before I continue, please do me a favor. Go hug someone you love. Read this with them. They are the only ones who will cry with you. Give them a big squeeze. We are only flesh and blood. No one has yet to tell me if there is central heating where our souls go.

My grandma is a beautiful woman and there’s no one like her. With all of my grandparents dead in the ground, I consider myself lucky to know her. What’s funny is that I may not know her favorite color or be aware of her favorite food but I can tell you that she likes blooming flowers with fuzzy bee butts, breezes that bring the smell of good food being cooked with love, and the liveliness only a family can give.

One of the things my mom talked to me about before I embarked on this journey was how I would react to the news of my grandma’s inevitable passing. I address it now rationally before I give my heart a chance to start making a plan. Death is an unexpected visitor and always comes on laundry day. I believe it’s our duty to greet it with souls laid bare. But I know, too, that a little part of me will die with her. My smile will be a little more false and my good nature just a tad darkened. It kills me to think I will be without her caring and kindness some day.

These feelings of loss — of something missing from my life hits me every weekend when my brain is given the opportunity to go blank. I would swear I was pregnant if I wasn’t keenly aware of how much I miss the people I’ve taken for granted all of these years (I can already hear my parents in my subconscious telling me “We told you so!”). My grandma is just the tip of the iceberg.

On Friday, I watched some students attempt to recreate professionally demonstrated tamagoyaki. I was immediately reminded of my Aunt Judy’s old home on Montebello Street. In the kitchen, under the dim glow of the stove light, she showed me how to crack an egg. I struggled just as those kids did. Even when they burned them from too hot of a pan, they were proud. Now I think nothing of breaking one open most days. What’s funny is that I still have difficulty sometimes. There are a lot of good memories I have in that house. If only it could talk. I wonder if it remembers me as fondly as I do it?

At the end of The Little Prince, the girl was seen with her mom. The one regret I have is not being closer to her. She and I are like magnets with our positive poles facing each other. You can get us close, but not too close. So, we have been forced to watch the life of the other from the sidelines hollering encouragement as best as we can. It’s rare when the Wi-Fi signal is strong. My guilt runs deep. I only hope we can lean on each other later in life.

Lastly, my love for my father is as natural to me as breathing and I’m reminded every day of his absence. He tells me often of how much he misses me. Whenever I hear a motorcycle in the street, my skin crawls with the expectation of seeing him. I anticipate on a daily basis him walking through my door. Some mornings my apartment is too quiet.

To me, this is homesickness. It’s the remembrance of the family I can’t immediately see.

If you think you’re strong enough to move away from everything you know, fine. I just want you, Dear Reader, to know that the disease will sneak up on you when you least expect it. I love you.

Inadequacies

Today has dawned cold and depressing. My feeling for having to work while my heart isn’t in it makes me harbor a serious distaste for humanity this morning. I can’t quite decide what has put me in such a mood, but I reckon it stems from the news of the election shining a light on my own shortcomings.

I feel very alone. I see people every day but can do nothing to connect with them on that specially personalized level. There is this overwhelming despair at having the ones that understand me the most being so far away. And usually, when I get like this, I run to my grandma. The environment she creates is so without judgement and pressure.

The first issue I have with myself is the language barrier. I’m so daunted by my lack of fluency. I know so little. Most days my self-discipline is non-existent. It’s easy for me to make textbook examples of sentences but near impossible to manage the expertise and flow of conversation without having to think and translate before I speak. Just yesterday I practiced writing some of the old grammar point I learned in college and had them checked. I did well enough but I can’t be communicating with folks via notepad and pencil. Funnily enough, I did just that today to explain to one of my co-workers my sentiments about Trump. My words to him were, “Holding onto my freedom is the most important thing, I think. When a president makes a decision, it takes time to trickle down. If war happens, then I’ll worry.” Conveying this in Japanese was mentally taxing. It makes me want to escape to the mountains and be a hermit.

The second issue is that I feel extremely unattractive and insecure. I have this impression that I’m considered ugly here by being awash by all of the smooth and completely homogenized Japanese. I’m grimly aware of my own lack of culture and it has me questioning myself. “What can I possibly give to these people?” I’m certainly not looking to revolutionize anyone. I just don’t want to be a part of someone’s dark and dank background; taken for granted.

The whole general idea is that I’m painfully mindful of my own insignificance and uneducated state. Or maybe it’s my drive to please and I say whatever I can to look smart. I just know that it’s embarrassing that I know less about my own country than the students I teach.

In the Haunted Hallows of the Hyaku-yen Shops (PART 2!)

Welcome to Part Two of my Haunted Hallows of the Hyaku-yen Shops! This will be designed to give you some insight into how quickly your money leaves your wallet.

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Winter clothes! You can easily purchase gloves (some with touchscreen capability), scarves, and neck warmers. One night was especially cold and, if you’re like me in that your nose starts carving Snot River down your face and you suddenly can’t remember where you left your ears, you’ll be on the lookout for something warm.

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There’s nothing like knowing your grasp of the Japanese language can easily be beaten by a grade schooler. If you want to get a jump start on your kanji (漢字) practice, please use these books. They offer stroke order, Japanese and Chinese readings, and common words the characters are used in. Also, if you like Sudoku, they have loads of these. I’ve even been tempted to look on Amazon for more kanji textbooks/workbooks like what my students use. When all else fails, learn how to speak and ask someone where something is. There’s no better tool than to learn through association.

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Some weeks ago, I purchased a Christmas tree from Amazon sans star. Now I have one plus smaller ornaments. I also bought a tinsel boa to brighten it up. This year, since I can’t be with my family, I did my best to capture what we couldn’t do for the last couple of Christmases (damn dogs). I can’t tell you what I’m going to do with the embroidery hoop and hot glue other than I’m working to make a present for my grandmother. Shh! Don’t tell!

The hyaku yen shops sure are wonderful sometimes. I wasn’t kidding when you find things you didn’t know you needed. It seems like every time I walk through the aisles, I see stuff that I didn’t know was there.

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The first thing to address is the plunger. You will thank me when I tell you again how important this puppy will be in your life. It should go down as one of the Top 10 Essential Tools for Adulthood. Second is the plastic doo-dad next to the plunger. This allows you more space when you’re hanging things in your bathroom to dry. I figured I could use this for pants… or something. Anyway, you slap it into your showerhead holder and you’re done. Next, you can never go wrong with humidity absorbers. This time around, I was on the hunt for smaller units I could stick into my dressers. These are mandatory if you don’t want your shit to mold.

Also, glass cleaner. You’ll be surprised at how much of your bodily fluid ends up on your mirror when you’re consumed with nervous anxiety and are suddenly determined to rid your face of its blackheads and pimples. Oh, and make-up. I’ll never figure out how I got mascara smeared in two places.

The last item is a pack of hand warmers. You know those beans that get warm when you crack the package? I haven’t seen how long these last but I know you can buy some that work for up to 10-12 hours at the drugstore. When the weather turns chilly, you’ll thank your past self for buying them.

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In this picture, we have drain cleaner/odor absorber. When you come to live in Japan, you will see garbage disposals are non-existent. Instead, there are food catchers that sit under the rubber lip in your sink. You will either have a kind of steel net or a plastic cup. I have the plastic option and it gets scummy (especially when I choose to live off of cereal and ignore my pile of dirty dishes). Next is the sponge. This allows me to clean my thermoses since my hand is sponge-‘tarded. Thirdly, there’s the spoon rest. I was simply fed up with wasting my paper towels and dirtying up my limited counter space (pfft, who am I kidding? I don’t have a counter).

The measuring spoons are closing in for the finish line! I recently purchased cookbooks so I can save more money by using ingredients that are in season and well… I quickly learned the difference between a teaspoon and tablespoon. Just so I could save myself from the guesswork, I bought these. Next to them are soup spoons. You’ll notice these are often used with Asian dishes. I don’t know why I didn’t use them sooner. Finally, there’s the spice shaker. I got this for my sugar so I wouldn’t make a mess trying to get it out of the bag I keep in the freezer.

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In this final picture, the contents are self-explanatory. Since I’d rather use purified water for my drinking water for some stupid reason, I waste my money purchasing a bottle. I also happened to find some popcorn. That was exciting since I was craving it but don’t expect to find butter for it. You’ll have to go old school and pop it in cold stuff or use flavored oils. Be careful, though! Flash fires are serious. And because I tend to graze at work, I bought the noodle soups to hide in my desk just in case I couldn’t survive until lunch.

And there you have it! If you have any questions, feel free to holler.

In the Haunted Hallows of the Hyaku-yen Shops

こんにちは!今日のトピックは百円ショップだ!行こうよ!
Hello, everyone! Today’s topic is 100 yen shops in Japan. Let’s go!

There are multiple videos on YouTube describing the shenanigans you can get into at Japanese 100 yen shops (100円ショップ, hyaku-en shoppu). This is just one example from Sharla in Japan. Vouching for Las Vegas, there is no Daiso but we do have plenty of Dollar Generals and Dollar Trees. Both offer the same general assortment Daiso (and other hyaku-en stores) has. In Gotemba, we have several Daiso’s, a Seiryu, and the “orange” store that is a Daiso in disguise (literally called 百円ショップオレンジ, hyaku-en shoppu orenji). Sharla happened to go to her store during Valentine’s Day. All stores will have some kind of seasonal area and will also have larger or smaller sections depending on their location. Just yesterday, I went into the Daiso that was on the Express Way and was amazed at their fake flower assortment whereas the small one I usually visit only has, maybe, a 4-foot section smooshed in between the zipper pencil cases and home-smelly things.

Because I’m too afraid of disturbing the peace by making a video, today’s entry will give you an idea of how badly you needed these things without realizing it.

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Walking into Orange, I was immediately greeted by a Costco-like display of snacks. Crunchy, soft, savory, sweet… they’re all there. They also have the largest assortment of instant noodles I’ve ever seen. Drinks, too, are abundant. Each store will have varying degrees in the amount of what they have. In comparison, the Daiso I frequent has a small cooler for common drinks while Orange has a whole wall; cold and warm alike.

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One thing about Japan is that you’ll see American products with flavors that appeal to the Japanese palette. I’ve found green tea flavored Oreos and I have a friend that swears the sake flavored Kit-Kats are weird.

Condiments are numerous and highly varied. For common things like soy sauce, mirin, and marinades, you can easily find them at a 100 yen shop. You may also find oddities such as salad dressings and flavored oils. On this trip, I noticed they had small bottles of extra virgin. If you like to cook or bake, please consider looking for your ingredients here before you visit a full grocery store. Japanese recipes are designed to only feed 2-3 people. You won’t need much.

If you’re really lazy and don’t want to make your own curry base or clam chowder, guess what! You will find what you’re looking for here. There are different flavors, makers, spice levels… In this particular shop, you will find canned foods next to the available selections. Because I packed myself a care parcel full of canned salmon and tuna before coming to Japan, I’ve yet to really look through this portion. I’m going to assume you can find what you’re looking for because I have an acquaintance that recently told me about his dependence on tuna fish sandwiches (which reminds me! If you have a MaxValu near you, you can easily locate sweet gherkins if you dig pickles in your tuna). This is where you’ll most likely locate noodles and pasta sauce. Sometimes you might get lucky and discover tomato paste if you want to for that homemade flair.

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Moving along, I was almost lured into the dangerous world of Tupperware. A whole wall was dedicated to the microwaveable vs. the non-microwaveable, clear plastic vs. designer plastic, ease of use vs. risking carpal tunnel, and one container vs. several in one pack. When in doubt, please use ceramic if you’re not sure whether or not what you’re buying can be heated. Some packaging will not provide an easy-to-read picture for us mentally hindered.

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Again, before you buy something from a fancy home improvement store, please check with your local 100 yen shop. As you can see, there are a lot of utensils you can get to suit your needs.

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Earning an ALT salary keeps these stores close to my heart. My mom will verify that I’m a Scrooge with my money until I absolutely have to buy something (or I want something). Then I’ll go all out to make sure I don’t have to do it again until next year.

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Also, if you’re looking for Ziploc bags, you’ll come across them here along with plastic wrap and aluminum foil. It all really boils down to how much you’re going to use. I’m big on freezing the fresh vegetables I buy from the grocery store (which I highly recommend you do before prices skyrocket and your stock goes out of season).

The great thing about Japan is you’ll eventually need an umbrella or, if you ride a bike, a poncho. Because these umbrellas are cheaply made, I don’t recommend you use them if the weather is predicted to be very tempestuous. I’ve seen the horror they become as they hang forgotten, rusted, and bloated with old rain water on the fences by the freeway. Save up for a good umbrella. You can usually buy these at any home improvement or DIY store (i.e. Cainz Home, Jumbo Encho, D2, Seiyu [which is really a Target]).

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As I cruised through Orange, I came across the gardening center. I didn’t even recognize half of what was available aside from the shovels and watering pales. More than likely, if you’re thinking of becoming an ALT, you’ll have a cramped apartment stoop that is only big enough to house your air conditioning unit. Secondly, if you hate bugs, I wouldn’t advise the use of plants out-of-doors. Resist purchasing that beautiful rose bush! Resist it! Do a little research on house plants instead that help with oxygen levels and act as bug repellent if you absolutely need a little green in your life.

Then we have the pet section. Most apartments will not allow animals, but if you happen to move and can bear leaving your pet alone for more than 8 hours most days, know that this exists for you. Puppy pads, leashes, snacks, watering bowls… I feel Japan is dog-biased. Unless you walk your cat regularly, you may have to take some time perusing what’s on the shelf.

In the next aisle over was the home improvement section. If you’re going to remain in your apartment, don’t go down this road. Most landlords will not tolerate redesigning and will charge you a pretty penny for the “damage.” Just don’t it.

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Moving on, we have the bathroom aisle. Because baths are ritualistic here, you’ll find endless amounts of things to use. The numerous shoes, brushes, scrubbers, hair catchers, odor absorbers, shower caps, and bathtub heat shields will keep you occupied for a while as you debate whether or not you really need them. One thing I will highly suggest you buy is a plunger because Japanese plumbing relies on a reservoir. If you don’t think you’ll need to clean your drains, be my guest and find out what happens after several months. Lastly, Japanese water is hard. You can obtain these pumice-like stones that will chip away the deposits in your ceramic sinks and tubs.

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If you intend to have friends over, it’s customary to provide a set of guest slippers for them to wear. Again, because your apartment is not your own, please save yourself and your floors (unless you have carpet) from damage and either wear your socks or slippers. You’ll notice most 100 yen shops have cushions. Although Japan is quickly upgrading its building codes, you may come across apartments that have tatami mats with low tables. Because I’m fortunate to have a table and chairs provided in my LeoPalace, I’ve never had to buy a cushion. Keep in mind they’re cheap. If you intend for your butt to develop a long-term relationship with one, please save your money and look elsewhere.

You’ll also stumble across wardrobe malfunction fixes and emergency stashes of ties, belts, and stockings here. I’ve never bought anything from this aisle but I’m glad to know it’s available. Orange apparently was hosting a black tie shindig that I wasn’t aware of.

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Goodness! This store is huge! Up next, we have what I call “The Party Section.” Paper and plastic plates abound! You can also buy to-go containers here. I will not pretend to be ignorant of restaurants stocking up on these from 100 yen shops. (I’ll let you find out how much of a bitch they are on your own. Two things: “rubber band” and “grease.”)

Ah, yes! The seasonal section! As soon as Halloween was over, the Christmas stuff was rolled out. Ornaments, wall decorations, banners, bows… you name it. They’ll more than likely have it. This particular store had LED desk ornaments. I’m sorely tempted to buy a wreath or make my own and be that obnoxious neighbor. I’ve yet to see a large assortment of lights, though. Japan may not be big into decorating their houses. I know I’d love to have my little stoop sparkle and glitter during those chilly nights. You may be lucky to find greeting cards but don’t expect the packs of 20 or more like you can find in America or Canada.

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If you discover your phone charger or stylus has mysteriously disappeared, you’ll be able to buy a replacement at 100 yen shops. Don’t fret about them being cheaply made. Demand is so high these for these things that the supply has brought the price down. Office supplies are also commonly available.

Of course, no amount of words or videos can replace your own personal experiences. I feel 100 yen shops are truly valued here whereas, in the States, dollar stores were reserved for the lower income brackets. Don’t think you are demeaning your worth by shopping here. Allow me to show you what you can find through my own purchases.

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